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Wednesday, Feb 11, 2004

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Biriyani tea, Arabian dates & M.F. Hussain

C.J. Punnathara

Kochi , Feb. 10

IT'S a restaurant with a difference. Not only can you enjoy the unique recipe of a `Malabar biriyani' along with the mellow sweetness of Arabian palm date pickles and a biriyani tea to wash it down, but also savour the delicate touch and subtle strokes of M.F. Hussain's line drawings.

And no, it isn't your usual softly lit canvas draping the huge wall of a five-star restaurant. Hussain's drawings are quintessentially placed amidst some old and fraying photographs, family heirlooms, cut-outs from some old and yellowing newspapers and magazines, and wedged amidst the electric meter, the main switch and the fuse box.

Welcome to Kayikka's Restaurant, in the old-world township of Mattancherry, where Hussain used to hang out when he visited Kochi couple of years ago. He stayed at the Taj, but was more often found doodling away on canvas and paper during the midday heat of the long dreary afternoons at this dingy restaurant. While parting, Hussain bestowed two line drawings to the restaurant.

Kayikka's Restaurant is not the township's only claim to fame. Its small and narrow winding lanes are laden with spices — cardamom, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, nutmace, etc. Mattancherry has been the hub of the world's spices trade for well over four centuries.Kayikka's Restaurant defies logic in more ways than one. Because of its exotic and excellent cuisine, demand has been soaring. On Sundays, there is a long queue with customers holding token number 168 and 195.

The conventional logic behind the demand-supply paradigm has also proved ineffective. While the demand has forced the late customer to return home on an empty stomach, neither the supply chain nor the prices have soared to keep pace with the demand spiral.

For just Rs 30 you can still savour the Malabar biriyani, the Arabian palm date pickles and the biriyani tea. The old-world charm and business ethics are still predominant here.

The rest of the business community of Mattancherry might have gone digital, embraced globalisation and colonised the world markets from their workstations. But this quaint restaurant still remains tied to old-world traditions.

Then there is an economic logic behind theft. While an average Hussain painting fetches a couple of lakhs of rupees, these line drawings are left relatively unattended and uncared for. Maybe the old world business ethics and the aversion to unashamed profit maximisation are keeping thieves at bay.

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