Tanya, my wife, and I had taken a couple of our Japanese guests to Yum Yum Cha at CyberHub Gurgaon last week for lunch. Yum Yum Cha is always busy; brimming with young professionals from the neighbouring offices, and at peak lunch hours there can be a seriously long wait for a table. So we chose to go a bit late, around 2:30 PM. Thankfully, that was a good decision. We managed a table almost as soon as we got there. But the restaurant was still full. Every table was occupied.
The menu at Yum Yum Cha is pretty exotic. You can choose from a large variety of oriental options that range from Tartufo truffled mushroom baos to Cheung Fun rice noodle rolls to Pink crab dim sums. The sushi rolls are pretty good too… ebi tempura, poke poke, hanna, amaya, spicy salmon and geisha to pick from for non-vegetarians; asparagus tempura, enoki tempura, spicy avocado, cucumber blossom and wasabi rolls for those who are vegetarians.
Their spicy hamachi Carpaccio and their scallop Mentayaki are delicious. As also the chef’s Sushi Boat which has a good choice of aburi, unagi and kani nigiri sushi, and lots to savour from shake, tekka, kappa and negi hama monomaki. The classic octopus Takoyaki Japanese dumplings are always a treat at Yum Yum Cha; and the well-cooked bull-gogi and philly wontons are tongue-pleasers too.
The reason I have gotten into so much detail on the menu is that unless you are pretty familiar with the cuisine on offer (I am, after my nearly 100 trips to Japan over 25 years), deciphering some of the dishes is not really easy despite the explanations and cute illustrations on the menu-card. But here we were, surrounded by tables full of 20-something olds, plates and bowls heaped full with food whose names few could pronounce.
The prices were not inconsiderable. A meal for two, with a pink pomelo drink and some mocha ice-cream thrown in, would easily put you back by Rs. 2000-2500/-, plus plus. That, is surely not cheap by any standards! Especially if you indulge yourself to that kind of a lunch 4-5 times a week.
Which is what set me thinking, and reminded me of an article I had read recently by Gayatri Jayaraman in Buzzfeed.
Gayatri’s article in many ways echoed my thoughts that afternoon. None of the young crowd surrounding me at the restaurant struck me as the kind who ‘naturally’ kind of belonged there. They were what Gayatri called ‘a flood of twenty somethings running hard to leave behind roti-sabzi for a perception of burger-coke. From there, they sprint with equal abandon toward the cheese-champagne’. All of the young customers at Yum Yum Cha were obviously well-paid, well-educated and ostensibly well-heeled. They were of course all making loud conversation in English. The clothes they all wore were pretty trendy though most of the guys looked a bit scruffy and unkempt to me (they call it the Silicon Valley look these days). I asked myself, who exactly is this crowd at Yum Yum Cha? Are they the new urban millennials? I wasn’t sure.
In the above referenced article, Gayatri Jayaraman talks about how, ‘I know a young marketing executive who bought a car with her first salary and now sleeps in it … Then there’s my junior journalist friend. For a period, she was coming into work less often. And she was growing thinner. She insisted it was because she was jogging every evening. When she started to disappear at lunch time, or nurse a cold coffee all day, I knew. (I didn’t miss the signs, because I've done it too.) I WhatsApped her. It was the only way to be discreet. “Do you have enough money for a meal?” She didn’t. She explained that when she did, she’d wait to go to Le Pain Quotidien and pay Rs. 200 for a sandwich. After 6 pm, the day’s stock is discounted. The office canteen offered meals all day that she could afford, but eating was a lower priority than keeping up the appearance that she could, when she chose to, do it at Le Pain Quotidien’. The crowd at Yum Yum Cha would surely have some amongst those who matched the above examples.
These are the new ‘urban poor’ in the Buzzfeed article. Objectively and relative to a vast majority of Indians, they aren’t ‘poor’ at all. But they’re certainly hungry and broke a lot (but don’t really show it). These are the metro-dwelling twentysomethings who've internalised the pressures surrounding them, and spend a majority of their salaries on keeping up the lifestyles and appearances that they believe are essential to earning those salaries. The expenses that they rack up are notionally non-negotiable: the clothes and the grooming, the bar nights and office dinners, the Olas and Ubers they have to take because they’re networking until 1 am, the Starbucks coffee they have to buy because that’s where their next job interview is likely to be. The heels and the dresses…
Is all of this real? Is it sustainable? Is it desirable? Is it really doable in the long run?
Is this generation putting pretence before practicality? Is it trading reality for a false sense of well-being that externally signals that all-is-well but the trade-offs are really not worth all the effort and self-deceit? The Yum Yum Cha experience has been somewhat of an eye-opener for me. Not because I thought most of the crowd had a false ring to them (sushi is not everybody’s bento-box in Gurgaon). Also not because I grudged them what was surely an expensive lunch (why would I? after all they were paying for themselves). Also not because I could never have done this when I was younger (I could never have afforded a lunch so expensive when I was that young because we were paid peanuts those days despite being called Management Probationers and treated as elite pupils at our multinational jobs and anyway there were no Yum Yum Chas around to tempt us).
Methinks all of this is good stuff for a nice little debate: If So Rich Why So Poor, If So Poor Why So Rich.
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