This isn’t the common name for it, since a Google search doesn’t seem to throw up the link I want, but there’s a Lonely Planet Curse: as soon as Lonely Planet (or, to be fair, any major travel guide publisher) lists a restaurant/ hotel in their guidebooks, it starts getting an influx of tourists. Since it now has a captive market, the place in question lets service standards slip, raises prices to white-people levels, and earns the lasting ire of the locals over there. I think Adri rants about this often.
I was at Amethyst in Royapettah today and I suspect it may be suffering from the Lonely Planet Curse. It was certainly full of white people, and at least one table had a French couple reading an Inde de Sud guidebook. If anybody’s seen the latest South India guidebook, can they verify this?
The Lonely Planet Curse would explain the averageness of the food and coffee there. It’s not bad – it’s just meh. I wouldn’t refuse to go to Amethyst ever again because of bad food, but I’d never go there for the food. The desserts are still very good, though. The lemon curd cake I had today was fantastic. So was the banana bread, but then I am biased when it comes to bananas. People who are going to go ‘Haun!’ or ‘TWSS!’ in the comments, here is a pre-emptive ‘Shut up.’
But the thing is, you don’t really go to Amethyst for the food, which is just a bonus. The reasons to go to Amethyst are:
- You are a corporate whore who still wants to pretend to be a hippie
- You want to gawk at all the hot people or posh people or actual hippies there
- You want to buy nice presents for your darling girlfriend
- Amethyst is lovely and you can sit and wander around among plants, fishponds and cats
The new venue is even greener than the old premises in Gopalapuram. They’ve planted pineapples which haven’t come up yet, and have a huge melon (or perhaps pumpkin) patch, as well as brinjal plants. Delightful. I was there last week as well, and I sat in the verandah to write and blasted out almost a thousand words in three hours. As a place to just sit down and write, the Amethyst verandah pwns my guesthouse room, my office, and five star hotel coffee shops (which I tried last year). Though to be fair, doing this writing-on-the-verandah thing during the July monsoon is probably far more comfortable and far less hot and sticky than doing it in May. But even then the green cover would probably help.
So it’s partly the air of artsy hippieness that surrounds Amethyst that keeps taking me back there (and telling other people to meet me there) and partly the greenery. But I realised that the hippies come there because of the other hippies and the greenery too – so fundamentally it’s the greenery. It’s the third greenest place I know in Chennai – the first two are the IIT Madras campus and the Horticultural Society.
However, I never invite people to meet me at IIT Madras (unless there’s already a quiz on there, but let us not delve into these boundary conditions) or the Horticultural Society. As is my wont, I mused why this is so. After all, with such wonderful greenery, why not invite people to meet me there?
After due consideration, I realised that this is because our social norms – especially in India – demand that we combine socialisation with consumption. We either meet at coffee shops, where we consume coffee – or restaurants, where we consume food – at the movies, where we consume images – or at malls, where we commit wanton consumerism in general. Thus, most people who adhere to social norms will not go to a place merely because it is green. On occasion, I have suggested to people that we meet at the Horticultural Society or the (Delhi) zoo, but I am not quite as beholden to social norms. (As Bernard Woolley put it, this is “an irregular verb. I have an independent mind. You are an eccentric. He is around the twist.”) Anyway, either they never agreed or the one time someone did agree, the zoo was closed. So it goes.
I further reflected that changing social norms would be difficult and time-consuming, whereas getting parks to add a restaurant, or a small cafe, or a gift shop would be comparatively simple. In fact, many Delhi parks have done this. Deer Park has Park Baluchi, Lodi Gardens has the Garden Restaurant, and the Garden of Five Senses has something whose name I cannot recall at the moment. The only trouble is that these are all high-priced, and there are no lower price alternatives. The parks have street food hawkers outside, on the footpath, but none inside. As far as I know, Chennai does not have anything at all inside its parks, but growing up as I did five kilometres away from both Deer Park and Nehru Park, Chennai’s parks seem ridiculously tiny to me, and I suspect that they wouldn’t be able to squeeze a restaurant or food court in.
In an ideal situation, parks would have restaurants, cafes, small shops, and other such things to attract people for whom greenery was not sufficient motivation. Which is most people, when you come to think of it.
And then finally I remembered that somebody had already written about this, in 1961.
Certain qualities in design can apparently make a difference too. For if the object of a generalized bread-and-butter neighborhood park is to attract as many different kinds of people, with as many different schedules, interests, and purposes as possible, it is clear that the design of the park should abet this generalization of patronage rather than work at cross-purposes to it. Parks intensely used in generalized public-yard fashion should have four elements in their design which I shall call intricacy, centering, sun, and enclosure.
Intricacy is related to the variety of reasons for which people come to neighborhood parks. Even the same person comes for different reasons at different times; sometimes to sit tiredly, sometimes to play or to watch a game, sometimes to read or work, sometimes to show off, sometimes to fall in love, sometimes to keep an appointment, sometimes to savor the hustle of the city from a retreat, sometimes in the hope of finding acquaintances, sometimes to get closer to a bit of nature, sometimes to keep a child occupied, sometimes simply to see what offers, and almost always to be entertained by the sight of other people.
Jane Jacobs, ladies and gentlemen. One of the twentieth century’s leading badasses. You’d be well advised to read the whole thing – all 448 pages of it.