June 10, 2022 /

Standard Restaurant

Written by Gaurav Monga

  

My family owned a restaurant in Connaught place called Standard Restaurant. It was in the
famous Regal Building. My grandfather set it up in the mid 1950’s, and many in that generation
have taken their first dates there for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. It was also a congenial
space for families to spend their weekend afternoons.

As children, we used to go there every day after school to eat softee ice cream, which flows
delicately out of a machine to form a beautiful swirl. Apparently, Standard was one of the first
restaurants in India that had one of those machines. My brother and I would wait in the
restaurant– staring out the bay windows into Connaught Place–while my sister attended ballet
classes with her teacher, a Russian ballerina. It was the mid 1980’s. Regal building was regally
constituted for a queen who never arrived.

My sister, brother and I would arrive after school in an old blue Volkswagen Station Wagon that
would break down occasionally. My father had a penchant for old cars whose parts were never
readily available. Perhaps in some ways, for my brother and I, the restaurant was our first
school. Here we ate burgers, softee ice cream and took many rides in the small elevator with its
iron doors. We were too young to understand that this restaurant belonged to our family. We
weren’t concerned with much beyond the softee ice-cream and what seemed to us like a
massive restaurant.

But then came a time when we were refused our softee ice-cream. We were told that the
machine was in need of repair, while all along we could see others being served their
ice-cream. Even the carpenter who used to work at the restaurant suddenly stopped coming to
the workshop at the back of our house. As children, we didn’t quite understand what was
happening but we knew something was amiss.

Only later did I understand what not seeing eye to eye meant. In my early adult years, my father
told me that he was opposed to his cousins introducing alcoholic beverages to the menu. He
believed that that alone would significantly alter the ethos and spirit of the restaurant, that it
would degenerate into some kind of male drunken den, which it eventually turned out to be.

The restaurant closed down. My father sold his share for a song. It became a Coffee Day. In my
mid twenties,whenever I used to visit my father in Delhi, he would arrive in a ludicrous costume
—apart from having a penchant for the old, he had one for the ostensibly comic, as well— and
wait for me outside Regal building. We would stroll that stretch of avenue endlessly, while he
would tell me that soon he would have enough money to buy the restaurant and restore it to its
former grandeur. And even now whenever I visit Delhi on my own, I stroll past the site where the
restaurant used to be and approach its entrance. But I never enter. The walking throng of
human traffic reminds me of a passing river, of which I am but a pebble, a feeling that somehow
provides a strange sense of comfort, the comfort and perhaps even coziness one derives from
feeling small