Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poor Service: Not Just Jazz By The Bay, Mumbai

My cousin and I are Karaoke fans. We've tested out Karaoke options in 3 different cities in India and have come away impressed with only a couple of them. We had been to Not Just Jazz By The Bay on Marine Drive before and hadn't come away particularly impressed, but on a Tuesday night, we decided this was our best option. Nothing prepared us for the Karaoke experience of that night.

Upon paying Rs 100 as entry charges, we found ourselves in a dimly-lit, entirely-closed pub. Our eyes soon adjusted to the dim lighting. On stage was the MC/host for the night. He introduced himself as Sheish, a native of Iran, in heavily accented and sometimes grammatically incorrect English. However, to prove his love for India, a little later, he would shout to one of his friends at the bar, "Jai Maharastra".

Karaoke night was starting off a little slowly. Shiesh tried to move things along by saying encouraging things to the members of the audience; he also sang the initial songs, including 'Hotel California'.

My cousin and I pored over the book they had given us with the song listings, but we came up with nothing. Most of our favourite songs weren't there. A large, raucous group occupying 3 tables, and another large, but not quite as vocal, group occupying 2 tables began to take over proceedings. Entire droves of people went up to sing together while the ones who stayed behind provided very loud backing vocals. It was to be a feature of the night, with volumes only heading up.

Just as a groovy Karaoke tempo was being set, Shiesh emerged from outside, where he had disappeared for a few minutes, took over the microphone and said, "I'm going to sing a song that I sing the best because I sing it my way." He went on to sing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' in a terrible Southern and Western accent, making it sound like a horrible country song - a complete mood dampener.

The night refused to lie low and picked up again. Much later into the night, Shiesh decided he was going to assault our sensibilities again. But this time, he picked 'Because I Got High', a song whose lyrics were so offensive in a public setting that my cousin actually turned to me and said, "I find this song very offensive." However, a regular patron obviously loved the song for he jumped on stage to join Shiesh. After the song, the patron, a young muscular Indian male headed back to his place by the bar, but once he got there, he pumped up a fist and shouted, "USA, USA."

Shiesh very calmly took the mic - there was no music on - and announced clearly and deliberately, "Iran is anti-American; I am anti-American." The reaction was so unexpected that it took us a couple of minutes to actually register the full import of what he had said. My cousin, who is American, found his comments to be extremely offensive, as she rightly should.

"I did not pay Rs 100 to come in here and be insulted or hear my country be insulted," she said. "He's been playing American music all evening and now he says he's anti-American?"

Just then, members from the large, raucous group assembled to sing James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful'. I shouted over the opening strains to Shiesh, "If you're anti-American, why are you playing American music?"

"They're singing it," replied Shiesh, "I'm not."

Here was a man who had sung Hotel California and a Frank Sinatra song saying that he was anti-American and was not singing American songs. My cousin and I decided this was going too far. We called the manager and told him what had just happened. To his credit, he immediately whisked Shiesh outside for a chat. Meanwhile, we asked for our bill and paid. We then went to find the manager outside and asked him what the situation was. He assured us that he had told Shiesh there was no reason to bring religion and country into this and he should apologise; he said Shiesh would apologise publicly. So, despite it being past midnight, we sat at the bar waiting for the apology.

The DJ, meanwhile, had started mixing his tracks and the now-sozzled patrons were crowding the centre showing off their moves. Shiesh went and sat by the DJ; he went outside and came back; he went up to the mic, but then sat by the DJ. We figured he was just working up the courage to apologise publicly; so, we waited patiently. However, the crowd was slowly starting to disperse. More and more people picked up their bags, said their goodbyes and walked out the door.

Close to 1am, the house tracks stopped and Shiesh stepped up to the mic. My cousin and I sat up; the moment seemed to be here.

"The next song we have is 'Love Me Do' by The Beatles."

Both of us were stunned. When another song followed with no apology, we sought out the manager again. This time, he went to the stage and brought Shiesh to us. Shiesh came to me with his hands folded and he launched into an apology. I stopped him and pointed to my cousin. He began to apologise profusely to her.

"I saw you leave; that's why I didn't apologise. I am so sorry. My friends know that I am just joking. I have family living in the US. I was just kidding around."

"I am not your friend," my cousin replied curtly. "And you sing Frank Sinatra and have the balls to say you're anti-American. You made a public statement; you apologise publicly."

Shiesh went up at the end of the song, stopped the music, drew attention to himself, and delivered the worst mash-up of an apology I have ever heard.

"I have to apologise to a lady over there," he said, pointing to my cousin. "Everybody here knows that I am just joking when I make comments about somebody's country. I hope you accept my apology."

While he said this, his muscle-bound singing friend from earlier in the night remarked in a most sarcastic voice, "Oh Shiesh! You are hurting my feelings."

My cousin and I left, not accepting his 'apology' and vowing to never return here.

Imagine if you had gone abroad, and the MC/host there had played and sung Indian songs all night, and then declared, "I am anti-Indian." What would you have done?

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