The Great Indian ‘booth trick’ in Singapore
Last October I volunteered to be a part of the India booth at the UN Food Festival in my daughter's school in Singapore. The number of nationalities in this international school totals a mind boggling 74.
All 12 parent volunteers at the India booth were quietly confident of the crowd pulling ability of the delicious and unmatched variety of Indian food. We cleverly called it GIFS (The Great Indian Food safari). Through a lucky chance and some persuasion, we managed to be the first booth near the entrance of the stadium. Our 5m table was the longest and its collapsible legs creaked under the weight of 16 dishes. We also brought along a big supply of free goodies consisting of inexpensive handicraft items that we would hand out to all those hungry children.
Meanwhile the other volunteers also set up their booths and we decided to be large hearted at the sight of the numerous platters of cakes and muffins and some more muffins. Such a lot of sugar.
So we confidently stood by our table and waited for the children to fall over each other to get to our booth. My friends from Kashmir stood by their tall minarets of disposable round plastic containers full of Kashmiri mutton Pilaf and saffron covered sweets. Next to them was another parent volunteer eyeing his stacks of Alu Parathas and Khir with a self assured smile. He took out his DSLR and tried various positions and angles for some great shots of our booth. The ladies stood behind the table, quietly confident of the allure of their respective dishes. They looked resplendent and so wonderfully Indian in Salwar Kurtas and colorful Bindis.
Sharp at 9.30 am the first batch of children came trooping in, clutching their set of precious five coupons each. The country to collect the maximum number would be declared the winner. We were ready.
The children surged towards us and..... bypassed us like the emotionally detached heart surgeon. They ignored our stunned faces and headed for the tiny Italy booth for Pizza! Next stop, USA, then Canada , Mexico , Spain and Brazil! We saw their empty lunch boxes quickly filling up with burgers, muffins, chips and popcorn. The little hands could not hand over their coupons to the smiling adults fast enough. A particularly cruel person had put up a huge chocolate fountain and I spotted my daughter in that queue. The Great Indian Food Safari was turning out to be a cruel joke.
After an agonizing wait I saw some children shoot curious looks at us. Smilingly we beckoned to them. ‘Won't you try some Pulav or Khir or Tikki ?’. ‘Which one?’, came the question. I replied, ‘Anyone’, then quickly added, ‘Can I have one coupon please?’
I passed the first coupon of the day to a friend who was looking more and more sullen with every passing minute. Next child shook her head when I used the same cajoling tone. Five minutes later we spotted two children moving uncertainly towards us. The lady on my right marched off.... I am surprised she did not run. With sunny smiles all 12 of us educated the two boys on the various gastronomic delights in front of their eyes. At the end of our recital they pointed at the Pakora tray. I am sure I heard my Biriyani sigh!
Things were moving along really slowly. Then it occurred to us. How about enticing the children with our free goodies to try out the dishes! That was the only way we could get at the elusive coupons. Each one of us took position and threw our nets well and wide.
To little girls, "Look at these pretty bangles and those Bindis! WOW! You look like a princess! Yes, you can have them for FREE but you have to try the Great Indian Food first." To boys, “Hi! Have you seen this peacock feather? You could make a pen out of it. Ask your Ma. Maybe you need a key chain or a box for your sister?”
You guessed it right. Coupons rained from then on and our table quickly got lighter. We got some hard stares from the other booths but the Great Indian Food Festival proved to be a super hit!
Anjna Rawat Pratap is a Singapore based technical writer and a guest columnist with The Weekend Leader