Bewakoof eateries of Giridih[Bewakoof 5 thumbs up Bewakoof is referred to as a foolish person in Urdu in many regions of India.]
Time was when atop the green hills surrounding it.
For the last decade, however, this small town in Jharkhand has acquired a more unique distinction : it has around a dozen hotels that take pride in proclaiming their idiocy to the world.
Walk down Giridih's choked, bumpy road near the district court and government hospital, and you'll see a string of eateries named 'Bewakoof' screaming out their gimmicky appellation from large, colourful signboards: Bewakoof, Bewakoof No1, Maha Bewakoof, Shri Bewakoof, Om Bewakoof, Bewakoof Badshah, Sabse Bada Bewakoof. Interestingly the name, rather than putting off customers, seems to attract them - every bewakoof hotel does brisk business, spurring other hotel owners in the town to rename their own properties with the bewakoof tag.
"Nothing sells like the name 'bewakoof' in the hotel industry here, " says Kiran Bhalani, 45, proprietor of Shri Bewakoof Hotel. Bhalani, like owners of other bewakoof hotels, claims that many politicians, including Shibu Soren, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Babulal Marandi, have dined at his eatery and "immensely liked the food". And no, he doesn't make any associations between the two.
Stories about the inception of Giridih's bewakoof mania abound, but Kumar, the current proprietor of the first bewakoof hotel, claims his version is the right one. Way back in 1971, he says, his uncle Gopi Ram, a school dropout, began a tiny eating joint outside the civil hospital. One day, a customer ate at the hotel and left without paying. "Tumko bewakoof banaya re (he fooled you), " commented another customer. The next day, Ram put up a signboard that read 'Bewakoof Hotel' outside his tiny eatery. "My uncle had a great sense of humour, " chuckles Kumar, adding that the hotel moved to six rented places before it finally acquired a permanent address in 1993.
Prem Kishore Singh, an attendant at the surgical ward of the civil hospital, was one of the witnesses to the little drama Ram enacted to advertise his bewakoof hotel, then an object of curiosity for many. "Ram hired a cycle rickshaw and moved around the town announcing the opening of Bewakoof Hotel on a loudspeaker. Out of curiosity, customers streamed into it, " says Singh. And the trend caught on. Bhalani admits that the bewakoof tag is a USP. "The title sells. The best thing is that our customers don't mind it, " says the hotelier, who opened Shri Bewakoof in 1974.
As they cater mostly to the middle and lower income groups - clerks at the court, local revenue offices, banks and villagers who visit the town for sarkari work - the food in the bewakoof hotels is very reasonably priced: a simple vegetarian thali, comprising rice, dal and vegetables, costs no more than 24 rupees. Perhaps that's the bait for the customers who eat here. K N Singh, who retired as a clerk from the local block development office recently, says he has eaten lunch only at the Bewakoof Hotel for the last 35 years. "Their food is non-oily and very cheap. I also liked the name, and have never gone to other bewakoofs, which are just clones, " says Singh even as a bearer pours piping hot dal into a steel bowl.
What Gopi Ram began in 1971 gradually swelled into a flood of me-toos. The bewakoof hotel brand became such a money-spinner that several people who tried to establish other businesses abandoned them and opted for it. Take Sunil Agarwal, 45, who'd opened a medicine shop last year. Customers, he says, were few and far between, leading to losses. Then someone suggested he open a hotel. Agarwal turned the medicine shop into an eatery and called it Bewakoof Badshah. "I am happy now, as my business has picked up, " he says.