Have You Heard Of Diu’s Mansukhbhai?
Hotelier, vegetable vendor, storyteller, celebrating the life of Diu’s legendary host
There are tales that need to be told and retold. These are stories of common men and women who become institutions of sorts in their lifetime, and then pass into the dusk of life unsung. Their memory fades reminding their fans and followers that time and age are killers also.
One such story is that of Mansukhbhai of Diu. The news of his having left this mortal world during a recent visit to the town stupefied me. The consolation was that I was one of those lucky ones to have enjoyed his company and hospitality.
There are many things that made him and his enterprise that went by the name of Hotel Jay Shankar special. Both of them were perched on a small hillock amidst serene calm on the Jalandhar beach of the Arabian Sea.
There was a time that both were the most sought after by the visitors to this pristine island. It was the place to stay and was preferred by most of the foreigners.
It was in the autumn of 1998 that I had run into this amazing character at his Jay Shankar Guest House, Bar and Restaurant. I was there on the recommendation of a top bureaucrat, and also some foreign tourists, to make up for wasting my days in ‘dry’ Gujarat.
Chemistry struck the moment this small statured but exceptionally warm man received me, his guest. He took me to the bar and the dining area that was brimming with life, without the tools that one sees in clubs these days.
He refused to take the payment for the delectable tuna and pomfret while he did charge me for the drink. And it was then that I learnt about his identity as the ‘Lord’s Trustee’, and how the place came into being.
I can’t forget his remark, “The food is cooked at my home and is given by Lord Shiva while the alcohol comes after paying to the government for the bar licence.”
He had been a vegetable vendor, mainly selling potatoes at the local market. He was also the leader of vegetable vendors and life was full of contentment. He had two wives and multiple offsprings, and the family lived in a small house that later became his enterprise. The location of his house was something that a traveller would dream of.
His routine was to sell potatoes in the morning, enjoy an afternoon siesta and address Lord Shiva in the evenings. That was until someone advised him, “You have a house at a prominent location on an island that is full of travellers. Why don’t you start a small eating joint?”
The idea struck and from the next day there was an icebox at the entrance announcing the availability of soft drinks, and snacks like biscuits and wafers. For tourists that hired bicycles to move between the destinations of Diu Fort, Jalandhar Beach and Nagwa Beach, this was a refreshment halt.
One hot afternoon, an American or European tourist took a halt and asked, “Can I have some Pepsi and food?” Mansukh’s knowledge of English did not go beyond the three courteous terms of ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Thank You’. He promptly said yes and handed over a bottle to the visitor.
After a while, the visitor repeated that he had asked for some food and Pepsi which was again responded to with a ‘yes’ and another bottle. This annoyed the visitor who took a peep inside to find Manuskh’s family sprawled on the floor enjoying their siesta.
He handed Mansukh the money with a scowl and a probable abuse that left the former in tears wondering what he had done wrong.
Incidentally, there was a French girl named Stephanie sitting there in the shack enjoying a cold drink and observing what was going on. A student of Hindi, she went up to Mansukh and asked, “Didn’t you get what he wanted?” Mansukh told her his version.
Mansukh had related this story to me, with a twinkle in his eyes, “It was Stephanie who persuaded me to start a small eating joint. She taught me the bland cuisine that the Europeans liked. From then on our enterprise took off.
“For the next few months she would market my outlet among the foreign tourists. We followed a rule. My wives cooked and my children served. There was no extra hand to help run the joint that slowly became a restaurant and also a double storied guest house.
“The rooms I offered were neat, affordable and went along with the cuisine that the Europeans desired. It became a rage with them. In addition was a stock pile of books and magazines in several languages which many of them left behind.
“Then at one point she asked me to marry her. I refused saying that I could not go in for a third matrimony and more kids,” he recalled. Stephanie left after a few months but asked an Israeli friend of hers to keep helping Mansukh telling the latter that he was God fearing simpleton who was gold at heart. He slowly acquired a bar licence and the place became a hot destination.
But there was a parallel relationship with his Lord, which Mansukh had maintained all this while. Nor had he left selling potatoes.
One fine day Mansukh walked into the office of the local revenue department to transfer his entire property in the name of the Lord. His contention was, “I am convinced that all this belongs to the Lord. I am just his trustee managing the things. Who would have thought that I would get so much in terms of money, popularity and love? It’s the Lord's work.”
One just had to go through his visitors’ book to get an inkling of how much he was loved and celebrated by his customers. The quotes there were witty, talked of love and happiness, something memories and life should be all about.
The meeting had ended with him telling with pride that Stephanie had maintained contact with him. I too had visited him off and on during my second journalistic stint in Gujarat from 2002 till 2007.
But I saw that life had taken its toll on Mansukh’s health, when I had visited him at the end of my third term in the ‘dry’ state in 2015. His daughters had been married off and his sons had migrated to Europe.
He had leased out his guest house while spending some time at the bar. His wives kept him company while he had taken to penning the Lord’s name on a notebook over and over millions of times.
“Where are your visitors’ books? I want to re-read them,” I had said.His remorseful reply was, “They are lying dumped somewhere. I do not have the energy left in me to even sort out the books.”
They would have made a wonderful book themselves. The once boisterous bar had minimal clientele comprising mainly old timers who would go there to chat with Mansukh.
During the last visit to the island I once again went to his place. It had a sad look. The guard told me that Mansukhbhai had passed away sometime ago.
His enterprise that was once visible prominently from the Jalandhar Beach stood hidden behind a new government facility that had come up. The guard had said that the place was on its last legs.
At the time of filing this piece I tried calling both its landline numbers numerous times. There was no ring on the other side!