Baljees, an iconic restaurant in the heart of one of India's tourism hotspots, Shimla, has shut shop after more than six decades. The present owners, led by Renu Baljee, 69, finally gave up after losing a long and protracted legal battle to another prominent Shimla family, Lok Nath and Co, who own the building.
"My two daughters are in the US. They don't want to come back. I now want to retire and enjoy life," says Ms Baljee.
The restaurant, together with an upstairs add-on called 'Fascination' was the go-to first date spot for young people in the capital of Himachal Pradesh, as well as a must visit for the lakhs of tourists who are here every year.
On Wednesday, the restaurant's hottest selling item, gulab jamuns, were out of stock by 11 am. A fresh batch was in within the hour, from the Baljees caterers who are still in existence.
"I spent chunks of my salary here in my youth," says Ranveer Jalta, 58, who is from Shimla, now a senior engineer with the state government.
Reetika Chauhan, part of a giggling bunch of 10 college students who came to the restaurant on its last day, says, "I only hope it comes back with at least the name Fascination in the new title. Not just us, our parents and grandparents have grown up with Baljees."
The iconic restaurant is the easiest landmark meeting point while 'Malling' or strolling on the hill city's exclusive pedestrian walkway, The Mall.
Baljees is a stone's throw from the city's notional centre, Scandal Point, on one side, and the historic Town Hall and Gaiety Theatre (both restored to their Raj look, and hubs of contemporary events) on the other side.
The Mall is full of other landmark establishments, names that resonate on signboards, with a sense of history, as one walks through Delhi's Connaught Place - Lok Nath & Co, Gainda Mull Hem Raj, etc.
In addition, there are two or three Chinese shoe shops fighting to survive. The owners are people that this writer (born and brought up in Shimla) went to school with. Ta Tung, C Fook Chong and Hopsons.
Not one among Ms Baljee's fellow Shimlaites will grudge her on her retirement plan, but they will want Baljees Fascination to live on too. The ball, or the gulab jamun is in the new owner's court.
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