The aromas of delectable food filled the room, which was pitch-black, as I and my partner were guided to our table. One of the servers at the restaurants, Mukesh Upadhyay, welcomed us and took us to the dining room. With my partner holding Upadhyay’s left shoulder and I holding my partner’s shoulder, we walked to our table. Initially, we did feel uncomfortable, but the soothing music playing in the background helped us relax.
As we sat down, Upadhyay gave us some pebbles to play blind cricket, and then we did not hear him anymore. We gathered that he had gone to the kitchen to fetch our starters. Soon after, he came back with the appetisers. I picked up a small rectangular snack, completely unaware of what it was. Except for the aroma, I had no idea of what I was putting in my mouth.
As I took a bite, I could feel a burst of flavours — flavourful potatoes coated with batter — I knew it was a Samosa.
I extended my hand to pick up another item on the plate. It had an oblong shape. I took a bite of it and the piping hot and flavourful Corn and Cheese Balls left a lingering taste in my mouth. With every bite, came a surprise — a surprise that was so delicious. This was the first time in my life, I was eating in complete darkness.
The starters also included Fruit Salad, Potato Wedges, French Fries and a Mixed Vegetable Soup. You might wonder that having soup in the dark is a tricky affair but not so if the server guides you thoroughly. Also, after having our first bites, our sense of smell and sound got intensified.
If you want this unique dining experience, step into The Black World India at Hinjewadi where visually impaired servers offer simple, mouthwatering dishes to diners in a pitch-black room. Whatever is served is decided by the team as an element of surprise at this pure vegetarian restaurant, located on the second floor of Xion Mall, next to Courtyard by Marriott Pune Hinjewadi.
We must say that Upadhyay’s politeness, efficiency and hospitality did impress us. Before guiding us to the dining area which can accommodate around 25 guests at a time, where one can relish snacks, main course and desserts for an hour long duration, we were asked to deposit our mobile phones, watches and ornaments (if any) and lock them in a locker. “The idea is to not to disturb the experience. We often tend to use the flash light of our smartphones when the lights go out. We do not want our patrons to do that,” informed Upadhyay who commutes from Wagholi to Hinjewadi using public transport for his work.
He adds, “We want you to see and experience our word, and the reason why you are made to eat in the dark is to heighten all other non-visual senses — sound, touch, taste and smell. We use these senses to function in our day-today life and heavily rely on these judgments. This is also a way to sensitise the perspective of how people look at the visually-challenged. We want people to help us become more independent and earn a livelihood.”
For the main course, we were served Chapati, a preparation of Paneer, an Indian Curry and some flavoured rice, and we ended our meal with ice cream. Once done, Upadhyay led us out to the world of light.
While the servers are visually-challenged, the rest of the staff, including the chefs, can see. This hour-long experience, certainly changed our perspective. We realised how people like Upadhyay can turn their disability into an opportunity and inspire others.
Founded and owned by Ravikant Bhattad, The Black World India takes inspiration from a restaurant in Hungary where the visually-challenged and those who can see go for a role reversal. He came across the restaurant during a student exchange programme. The concept is to make people step into the world of those who cannot see and understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Bhattad, who has been closely associated with the visually-impaired community and has been celebrating his family’s birthdays and other special occasions at blind homes, says, “We want to create more jobs for the visually-impaired. We are planning to start spa and massage service which will have blind masseuse and masseur, and extend our menu to non-vegetarian dishes as well. We are also planning to have live musical performances by visually-impaired artists too.”
If you like extraordinary experiences, this one’s for you.