Rishikesh a peculiar place, but perhaps its weirdest tale is the feud between two “Chotiwalas”—men dressed in facepaint as the mascots of competing restaurants. The restaurants are located near the more religious Ram Jhula area of town (locals joke that Laxman was the cooler brother) and are next to each other. Both are called Chotiwala.
Outside each is a two foot-high stage with a fat “Chotiwala” perched atop it, to attract customers. Like Beefeaters, the Chotiwalas don’t talk or smile. They have eight-hour shifts, before which they have to report for a 45-minute makeup session. Both restaurants have makeup men on staff. Projecting a sort of “Ronald McDonald IRL” vibe, the mascots allow tourists to stop and take selfies with them. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and moviestar Hema Malini are some of their famous fans.
The competing Chotiwalas are emblematic of a decades-old family feud. The original restaurant owner was Har Swarup Agarwal, who opened his establishment in 1958. According to a pamphlet marking Chotiwala’s 60th anniversary, Agarwal travelled to Bombay a couple of years after opening the restaurant, and was inspired by the Air India Maharajah to develop a logo. With the image of a maharaj—a Brahmin cook to wealthy or royal households—in his mind, he came back and hired a Chotiwala model. It was such a success, that he copyrighted it.
The problems arose when Agarwal died in 1990, leading to a war of succession between his son and his nephew, Dinesh and Sailesh. Within five years, the younger Agarwals had built a wall in the middle of the restaurant, continuing to run both as Chotiwala. Dinesh has the copyright, which is plastered on his wall, but he’s never sued Sailesh over it.
Finding men to play the Chotiwala isn’t difficult, as the brothers don’t really demand much of the mascot. Dude just has to sit, and take pre-planned breaks. Food is on the house.
Sanjay Rawat, who has worked for Dinesh Agarwal’s Chotiwala since 2014, has seen six people play the role already. “It just needs to be a fat man,” he told me. “If he leaves tomorrow, we’ll just find a new one. We’ll just seat any healthy, fat guy. Thousands of people apply to us for the job.”
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