Sunday, June 17, 2012

Never just the food

Three places last week treated me like a princess.

Sunday night. Diva Piccola in Hauz Khas village. The manager seemed to me like a boarding school product. Someone I might have been in cahoots with to steal, say, bread pudding, from the larder in the refectory after it's been shut. He had a vibe about him - homely? Pride in being homely? in taking care? In dishing out concern. Far more than any 'manager' would. Even though this guy was very much the manager. "This Diva is my baby", I think he said.  He also said, to me, and not at all cockily, (when I said I wasn't hungry), 'Look into my eyes and I'm sure we can make you change your mind' (!). Gosh. Or some thing close to that. Say that to any woman who's just driven down from Dehradun, AND sat through a terrible film, you've done your charity for the month.

Then he gave me a complimentary desert, wedge of carrot cake with a zig zag white sweet sauce on it. Looked good. I didn't eat it. Three points for will power. Five for stubborn. My stand was: uh uh not eating, already told you. Leave me to my coffee be. Seriously. Last weekend again, I was in Doon, and had had my fill of spoil-me food. So I insisted 'my companion' eat the desert. I'd have felt sheepish otherwise. And bad for the sweet manager, he with a non-manager air about him, his free-cake giving habits, his general charm. He backed up his recommendation of a good salad with a great salad, pine nuts and all. And b. he had a manner than made me blush. Neither cloying, nor too confident. Not any of the things people don't know to do in just the right degree. Charmed, I was. And smiling like a total moron.

It felt good. The next day I thought of sending him a thank you note, complimenting him for his excellent unobtrusive but warm service, but decided against because stupid rationale always wins. He was only doing his job, I said to myself, though doing it really, really, really well. Maybe a token of gratitude would be excessive. Let's face it, I had to tell myself, if he wasn't sweet and homely (and only sort-of cute; as much as sort-of feminine), and spoke well, and was very subtle in the winning me over, making me change my mind about the not eating thing, and then very gently taking my trip about it, I wouldn't entertain this thought. But let the records state he would have been so pleased! And surprised. And touched. All nice thins to be. Now, of course, too late. Phrbht. I should really try to reason less with myself.
* * *

Thursday, Tc. where TC = Turquoise Cottage in Priya, Vasant Vihar -- I smashed a beer bottle. Inadvertently, of course. It was an accident. Early evening. There was just me. I was waiting for my friend. It was the first beer. No blaming of the brew. I smashed the bottle. Harbinger of things to come? I mustn't think like this! It slipped. I was stunned. Open footwear. So my feet were washed with beer and that was a first. No great damage. No green specks cutting into the flesh of my sole, but I must have just been startled at the peculiarity of having beer froth around the island my footwear caused. My toes weren't drunk but they could easily have been smashed.

No damage. Just a ringing in my ears and a sudden stiffening. The waiter then became my philosopher. Told me, Madam aap, lagta hai, tension mein hain. That I look like I have a bother, I am tense. 'Tanhaav'. He said. I sighed. He spoke of the importance of living one moment to another and not being bogged down by, well not exactly theses words, but by stray bits of glass that attempt to draw blood.

He got me another beer, immediately, didn't charge for the broken one, said it was an accident, to chill, that I should thank my stars it was just this. Said that back home in his village in Uttar Pradesh they believe tiny mishaps such as mine at that moment are great because they avert much larger calamities.

I've heard this before. He counselled me. Or, he tried. Well meaning. Despite knowing shit about the whirlpool my head felt like -- and he said as much -- that he knows nothing about my life, but it'll be fine; because it's not important, whatever it is, that life changes moment to moment in the subtlest of ways, so drink your beer.

Sujit Kumar, thank you.

* * *

 Saturday afternoon. 50 degrees heat. My friend M and I have to have lunch. Connaught Place. How I miss it. We head there. Car is a microwave. We park, usual, on Jai Singh Road. get off, start acting foolish. We're tickled at me being the caped crusader, using my 'dupatta' to cover up every open skin pore. Blistering, blistering. And even so, despite the heat, we don't let possibly ineffective ac environs deter us from our lunch venue: Andhra Bhavan

The moment it was tossed up, it was fixed. We hadn't been to the place in FOREVER. Since college. M.A days, Back when a vegetarian thali at their canteen was Rs 60, (it's still cheap, but exactly double), and chicken/ mutton must've been nominally more, and the woman selling pickles at the gate used to, we'd tease him, have a thing for then boyfriend. Jesus. Really been a while. M and I, for all our can't-eat-so-much-in-the-summer, ate like pigs. Me more than her. Don't go by the picture.

We laughed at our instincts; at the counter paying, because it's so rushed, so many people, and I'm taller and quicker, I ask her, veg or non veg?, and she looks mock-flustered at the only split second reaction time I've allowed her. So she says, immediately, ok, non veg! I stick to veg. Later she says she didn't even really want non veg. We agreed it was at least a good thing it was only the one plate of chicken, so that I, the dust bin, could consume everything left out thanks to the limited teeny seating capacity of her small stomach. The instinct thing? We attributed the 'ok, non veg!' cry to her 'culture', her specific geographical context, to her tribal ancestors, this off-the-cuff eternal need for meat. Ok, non veg! I, we decided, have a much less clear genealogy, so it gets blurred. And everyone knows, blurred means veg. 

Veg or non veg, I love the thali. I love the dal. I love the fat man there who I tell everyone I go there with, is hugely partial to me. I say this because "it's true!". Come with me. I will show you. I will be given a table faster. I will be asked at least 5 times if I want more rice; more puri, more dal, more rasam, more hope, something to drink; oh, I love it! I'm not saying he's not fantastic with also his other customers. I just like declaring myself special. It's a silly joke between me and the regulars with whom I (used to) be a glutton on ghee at Andhra B. I loved being reminded yesterday of how well they feed you. It's like you've entered their home and since you have, you jolly will better stuff your gut. We were stuffed. Guts were creaking. I skipped dinner. All that rice! All that ghee! Fat man told me to try out all the pickles on the table, and I obeyed him. Loaded with flavour. And spice. Nose runs. Fat man asked me if I wanted more gravy ( of the chicken), and M and I exchanged old knowing looks, floored, touched. I smiled and shook my head and he thought I was being shy so he asked me after two minutes again, and I smiled again, and again shook my head, and finally he believed me and left me to eat with my hands, not watching me make mounds of rice and ghee and wolfing the dal. Boys have been alarmed with how much I can eat. Dal over gravy. Andhra Bhavan over any other. In under Rs 300, we were done, drowsy, and ready to pass out.


MinCat said...

he REALLY is a sweetie! Mohsin, the manager at Diva. and ooo andhra bhavan! but i'm scared to brave a bhavan till winter's here.

Nimpipi said...

Min: Hi! Glad you agree what a total doll he is. And good you took his name. I didn't want to. I have an (of course irrational) fear of everything not being anonymous enough.

Forget winter. Go now! Also to Assam Bhavan and never to Karnataka sanga at Moti Bagh. That place is not nice. Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise.

MinCat said...

i'm a name taking mad food eating person =) diva is one of the few places in delhi that's worth the astronomical prices!

Anonymous said...

karnataka? good idea, heading there immediately.