Lata, my best friend had always this one strange side to her which constantly nagged at her very existence. That sphere of torture to her lay in the fact that I had in my 11 years of knowing her, never taken her out for lunch or dinner. Sure we have as young college students of the 21st century munched our way through vegetarian burgers, French fries and ice cream at McDonalds along with some binge eating at Dominos but, never at a restaurant or a hotel per se. It is a sort of luxury I enjoy or rather swallow up as I do castor oil every time she meets me, and nags me to irritation about her not been taken out for a bit of good cuisine.
At this point of my narrative, I wish to clarify that throughout our friendship, she has never offered to take me out for even a leaf of betel let alone ‘fine dining’. I remember the time I once asked her for a bit of cash for a ‘gola’ as we call it here in India (which is nothing much, just frozen ice on a stick with coloured syrup poured over it) to which she tartly remarked that she would rather turn a Catholic, so I had to borrow the money from a bloke called Francis who indeed will become an ordained Catholic priest in a year’s time.
In short, Lata would never take me out, only I had to do so and being best of friends, ‘going Dutch’ would not even be considered as an option. If at all we would go out:
- I would have to pay the bill
- I would have to choose the restaurant
- It better be a vegetarian restaurant (Lata is a hard core vegetarian)
- We should give the waiter a tip (to garner his blessings)
Being the person that I am (stingy) I really never acted upon this at all. Money flows readily through my fingers for good books and stationary but certainly never for food. As the saying goes I ‘eat to live’ though my plus size figure speaks otherwise. There too I assure you, it’s the Thyroid acting up.
However, as stated, I never got down to taking Lata for lunch or dinner for a decade…until yesterday when through another friend I learnt of a magnificent five star hotel in town, south Mumbai, which was cooking out my favorite salmon. I immediately declined the offer, to which my mother stood and almost slapped me saying,
“For gosh sakes Fiza ! Get your head out from those smelly books, and live like a human being . . . besides,” she added with a strong emphasis, “It is salmon.”
Well that moved me quite a bit. I put down my Salil Tripathi book titled Detours on my study table, picked up my cell phone and dialled Lata. She said she would definitely come so I said we would be going to south Mumbai for dinner (I discreetly did not inform her about the fish we would meet on my plate at dinner) and by 8:00 p.m., we were off.
Lata dressed for the occasion, and what a dress it was – a bright neon pink salwar kameez with a golden border along with yellow stitching on the fabric, with a pair of silver platform shoes. I was in my usual black kurta and harem pants, black is a happy color, especially for people as bulky as me.
We reached the hotel by 9:00 p.m., just in time for dinner. Lata tripped at the threshold of the elevator which got the door stuck for 10 minutes. I said it was the platform shoes, she said it was my unlucky birth star and so I didn’t push it. A handsome waiter led us to our table which I had reserved for Lata and myself near the window, for I knew that Lata loves as she puts it ‘views from a height’. It is her dream to buy a house in a skyscraper, but back to dinner.
Lata prattled on and on about the smell of chicken in the air and whether the couple sitting opposite us were not looking a bit odd.
“The man looks like her grandfather, not a boyfriend!”
“Well maybe they are grandfather and granddaughter, what of it and stop staring,” I said kicking Lata’s platforms under the table.
Then began my agony in the garden of three hours exact. I’ll note my woes down in list form one by one:
- When the menu was brought to Lata, she screamed into the waiter’s ear saying that there were hardly any vegetarian dishes in it.
- When the vegetarian page was shown to her, she said she would rather prefer the Jain menu
- When the waiter said ‘Who is Jane?’, Lata admonished him severely and lectured him about the Jains of India
- When he still did not get it, Lata told him to ‘get lost’ and she called for another waiter
- The other waiter asked her whether she would like some soup, she said she did not have a cold
- Then when I asked for some sweet corn soup, Lata said quite loudly that ‘the soup would give me gas’
- After placing our orders, Lata began to play with the fork and spoon while I read Runaway Writers by Indu Balachandran
- While I read, Lata called a manager and told him to replace the ghastly music that was being played (Mozart) and play some Bollywood numbers
- When the manager said he couldn’t do it, Lata started nagging me to shreds about what a boring time she was having
- When I put down my book to see what all the fuss was about, Lata’s fork landed in my right eye
- While I wailed in pain, the starters arrived and Lata in haste spilled the noodle soup that I had ordered on the ground and on her gaudy platform heels
- When I realized what was happening, Lata said that I was a hopeless host, picked up my paperback and began to read it
- When I thought to myself ‘two can play it this way’ and fished out another paper back titled Forbidden Desires by Madhuri Banerjee, Lata threw the earlier paperback onto my plate which was full of salad of the wettest kind and said she was getting bored with reading
- When the salmon arrived, Lata almost retched on it
- When it was placed on the table at my end along with her salad on the other end, she called the waiter who was serving us a pig
- When he haughtily asked her why was he a pig, Lata said that she had ordered some onion rings which he had forgotten to bring
- When the waiter and I both clarified that she had done no such thing, Lata screamed and in a huff left the table to go back to the car
- When I began to eat the salmon, she returned, grabbed my hand and told me that we would not eat in such a boring place
- As I paid for the fish, Lata finally started to cry and said that I had used her for a piece of stinking fish — we vowed never to go back to that hotel again.
Well, I didn’t get to eat my fish and the bill made rather a big hole in my purse but I had at last taken Lata to dinner, and it had turned out quite the way I thought it would. Will I take her out again . . . no I’d rather read thank you very much.
Copyright © 2016 Fiza Pathan
Image courtesy: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/145411