May 05, 2010
“Does the dining area in a 5-star hotel really look like this,” asked Grandma, watching one of the Hindi serials on TV. I noticed how impressed she was with the opulence and ambience of the 5-star hotel and how awestruck she looked as she took in the spread.
Our wedding anniversary was drawing near and I thought this would be the best opportunity for me to persuade my 80-plus grandmother to accompany us for the buffet at a nearby 5-star hotel. At first she was astounded at the very suggestion, protesting vehemently that octogenarians like her, clad in nine-yard sarees, did not visit hotels in the first place, leave alone posh ones. But gradually her protests waned and she reluctantly agreed to join us, perhaps more to satisfy her curiosity than the granddaughter and her husband, I thought.
As we walked into the foyer, the doorman greeted us with a smile and bowed reverentially before my Grandma. She returned his greeting with a blessing for a long and healthy life and the man looked both amused and embarrassed. We made our way to the dining room and were greeted by one of the managers who wished to know whether we preferred a table in the non-smoking area. Grandma literally pounced on him, saying, “What do you mean non-smoking area? How can you allow people to smoke in an air-conditioned place like this?”
The man was flabbergasted but had the courtesy not to snap at her.
“Please, Grandma, let’s take our place in that corner.” I said, and she quietly followed us. “Thank God”, I sighed in relief.
A waiter soon came to our table, wanting to know what soup we preferred.
“Only vegetarian, mind you, we are strict vegetarians, don’t take even eggs,” Grandma informed him, stressing the word ‘vegetarian’.
The waiter tried to suppress his smile, reassuring Grandma that he would serve us only vegetarian soup.
The soup arrived accompanied by freshly fried cauliflower pakodas.
We were happy the old lady relished both and had the soup in style.
“Now what do we have?”, she wished to know.
“Anything we like, Grandma. Let’s go and pick up whatever we fancy from the wide spread,” I said.
We started eating but found Grandma nowhere in sight. Just as I was wondering where she had gone, I noticed her, plate in hand, waiting at the chaat corner. She waved from there and joined us with her plate filled with bhel puri and aloo tikki.
She plunged into the north Indian fare saying, “You know something, I just saw a young couple sitting at that corner table (she pointed her finger towards them), but they were not eating at all.”
“Then what were they doing.” I asked.
“Oh! Don’t ask me all that, go and see for yourself.”
Though I was in no mood to eat chaat, I wandered to the corner, pretending to look around and realised the reason for Grandma’s disapproval.
The girl, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt appeared to be in her late teens and the boy sitting opposite her was almost the same age. They were holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes as only those deeply in love could do. There was a bouquet in front of them and a single lighted candle. Just then the waiter brought a chocolate cake and a knife and placed it before them. The boy cut the cake with one hand and put a piece into the girl’s mouth and she did likewise. Thrusting his camera into the waiter’s hand he had asked him to click. Feeling stupid watching the whole scene, I collected some bhel puri and came back to my table.
“Now, do you believe me?” enquired Grandma, who was half-way through her lunch. I could see she had picked up a whole lot of side dishes which I didn’t remember ever tasting in my life.
We finished our lunch and it was time for dessert. As we headed for the dessert spread, Grandma headed again towards the chaat corner. But she did not stop there. She dragged a chair up to where the couple were seated and was soon engaged in conversation. As it was too far away I could neither hear what she was saying nor see the couple’s expressions.
Grandma came back after what appeared to be an eternity and once she had finished with her dessert, we silently left the place.
Once in the car, both my husband and I asked her almost simultaneously what she had been saying to the young couple at the corner table.
“How disgraceful,” Grandma muttered under her breath.
“What on earth is disgraceful, Grandma,” I asked.
After some hesitation she said, “You know, I asked them whether they were celebrating their first anniversary because of the lone candle…”
I eagerly waited for Grandma to go on.
“Both wanted to know what anniversary I was talking about! I believe the girl and the boy were not even married, nor had they any intentions of getting married. They also said it was none of my business.”
And then she added after a long pause, “I can’t imagine Priya doing something like this.” (Priya was my daughter studying abroad).
“Ok Grandma, forget about the youngsters. How did you like the food and the decor? Are you not impressed with the grandeur of the hotel,” I asked, in an attempt to divert her attention.
“For once, I had a change, a whole lot of new dishes, unlike what you cook every day. For instance, the spicy one with a lot of gravy… I don’t know its name…went very well with fried rice, don’t you agree?” she said.
“Oh, Grandma! Which one are you referring to?” I asked, knowing full well the dish she had picked up and liked so much. But I didn’t have the heart to tell the poor dear its name.
N Meera Raghavendra Rao