Clean, cool, glamorous place to dine out. Carpet, chandeliers, flowers, fragrance, music, maidens, all around.
The family has an interesting experience
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“Have you taken Isha out to dine yet?” Qosh was asking.
“It’s been over a year now, since you migrated from India. How’s the country? How are you feeling there?”
“The country’s great,” Rosh replied over the phone. “We’re having fun. We went out dining too, recently.”
“Incidentally, she was taunting me just a few days ago, that I was a miser. Hadn’t once taken her out to a hotel to dine... "
“Then?” asked Qosh.
“Then what?” said Rosh indignantly. “I was pulling my hair out, thinking, O Lord! What planet has eclipsed my fortune, that the hard-earned money of my sweat and blood is going to be wasted so.”
“The infallible way to win domestics,” advised Qosh, “is to surrender. Admit defeat. Bachelors may not take this advice, but wise, experienced, happily married men would surely agree.”
“I had to surrender too,” said Rosh. “There is a buffet restaurant in Auckland, on the Pakuranga Highway, called Valentines. It charges by the people, not by the food. So, you can eat as much as you want.”
“Realizing the gravity of the situation, I decided that we should go dining at Valentines. How we ate – by which I mean how much we ate – would have made us paupers, had we gone anywhere else.”
“So, kiddo, wife and I arrived at Valentine. Now it is customary here, that people order something to drink before they eat.”
The menu was on the table. Drinks were being served all around. I sensed danger, because wifey was poring over the pages of the colorful drinks menu.
I fired my first question secretly into the waiter’s ear.
“Excuse me," I said, "Do drinks have to be paid for separately here, or are they included in the meal?”
Now, all waiters here are extremely beautiful girls. And ultra-attractive is their style.
She smiled slowly at my question, and said, “Sorry?”
A knife pierced my heart. I asked again, "Are these drinks free here, or do they have to be paid for separately?”
Her smile deepened. From the enlightenment that this turkey had arrived newly in the country. And was eating out at a restaurant for the first time.
“The first one is on the house,” she said. “The rest have to be paid for.”
That said, she smiled again cutely and then walked away. l felt as if I had been given a life. I found Isha staring at me, as I turned back towards her at the table.
“What were you saying to her?” she asked suspiciously.
“Asking her,” I said, “whether the food is so bad here, that everyone is having to wet their throats first.”
“What happened then?” Qosh laughed and asked.
“What could have happened?” Rosh continued. “She glowered at me and started reading the menu again.”
“There’s something called self-esteem, after all. First time I had brought her to this restaurant to dine. I couldn’t possibly tell her that I was asking the waitress if they charged for the drinks as well?”
“It was a clean, cool, glamorous place to dine out, Pa. Wall to wall carpet laid on the floor. Shimmering light falling off radiant chandeliers. Flowers, fragrance, music, maidens, all around.”
I was getting my fill just watching the splendor, when the wife asked, “Aren’t you going to get us anything to drink?”
“Hey!” I glowed back graciously. “Order the costliest drink you want, but I’ll permit only one. Don’t ask for another.”
She ordered pineapple juice, but I was busy searching for the most expensive drink on the menu. I pointed my finger at a drink with a strange name, whose photo was in the menu, and said to the waitress, “This. I want this!”
“My drink actually turned out to be gin and tonic, even though it came with a tiny, burning sparkler. Cherry chicken and doves straddled the glass rim along with a slice of orange.”
“Vast dollops of cream and ice floated in the glass. Overall, it was just like the drink a movie star enjoys while lounging on a beach, no less.”
“When the invoice arrived, the sparkler ejected from the bottom end – but all that later. Looking at my drink, I thought, ‘Well, that's at least some of my money’s worth back’.”
People were looking at me askance. Even if they weren’t, it felt as if they were all watching me.
When the burning sparkler ended, the wife asked, “Well, aren’t you going to drink it? What are you waiting for? Its self-service for food here. People are fetching their meals themselves.”
My trouble was that while on the one hand, I was enjoying watching the sizzling sparkler, on the other I was weighing up between drinking up first or polishing off the cream in the glass first with a spoon. I still hadn’t decided.
“What’s the rush?” I said. “We’ll get there. We’ve just arrived. Let’s first savor our arrival here.”
“Come on, hurry up!” the wife pestered me. “I’m famished. We'd better get it before it’s all gone!”
Note: An abridged version of this story appeared in five parts in 1997 in Bharat-Darshan, ISSN 1173-9843, Volumes 3,4,5 and 6 (Year 1) and Volume 7 (Year 2), and was titled "पैसे वसूल" (Paise vasool).
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