The other day, I had lunch with a friend, SC. There were two pretty small portions of inexpensive pasta. Tasty sauce but a little watery. During lunch we talked of how we had left Pune behind and how it was lovely to be back (a thought that crossed our mind after we’d forgotten the harrowing, smoky traffic one endures to meet a pal in Mumbai.) To celebrate, we went to the posh little café in Crossword at Nirmal Lifestyle. (It’s called ‘Brio’ because that’s so chi-chi.)
I was looking for the biography of Ram Jethmalani for A. On being asked if they had it, the assistant kept asking me ‘Rumi who…?’ So, for quick reference, I told them ‘Ram Jethmalani - the defense for Manu Sharma.’ The next thing I see, the person is typing out ‘Manu Sharma’ in the ‘Author’s’ list. When I further told him that Manu Sharma was not the biographer, he looked a little annoyed. Why had I brought up Manu Sharma if he didn’t have anything to do with the book? I moved on. Why complicate matters of the Universe for an unsuspecting soul? But the thought of Manu Sharma writing a book on his legal counsel was very story-worthy, I must say.
SC and I ordered some coffee and a dainty, blueberry cheesecake.It was pretty good. Over delicate spoons of creamy cheese with blueberry jam, she told me how she loved chocolate. I had no idea what ‘Lindt with 85% chocolate’ meant. And why, with chocolate, bitter means better. Since I am not a chocolate afficionado, I generally regard discussions on chocolate the same way I would regard a documentary on body-piercing. It’s fascinating, sure, but I can’t relate to it.
The discussion stayed in my mind for long after. There are so many people who like chocolate…and that other complicated tasting food – cheese. I wonder why I never liked them. For one – both chocolate and cheese have absolutely no subtlety in their body or taste. (With some varieties of cheese, there is also the matter of overpowering odor.) And the second reason I don’t have them is that you can’t taste anything else when these bulwarks of strong tastes are around. But I do enjoy other people’s rhapsodies on the subject.
That night, I was going through an old edition of Vanity Fair. It’s damn good! I had never read a Vanity Fair before and I probably would never have bought one in India (considering the magazine costs 450 bucks or so). But I got an old copy near Vashi station for ten rupees. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but was very pleasantly taken in with all the feature articles and so on. First of all, I had no clue how BIG Martha Stewart is. I mean, I knew she was rich and all, but the lady has an empire! All these houses in the cities of New York and Paris and Montreal and other countrysides, 100 acres of farms where she lets loose her black studs at night (because they get red if they run during the day and Martha hates that), some 35 rooms in some villa, a separate kitchen only for a boiler that froths milk for her cappuchinos…it’s mind boggling – the amount she has built for herself! Truly, the way to a lot of money is through a lot of stomachs.
Anyway, half-way into the article, I got this very strong urge from somewhere behind my heart and deep into my gut. The urge was some sort of a morphed assortment of taste and texture – something crumbly, salty, creamy, sweet…something like that. A little bit of targeted introspection later, I realised I had the urge to have chocolate and cheese. So, I trooped to the kitchen and of course, couldn’t find anything there because that’s a place I never visit….ever. But after rummaging the fridge a little more desperately, I found some sliced cheese and a box of Ferrero Rochers. Now, I like sliced cheese. They are little less obtrusive than the chunks. And Ferrero Rochers suit me because of the variety in the layering. So, I took a flap of cheese, put a Ferrero Rocher in it, and pressed the ends to make it look like a dimsum.
It was a perfect, awkward confection to nibble while reading Vanity Fair. Nutty, salty, sweet, smooth, and sometimes a pefect melted smidge of it all.
I was so moved that I decided to think pleasant thoughts about Pune. Two memories stand out, because of the unprecedented kindness I encountered in the city. Here they go:
1. Late evening (a period that begins from 6:15 p.m. in Pune), Z and I caught a rick home. The rickshaw fellow had no change. He wasn’t willing to get out and get change either. Z and I were new so we didn’t know who to ask or where to go. Around that time, a couple came up and asked if the auto was free. The rickshaw fellow sat grumpily and refused to look at anyone. (Because we are such mean people that we deliberately refuse to give change.) The boy asked me what the problem was and I told him. He asked me how much I owed the rick guy. It was around 25 bucks. He said that he would be taking the rick upto Karve road and he’d gladly pay my fare as well. Of course, Z and I refused and all that, but the boy insisted. He and his friend rode off and I never saw them again.
2. The next time round, I was out of cooking gas. I had heard that I could get something near Wadia College. So my bai and I took an auto to this place. No luck because it was closed. Someone there suggested we go to Kalyaninagar. The rick guy agreed to take us there. (A small miracle). No luck there either. We were told to try Viman Nagar as well. Rick guy said ‘No Problem!’ Zilch success there. So, tired and unhappy, we decided to come back. The rick fellow, on seeing my weary face asked my bai if we could all stop for tea. ‘Why not?’, I said. He took us to a small dhaba and got us tea. Later he left us home and charged us only the meter fare. I insisted on paying for chai, but he said that was okay. He refused a tip too.
Many, many, many times I have criticized Pune for being slothful, rude, and cunning. Those times, I have disregarded the acts of kindness shown by these strangers. Interestingly, both times, the kindness came from classes of people I tend to be acutely wary of.
But today, I thank them and bless them because it is only with memories such as this can one think of moving to a new place, knowing that there are good people everywhere.
Why did I think of writing this? Maybe it was the chocolate, maybe it was the cheese, or maybe it was Christmas. Whatever it wsas, it was worth it.
Merry Christmas all.