Monday, November 05, 2007

Alone in a corner booth

It was a harrowing drive to Mulund this Saturday afternoon. I had to get to Nirmal Lifestyle for a shopping spree with a friend, and disregarding past experiences, I figured I’d zip through the roads at 2:00 p.m.

I was wrong. Not because there were too many cars on the roads. But because they were too many cars and not enough roads. The Ghansoli/ Rabale bridge was a nightmare. I am mortally scared of getting stuck on a slope, and what I experienced that awful afternoon was an episode straight out of Fear Factor.

One part of the road is being excavated (‘dug up’ doesn’t apply)- no doubt for a picture of an undug road from a bygone era; why else would they dig so deep? So streams of vehicles could go to and fro on only one narrow strip. There were almost 4 disjointed, skewed lanes on a strip that could barely handle 1. I was probably the smallest car in that agglomeration of grating metal and wheels, barring the autos. The autos, to their credit and my chagrin, made up with gumption what they lacked in size.

So, there we were - stuck interminably on a dusty, smog-choked path on a slope. I was wedged between a colossal truck with ugly, menacing pipes in front of me and an angry-wheezing bus behind. To my left was a huge Volvo that behaved like a squat lady trying to make place on a crowded seat in a train. Every time, the truck in front of me inched ahead, the Volvo next to me tried to nudge its way in my lane. I couldn’t possibly allow that, more for fear of what the angry bus behind me would do if it witnessed my pusillanimity.

Every 15 minutes, the truck moved ahead an inch. The first time I tried to get the car ahead, I slided down a little bit. Each and every horn on that lane blared and wailed and my teeth actually started rattling. So, quickly the handbrake was pulled. I knew that I couldn’t possibly make that mistake again, because we are bumper-to-bumper on a slope.

So, I just zoned out everything else - the sweat on my forehead that was streaming down despite the AC, the harsh glint of afternoon sun that hurt my eyes despite the glares, my parched throat, my dry tongue, my aching back, my tense neck. I just did the handbreak-accelerator-clutch-break-handbreak routine steadily. One step at a time, and after what seems a damned eternity, we finally reached leveled land. Handling traffic is such a breeze when the million of you are on the same plane.

Anyway, I reached Nirmal Lifestyle and after parking, waltzed in with the gaiety of a pedestrian. Ah! To be on foot and to be free!

I bought a lipgloss – a very pretty hibiscus tint, and some indigo eyeliner. I roamed around here and there, and suddenly the dehydration hit me. So, I stepped into this cheery little outlet of Ruby Tuesday.

Now, I have been to other Ruby Tuesdays before, and while I have enjoyed myself most times, I’ve never really found the place ‘informal’ enough. I mean, I would probably always go there as part of some plan, never on a whim. But I really liked this one.

It has the standard d├ęcor of all Ruby Tuesday restaurants – green booths with gold railings, bright posters, and funky retro installation pieces on the walls.

As soon as I walked in, a cheery waiter greeted me and asked me if I’d like to be seated in the smoking or the non-smoking section. Because the restaurant was sparsely populated then, I took my favorite place in restaurants like this – the corner booth. I just sank in, sort of collapsed in the hold of that comforting upholstery and flipped through the huge, hearty menu.

Now, in most places in Mumbai (possibly elsewhere in India as well), mocktails are usually sweet, creamy, milky concoctions. Very few places get imaginative with clear, fruity flavored mocktails. The farthest they’d go is probably have a peach iced tea in addition to a lemon flavor. (Exceptions are Pop Tates, Noodle Bar, Bombay Blues, TGIF.) Ruby Tuesday, though, had a rather delightful list I could choose from. I got myself a Pineapple Margano-Rita (that’s what they call their Virgin Margerita) and settled down to catch my breath.

People around me were having huge platters of fried chicken wings or shrimps with dollops of sour cream, and gulping down jugs of beer. I nursed my chilled, foggy glass and sipped my way to tranquility. With every drop that condensed on the napkin, with every tease of the sugar and salted rim, with every clink of ice, with every sip of sublime sweetness that went down my throat, I got further and further away from the crowded bridge I’d have to encounter at peak hour later. The harshness, past and impending, just receded like sea from the shore.

It’s a pleasant world that passes by when you’re in a corner booth.

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