It was a delightful evening and my daughter, the perfect hostess, desired to give us a treat. What could be more romantic than to have a gala dinner to celebrate our Independence Day [evening?] in one of the famed restaurants of our cyber city, Hyderabad, with the weather playing a perfect goddess? Not too hot and not too cold. But the problem lay elsewhere; no autos were available for quite some time and the one that was available was reluctant to take us there as it entailed an uphill climb. After some persuasion he was willing to take us provided we paid him something extra for his troubles. Are all the Indian auto drivers invariably menopausal?
So we headed for ‘Shikaar’ on road number 2 on Banjara Hills. Being absolutely novices or shall I say ‘innocents abroad’ we were undecided to turn left or right from the crossing. My daughter told me it was near Melting Women, [or so I heard] an ice-cream parlour. I asked a lady who was walking with her husband on the footpath where Melting Women was. She made a face which was certainly not amusing, which I was unable to fathom [as if women never melt, all have gazed upon Medusa’s face], and corrected me that it was Melting Moments and gave me the proper direction. Thus fortified we made it to Shikaar before you can say hello.
She opted for the Mexican Section and guided her mother and me to a secluded corner of the restaurant. And true to form she refused to sit until her mother and I were comfortably ensconced in our seats. The starched and moustachioed waiter, who could have easily doubled for Amir Khan, the Bollywood hero, produced the menu. It was all Greek and Latin to me, but my daughter was more resourceful. No, she doesn’t know Spanish but she had been there before and she was keen to have seafood. She chose Nachos, which happens to be crisp corn tortilla wedges splashed with refritos, melted cheese, tomatoes, onions and a choice of toppings. Surely a musical dish. The waiter rose to the occasion and promptly served us with aplomb. I asked him why he didn’t have a Mexican hat and carried no guitar and could he do us a Salsa to which he was modestly evasive. The dish was delightful and we did justice to it with relish.
We next had Mixed Fajitas. More used to mixed fried rice and mixed chow mien, mixed Fajitas was altogether a novelty worthy of a champion
Epicure. Fajitas is a style of cooking handed down for generations [which style of cooking is not?] made of marinated strips of tender lamb or chicken or fish, grilled with sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and spices. Sancho Panza would have been delighted; specially when served sizzling on your table with salsa fresca and fresh hot tortillas. The lamb was tender and succulent, which a Dubliner would have approved, and we ate to our hearts fill.
Now we were feeling hot and the waiter promptly upped the A.C.
Then was the time when an old woman sat cross-legged at the crossing of Dharmatolla Street and Chowringhee in Calcutta, as only an Indian can. She was massive, really massive, as the mountains, and as old as the Vedas. She was facing west toward the Ganges and her eyes were shut, contemplating. She had a white wrinkled sari on and nothing else and her ponderous breasts were exposed to the elements. A herd of cow-elephants could easily have played on one of them and her arms, which hung limply by her side, resembled the boulders that Polyphemus the Cyclops hurled at Odysseus’ ship. Her feet looked like the Twin Towers of Word Trade Centre of New York. Her face remained the ultimate enigma: serene, benevolent and full of piety with a smile worthy of Socrates. Her locks were whiter than snow. Then was the time when all our heroes came to her bearing presents and to pay their respectful obeisance to this eternal mother. There was Subhas Bose who offered her his sword and Rabindranath Tagore who gave her his manuscript of Gitanjali. Satyen Bose, Acharya Mahalonobis, Khudiram Bose, Matangini Hazra, Satyajit Ray, Chaitanya Mahapravu, Mother Teresa, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia, Saurav Ganguly, Sailen Manna, Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Chhabi Biwas, Bhanu Bandyopadhaya, Bikash Roy and host of others waited patiently for their turn. Then was the time when her fame had spread beyond our borders. Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Amitabh Bachhan, Maulana Azad, Lokmanya Tilak, Jamshedji Tata, C.V.Raman, Ramanujam, Homi Bhabha, Sachin Tendulkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Homi Sethna, Rani Laxmibai, Chatrapati Shivaji, Sam Maneckshaw, Alama Iqbal, Kalidasa, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Jalaluddin Akbar, Mumtaj Mahal and Kapil Dev sought her benediction. Then was the time when her fame had soared across the seven seas and over the mountain ranges. Abraham Lincoln came carrying his log cabin and Mao Zedong brought his Red Book. Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, Henry the Eighth, Nelson Mandela, Leo Tolstoy, Czar Nicholas, Vladimir Lenin, Victor Hugo, Michelangelo, Charles De Gaulle, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Rabelais, Haroun Rashid, Vivien Leigh, Richard the Lionheart, Diana Windsor, William The Conqueror, Isaac Newton, Somerset Maugham, Patrice Lumumba, Enid Blyton, Orson Welles, Agatha Christie, James Joyce, George Washington, Babe Ruth, Washington Irving, Confucius, Gustav Flaubert, Timur the Lame, Elizabeth Tudor, Frank Worrell, Captain Cook, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Donald Bradman, Chengiz Khan, Marlon Brando, Wallis Simpson, Mae West, Papa Hemingway, John Steinbeck , Charles Dickens, Santa Claus, Alfred Nobel and a host of others made haste to her side.
Chic Macho Mam was our last port of call. Not exactly; it was the conjuror’s last trick, as the saying goes. It is grilled chicken served with Mexican rice and potato fries. Very delightful, very refreshing. A far cry from the grilled chicken we have in Kolkata. These were free ranging chickens that were well cut, well dressed, well and truly seasoned. I could spot a twinkle in my daughter’s eyes when she put the succulent pieces in her mouth.
The tables all around us were occupied but there was no din and bustle to rob us of our serenity. We relished our dinner as the occasion demanded with a song in our hearts and a smile on our lips. We simply could not expect more. Time to say goodbye and step out into reality.
The waiter brought us our bill and we appreciated his effort with a generous tip. The night was black as black can be, and the stars, shining brightly, showered their benedictions on us. We had ice creams from ‘Melting Moments’ as we strolled down Road number 2 of Banjara Hills. We did not have any problem on boarding an auto on our way back.
Merci Beaucoup Shikar.