What better way to celebrate the 10th of May this year than a dinner at Zaranj’s? It was our anniversary and to remember our thirty years of togetherness, we drove over to the National Museum and Zaranj was just across the corner. A liveried doorman, dressed like a Maharaja of yore, ushered us in. Two cavernous halls greeted us; the Chinese-Thai-Japanese bonanza straight ahead and the North Indian- North West Frontier Mahal just to the right. We opted for the Indian section. No it was not a bazaar not even a shopping mall but a cosy nook to relax and contemplate on the fleetingness of time.
Two smartly dressed stewards ensconced us in our seats, which were adjacent to an ersatz waterfall. It was rather early in the evening and the space wasn’t crowded. We asked for Fish Begum Bahar to start with along with a beer for me and an almond drink for my better half. Succulent bhetkis skewered over fire and then cooked in butter were a delicacy. Indeed a kebab worth the memory and with beer being served in a silver jug the ambience was simply supraterrestrial.
"What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?"
"Strong beer," said I.
"There's a place for everything,
There's a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen's wing;
For poison, the bee's sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me."
After doing full justice to the Bhetki we chose chicken. The waiter suggested Murgh Omar Khayyam and sure enough it was a delight. Omar Khayyam has an undying reputation; be it his divine poetry, his passion for wine or his mathematics. The dish was none of these three but something equally celestial. Chicken drumsticks barbecued in a coal oven tasted like ambrosia with a dollop of curd-pudhinara sauce. Moonlight dancing was not on the menu but it was the next best thing.
Three decades is certainly a long measure of time. Raising children takes its toll; and the daily grind of existence leaves us with little scope for appreciation of our contributions. Her voice, very silent, very shrill, still evokes the same responses as it deed that summer of 1977.
I've counted the miles to Babylon,
I've flown the earth like a bird,
I've ridden cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
But no such song have I heard
The evening was no longer young and the place was filling up fast. There was very little of bustle and the diners were sober like a Jesuit. There were paintings hung on the wall: robust tribesman of the Frontier, majestic farmers from the land of the five rivers and many more. The chef behind a glass cage was busy roasting the kebabs, for all to see and admire.
We were keen to proceed to the main dish of Surkh Korma and Lacha Tawa Paratha. This needed some waiting but it was the crème de la crème. It was boneless mutton, well cut, well cooked and well served with circular ghee- fried bread. We ate to our heart’s delight. Full marks Zarang! The Emperor was not only fully clothed but in State Regalia.
It was time to take our leave and my wife had a Tutti-Frutti for the road. Stepping out we saw the stars were shining in all their glory.