Saturday, 7 September 2013

Of boilers and samovars.

Kyani & Co., Dhobi Talao, Mumbai

The peeling white paint, the high ceiling with the long fans, the glass pane cupboards. You climb up the steps and enter over 100 years of history. Leaving Mumbai and entering Bombay.

On this particular day of my history, we settle for a plate of Kheema Pav, Akhuri on toast and two cups of tea. We wait for the waiter, who seems to have forgotten to take his weekly bath yesterday, to go around and bring us our 'cutting'. Lamenting on how few of these Irani tea shops can be seen these days.

A caricature climbs up the steps. Holding on to the rope that is left hanging to aid his ilk. A Parsi whose childhood must have coincided with the glory days of Kyani. Whose old age brings with it a slow shuffle of a walk, thick spectacles and a permanent smile. Dentures? Maybe not.

The old man ended the solitude of the table next to us. It isn't surprising when he gets his tea along with ours. The old regulars should be allowed to have some clout, if nothing else. The tea is carefully poured on to the saucer and brought to his lips using both his trembling hands.

I wonder if he has noticed my appreciative gaze for he looks up and asks me what time it is. 4.20. What? 4.20 sir. Young man, you must be careful when you tell time like that. 420 is the local term for a criminal. Taken from the Indian Penal Code Section 420 dealing with crimes of cheating and dishonesty. And you may get slapped. His laugh is loud and friendly. I wonder if he knew that 420 also is a reference to Marijuana in the US. I ask him how long he has been coming here.

Forever. I used to stay here. In Fort. And used to come here almost everyday when I was your age. But these days I am not so regular. Only come in once a week. Ever since my wife was killed I have had to live with my son and he stays far. She was killed in the Gujarati riots. But the Gujarat government was kind enough to send back the body to Mumbai. It came in a nice coffin with a letter from them. A letter expressing sadness for my loss and also mentioning that the Octroi tax had been wavered for the shipment. Can you believe that? My wife's body didn't need Octroi. The loud and friendly laughter caught us by surprise and as soon as it died down the routine with the tea and saucer recommenced.

Lê Lê Street Kitchen, Vesterbrogade, Copenhagen

This place doesn't look too Vietnamese does it. It looks more like a juice shop. The tables outside look nice though. I don't want to sit outside. It's too sunny. Why don't we take that table with the tall stools overlooking the road. You should be happy, they seem to have some vegetarian stuff. I will have the same thing she is having but with the chicken.

It says here that this is the new place that this Vietnamese aunty has opened up. The original Vietnamese place called Le Le Nha Hang is somewhere down the road.

I don't like what I have got. It's just the same stuff that you have but I have a few pieces of chicken on top. The rice noodle are nice but most of the bowl seems to be leaves from the back garden. I hope the lemongrass tea is better. The rice noodles are nice though.

Its nice and sunny outside. The old ladies seem to be liking the sun. If they were in India they would be running from it after a day. Never thought I would be seeing guys wearing business suits riding bicycles. What? Ya, that statement doesn't seem right. It seems like they are in the middle of a circus act. Guys dressed in business suits can be seen riding bicycles. There you happy with that?

I quite liked the waitress. She seemed very warm, blonde hair and grey eyes. No. No. I wasn't checking her out. I was just appreciating beauty like one appreciates art. Just preparing for the trip to Louisiana Museum. 

Hopefully she will bring the tea  and I could confirm if they were grey or green.

I wouldn't have believed that the red light district is the parallel road if I hadn't seen it last night. Walking up Istedgade with 2 suitcases at 2.30 AM and with the 10 day old bride for company. Nice beginning to Copenhagen. Google should have more description included in their maps. Funny how two South Indians ended up getting directions in Hindi from a Pakistani storekeeper in the middle of the night. There is something reassuring hearing a language from your part of the world in another part of the world.

Where has the tea gone? I think they have forgotten it. I can't seem to find the waitress either. Hey, that waiter seems to have nicer hair than you. Let me go remind him about my tea. Just as I suspected. They forgot the tea.

Damn. That's a big kettle. Alright, it's a pretty kettle too. You want a photo of it? For what joy? Cool. Why don't you take one? Don't take it with the food. Your plate looks disgusting. Just take the kettle alone. Here let me place it to overlook the window. Hot. Hot. The kettle is hot.

Elma's, Hauz Khas Village, Delhi

The William Dalrymple book, City of Djinns, is great company when you are roaming the streets of Delhi. But the Hauz Khas monuments aren't mentioned in the book. To be honest, they aren't really the most mention worthy monuments in Delhi but, this book I thought would have a word or two about it. 

A friend recommended Elma's at Hauz Khas Village for their pastries. Is it the weather? The January winter chill mingling with the warmth inside Elma's. Is it the pastel shade of light green or blue on the walls? Is it the sheer number of foreigners sitting in those wooden chairs and drinking tea from porcelain? Not sure what exactly gave the place a rather English feel. Maybe all of the above.

And there was this girl. Even the most ordinary place become memorable when there is such a girl around. But Elma's is far from ordinary. 

Lithe and full of life. In a low neck red sweater and jeans. Black hair band keeps the bob in place. In two minutes the monuments are all but forgotten. Request for a table for one and there is a table smack in the middle of the melee. The apple pie on the counter looks tempting but when she comes to take the order a recommendation is sought. Carrot cake. Oh hell. Bit of a letdown due to a visceral opinion against the presence of vegetables in cakes. A pot of Darjeeling Tea is promptly ordered to help with the cake.

She walks around. Waiting tables. Picking up the tab. Air kissing guests. The whole scene seems carefully orchestrated. Right up to the part where she walks up and asks if her recommendation was fine. The cake was quiet good actually in spite of its orange colour. And the tea? 

The tea is fantastic!