“Aur kuch lenge saab?” asked the tall man. S put a hand to his chest, while letting out a satisfied burp. No covering of the mouth, no apologies. Just a satisfied man. S leaned back on the chair and said “Pandey ji, aap to mere liye Bhagvan hain. Thank you, bahut kha liya”.
“Theek hai, main aapka bill leke aata hoon”, said Avinash, and he walked towards the billing counter. Watching him go, S, drank some water, and reflected on the past one odd (or even) hour.
It was a stormy and dark night. Err… is that not a dark and stormy night? No, you are not reading the eternal first line from Snoopy’s (of Peanuts fame) novels. Bangalore does have stormy nights during monsoon, and BESCOM, the local electric company provides the darkness to go along with it. As usual, S, was working late. Something to do with his “so much to do, and so little time left to do it in” attitude. The 50’s does that to you, he often said. He looked at his watch. It was 10:15 pm. He realised that the odd feeling he had been experiencing for the last two hours was hunger pangs. A half-eaten soggy grilled vegetable sandwich lay in the open cardboard cover, by the side of the table. At least 9 hours old. Just for a moment, he thought of making a meal of it, but then decided against it. Just as well. You would not be reading this otherwise.
He hurried out of the office, realising that most eateries in Bangalore, unlike Mumbai, close down much earlier. BDA Complex, HSR Layout, he thought as he drove through a rather traffic-free, and unlit ORR. The new restaurant there, what is it called, um, Bharatiyam, right. The rain that was pouring down since he had left the office, halted. A good omen? Possibly. The guard was closing the gate, but opened it, as S approached. “Yellaru mucch bittidare saar”, he said. Everyone has closed. S, just nodded, parked his car and hurried to the restaurant. It was closed. And locked too. No one seemed to be around.
Another biscuits and milk dinner night, thought S. The stomach did not agree. It sent the requisites signals to get S to go to the rear entrance of the restaurant. The staff were sitting on the steps, on chairs, chatting and having their dinner. Hot food, what with steam rising off the plates. Inside, empty vessels were being washed. An ordinary person would have probably stepped back to the car, and gone for the biscuits and milk option. Of course, our S, is not an ordinary person. So, S stepped forward, smartly side-stepping the small puddles of water, and asked “Bhayya, kuch khane ko mile ga kya?”. Some of the staff who had their mouths full, looked up at him. Gaped at him. A short man, smartly dressed, with a tie, and polished shoes, seemingly educated, who does not seem to realise that the restaurant is closed?
“Haan saab, kyun nahin” said a thin, tall man, leaving his plate of food. “Aap please aage se ayange? Main darwaza khol doonga”, he said, stepping to the side with a jug of water to wash his hands. S, walked back around to the front, and the man was there, opening the glass door. “Aaiye saab. Khana to sab khatam ho gaya hai. Rice hai, aur daal hai. Aap bole to main roti banwa sakta hoon aap ke liye” he said, “Oye Prakash, illi ba”.
S, was more than happy to eat rice and daal. Quickly a plate was brought. “Aapka naam?” asked the ever inquisitive S. “Avinash Pandey” was the reply. Avinash hovered around S, even as Prakash, brought the rice, and then the daal. “Paani?”, he said, keeping a glass of water on the table. The rice morsels tasted better than ever. Daal tadka was of course out of this world. Prakash even brought a few phulkas to the table. And a small bowl of curd.
“80 rupees saab”, said Avinash, handing over the bill to S. Brought back to the presnt, S reached for his purse, and said, “Aap aaj mujhse 800 rupees bhi maangte, to main mana nahin karta”. Avinash just smiled. “Aap jaante hain ki aaj aapne kya kiya hai?” said S, “zindagi bhar ke liye, main aapka fan ban gaya hoon”.
S, still is. He naratted this incident to me when we were at Bharatiyam recently. Two hungry customers. Served well. Happily.
As S, was leaving the BDA complex through the back gate, he glanced towards the rear entrance of the restaurant. Pandey ji was there. Finishing his unfinished meal. It had started drizzling again…
If you do go to Bharatiyam, in the BDA Complex, HSR Layout, Bangalore, ask to meet Avinash Pandey. Shake his hand across the counter, and then enjoy your self-service meal. Not everyone is as lucky as S is. Bon appetite!