Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Flirting with friendship: The Overnight Assignment
Chapter 11: The Overnight Assignment
After a long spiritual conference with Lord Murudeshwara, we all returned to our rooms. All of us were hungry and dad with his usual commanding voice said, “Let’s go to temple. Dinner is being served.” All of us leaped in a sense of urgency as if the dinner would get exhausted.
“Abhi. You need to wear this.” He again handed over the panche. This time I was more conscious.
“Dad... Give me the cotton one.” I said, exchanging the same panche with dad. He was an expert in wearing all types of panche’s, and I wanted to wear it like a simple lungi. I wrapped it around my waist and tied a tight knot on the side so that it doesn’t collapse in front of the ladies. We entered the huge dining room of the temple where prasadam was served. The hall was huge enough to easily feed about three hundred devotees at a time. The hall looked like an American flag with alternatively lesser stripes of black tiles sans the square block of stars in the corner. There was a Pyramid of Plates stacked up at the corner of the exit and it looked so elegant yet it was a simple juxtaposition of daily used steel plates. The devotees were seated on the tiles slightly raised above the ground level and the chefs of the temple began to drag a steel trolley full of rice in between two stripes of tiles. With the chefs on either side of the trolley, they started serving rice on both sides with two huge spade-like tablespoons.
“Oh! My God!” Shrushti exclaimed. “Do we have to eat all that?” she was shocked looking at a huge mountain of rice on her neighbouring plate.
“Swalpa swalpa...” she requested the chef to drop just few specks of rice grains in her plate. The chef banged the spoon on the trolley, while a huge chunk of rice dropped inside the trolley, the remaining; he slammed it on her table-size stainless steel plate.
“These guys don’t have any table etiquette.” She grumbled.
“This is not Grand Hyatt sweetheart.” I smirked while others just giggled.
While all of us started eating with our bare hands, mixing the rice and sambhar like cement and gravel and making huge balls of rice, and throwing it straight in their mouths, Shrushti was almost nauseated. Instead, I was wondering, how the hell do they have such a perfect aim? Not a single ball of rice touched their lips. I didn’t ask for less or more when it came to eating at the temples. I always loved the flavours and I’d missed it. When the heap of rice landed on my plate, I divided it into two and mixed sambhar with one section. I quickly gobbled all of it and cleared the path for the second section of rice.
“Vassam... Vassam...” I was calling out for the chef to serve rasam, with my mouth still stuffed with the balls of rice.
The chefs hardly wore any upper clothing revealing their not-so fat, not-so thin physiques and a neatly tied saffron lungi with a white panche on top of it. The chef came in and poured a bowl of rasam in my plate. I was salivating just by smelling the freshly ground spices and all the garam masala from a distance. The nicely diced pumpkins and the aroma of drumstick sambhar blended perfectly with a Southern flavour of steamed rice.
Annadaata sukhi bhava. I prayed to God and continued to savour the heavenly food.
“Majjiganna... Majjiganna....” the chefs rolled in with the trolley of rice for the third time asking for the third course of rice with butter milk. For a moment, they’d mixed two different Kannada words majjige (butter milk) and anna (rice) which together sounded like swear word nimajjige anna. (Rice for your grandmother)
“Amma... What are they saying?” Sakhi asked mom.
“Rice with butter milk?” She replied. Sakshi wasn’t used to much of this side of Karnataka where the accent was quite distinct and so was the food. Everyone was done with the dinner, but Anusha was still struggling with her first course of rice and sambhar.
“Hurry up Anu.” Mom insisted her to quickly finish the food. Usually during any functions, we always tend to greet the guests and ask them to eat patiently, but this temple was neither our marriage hall nor it was my wedding.
“If you can’t finish it then leave it.” Mom was getting impatient. She hates it when someone doesn’t keep up the pace while eating. Everyone gets the same food, and everyone eats at the same time and same thing. Her philosophy was simple, “Be a Roman, while in Rome.” And it worked pretty well for her, because that is how mom and dad fell in love and got married, but still she didn’t give up her religious habits.
Anusha finished the food finally and got up before mom could drag her out of the waiting line. While we all were waiting outside, the cool breeze on the seaside at night intrigued Sakshi’s mood.
“Abhi. Shall we go out for a walk?” she asked me.
“I don’t know sweetheart. Ask mom if we can go.” I didn’t want to piss her off as she already was, a little.
“I’ll ask, but are you ready to walk with me?” She asked with a concerned look in her eyes.
“Of course Sakshi. I’ll do anything with you.” I winked at her. She quickly ran towards mom and asked her permission.
“She’s fine with it.” Sakshi came with a smile. “But she wants us to come back soon.” She said. “Tomorrow we’re leaving early.”
I quickly got rid of my lungi and put on my usual shorts and a cosy tee.
“We’ll come with you.” Shrushti and Anusha shouted in unison. I didn’t want to be their night watchman and look after them, but they always gave this vulnerably seductive look and I didn’t have a NO to give them.
“Come on then. Don’t delay.” I said. They were back in their usual knickers and Shrushti looked a little bit excited than before.
Something’s fishy. I felt and carried on with them for a walk on the beachside at night. The sea looked like an abysmal wormhole to another parallel universe. Its roaring sound without any sight of the waves made the moment scarier and got Sakshi closer to me.
“So.... You are a Kama Sutra fan, huh?” She asked with a devious look.
“It’s just the deodorant.” I said. “It’s not the slimy rubber-made banana flavoured anti-reproductive sheath to be worn on my phallus.”
“WHAT???” Sakshi sounded confused.
“I am talking about the COND....” Sakshi shut my lips with her palm.
“Condiments and confectioneries.” I said. “You get them in plenty in all the Swami Iyegngar bakeries.” I mocked her.
Suddenly, there was a loud burst of laughter and when we turned back; Shrushti and Anusha were on the ground. They looked completely stoned. I quickly ran towards them while Sakshi measured her footsteps.
“What’s wrong with you girls?” I held Shrushti tightly and shook her like a test tube to see if I get any reaction.
“Hehehehe...” She started giggling with her closed eyes. A small bottle of Vanilla Vodka was lying empty beside her.
“We are screwed.” I said, running my hand through my hair.
“You too Anu?” I asked. “You are elder to her. You should have stopped her.” I began lecturing Anusha.
“Elder my ass!” She screamed. “You are an old man.” She was totally stoned for sure. I had no idea how many bottles they had emptied in just five minutes. Why do they drink if they don’t know their limits? I cursed myself for bringing them out with me.
“I need to do something before mom and dad see them in this condition.” I told Sakshi with a determined voice.
“You hold Shrushti, I’ll hold Anu. We’ll take them to a hotel.” Sakshi said with a mission already planned in the back of her mind.
“What are you talking?” I asked without having any idea what she wanted to do.
“I have a plan. First help me take these stoned asses out of the beach before the beach patrol kicks us out.” She ordered.
“Aye aye Captain.” I saluted Sakshi with one hand, while I held Shrushti in another.
It was around 10:30 and usually the hotels in those localities shut down pretty early. To our great fortune, there was just one small shack opened and we rushed in.
“One rice plate.” Sakshi ordered the waiter, who was wearing some minimal clothes and his legendary white lungi.
“Are you crazy?” I started yelling at Sakshi. “We just consumed a valley full of rice at the temple.”
“Bhattre, swalpa kharapudi...” Sakshi ordered the waiter to get some red chilli powder.
“I am outta here.” I said and went out, while Sakshi began to nurse Shrushti and Anusha. After few minutes I heard shrieking voices of Shrushti and Anusha. I ran inside to see whether Sakshi was feeding them or feeding on them. When I entered the hotel, Sakshi had mixed the red chilli powder and rice and had completely finished the contents of the plate. I now knew where all the chilli rice went.
“Nice job my dear Commander.” I hugged Sakshi sideways and waited for the ladies to freshen up. It took a while for them to get back to their senses and Sakshi successfully accomplished the task without making them puke.
“You are a genius.” I squeezed and pecked her cheeks which were red with anger.
“Promise me that you won’t drink again when we’re with our parents.” I caught Shrushti again, this time not like a test tube, but like a steering wheel trying to control her mood swings. Her hair was all messed up and her eyes were red.
“I am so sorry.” She murmured. “Anusha forced me to have a shot.” She said pointing her swaying finger at Anusha. I was shocked to learn about such latent desires Anusha had. “I am calling Vikram home tomorrow.” I said looking straight into Anusha’s eyes. She still looked unmoved.
“He knows I drink.” Anu said. “He just doesn’t know why.” I didn’t even bother to know the reason now. All I wanted was to go back to room before mom and dad could get upset and stop us from further mingling with each other. I didn’t want to spoil any moment spent in this place.