Cheap food is hard to find in this city, perhaps because those who named it chose to acknowledge beans rather than beef. This is the story of how one such discovery was made.
Some years ago we were summoned by the university. But alas, mere indignation is never any use against myrmidons. The story is, sadly, untellable; I do not wish for myself the truly mortifying end that must come from catching an officially-flung Secrets Act at some funny angle to the ribs.
The quality of the bustle that greeted the above orders may explain why we’re such a dump. I stood watching my friends while red-ink pens began sprouting furiously from my many pockets. The Marxists said something about looking for some universities Act, and turned and looked at me, meaning to say, get on the internet and find it for us. I yawned, upon which the request ceased. My cavities being the mystery cat in this case. Cheriyan said various things such as ‘Kafkaesque’, and cheered up immediately.
Here I have to rant. Every time he sees a connection between what the good, dead Franz said and anything in the real world, a stupidly happy, bridegroom-type look mantles his honest Mallu face and his mental lungi hitches up all by itself to become its own better half, after which he’s a lost cause. If I’m not throwing bombs or storming some Ladies’ Bastille or doing a Vladimir-Ilyich-back-from-Zurich, it is because of this sobering thought, that the army enthusiastically responding to my exhortations towards anarchy may be composed of merely one foot-soldier, that this uniped might just be the not-so-nevski alexander, all resolved to stand around only till some comer, one or nun, breathes the word Kafka upon the morning glow.
In the eleven years during which I have bumped hips with his Bollywood starlet of a table, its left-corner perpetually out at a horribly optimistic angle, I have heard the Kafka trope fifty times, inclusive of variations. If I ever get around to making a passport, it will be to go to Prague, to find the bloody New Jewish Cemetery and there to piss on the grave of that bloody scribbler while yelling Dachau! Dachau! (to rhyme with Wakaw) and simultaneously firing enough Katyushas to level all the mountains in Israel, where all this persecution nonsense began.
So we went. And corrected papers. And left a little Tamerlane monument of heaped up orange-and-green booklets, slashed and marked in diabolic rage.
One fortuitous discovery made up for all the nonsense we had to read, and hear. On the first day, when hunger blew its imperious horn, calling us to heel and trot like obedient dogs, we chucked all objects and went out to investigate. With much pessimism, I must add, for what we craved was good red meat, or fish, and all the signboards were dressed in virtuously vegetarian colours.
And then somebody spotted a lateral sort of crater, positioned under a board that read Sri Sai, Veg & Non-Veg. We hooted and ran across the road, endangering the lives of the always frightened women who ride Kinetic Hondas slowly and in swarms of sixty-five across Jayanagar under orders to convey the illusion that people actually live there.
Three tables, crammed into a 10×5 room, and a kitchen just beyond. No décor, no menu. Five waiters, who combined waiting with cooking, table-wiping and writing out bills on scraps of newspaper which you could then use to wipe your hands with. They could also call out for you the day’s fare in the lilt-and-stilt Kannada of people comfortable in Konkani. Much choreography, methinks, because they were constantly running back and forth with serving-vessels dangling from luxuriantly hairy arms, yet not a spill, nor any manner of collision.
Cheriyan and I let out many silent whoops when the food arrived, because the fish curry was good honest matthi, always so hard to find in Bangalore restaurants. If there is any fish which deserves a book to itself, it is the lowly sardine. Apart from what it did for Jeeves. A true gourmet is one whose appetite burgeons after crunching through two or three of these. We graduated from the fish-curry and rice to egg-curry and chapattis to the accompaniment of many glasses of hot water, and then feeling truly like admirals, we ordered us some fried Bangda.
Cheriyan retired at this point and consoled himself by composing sentences that began “Boy!”—all in praise of the food. I was morally unable to retire because I found that they also had ragi muddhe, often idiotically menuised as ragi balls. The metabolism begins to sing like an automobile engine that has realised it can do gear 5 for the next half hour when I hear that muddhe is available.
These language activists are talking out of their asses. It is far more important to insist that all restaurants serve muddhe than to quibble about signboards in Kannada. Muddhe is far more Kannada than the stupidly sanskritised version of the language. So muddhe was ordered and it arrived accompanied by spicy green chutney and a whole quart of sardine-curry.
After this, we took tea; milky, over-sugared-tea, bearable only because it was served in little glass thimbles and perhaps because it stood in humble counterpoint to that riot of spice and fish and ragi. And then we trundled back to work.
We went there for lunch every day. No more Kafka-references were made during the long month we spent at university-evaluations. I began cheering up at 10 every morning because lunch at Sri Sai was a mere three hours away. When we bid the restaurateurs our final goodbyes, Cheriyan made a speech while I gave my belly a little pat. And thus it was that another truly evil conspiracy by the world to turn us into harried adults was utterly and completely foiled.