indigestion: Another night out in lahore.
The war of two memories almost always sways in the favor of the one that comes later.
Or so I had thought, until I gave in to the ferocious offensive carried out by my mother in favor of dining out at the Y-Block wala Bundu Khan.
Now Bundu and I go way back. Decades.
Playing hooky from school in the car I’d have stolen from home would lead a bunch of rowdy, boisterous and all together unruly Aitchisnoians straight to the fortress stadium Bundu Khan sans air conditioning or even proper concrete walls. But what they lacked in creature comforts they more than made up for in the mind boggling quality of the food. Any one who’s ever eaten at Bundu will swear upon his life that no one does parathas better. And the chicken Karahi. My good GOD! How the hell they manage to make it so delicious without being spicy and with so much gravy is beyond me. All I remembered from my last trip 6 years ago was the lingering taste of a huge chunk of paratha wrapped around a succulent morsel of a chicken’s breast soaking in the chunky gravy which is a mixture of all the best spices, dipped in the sweetest raita in the history of human existence with a few onions stuck on just for effect.
For years I opined. Every time I ate a big mac, I had tears in my eyes. And the horrible, over spiced and under cooked, Pakistani food we eventually managed to discover later on in our American sojourn just made us crave the flavors from back home even more. On my first trip back, I had just discovered love so even the succulent plate of Mohammadi Nihari was wasted on me as I chose to get stuffed on romance instead. The second time around, the honey moon over and the relationship having settled into a primarily comfortable pocket amidst reality, I heeded the call of stomach related romance. Even then, the trip to the brand spanking new Bundu Khan in defense with central cooling and custom made furniture took a back seat to the emotional state most prevalent upon me. And after years of yearning, the part of my brain allocated to bundu khan became associated more with the part of my being devoted to love than to the one devoted to culinary divinity. The taste of flaky parathas and chicken karahi got forever replaced by the taste of a set of lips hastily but passionately kissed in the parking lot. And at the end of the affair Bundu Khan as well had been reduced to one of those places that I would never want to visit again because of the memories it would invoke.
Unreasonable, I know, but I don’t pride myself at being a reasonable specimen of the species anyway. Found it more meaningful to up and abandon all the places and the people and the things that I had come to cherish simply because of having shared or witnessed or known them with her. And Bundu Khan followed suit thanks to one great kiss and a long good bye.
Until last night.
It turned out to be a blessing to have guests who we couldn’t take to Polo lounge because:
A: They wouldn’t know what to do with the food.
B: The lady goes out in a burkha and opens up a slit across her mouth to allow food in (Among other things, I hope, for the husband’s sake).
C: They would either walk out, or faint, or lash out or do all three at seeing the scantily clad female patrons that I personally go to the Polo Lounge for.
D: They don’t eat cheese.
E: Its hard to hit on scantily clad ‘ladies’ when one is in the company of plebian second cousins, and mother and father, anyway.
So Bundu Khan came into the equation and grudgingly I acquiesced.
The drive there was primarily me being apprehensive about ending up parking in the same spot where I had made out once and then being seated at the same table where despite mom and dad and sisters we managed to sit side by side and do those naughty little under-the-table things that is customary upon lovers when chaperoned.
Needless to say the melancholia played havoc with my appetite and when I did end up parking my car in the exact same spot I was on the verge of defecting and leaving the guests and parents abandoned to stuff their faces while I go do whatever seemed prudent.
Fortunately prudence seemed vested in following through with the adult in me constantly berating me for my stupidity and languidly we made our way up the steps that led us into my past.
I went through the order placing process with no interest. Never even scoped the crowd in proper lahori fashion, never even noticed the crowd scoping me. Sat slumped, staring down, more found than lost but altogether more nostalgic than can be considered healthy.
And then the food came.
The fragrance rising up from the various different dishes set forth before us snuck up my nose and nestled into the very fore front of my mind quickly beating back all angst to where it belonged.
Tentatively, I snapped off a small fragment of the partha. The unbelievably flaky paratha. The almost celestially golden-brown paratha. The paratha that opened the flood gates to another dam of memories that were crafted in rambunctious and reckless abandon of teen age instead of the soul feeding romantic illusions of any age.
As soon as the bread melted on my tongue I began to salivate from a hunger I had buried long ago beneath the taste of her breath mingled with mine.
Smiling, reawakened to the sheer ecstasy of desi food done right, I sat back to gaze at my options. In one metal pot was the infamous chicken karahi, on several ceramic plates were strewn seekh kababs and mutton tikkas and chops. A cane basket held the bottomless supply of roghni naans and on another metal tray were spread, in unbelievable numbers, the parathas. Added to that were the several bowls harnessing raita and the perfectly crafted kachumar salad. Looking at the luscious spread before me, I knew I was in culinary heaven. I rolled up my sleeves, combed back my hair, licked my lips and tore into the food.
Soon whatever lingering bitterness had managed to find a foothold amidst the onslaught of heavenly flavors gave up and receded to some obscure corner in waiting for a lonely night and I found myself gleefully lost in the myriad collection of food.
I am a sloppy eater when I’m interested in my food. It ceases to matter who is around or who might be cringing at the slurping sounds leaking out of my mouth, all I care about is getting as much taste out of every bite as possible. I stuff my face, literally and then chew away. Somewhere in between all the feasting, the memories made another attempt to launch an offensive tinged with guilt. Knowing how ridiculous I must look, how barbaric, how freaking Junglee, it occurred to me how this behavior itself could have led to our break up. Unreasonable again, I know. But seriously I wouldn’t expect her to be just okay with a guy who, at times, ate likes no one’s watching when everyone actually is watching. It must be embarrassing, I thought. And then the absurdity of even considering this now dawned on me and I let out a loud guffaw which sent a piece of half chewed mutton tikka out my mouth. I closed my eyes as I saw it land on the empty chair across from me. A quick gaze at the surroundings confirmed that I was the only witness to my faux passé, and I quickly returned to the delicious task at hand.
A few minutes later, while on a quick coke break, I got that sinking feeling of being watched. I looked around while licking my lips and found this cute kid no more than 18 on a bad day, staring at me aghast. And as if to remove all doubt about my tactlessness, as soon as our eyes met and she closed her shocked mouth and gulped, I burped.
I don’t usually burp. Not until the after dinner cigarette that is either consumed alone or in burping company. But somehow my body decided to greet that pretty lady with the most unseemly of all introductions. It was a belch actually. One of those loud and guttural and staccato Punjabi versions usually followed by a satisfied rubbing of hand across protruding belly. I followed it up with laughter. Probably the saving grace in the situation, my eyes crinkled up and my mouth widened and I began to laugh. She followed suit, taking due care not to alert her highly scary looking father sitting in front of her with his back to me. But we both laughed, in fact I began to laugh so hard that soon a stray sliver of sliced onion that had taken refuge in a cavity sensed escape and made its way out of my mouth towards the light.
Now, having witnessed the humiliating potential of food flying out the mouth just moments ago, I was fiercely determined not to let it happen again and immediately put my muscles in action to clamp my jaw shut. Caught the onion by its tail between my pursed lips and mused over the absurdity of sucking it back in.
The girl laughed louder, unable to restrain her mirth and finally managed to alert her father along with the rest of her family. I whipped away as they whipped back to see what the heck had gotten into their daughter. Don’t know what they saw but when I stole a gaze back, they had returned to there own dinner and she was still staring at me.
She narrowed her eyes and puffed up her nose. I raised an eye brow and snorted. She pretended to roll up her non-existent sleeves to mock me and absent mindedly broke off a piece of her own paratha. I followed her lead and got myself an equally large bite. She opened her petite little mouth canvassed by thin unpainted lips and shoved the whole piece in.
For a second I was shocked. I had no idea she could open it that wide. It had looked like one of those small mouths that would make sucking on a popsicle difficult. No pun intended. But to my great awe it didn’t look like she had any trouble with popsicles…ever.
Recovering quickly, I sheepishly stuck my own piece of paratha in my mouth. Before she was done chewing on the one already between her teeth, she tore off another piece, wrapped half a kabab in it and shoved it in. And went after a piece of chicken boti.
It took a while to register, but before I knew it I was embroiled in a feeding race.
That’s when pride set in. She was good you see, she had got the speed chewing thing down pat. It was hard to believe that someone as svelte as her could actually pack away so much food so fast, but she held her own. She was a swallower… the kind who can literally inhale quarter-pounders when need be, so the bite sized tikkas posed no threat at all to her while I had to chew away to make my food digestible. Yet, I had experience on my sides. I knew exactly the right time and right amount of coke to take in between large bites to make everything a lot mushier and hence reducing the time required to chew a bite down to size. Soon I was in the lead.
She began to look flustered in between bites as she struggled to cope with the volume needed to keep up with me.
Before we knew it we had attracted a crowd. Only our own families though, but they were looking on in disbelief at us feeding away like famished demons without pausing long enough to draw breath. And that’s when she balked.
Vanity took center stage in her feminine existence and she began to blush. Still chewing away at the last mouthful, she finally looked away and conceded defeat.
I turned around and went back to my own meal at a more human pace. Stealing glances now again just to see what she was up to. Until finally having paid the bill, they got up to leave. She did well to keep her eyes averted; I for my part did well to not show my disappointment.
It wasn’t until she got to the steps leading down to the door that she turned around and for a lingering second looked towards me. We both smiled, I still had a bite in my mouth and she was still blushing.
A little while later we went through the bill paying and leaving part of the evening.
I got behind the wheel, drowsy from the over eating and gunned the engine to signal the end to a surprisingly fulfilling night. Relieved more than anything else for having restored one hell off a restaurant to the glory it deserves in my memories instead of being over shadowed by the taste of a long lost kiss laced with cyanide.