It was a hot summer afternoon. The restaurant was bustling with waiters hovering at tables, serving the hot delicacies this South Indian joint was most famous for. My companion and I took a table in the corner. We were famished!
On the table, two large Banana leaves were set for each of us to serve as plates. Not that the place didn’t have plates but for “authenticity.” In several South Indian states and South Asian countries, food is served on Banana leaves as a part of the culture.
I could continue to tell you about how the leaves are used to prepare other roast delicacies and even sweets in other parts of India but today, I’m not going to narrate you the story of a banana leaf. Pardon me, i digress.
A waiter came to take our order and i automatically recited what we wanted. He trotted off even before i could complete my sentence. Not out of discourtesy but out of a knowing confidence. We knew the menu well, this wasn’t our first time and customers that came in the afternoon usually had the same meal it was famous for. I could have just nodded and the waiter would have known we were here to have the “Andhra meal.”
My hunger was beginning to make audible noises when a loud couple walked into the restaurant. I call them loud because they were particularly raspy. Noisier than my hunger. The woman had a thin, high-pitched voice and the man a heavy “Bangalorean” accent.
Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city – people of several cultures blending into “hallis,” “crosses” and “Nagaras” to make it their own. It’s a cocktail of sorts and so is its spoken English. The intonation is unique to the city. The curious “uh” added after a question, pure or rhetorical, and the sometimes incessant usage of “bugger” makes up Bangalore’s very own accent. It could very well be annoying or rather amusing to an outsider, but that’s the thing about accents. They all have a distinct sound – just like the seven distinct sides served with the meal.
The high-pitched woman and the heavy-accent man chose to take the table right beside ours! Fantastic. But our meals had already been served – piping hot, well not but almost, so I didn’t mind as much as i would have if food were to not have been served.
My companion and I ate in silence mostly save the occasional comment on how good the “dal” was or exchanged a content nod while we took a bite at the “papad.”
I have a hyperactive brain, It needs to multitask. At all/most times. So as i ate my rice i couldn’t help but eavesdrop on this noisy couple’s conversation. Technically, i didn’t have to because they spoke in such loud tones. Nobody could not un-hear their voices. Their conversation intrigued me, nevertheless.
They were a young couple – mid 20’s I reckon. She wore her straight brown hair down and was sporting a white t-shirt with blue horizontal stripes. He wore a muted orange polo-neck t-shirt tucked into his beige chinos. Why do I describe their attire with such detail? It tells a lot about their personality.
The woman, somewhat girl-ish, was talking more than the man. She was speaking of a stage show and her train of thought was as straight as the horizontal stripes on her t-shirt. What an absurd comparison you might think, but the way she described every incident at the show elicited this comparison.
The man, was warm – annoyingly so – asking relevant and irrelevant questions, gasping at every surprise element she sprung in her narration and sighing at every disappointment she threw in. His personality was very muted orange – just like the t-shirt he wore.
The woman then spoke of a “Jose,” with a certain antipathy – calling him a creep. He apparently barked at her and she made a loud “woof” sound as she said it! The man laughed adding how he was sure that “Jose” was just a clown and was probably just trying to get her attention.
Their conversation made me think they were old college friends reuniting after a while- say a few months or more.
The two chattered about “creepy Jose” and some more mutual friends when another woman walked in to join them. This girl almost glided down to the table – her thin frame sliding beside the woman in stripes. The new girl joined in with ease. I assume Mr. Orange and the woman in stripes were probably expecting her. This new girl also had straight long hair and smelled really nice. When she joined them at their table, she just walked past me and she smelt like lavender potion or something.
Forgive me, I didn’t take notice of her attire because her scent was much more captivating – even amid all the aroma of the food.
The waiter came in to take their order and the new girl ordered the famous meal and the other two decided to have biriyani, which is also pretty famous at this joint. They continued to chat about their mutual friends and my attention started to waver given the monotony of their conversation.
It was almost instantly pulled back though, when this high-pitched woman in stripes started talking about a “bedroom” incident. I couldn’t have been more interested.
“I was with Gaurav in his bedroom and i was just so surprised to see he had decorated his room with fairy lights,” the woman in stripes quipped while Mr. Orange listened on intently. The nice-smelling girl had a knowing air about this conversation. I guess she was BFFs with the woman in stripes.
“So, i asked him “Gaurav! what’s with all the fairy lights?” He touched those lights gently and said “aren’t they pretty?” I had a sneaky feeling he was gay but that day i confirmed it.”
Mr. Orange’s palm flew straight to his mouth in surprise as he tried to stifle a chortle. He then composed himself and said “But didn’t you already know that?”
“That guy has always been the weird one, always doing girly things like that” he added in a derogatory tone, sort of. The new-nice-smelling girl had nothing to say. Somehow, she seemed like the more sensible one among the three. Silence does validate some kind of sense or sensibility after all, doesn’t it? or does it.
At that moment the waiter arrived with their order and as he placed their food on the table – the Mr. Orange asked the girls, “Do you guys have hand sanitizer?”
The nice-smelling girl said she did and reached into her bag to hand him a nicely-shaped bottle of this heavenly-smelling liquid. I wondered where this girl got her cosmetics and just then – as if he had read my mind – the Orange guy asked her, “where is this from? BodyCraft?” He seemed to really love the scent of it. The nice-smelling girl confirmed nodding.
Now, that left me a little amused and surprised. This man, who was trying to be condescending of “Gaurav” was being no less “girly” than he had deemed the poor boy who just probably had a thing for romantic lighting in his bedroom. Come to think of it, Mr. Orange’s comments could pass off as mildly sexist if not crudely so.
Okay, call ME sexist now but how many guys really are into “brands” of sanitizers and can also correctly guess them? Alright, in his defense he could have read the label but as far as my observation can validate, he guessed it by its scent. Also, the guy continued to talk about how much he loved his new mattress and how soft it was. If “Gaurav” were to do the same thing, he would have become the poster child of “I Hate Gay People” community. Perhaps a pin-up boy!
I don’t understand people’s phobia of homosexuals. Or rather their condescension. I know several men and women who don’t believe in homosexuality. Some say homosexuality is unnatural and is perhaps the influence of the West.
Agreed, the West has had a significant impact on our economy and our culture but this is sheer ignorance. And the hesitance in understanding and accepting the truth that has perhaps been hidden in the underbelly of a blatant lie for years, is pure atrocity.
The West is perhaps growing more tolerant of the LGBT Clan holding Gay Pride months and celebrating them and their right to choose their sexuality. But the stigma runs high in India. The taboo is ingrained, which surprises me because homosexuality has been a part of Indian mythology and it has been mentioned in several ancient folk tales and scriptures including the Mahabharata.
But time shall change the tide, i believe in that. I believe in a world free from social repressions and societal rules where we are merely conformists.
By this time, my companion and I had finished our meals and had paid off the check. My companion rose to leave first and I followed. As i stood up, Mr. Orange looked at me to smile. I returned one, like any normal stranger would. But little did he know that I had judged him enough, pitied him and spared him. All in that meal-time.