Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Being The Other Woman There

My father died when I was two. In most families, this would have meant an instant crushing of hopes, a reining in of the pursuit of happiness. It did not mean that for me and my sister. All because early on, my mother gritted her teeth and swore not to 'let her children feel the absence of a father'. In most things, big as well as little, we were allowed to explore and experience all that we wanted to- including some things that probably would have had Baba hrrumphing. There was one limitation though, that my sis and I felt the injustice of and protested. The deciding criterion for everything- choosing restaurants, activities, professions- was always the same.

'are there Other Women There?' my mum would ask.

'So what?' We would say, our feminism bubbling over, ' let us be the first! Other women will see us and come!' The irony of protesting for our rights with the woman who had instilled in us the confidence to do so was lost on us then.

I recognize irony now, and smile when it presents itself. Three decades after my mother needed to create a new set of rules for a suddenly altered life, I have adopted some of those rules into my own. All other things being equal, the deciding factor that entices me into one restaurant instead of another is the old question of 'are there Other Women There'.

That question caused me to enter Aapka Dhaba instead of all the other places on the Inamullah building street. Not only is this the cleanest and neatest by far, but it is also the only place where I've ever seen Other Women. This is the first eatery as you walk from Tehsil Chowk to Prince Chowk, and is on your left- maybe a 100 metres past Tehsil chowk. While the sign is faded, the restaurant itself is quite noticeable, being an open-front restaurant paneled entirely in beige formica.

And whatever the reasons for choosing it, it is a smart choice- the food is beyond sublime. I do eat there throughout the year, but the food comes into its own in winters. A rich and spicy broth with succulent pieces of meat and a couple of spongy rotis to mop everything is the perfect dinner on those cold and dark evenings. I walk up and say hello to the baby-faced and bespectacled owner. By now, I have 'my table' and if it is unoccupied, that is where I go. I hear a cry- 'Madam is here! See to Madam!' and someone comes up with a glass of water. As I eat, every now and then someone will come up to press a little extra gravy on me, or ask if I want a roti. By the end of the meal, I am invariably smiling.

A meal there- of a half-plate of curry or kheema and a couple of rotis- costs around 30 - 40 Rs. You won't want to drink the water, so factor in another 15Rs for a cold drink- and a mango drink goes wonderfully well with the rich curries. These prices are for 'meat' which is buffalo meat; chicken or mutton will cost a bit more.

Don't take mum there. The buffalo meat will distress her, the gun shop a few metres away will make her uncomfortable. And most important, while I have occasionally seen Other Women There, they aren't there all the time

That said, should you wander in on a weekend afternoon you might see a woman sitting by herself at a corner table. She will have a bag of groceries on the seat next to her and a book propped up on the table. She might see you peek in and smile at the thought that now she is the Other Woman There reassuring travelers that its okay to enter. Do walk up and say hello, I'd love to meet you.

*The photo of the little Tandoor-wallah? Taken by Maliha, who is proof that vegetarians also can have a good meal there..


Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Just in from dinner in the very shady "Hotel Relax", a place no decent woman would ever go. My friends and I had a wonderful evening, complete with our own bottle of wine (the waiters only ask that we sit as far away from the glass door as possible so no one will see us).

The place is almost invariably deserted (leading one to wonder how it stays open, leading one to conclude that being a restaurant is not its #1 priority) but tonight there were two OTHER WOMEN there! So amazing!

Parineeta said...

wonderful one, chicu..everything about it..

Grumpy Granny said...

You are putting ideas into my head...


nadi said...

ek plain spongy roti
ek mango drink

madam ki vegearian behen aane waali hai !

fellow uttarakhandies, am 'revealing ' my identity here for the first time because of what is written about when this wonderful writer was 2
she was 2
i was 10
and on reading this, i remembered how
the sadness of losing my father was bearable because

this other girl was there.