Good Food, Bad Music and the Deal that Never Was

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

 As we sit at our table, at the classiest eatery we've seen so far in India we are descended upon by an attentive horde of spiffily dressed waiters, filling the small vessels in front of us with different foods. There's green food, brown food, red food, yellow food, which are accompanied by sauces, salad, breads and cakes.

The Natraj Dining Hall is a fifteen minute rickshaw ride from the Poonam Haveli, our hotel near the banks of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, southern Rajasthan.

Thali is the meal we're being served on a stainless steel tray. Within the tray there are seven small stainless steel dishes. And now dishes are filled with these wonderfully coloured foods. We haven't a clue how to begin. Each of us is given a spoon, but what's the etiquette? Do we use the nan bread, right hand only, to scoop, or do we just start shovelling with the spoon? None of the waiters speak English and there's not a Westerner to be found. After a brief moment of looking at one another and then at those who are staring at us, we cast our inhibitions aside and dig in with the spoons. Immediately the tastes explode on our palates. Ellen favours the red, Barbara the yellow, I'm partial to the green. But we don't discriminate as we gorge all of the coloured wonders.
"This is the real Indian food that we've been seeking," I say, "true Indian food that we haven't tasted since we left Toronto." 
No sooner do we tuck into the dishes when waiters carrying large and small silver cauldrons of the foods come by and fill them back up to the brim. It's a glutton's paradise. Stuffed and a little groggy it's eventually time to pay the bill. I'm wondering if we brought enough money. My mouth drops open when I see the bill. The whole thing comes to 240 rupees - two bucks a piece.

Barbara, most assuredly feels that Ellen and I are the tightest of tightwads. That said, from just hanging out with us for so long she's become quite the bargainer herself. 
Muhammed, who runs the little Internet Cafe/grocery store/fine art emporium down at the corner invited the women to look at his valuable art collection while I sat at the computer trying to find out if the Blue Jays had made any recent trades or acquisitions.

Later in the day, I paid another visit to the shop for a bottle of water and was greeted with, "Your friend is miser. She want to buy beautiful painting that cost 1,500 rupees. We talk for long time. I reduce price to only 850 rupees. She won't pay more than 800 rupees. Your friend make me very angry. She very bad miser. Look at my art, it is very beautiful. What wrong with her?" 
I had a delicious thought. "Yes Muhammed, your art is very beautiful. I just don't understand," I said with a saddened shake of the head. "Here's what we'll do. Later in the day, when miser woman comes back, tell her that she can have the painting for 800 rupees. I'll pay the extra 50 rupees. (a buck-and-a-quarter.) But under no circumstances are you to tell her this. It'll be our little secret." I didn't want to confuse Muhammed with my devious plan. 
The irony of course is that Barbara, who is anything but a miser simply drew the line on what she was willing to pay. The deal would be brought together through the secret negotiations and financial backing of a tightwad - me.

I spent the afternoon relishing the soon to be moment. Then everything went to Hell in a hand-basket. In spite of my subtle prompting, Barbara said she wouldn't go back into the store unless Muhammed made an effort to get her to come back in. And the insulted Muhammed said he wouldn't offer her the 'beautiful' piece unless she stepped back in his door. It was a stalemate and I was the loser.

Last night was our final night with Barbara. We wanted to celebrate our parting with a fine dinner in a quiet setting and chose the highly regarded Whistling Teal restaurant. The women ordered a bottle of Indian Sauvignon Blanc. On the back of the label it listed hints of about fifteen fruits that a fine palate should detect. One of them was banana. I tried finding the banana, but my nose missed it. The other fruits were absent as well. Instead the bouquet had a hint of kerosene, to the tongue a touch of gasoline. It was a wine to be buried, not drunk.

The Teal played none of wonderful Indian music we'd become accustomed to. Instead we were treated to the 1970's, ELO, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Eagles as background music, most of which I'd thankfully said good bye to by 1980. We could have eaten the fabulous thali at the Natraj Dining Hall for a month and a half for what this evening cost. But what the Hell, it was our final evening together. Could ELO, or maybe the Eagles bring back memories lost in time? I felt my left foot bouncing to the rythmn. But it may have been a twitch.
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