.................................................................................................................... THE WAD OF NOTES
It’s a lazy Thursday afternoon. The wind outside seems to have picked up a breezy tantrum from some upper air cyclonic circulation over the Southwest Bay off Srilanka-Tamilnadu. A sudden flash of rain hits the brown tiles of the ‘Isical P. Ltd’ portico- a small, but budding software company on the Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai.
Antara sits at her desk, customizing the last few slides in her ‘Comparison of the best Quality models in Customer-interface Processes’ for Abacus, her client. Antara works as a Senior Statistical Analyst at Isical. She digs what she does. After all, she wears a prestigious Six-Sigma Black Belt.
As she saves the presentation in the ‘Abacus’ folder, her stomach sends out tiny hunger growls. She ponders, ‘Tomorrow being Good Friday and thereby, a holiday, I can simply relish an extended weekend- healthy home food, a few movies, some TV and chilling out with friends.’
She shuts down her notebook, joins her colleagues Bharat and Arthi to the door, and flashes her Id at the glass door sensor. ‘Today, we’ve special Kheer with the North Indian Thali at our canteen. Yumm! Where in heavens is Anoop?’ Antara rattles.
Bharat turns to Antara and says, ‘Anoop is on the way back from a customer place. I’m just waiting for his call.’
Anoop is their team lead, an erstwhile Gulf-return Mallu. He’s one adorably cute guy in his late thirties; the cute being more attached to the soft bald patch on his head, his ever-debatable beer belly, and his penchant for Scotch, Smart women and Suave business strategies. Bharat receives a call from Anoop, and Antara watches the light drizzle outside. It’s a pleasant day.
Bharat returns with a smile. ‘Anoop tells us that he’s treating us at Crescent, since tomorrow is a holiday.’ Crescent is a typical Mallu hotel on the Nungambakkam high Road. It is swamped with the Mallu flavor- Mallu waiters, a lot of middle-aged Mallu businessmen/young, hard hair-gelled, hot-blooded Mallu Loyolites hogging on Fish curry meals, Kerala Parotta and Sear fish, and Malayalam being tossed around like a patti (dog) on the run. In fact the place is open till around one thirty in the night, and a lot of times you have the ‘party-hard-night-owls’ from Pasha flooding this place for some tummy-pampering after all the booze.
Anoop, Antara and Bharat enter Crescent at 3 pm- sharp. The kitchen is still open. The place is still like a watered down fish market- the noise is not all that loud, but the food, along with its feverish excitement is still up and running. They seat themselves in a place where Anoop can sightadichify (ogle at) the Mallu babe on the opposite side. Antara and Anita giggle at Anoop’s explicit interest in good looking women. They both mime ‘Married Mallu Men!’ in chorus. Anoop’s flour-like complexion goes beet-red. He calls onto Joji, a new waiter at Crescent.
‘I want one Egg Kothu Parotta*** please,’ Antara squeals with delight, at the thought of the Crescent Special melting in her mouth.
‘That’s pretty much her standard order cheta; get me one Mughlai Biriyani***. It would be one non-veg meals for Arthi, four Kerala Parottas and Prawn Biriyani for the muscle-hulk Bharat (everyone chuckles), one sear fish fry**, one chili chicken gravy, two sprites and one water- melon juice ‘without sugar’ for Antara- don’t ask me why, ee kochi (this girl) would eat everything packed with calories on this table, and still have her juice without sugar!
(Shakes his head with a mock sick expression)
Aan madhi joji. (smiles) Korechu fasta konduveran, sheriyo’ (that’s enough Joji, sent the food a little fast, alright.)
‘The juice with sugar chokes my throat Anoop. I cannot even taste the watermelon,’ slurps Bharat in a frigging good impersonation of Antara’s ‘I’m-pukey-voice’. (Everyone is splitting up, even Antara)
In an attempt to divert the joke that is right now on her, Antara rushes in, ‘I can never believe I keep coming to this place that reeks of all this Mallu fraternal bonding. I mean, it really goes whizzing past my pea-brain. How can two Mallus always get all over each other?’
Anoop is quick to retort, ‘a) You're reaffirming my conclusions about your pea-brain.b)being a non-mallu, you're jealous you can never get you hands all over sexy malu nri guyz b) you really must love your Crescent Egg Kothu Porotta beyond reason to keep coming here c)you can never resist my company (winks)-I'm the only mallu man you can get all over.’
Bharat says, ‘You’re wrong. Actaully, she can never resist a treat. Period.
I’m a Tamil Maghan, but the Mughlai Biriyani and Kerala Parotta are too good to really give them a miss.’
Anita pokes Bharat in the rib, ‘aaa ooh na, azhaghiya tamil Maghan Vijay nu nannaipu.’ (You talk like you’re actor Vijay at the drop of a hat)
Bharat replies with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Men like Anoop and me ooze with the charm, you see.’
Soon, the buzz diverts to Anita’s upcoming wedding in Kerala, upper-echelon politics in the organization, clients and their antics amidst other things. They end the meal with grunts, stifled burps of satisfaction and a pretty yummy coconut soufflé. Anoop asks for the bill. It comes in as 300 bucks. Anoop exclaims, ‘To the DOT!’ He places a 500 rupee note, and chews on the sounf and paan, as we all stand to leave.
The change comes in. It holds a WAD of notes- two hundred rupee notes, one fifty buck, and five tens.
Anoop collects the change, save for a solitary ten buck note as tips.
The minute we step out of the restaurant, he swears, ‘Mallu or not, Indian mentality never changes. He had to slip in those five ten bucks, and not two full hundreds, not trusting a regular like me to leave him a ten as tips. PATTI!’
That, I hope was a good enough entree in a Chennai (Mallu or otherwise) meal. We count our money to the last penny. We lick and count our wad of notes like we lick our thair sadam(curd rice). No amount of world-class Kleenex butt-wipes can swipe our butts clean off our calculative instincts- we still prefer using our hands and a mug of water, gross as it may sound.
Ever wondered how you end up with a 25 paise coin in a kirana (street)shop?
Ever wondered why buying one cigarette and not a pack, in a potti kada(cornerstore) is quite unique to Chennai/ India?
Ever wondered why we would spend a 20,000 on a chic mobile, but crib when the auto guy asks us for an extra 10?
Ever wondered why we walk out of T-Nagar Saravana Stores aadi thallupadi (seasonal sale) with a million dollar smile and million dollar rags in corny bags?
Ever wonder why our beggars never throw back a one rupee coin we give him, even though he feels we’re condescending? Ever wondered why the ‘Times of India’ is launching in Chennai at a reported RS.2?’
I think I can give you ten bucks for the answer- you can retain the change!
Share with us how miserably calculative you’ve got! Don’t be ashamed! I’ve bickered over a one rupee chillera coin-chill man!