“Shall we go out for dinner tonight?” asked the L&M. I pretended not to have heard. But the boys had heard all right.
“Oh, yes, Dad!” they called out from the living room. It is a mystery to me how they can hear a question asked in the most normal tone from that far, when they can’t hear me when I am shouting myself hoarse calling the one or the other to do some chore. I guess it is what one would call selective hearing. (Tricky teen-talk)
Coming back to why I was pretending not to have heard the L&M, it is because of the simple reason that going out anywhere is an ordeal as far as our family is concerned. If it is eating out, it is worse. First of all, no one agrees about the place we should go to. If I want to eat a Chinese dinner, the L&M might want a tandoori night and the boys would want nothing short of a Moroccan meal or a Spanish feast. The more exotic it is, the more desperate they are to taste it. And worst of all, being a vegetarian I usually end up with dal and roti, for which I needn’t have gone all the way with the crazy trio!
Now comes the crucial question. “Where shall we go?”
“How about an Afghan meal?” offered the older one nonchalantly.
“But where is an Afghan joint?” the L&M asked feebly, already sensing defeat.
“We’ll find out in a jiffy,” answered the younger of the two, flipping furiously through the yellow pages and the cuisine section of all the newspapers.
“Aren’t we lucky?” he called presently. “Maurya Sheraton is having an Afghan food festival!”
“Maurya?” croaked L&M. “But….”
“Oh, I knew it! You’d never take us to any place we want to go? And you’d dragged us to a crummy Chettinad food festival, rememeber?”
“Why, after all those chillies, you wouldn’t even buy us an ice cream!” The duo bombarded him by turns.
“All right, all right!” gasped the L&M. He knew when he was beaten. The pair of them could go on and on about all the times they had been ‘dragged’ to sundry restaurants that were as ‘yucky’ and ‘yetchy’ as they come.
Though he had given in, we all knew that he would be grumpy through the evening. It began the moment he got behind the wheels; he began honking impatiently. I hurriedly locked the door. Just then, the younger brat discovered that he had forgotten his watch and he wouldn’t be seen dead without it if you please, and so I had to open the door again. “You go ahead, I will lock up,” he said helpfully, hoping perhaps that his father would calm down if he saw me.
“Can’t you guys hurry up? This is the last time we are going out,” barked the L&M. How I wished I could believe him as I flopped tiredly into the seat!
He swerved crazily in and out of the evening traffic, which was abnormal for the L&M, who is famed for his slow driving. I bit my lips to keep from screaming and would have closed my eyes too, except I have this compulsive urge to see what I am going to crash into!.
Much later, after paying through his nose for a frontier dinner at which all I could eat was a cheese kabab (everything else on the menu had been once walking, flying or crawling), we left the hotel. The kids were in a great mood but the L&M was still growling. My stomach growled company. I hoped there would be some curd rice back home.
I thanked the stars that another episode of ‘eating out’ was finally over.
Come to think of it, I prefer the L&M in a bad mood any day to the boys’ bad mood. Take the time the father had had his way about where to eat. When the brats heard the name of the place, they both groaned exaggeratedly.
“Oh, that place! I read some time ago about how a cockroach was found in the soup there,” the first one said. Never mind that the ‘some time ago’ was many years back and that the place had since been taken over and refurbished.
“And the music! The guy there must be at least eighty years old and all he knows are a couple of songs he must have learnt as a kid,” the younger one piped in.
“We are going only there and nowhere else. You boys cleaned me out when I took you to that fancy joint last time, remember?”
The boys shut up then and didn’t open their mouths after that. Not even when the L&M wanted to park the car at the crowded market where this joint was. If he is a maniac behind wheels when he is upset, he is always a bundle of nerves when he is trying to park in a crowded parking lot.
It was well past 8.30 P.M. and the place where he had parked was at least half a kilometre away. So by the time our silent procession wound its way to the restaurant, it was overflowing. We wrote our names and settled down to wait. Anyone observing us would have thought us to be a family of deaf-mutes. The boys stared out my futile attempts at cheerful conversation. They were silent, except to give each other meaningful glances that said ‘I told you so’.
The L&M noticed them and after trying to ignore them for a while exploded in a strangled whisper, “Okay, now, what are you guys trying to say?” By then we were tightly jammed between a Sikh family with 18 members and a yuppie family where the woman was fussing about her crepe de chine sari getting crushed by the uncouth boors around her.
“Why, nothing!” replied his first born innocently
We finally got our table, which was bang opposite the toilet door. The boys delicately held their noses. “What great fusspots have you reared! We are lucky to have got a table so fast! Look at the crowd!” L&M’s anger turned towards me. I gave a soothing reply while trying my best not to hold MY nose. Anyway, 40 minutes was not ‘fast’ by any standard. But I dared not tell him that.
The boys had decided to continue with their silent treatment and refused to order. “Whatever you order is fine with us,” said the older one a trifle too politely. The L&M looked at him suspiciously, but couldn’t read anything from his expression.
We ate in complete silence after L&M’s weak attempts to crack some jokes were greeted by stony silence. “The food was good, wasn’t it? It was well worth the wait,” I said cheerfully hoping the boys would respond. No luck. I began feeling very sorry for my poor L&M by then. I decided the situation called for desperate measures.
“How about some ice cream at the Baskin Robbins?” I asked.
“What?” the brats couldn’t believe their ears. It is an unwritten rule of our family that we never go to a parlour for ice cream after dinner out, but usually grab some at one of the pushcarts lining the road on the way back home. But this was not a ‘usual’ situation and called for drastic steps to normalise it. The place I mentioned was one of the swankiest joints and offered some of the best ice creams in the city.
My gamble paid off and the boys instantly perked up. In fact, so perked up were they, that they began talking animatedly at once, as if some invisible switch had turned their voices back on.
“Oh dad, that would be wonderful!” they told him like adoring puppies as if he had suggested the place and began talking nineteen to a dozen. The L&M’s face was worth looking at. He couldn’t decide whether to be happy to have his sons back with him or be horrified at the prospect of paying the bill!
While the boys’ voices had come back, another voice had suddenly gone silent — the L&M’s. Yours would have been silenced too if you’d seen the bill, which was larger than the food bill he had paid earlier in the evening.
Well, you can’t have your way all the time especially if you have two determined brats, can you?