Sunday, December 23, 2007

taste testing and Eid al-Adha

Tessa met a girl at a roadside chai place in Colaba. The girl called her later because she needed Westerners for a taste testing. Tessa, Mandela (our new roommate) and I took a put-put to Bandra. Then we had to change put-puts to get a local driver who still didn't know the restaurant location. After the usual asking a number of interested bystanders, we arrived at a fancy restaurant decorated with a small forest of exotic wood.

They told us to show up at 4 when they would bring the other Westerners from Colaba. They showed up at 5 and we only sat down at 5:30. I don't know how I still expect people to show up on time. It has not happened once yet I still am surprised. I've heard that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

Tessa and I played cards to keep our minds off our stomachs while we chatted with a backpacker from Ireland. The waiter for our table smiled apologetically and told us we couldn't play cards. We've been told this many times in Bombay and have a patchy history of obedience. This time we told him that we would put the cards away when the food started coming. You could tell it pained him greatly.

We learned two things during our three hours of taste testing 25 different meals, desserts and drinks:

1. These people think we are idiots. Every time we had to turn the page for the next food item, they would come around and check to make sure we had the right page. We eventually started opening to the wrong page and identifying everything as quesedillas (this word is not listed in Google's dictionary).

2. This restaurant doesn't have a chance in hell. They billed the new restaurant as fast casual, a McDonalds without throwaway cutlery. They foisted fancy foods from all over the world on us. I liked some of the stuff but I would never get it from a fast food joint. These meals tasted good when made in a fancy kitchen while only feeding twenty people. I see a weird and varied menu made at breakneck speed as a recipe for disaster.

However, we still got our 500 Rs (12 USD) which is now enough to feed me for a week. I headed back home with Mandela while Tessa wandered off with a new friend.

Earlier in the day, while getting breakfast at my new favorite hole in the wall chinese restaurant with a waiter that reminds me strongly of Manuel from Captain's Corageous, I noticed many young Muslim girls in fancy saris and sadwaras with hands covered in henna. I saw Muslim men walk by in spotlessy clean white kurtas and caps. I soon realized that today they celebrate Eid al-Adha (the festival marking Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son) by slaughtering goats and cows. A third of the meat goes to the poor, a third to family and friends (I had some delicious mutton chops last night thanks to this holiday) and a third for yourself. This causes problems every year because of outdoor sacrifices observed by cow loving Hindus.

As I walked back to my place, I heard the pounding beats of the latest popular (and repeated to death) dance songs and Bollywood hits. A group of thirty Muslim boys from their early twenties down to newly walking set up a dance party outside one of the apartment buildings. They swarmed me and demanded that I dance. I told them that I hate to dance. I told them I am a terrible dancer. I told them no.

So as I danced in the middle of the circle, somebody would come in and I would imitate their dance moves. Some did club dancing with invisible energy balls, some would do flirting hip thrusting moves and a father even jumped in and just put his hands in the air for awhile. An 8 year old jumped in and I couldn't even begin to imitate him. I have said it before and I will say it again: these guys love to dance. They urged me to lead so I got them all jumping for awhile before I skanked and head butted my way around the circle. After a few songs, I tried to get away to meet a friend. They pushed me back in and said just one more song. After this happened twice, in the silence at the end of a song, I bowed and yelled "Ass salaam walakum". I impressed a number of people today after I learned this traditional Muslim greeting. They all cheered and I bolted from the circle. I barely got away as they tried to hold me back. I returned to my place, sweat dripping from my last clean shirt.

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