It's been almost precisely two weeks since I was in the most magical city (Bombay) so far of my travels (okay, jostling with Delhi for the no.1 spot). Two weeks since I soaked in the pleasure of wandering around a beautiful airport all by myself (only my second flight in nine years and that too, my first solo one). Two weeks since I got back home, hungover on the love and excitement and friendship that characterised the last two weeks of my December 2010. The culmination of a year of not much external change, not much internal work but still a good year, nonetheless. A nice well-rounded year ending in a ten. A year like that's got to be utilised.
There's so much that needs to be said. I haven't written in ages. I've broken a self-made rule-to write in my travel journal. And that's a rule that was kept even when I went to Pondicherry three years ago with a bunch of raucous friends. That's a rule I broke when I went to Pondicherry at the end of last year with a bunch of even more raucous friends. Can I help not writing? We stayed at a fancy, luxurious hotel thanks to Aeroplane pulling strings yet we spent nearly 70% of our time wandering the streets of the French Quarter, begging for food. Really, there is no dearth of restaurants as anyone who has visited Pondicherry might know. There is authentic French food and wine, you can smell the croissants, the cheesecake, the brownies. But sacre bleu! (corny is my style) You cannot have them.
We go to a cafe. K and I catch a whiff of the brownies and decide that this is it. We have to have this now or we will not leave the place. And the place is delectable in itself, ocean spray hitting our face. We're ravenous, the others not so much but we tempt them into brownies, brownies and cheesecake and whatever else is on this long, scrumptiously described menu. We go to the counter which is empty. No, table service only. We saunter back, used to the French Loaf's and the Hot Breads of our world. Okay, this won't take time.
There is only one waiter (despite the presence of other staff members behind the counter). He serves only ONE table..in entirety. From menu-giving to table-clearing. And no other table. There are nine such tables. We wait. And wait. AND REALLY WAIT. Drama Queen A begins cursing and LOUDLY. We flee in fear of our future food being poisoned.
We search some more for lunch. It's dinner time. At one point, K and I, our senses shutting down due to lack of nourishment, gallop in one last burst of energy, screaming thanks, towards a brightly lit building. Drama Queen A cracks up in the background when we upon closer inspection discover that the mirage is a boutique. Necklaces we cannot eat.
At ten in the night after a hearty meal at a good restaurant (me, the sole vegetarian did not exactly enjoy it. The canneloni was an explosion of spinach and tomato sauce and little else. But I'll applaud it for not being the dosa covered, YES DOSA-COVERED, attempt that it once was in a new Chennai restaurant. But still, the best canneloni I've had was in Little Italy, Nungambakkam, Chennai.). In a display of steadfast resolve, K dismays the gang by announcing his renewed commitment to The Place. We find an auto driver-and Pondy auto drivers are nice, especially if you compare them to waiters, actually then anyone's nice-and drive him nuts by making him drive in circles till we find the place again.We march in, triumphant. We have outwitted the crowds, by appearing at an opportune time for dessert. There is a plethora of staff milling about, actually smiling, hey are our eyes deceiving us, smiling. We plonk down, expecting royal treatment for the persistence we have displayed. Yes, we are from Madras. The capital of this state. You'd better treat us good. Oh sheesh, you're a Union Territory. Anyway, we wait. We don't want to get up and give up the hard-won table.
Butterfly finally has the bright idea to go check where our waiter is. She is duly informed (at 10.30) that there is no service till 11.15 because the staff is eating. Then WHO are these guys standing around? They're staff. But they gotta eat. Then why aren't they eating? Apparently, they are. Only we can't see it.
Butterfly: We'll just give you the money. Please can you just open this glass case, right here, yes the one in front of my nose and hand me a brownie, I'm not even asking for a plate..or a spoon. Just a brownie.
Staff: Table service only.
We hesitate to inform Drama Queen A of this latest development.
Finally, a couple of the staff members look at us (and Butterfly's steely glint) with laughing eyes and hand over a couple of brownies and a cheesecake. I beg for chocolate sauce. We get plates. But we have to go pick up the cutlery ourselves from the wash.
We go back to the table, disbelieving of our eventual success. We dig into the cheesecake, salvation is near...
Let's just say the brownie was alright.
The food story continued (in less dramatic and more dismal form) across the town. There was a well-known restaurant where the best food was a heap of French that I doused in my requisite lashing of pepper and a minuscle serving of cheese Garlic bread. Perhaps the most fruitful food discovery was at the bus station on the way back (after a dramatic bus searching escapade where :
1) the first bus home that we found smelled of someone's lost battle with motion sickness and it was indeed the reason why it smelled. The fact that it had been drowned with numerous buckets of water did nothing to eradicate the smell.
2) Aeroplane and Drama Queen A had a showdown in usual fashion, almost reminiscent of their old college fight where Drama Queen A mocked Aeroplane for not being able to see without his glasses while driving and he furiously took them off (while driving with K, me and a terrified classmate) to prove her wrong. Later, he revealed he saw only blinking lights. This time, they patched up rapidly, in usual fashion,
3) at a local eatery (AC! Deluxe!) which could've been Aminjikarai. I guess if you count the waitress making eyes at K and Aeroplane and ignoring the three women as good service, this was tops.
But the find was this: a chocolate bar. That's what this post is named after, FUNNY-the not so popular twin of Munch, the chocolate bar. The same purple and yellow colour scheme, a similar only a slightly, er, more mature taste, as compared to Munch. This was right before the long ride back where in a quest to counter the AC's faulty airconditioning, we engaged in a series of activities that resulted in
1) Aeroplane freezing and wrapping himself with my stole and ending up looking like a renegade Jordanian prince
2) Butterfly stuffing the vent with a stolen paper place mat from the deluxe Aminjikarai-esque restaurant
3) Drama Queen A stuffing her ears with the latest dirty Simbhu movie song, alternating with my all time favourite 'Ring Ringa' (oh my ethnicity!)
4) K dosed up on "Hypernacs" and collapsed on my shoulder
5) Me choking in the heat jumped out when the bus driver took a break and bought the first cool drink I could see. The Limca was a close relative of phenyl and cheapskate that I am, I tried to make Butterfly and myself finish it off. I think it's still in my fridge if it hasn't been used to swab the house.
The rest of the trip was certainly memorable : I finally got to cycle around the cobbled streets of the French Quarter (don't ask about finding the cycles and also about my cycle. Its lack of a bell was compensated by the telltale grind of its chains that warned passersby of a hurtling, tiny vehicle with a yellowclad individual clasping on for dear life). The hotel was lovely (I wish I'd eaten more of the breakfast), there was this elderly family on a bench opposite the Promenade that warmed my heart, the Casablanca I do want to visit again, with more time on my hands, the friends were funny, funny, FUN!
Clearly, age has not diminished our propensity for stupid, repetitive jokes, sleepless high endless giggles and lowly, often slapstick humour in general. It seemed like the universe gave us quite some fodder for that one day and a half.