Kababs with a precious friend make for a memorable evening
It is the night of the full moon. Like a little boy, I follow the moon almost all through the journey from my office to Piccadily New Delhi in Janakpuri, all along marvelling at its beauty. It reminds me oddly of Anees Jung’s persuasively charming work, “The Night of the New Moon”. It brings back memories, naturally, of Waheeda Rehman’s arresting beauty in the title song of M Sadiq’s Chaudhvin ka Chand. As I get down from the car at the hotel, I look over my right shoulder one more time. The moon is beautiful, luminous in its reflected glory. I believe I am in luck! At the entrance, I am greeted with a mashaal, all aflame. The night is young, the pre-monsoon breeze is gently caressing, the flame is illuminating, and in its own way, arresting. As I step into Piccadily’s Zune restaurant on the first floor, Executive Chef Rakesh Kumar greets me by lighting a ‘shama’. Rose petals keep it company. I am here to meet a friend after many a summer over a platter of kababs.
The chef though surprises me with a bowl of golgappas accompanied by saunth, sauce, ground chillies, et al. It is not quite the way I had planned an evening of kababs with a precious friend to unfold. My companion though knows how to handle the little surprise and fills a golgappa with chana, saunth and what have you before quietly slipping it into my mouth. My reservations disappear. I request the chef if the in-house ghazal singer could tune his instruments less obtrusively, and, oh, if the lights could be a shade less bright. My companion’s visage, as I find out, continues to glow, all the passing years failing to leave a proof of their visit.
As steaming hot kababs arrive, we talk of all the intervening years, our spouses, babies, office. Then…about us. I quietly finish off my chapli kabab, and get to work on the seekh. The chef reads the expression on my face and gets another seekh. My friend knows me better and orders two more — all the years spent in our respective cities seem to have disappeared in a jiffy. The chef gets me onion rings and a bit of lemon. I sprinkle lemon on my kababs, my friend reaches out to the onions. It is as it always is. The kababs are mildly spicy; the meat is tender from inside, the mince of it all pretty even with not a shred of fat.
Soon we have burrah kababs on our plates. The mutton delicacy is a joy. It is not an easy preparation: A little undercooked and it becomes an exercise for the teeth. A little overcooked, and it sits spoiled for ever. Today, as I said, I am in luck. The burrah is out of this world. My friend quietly orders another round, then adds, if we could please try out galoutis too? The galoutis will take some time to be ready. My friend though savours each of the preparations and even makes space to try out the tandoori rotis. Seeing the rotis, I cannot resist asking the chef if we could have nalli ka salan and maybe a small portion of nahari? My friend nods; quietly telling me that all the succeeding years have failed to change my likes across the table. I sit settled, savouring the moment.
Meanwhile, the ghazal singer is settled too. Maybe he is making a concession to my luxuriant grey beard, maybe he has recognised me from my last visit, but he is gracious enough to ask me my choice of ghazal for the evening. Before I can say a word, my companion writes a little note. “Koi yeh kaese bataye woh tanha kyun hai”. Some things never change. I hum along. The singer starts off like Jagjit Singh, then settles to be his own self.
Meanwhile, more stuff dots our table. Nahari, nalli and all. Also, there is a vegetarian kabab. I am in luck. I take a little bread, dip it into the gravy of nalli ka salan. My fingers are covered with it. The napkin has fallen off my lap. I fumble for it. My friend, meanwhile, had already asked for a couple of tissue papers, knowing my tendency to drop the stuff on my clothes, or soil at least my fingers on the slightest sign of Mughal delicacies. And today, it has been a real feast!
It is not over though. I ask the chef to get me a pista kulfi, reserving the paan kulfi for my friend who smiles some more, happy that I have not forgotten a thing about individual likes. We polish it off quickly. I thank the staff, promising to come back soon. To savour some more outstanding kababs and nalli ka salan and nahari. Not to forget stir my memory bank all over again.
As I step out of the hotel, the night has all but peaked. The moon is all aglow. This time though, the clouds keep it company. Occasionally teasing the moon, often smothering it with affection, the clouds almost announce to the world that it is time for companionship of another kind. A few minutes later, I get down from the car and ring the doorbell at my home. From behind the curtains, a faint zero watt bulb’s light survives in darkness. Am I truly in luck?