Sunday evening with only my laptop for company. Durrant’s Bar in Chennai. Apparently Charles Durrant, may his tribe increase, was the first recorded wine merchant in this city. Radhakrishnan and Kamaraj look on, stony-faced, from their portraits on the far wall. I don’t think they’re happy here. Judging from their expressions, “den of iniquity” would be the mildest phrase that crossed their minds.
A corner table and a faux antique book-case with one volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1986 Book of the Year, since you didn’t ask) and seven vo\umes of “Castes and Tribes of Southern India” (A. Thurston and K. Rangachari, but I can’t access it because the case is locked). Is this a recent addition in view of the current furore, or did ITC Welcomgroup have a premonition that this would be the most gripping read for travelling tipplers? Another seven volumes - “Crimes and Punishment”. Why don’t Fyodor’s* descendants make a fuss about this one, eh? Poor Kaavya, she was a patsy.
Somehow I can’t relate to Chennai. My apologies. I know there’s at least one Chennai resident who drops by, but there is a huge disconnect. Even more so than with South Delhi, and that’s saying a lot. So I sit by my window and I watch the cars roll by … This is the down-side of travelling on work, the monotony of hotel rooms and the alienation of strange gyms where one has to hunt out the barbell rack. So much better if I could sit at a tea-stall in Azamgarh in the chill of early winter and compare angochha prices with a leather-faced farmer.
An old Brit on the adjoining sofa snorts out loud at something he reads in the paper, winks at me, then pulls out his cell-phone and carries on a loud and long conversation. So much for “propah”. Behind me, a 20-something couple discuss the Most Important Issues in the world in subdued tones. He leans back to look nonchalant. The effect is spoilt when he fumbles for her hand and she draws it back in embarrassment. I’m glad I’m no longer young.
The maitre’d leads in another young couple, seats them with an Oily Bird on the other side of the room. Loud greetings and animated conversation. I wish I could at least understand Tamil. It would also have made the morning dose of Radio Mirchi (driving in from the airport) more fun. (Why do Radio Mirchi RJs talk so much? The only one I can stand is Mir, but perhaps I’m biased there.)
I’d thought I would belly up (stop sniggering, I’ve lost a full kilo, and no, “drop in the ocean” is not the epitome of wit here) to the bar and talk to the bartender. Ranjith, however, is a fresh-faced hotel management trainee who also has to run the tables. I can’t shoot the breeze with him. In any case, bartenders in India don’t seem to have mastered the fine art of being surrogate shrinks. They think that juggling bottles and lighting up the rims of cocktail glasses is where it’s at.
Stranger still, I haven’t come across any blog by a bartender. Considering that a bouncer and a waiter are among the more popular blogs I read, one would have expected a bartender to show up somewhere in what the Griff calls “blog pradesh”. But no, none that I have found yet. One reads that barkeeps are the default confidantes of lonely men in shirt-sleeves leaning over counters, they should have a stock of good stories they could work into a blog and later into the El Dorado of a book deal. Where are they? Any volunteers?
The vodka martini is good. One more should spin me over the edge into sleep. I desperately need it after starting the day at half three, taking a budget flight with cramped seating, hunting an elusive and confused client around two hotels and a university and then slogging around two separate (and disappointing) campuses in mid-day heat approaching 40 Celsius. The plus points of finishing early – an ESPN documentary on the 1990 and ’94 World Cups and Chhupa Rustam, a surprisingly good hidden camera show on NDTV. So now I shall nurse this second drink till my head hums with sleep, then return to my room (very nice room too), put up “Do Not Disturb” signs everywhere and tuck in my laptop and myself. And hope I don’t wake up at 2 a.m. to channel-surf while my mouth gets sour.
Tomorrow will be tough enough anyway, starting with a morning meeting, going on to a city that I’ve never visited before and ending in a third.
Good night, sweet prince, and may the angels / choir you to your rest. This attendant lord needs his bed.