Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Leave the rest to us"

There were a few (at first glance, about 3 busloads, but when I counted later there were only a half dozen) decorous Scandinavians at the front desk (in front of the front desk? Did that put them in the forefront?) when I came in. Some of them were quite tall. Say, about 17 feet each. It looked like Muir Woods had gone the Birnam way, only with a heavy dose of Janpath linen. I spent some time being polite to assorted kneecaps. Then a voice floated into my ear, and not from above either. A polite smile in a dark suit emerged from the forest of legs around me. “Checking in, sir? Are you alone”? And voila, I was wafted to a different counter where a pretty young lady was sternly commanded to wait upon me. I smiled happily and waited to be handed my room card.

Some time later, I was still waiting. The smile had left. Twitter is not just a social networking site. It is also the appropriate term for the string of inanities emitted by a certain kind of person in the hospitality sector. Look, child, I KNOW you won Ms. Bright Smile in your college beauty pageant (last month?) and I can guess somebody told you that you look cute when you helplessly tuck a curl behind your ear, but this isn’t “Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”, all I want to do is CHECK IN, not give you a massage on reality TV! I realized I was shouting inside my head. What was worse, I could hear it echoing. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall in resignation. Perhaps I should have taken my chances behind the Posse of Patellas. Eventually I was rescued by The Smile in the Suit. With apologies for the delay. “And, sir, we’ve upgraded your room.” Really? Some consolation, then.

If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

What kind of place takes a geriatric business traveler and places him in … a HONEYMOON SUITE? The plaque on the corridor wall terrified me. As I peeked apprehensively round the door, however, it seemed quite tolerable. Nice large room with lots of windows, decorated in a quiet beige. Then I wandered in. And the bed hit me. At least, the sight of the bed. A four-poster. With a gilded headboard. Fringes and tassels in a hideous floral print out of a cheap drawing book. And ‘elpmeGawd, a ruched CANOPY, a nightmare out of stereotypical Krole Bagh, in a shade that looked like gilded SHIT that would glow in the dark! The only way I could avoid it was by turning a chair to face the window. Which I did.

The worst was yet to come. Back in my room after 8, tired to the point where the Nightmare Bed no longer registered on my conscious, I hauled myself to the door to answer the buzzer. A simpering personage with the mandatory plastic smile asked breathlessly, “Sir, do you want evening service?” I responded with a squawk of alarm and slammed the door in her face. Over-reaction, yes. She was only doing her job, yes. But the whole bizarre scenario fired the wrong synapses in my staggering brain. Great Cthulhu, “evening service” in the honeymoon suite? Let me out of here!

*** ***

It went downhill from there. Too tired to ask for an ironing board, I checked the laundry rates. A hundred and fifty to iron a shirt?!

The room service extension was perpetually engaged. When I got through, a lisping voice took 5 whole minutes to understand my order. “We don’t have filter coffee, sir, we have fresh-brewed coffee.” Several deep breaths. A sandwich, please – not grilled, that takes longer and I’m in a hurry. “Yes sir, coffee and a grilled sandwich.” More deep breaths. You know what, FORGET IT! Just send up an ice bucket and some lemon wedges. Of course they delivered. After an hour. 6 cubes of ice. No lemon wedges.

Eventually, my Large Young Friend who had dropped by rejected the room service menu and rang down to find out how long the buffet in the coffee shop (“lavish” “delicious” etc., if the write-up was to be believed) was open. General confusion at the other end of the line. “I think it closes at 10, sir.” Damn. Oh wait a minute, they may be clueless. So we wandered down. Of COURSE they were clueless! It was open till half eleven. Good! What have we here?

A pasta salad. Where the pasta looked like an industrial installation. An OLD industrial installation, right down to the blotches on the piping. Butter chicken?! On a BUFFET? A quick peek under the cover, and agh! Red and greasy, like someone had bled into an oil sump. We fled. Walked over to the Shangri-La next door, leched at the Rolls Royce showroom. The Silver Ladies now are not the beauties of yesteryear, they lack the flowing lines of running board and wheel casing. They look like tanks that went to charm school. Yet we leched awhile before we passed on to the hotel proper. Then stopped dead in our tracks. Because they had another Rolls parked in the portico. With the hotel logo on its passenger door. They use THIS for an airport transfer?! Maaaan, I am SO going to book their Presidential Suite when I grow up!

We had the buffet there. Superb. Just superb. Except for the little contretemps afterwards, when there was more blood. No, not into an oil sump, I just haemorrhaged from my wallet. But in the final analysis, well worth the pain, that meal was worth at least the loss of a couple of a couple of fingers if not a whole limb.

And so to bed. Another Delhi day tomorrow. (Update: The day started at 6, except that there was no daylight. What, I can’t blame the hotel for that? Says who?!)

Saturday, March 06, 2010



    They peddle them at traffic lights. In parking lots. Outside Newmarket. Or when you're walking down Free School Street towards the old record stores. Strawberries in little boxes. Not punnets, boxes. Looking oh so pink and delicious, each with its little crown of dark green leaves. But they're lying minxes, these strawberries, because they're sour.

    As a good evangelist in the Cause of Food, I have figured out how to convert them and bring them to the light.

    Wash them, trim off the leaves, chop them fine. Put them in a small bowl, add a heaping spoonful of castor sugar. Stir 'em about a bit and put them in the fridge. Leave them be while you go get a couple of small tubs of ice-cream. Vanilla ice-cream. Not gelato. Put the ice-cream in a large bowl. Stir THAT about for a bit. Take the strawberry stuff out of the fridge, mix it in. Keep stirring till all the melted ice-cream is a deep pink.

    Voila! Real strawberry ice-cream.

    The weekend looks promising.