“I know you are unwell but do you want to come to V V Puram next Friday after you return from Sydney?”
“What is that place?”
“Some street with street food”
When you are stuck in a hotel room for 4 days, with a contagious infection and dreams of going out every night on your first visit to Sydney hurting every corner of your existence, you would go to Timbuktu to try poison with a sworn enemy.
This was still my friend Nibbles asking me to come to an obscure sounding place to eat street food. But then, my North Indian ears were used to hearing names of places that were a stiff Sanskrit, a romantic Urdu, hostile Haryanvi, or lovingly wicked Punjabi. To such a set of ears, every place in South India sounded like either one of the many Hindu gods lived there or the name of a few hundred year old kingdom. In Bangalore, such places usually turn out to be old, dirty lanes with small shops and a large traffic jam just as the Sanskrit, Urdu, Haryanvi or Punjabi sounding places do.
Sometimes I am grateful to god for not giving me the capacity to think too much or go to google and begin researching every place I was planning to visit.
Google, for its pros, belts the cat of curiosity instead of letting it loose on the real experience. However, true to my lack of capacity to think, I did not search or even make Google the culprit for killing my curiosity. It’s only in the hindsight that I came up with this brainwave of blaming Google for not ever testing the validity of my North Indian superiority complex about the street food in a South Indian city.
The D-day arrived; my friends picked me in a cab they had hired to go to V V Puram, 27 kms away, to do what? Eat?
I am again glad that I have the capacity for only hindsight thinking, else I would never get anywhere good in life or do things which are the most essential to our survival, such as going to a place 27 kms away for eating.
On the D-day, I had been back from my foreign adventure for a week and still getting over the misadventure of drinking too many packet soups and eating too much bread while being stuck to the same room for 4 days.
As it turned out, Nibbles was getting over her misadventure of an acid-stricken stomach.
“I feel like my stomach is rising up to my mouth.”
“Ugh! Do you want to play this game on phone ‘dumb ways to die’?
I don’t always offer the best sounding distractions for a painful situation but in this case it worked. We all took turns to play “dumb ways to die” on our phones.
If only we had a live bulb that turned red on assessing our sub-conscious reaction to seemingly innocent sounding names of games, we probably wouldn’t have played that game while Nibbles suffered from acidity and anticipation, I from uncertainty and a little motion sickness, and Vaffles from a patient excitement of being away too long from a once cherished thing. Each of us suffered a little more every few kilometers. Each of us wanted to get there fast for there in lay the end to our suffering of 27 kms.
I am not sure what path we took to end up in an old fashioned crossing with four small lanes flowing asymmetrically out of a seemingly circular park in the middle.
This park was the beginning of our undoing. We stopped outside a temple left to the park and got out of the car. Vaffles rushed to buy the first delicacy, the amazing starter to building an appetite for a much anticipated gastronomic adventure, the much valued drink by all foodies alike – the acidity syrup.
Vaffles and I flanked Nibbles on each side, cheering in our hearts, knowing that she would get to the place where we needed her to be, if only she would glug the pink liquid in the bottle and not stop until she was there, right where she needed to be.
Nibbles glugged and didn’t stop until she had drunk half the bottle.
Her eyes were shining again, we all smiled. We could live with anticipation, uncertainty, and excitement but acidity had to die before it killed our appetite.
We were proud and ready. V V Puram gates were open and waiting for us to come and savor.
Arm in arm, Nibbles and I followed Vaffles as he moved to the left and came to the beginning of a small lane. I looked ahead. The lane was a few meters broad, filled with small shops on sides, some open and some closed. The huge pans and ladles at the open shops clanked with a welcome beat, bringing a spring to our feet.
The first shop on the left was selling gulab jamuns. The gulab jamuns and the shop looked just the same as the first shop that stood at the entrance to the oldest part of my hometown. Strange though it was how a sight from 20 years ago could come alive in sumptuous looking black and brown rounds the size of a Ping-Pong ball, dipped in the sweet syrup, smelling seductively, the way only unhealthy food can.
Our feet followed our nose but our eyes saw something that broke the spring in our gluttonous souls.
As we timed our attack on the gulab jamuns for the end of our journey, two other ugly round mounds mocked at our appetite. The gulab jamun server bent to pick god only knows what, his pants slipped from the back and his butt served itself to us, with the crack, the clank and way too much hair.
If acidity, headache, and 27 kms drive didn’t kill our spirit, this unsavory sight right where gulab jamuns were, sure did. The sight stuck to my vision, blocking all the food that seemed to be leaping out from the various small shops.
Only for a few moments though, after all, why should we ever break our spirit over an ass?
And we didn’t.
A large part of why nothing could break our spirits is because it resides in our gluttony. Don’t believe me? Here is the list of things we ate (or drank) in the next hour – Masala thumbs up, Corn and Mango chat, Mensin kai Bajji (mirchi bajji), Samosa, Breadpakora, Kulhad chai, Bele Obattu (Dal puranpoli), Kai Obattu (Coconut puranpoli), Idlis, Ras malai, Rose milk, Jalebi, Gulab jamun Dal vada, Kodbale (onion ring vada), Nipattu masala, Almond toffees, and Avrekkai (roasted val beans).
Another part of our spirits lay in the first few lanes beyond our homes that we explore with our once new found independence. V V Puram, for all its southern small street glory, took me back to those small lanes of my childhood where I had made friends for the first time in my life, explored the savory streets, and tasted street food in every nook and corner. It took me back to the lanes of Babra Mohalla and Quilla Road, the older parts of Rohtak where I would hang out with my friends, and savor every bit of my infant independence and freedom.
Be it south, be it north, are we ever too far from a friend who would hold our hand and take us to new places, help us discover new flavors, and laugh away all the hairy asses that block our way?