By Karanvir Arora
It was an indecisive walk back home. I mean who eats two melt-in-the-mouth chicken puffs, three-fourth-of-a chicken frankie, a chilled glass of ginger lemon at 6 in the evening but still thinks of dinner closer to 8! Well, sadly I was.
Many thoughts were erupting for a ‘light’ dinner plan ahead. Cuisines, restaurants, roads leading up to those restaurants, packed tables, menus. Most seemed a bit much for a plan of a bit less. Then, right at the turn of the road stood the answer. The Bhelpuriwala! Light, low on calories, freshly made in a sea of lip smacking flavours. It was almost picture perfect.
The bhelpuriwala, for 8 at night, had quite an audience around him. The two aunties on his left, who must been in their early 60’s were chit chatting in between every gulp, most colony gossip it seemed, seeing a stranger like me, a new entrant to he neighbourhood bhelpuri scene, seemed a bit perturbed. They keenly listened to my order, exchanged glances at each other and quickly arrived at a judgment of me being harmless. They couldn’t bother anymore and effortlessly swung back in full flow of their gossip-golguppa routine, reminding the bhelpuri guy about the count and how they had still 3 more to go!
What I forgot to mention was initially when I approached the circle of people around the bhelpuri man, he had cut me short half-way through the order, saying, it would take some time. Lining up his with eyes the queue of people waiting. I thought about it for a second. My ego was hurt but I understood his problem. He was a one-man army who was the owner, manager, chef, waiter, bouncer, cleaner, cutter, peeler. I thought the man deserved some support. He was probably working very hard, probably from out of town, probably very poor, probably sending money earned back home to wife, children, parents. Probably the only the breadwinner. I waited. Of course.
The aunties by now had finished their round of gol guppas and the bhelpuri man proceeded to make the extra piece of gol guppa (given mostly to regulars) which is dry without the spicy water and has selected stuffings of potatoes, chickpeas, coriander and variety of salts. The perfect cherry on top for every regular gulguppa eater. So as he gave the aunties their freebie of the day and from the corner of his eye saw-me-see-him-give-them. Out of nowhere he handed me one too! I was taken aback. Such delicious act of kindness touched a few chords in my heart and from a disgruntled-waiting-in-line customer within seconds I became a delighted-ready-to-wait-another-10-minutes-customer!
Lesson # 1: A freebie goes a long way!
The aunties now looked at the Bhelpuri man in his eyes and nodded. Which turned out to be the sign to get the Sevpuris going. He laid out one papri a time slowly towering it with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, coriander, tamarind, mint chutney and his secret ingredient – finely sliced thin strips of unripe mango and finally finishing it off with a storm of bhujia in the end.
Just as that was done a man in really short shorts, who seemed have come from a run approached the circle and announced, ‘Mahesh is it done?’ I looked around to see who Mahesh was. Mahesh was nowhere to be found. I looked again and still there was not a single whimper out of any Mahesh around. In that silence of no-Mahesh-ness the bhelpuriman was seen making eye contact and giving the slightest nods of approval.. Bhelpuri-wala was Mahesh! And that just made me furious. Clearly the next order was not going to be mine and here’s why:
(A) the man in really short shorts knew the bhelpuriwala on first name basis! Whereas I on the other hand was abruptly cut short midway through my order
(B) The man in really short shorts, very smartly used the words ‘is it done’ and not ‘Make my order’. Quite clearly a code phrase he conveniently uses to cut the line when he comes to order, often the same time, often in the same rush, after his run, in his really short shorts. Mahesh plays along obviously since he was a regular with a regular order.
Lesson # 2: No matter how (embarrassingly) short shorts you are wearing, it always helps to know people on first name basis.
Next had to be me! I was all ready to protest! There was no way I could this time be dislodged from my bhelpuri eating position. And along came an uncle. Holding many bags of polybags sweating profusely from an intense vegetable shopping session it seemed. He had the perfect clichéd Indian uncle moustache and the perfect clichéd Indian man belly. He stood there, completely ignoring me and catching the eye of Mahesh. I was scared. I was almost sure he knew him too. And Mahesh knew him back. Maybe for many years now. Probably both had been around each other good times and bad time and all that shit. But what about me? I had waited for 20 minutes now. Silently, patiently with a simple honest intention to just take my bhelpuris home. Mahesh in the midst of peeling another round of boiled potatoes and squeezing the living daylights out of them stared at the cliched-moustached-potbellyed-uncle acting over friendly and in a killer mover just pointed towards me and the two people already in line behind.
Finally there was triumph of good over evil! I always knew god was catching all this injustice LIVE! Uncle seemed a bit a disappointed but smartly turned the topic to how sometimes in life you have to wait in line. How the fruit of patience is always sweet and all that bitter sour grapes crap. Soon trying to include me too in his one-man impromptu monologue. I played along. I indulged in ridiculing nowadays politicians-cricketers regular society talk. Talked about round the year hot topics of potholes, mobile taking over lives and of course the evergreen, how kids grow up on the internet these days! By now Mahesh had neatly packed my sevpuri, shaken the hell out my bhelpuri and was all set to parcel it.
I thanked Mahesh for my bhelpuris. Uncle for his trivial conversation. God, for the ordeal to be over and of course for intervening when most needed.
Lesson # 3: Note-to-self: Make early judgment when it comes to bhelpuris. It could be tricky. Never wait again for 25 mins!
About Karanvir Arora
Karanvir works with Bounce, an ad firm in Bombay. He was born and brought up in Calcutta with most of his schooling at Sanawar – a residential public school tucked away in the hills of Kasauli. In the past, he has worked and lived in Delhi as well as Bangalore. He moved to Bombay only 2 years ago. He is the proud owner of a beautiful she-lab who goes by the name Scrabble. She is as cool as Karanvir himself!