Guess who’s coming to dinner

Published: September 30, 2010
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Struggling with the fish tikka amid talk of politics is an uphill task.

If you are dragged feet first to a dinner your intuition is warning you against, what are the chances of it actually turning out to be a fun evening?

Zilch.

Especially if you’re coaxed to go not because of your scintillating company, but just to make up the numbers. One lone Pakistani woman at a restaurant table in a Pakistani joint should be chaperoned by another female desi, especially with the other diners being men.

In case you’re thinking that these men must be in the league of Brad Pitt/Johnny Depp or even Ali Zafar, please disabuse yourself of that delicious notion. We’re talking middle aged, portly, balding, grinning, kindly men who can be a sure fire cure for insomnia.

The host awaits the arrival of his select guests at a Pakistani restaurant in the heart of Europe. Smiling waiters, muted conversation and mellifluous Indian songs herald your passage to the table. The host leans forward intently to ask that vitally important question

“How are you? How do you like living here?”

“I’m very well, thank you.”

“Very well? Are you sure? Really?”

No, actually I’m actually in the middle of having a nervous breakdown and am planning on recruiting as a suicide bomber. Wanna join me?

Instead, I say, “Well, even if I wasn’t very well, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

The host laughs uproariously while I cast harried looks at my watch, and crane my neck in anticipation of the other diners. The other female desi arrives and meekly sits where she is told to by the host, i.e next to me, because, of course, she can’t sit next to the men (gasp!).

The conversation centres around Pakistan naturally. Heads are shaken, tongues are clicked, eyes are rolled and throats are cleared at the sorry state of affairs. Opinons come fast and furious as the different scenarios are discussed threadbare. There is talk of revolution, of an uprising, of change with a capital C. As if. Don’t the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Ignoring the heated political discourse, the waiter approaches our table and confidently rattles off his recommendations. We are earnestly assured that their succulent cheese naans, kebabs and fish are to die for. But when the lovingly described cuisine reaches our table, it is time for a reality check. The qorma is unbelievably sweet while the prawns have an eerie flavour which makes you peer at them unbelievingly.

Are these really prawns or an elaborate joke? The so called cheese naans are limp and apologetic looking. The fish tikka has the hide of a rhinoceros and deserves to be chucked in the nearest rubbish bin.

My silent tug of war with the fish tikka hasn’t gone unnoticed by the beady eyed host. The light reflects off his shining pate as he leans forward and grins, “Does this fish not meet with your approval?”

I go into hypocrite mode, smile insincerely, nod approvingly and try to spear some of the unappetizing fare on to my fork.

To add insult to injury, the beaming waiter is back at my elbow, bragging about the fish which I am munching doggedly. When he tries to spoon more into my quivering plate. I stare daggers at him and he sidles off.

The dessert is nothing to write home about either and the ice cream melts and congeals as the conversation turns to cricket and Pakistan’s woes on the recent England tour. In the midst of delineating on the follies and foibles of Pakistani cricketers and the PCB I become aware of a hushed silence. Expressions range from incredulity to benevolence as I draw to a sudden halt.

“How come you know so much about Pakistani cricket?” The suffix “being a female” is not added, but is implicit. The other desi female is also staring at me questioningly. Now I’m beginning to feel like an anomaly and a blot on the face of Pakistani womanhood.

The ubiquitous waiter chimes in, “No, this news is all a conspiracy, wait and see.” The men exchange bemused looks, and look more comfortable. The waiter now takes centre stage and reveals himself to be a member of the Pakistani cricket team here. He invites us to his next match in which he assures us we will beat the Indians. My fellow diners are elated at the prospect and visiting cards are exchanged amid backslaps and hearty goodbyes.

The waiter proceeds to whip out his cell which he then hands to me with a flourish. It’s an iPhone whose flat screen shows the smiling waiter attired in brilliant cricket whites on a luminous cricket pitch.

I sneak a look at my dull Nokia and wonder when ET will start paying it’s bloggers.

The tailpiece to this delightful evening came later when I fell sick with a vengeance thanks to the fish tikka and other assorted delicacies. Now I’ve decided to pay more attention to my intuition and give it the respect it deserves.

Maheen Usmani

Maheen Usmani

A freelance writer who has covered subjects ranging from socio-political issues to women's rights to counter terrorism, sports, travel, culture and music. Maheen tweets @MaheenUsmani (twitter.com/MaheenUsmani)

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