Guess who’s coming to dinner

Published: September 30, 2010

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)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com/ The Only Normal Person Here.

    hahahahaha… Good stuff. More I like the underlying tone of this write up. Let’s see how many does it actually “hit.”Recommend

  • Ghausia

    haha poor yoy. I love this part;

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

    What a horrid night, I feel so bad for you, even if reading about it was very entertaining for me. :DRecommend

  • Hassan

    Excellent! The whole article is rich in detail and depicts a typical Pakistani dinner in a restaurant. It’s very well written. Moreover, the humor and sarcasm has been handled very cleverly. Recommend

  • http://nabihazeeshan.wordpress.com Nabiha Zeeshan

    Nice article, Maheen. It was hilariously put and I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Can’t believe waiters in Paris have iPhones! That’s wow!
    But thanks to the dinner, you got another idea for an ET article – so all’s not gone to waste! :)Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    hehehe……….the last para sounds amazing……….soft chapair……….on “many”……..Recommend

  • sana

    hehehhe… so hilarious, nice article. i really enjoy reading it Recommend

  • kk

    Hahahah…well written, Ms Usmani. Horror into humour always works for me.
    Keep blogging, always a treat to read your thoughts,opinions and experiences. Recommend

  • Sakina

    I loved it!! <3Recommend

  • http://aacounterterror.wordpress.com Anas Abbas

    Bravo…

    Great Blog

    An excellent piece of spontaneous writing reflecting the writer’s experience.

    I wish I could write something like this one day… :)

    Thanks for thisRecommend

  • parvez

    Enjoyed reading this rubbish. You write really well.Recommend

  • Danial

    Reading this proves my theory that the youngsters and the women of Pakistan are treated the same by the so called “learned” men of our society. If we make a comment at such a dinner we are looked upon with eyes that are really saying “Don’t disagree with me, I’m much older than you (or for women, I’m a guy) and I know what I’m talking about”.

    For the people who haven’t been to Pakistani restaurants in Europe, I can assure you all the food descriptions are completely correct, and if you are by any chance a woman or a youngster at one of these dos, you are pretty much expected to sit there quietly or compliment the host and smile at people who look at you!!

    Brings back many memories :) Recommend

  • http://Pakistanis4Israel.com ali zaidi

    love this piece. The import of this article becomes plainly obvious in the last paragraph. To this end, what is ET doing?

    At any rate, I don’t love this article for the narrative it tells, but for the way its esthetically worded. Music to m…y ears :) Kudos to whoever wrote it.Recommend

  • sumera

    I loved the piece….very well written…mazedaar piece Maheen….Recommend

  • Rehan

    Very different from what you have written before :)
    Fresh and very amusign indeed. I actually started enjoying reading it …It was fun reading it for sure. Recommend

  • kashif Jan

    Absolutely hilarious..I was trying to picture you warding off the waiter from delivering more fish tikka on to your plate :)Recommend

  • Adil Ahmad

    Great going Maheen! For some reason I get the feeling that you are not exactly enjoying your stay in ‘gay Paree’!?? What’s the ‘gossip’ on the Sarkozy corruption inquiry re Pakistan? I hear they are re-investigating the Agosta submarines kickbacks scam and its tie-in with the killing of French engineers in Karachi. Recommend

  • Obaid

    haha.. good one.. it would have been a fitting end to the blog if the waiter had turned out to be Salman Butt but Maheen this one is very fresh and very entertaining unlike your other blogs which are normally in depressing tone and more towards criticism. Recommend

  • Huma

    Key learning is never to eat something which looks suspicious or tastes bad- no matter who the host is. Good article and it was fund reading. You write satire well.Recommend

  • Ashmeet singh sidhu

    Hhahah.Loved it maheen.Wonderful :)Recommend

  • Sara Khan

    Good one!!!! keep it up lady :) Recommend

  • Farooq Khan

    Super stuff Maheen.. more or less we do have here in Australia as well, love the way you describe the food of typical desi curry restaurant elsewhere in western word. admire your observation and humor…. :)Recommend

  • Guinevere David

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading ur piece Maheen. You are a very good writer and always write very well. You shld be awarded for ur presence among such people. Feels as though they were a bunch of upstarts, in fact, most of them are after reaching aborad. It’s their attitude that bothers me (and I suppose you as well). A good discription of them. Yes, the iPhone and ET will definitely put a smile on everyone’s face.Recommend

  • shahid

    Dinners/lunches are always boring without women and men in attendance and sitting together.Recommend

  • Ilmana Fasih

    Feels a familiar experience ,Maheen.
    Monotonous dinners, pathetic food, stereotype conspiracy theories, nonserious and non-intellectual talks when addressing to women by men of my generation(thinking we cant talk substance), astonished looks on their faces when a woman pitches into the political debates/ sports politics , expectations that waiters are more knowledgeable than the women guests–I thought this was the order of the middle east desi parties.
    Heartening to know that am not the only one to bear it.Recommend

  • Danyal Rizvi

    Although it’s a blog, I can actually visualize the writer living through the ordeal. Well done Maheen!! The write up is full of humor and a good depiction of expat satire. Recommend

  • saira

    Nice job, Maheen. You so gifted, MA. You deserve to be Editor in Chief. Even this piece makes me want to visit Paris! ceratinly won’t dine at this Desi restaurant ;)Recommend

  • sabiha

    beautiful english indeed, but then the article reeks of bad manners, did not expect this from a writer like you, Recommend

  • subuk waraich

    good good v goodRecommend