August 8, 2011 by Parthajeet
Vishal could hear footsteps. He was reading a book, half lying down in bed, with a pillow for head support. More often than not, Vishal could make out from the sound the footsteps made, who it belonged to.
“This must be Abhishek”, Vishal thought.
Abhishek had the clearly distinguishable style of walking fast with his slippers on, half dragging them and then lifting and placing the foot down. The footsteps were approaching fast and Vishal moved his book from in front of his face to look towards the open door. Vishal usually preferred to keep the door and windows open to let some fresh air in.
“Hey Vishal”, Abhishek said, as he walked in to Vishal’s room.
“Hi Abhishek”, Vishal greeted Abhishek.
Abhishek, who was from the North East, was in his denim shorts and white T-shirt. The denim shorts were crafted by Abhishek himself by cutting an old pair of jeans with scissors. He had not stitched the new pair of shorts where he made the cut and the threads were coming out along the edges. Abhishek looked fresh as always and had his wet straight hair combed back, after a bath. The straight hair soon fall back over his forehead as soon as it was dry.
“Want to go for a drink?”, Abhishek asked Vishal as he sat down on the second bed in the room. The second bed belonged to Sharad, Vishal’s room partner. Sharad was not in the room.
“I don’t mind.” Vishal said quickly, resting the book on his bedside, taking care to dog-ear the page he was at.
It was a Saturday and it had been quite a few days since Vishal had gone for a drink. Abhishek was quite an entertainer after a few drinks and Vishal didn’t mind accompanying him at times. The boys in the hostel would usually have whiskey in their rooms. This worked out much cheaper than going to any bar and also allowed a larger group to sit around and have fun much longer without the fear of stretching the perennially-tight purse strings too far. During such occasions, especially during weekends, some adventurous ones would cook chicken in their rooms. Cooking was not allowed in the rooms and this was done clandestinely. Otherwise delicious fried snacks would be bought from the street-side vendors near the liquor stores. Such sessions would often go into the early hours of the morning.
What Abhishek was asking today was the relatively more expensive option of going to a nearby bar. Vishal didn’t mind this once in a while as it allowed one to chill out in a non-hostel atmosphere, and have a more personalized one-to-one session about fantasies ranging from phone girlfriends to the best value-for-money meal around. Hostel room sessions were a lot of fun but would revolve around the usual general topics of others’ love affairs and a few nutty professors.
Within thirty minutes Abhishek and Vishal were seated at their favourite spot in the corner of Punjab Restaurant and Bar. The very south Indian looking portly waiter came by and handed over the menu to Abhishek. The waiter then took his pen from his ear, took out a small note book from his pocket and took pen to paper. He then paused and stood his ground with a “come on don’t waste my time” look on his face.
Vishal had wondered earlier why all the waiters in a Punjabi restaurant were south Indians. He realized that it was the locality; it was a predominantly South Indian locality of Mumbai and all the guys making dosas, pizzas, noodles and Pau Bhajis were South Indians. This also led to inventions like tandoori noodles and shezwan dosas, which some of the eateries in the locality would dish out.
Vishal and Abhishek noticed the impatient man shifting and realized that they were certainly not the guests of honour this evening. The waiter knew these were hostel kids and would only drink till they could afford, often leaving without a tip.
Abhishek quickly said “A quarter of Old Monk rum and two Thumps Up.”
“And starters?” The waiter asked.
“Later” Abhishek said. At most times, the hostel boys would avoid the fried snacks passed on as starters as they were relatively expensive items. Liquor orders would usually come with some peanuts and gram, served at no cost, and they would stick to this. Starters would be ordered on special occasions only; money was always rationed during those days.
After forty minutes, the ordered rum was nearly getting over, and Abhishek asked Vishal
“Shall we order one more peg each?”
“How much do you have?” Vishal asked Abhishek. Vishal checked his pockets and saw Abhishek do the same. These were the days of no ATM and no plastic money. They realised that they had just about enough for one last round. So they ordered the last drinks. In no time, the drinks got over, and Vishal asked for the cheque. The grumpy waiter came with the cheque, left it on the table and went across to serve other patrons.
Vishal and Abhishek collected the money they had in their pockets and put the cash in the hard folder that the waiter had given the cheque in. Abhishek and Vishal polished off the last drops from their glasses and waited for the waiter to come back with the change. The waiter shortly returned with the change and left the folder back on the table. Abhishek continued talking with Vishal, pretending that he hadn’t seen the waiter come back. From the corner of his eye, he could see the waiter pause a while. This pause was dangerous and Abhishek consciously avoided eye contact at these moments. This pause was meant to indicate “I have served you well, and I demand a good tip now”.
After a few tense moments Abhishek saw the waiter disappear. He opened the folder on his table and took the few coins left behind. These were days when a few coins could buy a small meal. He carefully took the smallest of the coins, a twenty five paise coin, and left it in the folder. Abhishek then got up, followed by Vishal and they moved towards the door, before the waiter could come back.
“Hey wait!” someone shouted from behind as they reached the door. Vishal looked back and noticed the waiter calling out to them and coming towards them. Wondering what was wrong, Vishal motioned to Abhishek and halted. The waiter came closer and he appeared to have a more than usual smug look on his face. Before Vishal could realize, the waiter stretched his right arm, looked at Abhishek and tried to hand over something to him.
As Abhishek stretched his arm too, the waiter said “You can keep this also” in the most sarcastic of tones that Vishal had ever heard. He gave something to Abhishek, turned around and went back inside. He had returned the twenty five paisa coin tip that Abhishek had left behind as a tip!