Burger & Fries: Reminiscing the Cold War days in Bangalore.

I had the most awesome burger I ever had yesterday. You’ll never guess where, though. Hard Rock Café Delhi. It’s 3 minutes from the office and we thought we’d take a gamble, knowing that, at 2 pm we could avoid tourists and Delhi’s rockers. Boy did we hit paydirt. I don’t know if it’s just the Saket outlet but I swear it was the dope. Try it and see. It’s called the Legendary Burger. The portions live up to the name. Your doctor wouldn’t recommend it, but screw him.

I have a love-hate relationship with franchises, like most people. Much as I hate them for changing every city in the world into Generica, you gotta admit, they bring a measure of familiarity to a city. We draw comfort from it. First time I went to London, my flight landed at 6.30 in the morning. Everything looked and felt so alien. Some Rastafarian dude was trying to sell me skank and my hotel looked nothing like the pictures I saw on the internet. Then I saw a KFC outlet somewhere and it was cool, know what I mean?

Hard Rock Café has its avid followers, mostly marketing execs and people who work in HR or pharma. These are the sort who have Hard Rock Café shot glass collections at home. It’s a strange world. I sat right underneath Seal’s guitar. I know. Wooooo. It must’ve cost them a little over the cost-price of a regular guitar. The cheese-factor was overwhelming but strangely reassuring. It was like all those faux-American restaurants we used to have in Bangalore in the Eighties grew up, got married to a rich, white lady and came back with a HumVee.

Remember Mac Fast Food? The original Mac’s, on Church Street, Bangalore. 20 bucks for fries. Considered ridiculous then. Then there was Indiana’s down the road who had the greasiest, most disgusting burgers I’ve ever eaten. I hate fucking mayo on burgers and they slapped it on with a trowel. The meat was chewy and you only used the ketchup if you were willing to risk your life. By far the best burger in town then was this small place called Ice & Spice, on St Mark’s Road. Fairly uncomplicated burger. Loved it. A friend visited recently and tells me old Ice & Spice is still around and their burgers still kick ass.

We were so hooked to Americana those days, like the rest of the world. I still can’t figure why we all read Archie comics. I tried reading one recently and it was unreadable. The jokes are so fucking lame. Ok we get it, Jughead likes to eat and Big Moose is possessive as hell. The drawings so bad, I can’t bring myself to read them. But I can’t trash it from the hard drive that is my brain. Reggie Mantle, Jughead Jones, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are burned into my head. For the current generation, its Harry Potter I suppose. All you Nineties born kids, you’re going to have a bespectacled geek burned into your sub-conscious and there’s fuck-all you can do about it.

Back to the America thing, I remember playing chess with a friend of mine who insisted on keeping a little USSR flag on his side of the chessboard like his great heroes Kasparov and Karpov. I wasn’t that crazy about chess but I coloured out the stars and stripes on a bit of paper to keep at my end. I loved the Cold War. It was such an amazing time to be a boy. The space race, the spy stories, the intrigue, KGB, Mossad, Frederick Forsyth and John Rambo. We had a secret spy society with a secret code and a logo and passwords and everything. I don’t know what the Guild was called but I remember one of our slogans was ‘Dewar Mooshe Darad. Mooshe Gooshe Darad’. Russian words for ‘The walls have mice. The mice have ears.’

Thanks to our friend Nehru who tried his best to make us a Socialist country, we had Book Fairs from time to time held by our friends from beyond the Iron Curtain. Who needs Mark Twain when you have Ukrainian Folk Tales? There were some real trippy stories. Most were about some blighter called Ivan. (Not the same Ivan). And there were a lot of bears involved. Flying ships too. Beats the hell out Harry Potter and his retarded school for boy wizards.

First published in KIRIK 02, March 2010

Breakfast in Agra. Circa 1985.

As I discovered to my dismay as a little kid, a typical day in Agra begins like this. Nobody eats at their house, like normal people. Instead, of an early morning, the Agravations (if they may be called that) head to an emporium of delights, manned by a man called a Halwai. Same Halwai has two cauldrons full of smoking hot mustard oil. A foul fume that causes many a vacationing schoolboy to tear up and try to stop breathing. In which are cooked poodis. Pronounced a la Gudgaon. Served in containers fashioned cleverly out of some waxy leaf and broomsticks. Which would in today’s times be lauded for its greenness and low carbon footprint. The whole place crowded with milling folks because in the midst of all this culinary ability was lost the need for a few basic things like tables and chairs. Cleanliness would’ve been great, but this is Agra, and the ring made of betel leaf binds all men to darkness. So the poodis are served up with what would be called a mashup of potatoes and  more leaves, more likely some low weed or the other. Waterproofness of the waxy leaves notwithstanding, the mashup and fluid within, like life, would find its way to your palm causing you to shudder violently and fling the whole mess toward earlier such flung items, and if you happened to miscalculate force required, direction and velocity of the prevailing wind and objects in the way, well that’s another anecdote altogether, which we will call How To Pick a Fight in Agra.

By now, you’re looking to wash all this down with a suitable beverage. Behold the Kullad Ka Doodh. That’s milk in a pot. Made of mud. To imagine what it’s like to experience this, imagine a cow being milked, an odd pull causes some milk to miss the bucket and land on the ground. To this situation, add some sugar. Milk, sugar, mud. What’s not to like?

Why don’t the Agravations eat in their homes you might ask? Damned if I know. Probably because you don’t eat where you shit.

First published in KIRIK 01, February 2010