reprints of articles published in magazines

Saturday, 21 April 2007

The BIG and the small

Scene One: The Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan supposedly the most prestigious of addresses. We were staying in one of the glitzy five star hotels right on the Park Avenue…. you know one of those grand de la grand hotels that have gold tinted mirrors in the elevators and gold polished faucets in the bathroom.

We were attending a medical conference in this hyper opulent hotel. And we were told this particular hotel was specifically chosen because it was in the middle of everything that was worth seeing in New York. The Empire State Building was a few blocks this way, the Central Park was a few yards that way, the Rockefeller Building was just a few metres away and the Grand Central Station was a few feet the other way.

But we had so little time to spend sight seeing. The conference was so jam packed with so many sessions that the only time we had to ourselves was after 5.30 pm. But the Empire State Building would be closed for visitors after that…. and we were all so keen on seeing this Wonder of the World.

And so it was decided that we’d spend our lunch break wisely…as soon as the meeting broke for lunch we’d all rush to the Empire State Building, quickly look over the wonder and rush back in time for lunch and the afternoon sessions. Likewise immediately after we dispersed for lunch, we ran across the fifth avenue all eager to behold the big building. Once we entered the Wonder Building, we ogled around and walked over to the ticket counter. There a wise guy in our team had a brilliant idea. He said “For seventeen dollars we get to take a virtual plane ride through the city of New York and also see this Building. Only ten minutes…let’s all do the virtual city tour too!”

He wheedled, coerced and peddled the idea so vehemently that we all agreed to join the show…it turned out to be some dumb video show fit to amuse kids below six years or less. And we had wasted some precious ten minutes. Yet politely as would befit psychiatrists we withheld out collective irritation at the wise man that gave this stupid idea and walked over to the elevator to go to the top of the Wonder Building. From the top we could see the green patch of the Central Park, the Blue silhouette of the Statue of Liberty and the many skyscrapers of Manhattan.

We swarmed back into the elevator, went down and out of the building and walked back to the hotel. Being the faster walker of the lot, I outpaced my gang and went into the hotel, all hungry and thirsty. I walked into the banquet hall where our lunch was to be served…and to my big surprise, all the tables were cleared and there was no food on the buffet. There was a lone steward tending to the empty tables, I walked up to him, showed him my identity badge, introduced myself and explained that a bunch of us were yet to have our lunch. We were all the delegates attending the meeting and this lunch had been specifically arranged for us…. naturally we expected our share of the lunch to be saved up…we were just on time for lunch anyway.

But the steward gave me a superciliary look, pointed at his watch and said “Lunch time is just over”. Superciliary look my foot, I stared back at him and said very clearly, “But we are hungry. Let us have our lunch.” He went back him and brought a senior steward, now this guy looked up and down at me and finally said, “All the food is over.”

I was taken aback, “I am sure you arranged food for all of us. But most of us have not eaten. Surely there must be something remaining”

Senior steward looked at me, I looked back at him very determinedly. Finally he said in chaste Americanese, “Well, there is some soup left”

“Fine, let us have that”

By then the rest of my team had arrived, but all that we were given to eat was some soup and left over bread. This, in the finest of five star hotels in the heart of the wealthiest city.

Scene two: Another five star hotel in Kuala Lumpur. This hotel offered us bed and breakfast deals only and so we had to find our own means of food for lunch and dinner. Luckily right opposite the hotel was a street corner food shop run by some immigrant Tamils. All the days that we stayed in KL we had sumptuous parotas and cold Milos under the awnings of this street side restaurant, enjoying our lingua madarasi conversations with the restaurant personnel. The restaurant owner gave us many useful tips on The Best Place to Shop, The Must See Places and The Must Do Things in KL, etc.

On the last day of our stay in KL we had our Last Lunch at this restaurant. But one of our team members had been so bitten by the shopping bug that he had spent too much time at the malls and missed the lunch. He arrived two hours after our regular lunchtime laden with shopping bags but complaining of “Semma Pasi”.

We took him to our street corner restaurant. The owner looked up and asked, “So late? But we’re closed. Not had food yet?”

“No, lost track of time shopping. Anything to eat?”

“Sure”. He pulled up chairs for everyone. Brought some chappathi and sambar for the late eater and mugs of Cold Milo for the rest.

“What combination is this? Chappathi and sambar?” The late eater made a face as he munched the food.

Without much ado the restaurant man said, “I am sorry…it is not restaurant food. This is my lunch…”

We looked up at the man in surprise, “Your lunch…but what will you eat? You should have told us!! We would have gone elsewhere”

“No big deal. Please go on and eat. I’ll manage”

And so we resumed our regular chatter. When the meal was over we got up, said ‘thanks’ and paid up the bill. But on seeing the bill we noticed that the chappathi and sambar had not been charged. We promptly brought that to the notice of the hotelier.
“I know.” He said nonchalantly. “It is not hotel food….that’s why I didn’t charge it”

This, in a street corner eatery in some obscure developing nation.

The smallness of the big and the bigness of the small…. it never ceases to amaze me!

1 comment:

PARIMALA said...

I believe one needs to have that extra something humane thing to appreciate bigness of the small (not many of us do) and I'm moved by your appreciation.This also reminds me of your Kaniyan Poongundranar quote in Unmai.