AN ODE TO CURRY

24 May

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a couple of quid and a belly full of beer must be in want of a curry…”

Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice.

 

“Oh, sweet elixir of life, the meaning of reason, and the object of my desire. What it is to be bereft of thy company, only to rekindle joyous acquaintance in my unhappy hour of want? Words cannot quantify nor does allusion describe the bitter sweet of fond empty-plated remembrance. Clothed in plastic-bagged-fantastic and foiled in silver, thou art a joy to behold; a breath of fresh, pungent air, a tangible tingle to the nostrils, a veritable mistress of saucy delight. A jewel to the eye, a sear to the soul and a burning rush of requited love. Solitary confined moments shared and savored where one can reflect and revisit the intimacy of oral delight. Never was there a less selfish lover – never were the clinging moments more cherished – never was one left so bereaved by flushed adieu. Until we ‘eat again, I bid thee a flatulent farewell!”

*

“Last orders ladies and gentleman, please!” screams the potbellied publican from behind faux teak and poor dentistry. Standing amidst an island of factory-produced nostalgia he checks his watch and rings the bell one last time. “Come on now move your arses! Ain’t you got homes to go to?”

I finish the suds in my glass, choking back the stagnant liquid that just moments before browsed golden as it bubbled and foamed, and place it on the counter top with the other dead soldiers. Pint and shot glasses stand together in blissful union, unaware their usefulness has passed and that closing time has robbed them of employment. I look around at my fellow imbibers and through alcohol-addled eyes, spy the lonely and the loved as they file through the exit and into to the icy embrace of life. Their moments of communal pain-dulling congenial inebriation now forgotten as they check wallets, grab jackets and fondle newly-found soul mates. The weekend is over and the morning brings another day at the foundry, office or other unworthy place of forced employment. Wage slaved to the boss, the credit card, and the mortgage they scuttle to grab precious hours of sleep before the onslaught of fresh corporate demands engulf them.

I consider making a move on the last female at the bar however realize before I engage in optimistic social intercourse that either from want or neglect there’s probably a reason she’s still there. I rethink my strategy, drag myself from my wooden throne, and trudge into the night.

It’s cold outside and I spy my reflection in the puddles of monsoon-ravaged Middle England. Despite the chill there’s prospective inner warmth, the knowledge that only mere yards away lays a harbor of tranquility – a safe haven in an otherwise harsh, unforgiving world. I smell it before I see it; my feet splashing through water, my heels clicking on the pavement as unseen, aromatic hands grab me by the shirt collar, slap me about the face and drag me towards their irresistible event horizon. The choice isn’t my own. It’s a necessity, survival instinct; an innate sense of following one’s nose and complying with one’s inner hunter-gatherer. I stand before the plate glass window, the light from the restaurant transfixing me with its hypnotic tractor beam. There’s no escape, no use running – the dinner bell has sounded, and like a Pavlovian puppy I salivate into my jacket.

 The House of Bombay; it might as well be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the final resting place of the Holy Grail, or the gates of Valhalla. I grin moronically, my eyes wide with anticipation, my tongue thickening in my mouth at the prospect of what I am about to receive. I am truly grateful and I push open the door and enter paradise on earth. It isn’t a religious revelation however the Buddhists and Taoists would recognize the spiritual transformation I am experiencing. Truly one of the converted, my faith unshakeable, I accept the dogma completely and throw myself before my altar of expectation.

The restaurant is full of excited voices and exotic smells, its tables occupied by like-minded individuals who’ve escaped the pub and stopped for a bite on their way home; a perfect ending to a perfect night. Ten pints of lager, a bag of crisps, a game of grab ass on the dance floor, all washed down with lashings of the hot and spicy.

*

“…These are the things. These are the things. The things that dreams are made of…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Human League

*

What to choose, what to choose? The delicacies of the great Indian sub-continent are catalogued before me in a cornucopia of delectation and gastronomic delight. A temptation to the weak, a fix to the addicted but a delight to the enlightened. The crash of pots and pans and the mantra of cursed Urdu transport me to a place far from windswept, rain-soaked, Yorkshire. No longer the last man at the bar but a willing supplicant at the place of pilgrimage. An acolyte shoves a much fingered menu into my hands and demands to know what I’m drinking. Being the connoisseur that I am, I choose an Indian beer that claims to have been brewed on the banks of the river Ganges. National Geographic images waft through my mind as I briefly swim through the corpses and crocodiles to the sari-ed beauty that holds a bottle outstretched in her henna-ed  hand.

 I grasp, I sip, I swallow.

 Reacting to the broken English of the waiter, I flick through the curled pages of the stained menu and peruse the delights of the Punjab, the Kashmir, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas, and the golden sands of the Southern Keralan coast line.

 Lamb or beef, chicken or shrimp, veggies or not?

The aromas are intense, the Bollywood music blaring, the Indian chatter emanating from the kitchen incessant. Having made my choice I shut the menu. Poised with pen in hand, the sauce-splattered waiter prepares to notate my desire.

“Vindaloo, so bloody hot that it’ll burn my arse. Don’t forget the Nan or the poppadums, and jump to it Gupta! I’m bloody starving.”

The waiter smiles, he’s heard it all before, the well-meant racial slurs roll off his back like a rice-paddied buffalo flicking flies. He beams his gold-toothed smile and moves quickly behind the counter and disappears through the hanging colored beads into the kitchen, The bastard will make me pay for my flippant comments and no doubt there will be more than just chili powder in my tinfoil take-away box – a huge dose of scotch bonnet pepper, a little liquid napalm perhaps. It will be Gupta’s name that I scream in abject agony the morning after the night before.

Cold hard cash clinks from my sweaty palm and the mutually beneficial exchange is made. A silver container, already oozing brown joy, exchanged for  a couple of dirty notes – the pleasure is all mine, although judging by the grin on my newfound friend’s face the pleasure is all his. I walk to the door and make my exit.

As I trudge through the rain I reflect on the wisdom of ignoring the femme-fatale at the bar. The last girl in the world, at least on this particular Friday night, shunned for the illicit pleasure of liquid love –I hate to share and besides Gupta only gave me one plastic fork.

C’est la vie baby, maybe next time.

*

“…Club Tropicana’s drinks are free. Fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wham

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