Monday, February 11, 2008

Week-ending in Mumbai

Alone and friendless in Mumbai, what’s the obvious thing to do? Quite. We join le Club de France. Well, Le Club d’Angleterre’s not conspicuously beating a path to our door, so we take the proffered hand of welcome, which is French. Vive l’entente cordiale!
Our first soirée’s at The Meridian (or “Lee Meridien,” as Monu calls it). They’re still putting the twinkly lights on the Eiffel Tower, when we arrive (“Vous êtes les premiers!”), so we accept the ten-point penalty for uncoolness, and slope off to the bar upstairs, to wish away a bit of time. Eventually, we have du vin, du pain, and even du Boursin. Nothing has been overlooked, in the desire to bring a bit of home to these ex-pats. I wonder what stranded Englishmen are offered, by the Bulldog Branch –Yorkshire pudding? Marmite sandwiches? Or Jammie Dodgers, perhaps? Washed down with a pint of Tetley’s best - tea or beer, au choix.
As well as feeding our faces, we meet some très sympa people. In fact, it’s a lovely evening altogether, marred only by my eating the crunchy end of my crevette as well as the squashy end. In fairness, the lighting’s subtle. Roland ought really to think twice, before taking me out into society... More and more, we realise that we have a whole new world of social gaffes to go at, here. Every step’s fraught with the possibility of unwittingly doing something unacceptable.
For the first time, we go for lunch to a real Indian person’s real home, and the welcome is warmer than the weather. I’m a bit worried about the leaving-the-shoes-at-the-door thing, but am so busy crossing the threshold itself, I forget until I’m parked on the sofa. I notice our hostess’s Mum also wearing her shoes, so feel better. Later, I discover she can’t tolerate the cold marble on her feet, so she leaves her outside shoes at the door, and wears inside ones indoors. Slippers, then. But it’s too late, I’ve brought the pavement in. It makes sense in the monsoon, when everything outside is germ soup.
We sit and eat. Roland and I hawkishly watch our hosts, so we don’t do the spiced equivalent of pouring custard on our fish pie. No-one else has cutlery. Eating one-handed is a challenge – you try it! – but even more so, when the hand you desperately want to use has to lie unloved in your lap. Unsurprisingly, I’m rubbish at it, and frequently resort to a surreptitious shovel-up with my spoon. I’m allowed, at the repeated insistence of our gracious but annoyingly dextrous hostess. “Be comfortable!” she says. A great day, to have chosen to wear white.
It must be harder, I think, for a person, used to eating with the fingers of the right hand, to have to learn to cope with a knife and fork, because they’re so unnatural. I suppose at some point, I used to eat with my fingers, I just need to remember better (and get a Pelican bib, perhaps...).
The food’s so lovely, and so copious, we have to wait a while for dessert to seem feasible. When we finally get up from the table, we’re replete, and, amazingly, I’m still Persil-white.