Now that I live in Mumbai, have enough friends and a decent job, I can eat out as often as I want to. So dressing up, going to a restaurant and indulging myself has lost its charm.
But as a kid, things were different. Eating out was not so common and more importantly, we could barely afford it. So, going out for a fancy dinner was a rare luxury that I looked forward to. And my favourite was Chinese food; so once in a blue moon, when my dad would spring a surprise on us and ask mom not to cook for the night, I would be in seventh heaven, spending the rest of the day picking out my favourite pink outfit, getting it ironed and washing my hair, all in preparation for the BIG DINNER at Barb-e-Que.
While my folks usually chose the main course, I would be allowed to decide on the soup, and I would staunchly refuse to try anything new, insisting on the ‘safe’ sweet corn chicken soup (two into three). For a seven-year-old, it was THE MOST important decision, since I didn’t want to experiment too much, order unfamiliar stuff and then not like it, because like they say, life doesn’t give you a second chance: if you screw up the soup you have to wait for an indefinite period before you can have it again, because, unlike now, there would be no second helpings, no pouring out what we didn’t like and ordering something else.
So those fifteen minutes between placing the order and having it served at your table were the most exhilarating moments of my life: the slight pang of hunger and the anticipation along with a bit of anxiety. Once the waiter had placed the bowl in front of me, I could barely wait for him to finish his niceties, so that I could fast forward to the soup. But then, I would remind myself to slow down, to savour the taste, to soak it in, to let it linger, because I didn’t know when the next outing would be. So instead of jumping straight to it, I would gently unfold the napkin and place it on my lap, I would add the pepper, the salt and the sauces, I would smell it and then finally, take a sip: a TINY ONE. The next fifteen minutes would be out of this world, as I would forget everything, as I would stop fretting over the math homework or the dance exam the next day, and focus on my soup, trying to make it seem larger than it was, trying to relish the taste as much as I could and trying to make it last as long as it was possible.
But then it would be over, just like that, the waiter would clear the plate and I would feel a little empty inside despite the fact that I was full up to my neck. I would leave, feeling a bit sad, wondering when the next time would come.
And I would wait, getting caught up in my usual herculean struggles with math and dance and et al, but with a lingering hope that soon my dad would ask my mom to not cook at home.
Two decades later, I am still waiting, but may be not for the soup anymore…