Monday, May 22, 2006

Dr. Terror's House Of Horrors

There's tiny restaurant at a busy junction, about fifteen or twenty minutes walk from my place.

I've been waking up around six o'clock in the morning and since I have decided against having a gas stove or an electric hot plate at home (as these lead to much more complication like buying a fridge to keep milk from fermenting, pots and pans and the whole hassle of cleaning up...) I have to hunt for tea or coffee. A sort of madness descends on me, if I am without a stimulant in the morning for more than ten minutes. The highly aromatic coffee they feed is out of this world, all the Cafe Coffee Days and its avatars pale in comparison.

It's sheer fun to sit and watch the giant, lets call him Naikanappan, who standing tall with his back to me, puts a ridiculously small amount of coffee powder in a glass [not those stainless steel pair of one wide pot and one narrow one which singes my fingers] and then adds scolding hot milk (plus water) to it. Then he "stretches" the brew by transferring from a brass pot with a handle to my glass, this is an expression I learn from Charlie Kattampally -how I love that name, it rolls on your tongue and comes out with a small explosion... He was a wag whom I had as a neighbour and colleague in Baroda. He was a chemist and his explanation for coffee being heavenly in South, was this "stretching" which causes rampant oxidation of the brew... there is some solid argument here. More later.

The nearly six feet tall giant, stretches it three times, banging that brass cup on the granite base of his work table, turn around dramatically and hands the glass to me in a threatening manner. I've never seen this Frankenstein's creation smile once, though he's fed me more than sixty cups till now. I didn't hear him speak for weeks, till the time he got mad at the hunchback... ahem, now you're getting suspicious about the title, eh what, dear reader?

Well I sit at least six feet away from Naikanappan whose fierce movements strike terror in my heart, early in the morning when I'm busy gathering my wits and hankering for coffee. This distance, is covered by the Hunchback, a tiny boy, God alone knows he may even be a midget, whose croaking voice lends a shiver to my hands, whenever he croaks. Whatever tumbles out is gibberish to me, and usually we all communicate with a few words of English. The boy, unless he is a dwarfed man, brings the cup to me, giving me those voodoo looks which I avoid so early in the day.

The third character I suspect is the owner, who comes nearly half an hour later, with four white horizontal stripes and a red sun in the middle, painted on his deep coffee brown forehead. His eyes seem all artificial, as if made of opaque glass with a black circle painted on them. He looks through me, never cares to hear what I have said, and like those two he usually keeps staring at my dainty little feet, shoeless and without socks. The morning heats up obscenely within minutes so I go around wearing my old jeans cut off at the knees to fashion Bermudas. The rest of my body has developed brown shades, but my feet are nearly translucent. Their English and my Tamil are too inadequate to discuss this foot fetish they all seem to possess in plenty. They keep trying to figure out where I am from... no doubt about that.

The fourth character, nearly as large and looming as Naiakappan, is probably related to the silent giant. The same build, the same negroid complexion, the same penetrating eyes... I call him the vada man... he refuses to serve me anything, if I don't say coffee, automatically bringing two vadas floating in sambhar. I have found this practice abhorrent -but three radical changes have occurred glacially in my own persona.

One, I have started having only coffee.. one day the giant didn't turn up and a puny little guy trying to mimic his original style in a gauche manner, produced a glass of tea and banged in front of drowsy old me. One sip and I nearly choked. My decades of tea sipping first thing in the morning are a thing of the past. Second, I have discovered, instead of spitting out the black pepper, I am crushing it with my ageing molars and relishing the damned thing. I used to hate that particular group of spices. Third, as hinted above, I am enjoying the crisp fresh vadas swimming in an ocean of sambhar. By now I am a slave to this habit. Two vadas with two coffees.

And yes, one day when the giant spoke -his voice gave me goose bumps, and a coughing fit too. He sounded like an eight year old schoolgirl, lost in a forest with some evil spirit chasing her.

What a motley crowd pulls the blanket of sleep off my eyes every morning !

(c) Max Babi, 052026


At 9:00 PM, Blogger Sucheta said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Sucheta said...

I guess, this is called jump-starting your morning!

At 6:39 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Wow Max, this is one of the best Chennai stories yet. Your narrative skills seem to be getting more oxidated along with the Southern coffee. ;-)


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