Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Curious Case of a Chocolate Flan

On the personal front, I'd started feeling that anyone interesting of the male variety I'd lately met (or not met), fell into five categories. By interesting I mean - humane, witty, intelligent and attractive (to me).

This only reconfirmed my theory refined over the years, that all the good guys: 

1. Have left the country for the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand or S.E.A.*
2. Are about to leave the country for USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand or S.E.A.

3. Are married or taken.

4. Are gay.

5. Are too young for me.

For obvious reasons I refuse to acknowledge those who were just not interested in me.

* These are the most attractive destinations for all working professionals out here. In USA it would be NY winning hands down as the leading destination of the pack.

Not that it mattered. My working hours and the way I consequently looked over weekends - eyes ringed with dark c's, the occasional sniffle attack due to sudden transition from heavy cool air-conditioning to searing or humid heat - did not leave me with the time nor inclination to socialize. Story of my life, so far.

On this day, I was geared up for my first day long excursion with LL. Naïve newcomer that I was, as per his instructions, I'd shown up on the dot at 7 a.m. below his residence building and was instructed to wait in his car, manned by his driver.

LL joined us at 8.30 a.m.

Though my enthusiasm for the exciting day ahead had wilted somewhat, it quickly revived as we started our journey.

In stark contrast to our claustrophobic workstation sans windows, it was nice to look at the blue sky, puffs of clouds and the lazy marshes whiz by.

Running late for the first meeting meant that we were hard pressed for time, and by late afternoon, having managed to pacify and satisfy various clients along the way who were not expecting us to show up considerably more than an hour after the scheduled time, we unpacked our delayed lunch tiffins of biryani (LL's) and soggy sandwiches (mine) as we drove to our final two meetings from the suburbs to the South of Bombay.

On such days LL's car resembled a mobile makeshift office, with files piled up on whatever space the driver, LL and I didn't occupy.

Both LL, I and the driver were usually on calls the entire time, with brief intervals of respite. 

Why was the driver on phone? Because LL never spoke directly to his driver.

All instructions were conveyed by LL's wife from home to the driver. For any last minute change in route, LL would first call his wife and then she would call his driver. Watching this ritual did get my blood pressure up a little higher, but I never knew why it was done, so don't ask.

Despite everything, our meetings were successful and the view from the window again captivated me. Okay, so this time, it was more buildings, shopfronts, hoardings and less horizon, but Bombay looks progressively cleaner and somewhat wealthier as you head southwards which gives a feeling of ascension to something better that really lifts your spirits. Only true Bombay 'burbies will understand this. 

Just before we reached our client's office, he called LL and cancelled the meeting due to some urgent reasons. This gave us a couple of hours to kill until our next one.

I stayed quiet, waiting to hear what his next instruction to Mrs. LL would be. Strangely, LL made no move to speed dial her number. Curious and curiouser.

"Oberoi chalo", said LL, spraying Polo liberally all over himself.

The car swerved slightly.

Bablu the driver recovered quickly from his shock at being addressed directly and drove on.

I slid open my window slightly so I could breathe again.

For once, the scenic curve of Marine Drive failed to capture my attention. The expression on LL's face was very familiar - I'd seen it before. On kids who’ve discovered the junk food stash and TV remote while their parents are out.

"Let's take a break, eh? If Mrs. L calls up on your cell just pretend it's on silent", puffed LL. What fun. This was a side to LL I didn't know existed.

We plonked ourselves down on the plush couches in front of the famous windows at the cafe overlooking the sea. It was exciting. In pre office days and window shopping at the Oberoi, I would look with wonder at all the super-busy men and women lounging around the lobbies and cafes for power brunches, power lunches and power teas. It was all so aspirational. I wanted to be part of that fascinating world.

And there we were. I was no longer awe-struck student, walking past looking at all the corporate movers and shakers, but felt at home amongst them. 

Well, once you're seated, anywhere in the Oberoi can make you feel that way.

All around us were people just like us, seemingly in between meetings or conducting them. It was fun to mimic their snooty expression while glancing over to check them out.

LL, feigning disinterest, tried eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table. He fed me snippets of what he occasionally overheard.

I wondered though if that's all he would feed me on. 

I also wondered if it was okay to order myself, or wait for him to ask. I tried recalling etiquette pointers on 'when unexpectedly out with the Boss, first time'**, but nothing really came to mind. Slightly tense and conscious, on this my first social outing with the boss, I wanted to avoid a faux pas of any kind. Or what LL the Martian, oops sorry, LL the Marrkitian would consider one.

Even after half an hour of arriving, LL showed no signs of encouraging the occasionally hovering server. 

I remembered how my day had begun and steeled myself. "I think I'll have a juice", I ventured. 

"Sure! Ofcourse!!", said LL, ever the gentleman. "In fact, I'll have one too!", he boomed.

Midway through our juices, LL had thawed greatly. 

This was partly because, given his uncanny luck, the conversation he'd eavesdropped upon had yielded results. One of our client's competing product's advertising strategy was being laid bare by the loud and eloquent ad account manager to our left, straight into LL's eager ears. Having secured this little titbit of a nugget, LL leaned over to wink and whisper, "His voice got louder after he saw you. What a show off!". 

I didn't get it for quite some time. Hey I was younger and innocent then. Ofcourse it stumped me. A compliment? From LL? I didn't know how to react.

The other reason LL was really happy was that a group of newly hatched, smart MBAs at another table had recognised him and clustered around briefly telling him how much they admired him. Nothing made LL's day more than public recognition. After subjecting them to a fifteen minute homily, he'd let them go.

Meanwhile, LL, feeling expansive, said, "Let's celebrate. Order anything! This is for you, you deserve it!"

Recovering from this shocker, I took the menu he proffered. I knew him well enough to wait a bit.

"From here", he suggested, pointing to the truffles and pastries section. He still held on to one end of the massive menu so I pretended to study it and waited some more. 

"Let me help you. How about the chocolate flan? It's really good here, you must have it." 

I can never say no to chocolate but I knew LL well enough now not to get my hopes up.

"We'll have a chocolate flan pastry", said he to the server.

"Just one?", the superior looking server raised his eyebrows, flicking his glance at me.

Just in case you're wondering, the times I speak of, were not those of recession or economic slump. 

"Yes, yes, just one will do. It's for her, my colleague - I'm not allowed to have all this. I was telling her it's the best here", said LL loudly, playing the part of magnanimous, indulgent boss taking his employee out for a meal, for the benefit of his fans at the next table who were paying us a lot of attention. 

The flan arrived and I suddenly realized that it was a wise move on LL's part to order just one. It was massive, and flanked on either side by two dessert spoons. The server strategically placed it in the exact centre of the space between LL and me.

I picked up my spoon and waited for LL's move. He slid the plate slightly closer to my end of the table. 

Here was another etiquette related quandary. Given his oddities, would LL really not mind if I dug into the same pastry he would later have? Did he really want me to have it all? 

"I'm not allowed, this is all for you", he mourned. 

Unable to resist the charms of a good chocolate for long, I dug out a minuscule piece. It was melt-in-the-mouth gooey, dreamy, dark chocolate, and I couldn't wait to have more. 

I pushed the dish over to his side.

"Do have some, it's great", I offered, inviting him to taste it before I polished the rest off.

"No, no, I really am not allowed, if Mrs. LL finds out…" His gaze was fixed on the flan and his fist was clenched hard around the dessert spoon.

Perhaps I'd misjudged LL. He wasn't all self-centred and self-serving. I felt glad that he meant it this time and wasn't faking it. It's always a pity when people have to deprive themselves of the good things life has to offer. For the first time, I looked at LL with new eyes. I was slowly getting to see the real persona behind his "Boss" image.

I waited for form's sake while he took a call on his cell.

The loud-spoken agency guy had apparently finished his meeting and I watched him swagger out with his client.

My gaze wandered to the spectacular view which relaxed and mesmerized me once again. The gently swaying palms and the wide expanse of the aqua sea looked beautiful through the tinted windows.

LL was right. I deserved to indulge in chocolate like that. Eagerly anticipating the rest of it, I decided to pull the plate back to devote myself exclusively to the flan as the mandatory polite interval from the time I made the offer had passed. 

I turned around and reached out. To an empty plate. 

And saw LL, licking the last few crumbs off his spoon. 

It hadn't even taken him a minute. More fool me.

He caught my eye. "We won't tell Mrs. L about this okay?", he winked.


** Given my valuable experience working with LL all these years, I decided to pen my own helpful list called "Etiquette pointers when out with the Boss, especially if he's LL ". Flatteringly, the list became worth it's weight in gold and folklore amongst Marrkitians old and new. Will add it to the archives another time, if you like.


Anonymous said...

Ha Ha Ha!!! that was real funny. have had the same experience except that perpetrator was a friend.

Annoymously said...

Hey thanks a lot! Glad u enjoyed it :)

Now that there are more than 2 ppl reading my blog (yay!) i hv no idea who this is. Do leave some clues behind, perhaps initials?