That Time I Woke Up In India: Things Fall Apart (8.12.2008)

You know, going insane isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. Believe me, I know.

So I came back to the hotel and checked the time. 4:30. Even after all my wandering around Agra, it was still only 4:30. A good 3 or 4 hours until it was even fashionably early to arrive for dinner. And I had already seen the Bollywood commercials a thousand times over. I was getting particularly irritated with a particular movie called 1920, which was being touted as a supernatural thriller but I could find no hints of anything supernatural. I mean, it had some creepy music in the last 3 seconds of the commercial, but that was about it. Other than that, it seemed like a simple period piece. It was maddening to watch indeed.

So I decided to take advantage of my hotel and go for a swim, since the weather seemed rather nice. After much deliberation, I changed into a pair of swimming trunks and left my room. I walked across the lobby and down the stairs to where the outdoor swimming pool was, and went outside into a sheet of water. Apparently it was raining very hard. My room had no windows facing the outside (however, there was a nice large one facing an indoor construction site), so how was I supposed to know? I returned to my room, my hopes of getting some swimming done deflated. Meh.

After much loitering and dancing to some familiar Bollywood songs (yes, I know a few) in my room, I figured that it was time to eat dinner, no matter how unfashionably early it was. I decided to blame it on jetlag. And so, the darkest hour of my journey began.

It started well enough. I went downstairs to the restaurant, where a kindly old waiter greeted me graciously and sat me at a table. I was planning on getting a vegetable biryani, since I had found its non-vegetarian counterpart so delicious at lunch. However, the kindly old waiter recommended the thali, saying that it was quite tasty. Now, I didn’t know what a thali was, but it wasn’t that expensive so I ordered that and a sweet lassi. I was sitting next to a French family who had happened to order French fries. Hahaha. French people ordering French fries. In India, too. The irony. Oh well, they would have the last laugh.

As I idly sipped my lassi and overheard bits and pieces of their conversation (well, I tried. They spoke French, so it was ehhh), my thali arrived. Crap. That was definitely not what I thought a thali was. A thali is basically an all-you-can-eat plate of various curries and far too much naan/roti. But I wasn’t even that close to being hungry enough to finish it all. I wasn’t even sure that one person was supposed to be ordering this. As I started to eat, the only thing I could think was “crap, I’ll never finish this.”

I had finished one piece of roti when I already started feeling full. I tried out the various dishes and decided to stick to the daal and some form of spiced vegetables. The cottage cheese dish just wasn’t really my thing. I don’t even like cottage cheese. What is cottage cheese, anyway?

As I kept on eating, my pace grew slower and slower, until I was contemplating before tearing off pieces of roti, contemplating before dipping it in daal, contemplating before putting in my mouth, contemplating while chewing it, and contemplating before swallowing. As I contemplated, I noticed that the French family was looking at my table and pointing at my thali. I felt the cold shadow of self-consciousness crawl upon my back. Damn, and I thought I got rid of it after the thousandth “OMG he’s Asian!” point-and-stare I got from the locals. The French family was probably laughing at me, saying things like, “Oh la la, look at ze stoopeed Japonais garcon who ‘as ordered ze too much for ‘im! He should ‘ave stuck to the fries francaise like us!” and other kindly French judgments. Man, those French fries didn’t seem like such a bad idea now. I wish I had some French fries. I can’t believe I was stuck with a one-man buffet while the French were having fries.

I had already finished my lassi and was slowly nibbling on what I think was my tongue, when the kindly old waiter asked if everything was all right. That kindly old bastard probably knew that the thali would be too much for me, but he recommended it anyway. Probably just for shits and giggles, since it wasn’t for the money. Definitely for kicks. Yes, I could definitely see him laughing with his fellow compatriots about how he managed to embarrass the poor young tourist by making him eat an entire thali in front of a French family eating French fries. What could be worse? I told him honestly that the thali was simply too much for me. He smiled understandingly and asked me if I wanted more lassi. No. I was not going to give in to his machinations. I politely refused, not wanting to lose in this battle. I was going to finish it and prove him wrong. Yes. The French family kept on looking at my table. Damn them. Damn the French. Damn French fries. Damn that kindly old bastard who kept on looking after me and asking me if I needed anything more to drink and looked on understandingly as I forced myself to eat another bite of roti with daal. I would fight on to prove them wrong. All of them. I would eat everything and show them that it could be done. Even the cottage cheese.

In the end, however, it proved to be too much. I only ate half of whatever consisted the thali when I asked the kindly old waiter for the bill. He smiled, recognizing his victory. My spirit was utterly broken. I had lost this battle. I could only fume as I paid the bill. The French family nodded, acknowledging my defeat. Of course. This was the only victory they had seen in decades. I tipped the kindly old bastard generously. He deserved it.

Crushed, I left the restaurant. As I walked past the front desk, the attendants asked me where my friend Pappu was. I glared at them, knowing they meant this in jest. It wasn’t funny. I ignored them returned to my room and started watching Bollywood music videos to erase the memory of my humiliating defeat. I continued to watch videos of various Bollywood actors and actresses dancing until late in the night, since I had no need to wake up early the next day. After all, I could go to Fatehpur Sikri after 12. I would probably have to skip lunch as well but oh well, I could eat dinner on the train. Or so I thought. Damn my life.

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