What has a lot of diamonds, gold inserts, a granite base and is still ugly? Before raising their head to say, ‘the IPL trophy,’ one must take a stroll through the crowded Brigade Road. At the far-end of Church Street is this remarkably ugly, but always crowded restaurant, majestically named Taj Mahal Hotel – the completely Bangalorean restaurant wholly owned by a Mallu partnership.
Many things had changed by 2026. And few had remained the same. One that stood the test of time was the post-drinks eating habits of Bangaloreans. The dearth of options in this category meant that you can still close your eyes (which most likely are halfway there) and order Butter Chicken Boneless and Coin Parottas. And a place that serves this incredible dish is almost always swarming with activity – and a lot of flies too. But no one cared, except the lizard in the kitchen.
Our gang of four – Siddhart, Pashan, Tahi and Bhaskar – were not among the regulars though. They’d come here to get good food and they were not drunk. The rarity of it all wasn’t apparent until the waiter came to their table and set four glasses of lukewarm to colourlessly cold water. Siddhart leaned forward to inspect the cleanliness of the glass. Pashan quickly swatted him back to where he belonged. The accepted demeanour at such places, for your own benefit, was; never observe a glass up close if it already seems dirty at first glance.
“Your orders, Sir?” asked the waiter.
“What do you have?” countered Siddhart.
The waiter smiled at the question and pat came the reply.
“Coin parotta is there. And butter chicken boneless.”
“What else is there?”
“What else?” asked the waiter, unsure if he’d heard it correct. Then he figured that maybe the customer didn’t hear his suggestions right. So he slowed down his delivery from 3 words per second to 1 word every 3 seconds.
“Sir. Butter. Chicken….” he paused for effect. “Boneless. And… Coin. Parotta”
He started smiling again thinking this was the end of the confusion. Siddhart wasn’t amused.
“I know you have Butter Chicken boneless and Coin Parotta. But WHAT ELSE is there?”
The waiter didn’t appreciate this change of tone. He quickly took the menu card from the table and went off.
“What an idiot!” exclaimed Siddhart.
“I am not eating with you,” said Pashan.
“He will spit.”
“No,” answered Tahi as Pashan suddenly got distracted by a fairy outside, selling elephants made of jalebi. “He will spit in the food.”
“No he won’t,” Siddhart retorted. “There are quality measures and stuff for this. They will lose their license if he does something like that.”
Almost as if by a humongous coincidence, a fly landed on the rim of Siddhart’s glass. Almost as if by another humongous coincidence, Siddhart never raised the issue again – or the glass.
“I am not eating with you,” said Pashan, again, in the same pitch and manner.
“You’ve already said that, Pashan,” Tahi pointed out.
Siddhart looked over the shoulders of Pashan and Tahi to see what the waiter was up to. He was talking to someone who looked like the kind of guy who might win a wrestling match suited.
“He’s gonna spit,” the fourth of the group finally opened his mouth. Siddhart, Pashan and Tahi stared at Bhaskar who was till then slowly melting into the cockroach brown (for a reason) decor of the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Pashan and Tahi were more astonished than Siddhart; mainly because they indulged in telepathic engagements and Siddhart did not.
“How do you know?” asked Siddhart.
“You can initiate conversations without the knowledge of the other person?!” exclaimed Pashan.
“MAPS, yes.” Bhaskar replied as if that was the answer everyone was expecting. MAPS for the telepathically archaic, is the opposite of SPAM. In SPAM, one would send unsolicited messages to others. In MAPS, a person would be able to extract information from someone without his/her consent. MAPS is generally accepted to be 380.47 times more destructive, 1291 times more difficult to master and countless times less hated than SPAM.
“So what do we do now?” asked Siddhart.
“I’m gonna try and learn MAPS,” answered Pashan.
“Ok. What do we do now… about the food?” asked Siddhart – this time trying to channel the conversation from telepathy back to food.
“How often can you MAP someone?” Tahi was also getting curious.
“About 5 times a day. Depends on the diet.”
“And what diet do you suggest?” enquired Pashan.
Pashan and Tahi looked at each other. They had a common question hanging inside their heads. A thousand other young folks would have the same question that Pashan and Tahi had. And they all wanted the answer.
“Will instant coconut milk work?” Tahi broke the tension and asked that vital question. They braced themselves for the response.
“It has been tested successfully in Poland. But I wouldn’t recommend it. It gives a chance of the person you are MAPPING to know that you are trying to MAP him. And that’s an unpleasant feeling.”
“How bad is it?” asked Pashan.
“It’s kinda like a curtain rising to reveal you having sex with your old maid to a hundred thousand people.”
“That’s not…” Pashan paused before completing the sentence. “cool. That’s not cool at all.”
“So! Guys!” interrupted Siddhart again, being the telepathic loser of the bunch. “What do we do about the food? I am hungry.”
“We order something dry,” answered Tahi. “If you order something dry they cannot spit, as without the gravy, the spit will show up.”
They all nodded in agreement.
“Yes, Sir. Have you decided now?” asked the waiter who returned with a very subtle viciousness in his body language.
“Yes,” replied Siddhart. “We would like to have something dry.”
They could almost sense disappointment welling up inside the waiter’s dull eyes.
“Chinese?” asked the waiter returning to his smiling fake self.
“Chinese food in Taj Mahal Hotel?” Siddhart couldn’t believe that people didn’t care about having certain standards and ethics when it came to naming a business. ‘One wouldn’t name a toilet company ‘Hanumanely Clean Toilets.’’
“We have Tao Ming Sey. Khud Ki Daap. Pol ma Tron. And Rot ting Veggies.”
“How’s that last one?” asked Pashan, much to the surprise, or shock, of Siddhart.
“It’s mild spicy. Blue colour, Sir.”
“Blue colour?” asked Siddhart.
“We’ll have two plates of that.” Tahi had the last word – or at least she thought he had.
“Get me ketchup,” shouted Siddhart as the waiter started walking to the kitchen. “And not pumpkin sauce!”
Now that the distraction from the waiter was over, Pashan was quickly back to the interest of the table – Bhaskar.
“How did you develop such skills, brotha?”
“I have a tutor.”
“A tutor?!” exclaimed Tahi. “I didn’t know they have tutors for such extreme skills.”
“Well, it’s not a regular tutor who you go for clinching the TITs. She is in fact more than a tutor.”
TITs, if you are wondering, stands for Telepathic Invigoration Training.
“It’s a she,” winked Tahi.
“She’s not really a she, either. As in,” Bhaskar didn’t know how to put it without seeming like a freak. “To me she’s a confidante, a friend, and a teacher. But she’s not quite… err… human.”
Siddharth needed just a bit of old school logical reasoning, memory image-mapping and other simple brain tasks (that involved no telepathy) to arrive at the correct conclusion and articulated it in the most elegant words from the English language.
“Oh my God!” he shrieked. “You were DOING THAT TREE???”