At the formal, fine-dining restaurant, there were snails as hors d’oeuvres, the main course was a roast duck without stuffing and, therefore, too dry, and a chocolate mousse that exploded like a bomb of cocoa lava the moment you touched it with a knife. The table d’hôte menu offered one alternate choice per course, and I’d passed up the snails – not quite able to overcome my squeamishness – for something by way of seafood instead. But if I was being shown up as a gourmet novice by my own children, our acquaintances at the table seemed reconciled to toying with their food rather than enjoying what was turning out to be an epicurean adventure.
I’d thought they’d have a sophisticated palate, the mother having warned the maitre d’ that the children – two grown-up boys – were “fussy” about their food choices. The menu had been rudely discarded, as I eavesdropped shamelessly on their conversation with the chef who had been summarily summoned from his Michelin-style preparations in the kitchen, and requests and specifications were communicated with due care. My own children were giggling mischievously, having witnessed the same family order the same course two evenings previously, the mother on that occasion having chosen to describe the young adults’ appetites as “picky”.
They hadn’t informed me what these pernickety children had been served then, so I looked on curiously while our own courses were served, the food a tad disappointing after all the hype and expectation. We were at the dessert stage when the stewards came in carrying the boys’ platters. I anticipated caviar in a customised dressing, perhaps sushi, maybe even snails braised delicately in garlic. The reality – and by now my own children were laughing shamelessly – proved quite disillusioning, the waiter lifting the lid over the salver to present the boys with a heap of french fries, a treat that they proceeded to demolish with singular intent. “Always finicky ji,” their mother chuckled loudly and assured me, “after this, they can have takeaway burger, or hotdog — so choosy, na?”
We’d discovered that being choosy was relative anyway. This summer, the harshest in three decades, with water a mirage, power playing truant, and gensets melting into puddles in the heat, the capital set’s social whirligigs dried up like Bhimtal lake at high noon. When we’d gone a whole week without a single invitation – no receptions or cocktails, neither lunches nor dinners, leave alone breakfast, nary a book launch, art show or store opening, no tourbillion exhibition or wine tasting, no food festival or ramp walk, neither seminar, nor memorial lecture – my wife declared that her withdrawal symptoms were causing her acute agony. “It’s not that I’m fussy, or” – for good measure – “picky”, these being lean times, “but if I don’t go out soon, something very bad will happen.”
I suggested a movie, but she preferred real to reel people, I volunteered to take her out to dinner but it wasn’t my company she was seeking, and another vacation was out. “I have a plan,” she said; it turned out that if no one was inviting us, the best we could do was invite them instead. So, on Monday we hosted cocktails, on Tuesday there were guests for high-tea, a girly gang for brunch on Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday some people I barely knew came to dinner, and on Sunday we’re serving leftovers and french fries for our exacting acquaintances who’ve promised to come because, as they said, “We’re not picky people, ji.”