Thirty-year Debt5 mins 416 5 mins 416
Tears welling up in his eyes, the boy once again searched his pockets but could not find the two ten paise coins which he was sure, was there when he entered the restaurant and ordered for a masala dosa.
He cast a nervous glance at the approaching bearded waiter and became more nervous.
The waiter, who stood six feet tall, loomed over the ten-year-old and said in his booming metallic voice; “You do not have the money, right?”
In answer, the boy shook his head in the negative.
“I know your type.” Continued the brass voice, “you come here to eat and then tell lies. Now you would be telling me a lie that you had the money but lost it.”
For the first time, the boy stood erect – all of his four feet and two inches – looked into the eyes of the bearded man and replied. “I don’t tell lies. I did have the money and it appears to have fallen down somewhere.” The boy showed the damaged half pant pocket by pulling it out.
The waiter looked once at the young boy standing erect and without another word, removed two ten paise coins from his pocket and gave it to the boy, indicating him to pay the bill at the counter, and went inside.
Bangalore city has changed beyond imagination in the last thirty years and where small roads meandered throughout the city, large well-managed roads carried huge number of vehicles. Big multi-storied buildings paraded on either side of the road while metro trains chugged along about 20 meters above ground and millions of cosmopolitan crowds thronged the city speaking different languages.
Though I had visited the city many times in the past 30 years, I had never stayed for more than 2 or 3 days and somehow, could not visit this part of the city at all.
I went through the same road several times trying to trace the hotel but couldn’t locate it as there were hordes of roadside vegetable, fruit and flower vendors who had occupied the footpath obscuring the view of the buildings beyond.
Finally I traced the hotel by smelling it; as the aroma of masala dosa was floating in the air!
I waited a while to get inside as there was larger than the usual crowd and I thought the hotel would have gone through unrecognizable changes in the last thirty years, but the furniture and even the colour on the walls were all same!
I looked around and the crowd was relishing the hotel’s specialty, masala dosa and many of them had ordered more than one as it took some time to prepare.
Expectedly, I ordered a masala dosa and savouring the taste, cast a glance around and searched for the man with the beard; but he was not to be seen. What if that man was a waiter and has left the job, I wondered?
Once I finished relishing the masala dosa, it was time for me to pay the bill. Instead of paying it to the waiter who stood by the table expectantly, I just gave him a tip and took the bill and stood in front of the man sitting on the cashier’s place.
The man sitting on ‘galla’ – as the cashier’s place is called locally – appeared to be of my age and bore sketchy resemblance to the face my eyes desperately searched in vain!
I removed money from my purse and was ready to pay the bill when I saw him!
Behind the cashier, a garlanded photo-frame showed the picture of a man in his sixties. Obviously, he looked much older than I remembered him to be, but the unmistakable glint in his eyes and the bearded chin were enough to trigger my memory and provide confirmation that he was indeed, the man I was looking!
When the cashier looked up at me expectantly, as I was not paying the bill but was staring behind him, I startled him by asking him, “do you know, how much did a masala dosa cost, thirty years ago?”
The cashier almost jumped up from his seat as I startled him by asking him a question, while he was expecting me to pay the bill.
He scratched his head and said, “Sir, I think it was around 25 or 30 paisa?”
“It was 20 paise!” I said smilingly and put a 500 rupee note in front of him and startled him again.
The cashier looked at the 500 rupees note and looked up at my face questioningly.
“I owe him 20 paise,” I said smilingly indicting the photograph and confused the cashier once again.
To his quizzical look, I told him the story that happened thirty years ago and it was my turn to get surprised when he politely pushed the 500 rupees note towards me and refused to take the money even for the present bill, saying “How can I take the money from you, sir? You have come to our hotel after a gap of 30 years!”
“I have no intention of paying back the 20 paisa I owe him.” I said, pushing the money in his direction once again before continuing, “simply because, it would be an insult if I pay either 20 paisa or its equivalent in today’s value. But you must take money for today’s bill. I am sure he would approve.” I said nodding my head in the direction of the photograph.
What about the masala dosa?
Well, it tasted as splendid as it did thirty years ago!