Tuesday, February 6, 2007
It was a balmy evening in Colombo. Our team from office was there for some arbit meeting. (Literally: it was a Regional Brand Team meeting, or RBT for short, or Arbit for slightly- longer-but-more-accurate).
Anyway, after we finished the meeting, it was time to experience Sri Lanka's capital in all it's glory. We realised that we had only twenty minutes to do our shopping at Odel, one of the higher priced malls in Sri Lanka, where the stuff is still low priced when you compare it to India (wow!). Our group of seven people descended unabashedly like a pack of hungry wolves onto the merchandise at 7:40 p.m. and emerged flushed and triumphant, laden with bags, at 8 p.m.
Now, it was time to PARTY.
Except, we didn't know where. We had never partied in Colombo before. But hey, we thought, our driver will know the hip and happening joints.
We had this one monster-van type taxi, driven by a constrastingly mousy driver, who understood no language that we could speak. But this has never deterred us in the past, and it never will. We drove off and this is what ensued.
Anand (sitting in front seat and thus naturally assuming leadership of situation, says to driver): You take us good place? Dinner?
Driver: (Blank look)
Anand: Dinner? Food? (signals eating)
Driver: (Dawn breaking over the horizon) Raja-bhoju! Famous restaurant.
Me (protesting, from the back seat) : Raja-Bhoju? No Raja-Bhoju! Sounds shady. Do we even get drinks there?
Anand (attempting to help): Drinks? Drinks? (signals drinking)
Driver: (Silent Conspiratorial nod: Seems to interpret this gesture as 'the loud lady in the backseat is a tad drunk').
Rakesh (is next to Anand on front seat, leans over to talk to driver and clarify): Drinks, drinks, Rajabhoju? (Waggling hands around unnecessarily, as usual)
Driver (Seems scandalized at this blasphemy): No drinks Raja-bhoju. Pure vegetarian restaurant, good food. Famous.
(Immediate groan at this from the group as a whole)
Ashwani pipes up ( Is from Lucknow, but despite this, a rather rude specimen on most days): Look...listen...Boss! Boss! You take us to some good place, with food PLUS drinks, that is, BOTH, so to say. ( Believes in being clear on these issues).
Driver: (Very perplexed) Raja-bhoju going?
Everyone in chorus: No! No Raja-bhoju!
The driver, clearly hurt, but determined to earn his tip, continues to drive around Colombo. At various intervals, he keeps pointing out restaurants, bars, pubs, discs to us -but we keep rejecting them on the basis of their looking suspiciously like garages.
Finally, we spot one garage from which multi-colored lights are emanating. We point to it and ask the driver 'What about this one?'.
The driver pulls over and looks askance at the proposed establishment which we now notice has a small crooked sign near the front which says 'Pier 3 boat'. His already shady demeanour now takes on a deeper shade of shadiness. He looks meaningfully at Anand and says 'Drinks, yes, yes this place...but you want go here?'.
Something in his manner makes us all a little wary. What kind of place is this joint, anyway, we wonder? After hurried whispered conference, we nominate Anand (for a variety of reasons, better left unmentioned) to clarify whether the place is 'respectable' enough for all of us, especially the female contingent, which typically needs to be 'protected' in such situations.
But in typical, unique style, Anand chooses to pose his question about whether the place is suitable for us women, in the following manner:
Leaning in closer to the driver, lowering his voice to a whisper, sticking out his right hand in a Thumbs-up gesture, he asks
' Ladies OK?'
The driver (delighted and relieved expression at being understood correctly - mirrors Anand's gesture - in fact, holds both hands out in Thumbs up, and affirms loud and clear, with a leering expression):
Now, Anand seems quite satisfied with this and says to the rest of us 'Let's go!' and bounds out of the vehicle, bustling Rakesh out with him.
The rest of us take a minute or two to recover from the shock of witnessing this surreal interaction and then call him back
'Hello? Did you see the way he just said ''Ladies, okay?'' ...
'What kind of question was that anyway! It's clearly a shady place!'...
'Forget it, let's just go somewhere else..'
But Anand is adamant on checking out the place. He doesn't perceive his way of phrasing his question as objectionable. He says he will look inside and then tell us whether it is indeed 'Ladies, OK' or in fact, 'Ladiess, Okaayyy!'.
He re-appears after a minute and says 'Chalo. It's fine. I told you, it's an okay place'.
We hesitate, wavering. He insists 'Come on! There are families there - I saw children too'. Now we are reassured, and clamber out of the car and head in to the garage.
The garage entry opens out into a small bar, which actually is on the lakeside and therefore offering a decent view. But once we settle into our seats around a large-ish table, we gradually take in our surroundings and many events follow:
a. We see that there are no children and/or families for miles around. The 'one small child' that Anand claims later that he saw turns out to be our small and offensive waiter.
b. We quickly notice that the ladiess there are definitely Okayyy - and on the lookout for business. They are obscenely dressed and made up and delighted to see the fairly affluent-looking men amongst our group and send them coy, inviting smiles, occasionally breaking into strange contortions in the name of dance. They think it's going to be a good night, but little do they know.
c. The music is decent enough in the beginning, english retro stuff - but soon after our entry, it is changed to Hindi film music. Despite all our protests, we are forced to listen to Bollywood songs, which seem to be centered around Mithun's works.
d. The small waiter seems taken aback when we try to order food. Apparently the menu was just for show as food is hardly the main source of business for them. It takes him twenty minutes to understand the order, and then he ends up taking the whole evening to provide us with what is essentially a plate of cucumber sandwiches, which incidentally, arrives after we have paid the bill.
e. The menu itself makes for interesting reading because it contains obscure items, which the disgruntled small waiter, is most unwilling to explain for our benefit. These include things like 'Brakages - charge Rs.300'. We are left to the mercy of our own imaginations, which is never a good thing.
f. The high point of the evening is when we noticed that the pictures Ashwani is taking of us, actually contains less of our group and more of the ladiess behind us. (He thought he could get away with it, but didn't reckon for the technological advancement of digital cameras). Ashwani is promptly demoted from position of cameraman and retires hurt.
g. The other high point is when a scantily clad woman sidles up to Sunil, asking if she can have a cigarette. She waits, clearly expecting him to jump up and light it for her. What she has not reckoned for is Sunil's innate suavity and charm in such situations, and overridingly, his innate laziness, which causes him to coolly roll his eyes towards the table and say 'Help yourself'. She does, and leaves a tad upset, much to the delight of the less mature at our table (all the other men).
In short: we ended up having a great time, despite the incredibly shady environment. As we finally wrapped up a fun filled evening and headed out towards our shady, smirking driver, we couldn't help but feel grateful for our night out in Colombo.
After all, it could have been much worse - We could have gone to Raja-bhoju.
Maybe next time.