Sunday, May 17, 2009


She lay next to him, a young bride, flushed and incredibly happy. He held up a coin. "This is the coin I tossed to decide whether to come home from the city when my parents said they had found me a bride. It told me to come home, and I did. And now I am with you."

She did not know what to say, except stare at him with all the love she could muster in her eyes. He was handsome, loving, and more understanding than she had been brought up to expect in her small patriarchal town. And he would remain loyal to her in 44 years of marriage, through difficult times, joblessness, complaining relatives, and occasionally ungrateful, always forgetful children.

Then one day, he was gone. She saved the coin, secreting it into her purse so that it would always be with her, to remind her of love, and what a matter of chance it was.

And now, it lay in the mud, slipped from her arthritic fingers. And all the world passing by could see was an old woman, stiffly bending to reach below a parked car, as a shining coin of no value lay just out of her grasp.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Last Orders

Delhi really isn’t the same anymore.

My brother called me to say that Grub Pub is closed. For good. Apparently the owner passed away. I can remember his face. His voice when he answered the phone with “Hello Grub Pub”. The scooter he used to ride around the lanes of Hauz Khas. His curly-haired little girl. And I am so sad to hear not only of the family’s loss, but also to think that there is no one who will carry forward this small but important restaurant, which was probably the first taste of Chinese food for most Hauz Khas residents.

Set by the main central park of Hauz Khas, one in a row of shops – hardware, tailoring, rickety stairs going up to courier shops – Grub Pub was your average greasy cheap Chinese joint. Except that it was our average greasy cheap Chinese joint.

In all the years I knew it, Grub Pub didn’t change, except to get air-conditioning. An unassuming glass and wood door with some stained-glass pattern and the instructions “Pull” formed the entrance to gastronomical bliss and contentment on a budget. You walked in, the unmanned reception said “Please ring bell for service”. Rickety stairs went up at a steep angle into a hole in the ceiling. If you were new and rang the bell, after 5 seconds one of the staff would come thumping down the thinly carpeted stairs. You could order and wait on bar stools while they packed your food.

But if you were a returning customer and meant serious business, you would go up the stairs, pull back the standard-issue, airport/hospital waiting room chairs with a loud noise, and park yourself at the sunmica-topped tables. The kitchen’s swing door would open and someone would emerge, look at you, go away, come back with menu cards and glasses of water.

I devoured my first momos at Grub Pub. With incredible amounts of chilli paste. Knowing that the chilled Thums Up Grub Pub always stocked would bail me out when I turned into a fire-breathing dragon. My standard order:
Ek Chicken Momos, steamed
Ek Veg Hakka Noodles
Ek Chilli Chicken Boneless, Dry
Ek Chicken Manchurian
Ek Thums Up

And then sit back and wait, drooling a little already. The table would have those plastic sauce bottles, and steel containers for 3 sauces, with holes cut in the lid for the spoon to go in. You could while away the short wait for your food by looking around. There was that never-changing, ever-green moneyplant near the bathroom door. A never-changing poster of George Michael graced one wall. There was another poster, a surreal, blue and purple, semi-illustration of a lonely island amid stormy seas, no people, done in a style that I have only ever seen on Magic game cards. Years later, when I first saw Brooke Shields on TV, I recognized her from Grub Pub’s poster, where she gazed steamily at indifferent, pre-Cable TV middle-class families who were intent on eating their fill off those brown chinhat plates. The meal would end with a pleasing figure scrawled on a piece of paper, and, years later, proper bills, resting on a bed of saunf. It was the essential Indian restaurant, even if it served Chinese.

Later Grub Pub expanded to kathi rolls and some other Indian stuff. But we stuck to our preferences.

Grub Pub was our break from monotony. On boring food days, we would order in for a plate of momos and rush out to get some Thums Up to accompany it. There was no minimum order. On busy days, on oh-no-there’s-tinda-days, Dida-doesn’t-want-to-cook days, we’re-whitewashing-and-the-house-is-upside-down days, we would rely on Grub Pub. Budget birthday treats happened there. Surprise meetings with old friends happened there. Fits of hysterical laughter happened there.

I still have the Grub Pub number stored on my phone, though I have changed phones twice since I left Delhi. Not that I need it, because 26966317 rolls off my tongue like my date of birth.

When I heard the news, for the first time ever I Googled Grub Pub to see what the WWW has to say about it. And the answer – nothing. There is an entry on Sulekha but the map is wrong. Another site says “no customer reviews”. No one ever debated on Grub Pub food. You ate it. You loved it. You loved the price. You got the recognition from the staff. And you left, mouth bulging with free saunf. It was an institution, and that was that.

An era is over.