This place is a collection of tables and chairs (including a set with ivory engravings), an old swing set (next to the table with the ivory engravings), wood paneled walls, expensive and rare woods etched with rich patterns, a small stage for performers with traditional Indian designs carved on pillars at the corners of the stage, a very low roof and just minimum required natural light through the windows and curtains to make it glow with the artificial orange light providing minimum visibility, a kiosk with chooris, challas, few wooden artifacts, a small collection of Indian spices and herbs at the entrance, a large portrait apparently of a royal courtesan just behind the hostess as she welcomes you, a menu which proclaims welcome to the royal courts, and live performances from evening nine to midnight by dancers, singers, and musicians. This is Antique Bazaar. Just next to the portrait of the courtesan as you turn right and towards the seating area is a small gallery of photographs and autographs of bollywood stars and starlets, all proclaiming their love for the Antique Bazaar, its food and its performers and its ambience. On the first floor, opposite a sports bar, next to the fitness centre and swimming pool this is Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai’s claim to Indian fame, Antique Bazaar.
Last time I finished the dinner by eight and even though the hostess was ok with me coming and sipping a cup of tea while enjoying whatever the live performance was to be that night I skipped it, watched a movie on laptop instead. This time around it was different. I had company, Pablo and Peter. Had wasted enough money during the day and the day itself as well riding a double decker tourist bus to see Dubai’s bricks and buildings. Only saving grace was the beach, ten minutes spent there were half the money recovered. The other half was graciously lost to being nice and sociable and not refusing Peter and Pablo in the morning when the plan was made to go around the city. It was Pablo’s first visit and he was fairly excited. So that was that. Starting, stopping, the day was killed and then in the evening spent couple of hours in the Dubai mall shopping (and breaking legs trying to find relevant shops in this mire of million shops and showrooms). Watched the fountain show three times (that sure was recovering some more money but it did not had anything to do with the double decker bus) and cancelled the plan of the movie first as there wasn’t any Hindi movie and second P&P were too tired for a movie by the time it was show time. So there we were, back in the hotel and after a quick shower (each of us in our respective hotel rooms) we were following the hostess to our table in the Antique Bazar, the restaurant on the first floor, opposite the sports bar, the Indian specialty of not so Indian, Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai.
The stage was about five meters in front and about four meters on sides and comprising three levels. The highest and the furthest, touching the wall had three musicians. One playing synthesizer and other two with some instruments which were not visible from where I sat. One of them was, as announced by the singer, an all-rounder, he played couple of different instruments (all not visible to me) and sang whenever a male voice was required for a duet. Mostly it wasn’t. Middle level had an interesting mix of living and not so living beings/things. In the middle was the singer surrounded by over twenty thick hard bound notebooks (lyrics of every possible Hindi song and gazhal from movies and otherwise). There was a harmonium next to her knees, mostly untouched apart from serving as a support for the open lyrics book every now and then. This level was nearly two feet higher from the third and the lowest level in the front, the dance stage.
Sitting on the mid level on either side of the singer, with their legs elegantly crossed, one foot firmly planted on the lower level, were the dancers (sitting when they were not dancing). Singer’s right, in orange brown rust colored, Madhuri’s Hum-apke-hain-kaun back-revealing choli and lehanga was Tanu. And wearing the color of Madhuri’s Hum-apke-hain-kaun back-revealing choli, in green and not-so-short-on-cloth-at-the-back choli and lehanga on the left side of the singer was Manisha. And it was her who was dancing while we entered and took our seats. Actually, it was me and Pablo at first. Peter was couple of minutes late and by the time he was at his seat Pablo was already drooling/gawking/staring the dancers over/at/down. Peter soon joined Pablo. In between other distractions I did the honours as well.
The hostess (with the mostess) was a tiny little creature clad in a sari. Pablo and Peter, Bolivian and Canadian, South American and North American. Bringing the Americans to an Indian restaurant, by default, made me responsible for the food orders and I think the Americans were glad of that as this saved them from looking through the menu. They had their visual apparatus deployed towards the stage. The hostess (still with the mostess) after helping us find our seats, depositing us into the chairs, sorting out the big white napkins, removing all the cutlery from the table, putting some of it back, finding us some drinking water, just fluttering around with nothing to do after handing us the menu cards, taking two of these back (Americans were busy), taking orders from me for whatever I could think of for myself in veg and non-veg for the Americans, delivering the orders to the kitchen and getting us the drinks, asked me who I think was the better dancer? While I was busy making the hostess (with the mostess) do all that stuff in the last sentence our two busy dancers had danced their way through three four Bollywood numbers. I saved my answer till later.
We were seated to the right side of the stage. On the left side, next to the wooden pillar, in front of the stage was a group of two (initially, which became three afterwards). Of these one was a sardar, a sardar ji as I should be addressing. Side looks suggested he was Maninder singh, the cricketer. He had a similar trimmed beard and a similar small turban. He wasn’t Maninder singh, of course, but some old dude from somewhere. The beard though trimmed had hundred percent grey crop. As usual with sardars crossing paths in foreign lands he raised his glass when he noticed me and I acknowledged with a nod of head (no point raising orange juice to his some-hotshot-expensive wine).
Tanu and Manisha, assumed names or real can’t say, but that is irrelevant anyways, were busy weaving their magic on whoever was interested. Sardar ji showed a definite interest in Manisha and I think she was seasoned enough to oblige and return the favour. She was dancing for him. Playing with him with eyes while Tanu danced and playing with him with her moves when she danced. Poor dear old sardarji. Yet he must be a wily old fox, wily old shameless fox I should say. It was a battle of equals (if we don’t consider the age difference).
The hostess (with the mostess) returned with the starters and also handed three cards. These were request cards for the dancers to dance on and singers to sing the songs of your choice. Our table got three, one for each fella. While the hostess (with the mostess) served the starters I answered her question. Tanu was the better dancer as far as skills went but Manisha was a confident dancer using more than her dancing skills to attract flies including the wily-old-fox sardarji, the Americans and others in the restaurant who were interested (and there were some who were young and interested but had their wives with them who had ensured the husbands had their backs towards the stage, wily-foxy-wifeys). It was only second day of Tanu in the job, the hostess (with the mostess) divulged some information and that probably explained why was she all jittery.
Whatever the disadvantage of being with the Americans in an Indian restaurant the advantage was now I had the three cards to myself and each card had two entries. Six songs of my choice. This was going to be a long dinner. I scribbled Pablo on one card, Peter on another and third one I folded and put in my pocket. Two cards were the maximum I planned to use.
There was a break in the dancing sequence and the singing lady started singing ‘baar-baar-din-ye-aaye’. There was an Indian family and a little girl Aastha had her birthday. We all joined in with ‘happy-birthday-to-you’ bit of the song and clapped. Tanu and Manisha took a breather. After ten odd minutes there was another break and this time one more family had a birthday celebration. But the singer’s ‘tum-jiyo-hazaron-saal’ were not as enthusiastic and heartfelt as earlier. This was some fifty plus dude’s birthday. No one from the crowd joined in. Come on dude get over it. Get ready to go down. Some people just don’t get it. Anyways that done the singer was back at singing and dancers back at dancing and we back at nibbling at the food half heartedly and checking out the dancers with idiotic abandon.
While Tanu danced ‘bidi-jalayile’ with less than ten percent implied double meaning conveyed than what Bipasha did, Manisha was busy with sardarji. There was a particular discussion going on through signs and eye language. It seemed sardarji had finally given in to the temptation and scribbled some personal demand on a card. Manisha ensured that it got to her and not the singing lady who usually selected what song to sing or what not to sing. She gave sardarji thumbs up which meant she was game and she with her looks ensured that the singer was also game. While this game of visual communication was on and with the confirmation from Manisha in her green lehanga had sardarji’s full attention the waiter serving them lost his attention and spilled a glass of wine on the table. No damage was done to the three seated dignitaries’ attire and after couple of minutes the order was restored. The manager offered the three a new table but sardarji very politely but strictly refused. How could he move away from his Manisha now? Things that happen in royal courts.
‘Bidi-jalayile’ fetched the singer and dancer a healthy tip from some gentleman in the far corner (who had requested the song). There was much thanking by the singer. And then Manisha was up to dance one last time for sardarji before he felt his wallet lighter by few hundred of the local currency notes. He had asked for ‘kala-chasma’ and though Manisha didn’t have one she ensured the old fella didn’t feel any less entertained.
Our food arrived. I had used the card with Pablo’s name on it to keep a glass of juice and was trying my best not to request any song. Requesting a song was generally ending with people paying generous tips to the performers. However, the temptation to mess with wily-old-fox was too great and I scribbled two songs on the card under Peter’s name and requested the hostess (with the mostess) to hand over to the singer. I was pretty sure they won’t be singing and dancing on the songs I had requested. Hostess (with the mostess) returned and asked how the food was. That was when the mostess left her. I had ordered a biryani and it was the worst ever, even I could make better myself. Although Peter and Pablo said the food was good (theirs was a different item) I frankly informed the hostess, only, with not so much mostess the truth. That was the last I saw of her. Tiny little as she was it was easy for her to hide herself among the chairs and stay away from the people she wanted. The hostess (when with the mostess) wanted all praise and if not obliged she refused to be the hostess. Well who cares, the focus was on stage not on plates.
As expected the singer didn’t sing the songs from my request with Peter’s name. The wily-old-fox of a sardarji left after a while and as he was out of the restaurant and as we three were settling the bill and getting ready to leave the singer started singing ‘main-kya-karoon-ram-mujhko-budha-mil-gaya’. I cried foul. This was unfair. The man had left. Even the desi auntyji at the next table laughed her heart out as she was also observing the old sardarji’s antics all evening. Wily Manisha danced to the empty chair just to add to the general fun of it and though not a big money I did leave a small tip (otherwise it would have been too embarrassing to leave like that with the Americans). And before the tunes of ‘budha-mil-gaya’ faded the Indian and the Americans (one each from north and south) were passing the table engraved with ivory, were crossing the gallery with the photographs and pictures of bollywood stars and starlets, moving by the courtesan on the wall and entering the sports bar opposite the Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai’s little famous Indian restaurant Antique Bazaar.
More than any other medium… fiction mirrors truth… the reality of my times… so I write fiction.
Friday, April 02, 2010
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Very well said and written....really liked reading this....
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