Happy hours on hold

Sunday, 5 February 2012 - 10:15am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
The best evenings sometimes start with you being made to wait.

The best evenings sometimes start with you being made to wait. As in my case last week. For fifteen minutes. Then half an hour. Then by a text that says ‘leaving in seven’. (Seven?? What happened to five?) And finally by a frazzled man who arrives an hour late.

I didn’t mind. Or I told myself I didn’t. If you haven’t seen a person in a while your endurance improves. Tolerance for the clock shoots up. But also crucially as Murakami put it, “For a while is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting”. And let’s not forget context: a woman sitting alone at a (Delhi) bar is curious to onlookers. And depending on the bar’s degree of seedy, curious can be replaced with inviting.
It’s not the same as woman sitting by herself in a coffee shop.

Coffee shops are more straightforward. There’s no need to rev up defensive body language or plug in mental All Out to fumigate leery mosquito/men that hover. Not at coffee shops. At coffee shops, you watch people. People watch you. You sip. If it gets uncomfortable you take out a book. (Not a laptop. That’s ‘beyond my ken’. I’ve never done it. And unless push really comes to shove it up, this stays).

But now bars. There’s no taking out a book at a bar, EVEN if you’re being made to wait. I don’t know why but it’s just incongruous. If it were acceptable to say, play kho-kho in church, a book at a bar may seem not so blasphemous. And on the wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-with scale, at a bar, book is as bad as laptop. Or this could be merely a flighty Feb 2012 dated theory and if you checked with me in April, I’d look up blankly from a book and a Bloody Mary.

The point is ambience. Shatabadi music/Kenny G coupled with the Kapoor uncles and the Arora sa’abs saying, ‘happy hour hai na? ek aur Blenders Pride jaldi se’, a couple on the far corner sitting on the same side, man’s arm around woman’s shoulder, both lost to the world — yea, no. Not good for reading. What you’ve got (to play with) is tissue, scratched cutlery, the menu advertising a sea food festival, and your ‘mobile device’, and still more time to kill. Damn it.

I ring a friend to vent. ‘He’s late. Talk to me. I’m sitting alone. Ordered my vodka’. Friend is babysitting a delighted nephew and playing with a train set. Every few minutes she breaks off to give the tot a scrap of attention (“haan baby, platform”). We discuss our day. Swap gibberish. Gossip a little. Talk about planets and lunacy. Admit to vulnerability and butterflies. Get a recipe for fish, an assurance that ‘it’ will be fine, and top it off with a semi-abrupt ‘Okay. Call you tomorrow. I think he’s here’. (I have fascinating insights on how we sideline and take for granted beautiful permanent friends the moment an interesting Spring cloud emerges. But that’s a different story.)

He arrives. He apologises. Not profusely. Nothing as blatant. But I can see the guilt in his sheepish suppressed grin. I say it’s fine.

Hell, I got here just twenty minutes ago myself. And there it is — the 3D costume you’ve slipped into — I have slipped into — of being mock-spurned, nonchalant yet genuinely happy. The mock-spurned bit you think you will milk till the last order. In your head — in my head — it’s a watertight blackmail: hey, you kept me waiting! You think this will work. Till the bar closes. Till the laughs scale a higher note. Till the Republic Day elephants pack up and go home. But my underestimation is the speed-breaker. For my white little lie has been outed by his one cheeky question to the prawn-curry-pimping waiter: ‘When did madam get here’? And the slick, spineless weasel of a waiter does a quick calculation of where his tip will come from, and with a flourish, manages to deflate my entire comic charade: “Madam has been waiting, Sir — for a while”. 

— Nivriti Butalia is NOT an ‘unrepentant alcoholic’, even if the ed-in-chief says as much in writing


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