A friend and I were returning after watching ‘Superman Returns’ in hope of enjoying a deservedly hearty meal at the restaurant after having been subjected to a dud of a movie. As is customary in such famed places we had to wait for about half an hour with other eager faces and grumbling stomachs in the reception before we were ushered in. Once the doors came ajar and the person there helped us to a table, we realized that we would have to share it with four slightly loud middle aged men. But then the allure of the delicious meal was so tempting that to put up with their cacophony seemed liked the least worrisome thing to do. So we settled down exchanging pleasantries as, moments later, a family came and sat down at the table next to ours. It was a family of five people – the parents and their three children. The eldest one was a girl, about twelve years old; the second was a boy, slightly younger than her, maybe ten and the last was an infant asleep in its mother’s arms. Their dress indicated that they possibly came from the lower middle class and the extra shades of talcum powder on their necks indicated that they probably didn’t go out as much and that this outing to Adigas was something the family had been looking forward to for quite a while. This became even more apparent as the girl grabbed the menu that was given to them by a slow moving waiter and whispered sharply to her brother – ‘See! See! I told you they had it!’ – emphasizing on the ‘it’ to indicate that they both were anxiously awaiting some particular dish. The enthusiasm on their faces made me smile a little as I thought back of my childhood days where we would sit in such high end restaurants and have tomato soup with a piece of hard bread floating in it with much pride.
The friend and I then got busy with ordering our meal and I didn’t notice much of the family after that. A few minutes later though, my friend got a call and she stepped out to take it. That was when I had the chance to notice something peculiar. As it appeared the father was not very pleased with the prices of the dishes. It was clear that it was possibly not within the budget they had in mind. Noticing their reluctance the boy began whimpering as he now knew what was coming. The girl, on the other hand, maintained her optimistic smile and continued to listen carefully at what her parents were discussing. The slow waiter returned with that condescending look you get in restaurants in India where you get gauged by these fellows by merely looking at what you are wearing. A repulsive attitude that refuses to go away. ‘People are waiting outside sir!Hurry up!’ he moaned as he noticed the family fidget with the menus. The father then inquired about a few dishes to which the waiter carelessly kept nodding a NO and looked on dispassionately at their discomfort as if secretly enjoying their public ordeal.
Finally the father gestured to the daughter and without a word the family began to get up. As the parents walked away with an apologetic grin on their faces the waiter returned and said something to the little girl I will never forget ‘You can have the water if you want. It’s free.’ She, instead of frowning or ignoring him completely simply smiled back as she had done so gracefully until then, added a genuine laugh and responded ‘Thank you uncle!’ She then comforted her brother who was now in tears as the two slowly walked out hand in hand from the restaurant without having consumed a single thing there.
Something cracked inside me silently that evening. Amid the din of the crowd that sat gorging on a dozen dishes and guffawing in the cool comfort of their wealth, I could clearly hear the crackle of that little girl’s young broken heart. Her brother had chosen to let his tears bring him relief while she, still a child herself, had battled the public scene with such grace and determination. Today as I think of her I sincerely hope that she finds much success and that well deserved spotlight of fame to reward her refreshing optimism in this cynical world. I also wish that someday she can take her parents and siblings back to such a restaurant and order a big fat meal that will contain every dish she has ever wanted.