Sitting in the upscale Dramz Single Malt Whisky Bar & Lounge (LINK: http://www.dramz.in/) in New Delhi, India. Late November, the weather is slightly chilly. I am wearing Scottish stockings under my dark chocolate-combed cotton dress from Lands’ End with a cream color collar. Love that dress, but that’s not the point. My friend and I settle into the leather upholstery of the sink-in extra large couches. My eye falls upon the green leather chairs with brass tacks. Nice. I like being with this friend: I can be myself with her. As Toni Morrison said, “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order,” with Ella Fitzgerald’s singing Everytime We Say Goodbye I Die a Little, I sigh, and surrender into the loving arms of African American women, the smell of the sun on their skin, their word and their song. My friend browses their extensive whisky list. Being a teetotaler, I run over the mocktail list. She orders an ultra-rich, ultra smooth, Laphroaig 10-year-old Scotch. She said that it’s the woodiness that she loves. I said, “Yes, the woodiness,” That’s what I was going to say. The woodiness of the nimbupani, the twigginess of the sugarcane juice. Well, no matter. Intrigued by the Orange and Dates Mojito, I decided to get that. My eye also falls upon the last mocktail in the list: the Chocolate and Mint Sensational. Always a fool over hydration, I order both. They bring our drinks. And then a third — the Dramz house special, on the house. The chef shows up, the effervescent Chef Pankaj Sharma (@caramelnpankaj) all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He and I ran into each other, and loved each other right on the spot, as people are wont to do. Whenever you are near there is such an air of spring about it… With his impeccable manners, he throws me off with his story of his origins. He’s from (of all the places), Jharkhand — “So what will you have?” he inquires. I know this man knows his food. I never deign to tell a chef I trust what I choose from his menu. “What will you give me?” I ask. “Well, you had a fish last time, so I’ll give you a lamb rack with vegetable charcoal.” I can burn vegetables, I think. “Sounds great,” I say. He recommends a braised pork belly with quinoa and chipotle sauce for my friend. It changed from major to minor… Now I make fun of molecular gastronomy as much as the next person. ‘Citrus foam’ (what causes oranges to foam in the mouth?) ‘wilted greens’ (like, doesn’t that happen to 3-day old greens anyway?) ‘rice cooked on hay’ (like I can tell the difference!). But when this man says something-fancy-I-can’t-pronounce, he means something-fancy-I’m-going-to-love-without-knowing-why.
Betwixt and between the chocolate sensation and the sultry Ms. Fitzgerald, I am transported squarely into the land of the exquisite. Those moments when time stopped, and submerged itself into the viscous ruby red pool of the exquisite. I was reminded of summer mornings in Los Angeles with a lazy fan whirring contentedly on the ceiling, waving each time a blade swung by. Of swimming in the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida to look down and see fish swimming by my belly. Of struggling in an overhang in a cliff 60 feet in the air, to climb past the line of dusk, into the face of the full moon above. Of looking into the eyes of the beloved, a moment before you tremble your lips upon hers. The exquisite moments when all was well with the world, when my life was made of butterflies and rainbows, people who said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ when they bumped into you.
It’s not an East or West thing, an urban or rural thing. This is an abundance and scarcity divide. A manners and viciousness divide. I closed my eyes and wept silent tears at what I’d been through. I wept like the otter who remembers the sea urchins on her belly floating in the shimmering sea, now with her foot jagged and bleeding in the animal trap set by hunters. Hunters whose imagination limits them to raping and pillaging, knives held high, reeking of penury. And here in India again, here are those moments. I can feel the desperation, I can sense the entrapment. People walking around villages and cities in India, prisoners of their minds and imaginations. Threatening and bullying everyone in their path, being vehicles of devastation. Inviting them to masculine brawls, laughing at ‘wimps’ who refuse to engage. What an accolade to their lives – ‘ruined xx lives’.
Everytime we say goodbye…
And I come back to these moments, I suppose I can die now. I have known true love, I have known the magic of the moments and the sharp intimacy of mountains. I have felt the presence of all three in my being, have felt the breath of all three in the span of my lungs. The Chocolate and Mint Sensational is sensational, and this moment is perfect.