Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taste it Twice - Part 1


A former business partner, good friend of mine, from the Asian community in Kenya once told me "You know you've eaten in a good Indian restaurant when you taste the hotness in the food twice, once when it goes in - and the second time when it comes out" I have never forgotten the statement and it always bring a laugh when I share it with friends and family. But even the graphic nature of that statement could not prepare me for what I went through during a recent trip to India.

It wasn't my first time to visit India - no - I was in Hyderabad in 2008 for the Internet Governance Forum conference which was hosted there at the International Conference Centre. The IGF attracted what looked like close to 1,000 visitors from all over the world and lasted one week. The food we ate, both at the event as well as at our hotel and at the various evening functions, while spicy, was not balzingly hot. It might be that in preparation a general circular was sent out to all culinary venues to ease back on the hot stuff for 1 week while all these foreigners are in town. Anyway, all in all - I enjoyed very much the food I ate during that visit.

This time, though, I was on a man-solo trip to meet with our two main point of sale device vendors. One was based in Bangalore and the other in Hyderabad. Upon arrival in Mumbai (where I spent the night) I had a series of rushed meetings before proceeding to catch the flight to Bangalore. I got to the airport well on time, joined the loooong queue for the flight to Bangalore, got to the check-in counter and presented my passport - shock! It was not my passport - apparently another Kenyan had checked into the same hotel the same night, a few minutes after I had, the guy was even a Kamba and had a name and looks similar to mine. So when I checked out of the hotel - the reception (which had retained the passport), gave me the wrong one. In a panic I called my business colleague in Mumbai - he sent his driver immediately to the hotel to pick up the right passport and get it to me quickly so that I could board. By the time the driver arrived with the passport (I gave him the wrong one to take back to the hotel), and I got into the queue and made it to the check-in desk, I was too late to board the flight. I asked to be put on stanbdy on the next Mumbai-Bangalore flight (they fly hourly) and the lady obliged. One hour later - I was back on the waitlist because all the booked passengers arrived. Another hour later and I was back on the waitlist again! Yet another hours and this time because I was at the top of the waitlist I was given one of two only available chairs on the flight. Got to Bangalore exhausted - took a cab from the airport to hotel (almost 1 hours drive) and slumped into bed like a sack of potatoes.

The Next morning found me up nice and early - ready to face this new city and busy day that lay ahead. But first, breakfast - since I arrived in the wee hours and got to the hotel too tired to order room service, I had overslept a bit and missed the 9.30am deadline for breakfast. No problem, I just headed out onto the street found a nearby coffee shop - asked for a chicken sandwich and black coffee and sat down to wait. Coffee and chick-sandwich arrived together - both looked delicious - I took a huge bite out of the sandwich, and..... aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh..... it was loaded with tear-gas-like chilli. Needless to say my first reaction was to take a sip of the closest drink - hot coffee! Ouch! Well, that was breakfast....

Once I had regained my vision and general sense of direction I picked up my laptop from the hotel and headed off for my first meeting of the day. I jumped into a tuk-tuk better known as "auto" (3 wheeler moto-taxi), showed the driver my map and address - and off we went! 2 dreary hours later, soaked with sweat and dust I walked up the stairs of our prestigious partners office building and into the main entrance. The security guard at the main entrance took a visibly tighter grip of his firearm as I approached but when I asked for the boss in English, he relaxed, smiled - mumbled something to me and triggered the fingerprint biometric switch which made the door swoosh open and I entered the cool, air-conditioned interior. After 1 hour of an introductory session my hosts invited me to join them for lunch upstairs on the balcony canteen. As we walked up the stairs, the politely asked if I minded indian food - I proudly told them that indian food was my favourite whenever I went out for dinners back home in Kenya. At the buffet style counter - we were served portions of the various dishes on offer by a bunch of cute, chubby ladies. We sat down at what was clearly the table reserved for the executives and began to eat. With my first bite I am sure my face must have turned purple or some other strange color from the hot and spicy food because without a word, my host dashed to the water dispenser - dashed out a plastic cup full of water and hurriedly gave it to me. With my eyes watering I tried to excuse myself and gulped back as much of the water as I could. Not wanting to lose face, I gathered my manly courage, set my jaw firmly and proceed to finish the meal, spoon after flaming spoon.

After lunch we had a very productive afternoon - meeting other members of the team they had assigned to work with me, going over the salient points of our project and brainstorming on a workplan for the next 8 days that I would be in Bangalore. At the end of the day, they summoned an 'auto' for me - and I jiggled and joggled the next two hours back to my hotel. After a quick shower I decided to take a short walk around the neighborhood of my hotel. Less than 3 minutes down the road I came across a massive (to my Kenyan eyes) Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) spot. I immediately rushed in, and with my mouth watering ordered a takeaway meal and salad to go. Rushing back to my room it was all I could do not to start eating on the way up in the lift, no, I wanted to do this right. Got into my room, laid the meal out on my little bedside table - washed my hands thoroughly at the tap in the bathroom and then descended upon the feast with avengeance..... Ouch! Oooow! Sssss! That chicken was so spicy hot that for a moment I thought I was eating pili pili straight from the farm! Goodness gracious! There went whatever hope I had of a blissful KFC eatfest. I picked at the fries and the salad - put it all back together, snuggled into bed and flipped channels for about 30 minutes before drifting off into a somewhat troubled sleep.

Very early in the morning I got up to attend to my bodily needs in the toilet. I was still a bit groggy and sleepy as I sat on the ivory throne so I let loose with my usual gusto.... I barely managed to contain the scream that hurtled forth from the depth of my belly. I felt as if my intestines were being dragged out of my rear end.... with a blowtorch burning ever so brightly at that posterior to make everything nice and colorful. Agony of agonies! Torture of tortures! The next 5 minutes found me reduced to a shivering, shaking wreck of a person. After cleaning up I stumbled into the shower, turned the cold water tap onto full pressure and present the resultant, soothing jet of water to the offended area. Then it came back to me, what my asian friend had told me, so - this is what he meant by tasting it twice!

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