There’s no such thing as an 86p lunch

Core British values of sobriety, road safety and coherent use of language are very much in vogue throughout India.

Navigating Dindigul’s vibrant restaurant scene can be quite tricky. Every establishment has a large sign declaring either “VEG” or “NON-VEG” (or occasionally “Hi-class VEG”): so far so good. Many also claim to be air-conditioned, though their idea of air-conditioning seems to involve around twenty-five ceiling fans with twenty-four of them switched off.

Nobody working in any restaurant speaks a single word of English. Since there’s no universally-recognised gesture meaning ‘rice,’ my general strategy is to listen to a long stream of Tamil, nod and trust that something edible will be forthcoming.

Yesterday, for instance, I was served (on a banana-leaf, of course) a poppadom and a chapatti, plus ten or twelve varied sauces and condiments in individual metal bowls. The waiters will periodically wander past and swap a dip, or donate some random piece of food, perhaps dumping a spoonful of rice or a block of marzipan onto the table.

That particular huge, tasty, sit-down-waiter-service meal came to the exorbitant sum of 86p. A little pricey, I know, but it’s my own fault for choosing one of the town’s higher-end eateries. I’m supposed to claim this amount back from the gap-year company (and I’ll have to eat an enormous amount to perpetrate a £14,000 expenses scandal at this rate…), so I asked the cashier if I could keep the receipt.

This was actually the second cashier, the first having taken my money and his colleague giving change from a separate desk. She gave me a disdainful look, and asked the manager to come over and stamp the receipt twice before handing it over. 86p…

Later, passing a cute little old-fashioned stationery shop, I decided to splash out on a fountain pen and ink-bottle like all the schoolkids use. A very nice pen, quality ink and pipette for refilling all came to 51p.

Because all this can rack up to hundreds of Rupees, I feel as if I’m spending money like water (not to mention conserving water like money…) but it’s actually hardly anything at all: at least for me. In a little family tailoring store, a noisy argument broke out between the staff about who would get to serve me. After they decided, I chose my dhoti, paid my £2.50 and left!

And on the subject of discord… I’ve finally found a class of children with behaviour short of the angelic! Very far short, as it happens. While I was attempting to indoctrinate them with a love of my green and pleasant land, this bunch of eight-year-olds were fighting, throwing chalk at each other, shouting, clambering over desks etc.

The ‘class leader’ (who seemed to have been selected solely on the basis of his extraordinary height) tried in vain to restore order, using what appeared to be a three-step behaviour strategy. Step one involved hitting the desk with a metal ruler and repeatedly yelling, “Keep quiet!” Step two was quite a large step, and involved hitting errant pupils with the metal ruler, on heads, arms, necks: whatever extremities presented themselves.

Strangely, step three was more moderate, though equally ineffectual; the class leader crossed to the blackboard, drew the heading, “BAD NAMES,” and proceeded to note those children who were being most awkward. He also enlisted the help of a female colleague to write misbehaving girls’ names: obviously, it would be completely inappropriate for anyone to perform this duty with regard to the opposite gender!

So that’s it for now.

This Friday-Monday period has been a four-day weekend in honour of the Pongal harvest festival (for which even Google had a special logo!) and there are still festivities going on as I speak… erm, as I type.

So, in the words of the local bus company, “please note your comments in the box below in an Indian language of your choice for redressal,” and I hope to have more to report soon!

3 Responses to There’s no such thing as an 86p lunch

  1. Sandra Webber says:

    I am lobbying for a photo of you wearing the dhoti.

  2. David Kroop says:

    Gabriel, your mother forwarded your blog to us–it is fantastic. Elissa and I are having a great time reading it and looking at the pictures. We look forward to your upcoming posts.

    Best regards,

    David Kroop

  3. vince says:

    Read your foodie blog over lunch, which would have bought a week of your Dindigul dinners. If you can teach me the Tamil for “Not too spicy” I might think about joining you.

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