Discalimer: This post contains non-vegetarian products. I mean no harm or disrespect to any religious community or sect. Please do not start a Facebook campaign to discourage the consumption of shawarma, after reading this.
“Eda Sangeethey, do you have any curfew?” Prasanth asked.
“umm… curfew.. no da.”
Atleast, that’s what I thought. Three years in Bangalore, and I now took for granted that I could stay out late into the night with no-one to ask or nobody to answer to. After all, couldn’t I, as always return to my room after midnight, on my black pride, the Avenger and have takeaway from Empire, the only restaurant that’s open beyond 11pm, for dinner. Sure, there would be no-one to receive me at the door, ask me how my day was, or perhaps even yell at me for being so late and in-sensitive. But hey, I had a 36” LCD with a tata sky HD connection that made Deepika Padukone ‘asli‘ enough in HD.
“I’m guessing 2am should be about it. Dad wouldn’t mind as long as there’s someone to drop me home.” I replied.
“Nice da. We usually have to return home as soon as we’re done with work. Mom, gets pretty upset if I’m late.”
A dunhill was lit. A puff was taken. “Independent da. That’s what you are” said Joe before taking another puff. “It’s not the same here, you know. ‘cept on those rare days, when your folks ask you to get the grocery on the way home. But in a way, it’s nice man. You get good food, make enough savings, and you are with family. Everybody wins.”
It was midnight and we were seated in the popular Turkish restaurant, Camelia, in CBD, Muscat. 17 years in this city, and I hadn’t heard of this place. Seven years back I would have probably parceled (so that I could enjoy at home, with my family) a plate of shawarma and the hands of the clock tower nearby, would show only 6pm.
I was visiting Muscat after 3 long years, and was meeting friends from school days. Sadly, I managed to recognize only two out of the seven that were present. This was my small, school reunion. Now in every re-union, the first few hours, are essentially filled with questions like
“Abey kya kar raha hai? Kahan hai?”
“koi girlfriend bani?”
“usne shaadi kar li?? shittu yaar. Chance miss ho gaya”.
Mine had the same ones too, only they were in perfect English. The hosts (as I was the guest here) worked in Muscat, drove big cars, and still drank Mountain Dew. I had assumed, owing to my absence from the ‘scene‘ since school, I would probably be sitting silent. However, strangely so, there was no disconnect whatsoever. Be it, fighting about the rivalry between ISM (Indian School Muscat)and ISWK (Indian School Wadi Kabir), or about our classmates who had become parents, or mocking the evening tutors, without whose help some of us wouldn’t have cleared our exams. I was immediately at ease with people whom I hadn’t seen in 7 long years. Weird, this didn’t happen often.
Though the general landscape had not changed, Muscat, the city had. It wasn’t the quiet, sleepy city I had grown up in. The airport was busier and was expanding (whoever thought Seeb International Airport would have to deal with traffic). More Omanis were now working in 8 to 6 jobs. Real estate was good. Tourism was on a rise. New malls, new roads, new industrial projects, more pubs, higher accident rates, stricter laws. But, one thing hadn’t changed. Petrol was still cheap. 8 litres of petrol cost only a Riyal Omani. That’s almost 128 INR.
In about 20 minutes, I got my plate of chiken shawarma. I unwrapped the paper foil that covered it and dug in. It was fantastic. The soft pita bread held the ridiculously tasty chicken firmly. The chicken was fresh, tender and garnished with thin slices of fresh cucumber and tomato. The crispy french fries went wonderfully with the generous amounts of delightful white mayonnaise that layered the walls of the pita bread. The mixture of these sinful flavours and the juicy chicken was so fantabulous, that I was immediately transported to a time oblivious of monthly payslips and tax cuts, of traffic jams and power cuts, of rising petrol prices and room rents, of policing, both moral and corrupt. I was back in Muscat, circa 1999. ISM Carnival, summer camps, 4pm cricket, music classes, scouts n guides, cheap movie tickets, assessments not exams…. I was happily lost, and a Turkish shawarma was my time machine.
‘You don’t get a lot of shawarmas in Bangalore, do you?” asked Vineeth on seeing the weird expressions on my face, and thereby brought my time travel to an abrupt end.
‘I sure as hell don’t get this.’ I replied and took another bite of the world’s best shawarma.
You can check out more of Muscat (pics I clicked) here: