The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 4, 2001

You can’t win always
By Thangamani

"SHALL we go out for dinner tonight?" asked the Lord and Master (L and M). I pretended not to have heard. But the boys had heard all right.

"Oh, yes, Daddy!" they called out from the living room. I must admit that it is mystery to me how they can hear a question asked in the most normal tone from that far, while they can’t hear me when I am shouting myself hoarse calling the one or the other to do some chore. I guess it is what one would call selective hearing.

Coming back to why I was pretending not to have heard L&M, it is because of the simple reason that going out anywhere is an ordeal as far as our family is concerned. First of all, no one agrees about the place we should go to. If I want to eat a Chinese dinner, Lord M might want a tandoori night and the boys would want nothing short of an Afghan meal or a Spanish speciality. You guess right. The more exotic it is, the more they want to taste it.

"But where is an Afghan joint," L and M asked feebly.

"We’ll find out in a jiffy," answered the younger of the two, flipping furiously through the yellow pages and the cuisine section of all the papers at home. "Aren’t we lucky?" he called presently. "Maurya Sheraton is having an Afghan food festival!"


"Maurya?" croaked L and M. "But...."

"Oh, I knew it! You’d never take us to any place we want to go? And you’d dragged us to a crummy Chettinad food restaurant. Why, after all that chillies, you’d not even bought us an ice cream!"

"All right, all right!" gasped the L and M. The pair of them could go on and on about all the times they had been ‘dragged’ to sundry restaurants that were as ‘yucky’ and ‘yetchy’ as they come.

Though he had given in, we all knew that he would be grumpy through the evening. It began the moment he got behind the wheels; he began honking the horn impatiently. Heads began popping out to see who the maniac it was, who was leaning on his horn.

"This is the last time we are going, out," barked L and M. I wished I could believe him as I flopped tiredly into the seat. His teeth were bared and he was transformed into a maniac as he swerved in and out of the evening traffic.

Much later, after paying through his nose for a dinner at which all I, a vegetarian, could eat was a cheese kabab (everything else either had been once walking, flying or crawling), we leave the hotel. The kids were in a great mood but the L and M was still in a growling mood.

Compare this to the times when the boys are in a bad mood. Take the time the father had his way about where to eat, for a change. When they heard the name of the place, they both groaned exaggeratedly. "Oh, that place! I read a report some time ago about the cockroach that was found in the soup there," the first one said.

"And the music! The guy there must be at least eighty years old and all he knows are a couple of songs he must have learnt as a kid," the other piped in.

"We are going only there and nowhere else. You boys cleaned me out when I took you to that fancy joint last time, remember?" The boys shut up then and didn’t open their mouths after that. Not even when L and M wanted to park the car at the crowded market where this joint was. If he is a maniac behind wheels when he is upset, he is bundle of nerves when he is trying to park in a crowded parking lot.

It was well past 8.30 p.m. and the place where he had parked was at least half a kilometre away. So by the time our silent procession found its way to the place were going to, it was overflowing. We wrote our names on the waiting list and settled down to wait. Anyone observing us would have thought us to be a family of deaf-mutes. The boys stared out my futile attempts at cheerful conversation. They were silent, expected to give each other meaningful glances that said ‘I told you so’.

The L and M noticed them and after trying to ignore them for a while exploded. "Okay, now, what are you guys trying to say?" in a strangled whisper.

"Why, nothing!" replied his first born innocently.

We finally got our table, which was bang opposite the toilet door. The boys delicately held their noses. "What great fusspots have you reared!" L&M’s anger turned towards me. I made a soothing reply while trying my best not to hold MY nose.

The boys had decided to continue with their silent treatment and refused to order. "Whatever you order is fine with us," said the elder one nonchalantly, but in a suitably docile voice. The L and M looked at him suspiciously, but couldn’t read anything from his expression.

We ate in complete silence after L and M weak attempts to crack some jokes were greeted by stony silence. "The food was good, wasn’t it? It was well worth the wait," I said. I was feeling very sorry for the poor L and M by then. He had begun looking like a lost puppy that had been scolded by his masters. Still no response from the boys.

"How about some ice cream at Choco’s Parlour?" I asked as a desperate gamble. It is an unwritten rule of our family that we never go to a parlour for ice cream. We usually grab some at one of the pushcarts lining the road on the way back home.

My gamble paid off and the boys instantly perked up. In fact, so perked up they were, that they began talking animatedly at once, as if some invisible switch had turned their voices back on.

But then another voice had gone silent — the Lord and Master’s. Yours would have been silenced too if you’d seen the bill, which was larger than the food bill he had paid earlier in the evening. Well, you can’t win them all, can you?

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