I always thanked my dad for instilling the travel bug in me. The very fact that he was a bank employee gave him the option to avail Leave Travel Concession. This was one of the perks for which he was entitled every year. Instead of consuming it annually, our preference was a five year chunk so that we could cover the maximum distance and the most number of days.
One such trip was to explore Delhi, the national capital followed by erstwhile Bombay and finally Goa. We had a tried and tested strategy which obviously worked out to be very economical those days. It was to target those locations where we already had relatives. This naturally helped to cut down the cost of accommodation and also to some extent, food and local travel expenses. I must remember with utmost reverence that those were the times when people never showed faces of displeasure when they had guests at home. Due credit goes to dad's amazing networking skills!
There we were, one fine day at the most happening part of the country, the wonderful city of Bombay! Dad's uncle was staying at Bandra, one of the well-off suburban areas in the city. They gave us a warm welcome and we relished their spirit of hospitality.
One of those days, dad's cousin decided to take us around the place and show us the real Bombay. It was a morning that saw slight drizzle. We took to the streets of Bandra which was trying to hide itself from the skies that opened its eyes. Little puddles of rain water clothed the roads. The tarred surfaces appeared polished and so we began our tour-de-Bombay.
My teenage mind was all excited to see a new part of the country. I looked up to the skies and shouted to the falling drops, "You just can't dampen my spirit with this!" We had started early in the morning and soon our stomachs started to add to the noises around us. A decent looking restaurant was round the corner and we decided to break the fast there.
I really am unable to trace back the time from which I started disliking mint leaves aka pudina. I was never able to appreciate the odor of the leaves and the dishes prepared, with that as an ingredient. I became so averse to pudina that I even wondered if I was allergic to that! Dad knew this pudina-phobia of mine and had warned me that you may find quite a few of these up in the North. I managed to avoid having a food item which had pudina while in Delhi and I was pretty confident that I could repeat the feat in Bombay as well. I somehow had this notion that south Indian cuisine does not use much of pudina.
The menu at the restaurant was not very enticing as most of the options were North Indian and I dreaded the green devil that will accompany the dish! Pages turned, options evaluated and finally at a completely insignificant corner of the menu I discovered a gem! A food item that brought some respite to my eyes but more so to the mind. A south Indian delicacy which I was sure not to have any of the stuff I hate the most. None other than a jewel from the land of Nizam, The Hyderabad Biriyani!
While the rest of the folks were open to experiment with their taste buds, I was contented with the good ol' South Indian food out of the sheer fear of pudina! Moments passed by, chit chats were reaching its pinnacle and slowly the food we ordered started showing up. The flavors of Bombay did a colorful pageant right in front of us. Tantalizing aromas filled the air. The renowned Indian cuisine which has created plentiful gourmets around the world woke up the counterpart within us. Everything we asked reached us except the one I was awaiting the most, biriyani. Guess, Hestia, the Greek goddess of hearth who presided over baking of bread, planned to test my patience level!
Everyone at the table was courteous enough to wait for my dish. But as the wait grew longer I suggested the rest of the folks not to wait any further. It seemed as though the restaurant folks are awaiting the next locomotive from Hyderabad to bring the biriyani! After what seemed like hours, a steward clad in a black and white vest came with a silver tray with an item he proudly announced as Hyderabad Biriyani.
He placed in front of me, an intricately designed copper-finish bowl with contents full to the edge. This was accompanied by a silver plated spoon so as to make the person feel special for ordering something as exotic as this. All what it took was one look at the bowl and I was totally disillusioned from tip to toe!
There it was, the carefully ordered menu item artistically decorated with pudina leaves so as to make a bed of green inviting me to dive in and have a painful death!