Sunday, September 23, 2007

Three Quarks for Muster Mark

In which Ludwig is reminded of food and music by an unlikely book that SpaceBar showed him

We used to live in a first floor hostel room that, through a brace of ashoka trees and over a rusty phalanx of forgotten bicycles, looked down at an eatery judiciously named Quark. Judicious because Quark is the kind of name that carefully attenuated to be simultaneously cool and geeky enough to appeal to a wide cross-section of the student populace.

The fare at Quark was mixed. Variations on the "oily gobs of semolina with shreds of vegetables and meat" theme were passed off as products of Szechuan and Manchuria. Vanilla ice-cream was cheerfully and sometimes inevitably (given Madras temperatures and power cuts) melted, optimistically christened "milk shake" and peddled for a princely Rs. 10. The menu was written on a whiteboard, and some of us went there just to find out what spelling they'd used today ("Kobe Manjuriyan - Rs. 15").

The piece de resistance of the cordon bleu experience, as it were, was the delicious kheema porotta. The porottas were of the excellent Mallu variety, and for the connoisseurs amongst our readers, enough said. The kheema was fine grained, spicy, in generous quantities (enough to warrant an extra porotta) and quite sexy. In hindsight, one fervently hopes that the meat came off some traditional ungulate, or at least an herbivorous quadruped. Who is to say?

When the thing was cooked, one of the waiters would put on his best American accent and announce loudly, "Khhheemmmaa porrotttaa, exxxtrraaa porrrotttaaa!!!". And as his shriek died in the prosopis plants that infested the place, you could swagger up to the counter, and everyone would know you were spending big money tonight.

Quark had a "fountain Pepsi" machine. Remember those things? It is reasonable to suspect that a number of people patronized Quark because they were mesmerized by this hissing-panting consul-general of liberalization and globalization in the midst of our customary squalor. If the Starship Enterprise had landed in the hostel quadrangle and Captain Kirk had invited us to play at the battle bridge we couldn't have been happier. For 5 seconds while the plastic cup filled up and the beaded bubbles started winking at the brim, we were on an American campus.

Dining was al fresco. This is another way of saying the management couldn't be bothered with putting up any kind of roof over our heads or providing any furniture. Which was just as well. The future has come to pass, and a recent visit threw the "advantages" of progress into Stark Relief. Shudder. Instead we had trees, and a bunch of cubical and cylindrical concrete blocks, sturdy specimens that had survived the rigours of destructive testing in the structures lab, now living out their retirement respectably as stools and tables.

The management were also proud purveyors of the sketchiest selection of Hindi and Tamil "chartbusters" of the mid-nineties. They'd rigged up an elementary stereo and loudspeaker system that pelted us with scratchy (yet loud!) versions of such classics is main maal gaadi hoon tu dhakka lagaa, subah ko leti hai, shaam ko leti hai, and sarkai liyo khatiyaa, jaadaa laage.

But those were also the days when Kaadhalan and Rangeela were young, and Gulabi and Bombay were around the corner. And how was one to concentrate on the intricacies of the serendipity element or fathom the thought process behind Terzaghi's theses, when coffee, cigarettes and conversation punctuated by urvasi, urvasi or beat in my heart beckoned?

Perhaps Quark was a metaphor for a campus and a country in transition. The hep name, the unorthodox fare, and the English-speaking wait staff were all harbingers of the fifteen kazillion such eateries that dot metro India today. The Hawaii chappals, crap music, ersatz sundaes and the makeshift seating harkened back to something altogether less complicated.

7 comments:

Space Bar said...

ok wait. what unlikely book did i show you? this sounds very, um, sleazy.

Space Bar said...

oh god. i was especially slow yesterday. now i understand everything.

kbpm said...

That veritable feast in the form of Noo-dulls with Sillie Saas is what we vegetarians went for. For us (girls i mean, not vegetarians necessarily), it was a brave exercise in venturing into the big bad boys hostel zone. And navigating that particularly dark stretch of road on our bicycles.
what book btw. just curious.

Ludwig said...

[space bar] good. now, kindly do the necessary and reveal the name of the book and its antecedents. i have of course forgotten. the only thing i remember is that it was poems about science, and had a Quark thing...

[kbpm] Kenny, oooh, forgot about Noodulls and Sillie Saas (and Sillie Sikkan, and Silkie Smitha) and all that!

ah, i wish i could've provided the distaff perspective on the Quark trip. the danger of running into some unkempt goonda and all...

we did try our hand at treating someone from your neck of the woods at Quark once, in an attempt to pataofy. nice girl with healthy appetite. polished off 3-4 items in a satisfactory manner. left us with a Rs. 30 shaped hole in pocket. you know what they say about courting in insti, no? "boy treats, boy treats, boy treats, boy retreats."

ah, but she was cute :PP

kbpm said...

'distaff' voray! what are you in CLT in a debate competition dissing us and thinking we wont understand if you say distaff.

'we did try our hand...'
why 'we' it was an attempt at a date or a group attempt to copy assignment of said femme?

i remember venturing once on a rainy night only to find the dean hanging out there trying to determine which of the boys was drinking (duh?). but then i did see a shooting star once when i was eagerly awaiting food. wished upon it that i could take one of the unkempt goondas home. oh! those were the days... getting all senti & nostalgic & very nearly smelling the hawai chappal smell of OAT....

Ludwig said...

[kenny] hee hee. sorry, got a bit carried away there.

when we say 'we' on the Choultry, we are almost always using the royal "we", not the collective noun. so this wasn't some attempt at an orgy or to copy assignment of said femme. copy assignment of a junior? hmph!

dean = Deanlu? didn't think he could've been bothered! but that is one funny image. someone should've led him quietly through Tarams gate to Sakthi Vines.

well, the shooting star seemed to do the trick for you in respect of unkempt-goonda-to-go, no?

Hawaii chappal! this reminds me. some reprehensible vermin at the Asha meeting in Sherpur flicked my plastic mug. the last time i felt so traumatized was when someone flicked chappal outside common room...

kbpm said...

hey ludwig, yeah, well, the royal we and all. right, gotcha.

yeah shooting stars and superstitious scientists, quite a combo, that.

deanlu, of course was led to said Wine store, i guess. I was *not* led to it, and still am unaware of where it lives and breathes.

your word veri thing is driving me ka ray zee
in your time, did that computer center still insist on
(a) leaving chappal + lots of foot smell in a closed room with no ventilation
(b) dot matrix printouts till the cows came home