You’re weary. The pack you’re lugging seems to be getting heavier by the minute. You’re out of ammo, motivation and stamina – it’s been a rough ten days out there – constant action, gun battles, ambushes and bullets flying all over. Fortunately, your company was given a 2 day leave into town and you’re planning to use it all up eating and drinking. Boots crunching gravel, rifle slung over your shoulder, empty canister of water rattling against your belt, you quietly enter the R&R (rest and recreation in military speak) sector, numbered 29 in the list and look over towards the tall building in the distance. The top floor is where you want to be, going by the many rumours of great food and strong brews.
You duck instinctively on hearing the sounds of men and machines exploding in the distance even though they’re much too far away now. All that’s on your mind is to get some warm food and cool drink inside and the rest of life would wait while that happened. Climbing to the top floor and opening the roughly hewn maritime-style door, you throw your pack to the ground on the left and look around. Never before was there such a collection of odds and ends put together into a functional mess like this. Pipes transporting steam to some unknown machinery, gauges with wildly flickering needles, exposed gears, and meshes for patrons to hang up their boots, weapons and sometimes other patrons, a bartender trying his best to keep up with the rush, platters of food finding their way to hungry tables and hungrier diners, the noise of conversation trying its best to be heard above the music, couples concentrating on their own phones, a chef in black, wearing vintage leather motorcycle goggles laughing like a maniac over spluttering glass tubes and beakers, huge steel vats of brewing grain, steam rising from mildewed corners. Yup. Feels like just home.
Looking around you spy an empty table in the far right corner and head towards it, punching the lights out along the way, of a snot nosed supply depot rookie who had the temerity to have the same idea. None of the dishes in the menu look like anything you’ve heard of before and nor do the drinks sound familiar, except for the ‘beer’ part of their names. Beckoning a man who appeared to break necks for a living, but taking dinner orders for the moment, you jab a finger at a few items, nod at his grunt of acknowledgement and look up from the menu to see him shuffling away towards the kitchen. A model truck laden with two spoons of stuff lands on your table with a thud. It’s a couple of bites from the kitchen, probably to keep hungry mercenaries from shooting up the place.
A few minutes later, just as you’re wondering if a .500 bullet into the bartender would break any of the bottles behind him, arrives a winnowing fan laden with little pockets of bread, topped with a slice of chicken, a few leaves foraged from the great outdoors and little green spheres. A few minutes later, there remained a solitary winnowing fan and the vaporous remnants of a burp. Picking your teeth with a grimy finger, you admit it looked poofy, but tasted fine. The insides of the little pillow-like pieces of puffy bread were stuffed with hot, flavourful and creamy liquid that made the first bite a surprise, the second loaded with anticipation and by the third you want to throw it against the stained wall and see what kind of a splatter it makes, but, and here’s a compliment, you’d rather eat the stuff and you do.
Crisp little balls were next, lined up on a platter. For a moment you think they’re going too far and should stop at recycling the enemy for food. They turn out to be spiced rice rolled and coated with crumbs, accompanied by discs of yogurt and topped with crunchy fried onions. There’s rice in there, flavoured oil and the whole thing tastes quite familiar, like biryani, and yet exotic. You’re beginning to think this was a good idea, even better than a good fight. Stuffed Kulchas arrived soon after, accompanied by gravy in a glass. On it’s own, a good mouthful and a half of mildly charred, good bread stuffed with chicken. With the gravy – butter chicken! Was there any end to this? Any more and you’d have to apply to apprentice with the cooks in the langar!
There’s only so much a man can eat and you’re bursting at the seams of your combat trousers. You look around for a bit, and surreptitiously unbuckle your trousers to let out the old belly. Finishing up with a smoking and smoky meal of curried goat with flatbreads, you’re feeling mellow and decide not to shoot the bartender after all. Perhaps the Chef at Molecule, Gurgaon, but only after a few more meals like this.