An abridged version of this article appeared in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, in May 2008
Scene Three (Taj Ummed Bhawan, Ahmedabad)
“A portion of khichdi please”
“Sure Mr Ojha. Anything else, please?” Mr Earnest room service clerk at the other end. Clipped accent and all.
Some sliced onions, some roasted papad, and a bowl of dahi.”
“Of course”, I can nearly hear the furious scribbling at the other end.
“Give us twenty minutes, please.”
“Sure”, and I am about to hang up when the Mr Earnest-Clipped-Accent suddenly perks up.
” If you do not mind, where are you from Mr Ojha?”
“And where from in Bihar?”
I am not used to such intimate chats in five star hotels. “Why would you want to know?”
“I am sorry sir, I am plain curious. My apologies.”
I feel sorry for this poor chap. After a whole evening of taking quirky dinner orders from quirkier customers this guy must need a break.
“I am from a small town, Jamshedpur.”
I think I sense a palpable excitement in his voice. “Where in Jamshedpur?”
I play along, “Sonari”.
“And where in Sonari, sir?
“Sonari West.” By now I am quite flabbergasted at this questioning. “Why would you want to know all these details?”
“Sorry sir, I asked you all these questions as even my surname is Ojha!”
“So?” I was a bit sarcastic now. There are tons of Ozas in Gujarat.
“I am from Jamshedpur too. Actually from Sonari” So he was not a Gujarati Oza, but a Bihari Ojha!!
It was my turn to ask, “So where from in Sonari?”
“Sonari North, sir”
I did not know any Ojhas from Sonari North, in fact there was only one Ojha I knew of from entire Sonari North, East, South and West put together. ( Ok, Sonari South did not exist then, maybe now it does. But it does not matter). The Sonari East Ojha was my father’s friend and while I did not know his son personally I did know that this Jr Sonari East Ojha was living in the US.
“So what is your father’s name? Where did you study? And when did you pass your school exam?”
He did give me all the answers but now I remember only that I had never heard of his father, or his school (not Loyola for sure where I studied) and that he was at least 18-20 years junior to me. He must have been born when I left Jamshedpur after my ICSE (Std X)
“Good night, sir”
Dinner done and I am about to curl into my bed when the phone rings. Sonari North Ojha on the line.
“How was the dinner, sir?”
“Very nice, thank you!”
“And what will you have for dessert?”
“No thank you, I do not wish to have a dessert”
“Kuchh toh lijiye! Tell me what.”
“I am serious, nothing please!”
“Something please! Meri taraf sey! Whatever!”
I did not have the heart to disappoint him and asked him for his recommendation. He said I should leave it to him.
Within moments arrived the most delicious rasmalai! And then his call.
“I hope you enjoyed the rasmalai.”
I was genuine in my appreciation. “Of course it was. Thank you. You sure I should not sign the room service bill for this?”
“Kya baat kar rahein hain Ojha sahab. Ham aapkey liye itna bhi nahi kar saktey hain? And yes, do give me a call the next time you are here and I will make sure that we will prepare for you whatever you want. Whatever!”
When I went back to Taj Ummed Bhavan the following year, I was told that Ojha was no more in the services of the hotel. But thank you Sonari North Ojha, you made that evening of mine in Taj Ahmedabad so memorable!
Scene Four (Most Five Star Hotels)
“Hello, Mr Ojha, what can I do for you”, says the seductive voice of the woman taking orders for room service.
I sometimes wish to know what all she can do for me at this time of the day, but I refrain. I dare not make any naughty enquiries. And I go back to my original plan. “May I have a portion of khichdi please? For my dinner.”
“Sure, Mr Ojha.”
Then I hear here slowly intoning. “One… portion… Khichdi.” I can nearly see her scribbling in her order book. She repeats, “one…. portion…khichdi, …..room….. 435. You would like plain khichdi, right?”
I can feel the concern in her voice, she is sure that I have a stomach upset and that this is just about the only stuff I can have for dinner.
“Not really, make it a masala khichdi, with lots of ghee and spices. And don’t forget to send some dahi along with some roasted papad. And some sliced onions with lemon would be great. Some mango pickle too”
I can imagine her having a cardiac thinking of the poor gastro-stricken Mr Ojha making this foolish request. Actually, if she would have her way, I ought to go to bed with a cup of barley water with a dash of lemon and a hot water bottle for company.
She regains her composure. “Sure, sir! Papad, pickles and onion slices are complimentary. Anything else, sir?”
‘Give us twenty minutes please.”