Marine Pde. gets really busy in the evenings. The beach, which stretches straight as an arrow to the horizon, is packed with vendors, strollers and swimmers, along with animals like horses and camels. The wind is ferocious, buffeting me and firing prickly pellets of sand against my legs.
The OTDC (Orissa Tourism Development Corporation) counter is on Marine Pde. I had telephoned earlier in the day to enquire about dolphin-sighting boat tours that OTDC conducts on Chilika Lake, about an hour from Puri. An energetic Mr. Madhusudan informed me that due to a bloody rift between two villages in the area – seven people had died thus far in firing – all tours originating from Satpada had been cancelled. However, tours that started about five kilometres away from Satpada were still available. I signed up over the phone.
“I have booked your ticket,” said Mr. Madhusudan. “You come to the counter and ask, “Are you Madhusudan?” I will say “Yes, I am.” Then, you give me the money and I will give you your ticket.”
After I had picked up my ticket, I walked a few paces down the Pde. to Mongini’s, a famous cake shop that had originated in Calcutta some eighty years previously. The shop was small but packed, and the three men behind the counter appeared harried. An elderly Bengali couple were in the middle of their order as I entered.
“So, that is fifteen of this pastry and one 7-Up bottle,” the grey-haired lady said. Her voice was pleasant on the ears and she spoke in a mix of crisp English and accented Hindi. She turned to her husband, a small gentle man.
“Do you think this is enough?” she asked, and they thought aloud about who was expected, and how many people were coming from each family. The salesman behind the counter waited patiently, as did the other customers behind the couple, who decided their order was sufficient. However, when the salesman took out all the pastries and put them in a box, there were only ten. When he communicated this fact to the couple, they were puzzled.
“But, we asked for fifteen,” the lady said.
“Yes, but we have only ten,” the salesman said.
“They have only ten,” she repeated, turning to her husband. Then, she turned back and said, “So, then give us five of these other pastries.”
The salesman took out two of the newly-selected pastries and began to stuff them into the same box.
“Don’t do that,” the lady barked. “You’ll crush them; put these five into another box.”
“But, ma’am, there are only two.”
This pushed the couple into another discussion. Meanwhile, the crowd started to press forward and the salesman began to respond to other customers.
“You finish our order first,” said the agitated lady. “Do you have fruit cake? Give us five pieces of that instead. But show it to us first.”
He did; it was approved and went into the box.
“Is the 7-Up there?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, I’ve already put it in.”
The lady spied the beverage fridge and called her husband over. Another discussion ensued. They turned back to the counter, but their salesman had gone to bill their purchases and another salesman stood in his place.
“We’d like two bottles of Nimbooz as well,” the lady said.
“You can open the fridge door and take them,” said the new salesman.
“Have you got the 7-Up?” the husband asked.
The new salesman unknowingly said no, he hadn’t. The original salesman-behind-the-counter heard, but before he could say anything, the elderly husband pulled out a bottle of 7-Up and handed it over. The original salesman quietly pushed aside the bottle of 7-Up he had, accepted the bottles from the couple and billed them.
“You heated up the pastries?” cried the lady. “Who heats up pastries? I’m going to talk to the head office in Kolkata! They are going to hear of this!”
With this parting shot, the couple left. Everybody in Mongini's, including the customers, heaved a sigh of relief.
Written for the Expedia contest on IndiBlogger. Visit Expedia at http://www.expedia.co.in/.