‘Mild, Medium or Hot’, the waiter asked as Ivan and I looked through the menu.
It was late afternoon and we had decided to try out an Indian restaurant for lunch. It was Tuesday – my vegetarian day and therefore I had declined Ivan’s first choice – an authentic Schezuan restaurant that apparently was run by an opera singer from China.‘The owner is a known opera singer – and the food is hot – as it should be’, Ivan Shen said with what I used to tease him as his Chinese accent.
We used to often have this fight on who had a more authentic accent – his Chinese or my Indo-British. Ivan had introduced me to Opera. Thanks to him, I had unlocked the magic of Pavarotti. We had spent time together mourning a few years ago when Pavarotti had passed away.
Today was Indian lunch day. The waiter was looking eagerly at Ivan for his response on how hot a Lamb Vindaloo he preferred.
‘How much hot can you get it?’, Ivan asked the waiter with a straight face .
‘Do you know Vindaloo is synonymous with HOT in India’, I joked.
‘I know’, was his response ‘ But it is never hot enough – can you get it the hottest you can ever make it ?’ , Ivan asked the bewildered waiter.
When the dish was served , I could not help but take a small bite from Ivan’s plate – in spite of the day being my vegetarian Tuesday. After all, Indians are renowned for their capacity to handle hot food. I took a small spoonful of the curry and had to wash it with two glasses of water.
Ivan ate the dish as if it was strawberry ice cream.
‘Hmm , Not bad. Could do with a little more hot’, he said as I continued to wash my mouth with cold iced water as I could almost feel my hair standing up on their roots due to the hot curry.
‘This dish is called Macheer Jhol’, I explained to Ivan as we started dinner.
‘Here are some green chills’, my wife offered a bowl of fresh green chilies to Ivan. She had heard about the gastronomic exploits of my friend.
‘Nice and refreshing’, Ivan said biting into a couple of chilies.
I had always wondered why Ivan wore his hair so short. His hair almost stood up on their ends. Today I was convinced that his hair must have decided to give Ivan a permanent standing ovation on his taste of hot food.
We had already finished off a couple of bottles of wine and my wife offered to drop him home after dinner. His apartment was close to home.
‘You know what … this car is a very popular model in Japan’, Ivan disclosed sitting in my wife’s car as we drove towards Nashua, ‘This is the most popular Taxi there’, he said laughing. He went ahead to narrate the details of the engine, body, variation of the transmission, shock absorbers and various other parts of the car. By the time we dropped him home, we were thoroughly educated on the internals of a Lexus IS-250-AWD.
‘Thanks for the taxi trip’, Ivan laughed’ I have a bottle of great Sochu , why don’t you guys come in and have a couple of shots’, He offered as we dropped him.
‘We will do it next time’
Twenty eight chairs and twelve bouquets adorned the room in the funeral service I sat in last Saturday.
My friend Ivan was lying in his coffin, surrounded by the bouquets as friends and family paid him last tributes. He had been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer and had succumbed on August 15th after an aggressive treatment that lasted five short months.
‘Anybody else has anything to say about Ivan’, the funeral coordinator asked in a somber voice after the tributes had been made.