The Claridges, Faridabad, India
Shooting Range Road
Faridabad – 121 001
+91 129 4190 000
by Des Ayuno
The Claridges was my first five-star experience, and I was looking forward to breakfast very much indeed. Not to be confused with our own Claridges, it is an India-only chain of extraordinary ostentation.
Now, only mugs eat Western food when East, so despite the earliness of the hour and the extremity of my temporal-geographical disorientation, I ordered paneer-filled paratha – a round, flaky whole-wheat flatbread – and a sweet lime juice and masala tea. First came a complimentary silver basket of elaborate (Western) mini-pastries that would have done its English namesake proud. I ignored them – not because they were Western, but because I was dying for tea, in a worse-than-hung-over fug brought on by the monsoon season's extreme humidity. But next along was the lime juice, in a tall, frosty glass with a silver stirrer. I ignored it too. Then a glistening pair of chestnut-coloured pancakes – the paratha. I croaked weakly at the six hovering waiters, but they just looked confused. Finally, the tea arrived. It was glorious – hot, wet, strong, sweet and really quite spicy.
The fug cleared instantly. I absent-mindedly nibbled a tiny chocolate-chip muffin, which was oddly dense and eggy. The sweet lime juice was neither sweet nor particularly sour, but was still a refreshing thirst-quencher in the 40+ degree heat. The paratha, though, was the perfect breakfast, in the proud English tradition – hot, greasy, salty and stodgy. It was a ghee-soaked, cheese-oozing triumph of fatty abandon over good sense. Topped with sharp yoghurt and lip-scorching lime pickle, it was divine. I hoovered up one and three-quarters of the rounds before my knife literally came to a grinding halt on the last quarter.
My first thought was, I have been here before. I have been here before with the hair and even after three years, the debate rages on. But the hair was there, longish and white and curly, winding through my sliver of paratha like a rebuke. I sighed.
One of the waiters came up. “Please thank you ma’am. Everything is ok?”
I thought of where the hair might have come from. With the exception of the odd perky tache, Indian men are uniformly clean-shaven, aside from the occasional Sikh. I thought of my guide informing me, last night, in clipped tones, “This is not a Sikh city. They do not come here. They have their own region, to the west.” I imagined a grey-haired Sikh gentleman slaving away in the kitchen, far from his family, earning less for a day's work than I, or rather my sinister multinational client, was paying for this humble dish. I thought of the luxurious jacuzzi-sized bathtub upstairs in my room, which had taken an hour to fill the night before, and I thought of the Hindustan Times’ headline that had greeted me when I emerged: “Drought Looms, Food Prices to Rise Further”.
I gave a big, enthusiastic grin. “Everything is ok!” The waiter looked suspicious. I kept grinning. Finally he retreated to his customary stance of attentiveness ten paces away. Suddenly concerned for my new Sikh friend’s job security, should the hair be discovered by the over-inquisitive waiter, I spent ten minutes secretively digging it out and disposing of it down the side of the table. Then I finished my masala tea and, ready for anything the day might throw at me, bravely headed forth into the heat.