The Peshawari at Nagpur
In the course of a forty-year worklife, I must have, I would like to believe, had positive influences on some of the people who worked with me. They are the ones who are still in touch, inspite of the intervening years. Ofcourse there are others who will not forget me in a hurry for reasons other than professional, the most likely being a gentleman named Koonal Gooptu - a baby-faced character, affectionately called Golliwog because of his curly hair, rotund figure and the round eyeglasses that framed his eyes.
Koonal was transferred to Jabalpur, very close to the geographical heart of India as a Sales Representative on his first field posting when I was the Manager there. I recall meeting his mother once when she complained that Koonal was not showing any desire to get married. As his senior, I took it upon myself to reassure her that he was a good man and would do so, in due course. I even offered to help in any way I could although I really could’nt see how as we came from very different backgrounds.
After a few months, Koonal and I were on fairly easy terms outside the office. His training was going well and I started thinking about what his mother had said. It struck me one day that I may be able to contribute towards the fulfillment of her wishes. I therefore asked Koonal to accompany me on one of my visits to Nagpur, ostensibly to start his customer-handling training.
This town must rank among the hottest in India with summer temperatures often crossing the mid forties Celsius. Its other claim to fame lies in the quality of oranges produced in its environs. This gives it the name “The Orange City”. The incentive to travel to Nagpur in that searing heat was however provided by what was then an unique institution called the Peshawari.
The Peshawari was a restaurant of sorts, named understandably after Peshawar, the city to which its owner belonged. Like so many others, he had lost whatever he owned during the Partition of the Indian sub-continent. For his own reasons, he had chosen Nagpur to start life again. The Peshawari was located in a nondescript, noisy and crowded area. It was not renowned for its food. Nor for its ambience. But it was renowned for one thing which Koonal was to discover shortly.
After the day’s work was done, I suddenly asked Koonal whether he had ever seen a woman in a state of undress before. Startled by the question, he blushed before answering in the negative. "Very well then", I said, "we shall have to do something to rectify the situation, especially since you are well above the age of consent. This is going to be a big day in your life. We shall go to the Peshawari Restaurant". Never having heard of the place, Koonal asked about the cuisine. It serves food for the soul, I told him, leaving him a little confounded.
Opening time was around 9pm but I knew things would start warming up only after 11pm. We arrived late by which time the restaurant was in full swing. The lights were low, the music loud and it was difficult to see clearly through the smoke billowing forth from many cigarettes. With some difficulty we finally found a table behind a pillar.
There are times when one has to pull rank. So it was Koonal who found himself seated behind the pillar. Having ordered a round of drinks, I was watching him with interest. He had to crane his neck to see the raised platform in the centre of the restaurant. It took a little while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness and for Koonal to realize that there were women on the stage, gyrating to the music. Being a bit of a veteran at cabaret shows like this one, I could afford the luxury of taking my eyes off the women to observe Koonal closely.
Peshawari used to have as many as 10 young, nubile women dancers, each more breathtakingly beautiful than the other. They weren't coy about what they did either. They would sway rhythmically, disrobing till they were in the buff, to the increasing excitement of their patrons. Full of confidence that they were pleasing to the eye.
And they were more than pleasing to Koonal’s eyes, I could see. They turned rounder and rounder as he watched transfixed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down excitedly. His drink lay neglected, to be attended to only when one lot of ladies departed to make way for another group. During and at the end of every show, Koonal would show his appreciation, joining in enthusiastically to the incessant clapping and loud wolf whistles of the other spectators. I could make out he was having the time of his life. I almost expected him to jump onto the stage, as I had seen others do at cabaret shows elsewhere. To the extent that physical barriers had to be erected to protect the dancers.
Koonal would have lost his virginity that night but for the fact that the good ladies at the Peshawari didn't allow their patrons to go quite that far. I am convinced that evening’s escapade contributed at least in part, to Koonal’s sudden decision to get married. That is what he did soon after and is to all accounts, well-settled and happy. I often wonder what his mother would have had to say, if she knew the reason for her son’s change of heart.