Saturday, January 16, 2021

the ice-cream fine

 i was riding through the outskits of navi mumbai, the bit where the urban sprawl starts giving way to semi-rural areas. i was riding alongside Apurva (or Unitechy as I'd usually call her), and we were "kinda" racing. it wasn't an all-out race (I was on Carly, she on her scooter :D) but we were trying to out-maoneuvre each other and get to a certain location quicker.

We came to an intersection where I decided to take a right turn, off the highway and through this village. Apurva continued straight on.

The narrow road (barely broad enough for two cars) through the village was lined with houses on either side, and quickly turned steeply uphill. I revved Carly with all my might, but she kept losing speed. As the slope steepened and the engine struggled more, my point of view began to change, forward and downward, until I could see from barely inches over the road. As the scenery rushed past me, the landscape changed abruptly. I was no longer racing uphill along a house-lined road, but through a flat marketplace. the raod was even narrower now (barely broad enough for a car to squeeze through between the stalls, if there were no people). The stalls weren't very densely packed though, and at one point they seemed to end. Instead, on both sides of the narrow road, there were white sheets of cloth hanging down on to the road. It was hard to tell if the sheets were hanging from stalls or some sort of structure, or off the heads of people - they almost had the appearance of flowing robes, uninterrupted from head till the floor. They were longer than required, and partly covered the road I was riding on.

I was conscious that I was riding way too fast for the conditions (despite having lost a significant amount of speed on the way up, that I somehow did not regain when the ground flattened). In fact, the sensory feeling was not so much riding as floating very close to the ground, moving at a good speed, with these robes stretching out across enough of the road to almost meet in the centre.

As I thought about slowing down, I heard a shout: "STOP! What are you doing here?"

I realized I must have broken some rule - was I going too fast? or was it some sort of pedestrian area?

As I stopped and dismounted, the surreal cloth-lined marketplace turned more normal, with stalls on either side, and my point of view shifted back to something more normal as well. I turned around to see a uniformed policeman, with another man in plainclothes.

I apologized for whatever rule I may have broken (I did not ask what rule it was), and explained that I was new to the area and was trying to avoid the traffic on the highway which was a few km away.

He said that's fine, but I would have to pay the fine any way.

The fine was I had to buy him and his associate an ice-cream.

I thought this was weird, but sure enough, the road had a stall right in the middle of it, right where we were (how did I not see it earlier? If I was riding fast I wouldn't have been able to avoid a very serious collision!). The road when around the stall and continued straight behind it, but seemed to branch off into very narrow passages between unkempt houses (almost like a shanty). So it was pretty much a dead end.

Without giving it much thought, I agreed to buy the ice-cream (for them and myself). They picked the cones: dark chocolate covered cones (covered on the outside and inside). I'm not sure how those cones were designed, but they would probably have been quite messy to hold as the chocolate covering ran all over the surface, with no uncovered surface to hold.

After they placed their orders, the lady at the counter turned to me. I was trying to pick my flavour of chocolate. There were two options: dark chocolate and chocolate with salted caramel. I was curious about the texture of both the varieties, so she let me hold the scoop and tease both the tubs pf ice cream to decide. I prefered the texture of the dark chocolate, as the salted caramel formed stretchy strands between the second variety of chocolate. While I was trying to decide, I noticed the lady at the counter was unlike the other peole around: while she spoke to the rest of the staff in fluent Marathi, she spoke to me in perfect English, without a trace of the accent most native Marathi speakers carry over to their English. She was also dressed very smartly - almost fancily, with a bit of make-up on too. Her appearance probably suited someone headed to a semi-formal function: traditional but not too elaborate. In contrast, her staff were dressed and looked like the villagers in all the other stalls in what was quite a busy market.

I made my choice, and she served the cone with the ice cream scoop in it, flat in a plastic tub. It was covered with a layer of chocolate sauce, and was to be eaten with a spoon. I now understood why the cone was completely covered with chocolate. I dug into my ice-cream, almost oblivious to the fact that the policeman and his plainclothes associate had walked away with their ice-creams. As I ate my ice-cream, I realized that if I ate a bit of cone with the ice-cream, there would be more cone than ice-cream.

About halfway through the ice-cream, I asked if I could get another scoop in the same tub to eat with the rest of the cone.

The lady responded that the cone comes with two scoops, but she didn't serve them together as they wouldn't fit well in the cone.

She directed one of the staff to give me another scoop.

As I walked back to the counter, I decided to pick the ice-cream with salted caramel for my second scoop.

I asked the man now at the counter if I could take the scoop out myself. I wanted to try to serve myself more of the caramel than the chocolate ice-cream, and I tried to scoop with a swirling motion. Before I laid the second scoop in the tub, I aranged the remains of my first scoop and the half cone still left. I then placed the tub at a point next to the counter where I could have all the available flavours in the background, and proceeded to click a photo using my phone. Instead of clicking a photo with the usual dimensions and cropping it for instagram, I swotched my phone to take photos in 1:1 and composed it carefully so I wouldn't need to crop it later.

As I put my phone away, I thought to myself that this was probably one of the better ice-creams I've ever had - this ice-cream fine had turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

And that's when I woke up.

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