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Indian theatre with Thai food



THAI TO PLEASE: Habib Tanvir and his family members share a light moment over a sumptuous meal at the Oberoi's Baan Thai restaurant in New Delhi. Photo:Sandeep Saxena

`MUJHE PAYE bahut pasand hain,' Habib Tanvir, even at the age of 80, cannot resist the lure of this spiced mutton curry. He describes himself as a food-lover but he cannot cook anything. Tell him this and he takes it as an attack on his culinary skills. "Nahin nahin, main Maggie bana leta hoon aur chai bhi," the innocence on his weather-beaten face plays wide, much to the amusement of his script writer wife and founder of his Naya Theatre group, Monica and his classical singer daughter, Nageen. "Chai bhi bas aisi hi hoti hai," the daughter remarks. "No, no, it is good always," the father won't budge.

The beautiful family is at The Oberoi's Baan Thai restaurant where the ambience created is for smaller families by making special dining arrangement with dark coloured décor, helping savour delicacies in peace, enjoying relative privacy.

Monika reads the menu. "Arre kya mangayein, names are so difficult, kuch samajh hi nahin aa raha," but the chef Rajesh Chatterjee, the manager immediately comes to her rescue. "Good, that you brought me here," Habib remarks. "Since long, I did not have Thai food."

"We had in New York, some 12 years ago," wife recalls.

After two Thai special soups, Tom Yam and Koong and Papaya salad and Satai Kai - grilled chicken served with peanut sauce, the two appetisers, the family settles down for Grilled Duck topped with Thai wine sauce, mixed green vegetable - Bhak Bhak, and green leafy vegetable - Sic Fahai, chappatis and rice for the main course.

Habib's teeth have grown little weak. He cannot chew papaya salad properly. "I am preferably a vegetarian now, because of age, I avoid taking oily, spicy food," he says.

The veteran theatre master never forgets to bring his cigar. He knows he looks smart with it. "I used to relish one of our teachers, Mr. Mardekar, who was the only one to dress like an English gentleman in three-piece suit, smoking his cigar in style. I secretly admired him for this and even tried to smoke in private." Tanvir was then in Laurie Municipal School, Raipur.

Habib had been studious, "I would be first class first throughout my school and college," he recalls with pride.

When out of college, he was asked to look for a job, worked for sometime in ammunition factory. But the love of theatre brought him to Mumbai in 1945. "I was trained under Balraj Sahni. Once he was directing a play in which I had to deliver dialogue, crying. I was not able to give the right shot. He said, `pack up' and all went to their rooms in a makeshift arrangement. At about midnight, Balraj Saab came to my room and made me get up. He slapped me hard on my cheek. I was taken aback. Tears rolled down my eyes, they turned red. He said, `now speak the dialogue'. I did. He was happy. `This is what I wanted', he said, patting men my back, he went away. Main sochta hi raha, bhai ye bhi koi tareeqa hai? But now I realise its worth," the legend gives a hearty laugh.

Meanwhile, they are totally engrossed in the love of the grilled duck, green chicken curry and prawn with garlic pepper sauce. "It is delicious. I love sea food anyway," Monika chuckles.

In between, Habib is reminded of his days in Indian People's Theatre Association, IPTA, where he spent six decades. "We used to stage a lot of anti-Government plays. Sepoys would always be on a look out for `Mr. IPTA' as they thought IPTA was the name of a person behind all provoking plays. Once a few hawaldars came to IPTA knowing Mr. IPTA is in Mumbai. They asked me, where is Mr. IPTA?' I said, `he has now gone to Pune'. They rushed to catch hold of Mr. IPTA there!"

Monika is enjoying the conversation too. An accomplished actress and a scriptwriter, she met him in the `50s. "We married in 1958, right?" she asks, adding, "but before that we had started living together," Habib recalls.

It is time for some desserts. Chef Sompid and Chef Chin have prepared homemade Thai special coconut ice cream and Pandanus, which is a Thai leaf spread for flavour over the ice cream. There is Thai jellies and Jasmine syrup that the family is going gaga over. "It is very different. I think I must visit Baan Thai whenever I come to Delhi," says Habib while having a last glance at its traditional `Khantok', the non-smoking furniture from the country before heading towards exit.

RANA A. SIDDIQUI

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