Thursday, September 16, 2010

An official evening and a gauche..

I am sufficiently old and I don’t know many things. Unlike Francis Bacon, all knowledge is not in my province. Come to think of it, my province is pretty small. And among the many things that I do(did) not know is that mince pies do not have mince in them but little bits of sticky fruit.

So, I am sitting here at this east-west official dinner and everyone is interrupting everyone else with their travelogues and the tiresome effort it is to get a good room in a good hotel in Paris, one can’t really stay just anywhere, can one, when these little food items arrive and the hostess says, "have a mince pie." I take one and bite into it and fill my mouth with a reasonably tasty clot of sticky sweet fruit. "Hey," I say, "this is sweet." "Of course," says my hostess, "it is a mince pie." Most people in my position would have heard the penny drop, picked up the drift so to speak and shut up. Put a sock in it. Let it be. Not me. I soldier on, regardless of the flak. "Fancy that," I say, "I always thought mince pies had mincemeat in them, you know like kheema, not fruit, mutton or shredded chicken or something." There is this kinda hush situation followed by a crepe of embarrassment and then a fellow countrywoman turns to me and says, "you didn’t know mince pies are sweet?" "No," I say, "didn’t have a clue, always thought they were like steak and kidney pies, only squishy." She gives a dry, mirthless laugh, as if to say she didn’t know this was an evening for intellectual slumming, where did this one come from, what sort of people are they calling to parties these days, gatecrashers!!

"Where do you live, says another guest, you have never eaten a mince pie. " "No, I say, never, read about it in the books but never really eaten one. Come to think of it, never knew what black pudding was, always thought it was one of those caramel custard things burnt black. " Countrywoman gives a shrill little trill and says, "where do you live, in the boonies, she thought black pudding was sweet, oh this is funny." And all these people from my part of the world they are apologising for my faux pas and prattling on about their impressive relationships with mince pies and the westerners are all looking at me pitifully as if I was one of those drifters who had drifted in and shouldn’t have, and I am looking at this tableau in awe and wondering why I should be ashamed of not knowing there isn’t any mince in a mince pie. Peasant.

Member of the great unwashed. Plebe. So down market, country bumpkin. Guess where these
unspoken but highly articulate remarks are coming from. My own kind. They are red-faced for me and on the way back to the car park I overhear this lady tell her husband, that journalist is so gauche, I mean what will they think of us, we don’t even know what is in a mince pie. And the husband, he is nodding wisely and looking ever so worldly, like he was the world’s leading authority on mince pies and had been fed black pudding along with gripe water in Ludhiana or whatever. By 'they' the lady evidently means the western element at the party. By 'us' she as obviously means all brown billion of us, the majority of which she would not like to associate with, seeing as how they won’t be tops on their mince pie knowhow. If it wasn’t all so tragic it would be mind-boggling funny.

Before I got into the party I also got into my stride and confessed that I was 28 or thereabouts when I learnt that Steak Tartare was raw meat and that the exotic sounding Mulligatawny soup was derived from the Indian words “Mullak thani,” meaning ‘country water’, or simply, lentil soup. I had no idea that a scone was a round piece of cake rather than some exotic food item slathered with hot, melting butter. As for a macaroon I thought it was stretched macaroni. So
what? No one was impressed, not after I had mince pie on my face. With pieces of fruit in it. And then I turned to Allyson and I said, so how come they didn’t just call it sticky fruit pie. And I bet Allyson has no idea what puttu is anyway so we are quits!