The meeting place

When you are meeting a close friend or your date, then selecting the place to meet becomes extremely important. It’s a pity that many don’t pay much attention to this detail. The meeting place you choose, shows your taste, personality and experience.   And of course, the meeting place must resonate with the purpose of your meeting. For instance, You may not like to take your first date out in a busy Irani restaurant in Mumbai. Instead, booking a table next to the large windows of the Sea Lounge at the Taj Mahal hotel will make a better sense.  Its worth it.

My Professor friend is very particular when it comes to deciding the meeting place. His theory is that one must visit the meeting place before you invite your guest/s. He has an unbelievable knack that very few have of making the restaurant just like his home. In his very first visit, he will find out everything possible about the place; name of the owner, the chef and his culinary bests, name of the head waiter etc. He will also figure out which is the right table that should be booked. So when you will walk with him at the restaurant, you will be greeted warmly with a familiar smile, the table you will sit will be at its best, the head chef will show up to take the order personally and wines not listed in the menu will be offered. I could never figure out how does this exactly happens, may be Professor has been tipping unreasonably high or has fibbed that he is one of the senior food critiques of the Washington Post. But some tell me that the secret is his sheer personality, the unflinching confidence and a smile that commands a respect.  Anyways, the guest is simply floored with such a reception and probably agrees with whatever Professor has to say.

But meetings can also give a surprise ! I remember a funny incident in Tokyo. I was invited by a Japanese friend for coffee at Rebon Kaisaiyu, a café that was revamped after taking over an old bathhouse in Shitaya. While giving me the address and tips on the location, Chizuru (my friend) told me about the place, its 1928 architecture, that was remodelled carefully with old trees preserved around the courtyard.  She also spoke about the friendly staff at the café. They don’t play music she said and instead you can hear chirping sound of the birds. Apparently, most of the waitresses at the Café were college studying girls. I was happy with Chizuru’s choice. We were meeting after a gap of 10 years and there was so much to talk.

I reached in time. It was 5 pm. The waitress led me to a nice table overlooking the courtyard that was already booked by Chizuru. Chizuru texted me that she will be late by 30 minutes due to some urgent problem. So I asked for a roasted coffee.

It was more than 30 minutes that Chizuru didn’t show up. I tried to call her but her phone was unreachable. A recorded audio clip was played in Japanese. I decided to order another coffee.

The waitress understood that something has gone wrong. She asked me in Jinglish what the problem was. When I explained, she tried calling Chizuru from her phone. After she heard the audio clip, she told me that Chizuru’s phone was switched off. So I decided to leave.

The waitress, her name Honoka, asked me if she could sit with me after she brings in my second coffee. She was OK as her duty time was getting over in next 5 minutes. She told me that I must enjoy coffee sitting in the courtyard and not leave so soon. “You from India? So far away!!” she exclaimed with a smile. Honoka was studying the subject of urban planning in Tokyo University. And she wanted to practice speaking English!

So instead of conversations with my friend Chizuru, I spent next 45 minutes with Honoka. Honoka told me so much about her life (as she probably knew that I won’t be seeing her again). The sentences were short and the words were direct and simple – as she struggled with English. She asked for my advice a few times as if it mattered. I enjoyed both the meeting place Rebon Kaisaiyu and my conversations with Honoka. When I reached hotel, there was a long message of apologies from Chizuru explaining her phone batteries were down and her father had an emergency that she had to attend to.

Other day, I was to meet a few students in Pune to discuss their internships with my company. We decided to meet in the morning. I asked my school mates and Pune based relatives about their recommendations for the meeting place. There were so many different suggestions – sometimes contradicting between each other. Some friends took this “ask” as a project and I was flooded with suggestions and follow ups. All were curious which meeting place I would finally choose. I then realized that each one of us has something favorite to suggest as a meeting place based on our experience and the recommendation is so personal.

“Oh, Dr Modak, you should have asked me. Café one o eight at Koregaon Park is the right place for environmental conversations” Professor quipped.

I was aghast with Professors knowledge

Other day, while sitting in his library, Professor shared with me an album with his pictures with friends at some of the charming places in the world. At the back of every picture, Professor had neatly written names of the people in the photograph, name and location of the meeting place and the date.  I thought that was quite meticulous of him. But to my surprise, I realized that he had also kept copies of the bills and on some of the bills, I saw signatures of those who had joined the meeting and enjoyed Professors company. That was amazing.

I too even today have kept a bill of the restaurant that I had taken out my first date. The restaurant was on the Juhu beach in Mumbai. The bill shows a 8” inch pizza and a beer that was shared. There is however no photograph nor any signatures on that bill (and I wish we did) – as everything in life later got washed away like sands on the Juhu beach.

The meeting place however still remains, perhaps as a memory to several like me.

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