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Sunday Musings-A ‘Chilling’ Experience’

Our veteran Lt. Gen. Raj Kadyan*, who contributes History of the Day, on our news portal recounts his hilarious experience of Diplomatic Parties

Gurgaon: Jocularly, a diplomat’s life is known to rest on three pillars: protocol, alcohol and cholesterol. We had our share of all three during our Paris posting.

Hosting dinners forms an integral part of diplomatic duty. To project our country, we were expected to serve Indian food. After all were seated, the hostess would explain the dishes – most foreigners know Indian cuisine only as the ‘curry’.

Our dining table could seat twelve. To add diversity, we generally selected guests from different parts of the globe and mixed defence forces.

On one such dinner, the guest list included: the Cabezas from the Mexican Army, the Dybecks from the Swedish Navy, the Zagres from Burkina Faso Army, the Carrels from the Australian Air Force and the Sebhus from the Thai Army. As always, the spices were kept low. However, for the more adventurous, Anita had prepared chutney with red chillies that I had brought from Nagaland. The guests were warned to be careful and try only a tiny quantity of this strong stuff.

As the main course was served, our Swedish guest, who, as the frigate commander had braved out many a turbulent sea, refused to heed the advice. As if to prove his macho mettle, he put almost half a spoonful of the concoction in his mouth. For a while nothing happened and his visage continued to wear triumphant disdain. Then the chillies began to work.

Dybeck started turning red. Perspiration suddenly appeared all over his face despite the ambient December chill. Taking permission from the hostess, he loosened his tie and opened his collar button. Then he shaped his lips in a manner of whistling and made sibilant sounds. His eyes bulged. His Adam’s apple began to rock and roll. His sailor’s fortitude unhinged; he began pulling at his corn-coloured hair. Champagne failed to provide succour. Snake-like, he kept trying to hiss away the discomfort. There was all semblance of a rocket on short fuse.

The situation elicited different responses. Mrs Sebhu, sitting next to the Swede, murmured Buddhist prayers and began fanning him vigorously with her napkin. Other ladies cloyed sympathetically. Selecting some irenic music, I opened a window to let in outside air. Our Burkina Faso guest Zagre suggested a voodoo cure. Carrel, with typical Australian wit, declared, “no need for alarm, till smoke begins to come out of his ears.” Mrs Dybeck, fork pendulous in her hand, said with steadying spousal optimism, “He will be OK.”

The problem remained unabated. After some five minutes of his squirming and steaming, the hostess suddenly remembered that she had some jaggery in the store. Taking out a goodly lump of it from the jar, “Just keep it in your mouth” she told the hapless frigate Captain. This proved calmative and after a few minutes, Dybeck seemed to regain his original colour and was somewhat composed.

“Phew!” he said, eyeing the chutney with murderous hostility, “This curry is explosive.”

After the commotion had passed and the conversation returned to normal, the Mexican lady asked the hostess if they could carry home some of this curry.

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