Ever Have a Basil Fawlty Moment?


2841982Oh yes… I too can be as oblivious, nervous, and socially inept as Basil Fawlty–whom John Cleese brought to life with brilliant clarity. Certainly I avoid that, don’t we all? But sometimes that aspect of self just vomits itself right out into the open. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever goose-stepped around, wearing a finger-under-the-nose Hitler Mustache before a family of Germans, knowing full well you should not have mentioned “the war?” Well, I have!

OK, it wasn’t that bad, but the episode in question was just as absurd and embarrassing, at least in retrospect.

Last night I met Lala Rukh, the amazing Pakistani chef–you know, finalist in the MasterChef USA cook-off. She even stopped by my room (family in tow) last night during a party, as I was desperately interested in learning to cook “Indian food.”

Wait… did you catch that?

I hope you did, ’cause the whole story hinges upon your catching that. Sit back, I intend to fully expose my ignorance as this whole story unfolds…

Allow me to set the stage… it’s worth it. See, here’s the super stupid part about all of what I am about to confess. Knowing that I am personally obsessed with Hinduism and Indian culture, I was very happy to have seen a copy of her book prior to her visit. I was happy to have noted that she was Pakistani, NOT from India per se. I was so happy to know this, ’cause I didn’t want to meet her and rabbit on about Indian and Hindu this and Indian and Hindu that. I made a mental note, a BIG strong poster-board sized mental note/sign, that evidently had fallen down overnight, landed in a puddle, and had been trodden on until the magic marker bled and I could no longer read said sign. The thing is, I do know and understand something of the tensions between Pakistan and India, I do know something of the dramatic history–though not enough, and this is why I was so appalled after the fact. I knew what a gaff it was, I knew I had “mentioned the war.”

So, the very first thing I did when I met her at the party was forget entirely that I was so pleased to have known she was from Pakistan, so of course I enthused over how happy I was to be learning to cook “Indian food” Being a kind, gentle, and all-too patient woman, she simply stared at me sweetly, perhaps hoping I would get my shit together, no such luck, Lala.

She and her family (4 of them!) all stopped by my room to sell me (and sign) a copy of her book. I, of course, had seemingly entirely forgotten my revelation the other night about her being Pakistani, and proudly talked about my Indian wedding quilt and altar… and of course I enthusiastically repeated how thrilled I was at the opportunity to learn to cook “Indian food.” Any mistake worth its salt is worth repeating, right? OK, this wasn’t as bad as goose stepping about in Hitler guise before a horrified family of Germans, but it was no less as ridiculous. And I, just like sad old Basil Fawlty, had known full well, in advance of the whole visit, that I was not supposed to “mention the war.”

Oh, did I mention that I bowed to her and her family as they left? What the fuck was up with that? I mean, I bow to everyone, being a practicing Hindu and having spent a couple years in South Korea, bowing is just second nature, so it’s not that unusual for me; is rather matter-of-fact, actually. Being as good natured as she is, she simply bowed in return, and her and her family excised themselves from the room of this idiot (that idiot being me, in this–and most–cases).

Here’s the real rub… at least Basil Fawlty had an excuse… a head injury! My excuse? I’m working on that… but I’m afraid I just don’t have an excuse, beyond my nervous and chronic (if not terminal) inability to function socially. Actually, that’s a pretty good excuse, fair enough, but had I had a traumatic brain injury prior to meeting her I would feel a lot better about myself. I was tempted to return to her and the party with a bandage wrapped around my head, but all I could find in my bathroom were some Muppet Band-Aids… I don’t know, but somehow showing up with a head covered in a patchy arrangement of Muppet Band-Aids just didn’t seem like it was going to make anything better.

I sent an apology, which is all well and good, but what really kills me, what really really plagues me is knowing without a shadow of a doubt, that I will do shit like this again and again and again. And that is the part that’s really hard to live with… isn’t it?

Addendum: I would like to add that I just cooked my first meal from this cookbook (two dishes)… and they were flawless! I highly recommend her book, if you want Pakistani food made easy and approachable! I can’t wait to try some other recipes. You can find Lala’s book at lalacookspunjabi.com

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