Giving credit where it is due

How I learnt the many meanings of the English word ‘due’ and ‘self-service’

Back in July 2007, while living in Kathmandu I had most of my evening meals at Angan’s Tripureswar outlet, since at the time I had no clue how to cook a proper meal.

The most I could manage was to make tea, haluwa, and chauchau, which I did not care much for during my pregnancy. But since I had a huge appetite, every evening I would be at my table at Angan for a South Indian thali and sweets, and even pack some dhokla for later at night. 

On my first visit to Angan, I sat down and patiently waited for someone to take my order. Five minutes later, I was still waiting. I called a waiter over, and said, “Menu दिनु न.”

“यहाँ त प्रीपेड सेल्फ-सर्भिस हो।” he replied in an offhand manner, telling me to order at the counter, pay and get a receipt. 

Thanks to Nepal Telecom, I understood what a ‘pre-paid’ service was. But I had no concept of a ‘self-service’ restaurant with waiters. Looking around, I noticed everyone was getting their own food and refilling water glasses themselves. 

I grasped the concept of self- service, but I was not all that thrilled about it. If I went to a restaurant, I preferred to be served at the table no matter where I was. It was probably the only time I was not excited to learn something new in English, and I regretted choosing that outlet. But it was already 7PM and I was starving, and did not have the energy to search for another place to eat since I was new to the area then.

I lazily made my way to the counter, I placed my order, paid, and returned to my seat. I had sworn to myself that I would not set foot in this place again, but for today, I let it slide. My hunger was unbearable, causing me to constantly glance towards the counter, anxiously checking my receipt number. 

To distract myself, I started playing snake games on my tiny Nokia 1100 phone. I was completely engrossed in the game, oblivious to the fact that someone had already placed a glass of water on my table. When another customer’s number was called, I finally looked up and noticed the water before me. 

To my pleasant surprise, a gentleman approached my table with a tray of food. A wave of happiness washed over me. “If you need more water or anything else, feel free to order from here,” the man kindly informed me.

I was truly impressed by how well they treated me that day. They were always checking in to see if I required anything, if the food was too spicy, or if I needed a refill of water. I completely forgot about the negative impression I had of the place just 20 minutes earlier.

That July, 17 years ago, I practically dined at Angan every evening. I would take a seat and a waiter would promptly come to take my order. They always offered me water as soon as I sat down, and never failed to bring an extra sweet treat. It felt like I was eating in the comfort of my own home. One rainy day, they even gave me an umbrella to go home.

In early August, my landlady offered to cook for me as well. I gladly accepted and paid her for meals four times on the weekends and twice during the weekdays. Due to the rainy season, she was concerned about my safety and did not want me slipping and getting hurt. I appreciated her gesture and stopped going to Angan. I am not sure who owned Angan or managed the Tripureswar outlet in 2007, but I am still thankful to them to introduce a newcomer to Kathmandu about the concept of ‘self-service’. 

It may be late, considering my daughter is now nearly 17 years old, but I still have a soft spot for the outlet and want to give gratitude where it is due. Oh, and ‘due’ is a word the versatility of which I discovered at about the same time.

I was sad and frustrated. More sad than frustrated, more nervous than sad. And scared. It had been 42 weeks, and there was still no sign of labour pain. The doctor had given the all-clear just two days earlier, but the absence of any sign of labour was puzzling. 

I was at a computer shop in Jhamsikhel to fix my laptop. The technician was trying to figure out what the problem was. I was distracted, and could not relax. Even though it was September, I was sweating.

Looking at me, a friendly middle-aged foreign-looking man at the shop asked in English, “May I ask when you’re due?” 

I was as big as an elephant, and he was not much smaller. I noticed he had squeezed himself into the corner of the sofa to make room for me. His kindness touched me, but I did not understand his question especially the word ‘due’. I smiled faintly, indicating I was not interested in responding.

Not only was he kind, but intelligent too. He figured out this was a language issue, and cleverly combined sign language with words, pointing towards my belly, asking, “When is the baby coming out?”

“I don’t know,” I said in fright. 

I noticed his eyes widen behind his glasses, but before he could interrogate me further, the  technician told me to come back later in the day for my laptop. I hurriedly exited the store.

Once outside, I headed to a cyber cafe and googled the word ‘due’. I was surprised to see that a simple three letter English word had so many meanings:

1. Adjective: Expected at or planned for at a certain time. “The baby’s due in August”

2. Of the proper quality or extent.

“driving without due care and attention”

3. Noun: one’s right,what is owed to one. “He thought it was his due.”

4. An obligatory payment, a fee.

“He had paid trade union dues for years.”

5. Adverb (with reference to a point of the compass) exactly; directly.

“We’ll head due south again on the same road.”

Looking back now, I chuckle at my attempts to learn English in such baffling situations in Nepal. More in the next episode. 

Anbika Giri is a novelist and author of children’s books in Nepali. Angrezi is her monthly column in Nepali Times about learning English in Nepal. Read earlier instalments of Angrezi, here.