At the Colaba Delhi Darbar last night, I was having dinner (dabba gosht and jhinga masala) with an Indian who had just managed to return from Kuwait. He took out a Kuwaiti ten-dinar note from his pocket, passed it around, and said: "When we went to bed, this note was worth Rs. 700. When we got up in the morning, it was worthRs. 70, and that too if you were lucky."
Though they were all rich in Kuwait, my friend was among the richer Indians there. Not that such distinctions mattered any more; when the first tank rolled into Kuwait, everybody became equal - paupers.
He was living in a multi-storeyed apartment block, next to Sheikh Al-Sabah Al-Malik or whatever's palace. There sides of his bedroom with large picture windows faced the Gulf and the sea, from the fourth side he could see the famous water-towers and the palace.
"It was awakened by the sound of firing, " he said. By now, the entire first-floor of the restaurant was listening, its dabba gosht (speciality of the day) forgotten and getting cold. Now that it really mattered, the food at the Colaba Delhi Darbar is almost always served lukewarm to cold, never piping, hot. Mr. Jafferbhai Monsoori to note.
"When I saw tanks surrounding the Emir's palace, then I knew something was seriously wrong," my friend said. He came down to a friend's flat on the ground-floor, having learnt somewhere that that was the safest place to be in times of war. As it tured out, it was not so safe, a bomb burst almost in the flat, though they were saved because of the main impact being absorbed by a Volvo parked immediately outside the flat.
My friend has (had) a large wholesale business in Kuwait, of building materials, paper, foodstuff. Rs. 1 crore worth of stuff had just been imported and stocked in the warehouse. Two days later, when he left Kuwait in his Mercedes-Benz, he simply locked the warehouse and left if to fate and the conquering army.
It took him another fortnight and his gold credit card to make it to Baghdad, the Turkish border, back to Baghdad, Amman and finally Bombay.
And there he was with his ten dinats that nobody was prepared to exchange in Bombay. I sympathised and insisted on paying the bill for our dinner.