The Orange County was decked up like a pretty bride, much to the delight of its loyal guests and faithful staff. It was the anniversary celebrations and the entire Manipal Centre was going into a carnival mode. The Wild West themed county was the best and the most hip restaurant in Bangalore, right in the heart of the central business district. It was famous for its mouth watering steaks and pizzas and the mini burgers were fondly nicknamed as ‘Honey I shrunk the kids’.

Chef Abraham Varghese was a crowd puller.Ready to please every guest with his personalised service, he knew the guests not only by their faces, but also by their discerning taste buds. “Why don’t you try our most popular item- the Deep, our star seafood dish? The prawns and the squids have just landed straight from the ocean into my baked casserole!” He called the pizzasthe Corleone family, after theinfamous Italian family. The Times of India awarded the menu as the most creative ever. As the Food and Beverage Manager, it was an uphill task to match the services to the exemplary cuisine. But we pulled it off, with proactive staff and attentive service. The winding, long queues during the weekends and the general table wait for an hour, was the proof of the pudding.

We had another great USP – The Guitar Man, the soul of the restaurant. His playful, mischievous and nostalgic country songs, lent a certain ring to the air. No meal was complete without being accompanied by his tunes. Dressed in a cowboy costume with a Stetson hat and a dummy revolver holster strap, Allan Rego looked the typical Wild West movie star: Rugged face, muscular build and a beard that complemented him. His endearing, yet dreamy, smile attracted everyone and his charm engulfed the guests wholly. His mouth organ would sit on a sleek stand, just inches away from his mouth, suspended from his hat,much like a dancers mike. All he did was gently nudge the organ to his lips and it would bring out the melodious notes. The guitarwould comealive,as the magical fingers would start strumming.

That day, he was in an upbeat mood, being the man of the moment, belting out all his favourite numbers, ‘Congratulations and Celebrations’, ‘Coward of the County’ and ‘The Gambler’. The guests were having a great time lunching. He was the quintessential man… I went up to him and said, “Allan, after lunch,be ready to go around Manipal Centre on a horse back, strumming your guitar and singing.” I had planned to show him off, bring the traffic at Manipal Centre to a halt and be written about in the papers the next day. The main aim was to attract some attention and it worked. There was a big traffic jam at the T -junction when Allan came out with a posse of cheerleader girls. They sang and danced right on the road, singing ‘We are the World’ and ‘American Pie’. The traffic police forced us into the central quadrangle and threatened us with dire consequences. Nevertheless, I was satisfied. Let us face the boss another day, by then things would have cooled down and some positive publicity would have come to my rescue.

Allan was not just a great musician, but also a true friend to many, including me. My meal would seem incomplete if he wasn’t there singing Elton John’s Nikita. He was a confidante to many too –some of the guests would discuss their personal issues with Allan. His music was a solace to everybody. There was an uncanny quality in him and one could not dislike him. Behind the big façade of a macho man, Allan had a kind heart and a ready to mingle attitude. He had an unwritten rule – make all the guests happy by the end of the day, but get really close to three people. I hadseenguests’ look and feel better after their quota of songs and some entertainment from our cowboy. Probably, it was the healing smile that did the trick. I was happy too, as business was booming. Amusingly, there used to be some days when our man would go into the depths and cast a pall of gloomin the restaurant. He would sing ‘Bye Bye Love,’ or Elton’s John’s‘Sacrifice’! It was amazing to see the guests merge with his feelingsand start looking gloomy! “Allan, I would not take your sad songs for a minute, I will pack you off right now,” I would threaten him, but to no avail.The sad strums would fill the air and the food too would look depressing. I used to dread those moments…

Our mornings at home were quite hectic, seeing the kid off to school and having to report to work by nine. But that morning was different. It was my daughter Aabana’s birthday. That morning, wetook a long stroll around the apartment block to invite the neighbours for the evening bash. Getting her ready was a major problem, as always. Finally, as I got her into her new frock and shoes, I said, “Darling, we will have a great party in the evening. Make sure that you are the first to arrive. Tell me all your school stories once you get back home. I will keep the ten candles and the goodies in place.”

At six in the evening, the friends were ushered in, with their smiles matching the colourful streamers and cartoon characters. My colleagues, too, dropped in to see the little Princess. Chef Abraham had made a chocolate cake that looked sinful, full of calories and topped with yummy, gooey purple jelly. Aabana had her little hands around the carving knife, ready to slice the cake. As she raised it, the familiar strains of the guitar wafted in, filling everyone’s sense like a storm. She threw the knife and ran towards the door, where he was making little progress trying to come in through so many people. She jumped on to him and hugging him, shoutinggleefully – “Allan uncle… sing my happy birthday song please?”

The request was made and he adeptly sang, continuing for an hour nonstop, all thoughts of the cake forgotten. He had let go of his regular work at the Orange County to be with my daughter. What a well-meaning soul, he needn’t have done this. Merriment and laughter continued unabated. Finally, I said, “Look kids I think we need to cut the cake and sing happy birthday.” Everyone rushed towards the cake, which tasted heavenly. Obviously, she fed the first piece to her beloved G uncle. He gifted her a mini guitar, which she took to bed for many years on.

Aabana is twenty now, and she still goes on a flashback mode and remembers one of her best days ever with her guitar man.

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