A Chance Meeting With A King
Just two blocks from our Fifth Avenue studio was a wonderful Indian restaurant called the Shalimar. Located on East 29th Street between Madison and Park avenues, it was considered by many to be the best of its kind in New York. In fact, one time we when were doing a job for Air India the client remarked on how lucky we were to be so near to such tasty food. So we began taking our clients there for lunch, and sometimes went by ourselves for dinner after work.
One time in 1979 my business partner Jim Houghton and I went for our usual dinner. At the table next to us was seated a quite distinguished-looking Middle-Eastern gentleman who was dining alone and receiving extra attention from the wait staff. At one point he turned to us and remarked that this was indeed the very best Indian restaurant in town, and that he came here every time he was in New York. He then said "let me introduce myself — I am the King of Afghanistan."
And indeed he was. He then went on to recount the troubles visited upon his nation by the Soviet occupation (1979-1989), and how he had gone into exile and was now living in Rome. His meal finished, he rose and said goodbye as the entire restaurant staff practically bowed to him. They also did not present him with anything as crass as a bill.
After he left, the owner came over to us and expounded on how honored his restaurant was to serve the king whenever he was in town.
Mohammed Zahir Shah (portrait, right) was born in 1914, educated in France, and became king in 1933 at the tender age of 19 — although real power remained in the hands of his uncles until the 1960s. His main achievement was in opening his landlocked country to the West and in creating a national university. He was deposed in 1973 by a cousin opposed to those reforms, living in exile in Rome until his return to Kabul in 2002. There he renounced the title of king and was given the new title of "Father of the Nation." Seriously ill and frail, he died at his home in Kabul's Presidential Compound in 2007.
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