Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hungry Games

In a packed tent at the Winter Food Festival, I marvelled at the kinship of the people. There was no religion or colour or language that differentiated them. They grabbed vacant seats and shared space with fellow-thinkers; devoured chicken, fish, parotta, biriyani, barnacles, squid, cauliflower, peas, paneer; burped, sweated, farted; spoke with good cheer, mouth full; even the kids seemed benign. I inched closer to the counter, eager to join the gastronomic revelry.  
A lady jumped the queue, ‘Give me fish curry.’
‘Madam, please stand in the queue,’ the lady serving at the counter smiled and politely said.
‘Look, we have already started eating. Do you expect my family to have the curry after they have finished the rest of the food?’
Impeccable logic, I felt.
But, the lady standing in the queue, in front of me, protested, ‘We would also like to start eating.’
I nodded my head at that too.
The lady in need of fish curry ignored us, ‘Give me fish curry now.’
I wanted to intervene and say, ‘Give madam her fish curry. Let her family eat. We can wait.’ But then, the two ladies would have joined forces, ‘Who are you to decide that? Men and their opinions...’
The serving lady addressed the lady in front of me, ignoring the lady who had jumped the queue, ‘Madam, what would you like?’
‘Vegetable curry and pulao...’
The serving lady placed a bowl of curry in front of her.
The lady inspected the curry and asked, ‘Is that vegetable curry?’
‘Yes madam.’
‘It looks like fish curry.’
‘It is vegetable curry.’
The lady dipped her finger and tasted it, ‘It tastes like fish curry.’
‘Madam, shall I give it to her instead?’ she indicated the other lady.
‘No, I will take it.’
I wanted to tell her, ‘If vegetable curry tastes like fish curry, isn’t that good? You get both for the price of one, no?’ But then, I kept that too to myself.
Then, the serving lady asked me, ‘Sir, do you mind if serve her first?’ She indicated the lady in need of fish curry for her hungry family.
‘Of course, of course,’ I said.
She placed a bowl of curry on the table.
The lady asked, ‘Are you sure this is not vegetable curry?’
‘100% sure, just taste it.’
Then, I was next.
‘Sir, what would you like?’
‘Tapioca, fish curry and fried squid.’
‘Sorry sir, no more fish curry. That lady got the last bowl. No tapioca or squid either. That’s also over.’
I swallowed the protest within me.
‘Give me whatever you have.’ Anything to enter the world of the eaters...

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