Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Eating Alone Can Prompt You to Get Married.

'You're not as young as you think you are.'

That remark brought the grinding of my jaws to a halt. For the first time in my life did I find it difficult to chew on a tender Paneer piece. How did things get to this?

As usual, my parents are to blame. Not in the Freudian sense. They were out of town for a couple of days. My culinary skills won't win me praises and I don't have it in me to cook. Especially at 11 in the night. So, I found myself at the quintessential Indian restaurant. You know the types. The kind of place you can take your family to without feeling you've carved a big hole in your pocket. The kind of place where the food is bland but not boring. The kind of place where there's no service charge (so, you must tip) and even if they add VAT, you won't feel as if an extra person joined you for the meal.

As it is custom in most restaurants, they directed me to the most inhospitable spot. That's what happens to us lone customers. We get the worst seats. And things don't get any better. Order the same item as a large group at the same time and the large group will get served first. There will be a waiter hovering around them. Holler for the waiter and he'd simply nod an acknowledgement. As if between his nods, you'd find a way to address whatever issue you were having. You can't blame anyone for this. It's simple customer relationship management. Large groups bring in more money. So there's little sense in treating us small fish well.

I've grown accustomed to this ill-treatment. Sitting next to grumpy middle-aged men and having dinner doesn't feel strange. Most of these chumps are in the city on business or men whose wives are out of town. Yesterday, I found myself seated against a jovial middle-aged man. He was wolfing down a biryani. He acknowledged my presence with a smile. See, this is rare. Men who eat at around 11 in the night don't acknowledge each other. Least of all with a smile. A couple of middle-aged women were seating next to us and were ordering what can only be called a little pulmonary disorder inducing feast. So, there was little space for me keep my food. This man promptly moved his empty plates in a corner and let me have some room at the table. I thanked him sincerely. Saying to myself, 'What a nice, guy.'

As if reading my thoughts, he indulged me in a conversation. Explaining how he didn't like eating here. Not like this, at least. He added that his wife was out of town because her brother had a child. When I congratulated him on this, he blankly blinked at me. He ranted about long hours without his wife's lovingly cooked meals. He said he was happy to have her back home the next day.

I thought that would be it. I thought now there'd be some peace and quiet between me and biryani but he interrupted. Again. He asked me, 'So, where's your wife at?' This man had been nice to me. So against my better judgement, I indulged him, 'Um, I haven't found her yet.'

He was shocked to learn I wasn't married. I told him I was still too young. He then made an inquiry about my age and when I told him I was just 24 (24 years, 2 months to be precise). He then scientifically concluded that I wasn't that young. Which took me by surprise. See, all my life I've been young. Because, well, I've lived among people older than me. Everyone in class was usually a year older than me. My brother is 7 years older than me. I was the youngest guy on the team on all the 4 jobs I have had so far. I was the youngest guy to get through a prestigious fellowship. And now, I'm old. Not just that. I'm old enough to get married.

I recovered from this conversational shock. Not that it mattered. The conversation took another low. He said he was only a year older than me when he got married and so it made perfect sense for me to marry the next year. I nodded and told him, I'd rather get married  when I checked off some emotional, financial and other goals. I wasn't going to discuss with him how I wanted to marry someone I fell for. And hopefully wait till Jennifer Lawrence agreed that we were destined to be together. He wasn't the kind of guy you discussed the matters of the heart with.

I thought he'd shut up but he continued, 'You never really finish your goals. I still have to buy my home. You can't lead your life like that.' Which honestly was a sensible suggestion. You don't always meet the goals you set up for yourself. But I rescinded, 'They aren't all big goals. Like this right here - if I could cook properly and actually enjoy cooking, I'd never be here in the first place. I'd be at home eating a home-cooked meal. I just want to be self-sufficient before I get married. So that I don't get married because I want someone to do the things that I don't want to. Or won't learn to.'

He gave me a sage smile. I managed to choke on my paneer. Things were looking dark. He continued, 'What sort of goal is cooking? Better save. Save a lot. Your wedding will be expensive. It will eat into the money you have saved up for buying a home. And besides, why do you want to cook?'

I thought if I kept chewing my food in the way those wicked cowboys chew tobacco and stare down the crooks, he'd stop. Turns out my chewing isn't wicked. He added, 'And aren't you coming from office right now? At 11. Why would you want to cook this late? Best to have your wife do it all for you. I count on my wife to do all the ghar ka kaam and she counts on me to provide for her.'

I had it at that point. This man ruined paneer for me. Nothing and believe me nothing can ruin paneer for me but this man was the reigning world champion of ruining all things Paneer. I'm open to believing his wife's perfectly happy with their current 'situation'. I can give him the benefit of doubt of being a good provider. Of being a great husband even but he was rather sexist. My mother raised me while working nights as a nurse. My father cooked all the time. At times, better than her. Sorry for saying this in public, mom. So, yes, I was a little pissed. Also, this man was ruining my paneer.

I watched him glug down some falooda as he said this. In my heart, I had decided, this man ruined my paneer. And for the sake of paneer and all the women out there, I'm gonna ruin his dessert. I bought a spoonful of paneer near my mouth and said, 'I might experiment a little with my marriage. I will work from home and do all the ghar ka kaam. And I will make her do some of the providing too. You know, for kicks. Bada mazaa aayega.' 

I got onto chewing my paneer then. My alpha male style of chewing might have improved the second time around because the man promptly finished his falooda, smiled at me and left. My paneer started tasting better without the sexism in the air. That man was only around for some 7 odd minutes but I had to give him credit. Nowhere before in the history of mankind have two perfect strangers sat in a restaurant and discussed the subject of marriage this quickly. 

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