What better way to begin my blogging career than to write about the most important thing in life: lunch.
For all you single unattached living-by-yourself men out there, I can already see you nodding. Alas, what a struggle it is daily for us qualified professionals to put some decent food on our plates at lunchtime. If only it were as simple as dinner, where we have the time to hunt for food without being encumbered by meetings or phone calls or coworkers breathing hellfire and brimstone down our necks. For dinner we can whip out our phonebooks and call our single unattached women friends and friend families in search of food. At least as many as we have time for before Swad and Thai Kitchen and Trudy’s close their doors for the night, I mean. If not, well there’s always Maggi.
There was a time when lunch used to come in a box which Amma packed into my school bag. Those were the days. Mine was usually a modest affair in keeping with my needs; a few dosas with chutney maybe, or some curd rice and vegetables. But I’ve seen bigger. Real South Indians know about the multi-layer tower lunch box made of armor-grade steel, with a steel clamp and spoon wedged at the top to hold the assembly securely shut from invading Mongol hordes. I remember classmates working through five- or six-layer towers of feed with hardly any time left over to digest it all over Kings in the boys’ playground. Needless to say they would get similar portions for other meals at home. These former classmates of mine now throw their weight around as adults. Some are born great, some achieve their greatness, and some have their greatness thrust into them morsel by morsel. Especially those Mallu friends who used to bring rice with grains of outlandish proportions (parboiled rice, I think). "May I taste those potatoes in your lunch box?" "What potatoes? Those are just grains of rice. See?"
Kings was our post-lunch game for years. Now that’s a game some of these soft middle-aged corporate types could use to trim off all the layers they worked hard for years to attain. What could be more effective than the urgency of running in a Kings game in the tropical midday sunshine from a boy who has a rubber ball that he will lob hard at your legs to make you "out"? Sadly I never used to last very long, preferring to lurk in the shadows and surrender when the attack came rather than being the hero who held out till the last. I wonder whether I should have chosen the latter course. I might even have grown a muscle or two somewhere in my legs.
Anyhow, for people of all ages and situations, lunch has its accompanying games. For some it is the game of chatting up the cute members of the opposite sex in college. "Hi, your face looks familiar. Have we met before? My name is Inderjit. May I join you at your table?" (We used to have a lot of that going on at IITB. Really. Don’t laugh.) For others, it is the game of soliciting Amway memberships at the company cafeteria. "Hi, your face looks familiar. Have we met before? My name is Inderjit. May I join you at your table?" For some, it is the game of showing pictures of their baby or cat or dog to all who don’t manage to escape. "Hi Inderjit, we met last week over lunch, remember? I brought those photos of Timmy today. Wouldn’t you like to see them? Hey, wait!" And for the lowest life forms, it is the game of clicking through Slashdot over a bowl of cafeteria salad at their desks. "Welcome InderjitSingh. You have 5 moderator points — use ’em or lose ’em!" Most of these are guys.
Here in Austin we have our own game of eating lunch out. Once or twice a week, four of us meet in front of bldg 5 and go out for lunch. Drive, order, chat, eat, pay and drive back. That’s my idea of a dream lunch. If only it were that simple. It has got to be preceded by the game.
It starts innocuously enough, with the four of us piling into M’s VW. Us two guys sit in front, leaving the rear seat free for the girl-girl bonding between Chubby and Appy. M starts his car and puts it into gear. “Okay junta, where to?”
All of us being broad-minded and eclectic in our culinary tastes, we are all quite flexible. The game goes somewhat like this.
"Oh, anywhere is fine." As long as it isn’t Mexican or Chinese, is what that means. Over time we have all learnt to read between the lines.
"Me? I’m flexible too. No pizza though. I just had some last night."
"Hey, how about the pasta bar?"
"No, that always takes too long. I have a meeting in 45 minutes."
"And it has too much cheese. I’m cutting down."
Meanwhile M has started cruising down the street, mentally striking off all the joints along the wayside from our list since none of them will meet our criteria. Ever. "I’m hungry, I want to eat lots today."
"Hullo, I said I have a meeting, remember?"
"Okay, how about Pho Thai Sun?"
"No no, their stuff is too smelly."
"And Wan Fu is out because we don’t want to eat Chinese, right?"
"Right baba, no Chinese today."
And so it goes — the game. There have been days when we cruised around for hours and hours playing the game in that dark blue VW in the Texas sun with the smoke of hunger and frustration coming out of our ears before we could reach a decision. Girl bonding happens in the back seat and geek talk and car talk happens in the front seat during breaks from the game. It is a close battle of wits and nerve, with numerous thrusts and parries turning the tide of victory one way or the other. Usually one or more of us gives in and we reach a compromise. It’s usually Subway or this joint called Java Noodles.
"Oh, come on in. Table for four? Will it be the usual L5 for you sir?"
Such are the games of lunch.
More later. It’s nearly dinner time. I need to make some phone calls…