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Posted at: May 17, 2018, 2:42 AM; last updated: May 17, 2018, 2:42 AM (IST)

The comedy of the fork and knife

The comedy of the fork and knife
Illustration: Sandeep Joshi

Priya Tandon

Dining out seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, in many a get-together with family and friends. Gone are the days, when a simple home-cooked meal was sufficient to celebrate. I happened to be a part of a group of friends at a dinner hosted at a Chinese restaurant in honour of Robin, who had just returned after completing a Masters in Finance from London. The young lad was plump, yet prim and proper, his hair tied back in a man-bun. 

For us vegetarians, the menu was kimchi salad, corn and spinach rolls, dim sums and mocktails, progressing to ninestrone soup followed by a main course of schezwan rice, hakka noodles, stir-fried noodles, chilli paneer and exotic vegetables in black bean sauce. I placed the food on to my plate and said a silent prayer. I usually do so before my meal.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Robin staring at me. I smiled at him. He asked, “Auntie, what were you doing?” I said, “I was saying my prayer. It’s a shloka in Sanskrit that I say before eating.”  “Can you teach me?” He sat next to me and put food on his plate. I recited at a volume audible to just him and me:  

“Harir daata Harir bhokta

Harir annam Prajaapati

Harir vipra shareerastu

Bhookte bhojayathe Hari.”

“This means, Oh Lord Hari! You are the food; you are the enjoyer of the food; you are the giver of food. Therefore, I offer all that I consume to you.”

He looked very happy as I finished. He recorded it in his phone. Somehow he had just endeared himself to me and I thought, “London educated, Chinese food lover, designer suit, funky hairstyle, yet so Indian at heart!” I watched Robin meticulously dissecting the dim sums and carefully dipping them in sweetened soy sauce, before savouring them and voicing the compliments in his newly acquired British accent.

Each dish was a testament to the culinary skills of the chef. Robin ate with unusual gusto. A short while later, when most of us were done eating, I noticed that quite a few folks had left their cutlery carelessly strewn on the table. Robin in his affected accent, asked the waiter to call the chef. Minutes later, the chef came, wearing a broad smile. Robin, I noticed, had meticulously inter-woven into a cross the business ends of his fork and knife over his plate.

The chef’s eyes fell on the crossed fork and knife and his smile transformed into a frown. “Is something wrong, sir?” he asked anxiously.  Robin looked at him in all earnestness and said, “I wanted to tell you that I never had such a meal before. What should I say about the black bean sauce? I have sampled Chinese food in half a dozen countries but it never tasted like this.”  With each passing moment, the look on the face of the chef became more and more sombre. He said, “Sir, I’m very sorry if you didn’t like the food. Can I get you something else? Maybe some freshly brewed Chinese tea or darsaan with ice-cream for dessert?”

Robin looked baffled as he said, “My friend, I’m saying that the food was fantabulous!” The chef said, “In that case sir, let me help you ...” He reached out to disentangle the blade of the knife from the tines of the fork; deftly moved their handles to the left, while turning their business ends to the centre of the plate. He stifled a smile, as he nodded to the waiter to clear the dishes.

Robin looked around confused. A few days later, I got a WhatsApp message, “Hi auntie. This is Robin. Just wanted to tell you that I play your food prayer recording before every meal.  And I am enjoying it…thanks a million!”  That floored me! 

Ironically, I happened to visit the same restaurant a fortnight later, to attend a ladies lunch. A closer look brought to my attention, a pictorial representation of the form and style of leaving the cutlery, after a meal. Amused, I looked up to find the chef looking down at me, with that all-knowing smile! “How are you today, ma’am?” he asked courteously.  

As we left, I read the slogan on the back of the jacket of a youngster ahead, ‘Po-body’s N-erfect!’ Noticing he had a man-bun, I walked faster to see who it was. Sure enough … who else, but Robin! My mind flew back to the comedy of the fork and the knife, and I smiled in greeting. A thought crossed my mind, “Maybe not perfect, but no doubt good at heart!” And, just to set the record straight, ‘Po-body’s N-erfect! Uh! I mean, Nobody’s Perfect … we are all human!’

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