Every day at 11.55 AM, I get a mail in my inbox from Rohan, one of my friends at work, a one liner.
"Lunch at noon sharp. See you there."
This mail is marked to about 5-6 people within our campus working in three different buildings, kind of testament to how social an activity lunch/dinner is to us Indians. Its as much about food as it is about meaningful/meaningless conversation. Some time ago I heard Yitzy mention in his blog (he is an expatriate who till recently was working in Chennai) about how surprised he was with the frequency of the question, "Had lunch?" or "Had dinner?" that he faced in India. It’s a question that would be considered a tad too nosey in other parts of the world but it’s a conversation starter with us Indians.
And so I make my way to the food court around 12 noon sharp on some days, even though am not hungry by that time, just for the company and to beat the rush hour. Yes, a consequence of the fast growth that software companies like mine contend with, the traffic at the food court is not unlike the one at the Ameerpet Cross in Hyderabad. So if you want to breathe quality oxygen and speak normally to be heard, you will either eat when you are not hungry or eat late, when all the good dishes of the day are spent. That is of course if you are not among the lucky one’s who bring their own food. Otherwise it’s hard work.
First, there’s the long line to pay for the coupons for the lunch. As we all head off in different directions to get our choice of meal for the day, we face the long line to get the food. Then begins the onerous task of finding a suitable place for 4-5 people in the free-for-all melee out there. Miraculously, you see a clean table with 7 places up for grabs with only a pretty young thing occupying a seat. As you courageously beat off competition not unlike Joe Cole running down the left flank and think for the umpteenth time that you are in the wrong profession, you find four mobiles and two hankies awaiting their food.
"Sorry, places are taken", she smiles as her pretty friends with their plates swamp around me and rescue her from my baleful gaze.
"We still have one place here, though" she smiles again. This time I notice her eyes.
My phone rings. It’s Rohan. I personally think that talking on the phone while holding a full meal of rice, couple of chapathis, dal, subjis, salad, fryums, curd and other assorted goodies is more dangerous than driving and talking but like they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
"Where are you?" he says. "We are on the third table in the fifth row next to the Mini- Meals section."
They say there are moments in a man’s life when he has to make critical choices. Those are the times when opportunity knocks on the door and the intrepid travelers of the journey called life catch it with both their hands and don’t let go. I can proudly say that till date I have never been much of a traveler (Does this answer your question Rohan, which you asked a couple of posts ago?)
Conversation during lunch is of course as varied and rich in quality as you could expect from a bunch of engineer plus MBAs working in a software company. Okay, you want me to spell it out for you, highly varied and filled with ignorance, but that’s the way we are, okay? Having a meal in peace is of course out of the question, as you cannot ignore the cacophony that a thousand people and their plates make around you. The management does their bit by providing background music through shrill speakers that none of us have been able to figure out the location of. Its not unnatural to find one of my colleagues go,
"Hey, that’s a Hindi song yaar, I thought they were playing Telegu!"
By the time, the last of us finish the meal, there are already more engineers and consultants hovering around our table like hungry vultures. It’s still not over. There’s one more line to dump the remains of the meal and the plates away and another at the wash basins. Now this is funny. Obviously we being in the high tech industry appreciate high tech stuff but I would personally like to shit on the guy who invented those infra-red taps. You stick your hand beneath them and hope that they are in good humor. You give up and remove your hands and they pour their stuff. You stick them back in, with more patience this time, only to find the tap cough out some spittle that leaks through your fingers by the time you can bring it to your mouth. Makes you look stupid, really they do.
Okay, back to work.
P.S. Man, did you watch Holland vs. Portugal? Whew, what a game!