I was invited to dine at the house of a relative of mine who happened to be a relic of the Portuguese era. I was awfully late for the show; my hostess was extremely polite and waved aside my insincere apology with the same brand of duplicity. She placed my purse atop her ornate sideboard and elegantly guided me to the dining room.
The food court was resplendent with delicately carved chairs around a long wooden table, adorned with a white damask tablecloth. A huge fusion of the most exquisite and expensive blooms was in the centre. And there around it was my dinner and the guests who were already tucking in! My face fell; I had already missed the appetizer – a delicious crab soup, served with white-something.
I sat down in the seat earmarked for me (my hostess had taken pains to make placements for her guests) and looked to my right, then to my left. Nobody I knew sat next to me. So I mustered a shy smile at one, and, having received nothing but a cold stare back, I turned 180 degrees with great hope in my heart. Hell! The gates of Hades had frozen twice over!
I looked down at the table and froze myself. In front of me were an array of forks, knives and spoons of varying sizes. What was I to do with them, I thought? I was sorely tempted to poke my frozen neighbors in the ribs with a fork, being too timid to envisage stabbing them in the back with the knife, but I let this wicked thought float out of the room with the soup bowls.
The main course began and all the invitees picked up fork, spoon and knife with the precision of veteran surgeons, cutting and lifting and chewing like nobody’s business, occasionally washing the portions down with dainty sips from the sparkling goblets at the side. I just sat there, dumbstruck, until my hostess, espying me not tucking in like the rest, enquired if I was not pleased with the fare.
And to my utter horror, she served me a portion of tender lamb and some potatoes, ladled a spoonful of sauce and vegetables and urged me to “Try this”. I lifted a fork to pick at the peas in the vegetable section, heard a soft gasp and put it down (I learnt later that I had picked up the dessert fork). I tried the spoon-n-fork routine but, not knowing in which hand to hold the fork and in which the spoon, I made a blunder, naturally, and earned several negative points from my disapproving audience. Steadily peering into my plate like it was a long-lost lover, I kept chewing and swallowing stoically and sparingly until I had finished. Main course over, the coffee and dessert came around; I opted for a cup of coffee. There is no protocol for that; one just has to sip and savor. I licked my frothy fawn moustache and earned a few more negative points. At long last, it was time to leave. I thanked my hostess, grabbed my purse on the way out and beat a hasty retreat home.
There, in the company of my husband and children, I gave thanks to God, broke bread with my delicate soap-washed fingers and relished each and every morsel of mutter paneer and bhaji. Then, having licked my fingers clean, I opened a box of ice-cream from the freezer and we all dug in.
One day, I hope to learn what the fork-n-spoon routine is all about, but my God-given fingers are what I love eating food with the best. I hear the Chinese use chopsticks – that seems a better option. Just two sticks, lightweight too! But I am told, like the complicated martial moves the Chinese are so famous for, the sticks also need some intricate maneuvers.
Imagine going on a journey with six sets of forks, knives and spoons! Our fingers go with us everywhere we go, so I’d rather use them to the fullest. Our fingers have been with us since birth and are at our humble service. I would vote for them any day over all the man-made gadgets ever invented to make men’s lives more complicated and cumbersome. Just as I would choose running water over all the kitchen gadgets invented to make a housekeeper’s life more comfortable and carefree.