By Aditti Ahluwalia
Eating is a social activity and food binds people alright. It forms connections and an amazing dynamics reigns over people and their meal time talks. We have seen that where some are clearly in it for the catching up, the others can be difficult to typecast. Between the varying degrees of stalkers, talkers and listeners, the conversations can range from the trials and tribulations of voguish living to those of bad partners, intrusive in laws, the straying self, the looker who inspires the inner serial killer, the sex or the lack of it, their intolerance of the intolerance in others and heaps of weirdness in between. We get to see all sorts and our conversation is no different. Now some might render it to the fleneuse in us but our unconventional hobby is marked by sheer curiosity.
Much that we remain sympathetic towards the oddities of the fellow humans, we yearn to look beyond what people choose to show. Maybe to see our own self in them, trying to elbow through one more day. People peeping isn’t an “italicised stupid” leisure pursuit. Surfing the unfamiliar, unchartered waters can be intriguing, isn’t it. And it makes one realise the importance of disconnecting with our world, to engage better with it.
I vividly recall our last visit to one ritzy diner, slap bang in the middle of this plush address that everyone seems to be frequenting nowadays. As my friend and I settled down, not in a corner, there walked in a smart woman. As she was being seated next to us, she took the liberty to “inform” us that she would soon be joined in by a noisy lot of four more and that we might want to move tables if we wished to eat in peace. Needless to say, we didn’t budge. When the God Of The Peepers Himself is serving it to us on a platter, who are we to turn it down.
This turned out to be a peculiarly bizarre discussion where the main character was sharing her plans of “fleeing” town with her friend’s husband, in turn teaching a lesson to her own and the “villainous” in-laws. Raw and unguarded emotions there. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently no! The rest of the group seemed fascinated by her gutsy choices and were enormously encouraging too, promising to be in touch even when the rest of the world would have ostracised her, next day onwards. A potential scandal waiting to happen and here the others couldn’t have been more eager to see it all play out.
This scene could have been risible were it not so dangerous and a part of me was itching to tell her to rethink. Bleh, no! Since we have agreed on a deal to stay non intrusively informed, we continued to peck at what was on our plates while wondering how she would handle what was about to be on hers. Some acts are difficult to follow. And then our “told you so” grins collided briefly as our eyes darted across the room, resting on an elegant couple who had just walked in. T’was time to move on from one story to another. Keeping the both of us away from action for long is nigh impossible.
“The robust and intensely flavoured, super succulent lamb chops appear, the air heavy with the aroma, tickling my nostrils. The wine that ..!” Either I could merrily convert the depth of flavours into the right words, there and then, or focus on simply enjoying my food and my company, unless there are glaring missteps in either. Foodies are meant to be a cheerful, jovial bunch and any adjectives are meant to appear only when we sit down to write.
After all, it’s not everyday that the two of us get to meet, engaged as we are, tending to our own world. So when we do catch up, on seasonal occasions, it’s with an inexplicit understanding to let time stand still. We are each other’s go-to, on-call therapists, except that we come cheaper. Wilfully displacing ourselves from the rest of our roost, the rule is that we call it a day only when we are done.
Done, not eating or talking. But done, disentangling our tightly wound up selves, even without talking about it. Conversation is about far more than spoken words and we have always cherished and valued this experience. We both love our food and drink but what gives us therapeutic pleasure is merely observing the world go by. Just taking in the sights and sounds around us, deciphering the intricacies of human existence by eavesdropping on tidbits of their conversations, with absolutely no other agenda except to figure out if their lives are any different from ours.
These are unfamiliar people and this comforting anonymity, which flows both ways, makes it easier for us to enjoy our time even more. Not the ones for slumming it on benches, we take care to pick the venue for our tete-e-tete carefully. Our kind of people watching is all about mechanical versus focused and luckily for us, the city that we live in is considerably rich in such nosying opportunities.
When I was younger I was “never listening” to what others were saying. A huge conversation failure, as per my elders. As I grew older, I resolved to fix this and became all ears. With practice, I got closer to my goal of listening more and overhearing chitter chatter became a pastime. So now when I am people peeping, I am not hatching the next best thing I am going to say. Instead, my singular focus is on studying the flow of words and interpret the extended pauses. And I am not alone in this.
Over the last one decade, my friend and I, together, seem to have unravelled it all and even though our lives do not depend on it, our lunch time meet ups have become the focal point of life altering exchange of thoughts/ ideas/ glances and experiences. It’s sad to see that the world around us is fast forgetting how to hang out. The intentionally accidental eavesdropper in us always needs to get out of the house, to hear about experiences that strike a chord/ lifestyles that make us hunt for our doorway to Nirvana or hear about aims and objectives that might never even dawn on us.
It’s also a season that cannot do much to keep one indoors and I do believe in taking my life on an occasional holiday, one plate at a time, making one hungry for more. And that’s how I’d like to leave you too. (IANS)