15 August 2010

Is This Seat Taken?

 I got my first culture shock within three weeks of reaching Chennai. I know, it was pretty exciting. My cousin and I decided to have dinner, one Sunday, from National Durbar, a restaurant opposite the Chennai Central Railway station.

It’s a good restaurant, populated by middle class people, and normally extra busy on weekends. As a result, we arrived and saw that all the tables were occupied. I sighed, and decided to hang around for a little while longer. You know, just in case anyone suddenly swallowed whatever he was eating, and decided to make way for me.

Now here’s what my cousin did. He spotted a six-seat table that was occupied by three members of a family, and quickly placed his helmet and bag on an empty chair opposite them. This is where I should split my narrative, depending on whether you’re from Chennai or elsewhere.

If you’re from Chennai, let me tell you why I was surprised. I lived eighteen years of my life in Qatar. Sure enough, I’ve eaten from restaurants every now and then. And once in a while, during a particularly busy day, I’d be left stranded in the middle of the hall, eying people as they hogged away.

I’d spot a certain four-seat table that was occupied by a lonely looking fellow, and without hesitation, curse him for his inconsideration. Why couldn’t he grab a smaller table?

You see, at least in Qatar, every table is like the diner’s turf. Once he sits down, it’s his until he gets up. No one else sits at the table until he’s done, even if the entire restaurant is filled. Which is why Qatar based waiters are highly diplomatic. Step into a restaurant and you’ll see them swoop down, ready to guide you to table fit for you.

Now for all of you who’re not from Chennai, here’s what happened at Durbar that night.

I sat down, looking nervous and apprehensive, facing the Tamil family seated opposite to me. They’d almost finished eating, I noted with relief. But the little boy in the middle was still tearing pieces from his chappati, and eating it along with a delicious looking curry. Suddenly I felt extra hungry.

Only after they’d left and we settled down to have dinner, did I realize that I was probably staring at the boy as he ate. I wondered how he’d have felt, having a bespectacled, hungry looking guy gape as he tried to have a nice dinner.

I quickly found out. Two men sat down opposite to us. I stopped for a moment, my cousin continued eating. From then on, it was like a silent Oscar movie. I’d pour water into my glass, pause, take a sip, and place the glass down slowly. The two men would watch, silently, their eyes moving from hand to plate as I ate.

Finally, when we ordered our customary Falooda, I caught a glimpse of one of them staring at the ice cream topping in my bowl. Suddenly I felt annoyed. Does it always have to be like this, I thought. Why do we have to share tables and watch others eat as we waited for our turn? Shouldn’t we be more polite?

After paying our bill, we were about to leave when I saw two fellows looking around for an empty seat. Without hesitation, I pointed them towards my table, where the two men had just began their dinner.

What goes around, comes around, I thought mischievously... 

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  1. We do that on a regular basis here.
    Welcome to India matey :P :)

  2. haahaha! i liked the ending :D
    peak hours in chennai is usually - survival of the fittest!

    ppl just go gt their job done. come from a place in the middle east, it is weird to experience it, but then.. ull gt used to it!

    been there, done that ;)

  3. welcome to chennai my friend

  4. lolz, so your visit to Chennai is turning into quite a memorable one :)As always I must tell you that you write really well and you have all the qualities that a fiction writer should have!!
    You'd go places!
    Thanks for the amazing narrative..I was wondering if it is real or fiction??:)

  5. What goes around comes around.. You learned your first lesson on Principles of Indian Eating Etiquettes... :)
    What Up?

  6. lol :) quite interesting !!

    Enjoy it while it lasts !!!

  7. hahah! nice!
    liked the ending..
    "...where the two men had just began their dinner." is it began or begun? 0.o

  8. Awesome...!

    Again, this is typical of Mumbai, Bangalore too :)

    So, you in India? Any plans to come to Mumbai? Drop me a word..

  9. Well narrated blog.. I could vividly imagine your situation in the restaurant..;) It happens quite often and i am sure you will get used to it.. :)