People who have, for long, seen me eat, tell me how my (admittedly) frog-eyes widen in greed at the sight of food, and how I pounce on my plate like a long-deprived hound in the estates of Sir Charles Baskerville.
I, allegedly, follow the course of food with my eyes, like a pornographer’s camera focused on certain parts of human (and in some cases, animal) anatomy. I know nothing about this comparison (innocent that I am), but it sounds unwarranted and unsavory, to say the least.
According to some people, when a waiter in a Chinese restaurant comes in from the kitchen bearing Singapore rice noodles, my head moves from the direction of the kitchen and seamlessly comes towards self and occupied table. Then, as the waiter lifts up a large forkful of steaming noodles up towards the ceiling and then gently deposits it on the plate, my head describes a harmonic movement in the vertical axis. As the food comes closer, my eyes then telescope out of their sockets and then, as the forkful of grub comes up to the mouth, my head meets it halfway with a sharp, leonine movement. Whoosh! The fork is empty, as mandible engages maxilla. In the meanwhile, all conversation has been abruptly amputated.
Now, this is pure allegation, not to say libelous. I am greedy, but not really in the class of a wolfish predator. And certainly several classes above the gentlemen who, after dinner at a party, exhibit the pathological anatomy of their molar teeth while picking up the entangled pieces of meat and fiber from between them. They then, invariably, expect to shake your hand goodbye. So, the moment I see these guys beginning their ‘picking stuff for my doggy-bag’ exercise, I retreat. I usually introduce someone I sorely dislike to them, before waving goodbye from a safe six-feet distance: “Bye, it was a delight to see you (eat)!”
There are certain other types of human eating patterns that are even more remarkable than mine. Back in college, I had a colleague called Subramanian who used to eat with his hands, as most Indians (unlike me) do. During his meal, Subramanian would keep moving his head from Mecca to Malaysia, talking about this or that, with an occasional foray in the general direction from Toronto to Tuticorin. By the time he would finish, a full quarter of his portion would be displayed around his lips and chin, sometimes extending as far as his neck, and on occasion people have noticed a grain or two of boiled rice on an eyebrow or cephalad.
Now, if you have ever seen the likes of Subramanian, you would show me some respect when I eat. You will never see me waste food around my mouth. A few bits and pieces of beans, rice or a drop of gravy would tend to decorate the table mat around my plate, but I have to give them this much respect and liberty, don’t I? Especially when you expect me to regale you with tall tales and hilarious jokes while you tenderly scratch and stroke your own food, enough to rouse Queen Victoria from her grave and clap in polite approval!? Ungrateful, wouldn’t you say, if people criticise my eating and call it messy?
I have noticed this tendency to spread the gravy around most marked in South Indians, especially Tamil people. Prone to taking in rice mixed with runny rasam, sambhar, or yoghurt (called moru), the liquid dribbles up from the Tamilian’s cultured hand and crawls up to the elbow before an expert dart of the tongue kills any chance of it traveling the long way to the mouth. Now, you will never see me do this. Never. For I am not your manual South Indian rice eater. I am fully automatic, a modern eating machine. Never known to be mealy-mouthed.
Yes, I have been said to resemble Mr. Steptoe of PG Wodehouse. The former was an American businessman who, according to the author, was known to elicit a certain degree of noise from mashed potatoes, but was at his best when dealing with crispy potato wafers. But, take my word for it; this is pure jealousy of people who can’t stand seeing me enjoying a spare meal.
There are people who look like they are suffering from acute renal colic when chewing a hamburger or footlong. I am, the grapevine says, going to be appointed the brand ambassador of this special Indian minority group. Like a group of Rational Indians.
Here is a primer on how to eat in India.
If you want to enjoy Indian food, you must get intimate and physical, niceties be damned. Even historic figures like Gandhi have relished the messy, organic and orgasmic slurping of ripe mangoes squeezed with one’s bare hands, while panting desperately for breath. No, no British knives and forks for the Gandhian mangoes!
Do you gross out the world when you carry your eating culture out?