When good food arrives late, the waiting is intolerable for a foodie.
I’m summoned to the dinner table on an evening when I have no appetite. I sit there and lift lids, sniff the contents, pick up a baton of cucumber and start crunching. I’m not “hungry” yet, I’m only looking. And within a minute I’m so famished that the rumblings are loud enough to be heard next door. All of a sudden, I cannot wait. It must be a Pavlovian response: hear the dinner gong — or its equivalent — and start salivating.
Or I walk into a restaurant with a friend, too early for lunch. We have things of import to talk about so we decide to get our food order out of the way. That takes some time, because we must ask questions about the salad dressing, the provenance of the pork, the difference between the chicken Shahjahani and the murg masala and whether the rogan josh has been cooked with onions. As soon as it’s done I can no longer wait. I start craning my neck at trays borne in by waiters, hoping each one is ours but it’s always someone else’s. And other people’s food always looks exciting: big golden fried bhaturas, stacks of triangular grilled sandwiches, soup with wisps of steam curling above the bowls, and, worst of all, baskets of crisp, salty, potato fingers, with little tubs of creamy mayo and red ketchup on the side.
Eventually our food does arrive, at which point friend and I forget about solving the problems of elections, state snooping, harassment at the work place, divorce and the ingratitude of children. We eat our lunch. But that is later, after an intolerable delay. While we wait, I watch in amazement as others sit at their tables, talking earnestly, while their hot lunch sits on the table, wafting appetising aromas. They don’t even pick up a fork and taste a morsel. The bhatura gets flat and chewy — I can almost see the vanaspati solidifying whitely on it — kababs turn cold and leathery, grilled sandwiches start curling up at the corners. I’m at a loss — how can people brave city traffic, come into a restaurant and spend money on food that they’ve chosen and ordered, and then not eat it at once? Maybe they believe that “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”. I can’t see it, but it must be true, because the words are ascribed to the great philosophers Aristotle and Rousseau.
My own grandfather would sit down to dinner, in a crisp white kurta-pyjama, at a table spread with whiter-than-white damask, laid with lovely bone-handled silver, and begin to eat. My grandmother — who, though she was sitting at his left, was so tense that she seemed to be hovering — would offer him each of the dozen delights on the table. He would take a long look and ask “haven’t new bhindis started coming in from the garden?” At which she would leap up as fast as her round little self could, and trot off to the back. The mali would be sent a message, or a junior minion despatched with a torch to the vegetable patch. And my nana, sitting on the dining chair, would cross his legs, turn to one of us, smile and start chatting about our life in Delhi, or his roses, or the lychees that had started ripening early. Nary a sign of impatience. He would wait while the bhindis were plucked, washed, chopped, and all the rest, and dinner was sent back to the kitchen. When the new bhindi was ready, and dinner reheated, a fresh phulka would be made, timed to arrive with the bhindi, gleaming, emerald green, brown fried onions nestling here and there. Then he would turn back to his plate and begin, appetite unstaunched. Now I’m sure the bhindi was nonpareil, but I’m equally sure that I would not be able sit at a dinner table, with my grandmother’s dinner laid out in front of me, and not fall to immediately.
I believe in the Chinese proverb: Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think.