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Monday, June 14, 2010

Hand over fork n knife


I was at this cosy dine-in yesterday - a nice quiet place, the lights dimmed to a subtle play of red and yellow, the ambience tastefully done, the music just perfect in its decibel.
As I sat down to enjoy my plate of kebabs, the waiter came and handed me an extra pair of cutlery. I thought it was a mistake, the table had already been set. Maybe he thought I had asked for another set for my daughter.
I put the fork and knife on the side and dived in with my hands. As my fingers touched the surface I could feel the warmth of the food seeping in. The aromas that assailed my senses as I broke the food into a biteable chunk was heady. I placed a few spoons of spicy mint chutney on my plate, held the little succulent piece in my hand, and after wonderfully dipping the bite in a perfect round in the chutney, I put it where it rightfully belonged - in my mouth.
I could see the waiter was looking at me. And then I realised the reason for the extra set of cutlery. For you see, I had performed the un-cool routine of eating with my hand. I turned around and everywhere I looked I could see these 'perfect' pictures of elegance - knives and forks in hand, cutting a piece here, trimming a bite there, and tucking it away in their mouths. While I was eating with my hand!

Our culture has always taught us to eat using our hands. I am a Bengali, and in my family, we always eat with our hand. For us the mingling of the food is essential. You need to mix the rice properly with the dal, the vegetables, the curries. Every morsel needs to be perfectly blended with the other on the plate, a perfect state of 'bonding' is to be reached, and once you have married the different dishes together, you take a bite and can still feel each and every taste as distinct as the other.
Others too - the roti, the parantha, the dosa, the samosa, the vada pav, the pav bhaji..you dont eat those with a fork and knife, do you?

In our essential need to ape the west, the fork and knives have found a permanent place on almost every Indian dining table. Of course it is fine to use them, tasteful and elegant and non-messy. But why look specifically at someone who is eating in the most natural way, who is savouring food with his/her hands? Why point them out and comment on how uncivilised they are? For, while the steel can surely do a great job of getting the bite in your mouth, it can never match the satisfaction of feeling your food before you eat it.