Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who moved his cheese?

Last Sunday, I decided to break the tradition of spending weekends in bars and pubs. So, I decided that we would lunch at a restaurant. I pulled along three other friends, AC, PK and GV, and headed to an Italian restaurant in an upmarket area. It was brimming with people. Since, the owner was a good friend of my dad, we jumped the queue and found ourselves comfortably seated within a few minutes of our arrival. The first thing that we noticed was the gorgeous girl seated in the adjacent table. Tall, slender and with fine features, she looked like one of those characters from television serials, eternally beautifully irrespective of the time and place. We later noticed that across the table there was a guy too. He appeared too lost into the conversation with his date to notice our presence, which was good for us.

We got ourselves Mojitos and began our usual banter. Just then we heard a thud. GV, who was dragged from his bed, petulantly asked what it was. “The balloons. Today, is Valentine’s Day”, I replied. He sighed indifferently. All four of us were single since day we were born and do not see much hope in the near future either. Therefore, Valentine’s Day never meant much to us. We continued our banter. Suddenly, one of those moments when all of us were busy munching and none of us spoke, we were interrupted by loud plea from the adjacent table.

“Can’t there be a reason for a relationship other than marriage?”, the guy asked in a pitch that was difficult to ignore. I almost replied “Yes, there can be. Sex” But luckily, it was those rare moments where my sanity was in control of my mind and a situation that could have left the couple, my friends and owner of the restaurant in utter embarrassment was successfully averted. But the question, which appeared straight from a television chat show claiming to discuss serious problems confronting the nation, inadvertently got us hooked to the conversation.

Soon words like blood, heart, soul, love, feelings etc flowed with scant respect to logical possibility and grammatical correctness. While the words individually made sense, the sentences, depending on your level of artistic and scientific perceptibility, were either surreal or outright obscurant. Considering the Spartan intellectual capabilities that I am endowed with and my usual inability to put them to use, I decided, very wisely, to avoid any attempt to decipher them. It was the guy who mostly spoke and occasionally when we glanced at the girl, she had the standard expression of an air hostess; smile and nod, even when you say that the restroom is soiled.

The heat of the monologue soared. GV, who was till then utterly nonchalant, partly due to insufficient sleep and partly due to the mediocrity of the pasta, got alarmed. He bent across the table and in a grave voice confessed that he feared that he is likely to be a victim of collateral damage if the lady decides to respond to the diabolical rant with some physical action like splashing the cocktail or tossing the pasta on the guy’s face. I reassured him that the girl looked too genteel for such reaction. But deep inside, I knew that his fears were perfectly genuine and entirely within the realm of reality. I fervently prayed that even if GV had to be atoned for his sins, which were infinite in number and unpardonable in nature, let it be with the cocktail as the pasta was fresh from the pan. But, I guess, that was not his day of reckoning. The monologue tapered off and we heaved a sigh of relief.

The girl got up to order some pizzas from one of the live counters. She gave instructions to the chef with such an authority that she could easily pass off as a native Italian who binged on pizzas ever since her teeth erupted. When her dictation on the topping ended, she sharply instructed, “No Cheese, Please.” She turned to the guy and declared like a benevolent dictator, “You had too much of cheese.” The guy faintly protested with supreme humility in a whisper that was as silent as his own breath, “But, how can they make pizzas without cheese?”. Her reply began with an air of obviousness and ended in a condescending note. “Just spread the toppings without the cheese and bake. Simple. “ “ You could as well go to Paris and come back without seeing the Eiffel Tower ”, I told myself.

The guy was bewildered. For a moment I could see Edvard Munch’s The Scream etched out on his face. And just like the celebrated painting, this one, too, was muted. Conscious of the dangers that lied ahead if he continued the expression, he made desperate attempts to transform the instinctive countenance to the one that beamed gratitude and piety. His facial dexterity would have left even Kamal Hassan spellbound. I, With great difficulty, restrained myself from giving him a standing ovation.

Pizza without cheese? I was shocked by this blatant atrocity being committed in broad daylight. It was akin to watching Basic Instinct on Star Movies when you actually have the Director’s Cut DVD stashed away in your draw. I was wondering what could be the potential consequences of having a spouse with such fertile proclivity towards torture. The first thing that flashed on my mind was, “ You may go the pub but you shall have only mocktails and be home by nine”. It scared me so much that I decided to stop thinking further and concentrate on my pizza. It, thankfully, had a generous topping of cheese. At that moment I realized that, henceforth, I must thank the Father in heaven for giving me not just my daily bread, but also for having cheese on top of the bread.

Needless, to say, the guy feasted on the cheeseless pizza with same fervor the starving African children eat their occasional meal. The girl watched him triumphantly as if cheeseless pizza was gift to mankind which ranked next only to fire and wheel. By the time the guy finished it off, tears welled in my eyes. As they rose to head towards the dessert section, I could no longer contain myself. I left to get myself another drink. The dessert session, expectedly, did not last long. The calorie intake, I am sure, would have been calculated till the seventh decimal.

When they finally left, we unanimously concluded that staying single, though might sound insipid, is still the best prescription for a safe and healthy life. As we finished and rose to leave, another couple walked in. The innocent smile on the guy’s face evoked deep sympathy among us. However, we were emotionally drained and couldn’t bear to see another guy in misery. Even without waiting for the elevator, we fled the place taking the emergency exit stairs.