Here is what made me write this piece. A good friend of mine has come down from the USA. We planned to catch up for lunch. He was asking me to suggest a nice eatery, hinting that I might know better about recently opened places. This is what I said "No ET. I don't food-hunt nowadays that way we used to, when we were all together. I finish my lunch in just under 15 minutes".
ET was like "Enna ippdi sollitae...namma work pannumpothu eppdilaam plan senju saaptoam"
(What are you saying? How we used to plan for our everyday lunch when we worked)
Food; the quintessential factor to drive our life on earth. As they say, few live to eat, few others eat to live. This factor brings different personalities of people together, however different each one may be, food unties everyone.
Now what made ET say that? I will talk about it few lines down. But this conversation spiraled me to some thoughts. The lunch; especially; is what I feel is the most special meal. Why? Mornings; breakfast is always hasty; rushing to office, rushing to school; we don't really sit together and relish our breakfast. Dinner; is a family affair; which stays the same since we start as a child till we die. But lunch? Its not the same.
We share our lunch time with different people at different stages in life. At school, the lunch was confined to the food packed at home in the tiffin box or the lunch box. Its a different story today with schools having cafeterias and eateries. But not so long ago, lunch break at school was the time to sit around, share the goodies each one brought, gossip and make fun of teachers. You didn't like the food you brought, its fine; you can always dig your friend's box without even being bothered about eating etiquette. Those gleaming steel tiffin boxes would traverse from one row to another, each one taking a bite of the humble luxury that was inside.
These incidents are still fresh. Well, that was a bit of nostalgia. So, as we grew, finished school. Next was college, the green pastures for all school going kids - where there were no need to wear uniforms, classes could be bunked, and yeah!! above all, freedom from carrying lunch boxes, it was so kiddish now. Lunch was at college canteen, with limited money; got as pocket money, a simple masala dosa was a 3 course elaborate meal, half plate pongal and half tea were heaven. Bunking classes, pooling in money and having a quick lunch at the college cafe, or going out to a restaurant once in a while and feasting was fun.
College done, got into a job. We were group of about 8-10 people who were all freshers, just out of college who had joined work. Got to know each other when we met for the first time during our New Employee Orientation. Even though we worked for different teams, we gelled up very well; it was all fun at work. Having got into the largest technology company in the world soon after engineering was a blessing, once we got in, the environment was so cool, it was all like a dream, with such group of friends, job place was like college extended.
Lunch was an elaborate affair, why not? Just a couple of months ago, we counted and accumulated coins to buy a plate of masala dosa, and now each of us were drawing a 5 figure salary. It was all quick, the transition. As such, our everyday lunch was a planned event, we would call each other and assemble at one of our cubes at about 12 PM. We used to finish off lunch that was packed by a friend's grandma; authentic Iyengar food mixed with ghee; as we discussed which restaurant to go that noon. Each one would fight like dogs, literally; to get our hands on the lunch box. It was always first come first serve. Whoever came late to his cube, had to make do with just aroma from the empty lunch box. I sat 2 floors above them, yet I made sure I reached first to gorge on the food, my friend would call me first notifying me that he has his lunch box with him that day :-P.
Our work place was located at the prime location in Bangalore; near MG road, which had restaurants in abundance, right from an andhra mess to coffee shop to dhaba to afghani restaurant to 5 star fine dining continental food. We were young blood, enthusiastic; these qualities showed up during lunch time too. After lot of rejections and analysis; we would choose 4-5 restaurants. Those would be further drilled down, one would say Chinese, other would say McDonald's, when one wanted to eat authentic Andhra food. By the time, we zeroed in on an eatery, it would be around 12:30. If the place was far away, mode of transport would be bikes, distance was not an issue. When the food we ordered arrived, everyone else present in the restaurant would stop eating and stare at us with a gaping mouth. You see, the amount of food kept was not proportionate to our looks. But we hogged like pigs, each noon, all 5 days, each billing about 300-600 Rs. Our lunch time wont be short of 3 hours. Even though we all worked for MNC, decently dressed, we ate in our way, the way it made us happy. Digging into each others plate, setting aside forks and knives; gorging on pizza; using our hands. Guys in my group were lean and slim, but they had such an appetite, which eventually influenced me. For me eating one slice of pizza was an ordeal before lunching with them. Later, I could finish off a medium pizza single handed. A lazy walk back to office, it would be 3 PM by then.
One such day, couple of senior managers happen to be at the same restaurant we went, they saw the empty plates around us, and exclaimed "Whats wrong with you guys!!!" Since then we were named "Hungry at" group. Never missed any restaurants in and around MG road and its by lanes. Few of our seniors used to say "The first 2 years at work would be the best phase in a professional life. Have all the fun"
How true that was. 2 years later, few left to do higher studies, few quit the company and joined elsewhere. Now after spending more than 4.5 years in corporate environment, lunch at noon is never the same. No enthusiasm, no interest to gorge on food. I no more wait to go outside to try different food, its always my office cafe, where the food is inedible most days, yet I am too preoccupied with work and deliverable and stress that I don't even realize how bad the food is. My lunch time nowadays is just short of 15 minutes.
Those were the times...............