Lunch time in my office always makes me morph into Hamlet mode. ‘To go or not to go’ for the extended common lunch session with my colleagues. All of us assemble in the large, spacious office of ‘The One Who Can’t Be Named’, who is pretty high and mighty in the pecking order of official responsibility and powers.
My hesitation of ‘not to go’ is rooted in the acute OCD ( Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) I have. Some male colleagues of this lunch club use their hands in ‘strange places’ for ‘strange pleasures’. Usually, it is in the olfactory regions or nether regions of the human anatomy which make me feel rather faint. Of course, the OCD inducing discomfort, is not gender specific. A female colleague, magnificently and bountifully blessed by nature in assets distribution, is prone to growing long nails. Sometimes, when the nail polish is chipped, the nail’s hygiene reminds me of the seedy, road side gol gappa wala’s in Sarojini Nagar market.
The urge ‘to go’ is based on the fact that one gets to hear the latest gossip doing the rounds, which is usually very, very delightfully malicious. Sometimes good things that have happened to other colleagues are talked about, but really it falls into the rarest of the rare category.
Following the Buddha’s middle path, I go for these lunch sessions three times a week, barring Mondays and Thursdays. We begin lunching by 1.30 pm and finish off by 3:30 pm. A large center table with a shinning glass top and flanked by chairs and sofas is where we all sit. Juniors like me have to sit on the chairs while the sofas are reserved for senior bottoms. Then, a motley crew of servile office peons, each looking traumatized by unseen demons, march in solemnly with the lunch boxes.
It is then that I get reminded of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. All the lunch boxes are eerily of the same type and Milton company. They are either maroon or a dirty sea green. There are three steel boxes inside the outer casserole holder. It always contains, dal, subzi and very sad looking un-oxygenated chappatis rolled in aluminum foil. Funnily, all the wives of the 16 male colleagues seem to have some sort of telepathy, because the subzi is usually the same. Perhaps, it has got to do with the seasonal vegetable? So one gets to see variants of bhindi bhujiya from 16 households these days. Oh yes, a feeble plastic box will also contain salad and sprouts which the dear wifey packs for enhancing her husband’s health. Little does she know about the mid-morning & afternoon snacks of samosa, kachori with typhoid inducing green chutney! Each of my colleagues then proceed to offer their lunch to each other, very expansively , in a hearty voice: ‘ arrey li jiye sir, lo yaar, “.I always wonder why because everybody’s lunch is the same! After all how much different can Sharma bhindi fry be from Kumar/Tripathy/Nanda/Pandey bhindi fry ?When offered, I meekly demure, remembering all their ‘strange pleasures’. I have noticed that if anything special has been packed, say a little ‘kheer’, ‘paneer bhurji’ etc, there is a lot of veiled animosity by the herd. Thus, Nietzsche’s ‘super man’, that is the chap who for that day doesn’t belong to the bhindi grazing herd and has a little special something packed, is warily categorized into either ( a) has had great sex the previous night or ( b) has been promised so, by the wife tonight that night.
My lunch which normally consists of a sandwich/fruit salad and lassi is looked down upon by my colleagues. Possibly, my ‘radical attitude’ is attributed to this. Radical attitude by the male colleagues usually means that I know my job well and thus don’t need to flutter my eyelashes, drop my dupatta or act helpless. Sometimes a sexist remark about ‘looks & figure’ and its supposedly intrinsic relation with my frugal lunch and competence at work, does come up. The last time this happened, I said a tad venomously “Grow breasts then, Sir’’. Woefully, I am also categorized radical by certain female colleagues too because I don’t fast on karwa chauth, believe in adoption and have 5 rescue dogs
I guess conversation in the lunch club is so deliciously sinful that it makes up for the surfeit of bhindi fry. One gets to know who has been fired, who is in disfavor, unbelievable stories about a retired boss for he now lacks the power to harm, etc. The fabled story tellers tend to spill out the noisiest of skeletons too which relate to romantic aberrations of the ‘happily’ married people. There is much that I learn about the inter-personal relations of my colleagues in the club too, which is essential for my official sanity and success. I leave the lunch club a bit early as the male colleagues smoke and I suspect indulge in locker room gossip, which I would love to hear actually. Unfortunately, I have been unable to break into this traditional bastion of maleness.
Sometimes I feel a tad guilty about my duplicitous enjoyment of the lunch club. I have thought many a times that I should quit it. But, the therapeutic effect of harmless gossip wins over every time. I am usually chuckling when I walk back to my office. Much Like Santa Claus, who is jolly, says George Carlin, mainly because ‘he knows where all the bad girls live’.