Let’s just agree to this fact...not all of us enjoy attending weddings. When I was a kid, I didn’t really have a choice but to tag along with my parents and other elders to weddings, thread ceremonies and other such events. I didn’t know anyone, much like many many others in the audience. I used to go, sit in one corner of the hugely congested hall and then head to the lunch or dinner area to have food. That too wasn’t really a crowd-puller as far as I was concerned. There used to be long tables with chairs so close to each other that you could literally smell what your neighbour had for breakfast that morning. Four to five men used to come rushing in and start serving you rice, sambar and veggies at supersonic speeds.
Amidst all this chaos was this feel of tradition, a feeling that you get, sensing so many generations before you dined the same way at social dos. Then suddenly one day came a twist in the tale. Someone decided, “Let’s have a buffet at the wedding”. This was when a whole new breed of wedding goers emerged from the shadows.
Today, the whole deal is about ‘how lavish’ the entire spread was at a wedding. You have random uncles and aunties judge the daal and the pulao like Anu Malik judging Indian Idol. “You have it, but you lack something”...masalas or salt in this case.
Let me just round up some of the sights we get to see at any wedding buffet. Let’s start from the top. The spread would be minutes away from being open to the attendees, but you’d know that hungry eyeballs would be darting glances at the stalls for the last one hour. When will it be ready? When can we pounce on the one thing that we are truly here for? I feel for those Paneer Tikkas. They’d be devoured in the most brutal way possible.
The moment the counters are open, everybody’s inner PT Usha springs forward! Olympians galore, our fellow wedding guests will dash to the food counters in no time. How I wish someone would time these sprints, who knows, maybe Khanna aunty would win it sometime, overcoming her constant ‘ghutno mein dard’ and showing everyone who the real Speedy Gonzalez is! ’Coz all have thrown caution to the wind here! God forbid, what if the chaat counter runs out of puris or sev?
Speaking of chaat counters, this is where the real game is at. The Paani Puri guy warms up usually with a couple of uncles who make it there and start their accounts. But when the rest of the folks arrive, he’s dipping into the spicy water so fast, I feel no one would notice him literally dunking face first into the pot and coming out. It’ll just be a blur to the naked eye. I used to try my luck at the chaat counters once upon a time, but now I’m simply too timid to brave the munching armies battling each other to get their katora to the hapless server for their umpteenth Paani Puri.
I have come up with a fool-proof way to come out alive from a buffet. Start with the main course. That’s only after you are able to make up your mind WHICH main course to start with. I mean, there’s Mexican, Chinese, Italian, South Indian, North Indian, West Indian, Mumbai Indian. Phew. And that’s when you notice. It’s probably the same chutney from the infamous chaat counter that’s sneakily made its way to the Mexican counter, but lo and behold... it has a fancy new name here! How about Sombrero green? You will wrestle with the others here as well for your plateful, but trust me, at least there’s some dignity here, till the battle rages at that chaat counter. I usually come out of those lines victorious, piling on noodles on top of Chhole, which are spreading across some pita bread, which has dunked itself in the daal, on top of which may be the hummus. Who cares? As long as you are able to pour the food in your own plate and not into that of the lady behind you, since everyone’s shoving plates across.
But some highly calculative uncles and aunties (the same judgy ones, I’m sure) find novel ways of beating the crowds to their third helpings. Stand and eat RIGHT THERE!! Right next to the counter. Do not budge, do not move a muscle. After all, you are the elders of the family, aren’t you? (We aren’t sure which side of the families you are from). We stand there marvelling at your guts and glory. You have developed skins thick enough to un-hear jibes and nasty whispers, because after all, the fourth helping is your God-given right!
If there are drinks being served, then forget it. All buffet rules stand violated. All gloves are off! And that is exactly when you know you have to run home and order some takeaway. Boy I sure do miss the old wedding lunchwala system. At least it brought people closer together...albeit a little too close.
(The writer is a comic creator, illustrator and animator)