Do You Like Your Rotis with a Dollop of Politics?


Do You Like Your Rotis with a Dollop of Politics?

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

In every Indian household, the dining table holds a place of utmost importance. There’s no meaningful discussion around fireplaces or on fancy sofas for us; the dining table is where all our conversation takes place. This is where we gossip about the aunt who is divorced twice and the politics of a prime minister we love and hate in equal measure. The Indian dining table is a complex space. It is not, as its name suggests, only a place where food is laid for the purpose of dining. It’s where loyalties are declared, lines are drawn, and people are divided by what’s on their plates as much as what’s on their minds.

For instance, a large number of my family members, who are hardcore lovers of meat, do not touch non-vegetarian food on Mondays, or on the days the Moon decides to disappear from the sky, or appears in the shape of a circle, or during the month of Karthik, or during the month of Shravan, and of course, during Hindu festivals.

On one of these anti-meat days, I had gone out with some relatives for dinner, and the waiter, at my covert direction, brought a bowl of chicken soup instead of the veg one. My aunt Shakaharika had a few spoons of the stuff and felt that it wasn’t the soup she had asked for. With detective work that’d put Sherlock Holmes to shame, she managed to find tiny pieces of chicken floating in the watery soup. My hungry soul wanted to down the tasty chicken soup, which I had ordered for myself, in peace. Alas, that dream was cut short as we drove out of that dimly-lit dhaba in haste, though not before the poor waiter received an earful.

I didn’t know how to pacify my offended aunt. My rational words of encouragement would have only rattled her fiery heart. And, I couldn’t bring myself to promote her superstitious belief. So, I stood in silence and watched her push her fingers down her throat and eject the contents of the evening. That was the only way she could live peacefully, she said a while later. I turned red at her vile explanation and didn’t speak to her the entire night.

I don’t know who is giving away tickets to heaven for promoting superstition or fighting ideological battles on the dining table, but someone must be. My butter chicken is somehow always mixed with bullshit. Another friend, who I’ll call Armchair Swadeshi, is strictly against the consumption of soft drinks by multinational companies because they rob farmers of water. These companies make billions, and the farmers kill themselves due to lack of water for farming, he believes. Somehow, he’s unable to hear the deafening thunderclap of irony through his Beats by Dre headphones and Hollister skullcap.

Perhaps the absolute worst person to have on the table is the one who brings up issues that aren’t even remotely connected to the spread being served.

Then, there’s another friend, a part-time animal lover, who doesn’t enter places that serve beef and pork. He’s okay with the restaurant offering its customers varieties in chicken, mutton, and seafood though. In case, he finds a hint of beef, or pork, peeping out of the menu, he’ll take to his heels. It, supposedly, doesn’t go with the lessons he’s been “taught” at home.

There is no end to the amount of skirmishes that can unfold around the dining table. I recently found out that calling the waiter “sir” is akin to suffering from a colonial hangover. “Why can’t you call him ‘bhaiyya’ or ‘anna’,” I was asked. This kind of nonsense tests the limits of whataboutery every now and then, and it is all I can do to enjoy my Thums Up and beef chilly fry in peace.

But perhaps the absolute worst person to have on the table is the one who brings up issues that aren’t even remotely connected to the spread being served. These are the relatives who need to know by how many marks you beat the neighbour kids in science, when you’re going to get married, and how far away you are from your CA degree. This line of questioning always comes with a healthy serving of browbeating and dismissal of any independent thoughts or dreams you might have, with the unwanted side effect of killing your appetite.

When it comes to political ideologies or ideas on how to live one’s life, you can adopt whichever suits you, but, please, don’t be the party pooper by hoisting your flag on my table.