Thursday, February 03, 2005

Fitting In - The Six Sigma Way

On Dec. 23 last, I finally made the switch from the mess facilities on campus to the customizable (more on this later) services of Jai Singh - 9825633613 (as advertised on the notice board)'s South Indian dabba.

My prior experience of Mr. Singh's Dabba had been limited to a meal shared with Pareau, Sidin and fa-T over a year ago. Which means I ended up with approximately a bite and a half of idly and one teaspoon of sambhar mixed with two pinches of tenga* chutney. Those of you who know Pareau, or Sidin, or fa-T will hopefully sympathize. In time, however, I got to hearing more and more about Mr. Singh and this dabba. Mostly enthusiastic reviews; but once I heard Sudduochio Mumbai-bred Ramakrishnan (He of the "Hakka-noodles is good for the stomach" fame) recommend it as good stuff, I decided it would probably be in my better interest to stick with the mess a while longer. Eventually, however, neither the sheer weight and number of recommendations nor the disturbingly high levels of hair and oil, or possibly just hair-oil, in the mess food could be ignored - my tayir-saadham raised stomach groaned and grumbled and ached, very literally, for a change. In one fell swoop, I cut the umbilical to my nourisher of old.

Naturally, I had doubts regarding the abilities of a man named Jai Singh to provide an authentic steaming pongal or an aromatic pooshnika kootu. These worries were partially tided over once I realized that Jai Singh was indeed none other than an enterprising Jayasinghe, with ancestral links to our Sri Lankan neighbours. But as things would have it, JS's grinder had broken down only a week before I signed on and thus I waited patiently, longingly, day after day after yearning day for that first elusive bite of anything with a remote semblance to Amma's rasam. In the meantime, I subsisted on a daily, stifling, unvarying routine of: Lunch - 5 rotis, one curry (either beans or brinjal or some other veggie that one frequently observes mangling Calvin to death in his cartoons), one large serving of rice and one large cup of a substance somewhere between dal and sambhar, tilted slightly to the dal side on most days. Dinner - much the same as lunch. To make matters worse, JS is hardly the equal of the Bombay Tiffinwallahs in service - customization means sticking to custom to him and many a time I've been left waiting in the lurch for lunch or dinner, stomach grumbling, having to scrounge out a last-minute meal at the mess or order out.

Despite all of these shortcomings, I've thoroughly loved my experience with JS and his dabba over the last five weeks. I have little in way of explanation. The austerity and simplicity of the meal and presentation - it arrives either in a steel case (the kind most Madrasi school-children used to carry around in my time) or in a sheer unpretentious, plastic insulating box - have a large part to play I think. On occasion when I've shared my dabba, I'm transported back to lunch break in my school in Bangalore, with arms and legs and elbows and knees engaged in dynamic criss-crossing pattern, in a desperate attempt to land Ajitabh's cheese sandwich or Dhivakar's vaddam while protecting my own fried rice. Scooping out a handful of rice (I own neither spoon nor fork) has the scintillating effect of putting me in direct touch with the shared lives of a thousand other dabba-eaters around the country - Prabhadevi office-goers, Nariman Point bankers, Law Garden babus, Navi Mumbai construction workers, and of course 40 fellow students here. There is some very personal quality about a dabba that reminds me that I belong somewhere. That I fit in.

Till next time... my brinjal curry is here.


At 1:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very very nice read. loved the style.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Neenu said...


At 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hellos thotal!

good read...suffu will be mad tho' too much the comment abt noodles!!! :)

p.s.: mug le facche!!!

At 9:00 PM, Blogger cue. said...

hallo hallo the Gulti.

vary good to see your comment.

can't wait to get to Bombay and catch all of you there - esp the suffu big nose.

p.s. I took two leisurely afternoon naps today!!

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