South Indian culture has always been considered as the richest in India in terms of the traditions that seem to have inexplicably been so densely intertwined, that it almost works unnoticed, despite the outwardly show of the lack of mannerism or our love-hate relationship with a spoilt democracy; I have been blessed to be born in the part of a country that takes pride in the way that their guests are treated. Be it hospitality or the way they are given priority despite the problems that eat into the homes of the yet thriving country! After all, we did house the great British Raj for over a century.
Our lands have always been the home to many who sought shelter and those who ruled us, despite not being native; they tried their hands at bringing up a prosperous and thriving country. By large they succeeded as well, like the Mughal rule leading right up to the invasion of the colonial era!
For a country like this which “accommodated” such guests it would seem to have mastered the art of waiting. Why did I jump to waiting from culture? Well, for most part of our history, we have valued food, not as much as the Italians, but to our reach and extent we did our part. Spices were what attracted the Europeans into our country.
That’s all history now, and we have moved on, not forgetting the past, but adapting to it. And I had the rare opportunity to witness such a transformation that was apparent from the way he waited our table when my family decided to dine for the night at a hotel. Some family time.
The waiter was an aged man, and the sort of patience that he showed was inherited from the years he had lost and time had rubbed into his skin parting good knowledge and mannerism that are to be desired from the youth today. As he stood there, I was unaware of what the man was up to, entirely busy on figuring out what I would have for dinner from the hundreds of dishes that the restaurant had to offer. For some reason I lifted my head up and noticed that a man well above sixties was using a tablet computer to record the order of our table. This was the first time I realized two things.
1. Mysore has improved on technology and hospitality, and
2. The old waiter had the strong will to not let go of a job he loved so much, even though he had to figure out with great difficulty, the way it all worked.
I assumed that the restaurant, for reasons I don’t want to name, had arrangements made in such a way that the waiter’s conveyed the orders of a particular table to the kitchen using the technology they were given.
Whatever it was, he was ready to take our order, and we did place it. Fifteen minutes later the entrée had arrived. And the man with his wrinkled yet firm hands served us with such a gracious movement that it served as a gratitude shown towards the blessed table of food in front of us. His actions gave a sudden assurance of a luxury that seemed to have been taken for granted in the upper middle class of the modern society.
There was clearly something in the way he presented himself and the way he served us. For a second we forgot that he was part of the wait staff at the hotel. And began to consider him as part of us, he for one, could understand our language, and even though he did, offered to keep a distance when we started talking in our language so as to provide some privacy. That was a level of professionalism that I had never encountered, here was a guy who stood apart from all the waiters that were either far too nosey on the choice of food that we had or those that were too disconnected with what we were asking for.
Here was a guy who reminded us of the olden days, when food was as close to God’s gift as life. And in that respect, served on a plantain and in a particular order with a sense of respect to those to whom it was being served. Our grandparents would consider this as the ultimate show of affection. Those that served a hungry stomach would be blessed by the almighty himself. That’s the concept of Anna Dhaana. And he had all our blessings for we were made to forget that at the end we had to pay for what we ate. He made a commercial hotel, a home and waiting, a service that seemed to demand great respect.
I came home, not only with a full stomach, but with the calmness of heartfelt warmth that was once imbibed in me at my Grandmother’s house.
Simple things can make the biggest impact on the way we perceive someone, and it was his simpleness that made such an impact on me, that all the times that I yelled at a waiter or, the times I thought horribly of them when I was being ill treated like most other people, simply vanished.
Here was someone who loved his job, however small it seemed. He had the determination to put a smile on those he served. His salary might not pay off in a big way, nor did he have the assurance of a steady income in the near future, when he might not be capable of waiting tables anymore. He wasn’t waiting tables. He was heading a silent agenda to make the ones he touched realize the culture that Indians bore in their veins. Somewhere we forgot that food is the one thing that withheld the unity of a family. Dining together and serving our loved ones is soon becoming waiters at counters of fast food chains that are trained to treat you properly and are forced to pull a smile on their faces for the business we give them.
I was surprised at the complexity that waiting tables carried. And the old waiter convinced me by unspoken words that food connects us, makes us humans. One meal, so many contemplations!
What is your take on waiting tables? Leave a comment below.