Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not me, Please

Guest Post: written by my dad.

Each time I see a lady being proffered a plate or a tray of goodies, I amaze at the complexity of the decision making process before she finally, finally picks one. What is the algorithm and is it consistent? What are the final test conditions that must be met by the selected piece? To me, the process appears to be repeated ‘de-selections’ with some items being left out of the fray at each iteration and the active group narrowing down, gradually. Sometimes, discarded elements may again be brought into contention and thus increase the available choices for the next iteration. The criteria for selection / rejection are beyond my comprehension. Like the one applied to pick one from a box of twenty identical foil covered Swiss chocolates, which process may last many minutes

Offer the plate to a man and the item closest to him will be picked up without a second’s gap in the conversation. With a lady, the focus on selection is total. Sometimes it is intertwined with a web of lies transacted with the hostess. ‘You know, I am really too full and simply cannot!’- ‘Come on, Mrs yy, you haven’t taken anything at all’ - ‘OK, for your sake, a half piece only’; that lady will then proceed to clean out three plates in the next ten minutes. I infer that it must be some sort of a complex game enacting at sociological and psychological levels (would you please analyze this, Dr Eric D Berne?).

Till college days, the task of proffering was generally left to women, so I did not care. But joining the Army changed that; we were required to escort the waiters serving the ladies and so as to be capable of directing the waiters on punctilious manners, we had to learn them ourselves too. I was not good at this and when I was forced to proffer a tray, I would wear a plastic smile, look at the ceiling and try to solve a differential equation mentally. If she had not selected by then, then try a very difficult one. On a ‘thank you’ from her, suppress the sigh of relief and move on to the next. Senior officers, smart guys, usually overlooked me for such duties. But not this time.

We were at the HQ Officers Mess and it was College Dinner Night at the MCTE, Mhow. Officers were attired in summer mess formals – white half sleeved shirt with name tabs and collar dogs, epaulets with rank insignia, special black trousers reaching up to the ribs, cummerbund and officer pattern shoes with spurs (Spurs! Spurs? Used for riding a horse? Yes!). Ladies in fashionable ensembles moved around in groups, sometimes seated on antique sofas. We young officers huddled at the bar. All of a sudden, a wandering colonel gruffly ordered me to ‘look after’ the ladies. So I went to the ante room and hung around a group of ladies who ignored me, of course.

When one of the seated ladies, obviously quire senior and clad in a wafer thin saree, looked around with an empty glass, I asked, ‘Can I get you something, ma’m?’, she murmured ’ Gin and lime with soda’. Before I could turn around, an experienced waiter had already moved in with the poured drink and a pitcher of soda neatly arranged on a silver tray lined with red velvet. I took the empty glass from her and handed over the poured one. The waiter moved to add soda, but I wrenched the pitcher from him. He resisted, but hell, I am an officer and will have my way.

This white metal pitcher had a heavy bottom, tapering tall to a narrow neck with a flip open lid and a long curved snout; the type conjuring up images of an Arabian ‘saki’ wearing a seductive veil and little else. I held the pitcher by the handle and tilted it to pour soda into the glass she was holding out. Nothing came out of the snout. I tilted it further and further with no result. It was ‘unmanly’ to use both hands and so, with sheer wrist power, I tilted it till it was above horizontal. Still nothing came out of the snout but the lid opened suddenly and deposited a lot of ice cold soda on her lap. She didn’t even squeal; just stared with horror at the soggy mess that was her pleated saree a moment ago.

What happened after? I don’t know. I shouted at a waiter to get napkins and chased after him as if to hurry. I cut across to the lawn, edged to the compound wall, scaled it and slept in someone else’s room that night.

Not me, please.

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