The effects of a hearty meal are well documented, lunch–the most important part of the day is also when we get to reload the tank, fill the empty stomach making us prepare for the long day ahead. Since that would be the last time you would be eating a full meal for another eight or nine hours, it is also the break that is much looked forward to, where you get to share your home cooked food (if it is any good, or in my case especially when it isn’t). Dining out has its own thrills, because there is no joy greater than salivating over the prospect of what to order at an eatery.
“I am gonna try that Paneer tikka today, but before that maybe I will try KFC’s new chicken as an appetizer, and after all that I shall top it off with a chocolate sundae!”
Now my office may not be nestled in the swankiest of tech parks, as a matter of fact it is not an IT park at all. When someone says “Hey, in which IT park is your office located? Ascendas ah? DLF ah? Tidel ah?” I tend to correct that statement by saying:
“We are not located in an IT park, it is just a huge building that has a dozen other multinationals.”
“Oh, you guys have a food court there?”
Now you see, the reputation of an IT park is not judged by the companies it houses, but by the various eating establishments that are present in the food court. And when someone asks me a question about the eating options at the food court, I just tilt my head to the side and say:
“Yeah, we kinda have one.”
Because technically, the presence of four joints that sell food does make that huge empty space of furnished area be labeled as a “Food Court”. A juice shop which can give the roadside juice seller a superiority complex, a bakery that sells bread and cake but considers itself too posh to be called a bakery, a Sarvana Bhavan wannabe who is similar to that place only in terms of its pricing, and a biriyani house where in your plate you occasionally find a cockroach, and sometimes a piece of hardened cloth that eerily resembles a snake skin.
If these were not enough to kill your appetite, you also had to deal with the poor service. Complaints of finding bugs or pieces of cloth in your plate would automatically entitle you to another plate of food for the price of the one that you paid for, rather than getting your money back. But then you had no choice, venturing outside the premises in search of a decent shop was regarded as a waste of time.
And then one day He waltzed into our office corridors, He the bringer of clean nutritious food, yes nutritious I say, for the meal he provided was affordable, simple, tasty, and had earthly qualities. It was not like that the dishes he served was right out of a Master Chef episode, it was not packaged to cater to the foodie snobs, the kind who judge these cookery shows by taking a delicate bite as if they were nibbling into a newborn’s feet. It was served to hungry men and women who only wanted to have decent food that filled their empty stomach and prepared them for the tough hours ahead. If the dishes served at the food court matched the oomphness of Megan Fox by looks, but came across as a damp squib once they went into your mouth, then the ones served by The Vendor were as plain-Jane as Julia Roberts, yet they were rich in taste and filling, much like her acting prowess.
He was a no-nonsense guy, he took orders over the phone, he brought the food to the office cafeteria where a separate corner was allotted to him. He would not speak more that what was spoken to him, he never bothered to ask you about your job, or the stress you were facing, he never seemed to find any reason for idle chit chat, unlike the guy at the counter in that bakery in the food court who was beckoned by a first name basis, gave you dating advice, was liked by many ladies because… you know how can you not like a guy who owns a cake shop? And was on the Facebook friends list of a few regulars whom he served. Yet you could see the warmth in the eyes of the short and stocky Vendor when he handed you your packet of food, that and the most honest smile if ever there was one.
“Enjoy your meal and do come again”–words he never said, yet you know that’s what his smile translated to.
The meals the Vendor served would be in neatly packaged separate aluminum foils. It generally consisted of four pieces of rotis, rice, a dal and sabji, along with the raita that was in a plastic cover with a tightly sealed rubber band, with half a piece of onion, and a couple of pieces of neatly diced carrot and cucumber, all of it with a use-and-throw plate and a spoon that completed the contents of the plastic bag that he handed over to you, with the name of the person who ordered neatly written on it with a black marker for easy recognition.
The perks of working for a Fortune -500 company is that they got their own clout, which they use to make lives of their employees easier, from providing cabs to handling their mail, to paying their bills to setting up their own exclusive foodcourt.
As the complaints with the foodcourt grew and the remaining eateries were slowly yet surely shutting down, the calls for a more feasible option grew. And then the prayers were finally answered–a whole new floor was dedicated to cater to the appetite of the employees, and it captured our imagination. From food that ranged from Chinese, to North Indian, to South Indian, from juices and milkshakes, to cakes and pastries to the ambience–the beautifully designed décor, to the placement of the chairs, to the view, the new foodcourt had everyone going gaga over it. It was a welcome change from the eyesore that passed itself off as the building’s main foodcourt.
And then, they gave the Vendor a spot there to go about his business.
Do you know that feeling that creeps under your skin whenever you see your ex-girlfriend with her boyfriend?
You grit your teeth, yet you pretend that she walking hand in hand with him does not bother you at all. Every bit of you would urge you to walk over to her, to look her in the eye and shout out “What has he got that I don’t?”, yet you do none of it. You cannot make yourself do it, you just look at her with a fake smile hoping that one day she will realize her folly and come back to you.
But you know that she won’t.
The Vendor was reduced to that guy, he was reduced to a peanut seller in Disneyland, nobody was interested in buying peanuts from him, they were all going for the cotton candy. He saw his once faithful patrons going for bigger, better and more varied options. He looked longingly at his old customers who waited in the long queue at the Chinese, hoping they would spot him in his corner eagerly holding a packet in his hand, and come to get one from him just for old times’ sake. But no one noticed, nobody cared, nobody even acknowledged his presence.
There were very few who came to him, but that was because they were running short of cash. When they were loaded with cash the next day, they probably won’t even go near him.
Maybe one day when people had their fill of the swanky new foodcourt, when every meal starts to taste the same, when they realize that the lavish food was burning a hole in their pocket, they will search for that friendly face again.
They will look for the Vendor at his spot, only to find it empty with no trace of him. They will ask others about him.
“Did you see that young boy who used to sell dal and rotis in a plastic bag? Where do I find him?”
Questions that would be answered with a shake of the heads, with shrugged shoulders that say “I don’t know.”
And just when you felt that you betrayed him, he would be standing right behind you handing you that packet which has the neatly packaged food in aluminum foil. And with a smile on his face, he would say
“Enjoy your meal, do come again”