Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cutlery Crisis

A post by wannabe, one of me favourite bloggers, took my mind to a somewhat similar episode in which the protagonist was my friend and colleague. I’ll call her Keralina in this post.

Keralina was one of a group of teachers selected to attend an all India conference on higher education in Ooty. Now, she was a hardcore non-vegetarian. By hardcore, I mean really really hardcore. She can have a complete vegetarian sadhya (Spread) and still feel incomplete in the absence of meat or fish.

By evening 5 0’clock she and the group (all men) from her little town where she worked, reached the venue of the conference which was a college in Ooty. Dinner was at 7.30, they were told.

After relaxing and freshening up, Keralina came down to the mess hall for dinner. There were separate tables laid out for the veggies and the non vegetarians. She stood for a moment beside a non veg table laid out for six people, surveying it. With great satisfaction she looked at the large oval dish in which big pieces of roasted chicken, garnished with fried onions and nuts, were aesthetically arranged. The dish stood out among the other dishes like a crown prince among lesser mortals, she thought. She was about pull out a chair and take her seat when she suddenly noticed that cutlery was also arranged around each plate.

Now, born and brought up in the heartland of rural Kerala, she had never used them, and was known for her tirade during her lectures against Indians imbibing these colonial habits (like eating with mini weapons) at the cost of sensible and healthier practices in our own land. To make matters worse, on her way to Ooty, she had been reading in the train an article on etiquette and table manners which claimed that awkwardness with cutlery is a dead give away that your breeding and sophistication need serious honing.

She was distressed. She had absolutely no inking as to how to deal with chicken with fork and knife. After all, why should she have gained that skill when God has given her expert fingers which can find its way into the smallest crevice in the boniest piece of chicken?

With a heavy heart, Keralina, poor girl, moved away towards the vegetarian section. Whatever may be her ideological position on this issue, she didn’t want her image to take a bashing, negotiating a piece of roast chicken clumsily with fork and knife. As she took the last seat at a long table laid out to accommodate 16 veggies(there were several non-veg tables with seating arrangements for 6 people at each), her friend who was already there told her that she was at the wrong table.

“The non vegs should go there”, she said pointing to the tables next to this single veg table.
“I am observing noyambu (abstinence) for a week”, she bluffed, feeling miserable.

And she joined them and took her spoon and stated her meal. The conversation revolved around noyambu, and the veggies were lost in admiration of Keralina, her discipline, piety - -

Half way thru the meal, Keralina looked at the non-veg table to see how her friends from her home town were managing with the cutlery. To her utter dismay, she found that the cutlery was untouched! All of them were attacking the large chunks of roasted chicken with their fingers!

Keralina nearly wept.

And almost screamed in sheer frustration when the mess manager came around to confirm the number and list of the vegetarians and non vegetarians. She couldn’t backtrack on her noyambu claim and so got listed in the vegetarian section for the whole duration of the conference!


  1. Oh poor old Keralina!

    You know how many Keralinas will be there around us on a single day at a given time? This is a big problem when you fly out of the country, especially to the West, if you're not used to the cutlery.

    Saying that, I still remember how I suffered when I went to a top hotel for the first time to celebrate my 18th bday. But then, since all we boys were of the same age and none of has had a clue as to how to use the yolks we just used our hands and enjoyed the situation...plain!

  2. ROTFL...i cannot stop laughing imagining the scene in office..i was like her when i came to Germany..i struggled big time in the initial days while having lunch with the germans who were doing fluent surgery...and unlike her i couldnt get away with the noyambu trick..;-P

    anyways next week its gonna be my 3rd year here...just thinking of those days makes me laugh...when mom and dad was in Germany and I took them to restuarants here , mom had the same dilemma...but dad was Okay coz he was used to dissecting frogs in biology lab...but then we thought what the heck..lets be indian for a while!!;-D

  3. I had apprehensions about whether i would ever be able to manage with the weapons...but after a week of eating i think you get the trick...today we are having trout fish for lunch with plenty of thorns...and am going to have it thinking about this post..;-)

    I remember the first time i had pizza with my european colleagues...they had to wait for 15 minutes for me to finish..when normally i am a quick eater..;-P

  4. your post reminded me of a friend of mine who went out for dinner with a client from US. there were a number of pieces of cutlery on both sides of the plate and crossing her fingers, she picked up something which she thought was hers. a few minutes later, the very sporting client asks her, "now may I have your spoon and fork please?"

  5. That was so funny.
    Still laughing at 'eating with mini weapons!'
    This must have so traumatic for Keralina, poor woman!

  6. Ohh poor Karelina. The entire week within sight of such a hearty non veg meal and not able to touch it would have been a plight!

  7. @ scorpio
    yes, i think it's b a good idea foa all to take basic lessons in handling the stuff - since when u r in Rome, the best policy is to do what the romans do
    @ mathew
    'but then we thought what the heck..lets be indian for a while!!;-D'
    i'd be ueasy doing that - we attract unnecessary attention.
    were u able to demolish the trout with the weapons?
    @ wanderlust
    that is funny!
    @ aparna & sujatha
    if u know keralina only u'll understand how traumatic it was for her.

  8. What a fascinating post!!

    I am an American, and that whole 6-8-10 silverware spread would scare me to death too, and does. First time I encountered it, I picked a suitable size spoon and fork in the spread and used that for the entire course....of course, I came to know later how wrong I was!!!

    But on the flip side, like Keralina when I moved to Chennai and had to learn to eat with my hands- that was quite a shock not to even eat sambar with a spoon- and seeing other pick up the steel plates and sip- grossed me out at first- now I love doing that kind of thing- it now freaks out my family (if they see me do it!). I also got freaked out seeing people having sambar, curds, etc etc running down their arm... a typical American would loose their appitite (in fact some of my Indian friends say the same). Then after living in Chennai and never using my left hand even to tear chapati- and seeing my Mumbai friends/Delhi friends (even husband) do that, still to this day kind of makes me shiver- and that is coming from a person who never grew up in India nor has any Indian relatives (before I married into the great Indian family I am in now...)

    What a great post and love the name- Keralina!!

  9. @Jennifer
    thanks for visiting the blog.
    yes, it's good to have another perspective,
    'I also got freaked out seeing people having sambar, curds, etc etc running down their arm... a typical American would loose their appitite'
    i also get freaked out seeing that. i also would lose my apetite.
    each community - even families- has different ways eating with the fingers. but i think things are becoming more uniform now-with greater movement of people from one part of the country to another - -
    left hand has a lot of negative associations. i am a partial left hander. just the other day, the fish vendor at the market got annoyed with me for making payment with the left hand. i was the first customer.

  10. yeah..but then i didnot want mom to feel uncomfortable alone as she was not used to it..moreover it was a indian restaurant..

    yes..i had a successful surgery yesterday...everything is fine now...the trout was precisely dissected..;-P

  11. My whole-hearted sympathy for Ms. Keralina. Since I have never moved out of Kerala, I stick to my hands everywhere. There have been times when I reached out with my hand even when every other person on the table were armed to the teeth , and always got these funny relieved smiles before they sheepishly discarded their arms and went Indian....

  12. Teacher,
    Have had my share of adventures trying to have crab in a restaurant.
    The ones in restaurants are bigger than what we get at home and so hardships multiply, even more with some cutlery.


  13. What a great post!
    I had my first experience with the mini weapons more than three years back. I had just got my first job offer and to celebrate we went for a buffet in Abad Plaza, Cochin. Now the friends who came with me were, surprisingly, well versed with the fork and the spoon. And this was my first buffet ever in a hotel!

    I attacked the bony chicken pieces with my fork and spoon but as Thilakan said in Kilukkam, it was a mootha kozhi (old chicken). The flesh just wouldn't budge.

    In the end I tried with all my might and the chicken piece, as if to mock me, flew away from the plate like a rogue missile and landed on a lady's plate two rows further.

    This is not a stranded incident. I still face "flying-chicken" issues! :D

    At office, I use my hands for non vegetarian. Much better than being embarrassed for sending chicken-missiles all over.

  14. @ deepak
    i too have had this flying chicken experience. yes. nothing can be more embarassing
    @ Nikhil narayan
    eat crab with weapons! no way! not even if my life depends on it.wont let any ayudham spoil my enjoyment of crab!
    'armed to the teeth '... and always got these funny relieved smiles before they sheepishly discarded their arms and went Indian....'
    @ mathew
    congratulation. eating bony fish with fork & knife can be dicey

  15. We have Finishing schools now; and 'weapon' training is extra-part of most professional courses. In the 1960s, an Irinjalakuda College had the rule that all boys of the PG must wear pants (trousers) daily. This was very insightful because their boys were all from the farmer classes. Though from a more reputed College, I had worn pants only in the NCC (till well into the second year of my employment later).

    Once a Catholic priest gave me supper at his official residence. Kanji, payar and fried sardine (I presume that Chaala is Sardine).

    The young priest apologised to me that he had to use the cutlery because he was used to it as a strict practice at the Seminary; and could not now eat without them. It was a treat to watch him put away Chaala-varuthathu with knife and fork.

  16. Salute to your skills again. This story would never sound right in English, if I were to tell it. But you did manage it.

  17. Lovely.
    What I've been missing!

  18. @ austere
    thanks for visiting.
    @ anonymous
    million thanks
    @ stoic
    yes. all priests are trained to use cutlery.


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