"There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle."
Your uncomplaining patience in reading my oft-trying posts is a commodity very precious to me – and I’ve been shamefully extravagant in my expenditure of it. Thank you. Now Dear Reader, I beseech you to spare me a little more. This is going to be terribly, terribly dull.
I left the cold comfort of my room on Saturday morning at precisely 7.20 am, and its preciseness is the chief virtue I remember it at all. Right before I did, I picked up Hugh Laurie’s novel – The Gun Seller – which was at that time only wanting of one final chapter before conclusion. I debated whether I should also bring along Susanna Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu which I was concurrently reading since there was so trifling a remainder of the former to read. I ultimately decided against doing so.
Being a creature and often slave of habit, I plodded my way to my usual weekend breakfast place, Pangal. I said ‘plodded’ because that was how I was feeling; like an elderly elephant tramping through an ocean-wide mud-pit. I felt dull-witted. I felt as if my limbs were on autopilot and the microchips were fried. I felt an almost overwhelming desire to just turn back home and sleep the day away – breakfast be damned. Yeap, that sums up how I usually feel after skipping yet another date with Sleep.
The walk lasted about ten minutes but I felt as if I teleported there. That’s me; a somnambulist in the making. By then, it’s about 7.30 am – give or take a minute.
The thing about the waiters in Pangal is that they are either resentful of foreigners, xenophobic, or just unhappy with how my face looks like. They’d zip (yes, zip) around the place, taking down orders from the other breakfasters while carefully pretending not to notice me. After almost a minute of vigorous gesticulations, I managed to flag one of these elusive zipping waiters down and told him that I wanted a couple of vadas and a piping glass of chai. The good thing about ordering vadas is that they are already made and are usually sitting in a crispy pile somewhere – so they came almost instantly. The bad thing is; two aren’t very filling, and eating more than that can be seriously sickening.
I finished at about 7.45 am, and ordered a cheese omelette sandwich – my personal favourite from Pangal. The problem is, they don’t start serving sandwiches before 8.00 am. One of the queerest things about food places here in Manipal is that their menus are often heavily scheduled. Only local breakfast items like upma, poori, vadas, etc are served before 8.00 am while the western sorts like sandwiches are available later. Maggi noodles and fresh milk are only sold after 9.00 am till about 2.00 pm, and dishes containing rice can be bought only between 12.00 pm to 2.00 pm, and 7.00 pm to 9.00pm. Tandoori stuff like naan and parota starts after 6.00 pm while North Indian dishes begin rolling an hour after that. Between 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm, you’re better off eating your own socks because at this time, they serve the culinary equivalent of cow crap.
But why? The bread, cheese and eggs are in the kitchen and the same damn guys that’s churning out pooris and dosas since 7.00 am will be the ones making the sandwiches at 8.00 am anyway. What the hell is wrong with these people?
So wait I must, and at 7.55 am, tragedy struck; I finished the book I brought with me.
I cursed myself for not having the foresight to bring the other novel with me. Not having anything to do while waiting without the pleasure of human companionship is a terribly disconcerting experience for me. Disconcerting – that’s the best word I can think of to describe how it felt like that Saturday morning at 7.55 am.
I noticed for the first time that there was a local man sitting right opposite of me at my table - he was wolfing down a plate of idli with gusto and I smiled nervously as his eyes briefly met mine. In my hands was a small, tough piece of cardboard I brought with my book – I remember that I salvaged it for the purpose of serving as my bookmark from its previous occupation; a clothe tag for a Polo collared T-shirt. Then, with a minor start, I realised that I’m wearing that same Polo T-shirt at that moment. I attempted to work out the probability of that event happening but I abandoned the endeavour in the end because I could not recall accurately just how many shirts I owned and because I possessed no possible means of quantifying the chance of my recycling a particular article of clothing from my laundry basket (as in the case of the Polo shirt that morning) at that time.
At about 7.58 am, one of Pangal’s waiters dropped a packet of something small and wrapped in newspaper in front of me. I was at first bewildered and wondered what it was – and then I assumed that the waiter must have mistakenly placed my order of a cheese omelette sandwich to go. I was prodding at it with finger when the local man sitting opposite me cleared his throat and remarked politely that that packet belonged to him. He then scooped it up and left the table, leaving me sitting there feeling pret-ty embarrassed. I was sure that I would not have done what I did had I brought my other book – not having anything to occupy my attention had turned me into an assumptive ass. I cursed my lack of foresight for the second time.
At 8.04 am, I reminded the waiter of my order, and a local couple, probably students, took the place of the idli-wolfing-man opposite me. I noted amusedly that the male counterpart of the couple ordered ‘coffee; extra strong, extra sugar’. Even at their usual dosage of sugar, the tea and coffee from Pangal are barely bearably sweet. Then, from the couple’s mannerisms and conversational tones, I deduced conclusively that the relationship they shared (if any) was very much lop-sided in the favour of the guy. The girl seemed to worship him, while he was scarcely tolerating her affection. I was aware of just how depressing it is to love someone more than he or she loves you back, so I wished diabetes upon that guy, if he hadn’t already have it.
At 8.06 am, I was methodically checking out every table in the establishment, watching their occupants’ antics. A pair of middle aged ladies held my attention for a full two minutes as they poured both their cups of tea into a thermos and took turns drinking from it. I thought it was simultaneously bizarre and fascinating – for the sole and simple reason that I did not understand why they did that.
My cheese omelette sandwich arrived at 8.12 am and I dove for it thankfully. Idleness and inactivity simply disagrees with me in so many ways. Between 7.55 and 8.12 am – a mere 17 minutes – lasted as conceivably long as several sunlit days. Not doing anything, I discovered, exposes a person to all his senses and thoughts. I fancy what I went through in that brief 17 minutes were what the greatest scientific, artistic and literary minds experienced hours daily when they ‘sat down to think’. Possibly, the initial inklings of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity was conceived the day his telly broke down. Dali probably did an awful lot of nothing, staring at empty canvases before he actually painted anything. I can indeed see my favourite author, Susanna Clarke performing a monstrous amount of mulling over the span of a million cup of teas during her ten year long authoring of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - all hypothetically speaking, of course.
But what set me apart from all these admirable people was that I found ‘doing nothing’ to be very disconcerting. Maybe that’s why I always carry a novel or two with me whenever I go out in the same manner and purpose some people carry bad-aids with them, download hundreds of movies and TV shows every year, and spend hours writing long, tedious essays like this one – I’m just afraid of ‘doing nothing’. Perhaps that’s what makes special people special. ‘Doing nothing’ does not upset them.
I finished less than half of my cheese omelette sandwich, picked up my tab, and left for home and bed. My appetite, I found, had deserted me.
k0k s3n w4i