Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jottings- Slice of life - 36 (Part 1)

Jottings- Slice of life - 36 (Part 1)
Food, when seen in copious quantities can be overwhelmingly nauseating sometimes. One gets this strange feeling of superfluity coupled with an odd feeling of lethargic fullness in the stomach in well spread out buffets, or lavish weddings, when wherever you look, there is food and only food - nothing else. From simple appetizers, to liquor and beverages, to vegetables and meat, and after dinner aperitifs and Deserts - one’s stomach is satiated with the very sight of it, let alone the giddy feeling of excess caused by profusion of mingled scents and smells that hit the nostril with the vehemence of a tornado. They are all good and pleasing, but there is a limit to what one can eat, and how much could be eaten. Those frontiers were broken down yesterday, at Texas de Brazil, a restaurant at Fort worth Texas. Around fourteen of us were invited by our Customer for a get-together at this upscale Brazilian chain. For those of us, who do not know this, the staple food in Brazil is red meat. And when I say red meat, I literally mean any meat which happens have to slightest tinge of red color on it. From Pork to beef to bacon to chicken (obviously an exception) to lamb and God knows what else can be cooked in a kitchen, hot barbecued meat ( the Brazilians call it Churrascaria style of cooking) is bought at regular intervals by well appointed waiters to tables for unlimited consumption. The methodology is simple. Every plate is identified by a octagonal token which is Green on one side, and red on the other. As servers pass by with Metal skewers laden and stacked with hot meat, they will pause to see if the green side of the token is facing them, if so, they serve a portion of their offering. If they see red, it indicates the meal is finished and they move on. This charade continues from the time guests are seated, water served, drinks catered, and a customary round of salads are eaten - to an indefinite period until the guest gives up eating either of sheer exhaustion or for want of any more appetite to swallow even a morsel of food more.
As I walked in at 7.PM, my group were already at it. There was deep silence at the long table, with only sounds of clenching jaws, and cutlery clinking to break the speechless monotony of eating. They gestured to an empty chair, and pointed to the Salad bar behind me. After customary greetings, I picked my share of raw vegetables, chicken salad and garlic mashed potatoes. No words were spoken for some time. There was no time to speak. In interminable succession, one waiter after another came in gently whispering their wares, and all that the guest had to do was to nod, and a piece of meat would land on the plate. After all, each Plate costed seventy dollars immaterial of whether one ate meat or not. So, I did give into a few chicken sizzler to justify my presence there. But beyond that, I was done. After nearly 30 minutes, when at least ten rounds of meat had comfortably settled in most stomachs, and few rounds of alcohol had found its way to interfere with neurotransmitters, a slow hum of conversation began. Now the pace of the meal was dictated by voices - both official and personal, and the pace of eating had considerably slackened. It was still being served in the background, but with more restraint and choice. The servers seem to understand the dynamics of such gatherings, and began to pace themselves accordingly. Every now and then, they would pop in unannounced and drop a few pieces of fresh meat. A desultory hand would go out to refuse the offer, but the smell, the heat and the quality of atmosphere would cause our esteemed guests to relent, and the food would quickly disappear into their mouth , as if it had to inevitably happen.
After a while, I started looking around the restaurant. It was fairly large place, exquisitely furnished. Low lighting matched the mild dark colors of its walls, and tables were well spaced out to accommodate large groups. But what stuck me, almost immediately was that it was jam packed. That so expensive a place, is patronized by so many people on a weekday surprised me. All plates were overflowing with meat and its juices. There was raw cannibalistic energy in the air. Texas is known for its steaks. They are traditionally beef eaters, and one could see the sense of flourish on their faces as they bit vigorously into succulent pieces of flesh.
In the midst of gastronomic extravaganza, all of a sudden, from some deep recess of my brain, a strange thought bubbled forth. What am I , a Brahmin by birth, doing in a place like this? Though I had formally, existentially relinquished all formal symbolism of being a brahmin many years ago, and internally I do not consider myself attached to any popular sect or religion, I was surprised that such a thought could even arise. It was only for a moment though, before i observed and dismissed it from any further attention. But at that moment, I realized with great force the power of tradition and culture in each one of us. Our human brain carries deep within it millennia of racial memories and indoctrination, and perhaps much more than that - our entire evolutionary history. It only needs a right atmosphere for a buried memory or emotion to sprout; and when it does, it can be so overpowering that even the brightest of men and strongest of intellect and will cannot resist its raw instinctual force and power. It dawned upon me in the midst of that noisy atmosphere in the restaurant how flimsy and superficial is our facade of civilized behavior. From nowhere, a memory of my tradition managed to slip through my attention. Of course, i was perceptive enough not to be overwhelmed by that thought, but then i realized how easy it would have been to be carried away in that surge of emotions that sprung from beneath. I realized too how easy it is to whip up long forgotten and buried memories and emotions. All we need is a right trigger. Behind the patina of culture and modernity lurks an ancient hypothalamus that carries all Human history with all its violence, racial prejudices, and animal instincts, sexual urges and instincts for dominance and survival. None can predict when, where and how a sudden impulse could flare into a massive conflagration. This is the secret of Mob psychosis. Astute politicians, religious leaders, social activists use this to great effect. And knowingly or unknowingly we fall prey to it. J Krishnamurti constantly emphasized during his life long talks “Human Brain carries millennia of evolution in it..”, and unless one understands the totality of it, it is impossible to be transformed. It is not surprising that the story of Human race is punctuated with wars and genocides and unrelenting violence, and most of it the result of sudden outburst of a virulent thought in a single human mind, which soon catches on like forest fire, consuming everything on its path. The veneer of civilization is only skin deep. Below it is a bottomless abyss.
After ten such minutes of deep introspection, I was bought back to reality. The hum of voices took over the deep silence of my experience. I put on my social face again.
God bless…

Yours in mortality,

Bala

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