Ever been to a buffet in rural Sindh? If the answer is no, then you have been saved a good deal of trauma in life. But that would be the view of conventional wisdom. And since we are averse to anything superficial, unconventional (and by far much greater) wisdom would have it that you have not laughed heartily, or widened your mouth (and sometimes eyes) to unprecedented widths until you have been a ‘participant’ at these buffets.
Here, courtesy and a genuine consideration for the feelings and personal space of your fellow brother would be considered a handicap. If you chew your food with your mouth closed, the host might think that you aren’t eating. Once those steel lids are lifted off of the buffet dishes, it’s every man for himself dear brother.
Guests, who otherwise appear to be unfit or generally possessed of a slow movement in life, suddenly acquire reflexes of Olympic gymnasts, and the stealth of Michael Holding. Here, it is the survival of the fattest. They travel from their seats to the food faster than you can say ‘naan’. Don’t be surprised if the host offers Ovaltine, or ketchup. Try to see the sweet side of it. The pattern of thought applied in this zone is one of logic. Aye, there is method to the madness. The main plate is used only for naan (since the naan takes up more space), whereas the side plate is used for actual food.
A more utilitarian application of logic is when a helping of desert is taken at the same time and on the same plate as the main course — in case none is left later. This logic in particular stems from the uncertainty of when or from where the next meal will come. You know you have been in the rural areas too long when you take the idiom “you are what you eat” as an insult. You also know you are well versed in best practices when you help yourself to some ice cream by cutting the large slab with the same plate you are going to eat it off.
The only visible trace of brotherhood may surface when there is a shortage of plates. In such a scenario, a ‘brother’ will walk up to you, and while addressing you as ‘bhaoo’, gently shift the food on your plate to one side so that both of you can share. When this happens, you will be surprised by your own magnanimity as you will hand him the entire plate. As you sit and eat at a table, you may notice that the floor is covered in layer of bones. Pets aren’t allowed. ‘Tis the humans.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2015.