this real story took place at least 5 decades and 5 years back
when the author was just entering his teens - as such no cause for
amusement or fun about certain facts. When
I was just entering my School on that day my classmate SOMU yelled
at me “yeh, PANJU! Are you coming for the office party on the coming
I couldn’t follow
head or tail as my limited knowledge put me to guessing about
the congress party, communist party etc. I retorted back that
it was not the time to talk about politics at our age and
I was not interested in attending such wasteful things. He
mocked back at my ignorance and explained that a TEA
PARTY is in the offing for the officials and one
member from each of the families is invited in honor of the
visiting collector. This party was to be hosted by the CUSTOMS
department in which both of our fathers served. SOMU was elder
to me by at least a couple of years and appeared stout and
tall while I was short and puny even for my age. In spite
of this fact, he was always on obligation to me at the time
of exams when he used to sit behind me and indulge in copying
as I was always holding top position in class.
Though there was a
few more who were aspiring to be my neighbor he could easily elbow
them out by his brutal strength. My only utility of him was to acquire
knowledge about the worldly affairs least connected with our studies.
To be honest, that was the first time that I had ever heard about
a TEA PARTY. I became more inquisitive and collected every information
about the impending party during which, apart from tea, sweets and
snacks, they also provided the invitees with entertainment through
a music band. Immediately on reaching home I murmured to my mother
to recommend me to my father in order to avail this opportunity.
At that age – for that matter even after my becoming a grand father
– I lacked the guts to have any dialogue with my father. My father
was surprised that I could gather this information about his office
and declared that it was not for youngsters. When I confronted my
father, I told him that SOMU a son of a class-4 staff is attending
the party. I feel humiliated to face his boastings and as the son
of a INSPECTOR and also holding 1st rank in the class I deserve
to attend the TEA PARTY.
My father became furious
and abused me for my adamant talk and declared that without knowing
anything about TABLE MANNERS I would bring discredit his
name by attending the party. I was puzzled about that word TABLE
MANNERS and also my personal ego prevented me to know about its
meaning and opted to remain quiet rather than making my case weaker
by exhibiting my ignorance. My knowledge of English was substandard
at that time and tried my memory to know the meaning of MANNERS
so that I could connect TABLE or CHAIR whatever it is!
Suddenly I recollected
an incident - when one of his colleagues visited our house
I did not rise from my seat to welcome him and was scolded
by my father for not knowing basic manners. So I concluded
that whenever some respectable person approaches, we should
get up from our seat. But I couldn’t get anything out of combining
both terms and for the time being I did not bother. After
all I was not to go to that party anyway. But on the next
day after my father left for early morning duty my mother
called me fondly and broke the good news that she could manage
his permission for my attending the PARTY and revived my spirits.
My dear mother had rescued me from my father plenty of times
including for my controversial matrimony. Even now my eyes
swell with tears when recollecting memorable moments in my
life which always had her influence.
On that SATURDAY evening
I met SOMU and boasted that I was also going to the party. He laughed
and teased me that there was nothing great about that as all the
children are automatically invited. He also took to me to the arena
where all arrangements were being done. Lot of square tables were
put with illumination of lights, erection of pandal etc. when I
enquired all about the fuss of TABLE MANNERS he was visibly proud
to explain to me as many times I had tutored him mathematics and
other subjects. He took me aside and told me that was the invention
of British dogs not suiting to our culture and simple way of life.
Actually it was the custom of royal and rich people to arrange for
frequent dinners and parties and just to prove their superiority
they insist on so many dos and don’ts. We will discuss about the
topic at a latter stage. My friend advised me to put up with the
best dress as so many big dignitaries are expected. Though his father
was much lower status wise he had acquired a lot of ill-gotten wealth
by corruption and in spite of my father holding much higher rank
he was a specimen of honesty and loyalty that has percolated to
the 3rd generation.
Saturday night was
restless and hence sleepless consequent of the terrible excitement
generated in me by brooding over the impending PARTY. Well! At last
the Sunday dawned and my first concern was readying the dress. I
always liked the color blue and as such there was not much of a
problem to pick that checked shirt of blue. To confess the truth
I was having only 3 shirts worth wearing and the blue colored became
the choice more by compulsion. As the pants are always dark, here
too I faced a little problem. To be frank I am mentioning about
my half pants or trousers as they used to be called at that historical
time. There were no uniforms at that time and those 3 pairs of dresses
were worn for all purposes. As the pair was looking crumbled I asked
my mother to provide me with hot water filled and bottom flat vessel
to iron out my clothes. Yes! That was the technique practiced by
middle class families to press clothes!
My mother was surprised
on my refusal to take Tiffin (uppuma or dosa) on the plea that I
wanted to give justice to that PARTY. My father left for his work
after which he was to join the party in his KHAKEE uniform. He just
glanced at me and warned me not to join that notorious SOMU as he
may do some mischief and take shelter under you being the officer’s
son. But he could never give me an alternative for a worthy companion.
I just nodded my head more out of formality than of obedience. In
any case I couldn’t have ignored SOMU or vice-versa. The clock rang
5 times and I rushed to the bathroom and washed my face with soap
more liberally than usual. When I put a lot of water on my rough
and thick bunch of hair my mother shouted not to pour water on the
head and invite cold. But that was necessary to groom my unruly
hair which was in abundance at that time. I had to spend considerable
time to produce that crown like curl at the forehead. My mother,
sisters and brother were looking at my strange behavior.
The venue of the function was hardly 15 minutes from our quarters,
but before that SOMU met me on the way. Actually I hurried so that
he doesn't reach my house before my leaving the house and confront
by my family members. SOMU made a glance at me from head to foot
and laughed as if I was a joker. He was surprised that I was not
wearing a full pant and full hand shirt. On his part he was trim
in his full pant and matching full shirt tucked inside with a leather
belt. He was wearing a canvas shoe with sox. He had put a lot of
powder to cover his dark complexion with little success. But I couldn’t
withstand the odor of a strong scent that was more of an irritation
than enjoyment. When I made a compliment about his look he only
abused his father for not presenting him with a watch for a long
time. He also declared that my dress was not up to the standard
of my father. But there was more of sympathy than of pride in his
talk. He made me nervous to the extent that I was doubting whether
I would get entry at all. He encouraged me by telling that when
he was around none on earth dare stop me from entering and adding
to that I was the son of an officer and on that ground alone other
factors will be bypassed. I was elated momentarily as if my father
was a governor or minister. But it is also a fact that my father’s
position was having sufficient weight during those days. My friend
SOMU selected a table that was covering almost all angles of viewpoint.
They had put a table cloth of spotless white with embroidery work
at the 4 corners. Out of the 4 chairs the remaining 2 chairs were
inviting the attention of other invitees. But SOMU was preventing
all of them from occupation on some plea or other until he spotted
2 guys of his acquaintance whom he invited to occupy the seats,
as if he was the host. I was astonished by his superior air and
way of conversation as if he was the son of that collector for whom
all were waiting. Uniformed men of the catering company were briskly
going around serving with forceps varieties of sweets and snacks.
He warned me not to touch them until the chief guest made a start.
He also remarked - that was part of TABLE MANNERS.
My fingers were itching
at least to get the feel of those strange edibles. There was a small
munching sound from my friend beside and I noticed he had already
put something in his mouth and was enjoying it secretly. But when
I looked at his plate all the pieces served so far were intact and
on comparison one of mine was missing. He winked at me mischievously
and at the same time called a bearer and complained that my plate
was not served with that piece. However the bearer was not to accept
it and declared that in all probability it must have already been
consumed by me. SOMU in turn protested vehemently that as I was
the son of an officer there was no such chance. On hearing that
the server apologized and put that sweet on my plate. After he left,
SOMU winked at me for the 2nd time and even dared to take a portion
of that sweet from mine declaring that but for his presence of mind
I would have lost even that half. On my part I sheepishly conceded
his right when I had lost that half of sweet for nothing.
The COLLECTOR had at last arrived as was evident from the sudden
silence and song of welcome in chorus. Rose garlands and a big bouquet
were presented to him and his wife. I was proud momentarily to see
my father shaking hands with the COLLECTOR and glanced at SOMU to
see his reaction. As a well groomed politician he took full advantage
of the scene and declared to that small gathering that he was the
father of his friend –me. All eyes were focused on me much to my
embarrassment and I am yet to know whether it was on admiration
or pity. Then onwards he took complete control of the situation
either for handling the bearers or for approaching the orchestra
party. Frequently he was rushing to them and demanding that the
Inspector's son wants a certain tune from a particular film to be
played. But it was unfortunate that a particular carnatic based
song that I wanted to be played was never executed by SOMU. The
speech of the COLLECTOR tested the patience of all including myself
and my father put an end to it with his characteristic intervention
and hilarious jokes. I felt proud that my father could make the
whole audience to heartily laugh where the collector failed miserably.
If at all I have acquired some literary ability that it is entirely
due to the genetic inheritance from my late father.
When the green signal
was given all the gathering had started the real business of devouring
the plate for which they were patiently waiting. There were more
of ill manners rather than TABLE MANNERS in those ensuing 30 minutes.
But to tell you the truth, most of them had stealthily emptied at
least half of their plates except me the fool who was always following
rules, regulations, decorum etc during the rest of his life. Most
of the items that I had taken were for the first time in my life.
The party ended by 9 pm and I parted from my friend to reach my
house. My mother and others crowded around me and I explained my
new experience. I was all in praise of my father who was all the
time crowded by others and listened patiently to his fluent English
and versatile jokes. Father reached late in the night in a very
good mood and then talked to me candidly. I was very shy even to
tell him that his talk was interesting and thoroughly enjoyed by
the audience. As it was already late in the night my father assured
me to tell me all about TABLE MANNERS the next morning. He was quoting
so many anecdotes and incidents concerning this British culture.
But during his time the culture of British was very much in existence
as only 5 years had passed after independence at the time of occurrence
of the above events. Also let us not forget about the historical
culture which is however in existence even now in ARMY QRS, like
NDA, IMA and also in parties thrown amongst army circles. There
are innumerable cultures of TABLE MANNERS DIFFERING FROM COUNTRY
TO COUNTRY. To quote the Chinese way the system revolves around
CHOP STICKS with which we are to bother lastly. Let us confine ourselves
with the INDIAN WAY which is largely uniform through out India.
Here are a few.
Wait for the host
or the eldest person to start first.
You should maintain
silence while eating food.
You are not expected
to chat unnecessarily with the people around the table.
It is acceptable
to not use cutlery for eating, as many foods - such as Indian
breads and curry - are best enjoyed when eating with the hand.
Wash hands thoroughly
before sitting at the table as some Indian foods are primarily
eaten by hand.
Also, wash hands
after eating the food. Usually, a finger bowl (with Luke warm
water and lemon) is served per person for rinsing fingers.
In North India,
when eating curry, the gravy must not be allowed to stain the
fingers -- only the fingertips are used. However, in South India,
it is acceptable to use more of your hand.
such as chapatti, roti, or naan are served with the meal, it
is acceptable and expected to use pieces of them to gather food
and sop-up gravies and curries.
The cardinal rule
of dining is to always use the right hand when eating or receiving
food and never the left. Even a piece from the bread is broken
using the right hand alone.
It is considered
unhygienic to use your spoon or fingers to share food from someone
else's plate once you have started using your own. Instead,
ask for a clean spoon to transfer the food to your plate from
the common dish.
When eating with
hands, always eat with right, as mentioned above. However, use
only the other clean hand to transfer food from a common dish
on the table.
It is not necessary
to taste each and every dish prepared; but you must finish everything
on the plate as it is considered a respect for served food.
For that reason, take only as much food on the plate you can
help clear the dishes.
is used outside must not be worn inside the house as it is considered
Lastly my father quoted
an incident involving the noble laureate RABINDRANATH TAGORE when
he was invited by the Queen of England to facilitate him with a
party. He was not accustomed to such parties thrown by royal dignitaries.
When he was served hot tea in a cup and saucer inadvertently he
poured the tea bit after bit in the saucer and started sipping as
it was very hot for him. That was against the concept of British
manners as it is prohibited to transfer the tea to the saucer under
All the surrounding
guests were shocked and considered it as an act of insult to the
royalty. However considering the reputation of Tagore the queen
wanted to dilute the crisis by following Tagore in transferring
tea to the saucer from the cup. Immediately all the other royal
gatherings followed the gesture of the queen in a similar manner.
It was not only a great relief to the august gathering from embarrassment
but a worthy tribute to the great Indian literaturete.
Contributing Writer: J. PANCHAPAGESAN