Accustomed to certain minimum dining room etiquette V GANGADHAR was shocked at the lack of this in the Oscar winning film ‘The Revenant’, where hands, nails, teeth were freely used to tear the raw flesh from the still-bleeding carcasses.
When I eat I do not pretend to be a sophisticated westerner, delicately prodding pieces of meat and fish into the mouth, chewing them gently and sipping some wine. A simple, south Indian that too a Pucca’ vegetarian I still belong to the ‘Sambar, rice, pappadam, rasam brigade. Mixing everything on the plate and gulping the mixture with a loud noise for which I do not make an apology. When invited to five-stat hotels I slink into a remote corner, slip my rasam-rice-mixture. And look around with a touch of embarrassment if I released a burp! I firmly believed that south Indian food was meant to be enjoyed with these noises in the background. Silence behoves a westernized dining table but not a noisy Iyer wedding lunch with the traditional 64, vegetables, sauces, 16 varieties of pickles, pappadams and varieties of ‘divine’ payasams (sweet).
The noise around the dining hall didn’t matter. How can one enjoy the divine meal without slurping. Slobbering, throat clearing, crashing fried pappadams on the rice mountains…The ritual was elaborate and time consuming but I seldom missed a wedding feast and among the Pandavs, Bhimsena was my hero for several years. During their 13 year Vanvas, out of which the last year had to be spent in disguise in the thick forest.
The brave 5 and their wife Panchali continued to live in the forest with Bhim providing food for the family by begging, taking one half of it for himself and allowing the rest to be shared among the four brothers, one wife, one mother and the number of Brahmins who happened to passby. You would be surprised at the number of freeloading Brahmins who turned up at the free khana!
Among themselves or their guests, the Brahmins had to feed these mobs first before thinking of eating. Otherwise, the guests could curse them. Mind you, they were a short tempered lot with powers to curse. This was not so in the Western community. Both the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons saw to I their guests were wined and dined to their satisfaction before partaking the repast. But table manners were ignored.
Remember the early scenes of “Ivanhoe’ where the kitchen staff of Cedric the Great provided Normans Ivanhoe and other guests first with god food minus table manners. They speared huge chunks of meat (venison, wild boar), cut them into small pieces and ate them ravenously. Of course table manners were observed, and proper toasts were drunk at royal banquets in presence were drunk. Princesses Rowena and the Jewish beauty Rebecca followed these rituals carefully. Such feasting and drinking continued for several hundreds of years and immortalized in court paintings, portraits and so on
Under the British rule the grandeur and described vividly in paintings. The rich Hindu rulers and nabobs enjoyed the hospitality of the White rulers’. The reciprocal hospitality was offered when our High and the Mighty went abroad. Royalty, Big Biz hosted lavish parties to entertain the Indians. Often, Indians unaccustomed to plentiful supplies of alcohol drank a bit too much and made mess everywhere. It was all in the game, they returned soon and carried on as though nothing had happened.