If symbolism is where you find the ends of unresolved skirmishes in your mind hanging loose, baiting you to step into an amorphous patch, where the practical and yielding human species will shirk their shoulders and leave you alone.. then go ahead and read this story.. Here, the word ‘meal’ might mean a past relationship or a new work assignment and the word ‘cooked’ might just push sarcasm down your throat. Be my guest.
In a fit of enthusiasm when I sent this story to a dear friend who has written for ‘The Guardian’ and on many other platforms in the past, he said, “It has a Ray Bradbury feel to it.” That was the maximum he could part with. I almost fell into the pit and remember myself coyly adding, “Only that my mother did not take me to see Lon Chaney’s performance in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ nor did I meet any carnival entertainer, one Mr. Electrico who touched my nose with an electric sword, made my hair stand on one end and shouted, ‘Live forever!’ to coax me into writing, rather, it were my regular inane visits to the food courts that made me write this piece..!” The gentleman smiled then. I am smiling now.
If it was just a story and there was an obligation to add prefatory text to it, that text would have been something like this:
“Europe had its own challenges; it was going through a lot. Political map of the continent was changing and so was the way of living. The way people eat, their clothes, their preferences,… everything. Yet, smallest of the things kept happening, making slight or absolutely no difference to all that was ‘by design’ and not ‘by nature’!”
Quiet stood “The Courtyard,” a place where people paid in kind to sit and enjoy the meals cooked and served on the premise, In a secluded corner of Willby Street. Unheard of in todays times but, true to its import. Kindness of various kinds is all this world is about.
The Courtyard had no specific style. It served everything that was asked of it.. Any place thrives on pure efficacy and unique style is a must. One can imagine the lackof it there. The Courtyard was a mish- mash of everything. Once a customer asked for yum cha and sushi was served, the customer was not really hungry and did not bother much. He paid little attention, as it was his working time and then what does it matter..? After all he was not dining fine with family or friends nor would this luncheon ever was to turn the mills of destiny to his favour. He was just to pay one thing.. and that was ‘less attention’.
The food was insipid, it never tasted different; day after day month after month. No heterogeneity. No piquancy. No food for thought was served either in any whichever of the way – ‘staleness galore’. If ideas don’t brew as the manifestation of eating.. how the damn experimental kitchens of the future would survive…..? My mind took the call and I stopped going to this particular restaurant situated at the corner of Willby Street. For some reasons I had always weaved plans for future and written stories while feasting on food.. but here.. the air was heavy with ‘sameness’ everywhere..
I would cross this place each day while on my way to the local library, where I would go to play handball. The pebble mosaic pathway offered better anchorage than the main road downhill, which was smooth and prepared scientifically with slope and friction in mind. I preferred the pebble mosaic path that extended from right in front of The Courtyard, leading to this Old Town Hall Library. The guard standing in front of the thick entrance door of the restaurant would look at me. My mind would record a strange ‘twinge’ a kind of guilt for not having visited the place despite crossing it almost everyday, if not consciously than in the subconscious.. for sure. I would ponder occasionally on the strangeness of the doors and windows, dictionary says: they are used to control the physical atmosphere within a space by enclosing the air drafts so that interiors may be more effectively heated or cooled, they are significant in preventing the spread of fire too.. and yes, they also act as a barrier to noise. True and profoundly True! Only if we could plot the doors and windows in our minds correctly and at the right time. At times after walking hundred meters ahead of it, I would think about having passed The Court Yard, The guard and The door.. in the same order. I wouldn’t care..
Now after quitting The Courtyard, I was going to another eating facility: ‘Fred crafts’ !!
They served only ‘salad,’ cooked in a mild- very mild way. While steaming, diminutive droplets of water would form an insulating film on the vegetables being cooked which retained the heat of the steam and would buffer the temperature fluctuation. The cook took utmost care to enhance the nutritive value of the bland salad he concocted everyday. In the meanwhile the inside of the vegetable became as hot as anything and the water.. water being water condensed outside. Ordinary food. Bland and tasteless.. I often thought. The distance between the careful preparation at ‘Fred Crafts’ and careless one at ‘The Courtyard’ looked very short now. Food is food afterall. So is it the structure of the place or the address where it is situated that separates one place form another? I thought with my left leg.
The walls in this new place were painted diabolically Red with intricately baroque skirting. Unnecessary add-ons in my opinion!! Some Seventeenth century visual art imitation hanging on the wall indicated a confused taste of the restaurateur as far as art aestheticism is concerned. Red walls, indication of inclination for detail, carelessness for maintenance.. all this reflected restaurateur’s subpar intuitiveness for colour, detail and maintenance. No idea what made him indulge in such pretense when sophistication lies in simplicity’ is not a lesser known adage..though least practiced one. Anyway … a spider or two inhabited the backside of these choices almost always and called it home. A duplicate ‘Isaac Massa’ hung on the front wall looking troubled and without having any trace or idea of being a part of the larger scheme.
Last but not the least; there stood an OBELISK.
Replica of the obelisk of Thutmose 1. It stood in the middle of the open portico with wrought iron chairs laid on the concrete floor. Mismatched interiors made the place dreary and cheerless and did not attract regular customers who spend their kindness wisely .
Kindness is Kindness after all .. one earns it and hence disposing it calls for discretion.
It still remained one of the places I would look at or step in when really nothing was on agenda. It cost nothing, they would allow me a table to eat my luncheon.
Wagner was (well- pardon me the rudeness) an unintelligent man.. responsible for the non business of this particular restaurant. A seemingly handsome man in his mid thirties, ill enthused and improperly trained. I don’t think he ever took any so called on the job trainings or refresher courses. His methods were very of the gone era. A certain research says that the restaurant industry has high fixed capital costs and highly volatile variable operating costs requiring diligence and prudence in the management, Wagner had no acumen to understand the complexity of the business he was in. With a regular business, no desire to make profits, the restaurant was there where it was ten years back. For reason absolutely unknown to anybody, it boasted of four Michelin stars. Weird?
The obelisk showed a crack. Wagner examined it closely. He did it in the quiet when no one was in the restaurant. He never wanted to make those who were coming there regularly to feel easy at impending ill. Not that he cared, but for any speculation will require him to explain things to customers and he had so much time to guard from getting wasted that all went down the drain. He was a very busy man. Busy in looking after the red walls and the wrought iron chairs. Next day early in the morning the masons were summoned to check the crack. It needed repair. It was a mighty pillar in the middle of the sitting area. People posed for pictures there, some even posted the pictures of obelisk alone without ever seeing it and felt having touched it. It was important to fix it as soon as possible. Wagner discussed the time of restoration work with the contractor. Night; after nine. By six in the morning we will wind up everything. Two days on this schedule and the obelisk will be restored. A better skilled mason amongst them etched a sketch of the obelisk on the soft slate, I had never seen such a fine slate in my life before. ‘Intricate,’ he murmured. Every time he counted the veins in the tracery on the pillar c1 c2 c3 c4 he would mark them, and every next time that he count; the number changed either a pillar added or a row of tracery went missing. He repeated the exercise more than a dozen times. What was wrong? My mathematics.. he looked away murmuring. Frustrated to the core he anyways decided to go ahead with the 16th attempt. He made it his final and conclusive count.
Wagner was restless. What if they vitiated the obelisk..? After all they are not professionals. One wrong strike might lead to a disaster, he felt the acute pang of uncertainty in his mind. I would want to wait. He announced. He cancelled the dates. Treated the masons well with kind words and put everything on hold.
Of course masons were busy. The city anyway had lots and lots of work and almost in every building some or the other work was in progress. As is the demand So is the supply. They got busy as soon as they got disengaged.
A professional… A professional.. Wagner looked at the distance and fixed his gaze on nothing in particular, while flipping the pages of an art magazine. Bagoi Dawn..he exhaled!! Bagoi Dawn was a man of manners: Suave Gentle and Educated. His price was high. He posted a catalogue to Wagner within ten minutes of their interaction, boasting of larger than life projects that he had handled. Wagner was impressed. The catalog was Glossy.. Embossed & Embellished. Wagner knew nothing about the brand that BD was and the finer nuances of his craft. He felt proud to have received the E catalogue. Terms? Cost? Bagoi had no time for all this. It was a rush of life to his parched psyche. Bagoi asked for any day from 12th of march to 14th of march between twelve to three after the noon. Not the most suitable time, but having Bagoi to do it, would be such a thing of ‘pride’..
‘Bagoi’ the card read.
Tools. Uniformed men. A woman dolled up.
Bagoi? Wagner asked
“We are,” they replied.
“No, b..but where is Bagoi-?”
No one answered.
Each one of them was..
A nail 9″ by 2″ and a hammer made in blacksmiths work floor in the hands of unskilled circumstance, was all that it took. …..rubble from the obelisk started falling, forming irregular patterns on the floor , every time they nailed it. Sound of hammer stopping every now and then.
Result- more rubble & even more rubble..
The taller one amongst the men in team Bagoi sat down and penned a detailed report. It said, and I quote-
“The pillar is hollow from inside , its 1876 design, and the material used is very vaguely and inadvertently used, no particular interest has been taken in employing proper methods of construction. It looks tired of itself and is painted with a colorant that took no genius to build either. Should a Bagoi waste his time on this? A dilapidated piece? – Not too sure. It should be left to its own insignificant destiny- if any.
Thank You” Unquote.
The other team members signed the report.
Wagner gave the nod too.. He always did.
They installed a Bagoi Fountain there and carefully put a beam in the center. It had iridescent material quoting on it.. it played music. Lights and fragrance from the water enchanted the visitors. The rubble was sent to cement processing unit, they made a snake figurine, a dog figurine which they transported to a far away country and..
out of the coarse debris that was left they constructed a bottommost step of a stair case which was attached to a podium where artists performed every now and then..
The restaurant is still not a very famous one .
Wagner still does no work there.
Bagoi remains a brand, no one knows about outside of willby street.
Fountain has light and sound arrangement in place, its maintenance contract is with Elanor. They upgrade it every now and then. Wagner has signed an AMC with Elanor.
The customers eat and leave with the beauty of the fountain riding their minds till they reach their car’s door in the parking lot…
It is all in place ….
Megha Pushpendra is a guest author at LSD, she stays in New Delhi.