It was a winter evening when my sister, her ten year old son and I were travelling by train from Bombay to Poona. The boy had always been a fussy eater, and my sister used to spend most of her waking hours in trying to force feed him. At Lonavala station, she bought him a sumptuous thali meal (they were sumptuous in those days), which the young lad proceeded to ignore or turn his nose up at in what was, for me, an all too familiar tableau. Meanwhile, a beggar lad, roughly the same age as my nephew, stood at the window and gazed at the thali with a longing that was heart wrenching. Where there was appetite, I sighed, here was no food, and where there was food….
A coursemate and close friend had just been posted to Poona as Chief of Staff. We sat sipping the good staff one evening on the sprawling lawns of his palatial, colonial style bungalow. “How many rooms does this have?” I asked him in wonder. His wife shook her head ruefully “Don’t ask”, she said “When the kids were with us, we couldn’t even give them separate rooms of their own! And now when they’re away in the US, the Army gives us this palace..”
When we were young subalterns and captains in the Army, all we could afford to drink in the Mess was Hercules rum (with Coke, till George Fernandes threw Coca Cola out of India). Scotch was a hallowed word whispered in reverential tones, and emerged from the cellar only when a particularly high up General was visiting the Mess. Those were the days when we could (and did) cheerfully polish off half a bottle of rum in an evening, and still be on time for PT the next morning. Today, as bottles of Glenfedich and Chivas line my bar at home, I can’t even have a second `small’ without reaching for an Alka Seltzer the next morning.
You want to check the seniority roll in a regiment – just take a dekko at the queue at the buffet table in the Oficers’ Mess. In the days when we could easily have wolfed down a whole tandoori chicken merely as a starter, we, being low in the pecking order, were lucky if we even got a good neck piece. And the only guy who managed an extra helping of the ubiquitous `Tipsy pudding’ was the food member who had thoughtfully stashed away a bowl for himself. Today, the `leg pieces’ and `rabri-jalebis’ are all within arm’s reach, but lipid profiles and triglicerides have become the bane of our existence..
And lastly, but most poignantly, comes the clincher and the wake up call. When your kids are kids and want you to play with them, you’re the Adjutant of your regiment, and the world would naturally collapse if you leave the office half an hour early. Now you have all the time in the world, but where are they? Just when you think you’ve got the hang of parenting, you’re no longer required to be a parent. Just when you get good at being a dad, you’re simply fired from the job!!
Truly, where there is appetite there is no food, and where there is food…