by Ben Gumienny
A warm, humorous look at a "competition" in a party situation
|When I enter the house, the mood is bustling. Archna and Punit are outside in the backyard and are in full swing. They make quite a formidable twosome. To say that they are in their element is to understate the facts. It would be like saying that the King is royal or the Pope is holy. I find myself thinking again that either Punit or Archna MUST open a restaurant someday as they effortlessly whip up an Indian feast. Their working relationship is not without its quirks though. Watching them, one gets the impression that they are having a hospitality competition – perhaps where the winner will earn the right to have their own house to hold parties at. In truth, they simply love the hustle and flow of “family” gathering together. They love the busy mélange of the celebration; chaotic, crazy and full of joy.|
I ask them if I can help, knowing full well what the answer will be. After the expected flat denial, I wait around to see if I can find a way to participate anyway. Of course I can’t so I reluctantly move on to the larger group anticipating paltry conversation before a substantial meal. It isn’t long before I have managed to melt into the wallpaper (again) and I find myself alone in a crowded room. After making sure that I won’t be missed (the Houdini of the party scene), I slip back outside to where the competition is fiercely continuing.
Suddenly Punit has no place to put the chapatti and I pounce on the opportunity like a starving tiger and make myself useful. (Score one for Ben!) Somehow I have convinced myself that holding a plate for chapatti makes me a part of the cooking process and I smile smugly to myself that I have breached the impenetrable wall of service. Just then Punit makes his first attempt to take the plate away from me. Soon I am engaged in a verbal sword fight of sorts, trying to parry each thrust as Punit dances through several reasons that I should put the plate down and go inside. Luckily he starts to burn the chapattis and is too distracted to continue a particularly effective line of reasoning.
Soon the food is ready, and the next part of the competition begins. In this stage, Punit and Archna must see who can be the last one to eat in the entire group. They quickly herd everyone into the kitchen, where mild protests quickly melt away in the heat of so much delicious food. Soon the general hubbub of mild acquaintanceship subsides into a steady rhythm of chewing and swallowing.
As Punit comes to fill my plate for the third time, I futilely try to convince him to fill a plate of his own. I know he’ll refuse, but it is all part of the ritual and I smile to myself at his categorical denial. I settle myself some distance away, knowing that I have at least fifteen more minutes and two chapattis until either of them will begin to fill a plate.
Across the room, I am fondly watching the dynamic duo overfill everyone’s plate, cup and stomach to halfhearted protests. Everyone says “no” while inside they are making room for one more tasty morsel. Of course Archna and Punit know this and push everyone past their usual limits to a place of comfortable culinary inebriation. They catch me watching them from my distant perch and Punit is instantly concerned about my welfare, suspecting that my empty plate signifies a vacancy in my enjoyment as well. I have long since learned that when I am full, I must be very firm in my refusal of more. They both can sense the slightest sliver of hesitation and no doubt I would have another full plate or cup on my hands.
At long last their competition is coming to an end. Everyone has had more than enough food and although Punit will later slip out to walk to the store for more ice and Archna is actually slipping chips into my mouth while I writing this, the time has come for both of them to eat. This culminates in a full-gestured scuffle as the two masters go at in a fight to the finish. In the end Archna wins, but only because she plays the undefeatable “Elder Card”. So tradition holds and Punit eats first with Archna following a close second.
The night is far from over: There will be seating competitions, where another of the guests tries out his chivalry and Archna nearly has to forfeit her seat on the floor. There will also be more drinks served, more cups to fill. And don’t even try to imagine what will happen when it is time for desert to be served. In the end, Punit sums it up best when he finally sits back and sighs, “Ah yes, this is a good Friday night.” Punit, Archna, I couldn’t agree more.