A Mid Summer's Day Dream
Chutti woke up in anguish. He had had a bad night - tormented by unplaceable, unfathomable demons, mysteriously malicious, mysteriously unrememberable. As he tried to understand what had transpired during the night, the fact that it was all a dream was an inadequate recompense.
A habitual glance at his wrist watch (he wore it almost all the time) and the anguish quickly turned to panic. In a quick head jerk he looked at where the chorome-cased alarm clock, sitting on the floor next to his bed, showed a dis-interested 9 O' clock! Had he forgotten to wind it up? Or had he banged it quiet when it had attempted to wake him up at six? He glared at the un-saying alarm clock; It ticked on in scornful disdain.
This new crisis had brushed aside the trauma of the nightmare. His palms went cold and his mouth went dry, as blood rushed to his legs in a survival reaction. He grabbed his soap and toothbrush and paste and ran to the bathroom...
Ten minutes later, as he stood in the long queue, Chutti subjected himself to the severest reproaches. How could he have let this happen? Oh yes, the movie of the previous night. The film that everyone had been so excited about, but the film that no one seemed to want to watch till the end...One by one, they had all left the common room, after subtle and un-subtle excuses, delivered with sheepish grins or poker faces. Only Chutti had seen the movie till the end, following diligently the threadbare story line. Hmm. But the movie could not have been the reason he had overslept. Perhaps it was the physics lab classes; they had been particularly tortuous and tiring that week...
The 'chushshsh' sound of the great hot rectangular tava getting washed for the next round, signalled the arrival of more rava dosas on the counter, and the line slowly moved forward. And no sooner had it begun moving, than it stopped again. Chutti could only move forward a few steps, so tightly packed was the queue.
Chutti's heart filled with anxiety and distress. It was past 9'O clock, and the counter could close any moment - there was no telling how much dosa-dough was left now. There were several people behind Chutti too, but that was no cause for joy. The rava dosas of the hostel were hot favourites. The early risers would have two and even three of them, and the dough might run out before even half the hostel was fed. And to top this uncertainity, the never ending wait in the queue! O misery! Not to wake up at six on Saturdays!
Slowly, painfully, the next round of dosas roasted on the tava. The rava dosas took ages to roast (almost three times as long as the masala dosas that were served on Sundays) but they were more than worth the wait. The people at the front of the queue got restless and agitated. They could see their dosas roast inside. Having waited at least three quarters of an hour they were impatient to get at their meal. But they were also anxious that the cook spend enough time on their particular dosas so that they were roasted to the right crispiness. They watched him now, as he sprinkled oil on the top surface with his stiff broom.
The people in the queue stood on. Though Chutti was silent and spoke to no one, sections of the queue carried on simulatenous conversations on this and that - the football or hockey matches, the latest antics of some professor, the upcoming hostel day functions...Except for a couple of boys who had taken the time to bathe and visit the temples, and whose faces bloomed like fresh flowers, they were all dirty and unwashed. Some had not even brushed their teeth in their hurry to get to the mess, and one had to be careful to avoid the occasional breath-blast of onion from last night's dinner. They were people of all years. Some lounged in nearby chairs having reserved their positions in the queue. Chutti looked at every new comer with suspicion especially if he was from the senior years and might misuse his seniority to break into the queue, out of turn. WHATEVER HAPPENS, he told himself in capitals, I'LL NEVER EVER WAKE UP LATE ON SATURDAYS AGAIN.
The Chennai summer sun streamed into the mess hall warming up the water in the steel jars on the mess tables. People who had just got their dosas, sat aloof, engrossed in their dosas, and jealous of them - like newly married husbands with their wives. People who had finished eating, sat relaxed, smiling and joking over their coffee-tea, like contented pensioners. Chutti tried not to look where Mannu, Dilli, Chammo and TV sat discussing something with languid vigour. Thankfully they paid no attention to him.
It was past ten when Chutti reached the front of the queue. The mess hall was almost empty now. People behind him had either given up hopes on breakfast and left, or had compromised their consciences and artfully broken into the queue out of turn. Chutti had watched as the quality of dosas plummeted. The cook having tired of standing hours, and eager to finish the job, had started taking dosas pre-maturely off the tava.
Chutti choked with silent tears as he eyed the soggy half cooked dosas, one of which would be his. When his turn finally came they were told that they were out of chutney now. After such a long wait, it was too unfair a blow, and a tear forced itself out of Chutti's left eye. How could he eat rava dosa without the chutney, that sweet-sour combo of onion and coconut and tamarind and tomato and other, unknown, ingredients, that divine concoction which helped make stay in this lousy place bearable, that...
Hey what was that on the pile of used plates! Some bastard had left the chutney untouched on his plate. O the injustice of it all...
After he had walked reluctantly past the pile of used plates, Chutti suddenly stopped, firmed by a new resolve. With a quick look around he took a few steps back.Taking a deep breath, and with a quick movement, he grabbed the delectable blob of chutney off the undeserving plate and onto his own. Then he walked to a nearby table, somewhat pacified.