Bonding After a Bitter Lunch

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Salma really enjoyed observing human behaviour it was her favourite hobby. It was, she would tell people, a lovely source of learning about life.

By Roshan
Salma was having lunch at the college canteen when the manager of the college’s finance department entered. He pushed his way to the counter, placed his order and sat down in a plastic chair.
Salma really enjoyed observing human behaviour it was her favourite hobby. It was, she would tell people, a lovely source of learning about life. As she nibbled at her dosa, she scanned the manager’s face. He was hungrily munching away at his food, his mouth wide open as he chewed. Occasionally, he stopped to let out a loud burp. A blob of daal was stuck on his chin.
Salma didn’t like the sight at all! “Hyper-masculine, Rude, Aggressive” were the words that swam about in her mind.
Just then, Parveen, a middle-aged woman who had recently been awarded the contract to run the canteen, appeared from the kitchen, wiping the perspiration on her forehead with the end of her sari. She looked really exhausted.
As soon as he caught sight of her, the manager barked, “Arey! Don’t you know how to cook? The daal today is awful! And the rice is still raw. We pay you money for the food it isn’t that you’re giving it to us free. If you carry on this way, I’ll complain to the college principal and have your contract cancelled. And then you can go back to selling samosas on the footpath, where you came from.”
Salma couldn’t believe her ears! How could anyone talk like that! “This man may be the manager of the college finance department,” she told herself, “but that doesn’t give him the license to be mean to someone, especially to Parveen, who’s just lost her husband and ekes out a living by running this little canteen, barely managing to earn enough to maintain her family of three children.”
But Salma knew the manager well enough to keep quiet. He behaved the same way with everyone even, it was rumoured, at home, with his parents, wife and children. If he were working somewhere else, he would have been dismissed long ago. The only reason the college kept him on was that he was, as they say, ‘politically very influential’.
The manager pushed himself out of his chair and strode out of the canteen, leaving behind a heap of food on his plate. Salma noted that he hadn’t paid for his meal. She was aghast!
Salma turned to look at Parveen, who had now buried her head in the wall, sobbing uncontrollably. Instinctively, she thought she’d do something to cheer Parveen up. And so, instead of waiting for Parveen to clear up the manager’s plate, she proceeded to do so herself, in spite of Parveen’s pleas not to.
“You really shouldn’t do that,” Parveen said, wiping her tears.
“Why not? After how that man behaved with you, I won’t allow you to handle his left-overs”, Salma responded.
“I can’t say how the daal and rice the manager ordered tasted,” Salma said to Parveen as she paid for her food and was making her way out, “but the dosa and the sambar you made today were just excellent!”
Salma wasn’t trying just to cheer Parveen up. She really meant what she said she hadn’t had such a delicious dosa in a long time! As she said this, Parveen burst into a smile and she gave Salma a tight hug! And for as long as they held each other in their arms, they savoured the love that drew them together, expelling the manager from their minds.