Office Lunch

Jitendra Sanghvi

Jitendra Sanghvi joined the Customs Department in the year 1972 and took voluntary retirement in 2003 as Deputy Commissioner. He served as a faculty member at the National Academy of Customs and Central Excise Mumbai for 8 years. Upon voluntary retirement he started Sanjosh Consultants with two former colleagues. He was also a special counsel to Central Board of Excise and Customs. A keen sportsperson since childhood, he played cricket for his college, the Customs Cricket team and several clubs. He practises Vipassana and is a keen environmentalist.

Today was the day of office lunch. The associates and a few friends began dropping in. There was mirth and bonhomie in the air; after all they were friends for ever.

His friends invariably wanted to go to an Udipi Hotel that was where they had spent meal time in their early years. He mused it was funny to call a restaurant to be hotel. But he was not inclined to go there for the obvious reason, they could not seat together for their lunch. That day, he agreed provided they went there before the lunch time.

10 minute walk to hotel was miserable with sun blazing and humidity high. Add to it difficulties in weaving through the moving cars through the narrow lanes. He cursed for agreeing and his mate looked away to avoid eye contact.

He entered the restaurant after couple of decades, the place was still familiar. He noticed the changes. The famous “sapad” on banana leaf was gone and so was the mezzanine floor. At the counter was the familiar face of Mr. Pai, he would still play with his notes and coins and return the balance with flourish. He smiled and Mr. Pai also just noticed him. He raised his hand in acknowledgment whilst playing with his cash. His eyes and lips clearly showed he was pleased to see him.

He found there was no space for all to sit together, the friends rushed to occupy the available places. You can’t have fine dining at Udipi restaurant; any 4 or 6 persons per table known or unknown would have their meal. Once settled his eyes moved to the display board, smile flickered again as it was all too familiar. He loved thali but would not go for it. He heard a familiar voice asking, “saab, apka favourite potato toast abhi bhi itna hi best hai”.

He looked at him, he had gone old, face unshaved and body lean with malnutrition. But the sparkling eyes conveyed the joy of recognition and obvious love. Unconsciously, he touched his shoulder and that conveyed it to him all. He remembered; he had been working with the restaurant when he was 12 and now well into his sixties.

He went for “Wada – Idli” followed by of course, the potato toast. He needed the extra Sambhar &; Chutney halfway through and it appeared without asking. The waiter was keeping a discreet eye on his requirement. He completed his meal with the filter coffee. It was a memorable office lunch.

He noticed a couple had moved closer to the table sensing his departure. The tab was brought, which had to be paid to cashier at the counter. He took out an Rs.100/- note and gave it to him as tip. A broad smile flickered on his face and a tear rolled down his cheek. The warmth of relationship still lingers in this difficult time. That day the value of that note went up by a few times.

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