What does a Tamilian have in common with a Bengali? It could be many things if one thinks hard and long, but the most striking and obvious of them all is their love for rice. A meal is not complete without a substantial amount of rice going into the system, is a theory that both swear by.
Being a Tamilian, I did not quite think someone could match the quantum of rice an individual can eat until I met one of my best friends, who incidentally, is a Bengali. We were roommates for four years and through these four years we have seen each other eat rice directly out of cookers, eat more rice between the two of us than some five or six people together, eat rice with dal, rice with rasam, rice with curry, rice with curd, rice with rice and so on and so forth! But not until that fateful Saturday on a July evening did we realise what rice actually means to us.
It was a South Indian restaurant in Bangalore. Apart from the a la carte orders, they used to serve a full meal on a plantain leaf. If I remember correctly, the items as part of the full meal were 3 pooris, 1 serving each of rasam, sambhar, curd, buttermilk and papad, and rice, dal and a dry vegetable were ‘unlimited’. All this for Rs 39 only! Two boys from college, both famished, entered the place… And then it started.
The pooris took more time to appear than to disappear, and the man serving could only pass a sly smile. I am sure he had seen such hungry people before, and we did not mind him much either. The first couple of servings of rice also vanished with the cups of rasam and sambhar emptied in one motion each. To put things in perspective, the rice quantity in one serving was, I would say, substantial enough to serve as an ordinary meal. And it was doused with a spoonful of ghee each time. This is where most people would have reached out to the buttermilk and/or curd for curd rice – which, by the way, is the final lap of a full meal. And this is where the Tamilian and the Bengali started.
With no rasam or sambhar to accompany the rice rampage, we decided to use dal as the accomplice, the dry veggies on the side only made it taste so much better. So we called for more rice and some more rice and each time we would get a death stare by the guy who was serving us. There is not much difference between alcohol and food – both make you high, and you lose count of how much you have had after you have had a lot! So what I think was the seventh or the eighth call for rice, it came not with rice but an exclamation, “Aur lenge?” (You’ll have more?). I do not know if that statement satisfied our egos, but it sure did not satisfy our bellies. With an expectant look on our faces, we looked at each other and then the waiter and just nodded like little children asking for a toffee.
We were slowing down, and things were getting hazy around us (alcohol someone?). I know about him as well because we have talked about this so many times. Yet we continued like seasoned long distance runners. The final lap was still some distance and we had to keep going. Quitting was never an option. Eventually, what was to be the last round of rice smashing, lapped up with curd and some pickle, we let out some ugly belching sounds. Our stomachs full, our minds numb and our bodies limp! ORGASMIC! Well, almost.
In the state we were in, paying up and getting out of that place was more arduous than stuffing all that rice into us. Walking back to the college, we looked at each other like gladiators, warriors –victorious, proud and vain – and titled each other, justifiably so, The Rice Killers.