At Ram Ashray in Matunga, the people clearing and cleaning the tables are extremely prompt. An empty plate, bowl or glass vanishes as soon as the person eating is done using it. Time seems to mean money. This has been my experience for a decade now. Yesterday, though, two empty dishes lay licked clean side-by-side at the same time. There was little anyone could have done about it.
It was me.
I usually eat dinner by 18:30. By the time the Udyan Express trundles into Kalyan by 19:00, all I can think about is food. The persistent hunger of a routine. I feel it. Fellow passengers hear it when I do.
Dadar station may be an hour away as the train is coasting. Thankfully the train passes Sion in 40 minutes, slowing down as it reaches Matunga. A red signal ensures it slows to a crawl. The universe conspires and I meet it half way.
A few hops later, I am on a platform. Ram Ashray is less than 500 steps away. I can smell the food. The train picks up pace at about the same time I do.
The corner table for two, is empty. I too am as empty. After ridding my hands of the Indian Railways immunity specials, I ask for a plate of curd rice. No more.
One plate of curd rice and wafers turns into two. The plan to have dinner at home will have to wait for a new day. Then comes a fateful conversation with a staff member waiting a different set of tables who, possibly, recognises a fellow bhukkad — a species of human who loves food. He sees my demeanour as I ask myself, “What do I eat next?” He saunters over, drops names of dishes like Bisibele Baath, Kelaa Bajji and Chikoo Sheeraa into a conversation as I nurse a glass of water, before walking away to take another order.
The Kelaa Bajji and Chikoo Sheeraa have an impact. Theirs are the empty vessels in the photo. I also parcel two portions of Chikoo Sheeraa for the parents. It will bring them joy for breakfast.
A glass of water later, I am finally feeling satiated. The staff who spoke to me and the staff who waited at the table i am at look at the bill, then towards me and share a chuckle or three. I have a tub where a stomach once resided and no regrets. I lift it along with the rest of myself and the bags I am carrying. The plates, bowl, glass and cutlery are long gone. It is time I go, too.