Manners, born: sometime in the transition from primitive to
modern civilisation; died: the present times you and I live
indicates a well bred man more than a proper mode of eating."
Hints on Etiquette (America), 1836
not as if these were pre-ordained to die. Table manners have
been around with the human civilisations for as long as the
written records allow us a glimpse. One school of thought
says that primitive civilisation began with collective eating,
and that modern civilisation began with the introduction of
table manners. When people ate together, they would talk.
They also needed some rules. When food was scarce and every
diner had a hunting knife in his hand, lunch could turn very
nasty indeed. So, with food (as with love), certain formalities
certainly, the rituals may have differed from one civilisation
to the other, many a time, a leading cause of embarrassment
for either of the parties at the dinner table (remember that
classic scene from Benhur where a deep burp is all
that is required to express the sense of deep fulfilment the
dinner has left the guest with). So whether the rules spoke
of diners sitting around the tables, or sitting cross-legged
on the floor, table manners were sacrosanct and could scarcely
be tinkered with. Of course, the rules may have been arbitrary
and ridiculous. The point is that table manners, like any
other social rules, were meant to make order out of what could
have easily become mealtime mayhem.
to our times, meticulous records have been maintained about
the most elaborate table manners of the Europeans, most notably,
the British. Like with everything else that's British, there
is more sound and thunder associated with their mealtime fuss
than the actual meal that finally gets ingested. From the
decorum of polite conversation to no conversation to the not-so-musical
clanking of the silverware on porcelain, the English table
manners have been copied and caricatured the world over.
truly learned the art of wielding a table knife and a fork
on a chunk of meat quite late in her life, but managed to
learn it the right way (though that still leaves preparations
of fish out). And I am not ashamed to say this, but a meal
without dipping all four fingers into the rice and curry still
leaves me, how should I put it, …high and dry.
mealtimes have been a family activity (albeit more civilised
than the uncouth brothers in the 1954 classic 'Seven Brides
For Seven Brothers'!). Unfortunately, somewhere in the past
decade, the focus shifted from food to entertainment, what
one ate and how one ate becoming incidental. To be brutally
honest, a lot of people today don't have table manners because
they don't eat at the dining table. And you don't need manners
when you are slumped on your couch in front of the TV.
argue that this is just one consequence of living in the Home
of the Free - people can choose exactly how to eat. In a democratic
order of existence, there are no artificial, aristocratic
standards to dissuade people from eating in the bathrooms,
or on the street, or in cars, or on the sofa, or on the floor
with the dog. What are table manners anyway, if not a form
of social control?
what your heart says while eating is alright, but it is important
to remember that the others around may have a weak heart.
Take the case of a daawat I attended this week. The
biryani was good, the ambience was understated, the
mood just right for a wonderful meal out. Not until the guests
is a limit to how much a hungry tummy can tolerate. Rice plates
being dug into as if the next several meals are doubtful,
not caring to wait to see that the others sitting around you
on the same table have also served themselves before attacking
the food, unfortunate remnants of un-chewed food hanging around
the corners of your lips (whiskers compound the visual assault),
bones being scrunched, curry dribbling off the corner of the
mouth and the creeks of your fingers, and four fingers at
a time being licked clean. Lace it with the remnants of the
bones being casually thrown into the 'bone plate' narrowly
missing the dinner plate of the person sitting right in front
of you, the sight was enough to make the most lion-hearted
among us squeamish. On a full stomach, the threshold is even
lesser. And believe me, a just-used table with food littered
all over and a mammoth pile of the remains of the meal doesn't
make for a pleasant sight.
is, all formal rituals of the table (or the floor godi
arrangement in our cultures) have been abandoned in the present
times. Where has our basic etiquette gone? It is seen missing
from office workstations that temporarily get converted into
dining tables (however divine the lunch may have been, food
particles strewn on your writing desk is an unwelcome sight);
it is forgotten when people, unmindful of the effect it may
have on the others around them, masticate or pick their teeth
in full view of others, or slurp on tea and soup, or blow
their nose at the table and spray jets of food while talking,
and smoke and belch their blessings out in the face of others.
disheartening to find that table manners don't seem to be
around much these days. In fact, most people are seemingly
happier for the lack of it, and many more are outright brazen
about their want of it. Celebrated as they may have been in
the treatises of the Greek philosophers and of Confucious,
in their demise, they remain unsung and forgotten.
live sloppiness. May the departed souls of mealtime poise
and graciousness rest in peace.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004