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Biting more than can be chewed

If you partake freely of other people?s largesse, you must be large-hearted enough to return that hospitality, writes Sujata b Shakeel.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2006 11:33 IST

My young friend Riddhi is going through a rough patch! Her 20-plus life, as she so evocatively describes, is “besieged with problems galore.” “In this big wide world there is no space for me to call my own,” she complains.

And what, you may well ask, are her “problems galore?” “From trying to hide my official mails and pay slips from the resident ‘Nosey Parker’ in the office, to speaking in whispers on the phone lest the friendly neighbourhood eavesdropper listens in and probe me on my life and times, I have to now deal with a ‘resident hog’ as well,” she lists her pet peeves.

“Resident hog”, strong words those, but one could get a fair idea of where the conversation was headed. And Riddhi didn’t disappoint. She was like a pressure cooker waiting to let off steam, which she did it in the most colourful manner to describe this new ‘angst’ in her life.

“When am I going to call my tiffin my own? I work so hard at making it and it all gets eaten up in the office by the resident hog,” she wailed. “I don’t mind sharing, provided it is on a reciprocal basis. You just can’t be gobbling other people’s food without ever treating others. But this one at the office is untouched by these niceties,” Riddhi fumed.

“She never brings anything, but thinks nothing amiss in making a pig of herself with other people’s eats and snacks. She dips her fingers in whoever’s tiffin is open, shamelessly asking for a bite, as if a bite is enough to sate the hunger pangs, without being offered or invited to do so. And she does it with the ease of a veteran scrounger,” Riddhi elucidated.

“My Kurkure, my sandwiches, biscuits even the churan golis are not safe, because this one has a Pavlovian ability to home in at the faintest rustle of a biscuit wrap or a crunch of peanuts. Worse, she will hover on your head, till your offer. Most times you don’t get a chance to offer because she’s helped herself anyways. There are times when I look around furtively to check whether she is around or not then quickly gobble my food!” “Is there any way I can put an end to this?” Riddhi queried earnestly.

I had a tough time keeping my expressions straight, but fully empathised with Riddhi's dilemma. Many of us face this ‘intrusion’ everyday in our lives.

Be it in the guy who enjoys a good smoke but never carries his pack of cigarettes, it being easier to bum it off someone, to the person who loves a hot cup of tea or coffee but never has the right amount of loose change to pay for it, or someone who will join in the ‘treat’ without ever volunteering to pay for the next round of snacks.

And, as Riddhi’s dilemma illustrates it is not just about a cup of tea, a chewing gum, Kurkure or chips.

As kids, both at home and in school, the first lessons in manners and good etiquette included “not approaching/looking/staring at people while they were eating, and if offered to politely refuse.”

The other pearl of wisdom was to always offer to pay, chivalry notwithstanding. The rule is simple: Nobody likes to be made a sucker, and definitely not on a daily basis. If you partake freely of other people’s largesse, you must be large-hearted enough to return that hospitality.

First Published: Dec 06, 2006 11:33 IST