Monday, August 4, 2008

Lessons at the Food Court

Early afternoon on a Sunday. The Food-Court at a popular suburban mall was packed as usual. Finding a place to sit in was as much of a challenge as getting the kids to eat their food would soon be.
I spied a rather timid looking girl presiding over two empty tables joined together. She looked like a domestic maid, so I knew it was pointless to ask if the chairs were taken. However, I would still have done so had I not been able to claim a table that just got vacated. Others were not as lucky, and approached the girl who’s body language informed them that her life would not be worth living if she as much as allowed someone to covert her chairs from afar.
One man persisted in trying his luck with her, but soon found that he had to contend with a burly mean looking hunk who suddenly materialized and declared himself to be the person who had “reserved” all that space.
Our food arrived. The four-year proceeded to tear his dosa into microscopic bites, and made sure he gave every mouthful the mandatory 100 chews before swallowing them. The two-year old was marginally faster than the brother, but midway through his idlies, he decided he needed to digest some of the food before continuing with the meal, and did just that. When the kids were fed, the husband and I ate. Then the kids decided they wanted a milkshake each, and took their time over it.
It was when we had reached the “come on, finish your milkshakes – just a couple of sips more” phase of our meal that the first plate of food arrived at the table staked out by that domestic maid. The chairs gradually filled up, the maid was relegated to the background and the rather boisterous gang proceeded to have a lovely lunch.
Sure, they were fully entitled to their seats – after all they did claim them before anyone else did, but did they really have keep all of them unoccupied for the time it took a normal person to finish three meals?
Food Courts never seem to have enough seats, but isn’t it partly because so many of them are occupied by handbags, and folders and the voice of the person sitting at the table? If nobody blocked seats, would there be any need to block them?
It is the same with the elevator. When you are rushing down early in the morning to catch the school bus before it leaves, it irritates you no end when the people on the tenth floor keep the lift-door open on their floor till the entire family gets ready. But can you really blame them – everyone does just that, so it takes ages for the elevator to come to your floor, and when it does, you don’t want to lose it.

Life would be so much simpler if everyone were collaborative- there would be no reason for anyone to be competitive. But till everyone is collaborative, to survive you need to be competitive. Will the cycle ever get broken?

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