A Familiar Place

How do you know that a conversation has gone to hell? They ask you whether you have eaten. Here’s the thing — I’m all for talking about soaps, satellites, and satsumas — but never ever ask me, even as a conversation filler, if I have eaten. Never. I do realise “Have you eaten?” is now a cryptic code to denote affection and extend concern. Everyone does it, don’t they? But to me, it screams “This conversation is over!

I don’t want to make a blanket statement. So, I would like to put this question into context. It is a deal-breaker when it becomes a substitute for silence and is used to prolong interaction. I think people ask others this question only when they are absolutely out of ideas. I have come to this conclusion after many wonderful and terrible conversations. For instance, I don’t ever recall asking Boy if he had had his food. I remember asking him if he believed in destiny and he said he believed in probability, but enquiring about his meal habits was none of my bloody concern. In fact, I don’t ask anyone if they have eaten food no matter how much I care about them. Everyone has a stomach and they know they have to put food into it. It’s a personal task unless we’re taking into account class and poverty. To me, it seems that people who have extended conversations about the world and its sisters have traversed class and are the perfect audience for purposes of this observation.

There isn’t much to it — you have a stomach, you put food into it, your sugar levels rise, you go to work, you write a code to shut down all office systems, the code works, you go home, you watch This Is Us, and you sleep like a baby — really now. It’s agonisingly simple. The workings of the stomach are not unknown to mankind. It’s so routine it can easily be ignored like breathing, perspiring, and the 2000-year-old conflict in the Middle East.

However, many years ago, it wasn’t all that routine for me. When I was in college, I had a severe acidity problem that caused me to vomit my breakfast every morning. It was a nightmare. I used to eat my breakfast, then I used to throw it up. I wasn’t bulimic, trust me. It was absolutely involuntary. I visited many doctors, tried innumerable medicinal remedies, did yoga, drank milk with rose syrup, and even prayed to Gods I didn’t know at the time. Nothing worked. I kept puking my guts out every morning until one day I decided I was going to take matters into my own hands and fix the stomach myself.

In what turns out to be a slightly unbelievable story, I willed myself to cease vomiting. I know, I know it sounds cuckoo but I did. (Just like Elif Safak once willed her body to stop menstruating. It’s real, look it up.) I told my brain that this wasn’t sustainable nor attractive and we had to stop torturing my poor stomach. Turns out, willing your mind to submit to yourself works sometimes. Since then, if I ever have acidity the only thing I do is drink warm water and my stomach behaves itself. I’ve learnt to keep it happy by feeding it every 4 hours, which, let’s be fair, is a good strategy for keeping anyone and anything happy. Just feed it every 4 hours.

Doctors and mothers want to know if your stomach is alright. The Awkward Yeti has even dedicated comics to the stomach. I know it’s all a very big deal, but to me, my stomach is very personal. Even more so than my breasts. Not that I fancy you ask me about my breasts, but you get the drift. Like one blessed day last week, it retched and wrung inside me when I saw a woman lying through her teeth and showing contempt for the audience who was listening to her. I wanted to empty the contents of my stomach on her. Because some people just by virtue of their existing make one want to empty their guts. I have to clarify that I have come to associate an absolute disapproval of this world. It could swallow itself up for all I care. There’s not a shred of dignity that it has left unto itself. Every morning you wake up and things are worse than ever before. Yeah, yeah, entropy and all that jazz.

But don’t some people make you wish they had never been born? That so much would be different if they just magically weren’t around? Imagine the prospect that the world becomes brighter when someone is not in it. Haven’t you met those people who just make everything better by leaving? There’s a business idea right here. Hallmark should make cards that have a cute air balloon and a teddy bear peeping out of it with the following text in cursive gold lettering —

“Thank you for not being in my life. Everything is so much better without you.”

What a glorious, glorious conception. Just the thought of it makes my stomach relax and my heart expand.

Speaking of which, the other day when I met the crush, he pulled out a chair for me. The butterflies in my stomach went wild. Then, he bought me a tall beverage. The pit of my stomach dropped. Allow me to digress and take a moment to tell you that I don’t care for beverages. I think they are overrated and a clever ploy for the masses to waste money and enable capitalism. Unless it’s a tapri chai or coffee, then that is an entirely different matter altogether. An entirely different dynamic. An entirely different ecosystem. But of course, I took the beverage, drank a little bit with an air of cheeriness and pretended to like it. Then, he offered to drive me home. At this point, butterflies in the stomach have fainted (coz I couldn’t).

I would like to impress upon you, dear reader, the level of my expectations. They are spectacularly low. One flower, one chair pulled out, one tall beverage. That is all it takes to impress me these days. Sadly, it is also as easy to put me off. I am reminded of a stand-up set by DeAnne Smith in which she, very rightly says, that straight women are one unsolicited dick pic away from turning lesbian. Women have had to set the bar really, really low for men. I have to agree. But let’s be fair, some men are really considerate. I once knew a guy who travelled all the way just to see me eat while he kept talking about himself. Just.kept.talking. Which is fine, because all I had to do was sit there and stuff cheese fries into my mouth. It’s all very well.

Here’s what usually happens, crushes cure us of them by just being themselves. One day, this chair-pulling, beverage-buying guy went on to ask me if I had eaten, and now it’s all back to where we started. To me, it is absolutely peachy and dandy. But just so we are clear, and that it is out there, the way to my heart is not through my stomach.

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