Back in the mid-nineties I worked at an Indian restaurant as a cashier / bookkeeper / belligerent guardian of the cash box. I was at that time the only nearly-waspy person there.
Customarily, at the end of the evening, the tips would be counted and pooled. Having already been burned on that thankless task, the owner gladly left it to the headwaiter. Who knew what each person had done that evening, and whom he could most rely on to get work done in the future and therefore needed to keep happy.
That the headwaiter was the one chosen to divide the tips was deeply and bitterly resented by the Frightful Tamil She-wolf who also worked at the restaurant. She was in an enduring state of fury that everyone trusted him, and thus obviously was not giving her the respect that she deserved. Not him!
[Many of us found her impossible to work with - I shall not veer into lashon hara, but merely describe her as lordy my heavens what a bitch.]
One evening the only people left in the restaurant were Mr. Singh (headwaiter), J-sahib (owner), Frightful Tamil She-wolf, and myself. The busboys had been paid off, the kitchen staff were gone, Gopu-ji had come out of the basement and taken his leave.
I was the cashier, so my share of the tip was purely symbolic. J-sahib, as owner, got no tips. The headwaiter and the Frightful Tamil She-wolf hated each other's guts with a passion.
Did I ever mention that there is nothing quite so dangerous as a bored Indian?
Perhaps I should explain that first. A busy Indian is a happy Indian, or leastways a distracted Indian, and will proceed about the business at hand with keen interest and a cheerful attitude. A bored Indian, on the other hand, is deeply disturbed unless something entertaining can be found. Anything.
If need be, the bored Indian will create a disturbance.
Or pick a fight.
Or start a sectarian riot.
It had not been a busy evening. Mr. Singh and the Frightful Tamil She-Wolf had had little to keep them occupied. The final part of the tip would be divided between Mr. Singh and the Frightful Tamil She-wolf.
Mr. Singh proved his maturity and diplomatic nature by dividing the amount equitably, an equal dollar count for both of them. The coins were converted to paper, and that too was divided. All together about a hundred dollars each.
That left twenty five cents. 25¢
Mr. Singh at that point threw maturity, diplomatic nature, and all caution to the wind by taking that twenty five cents for himself - he was the headwaiter, and he had rank. 25¢
At this the fight was on. The Frightful Tamil She-wolf would not yield a twenty-five cent advantage, and Mr. Singh proved himself a Punjabi to the max by. NOT. GIVING. AN. INCH!
For the next two hours they yelled at each other across the table, and at me everytime I opened my mouth. And of course I shouted back - I had long ago learned that the only way one held one's own in an Indian "discussion" was brazenly and at the top of one's lungs. 25¢
J-sahib just sat there with a stunned look on his face as World War Three raged around him. 25¢
ANCIENT INDIAN WISDOM
At an opportune moment J-sahib optimistically ventured that there was a famous parable the point of which would surely put it all in perspective and resolve the dispute.
"There was a gentleman who wished to be called 'swami'
", he began (okay, he's the boss, let's listen to him). "He wished to be called 'swami', but no one in his village wanted to do so. So he went to his guru, and asked what on earth to do
" (good lord, what is the dear man going on about?).
"His guru told him that he would ask the little boys of the village to call the man swami, but he must jump up and down and scream and throw stones when they did so. The man begged for clarification, the guru said never mind just do it
" (J-sahib was getting animated, the three of us so far had not seen the relevance and listened expectantly).
"The next day, some boys of the village called the man 'swami', and he threw a very splendid fit. Every day this happened, which drew the attention of others, and soon everybody in the village would call the man 'swami', because of his lovely fits. It was all very beautiful, you see. After several months, the man went back to his guru. 'Guru-ji', he said, 'they now verily do indeed call me swami - but alas it does not make me happy, as I have to scream and shout and express all manner of bad languages. What to do, what to do?' 'Stop your fitting and throwing stones', said the guru. And he did. But the village kept calling him 'swami' for ever after, and so he became happy
J-sahib leaned back with a satisfied look on his face, certain that we understood - that story clarified everything.
We were stunned - what the divvil did any of it have to do with anything - and promptly resumed screaming, which lasted another hour and a half more. 25¢
That twenty five cents represented principle and decency and everything fine and good and sweet in the world, and we weren't going to give it up. 25¢
J-sahib just sat there, baffled and slightly hurt that we had not seen the transcendent wisdom of the little story and were incapable of grasping some eternal verity or other.
I cannot even remember who, in the end, got the quarter, despite the three and a half hours of 'effort'. I think I did... perhaps as a thank you for being the "fair witness".
Purely symbolic. Worth every penny.
Labels: Indian Restaurant