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Monday, June 8, 2009

Mr. Henry bids adieu

Sautéed potatoes, chicken sausages, and fried rice formed the buffet line. The bread baskets, pieces of fruit cake, and the bubbling apple juice waited next to the coffee machine. Everyday – Monday to Sunday – from 7:00 AM till 10:00 AM.

The sautéed potatoes, often half-cooked, single-handedly managed to keep the residents off the buffet. I trudged along – dreading every breakfast and still going for it. Everyday. I would just chose the apple juice and breads one day. Or just some fruit cake and cold water the next. Morning after morning.

And then, came Mr. Henry. Short, stout, black frames, light beard, visible moustache, and a smile.

I ignored him for the first couple of days – but could not ignore the breakfast. There were boiled eggs these days and steamed vegetables. Noodles were introduced and often a cold salad. People started coming back to the breakfast table. I would, however, still pick up my small little complaints – “How can they have seafood for breakfast!!!” “What were they thinking?” “What’s with this rice?” “When is it that I’ve had rice for breakfast!!”

Then, one day, in a particularly early breakfast, Mr. Henry walked up to me. “Good morning”, he said. I nodded back – half-sleepy, wishing to scuttle through my breakfast and rush off to office. I had an early meeting. “How do you find the breakfast, these days”, he continues. I smile, “Yep, there have been changes. No more potatoes. Leafy vegetables, instead.” “That’s good”, I add.

For the rest of the week, whenever Mr. Henry saw me, he walked over to my table, exchanged pleasantries or tipped me off on the new dish that he had tried. He is now the chef. He has replaced the particularly angry chef – a lady who had sternly reminded me to write my room number on the breakfast sheet and was of course quite fond of sautéed potatoes.

Ten days later, on a late Saturday morning as I ambled out of my service apartment and walked towards the breakfast table, I found Mr. Henry sitting at one of the breakfast tables. “Good morning”, I smiled at him. He walked over and nodded, “You know they are changing the breakfast vendor from next Sunday, I do not know what happened. The guests complained about the breakfast”, he said. “Do you think I should speak to the manager?” he asks me.

I was a bit surprised. The breakfast was visibly better. Was it that the hotel had already decided to take off this vendor and Mr. Henry didn’t know that? “You see, I can run the breakfast service myself, add varieties, I do not need to be a part of this vendor” he continues. I didn’t know what to say to Mr. Henry. I felt bad. Bad because I’ve had done my share of criticism as well. Although I felt bad, I kept it to myself. I didn’t even walk up to the reception and at least ask why they are letting him go. You see, I have been getting pretty good at feeling bad and then learning the tricks of not doing or even trying to do anything about it.

So for the rest of the week I continued to feel bad, every now and then. Mr. Henry continued sharing his morning greetings and new dishes with me. Friday evening when I swiped into the apartment, I found a notice lying on the table. The Hotel in their endeavour to serve the guests better has decided to change the breakfast vendor to Starbucks. I chose to feel bad again. My colleagues felt good – they have seen that Starbucks has ‘waffles’ for breakfast!

Next morning, I went up to Mr. Henry. Asked him how he had been doing, where is he from, and did he get to speak to the manager. Mr. Henry asked me if I know anything about the next vendor. “Yeah”, I said, “They’ve left a notice saying that it is Starbucks.” “Hmm I see”, nodded Mr. Henry, “I will still talk to the manager,” He insists. I wish him luck

On Sunday, we exchanged a quiet nod. He smiled and said, “My last day! Try the vegetables, today.” I wished him all the best – it was nice meeting him.

Starbucks offered one muffin, or one cake, or one croissant and a tall cappuccino from Monday onwards. Waffles were never seen. We continued with our lives. This time we chose to criticise the Starbucks breakfast.

I don’t know where Mr. Henry is. I wish he is doing well. His smile is intact and he feels good about himself. I, on the other hand, do not feel that good about myself. Yes, once again, I choose to simply ‘feel bad’.
1. I like potatoes.
2. I always wrote my name on the breakfast sheet.
3. Mr. Henry is not imaginary.

Friday, April 24, 2009


A walk down the empty streets bustling with shoppers and tourists caught me by surprise. Empty corners, empty shopping bags, empty words, empty traffic signals, empty thoughts. Have I been so blank? ever? Orchard Street. Shopping Mecca of Singapore.

I know these streets. I have been there – from Michigan Avenue to Oxford Street to Fashion Street– carrying the bags, waiting to beat the Christmas Sale queue. But I haven’t been here – where I am today – empty streets of empty shopping malls.

I call my greatest power – to rescue me – HABIT! You are supposed to shop, you are supposed to browse, get excited, sip a cup of coffee, abuse the shutter – that’s the rule – that’s the habit.

The habit fails me too. I stand there – on the empty Orchard Street – empty, uninhibited. Have I crossed the Rubicon? Have I finally let go?

Saturday, February 14, 2009


One more day, struggles to pass by…second by second…minute by minute. One more day, the world calls Valentine’s Day, struts by with ‘mushy’ songs on the FM and cupids flying all over the television set. One more day, when the morning sms and emails proclaim that ‘love’ is officially in ‘air’.

I cross the road to the opposite stall for my Saturday morning coffee and upma. The coffee is good there – some of it I carry back to my apartment in a steel glass, carefully packed by the mother for me to set up life in a new city. The news papers proclaim a ‘pink chaddhi’ war; I choose to stay oblivious to that. Today, the cupid will fly by…the advertisements say so.

I stare out from my veranda – the fever kicks in. In my feverish eyes I see the cupid struggling with his bow and arrow. Has it turned into a missile, I wonder! He is sweating, he cannot be at so many places – from the Archies store to the car dangler, from the flowers severed from the branches to the bouquets, to the bubbling champagne glass and the thumping discotheque. He pleads with me. He wants one soul, at least one soul, to leave him alone for the day.

The coffee has gone cold. The cupid stares at me. I decide to tame the White Tiger. Under the blanket, shivering, I leave the cupid alone – let me pass the minutes in the corrupt land with Jiabao - with a booker that seems so easy to pen. The minutes and the hours, today, will pass by. Let the love be in air, officially, for all.