Have you ever eaten food alone? Be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or some snacks, eating in solitude makes you sad. The very scene of someone eating his or her food makes any sensitive person sad. This sadness is not about being left alone or being isolated from the din around. It is a sort of subtle reminder of one’s own existence; the very basics of existence- one has to eat to survive. Eventually, when you deduct all your boisterous and pompous nature, remove all your ego, your social status, your arrogance and your self-importance and everything from your own self and confront the basic material for your sustenance and survival, that is food, you become absolutely alone. That’s why people who eat alone often eat fast or east very slow. Either they increase the pace of eating so that they can escape from the core of their existence or they slow down the act of eating so that they could detach from the food as well as the act of eating, while maintaining their egos and imaginary positions. That’s why people who live in hotels when they come to the breakfast or dinner table, either carry a journal or look at their lap tops or watch a television program which they are not interested at all or finish their food fast and disappear. They just want to disengage from their relationship between food and their own self.
Eating alone evokes memories; not consciously but subconsciously. You sit at the table. The hotel boy brings you the plate, he brings different items as per order or you collect your food from the buffet. If you are alone you either watch the performance as if it were happening to someone else or you do it like a performance from which you are detached. You order for different things only to create a distance between yourself and what you have ordered. You do not relish what you have ordered. But still you order because you want to connect yourself with the surroundings so that you could create an imaginary connection with the food that you are going to eat. But the moment you see the ordered item coming to you and especially when other people in the hall look at your food and your lonely self you feel dejected. You eat as if you were committing a crime. You commit a crime and you leave the traces of it. Your eyes are away from the crime scene. You make your tea by dipping tea bags into hot water, adding sugar cubes, stirring them with a steel spoon and in all the while keeping your eyes away from the act of making tea. Or you do all these or pour prepared tea from a jug to your cup as if you were doing something that you want to finish as early as possible. If you are not looking away from the food and beverage, you must be looking too intently at it so that the very details remove the holistic experience of the act. You don’t actually see what you eat or drink when you are alone.
Solitude at the dining table evokes memories. They pour into you even if you don’t want to think about anything else. The involuntary gushing of remembrances makes you a victim of your own past and you often remember incidents where you had taken food with your near and dear ones. You remember the kind of happiness you felt once when you had taken the same kind of food. You remember, at times something that does not have anything to do with food or eating. You remember walking along a valley filled with flowers or a desert where there are flowers created out of sand and mirage. Memories flood in you as if they were waiting for a chink to appear in your guarded nature. The moment your solitude makes you vulnerable they rush into you. You just get washed away by memories. But remember, these memories are absolutely formless often. You will not be able to discern what is happening inside you. The more you look at the food the more you feel like finishing it and going. The more you see the delicacies heaped on your plate you feel like throwing them away. You feel an absolute sense of dejection and sadness because you are not able to contain the rushing of the memories that you clearly know that do not belong to you. They are the part of collective memories of this ritual called eating food.
Eating had never been a private affair for the primitive man. The hunter and the fruit gatherer never had their kill enjoyed alone. They share it with a community that hunted by the side or collected berries in packs. By the time they collect their stuff and congregate around fire or whatever they deem important, they shared one portion for the invisible, one portion for the elders and weak, and one portion for the children and women and one portion for themselves. They ate together as if they were doing a great ritual for survival. As time passed and people progressed the same ritual got refined in many ways. People gathered around dining tables fabulously arranged and decorated. The upper classes facilitated table manners and the lower classes perpetuated table habits. Eating food was a collective ritual or a collective celebration. It remains to be so even today. People eat together and to reduce the coarseness of the very act of eating, they talk about various things; mainly about things they have eaten in various places. One taste takes to the detailing of another one. And one memory of food takes to collective memories. People participate in this ritual enthusiastically that’s why we have these ideas of working lunch and power lunch. People talk business over food, or people meet over dinner with wine and discuss things that are important and trivial at the same time.
The moment you are left alone with your food, you are severed of the communitarian ties. You are suddenly ostracised from the mainstream society. You and your food are left alone; you could eat it or throw it. You are not a part of the collective society any more. What you are left with are the memories of being a part of it a few hours back. Suddenly you are alone with your food and you become a primitive man even if you are wearing the most up to date clothes and using expensive luxury items. You are alone and you are reduced to your primitive existence; the unavoidable link between your hunger and the food. Everything collapses in front of it because you are alone.
You may think that I don’t like to be alone and I don’t like my solitude. I like being alone and I like to take food alone. Those are the moments when I realize my ultimate connection with the core of my life. The solitude and the silent communion with the food make me understand how important it is to shed all egos and self positioning and to create a link with the primary desires. I enjoy the solitude with food and when you are alone with food you realize that you are not alone. I have seen people feeling utterly sad and lonely, distracted and deliberately engaged in trivial activities such as typing texts into mobile phones, making phone calls, looking at television programs and so on, when they are alone with their food. But I take it as an opportunity to become one with what you eat and realise the basics of life. I prefer not to eat with other people when I am travelling. When I eat with others I participate in a social ritual. When I am alone and eat food alone, I enjoy it immensely because I realize the I in me is nothing but a hungry being that just want to quench its appetite. The moment I realize this I feel the need to transcend from that basic nature to go to higher planes of existence. And eating food alone is a sort of meditation for me because each time I push a piece of food into my mouth, I become one with that act of eating and pay my respects to the higher power that has created me as well as the food, and once I recognize the creator I feel the need to reach him/her. The moment I feel the need to reach him or her, I go deeper into myself, taking my solitude as a path and transcend my basic instincts to qualities that make a human being divine. I am yet to take many more lonely meals.