Things: A Brief Autobiography of a Burger

I am a burger.

It is difficult for me to ascertain the precise moment when my identity rose above that of the many objects that constitute me to become that of a burger. Some might say, that in this peculiar mode of origin, I am like a nation. Made by bringing together smaller entities of economics values just as small, to form a composite being that inspires and commands both a higher economic value and emotional respect. I have been told by learned peers that men have gone on hunger strike for being bestowed with Statehood. I also hear of children who do not wish to take food except for burgers. I have seen, in the formative years of my being, a little boy swinging from his mother’s arm on the floor and howling abominably with the intent to embarrass her  in public to get himself a burger. So even in bringing men gastronomic satisfaction, burgers and nations go together.

Like nations, we too have our own problems. Many of my component elements, especially those blasted lettuce leaves, have secessionist tendencies. They plan to fall out at the sides with the first bite and walk to freedom. In vain do we try to make them realise their freedom is but delusional, a lonely cabbage leaf is only likely to get trampled over or go straight to the dustbin, to be nibbled at by cockroaches or maybe the occasional rat, doomed to a future far removed from the glory of bracing the end at the mouth of a hungry human. The best case for these fledglings is to be eaten by pets, though I have heard cases when some people have picked up lettuce, tomato and onion pieces from the floor, looked around and put them in their mouths. Such extraordinary luck is rare.

The most important question that confronts us burgers is, as succinctly put by a man while biting on one of my ancestors, that of suicide. To paraphrase it, as the said man did in an essay, existential crisis stares at us in the face from the moment we are born. Add to it the crisis of identity that haunts us as much if not more, and you have the subject matter of a Zack Snyder movie. But being born of and with these two crises makes us similar not only to the glorious idea of State that is so dear to man, but to man himself.

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You think I am, therefore I am. – Macques Donaldus

I knew a rebel of a lettuce leaf. He was here just sometime back, though. When entreating him not to fall off, he asked me what the use of the entire exercise was. We were all going to end up the same anyway, some probably in ways perceived less glorious. The top loaf quipped, “But you will go knowing you were part of an ABC burger! We are famous!” “And pray tell me,” said the lettuce leaf, before a man came in and flicked him to the floor, “what good would that-”

His sentence was left unfinished. While the dissenting voices inside me were all waiting to be quelled by time, I, their collective conscience, could not help but wonder about the lettuce leaf’s point. I have seen my cousins across the cardboard cut-outs on the floor. In fact, I heard my would-be-consumer talk about a relative of mine whose picture he had seen on a bill-board. But I wondered, that was not me. To this consumer and even to that man who puts together my constituents to create me, I am just another burger. No different from the ones put on advertisements or the one last consumed. Just another burger, marketed to be exceptional than others, but actually very similar, in use and by birth.

I may scream and shuffle my loaves in hurt pride at the thought to being told I was same, and go to great pains to show how the lettuce inside me is of a different shade of green, how specially has the chicken or beef patty been prepared, the subtle touch of spices to render the precise characteristic taste but in the end, when you look at it, I am not that special.

I am just another entity formed entirely of things that might be same across other burgers or sandwiches or even salads, given a name for consumption and made to feel different by the powers that be for economic gains. And suddenly, the patty and lettuce inside of me, or even the loaves,  seem to have a bigger claim to an identity that I ever did.

But my time has come. I have been served hot on a plate, a curved piece of paper lying next to me on top of paper tissues, with two sachets of ketchup for company. I go to embrace the most defining moment of my life. It should seem ironical, that my destiny is fulfilled in consumption. But it does not, suddenly. My identity starts and stops at the plate. Before that I was nothing, beyond this I would be nothing. All the human being would have consumed would be  just an idea. An idea of a being that I am sold as, something he should know very well.

And with these words, I depart, leaving you to chew on what I hope would be more than food.

Goodbye.

Coffee Chronicles Episode 6: ‘Shamu’

I still remember the first time when I  heard of Shamu.

I had, as a child, read about a star orca called Shamu, with a distinct curved dorsal fin in SeaWorld, San Diego. Shamu was the first orca captured intentionally to be trained for shows. She also became a study on how captivity can affect the behaviour of  orcas, after she attacked a trainer, some four months before her death. The draw of Shamu is still so great that SeaWorld has named its show for performing orcas as the ‘Shamu Show’.

I had hence, never thought, that I would find namesake of this celebrated cetacean in India, and more so, on the office floor.

I was in the washroom, at the basin. I was splashing water onto my face, trying to rid myself of sleep when all other fluids designed to keep men awake had failed.

Suddenly there came upon the scene a gentleman whose countenance always bore an expression that can only be described as most singular. It was a very disagreeable mixture of confusion and anxiety. It gave him an air of an acute helplessness, along with his baggy trousers, squeaky sports shoes and round spectacles that seemed to be too uncomfortable being where they were.  Eyes wide, clouds of distress hovering on his forehead, I have before and since seen said gentleman walking around the floor, infecting every chair he passes with the same astounded perplexity as that nests between his brows.

I, whilst valiantly fighting off sleep and water, looked up from the basin into the mirror, seeing there the gentleman waiting at the door of the washroom, looking into the mirror as well. He then stepped forward, exclaimed, “Shamu!” and looked around. It was difficult to classify his utterance as an exclamation, for it had a distinct air of interrogation hanging over it. His striking cameo thus being exhausted, the gentleman left as suddenly as he had appeared, still calling out “Shamu, Shamu” in a tone reminiscent of the plaintive cries of the hungry hatchling of a crow on a hot afternoon. The door closed behind him, and cries of ‘Shamu’ still rang in the air in the wake of the exit of our hero, diminishing in intensity, but never in its degree of despair.

Needless to say, I was left stunned. My mind was still occupied in a struggle with a very determined slumber which threatened to overpower me in spite of the water. This incident that had happened took some time to be processed by my mind, but once done, it proved too strong a reinforcement against the wily enemy. Suddenly, I was wide awake.

I followed the dying echo of ‘Shamu’ out from the washroom and there I found the perennially surprised gentleman moving around rather unsteadily, still looking for the apparition named Shamu he had so summoned.

True to the reputation that preceded the existence of his name in my universe of awareness, Shamu remained an enigma to me for quite some time. I would sometimes hear his name being shouted here and there, never without alarm, but I would never be able to catch a glimpse of the man himself. I figured, from conversations with various people that he was an attendant, eccentric in ways and sharp of mind. However, an encounter with the man always eluded me, until that fateful day.

It had to happen in the mini-kitchen. I had gone in for a cup of cappuccino when I found that there was no milk. A man walked in, whom I had not seen on the floor before. He was short, rather unimpressive looking and had a walrus-esque moustache. He wore glasses and his mouth was curved into a permanent smirk. He had quick movements, and was very thin.

I noticed from his uniform that he was an attendant, and asked him to refill the milk. I also told him that we had run out of stirrers. A reserve stock of stirrers and cups was normally kept in the cabinet beneath the microwave oven but it was locked.

He did not say a word in reply. He first tried the cabinet, then finding it locked went out and came back again. Then he opened the top cabinets, murmuring to himself and dropping things. Then he opened the refrigerator. No doubt for the milk, I thought.

He fumbled around the shelves, and then, to my surprise and disbelief, took out a bunch of keys.

He then proceeded to open the bottom cabinet and after rummaging through all that there was, closed it. He then opened the refrigerator again, took out a packet of milk and then picked up the scissors. He had considerable difficulty making the scissors work as per his will but once his nimble fingers had tamed the beast, he cut the top of the packet and poured its contents into a bottle. Then he took the bottle and placed it inside the milk container for the coffee machine.

I realised my brain had never been conditioned to react to such rapid and varied stimuli so I just stood there observing the spectacle unfold itself before my very eyes.

Someone called out, ‘Shamu’ and the man left immediately to the call. As he left he turned around and said something which I assumed was the negative to the question writ large over my face- where on earth are the stirrers?

Thus concluded my first encounter with Shamu. I have seen him rarely since then. Whenever I have, he is always moving about. He seems to keep himself busy.

But all I could think of that day, while I was pouring the coffee from one cup to another to stir it, that Shamu lived up to the reputation that echoed ahead of him. And like his namesake, he too, is every bit the performer.

P.S.: I  walked to the washroom the other day, a problem heavy on my mind, and found Shamu there, doing his thing, standing with his back to me, his face turned sideways and buried in his  raised arm, his eyes closed in peace.

Needless to say, I hurried out.

**End of Episode 6**