#22 The Beautiful Barter System

Hey there,


This one is about much more than food.

Come with me. Let’s take a trip down the ol’ memory lane. A little further down the lane for some of you, but it’s going to be worth it, trust me.

You remember that one friend who wouldn’t succumb to the societal pressure of sharing their tiffins? Lunch, or a menace to the sanctity of a school, as I like to call it, used to be a breeding ground for potential carnivores who, for some god-awful reason, found other’s eatables tastier than their own. No one complained because the barter system, as horrible in retrospect as it was, worked.

But while the whole class waged war over this basic necessity, one kid sat in silence with an undeviating stance of eating his own meal. We also had one in our class. We called him North Korea. We had learned it on the internet. He sat in the smack-dab centre of the classroom, creating an invisible no-share zone where no one dared to enter, relishing his noodles.

Sharing lunch, however, was more than a bunch of runts clawing for food. What looked like a battle from the outside was actually a peace summit for us. We’d share everything, from roasted chicken to crispy dosas to plain-vanilla cheese sandwiches. Unaware of our actions, we built relations over time. It had become customary to put our lunchboxes on display and act like we were at a buffet… ah, simpler times.

Even though North Korea wouldn’t join the peace summit, we really wanted him in. We were kids, we wanted to be together but he wouldn’t budge. “What’s mine is mine,” he’d quietly claim. He’d join us after he finished his meal but to his credit, he never touched our food. He had strong principles.

We grew older and school breaks eventually turned into outings, movie plans, trips to the parks nearby, you name it. The entire class was one unit when we went out, like a tribe that wouldn’t leave each other’s side. But we were missing one person, always. Even though I wanted him there, no one else did.

And then one day, he forgot his tiffin at home. His stomach growled as he looked around but he didn’t utter a word. Before we could all rush to him with our food, he left the class and spent the entire lunch break in hiding. Classes resumed and he walked in like nothing happened.

The next day, he got three tiffin boxes with him. He called all of us, gave us two of the boxes and proceeded to have one all by himself. But his infamous guards were down. We snatched the three boxes and placed it on the buffet table, inviting him to join our wide-ranging spread.

North Korea had finally joined the peace summit.

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