jump to navigation

Chalk and cheese February 21, 2016

Posted by globejam in Denmark.

cow-chewing-grassMatt and I were very different. Poles apart actually. Like chalk and cheese, you could say.

I was gregarious while he was reserved. I wanted to go out and see places; he was content to stay at home. I loved the work I was doing, but for him it was just something to do. I was, and still am an atheist and he was, and probably still is, a devout Christian, an Orthodox Syrian Christian. I needed to be unnecessarily early for every bus, train and plane I had to catch while for him everything was last minute. I was born a vegetarian but ate everything that was deemed fit to eat, including pickled fish, dry rye bread and whatever Danish cuisine had to offer. Matt on the other hand was a non-vegetarian but very picky about his food. He preferred Indian with the only exception being burgers from McDonalds or Burger King. I loved listening to music while he did not seem particularly interested. I smoked though not regularly and liked an occasional beer or two. He was a non-smoking teetotaller. The biggest difference, however, was that I was a chatterbox and he was extremely miserly with words.

Despite all that, we got along very well. Having stayed with other colleagues at different times in different countries, I can confidently say that there could have been no better a roomie for my first stint abroad. He was neat and tidy. He was game for all my suggestions. If I said “It looks like a fine day, let’s go out”, he would say “ok” without even asking where we were heading. Importantly, if we ended up at a museum, an exhibition or the cinema and we needed to buy entrance tickets, he never thought of it as an unnecessary expense. He was one of the few Indians I know who did not constantly convert every expense from Kroner to Rupee and obsess over it.

At home we shared the work without having to ever explicitly ask each other to do things. If I cooked, he cleaned up afterwards and when he cooked I did likewise. He never once complained about what I put on the table and to be fair to myself, I was also always appreciative of his cooking, however it turned out. We went shopping together with a list. If something outside the list took our fancy we just bought it. We did not split the bill every time we spent money outside. We had a jar at home into which we shoved all the common bills marked with our initials and at the end of the week or whenever we had the time and patience, we would go through it quickly and settle the accounts. Neither of us pored over each of the bills or worried about who ate how much of what.

There was only one bath and toilet and thanks to our routines being so different, there was never any contention over who went in first. Same with the washing machine. Some days I would have just loaded my clothes into the machine when he would come out of his room with a basket full of his clothes to wash. He would see that I was already using the washing machine and say “OK, I will do the washing some other time”, and turn back into the room. It was domestic bliss. I was happy and extremely lucky to have had a guy like Matt to share my early days in Denmark.

It may not have been as easy for Matt though. On cold days, I would go stand outside the kitchen and have a smoke. In the evenings, if we did not go anywhere out, I might open a bottle of beer and sit in front of the TV. Matt clearly disapproved of all this, though he never said a word about it. I loved listening to music and had a small cassette player and a pair of portable speakers. I played most of the music in my room, but sometimes when I was cooking or doing other domestic chores, I would bring my player out to keep me company. I had an eclectic collection from classic rock to carnatic music much of it uninteresting to Matt. The only time he perked up was when I played Jim Reeves. Listening to somebody else’s choice of music is never easy and I wouldn’t blame Matt if he had been just a bit annoyed at some point in time.

Once in a while we would go to the Video Netto lending library to pick up a movie or two. While Matt would scour the top floor, with eternal optimism and very little success, for Mamooty and Mohanlal starrers, I would, with equal optimism and just as unsuccessfully, be browsing the much larger basement, scanning the racier sections for movies with a strong storyline. Again, Matt clearly disapproved, but as always held his tongue.  Not that he had too much to frown upon in this case as invariably we returned with movies that both of us could watch – mostly spaghetti westerns.

The thing he would have found most difficult to handle must have been that I talked incessantly while all he wanted was some peace and quiet. Something that must have been near impossible for him to find with me around. This was one area where things could have been a little better for me as well. I could have done with some conversations. In all the time we were there, Matt never spoke more than a few words a day. It was the same in office too. While I would participate in meetings, discuss ideas, raise issues and give status updates, Matt would get through his day with barely a word spoken. Back home, we never discussed his work, though I talked about what I was working on at length. Sometimes, I would go on and on for a few minutes on some topic that had caught my fancy, turn around and find Matt staring into space with glazed eyes. “Matt! Matt, have you heard a word of what I said?”, I would exclaim. Upon repeated calling, a furrow would gradually appear on his forehead as though he was straining to hear someone calling his name from a great distance. Then with visible effort, he would reel himself back into his body from wherever he had drifted to. He would turn around and look at me with mildly surprised eyes as though to say “Hey, where did you come from?”. Finally, realization would dawn that we had been in a middle of a conversation before he had switched off and then he would smile a little sheepishly and say “Go on. I am listening”. After every such incident, I would promise myself to give him the space, peace and quiet he needed. I would consciously refrain from talking to him and we would go for days on end without exchanging a word. I doubt whether Matt even noticed these interludes while I struggled with my self-imposed vow of silence. An excruciating few days later I would revert to my usual garrulous self. Matt never shushed me even once during our entire stay. Then again maybe he never heard me at all.

All things considered, of the two of us, I may have had the better deal. Looking back there was only one thing that really annoyed me and that was Matt’s habit of chewing with his mouth open. He would open his mouth wide after every bite and each time I would hear the sound of his tongue separating from the roof of his mouth. The smack, smack, smack of his mastication was difficult to take, to put it mildly. You might think that this is a minor issue that I am blowing up. However, it built up as the days went by. There was no escaping it as we had dinner together most days. Also you must appreciate that there were absolutely no other noises to detract from the full impact of the sound. During the entire period of dinner, all I would hear were these regular smacks, each one seemingly louder than its predecessor, working on me like the drops of water that dripped on the forehead of some poor soul stuck in a Chinese torture chamber. Most days, not wanting to upset Matt, I would just put my head down, gobble up my food and scoot. But one day, it became too much to bear. After anguishing over whether to raise the issue or not through most of the meal, I blurted out “Stop”. Unable to look him in the eye, I stared at my plate and continued “Please don’t chew with your mouth open. It’s disgusting and driving me nuts. I cannot take it anymore. Did your parents not teach you to keep your mouth closed when there is food in your mouth?”. I must have ranted on for a full five minutes unable to control myself now that the flood gates had opened. All spent, I calmed myself down and mustered up the courage to look up at him.

Matt was there, two feet from me, staring at the ceiling with vacant eyes. Clearly he had switched off long before I had started my tirade. Worried equally that he may have heard, or not, I shook him by the shoulder and inquired “Matt! Did you hear anything at all?”. He slowly came back to himself, smiled his guileless smile and said “Sorry. What was that again?”.

Matt was a gentle soul. I did not have the heart to hurt him by repeating all the nasty things I had just uttered. I forced on a smiled and said, “Nothing. I was thinking maybe we could go to Tivoli tomorrow”. He nodded his head good-naturedly and resumed his chewing as usual.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: