What to do with the finger bowl?
I remember that in our small town a new deluxe restaurant opened in 1999. Going to restaurants was a very new concept back then. Families started pilgrimaging to the restaurant and ate daal fry served in a copper bucket as the melancholic old Hindi instrumental music about lost love played in the background. One of the primary markers of progress in a small town was that waiters of restaurants, who also belong to the same Hindi-speaking small towns, treat you with respect by talking in English. There was a sense of being arrived on the bandwagon of progress. We all gloriously entering in Y2K ( 21st century) while eating Missi roti and Veg Jalfrezi. At the end of the dinner, the waiter would bring this strange bowl that contained warm water and lemon slice dipped in it. One couldn’t understand what exactly one had to do with this magic bowl for many days.
Is this a version of holy water where one needs to dip their fingers to achieve enlightenment, or one needs to pick a lemon from it to eat? There was a strange terror of a lonely finger bowl placed on the table, waiting to be consumed. It felt like a UFO landed on the remote village farm.
One would fear asking the waiter about it. Under-confidence was the dialect of small towns. One of my relatives once drank the water as he thought this was a complimentary drink served by the restaurant. Many sitting at the nearby table giggled at him for being that one person who didn’t know what to do with this magic bowl. After much trial and error, people finally understood the usage.
Later on, finger bowls become an integral part of the restaurant experience. Many would feel the dinner is incomplete if there is no finger bowl served at the end of the dinner. As if all the pain, suffering, and existential ache would be crushed once one put the hand in this warm water and squeezed the lemon slice. Everyone, after dipping their hand, would return to their own home with the mild happiness of being that exclusive person who got the chance to dip their hands in the magic bowl.