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Perceptions and Prescriptions


Law by precedent

Naib Subedar Mangal Singh was in a great dilemma that morning, which was a very uncommon occurrence. Normally, his life was scheduled to the last minute of every day by precedent. It was a trick taught to him by his military-man-father, in a non-verbal and unwritten course through his childhood. His father had himself learnt this delicate truth - how else but - by the process of precedence!

If all that we do - or to be more inclusive - if all that gets done all around, were to be analyzed, and collectively termed as rules, or more formally as laws of living, then law by precedent can be seen to have prevailed always, and propagated naturally. Societal decrees too establish their more eloquent laws drawing from pre-existing precedents.

With the above guiding environmental credentials, we return to our personality in focus - Naib Subedar Mangal Singh and his vexing dilemma. It was one of the few times that the trustworthy, unfailingly applicable decision-making trick had failed him. He found himself confronting one of the rarest of situations, where existence had come across a loophole in the binding natural laws with an infinitesimal probability of occurrence, that makes it a certain occurrence in infinite time. These were the doorways to currently unimaginable new worlds entailing establishment of newer brands of precedents.


Mangal's dilemma

The exceptional situation was that Mangal Singh could not hit upon a recipe that would satisfy the palate of a guest that he could not ignore. Condemnation and disgrace awaited both failure in attempt and recusal in disdain. Desertion was sacrilege. It was also a move that would immediately invite court martial proceedings and encumber his access to unlimited alcohol - his primary source of energy, imagination, and aspiration to be alive. The only sane option appeared to be unwilling endeavor with a panglossian touch, provided by gulping down a few additional pegs of vintage rum. An empty bottle on the side table indicated that this line of action indeed was Mangal Singh's preference. It at least ensured a semblance of reward before an attempt. A very appropriate precedent in an otherwise customarily unfair world.

The Naib Subedar at work was a spectacle that his self-proclaimed disciples as well as general onlookers would fascinatedly watch, although the man recognized no category of people of the first kind. A narcissistic streak, which had its own positive role to play in his creations, made him to conclude that no one ever could attain his level of expertise in the craft in contention. Its application included thwarting those who posed an apparent threat to his prevailing fame and supremacy. But narcissism was inseparable from swagger. Designated students made use of this behavioral technicality to astutely prise out his secrets.

Today the swagger was rather subdued. The unavoidable guest's palate demanded a taste that corresponded to umami in the seventeenth degree, in his private scale of taste. Someone asking for the seventeenth seemed a deep-rooted conspiracy. He made use of this scale when he needed to adopt the top-down approach to conjure a recipe, which involved beginning with a taste and arriving at the method, means, and materials to create it. This was a precedent that he had gleaned from one of those loopholes in the fabric of existence. Strangely, Mangal Singh had been witness to the innards of, and privy to the secrets of more than such phenomena in his professional life. Perhaps his maverick persona and these oddball holes attracted each other earnestly.



The other approach to a recipe was the bottoms-up scheme. Here, the beginnings were based on the current availability of methods, means, and materials, from which was fashioned an expectantly lip-smacking recipe that awaited a nerdy reality check. The unavoidable guest had forced a spoke into the wheel of this approach as well, with an ongoing list of unacceptable ingredients and processes and the reasons for such insistence.

Salt was to be minimal to the point of non-inclusion, to cater to its disagreement with hypertension, but its traces were yet expected to be detectable. Sour items too were subject to similar severe constraints due to their acidic content that provoked the condition of gastritis. Sweetness was anathema and got the axe as it aggravated the guest's mildly diabetic condition. Bitterness was a no-no to gratify the egocentricity of the personage - who has ever volunteered for a bitter pill, materially or otherwise? Hot things were in direct contrast to that of the recipient individual's docile demeanor and hence a definite taboo. (It was moot whether the last avoidance was a shot at maintaining the image of docility or hedging against censure for audacity). Even the semblance of a hint of its subsumption bore the potential of being charged with battery. That left the elusive and imagined umami in the center of attention. Mangal had qualified sixteen levels of this apparitional absurdity over the years. The abominable opponent had gone one up on his scale, devised using immense labor and skill.

His first reaction to his superior's authoritative request was a dismayed throwing in of the towel. The superior was a past-master in tackling such circumstances. In no time, with a concoction that included a few words of genuine and deserved praise, a few more loaded with vanity-boosting sweet nothings, a couple of shots in the dark of indicative ingeniousness, and the promise of an extra crate of liquid rations. Explicitness had never been a workable process between the superior and the subordinate. All communications were in supposedly non-serious banter, yet the senses remained extra alert in both, to pick up every suggestive order, rebuking acclaim, or complimenting reproach. The latter was senior by age, and having super-annuated a couple of years back, had continued at his post as the top chef of the mess, primarily because there was none to replace him from the succeeding breeds. The former having talked the latter into the extension using a similar coercive precedent, had experienced its effectiveness over crisp, starched, and rank-reminding directives, and stuck to this mode as an exception.



A rejuvenated Mangal Singh applied himself sincerely without a clue to the agenda to follow. A very simple man, his world had been his kitchen; his dispensations being his exotic creations; his acceptances being the accolades of those that partook of his delicacies. Beyond the familiarity of this realm, he was naivety personified, a realization that never bothered him. In fact, it had convolutedly helped him in many uncomfortable situations like the present one. Leaving coveted success trustingly in the hands of omnipotent providence, Mangal let his habitual actions take over his modest intent. They did so promptly and wonderfully.

A motley crowd had surreptitiously gathered to watch the impending spectacle. When it came to pass, it was blissfully ethereal. Invisible plumes of consumed rum formed the inspirational arena. Graceful movements from Mangal Singh crafted gorgeous intermediaries, that were than judiciously amalgamated amid graceful movements of limbs, to shape the projected product. The fussbudgety guest swooned frenziedly on tasting it. As the dish surely was one meant for the gods, he too felt like one for a fleeting moment.

The seemingly inscrutable dilemma lay solved - as usual by precedent.


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