When I was in school, my mom and I used to go for shopping at Tulashibag, Pune. There is one restaurant named "Akshay" in Tulashibag (actually, there are two, "Akshay" and "Agatya"). I always used to force my mom that we will go and eat something. She used to answer in a typical way - "apan doghinnich kai jaayache?" (meaning: just two of us?) Then, I used to ask - "ho, mag kai jhaale?" (i.e. Yeah, so?). Then she would say - "baba asale ki jaau" (i.e.we will go and eat when my dad is with us). I never understood this answer then. As a kid I felt, we have money to buy items there and we can go and eat. Then, why can't we go? This incidence happened lot of times those days.
Later, when in S.P. College, I never took tiffin box with me. I in general don't like to carry many things and the college bag with books and usual stuff was more than I wish I would have carried. One of my friends always offered me a share from her tiffin and I hardly accepted that offer. The consequence was she also stopped bringing tiffin and we started to eat out at "Vrunda's snacks center" near Tilak Road. We never got too much pocket money then - it was enough for me to get bus ticket to and from my college and few extra bucks. Then, we started saving money. We used to walk some distance, for example I would walk from S.P. College to Swargate and then took the bus, thus saving @ Rs. 2 or so. And then spend this money eating at "Vrinda's" and many other places near SP. We were not doing anything wrong and of course our families knew about this. My father felt good to see that we were adjusting in whatever pocket money he gave and still enjoying by saving some money. My mom expressed surprise and her reaction was - why don't you take tiffin box and eat it. I will give enough for you and your friend. I never understood what makes the difference? I was anyways not asking for extra money from home. And I was happy the way we lived then! Later on I realized that her concern was not about spending money but about we eating outside - again "Just two of us"!!
Later I understood what her concern exactly was. She felt: girls / women should not eat outside when not accompanied by boys / men. When I heard this for the first time, I burst out laughing. I didn't find any link between "eating" (outside, to be specific) and "being with someone". By the way, I have heard many of my friends saying that they cannot eat alone, as in they always need someone accompanying them when they are having food. But, my mom's concern was not this. And thus I couldn't relate at all.
After many years, I went to Bangalore for job. For first few days, we were alloted to that branch of the company which was far away from the place we stayed. I like to start work as early as I can and finish it at the earliest so I used to go to the office by 9.30 am and get back as early as I could. That time, we used cook dinner for ourselves at our home but breakfast and lunch, we used to have in the office cafeteria. This far-away branch had provision only for lunch. By the way, I also have a habit of having heavy breakfast and then for the whole day, I can stay without eating anything :D So, I always used to either make something for myself early morning, at home or to just go to some "xyz sagar" restaurant-sweet mart-juice center (btw, in Bangalore, at almost every km, you will find a restaurant which has a name that contains "sagar" in it. We had "Krishna Sagar" located at Marathahalli Bridge near our home. And these restaurants also serve sweets, juice and what not!) So I used to eat there - my favorite onion uttapa and some juice.. at least thrice a week. When I told this to my mom, she still had her typical reaction! And I reacted saying - I cannot make breakfast at home everyday.. so leave it!
Then this incidence happened sometime last year in IIT. I went to BJC (H5 juice center) to have mosambi juice (btw, alone). And after some time I realized people were staring at me. They would come there, stare for a while and then put their order and get things and leave. I then recollected that for first few days at "Krishna sagar", the waiters there were also staring at me. I was not able to understand the reason. I ignored and decided to forget this incidence. After few months, I went to D-Mart for shopping and as always, I went and came back walking. Thus, I was tired, moreover I had missed evening snacks in the hostel. I went to Gulmohor restaurant and ordered cold coffee and sandwich. Guess what? There too, I was welcomed by that same "staring look" by almost everyone. This time I could not ignore. While they were preparing sandwich and coffee for me, a sudden thought flashed in my mind - "Just two of us?" Oh! so this was the reason for their staring. I was there all alone and that was not expected? My mom also always reacted in such a way as if it was not expected! "Yes, may be" - I said to myself. I ate, then left and called at home - usual once a day call - mom asked me - what I was doing - and I told her - just came back from D-Mart, had sandwich at Gulmohor and now heading towards hostel. She asked - "with whom?" I said - "Why are you asking this? you know right, I usually go for shopping alone. I don't call anyone." (and that also meant I went to Gulmohor alone) Then she was again surprised. (This is really strange. She knows that I do only what I want to do. and still she gets surprised at every such incidence!) But, for the first time, I felt irritated that day; by this weird rule or convention or whatever they call it. I remembered a scene from a hollywood movie (I think, it is from the movie "50 first dates"). The girl there was sitting in a restaurant and having her breakfast. I felt, oh - so there they don't have any such weirdo rules!
Sometime back, I read a quote saying - Be the change you want to see in the world. I liked it a lot and I was wondering if I will be able to do that ever. Today, one hour ago, I went to Badalu's canteen to have food, and unfortunately no idlis, wadas and samosas were left. So, I decided to go to Gulmohor cafe. I went there, ordered and sat on a table with a firm mind. Everyone was staring as always. But, I had found answer for myself, to the question I had - whether I will be the change I want to see in the world. Yes, I was that change. I was sitting in a restaurant alone, no male accompanying me for food. I could stare at them the same way they did as if I was asking - what a weird thing you are doing by staring at me!! I had ordered Pav Bhaji and enjoyed it at the fullest!