Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The lemon and the spoon

Coffee shops and I share a very unique relationship, as my readers would have realized by now. Many (in)significant posts in this very blog has been inspired by what I had observed during my solitary coffee sessions (where I have successfully pretended, so far, to be thinking deep) at the nearby coffee shop. And while I was immersed in one such session today, I happened to notice someone order a grilled 'something' sandwich and followed it up with some whispered request (note: being the gentleman that I am, I didn't try to overhear what they asked. Ahem! ). Nothing quite out of the ordinary so far. Until I saw the maître'd gripping a whole lemon between two spoons and take it to the table with the something sandwich.

What ignorance! What horror! This is not how one honors the unique relationship that a whole lemon shares with the spoon. As a kid who had spent his childhood in a society where lemon-and-spoon races are serious sporting events for any child until he/she reaches middle school, this is just blasphemy beyond proportions. While seemingly simple in concept, the science behind lemon-and-spoon races have been perfected over the many years in India, so much so that it can be called an art now. It is a sport that requires rapt attention (balancing a pseudo-sphere on a hemispherical surface is not easy), swift athleticism (it is a race!), keen insight (optimally trade-off pace for stability) and deep strategy ('accidentally' knock the lemon off your opponents' spoon). To top it off, you might encounter vicissitudes of fortune, if the wind decides to play rough on you, toppling the lemon despite your desperate nose-dive to balance it. 

Wait! Did I tell you that the spoon is not to be held with your hands, but with your mouth? Yeah. Now that's how we roll in the Shire! If you still think this is a trivial sport, suit yourself. 

Our colony (with around 200 households) used to organize an annual Pongal festival, where the lemon-and-spoon was an integral part of the event, year after year. Quite unsurprisingly, this sport is extremely popular among all age-groups. This, of course, complicates the strategy for the elderly aunties having to delicately balance themselves (and the lemons too) without tripping on their sarees. To give you an idea on how seriously this event was taken up, some of them had dared their inhibitions towards non-traditional south-Indian wearables and wore salwar-kameez to gain that distinct advantage. They even engage in the ritualistic pre-race and post-race trash-talk, which goes around for another year within the community gossip circles.  

The beauty of the game (sport, not game, sport!) lies in its innate ability to flex the rules and make it infinitely complex than a chess game. For example, simple deviances like allowing a certain number of pit-stops where you could re-balance the lemon, and creating a lane (within which you should run) can create a variety of strategies that you could adopt. In fact, in a certain event, we even took this to the extreme where one had to move around obstacles and climb stairs like in a cross-country race.  

Like with any major sport, there are serious obstacles that we have to get out of the way for this sport to flourish. For instance, like in Formula one, there is a potential health hazard warning here as well - especially if the spoons aren't sterilized properly after each round of the race. Thankfully, solutions do exist for most real world problems. In this instance, we enforced the BYOS (Bring Your Own Spoon) rule, but had to enforce regulations on the dimensions of the spoon with the help of our regulatory committee. Another issue that had risen time and again is the use of adhesives (like sugar syrup) on their spoons by the athletes. Also, the impact of gender in this sport is not conclusively established. Whether lemon-and-spoon can be a co-ed sport, has been discussed extensively till date with little avail. This, I believe this is one of open questions faced in this sport and has to be addressed peacefully through dialogue (we believe strongly in peace and secularism) within the committee and by careful analytics.
Given these amazing facts, it is nothing short of sheer genius that this game is wonderfully cost effective as well. For example, the used lemons can be consumed as lemonade soon after the race, making it both economical and attractive to the athletes. These lemons can also be hung in front of our bicycles as mementos (which also effectively double up as charms in collusion with our Indian mythological beliefs). Little wonder that lemon-and-spoon enjoys such wide popularity ! 

You might think, Cricket is the unofficial national sport of our country (for the records, hockey is still the national sport of India). I beg to differ. Lemon-and-spoon for the win !


PS. I strongly suspect (unofficial news from undisclosed sources) that following the success of IPL, IHL, IBL, etc., talks have begun with sponsors about hosting an annual ILaSL (Indian Lemon-and-Spoon League). Hush ! 

Image courtesy: Internet and Flickr and Google Search. No infringement on copyrights intended !