Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The “Kitchen Cabinet” meeting began although the chairperson Sonia Gandhi was yet to arrive.

Since it was already past lunch hour, the “Kitchen Cabinet” decided to have a working lunch.

Just as the stewards of the Parliament canteen were getting ready to serve the heavily subsidised lunch, finance minister Pranob Mukherjee aka Pranab Mukherjee put up his hand and asked them not to serve him anything.

“I should practice what I preach,” said the affable FM as he opened his lunch box, the size of a geometry box, and took out pieces of Rui maach (carp fish) marinated in pungent mustard along with a small matka of mishti doi.

“This should keep me going up to evening when I am ready for tea,” Pranabda said, pointing to his hip flask which had two salted biscuits stuck with adhesive tape.

The Prime Minister opened his Jalandhar cloth bag and out came a caserole containing Hilsa fish curry with aloo and pudina parathas wrapped in silver foil.

“Pranabda, don’t look at me like that,” the PM said as the FM’s eyebrows shot up when he saw very expensive hilsa in Manmohan’s dabba.

“The Hilsa fish is free and it is due to the courtesy of Prime Minister Begum Khalida Zia from Bangladesh. She keeps sending me two to three refrigerated cans of Hilsa every month due to the rising prices of hilsa here. I have not spent any money for this lunch except for the parathas which my wife Gursharan Kaur made last week. Since they were kept in the freezer, they are still fresh.”

The home minister, used to rava idli with chutney from Sivaganga and thairu sadam, and lemon pickle from home, took out a plastic packet and opened its contents, a hamburger with an apple and an economy size cola.

“This is free and courtesy of Continental Airlines when I allowed them to frisk me. I asked them for a doggie bag and emptied my plate in to it. Though it is more than 36 hours, it still looks fresh and tastes good. That’s the beauty of Aemrican grub,” explained Chidambaram.

Labour Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge got up and took out a crumpled paper packet from his left kurta pocket and opened and out popped a ragi mudde. From his other pocket, he took out an onion. “This was grown by me while I was busy canvassing for election. Both ragi and onion are the symbols of the aam aadmi.”

Environmental minister Jairam Ramesh took out a bushel of herbal leaves grown in Assam and started chewing with gusto. Of late he had started this both as austerity measure plus as an effort to save his teeth.

S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor, the ‘external affairs twins’ were seen sharing a one-by-two masala dose from Karnataka bhavan and puttu from Kerala Bhavan. Ever since they vacated the 5- star hotels they had begun mostly sharing their breakfast, lunch and dinner brought from their Bhavans free of charge as they are ministers from Karnataka and Kerala.

Just then the door opened, and in breezed Sonia Gandhi all flustered as she was rushing for the meeting direct from Mysore.

“Madam you please rest and have your lunch .You have had a long flight.” offered the Prime Minister.

“Bene, bene, la sono ok (I’m OK). I am ready. I had asked N.R. Narayana Murthy at the Infosys campus in Mysore to pack my lunch for the flight. He has given bisibele bath and Mysore pak. So I have not spent any amount towards lunch. This should make our finance minister happy,” she said as she opened her bag.

Just then Prime Minister’s secretary buzzed him and said the Commonwaelth President Michael Fennel wanted to have a dinner appointment with him to discuss whether Delhi would be ready for the 2010 Games.

“Oh, no! What shall we do? These people come as a delegation and they are usually used to a grand 10-course dinner,” wailed the PM.

“We will call them for our iftar party. The whole delegation can come; there is no problem. For breaking the fast, we will serve pakodas, dahi pulkiyan, chana chat and fruit juices. For dinner, we will serve mutton biryani or pulav, chicken, vegetable, kebabs and naan. For dessert, there will be kheer, ras malai, gulab jamun and sheer khurma. It will be a 20-course food park,” said health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Azad was entrusted with the task of organizing the government’s iftar party. It was some kind of promotion for him after his bloody bouts with state health ministers against the rampant H1N1 virus.

“There’s goes my austerity plan to the moon,” sighed the Finance Minister.