Sometimes it takes ketchup to bring us together.

It was 2 pm at the office, and everyone was busy staring into their computer screens. On one corner were a few Windows users sitting by the window, sneaking glances down at the barren streets; anything is distraction. On another corner were the few Mac users, caressing their fingers over delicate keys. They all knew the value of metal, the value of technology.

Time crept away. From 2 pm, to 2.30, and 3.30 and then at last, 4.00 pm.

Like a bunch of young girls hypnotized by a famous boy band, they rose from their places. It was time to take a break from the monitors. They grabbed their smartphones instead and headed towards the pantry for a cup of coffee and something to munch on. Some of them queued up, while some others hung around in the pantry, all of them checking their phones for updates from friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Ah ha. There’s a funny video a colleague had shared — they hit Like and moved a step closer to the vending machine.

In walked a maintenance staff, her arms laden with a tray of steamy samosas. As soon as the scent spread across the pantry, everyone darted their eyes from their mobiles just in time to crowd around the snack tray. They all grabbed a samosa — or two — and stepped back, with a questioning glance at the staff. She stared back, nonplussed, and in complete wonder.

As more and more people turned a glaring eye at her, she grew visibly uncomfortable. One young man decided to ask, “Sauce?”

Oh, right! She hit herself on the head and rushed out of the pantry. The young man and many others shook their heads in exasperation. With the few minutes’ break they had, the delays!

Seconds went by, but the maintenance staff didn’t return. People began shuffling their feet in restless abandon. Some even snorted and left the pantry staring into their handphones. They only just managed to go through the door frame without colliding into it.

Of the few who remained however, was a girl who, remembering something, rushed out the pantry in a hurry. The others stared at the new girl who had just run off. These kids nowadays, had no sense at all. They waited around, their patience ebbing away.

As more of them decided to leave, the new girl strode back into the pantry, head held high and a bottle of ketchup in her hand. She poured herself a generous splash and handed the bottle around.

Not sure how to react, some of the seniors stared at her, while more and more people decided to take the ketchup. Bit by bit, the bottle emptied and everyone had had their share. The tension within the clutter had reduced as the bottle went around, and they began talking.

“So, what’s your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“Really? That’s where I live. You know Mr. Weatherby?”

“Who’s your team leader?”

“Oh, pity you. I heard he is a tough boss.”

“Hey, where did you learn design?”

Soon, they all knew each other. Someone cracked a joke, and the rest of the party threw their heads back laughing, when the maintenance staff returned with a fresh bottle of ketchup. Out of breath, she apologized and said something about running short of stock.

Curious, they all turned to the new girl. A little red in the cheeks, she explained that she had bought that bottle of ketchup to bring home with her.

They all turned to look at the almost-empty bottle. Everyone felt the gratitude, but no one knew how to convey it.

And then the young man saw it. A little label on the bottle. Something about buying seeds online. He pulled out his smartphone from his pocket, and did a quick search.

After a few moments of confused silence, he handed his smartphone to the rest of the group. As they all peered into the screen, they saw that the ketchup brand had a new campaign that let them buy tomato seeds online. As one, they all knew what to do. The young man placed an order at once.

When they all met again at the pantry, the young man had a tiny box-ful of seeds. He handed them to the new girl. He said it was on behalf of everyone.

Flushing a little, she accepted the gift. On one condition, she said. She told them about her plan. Together, they moved towards the window and peered down at the brown soil around their building.

The HR in the group promised to get clearance and permission. Something good was about to happen.

Life went on. Day in and day out, they all clocked in, and clocked out. Like machines, staring into machines, serving machines.

But exactly at 4.00 pm everyday, they bloomed into a group of friends. Over a cup of coffee, and oily samosas coated with fresh tomato ketchup.

And the tomato seedlings grew on. Into trees that would last the test of time.

This post is for a campaign by Kissan India about #RealTogetherness.

Every day at work, I see people with their heads together over a cup of tea and a snack. I wasn’t sure how to connect nature and ketchup, until this scene popped into my head. If joining hands for the greater good isn’t real togetherness, I don’t know what is!


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