I didn’t know for a long time as to what my boss meant by bread and butter. He would often thunder at me: “This is my bread and butter.” I would take it literally and would think to myself as he signed off tens of letters that this guy must be a real glutton to think of bread and butter all the time. His business was booming. Why is this man always mentioning bread and butter instead of fish and chips or rumali roti and Muglai chicken?
There was no way I could ask him what he meant by it as he was no less than a corporate Genghis Khan. So one day I went to a live Wikipedia, IJ, known only by the initials, an elderly colleague who was wont to burst of laughter with his whole body grinding the creaky chair. I asked him matter-of-factly so as not to give away my ignorance. I told him Genghis seems hungry all the time. He swayed in his chair with loud laughter. I tried to glean the answer without him suspecting: “Does Genghis eat bread and butter all the time?”
“No, no, he does not eat bread and butter but dal and roti. He is a Punjabi. But this company is his bread and butter. If this company closes, he has no bread and butter in Nepal,” he said. “It is also our bread and butter,” I countered. I got my answer. In order not to cut off the conversation abruptly, I asked him what he ate before coming to work. He said with a twinkle in his old eyes: “Dal-bhat.” Curious if everyone ate dal-bhat for breakfast, I asked another colleague, a steno-typist, what he ate in the morning. He said he did not eat anything but a cup of tea with bread. Always dressed in suit and tie, unusual for a steno, he would tell me stories about his previous boss, owner of a travel company in Basantapur, who paid so low that the steno could not even afford bread.
He said, before he quit, he pleaded for the last time for a raise, and the owner asked him about his breakfast. When he told him that he could not afford more than a loaf of bread, the owner thundered that that was the problem with Nepali youngsters. They want to ape foreigners. He told the steno to forget about a raise and advised him not to waste money on bread but to start eating chiura, which will keep him full for the whole day.
Whenever my boss was happy with my work, he would ask me if I had my bread and butter. I would shake my head vigorously, hoping to please him for a raise. The meaning of bread and butter had become more than a humble meal.
A version of this article appears in print on January 14, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.