I go to subversive history-steeped,rebellion-happy and movement-famous Jadavpur University.It’s a nice enough place,ponds with water lilies-one with a romantically dilapidated bridge in the middle-and canopies of green all over, misspelled inspirational slogans beckoning from signboards at every corner. There are a lot of posters-graffiti too-ambitions of dismantling the government or changing it,of smashing patriarchy and freeing Kashmir jostle joyously with each other. There is a lot of smoke-wafting out of professors’ rooms and through the corridors,there are sprawling ledges to sit on,overlooking views that get more picturesque the higher you go,there is music heard every now and then from dusty staircases and cosy nooks in the corridors,there are professors with Rosie the Riveter posters on their walls,and there is a wide variety of people,normal,nerdy,wacky,sanskari(traditional),sanskari with an edgy twist and everything in between.
Like I said,nice enough place.There are things to get mad about,too but I’ll leave that for another conversation.
I vaguely remember responding to the environment of the university with incredulity the first time I stepped in-this is an educational institution what -but I was very young,and was in JU accompanying my mother who would get her PhD from there,and i went to a neat,single-building primary school.So Darshan Bhavan,nestled as it might be among surrounding greens,was greeted with disdain-it was so traumatically dingy,this university,I would never want to study there.I have one nice memory of my childhood tryst with the place,though-sitting under a tree to read Wishing Chair while Maa visited her research guide.
Almost a decade later,I would want nothing more than to get in there,free me from the claustrophobic rigour of my second choice college,god,please?
But this post wasn’t supposed to be about my evolving relation with JU.This was supposed to be about a certain aspect of the university,its canteens.
I have tried to follow a meal plan over the last few months,and nothing has perhaps made it more difficult that this almost magnetic pull of visiting the canteens-not just for the food,but to infuse some purpose into the hours of doing nothing between classes.And more.
My first acquaintance was with Milon Da’s- the Arts favourite,with tree-shaded places to sit and a shack-like building you could previously go in to,but now have to gather at the counter of. It was Milon Da’s that sheltered us from the rain that soiled our first bouts of exploration of the campus,it was Milon Da’s where I discovered a love of cold coffee-its invigorating and soothing powers,as required,even when badly made. It was at Milon Da’s where I discovered the potential fear of the life-threatening,having bitten halfway into an oil-soaked dhop er chop ,only to realise it had prawn in it-a food my asthma has always kept me from.It is to Milon Da’s that I still steal away whenever a bad day has left me in need of a sugar fix-Coke or crunchy Oreos or chocolate cake or Nutties or,of course,generously sugared and milked cold coffee.
Then there is the canteen near the Engineering department,overlooking a cricket(?) field.There are two canteens that meet that description,actually,one is cheaply priced,and where I have fond memories of sharing greasy chicken chowmein with a friend by evening,and one is where i laughed so hard at something long-forgotten that I managed to fall down from-no,with-in my defence,broken, plastic chair.
There is an AC canteen-one that greatly disappoints to reveal that the AC in its name does not stand for air conditioned-and another among particularly picturesque settings,near gate 2.
And then,of course,and then, always,is Moni Da,stowed away off the main campus,with its bamboo shade and its two dogs,its Chinese and other experimental food,where crispy baby corn is delicious when fried and accompanied by hot tangy sauce.
I haven’t been long enough here to relate the culinary specialties of the canteens,nor do I have fascinating insight to deliver about them.
But I write this to articulate,make sense,even,of a certain something.Of the way I,even when I have no wish to eat,will suggest a detour to any of these places-because in the dusky calm at Moni Da,or the hazy din of Staff,food is more than just food,taste is more than just grease or fry or 500 calories.Canteens make university university,make it that much more hospitable,that much more home.Because food.And because more.
Because they are parts of campus where you need little to justify your existence,because they provide that much impetus to dawdle,to breathe in a little more of this life because it will be all over so soon,too soon and the more you can absorb now,by way of taste and sight and sound and smell,the better.Because here and now I’m forever voracious-for life,though it seems I am always still searching. But sometimes,in the way dusk dawns over Milon Da’s you will feel like you have found it.You will feel like you are there.