IITK (PG) Days

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Mess Food Saga

There is something about mess food that makes it beyond comparison to anything else of the edible variety I know. After five years of living in a hostel for my undergraduate and master’s degree, I thought I had undergone every kind of torture possible. But then I arrived at IIT Kanpur GH (girl’s hostel). Here the mess food was in a different league altogether.

I don’t know how they managed it but the roti (flat bread) would always be kaccha (uncooked) at the end and burnt in the middle. There would be a layer of oil, two inches thick, floating on top of the yellow dal (curry) that looked almost black. The rice would be half cooked and every damn vegetable would have aloo (potatoes) in it. The only salvation was curd, and omelet or butter that were ‘extras.’ How many times I managed with curd rice (no, I am not a South Indian, and curd rice is not my religion, unlike H) or omelet and roti. When all else failed, I would eat Maggi noodles in the Hall 3 canteen along with my friends. Later it almost became my staple diet.

One afternoon after finding the food quite unbearable I requested our cook, Rji to make an omelet for me. I almost always managed to get hot rotis courtesy R1ji, a member of the serving staff. You see, talking politely to mess people (or for that matter anyone) pays dividends in unexpected places. So to make my meal complete all I needed was that double omelet.

I did not have to wait long, within a few minutes the object of my desire arrived. I took a first small bite from one corner and it was bliss. I was about to take a second and bigger bite but my attention was caught by an unusually long piece of onion. I hesitated, and for a while I thought it was not an onion but something else altogether. But then my mind balked at such a possibility. I tried to dismiss the nagging doubt about the onion. I willed myself to take a second bite. By then, the doubt took further hold of my mind and I braced myself to take a closer look at the object of my attention. On second inspection, I identified it correctly and I of all people, was rendered speechless. I just walked to the food counter, called Rji and told him there was a baby chipkali (lizard) in my omelet in a very quiet voice and walked off.

I need not add that this incident put me off food for many, many days. Poor Rji came running after me and apologized profusely. He pleaded with me to come back and take food. I had to convince him that I was not angry with him but I just had no appetite left. I do not know how I did not ended up with food poisoning. And after this entire episode one person told me, “It is better to have a full lizard in an omelet you nibbled at, rather than having only half of it there.” Yuck, yuck, yuck is all I can say.


At 3/19/2006 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Ambuj Saxena said...

Good post but I believe you haven't heard of R.P. Hall's Mess in IIT Kharagpur. Read about it and tell me who's is THE WORST. Its a bit long, but the pain is worth it.

At 3/19/2006 11:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeez! chipkali!!
u have been very lucky, although i hate to generalise esp about females but then cant help it... girls usually get nice roti's etc in our mess just by smiling a lot and talking politely! and us, boys are left staring with our mouths agape. when it becomes too much, everbody storms the kitchen and as a result guys are shooed out of the dining hall.....

At 3/20/2006 12:17:00 AM, Blogger Mridula said...

Ambuj, I read your post and I empathise.

Anat, this was a girl's hostel mess, so no boys, unless they were a guest of someone. On any given day their number would be between 0 to 5 at the most and the girl would act as the host. I enjoyed the description of your mess but it is not really true in my case, the being polite part, I mean.

At 3/20/2006 06:38:00 AM, Blogger Crystal said...

Oh Mridula, this makes me soooooo queasy, I would have *FREAKED* totally had I found a lizard in my omelette! Some travelers in the Lonely Planet forums say it is common to find a dead fly in your meal when you order out in Africa, and that I can understand, but a lizard for crissakes???!!! I almost wonder if it was done on purpose, and I suppose being polite doesn't always do the trick.

At 3/20/2006 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Mridula said...

No Crystal, it was a bad accident and definitely negligence on the part of the cook, but we remained on good terms even after that. It was not done on purpose, i am sure of it.

I think we Indians have very little sense of 'dignity of labor' so cooks and mess workers feel undervalued and demotivated. And they become indifferent. Oh! the politeness pays in many small ways, but it definitely was not enough to avoid this accident. Believe me this was a very unusal episode, something that happened only once in my entire stay :)

At 3/20/2006 11:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mridula, after reading ur's and ambuj post, looks like food in hostels is as much bad as was served to indians in jails in british raj india :(
remember a scene from movie bhagat singh (movie in which his character wass protrayed by ajay devegan) where they were served food in jail with cockroaches and rats running around in dining/cooking room.

At 3/21/2006 08:30:00 AM, Blogger Vj said...

Nice read
. Iam glad i came here

At 3/22/2006 01:50:00 AM, Blogger Mridula said...

Nilesh, in retrospect it doesn't feel that bad :)

VJ, thanks.

At 3/26/2006 09:15:00 PM, Blogger Shibu said...

hey mridula,
well i guess you got to bite the worst end of hostel-canteen-culinary adventurism!!!almost 20% of my adult life i too have survived on hostel food, but, never did really come across a baby lizard from such close quarters. My sympathies completely.... but being from the same trade.. cant help feeling sorry for the poor cook (not to mention the poor lizard!! ) just kidding.
Your reaction was quite remarkable, quietly walking off... well i have had food ( along with heavy crockery) thrown at me for a 2 cm long strand of hair!!luckily for me the guest was no Samresh Jung!!

p.s. I am hereby inviting you to the club on any wednesday and thursday for lunch wherin i get a chance to restore your faith in cooks and omelettes!!

At 3/27/2006 10:42:00 PM, Blogger Mridula said...

Shibu, lucky for you that your guest did not has the aim of Samresh Jung. But that was just a bit too much.

I will definitely drop by either on Wednesday or Thursday.

At 3/29/2006 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

IITs should start now a 4 year course on food engineering....I read somewhere that tihar jail food is much better than five star hotel food. I haven't experienced it though :). Waiting for someone to write a review on Tihar food and if thats true, Tihar is better than IIT!!(I wouldn't like to go in either places)..wese cook ko patane wala idea always works in canteen..in my case too

At 3/30/2006 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Mridula said...

Sepia, I have done only one trek in Uttranchal, that is Har-Ki-Doon through YHAI, so sorry for not being helpful on both the counts. However, I can share an excellent book with you and it is fromthis one we plan most of our travels. It is called Trekking in the Indian Himalayas. An excellent book for trek lovers.

Ravi, I hope chances of sampling both the food by one person are remote, me not willing to try at all. Thanks for stopping by.

At 5/07/2006 08:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!


At 6/01/2006 04:31:00 AM, Blogger Mridula said...

Anirudh, I quite agree.

Friendlys ice cream, that was an era I had no digital camera and I hope it *never* happens again.

At 7/16/2006 06:43:00 PM, Blogger Madhur Kashyap said...

Hi Mridula,

I would describe an IIT(B) hostel mess as "a messy kitchen where you mess a mess and mess with lives of poor souls."

Have had similar incidents there but mostly in some "paani kam dal" or "paani kam curry". I wouldn't blame the chaps for negligence because the conditions in which they cook are also horrible. Dunno why, but I used to see the roads being repaired and chipped off every quarter and no or little renovation for our hostel messes.

I am still laughing after reading the article. Its, well written. blogs_fan_counter++


At 7/17/2006 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Ketan said...

Hi Mridula!
You write good.
This remnds me of my own days in the hostel. I spent around 7 years in hostel and my intestines must be as strong as steel ;)

I am now with university of amsterdam and we cook on our own here, no mess no dependency ... think this kind of system shd also be introduced in indian institutes ....

At 7/19/2006 05:16:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Once Hall 3 mess served Cockroch to the warden, in the garb of pulse. I think warden was PK Das.

And something about Hall 3 canteen you wrote about. A king-size, hard-boiled rat was found in the master curry of that canteen. Dead, of course.

At 7/21/2006 08:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In that way our mess is the best. Infect I heard from all states hostels, IITian guys that NID mess is much much better. We got variety of food. Ok, someday food is not good, like you don’t like this vegetable. But that could happen at home too. And when one eat food at same place s/he looks for change, just like ghar ki murgi dal barabar.

At 10/24/2006 01:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mridula, This is my first visit to your blog. I got it linked throught Shurthi's blogpost. She wrote similar one on Pork chips & I clicked on your blog link who spoke about IIT & stuff. I am a big fan of IITians no matter what. I am glad to say that you share the same hobbies like me Travelling & Reading.. your blog posts are totally amazing. I hardly browse any!! I am very choosy too... I would say I would want to come again to see many other posts!.. Will see you sometime soon if you are in India or bangalore or somewhere on the world... World is so small what I beleive in....

At 6/13/2007 09:22:00 AM, Blogger nareshov said...

The only poisonous lizard known to the world is native to the desert southwest of the US and Mexico.

And, the usage "South Indian" is not appropriate. "South India" isn't another country like South Korea. Appropriate usage would be "southern Indian"

- Resident of Hall5 as of 2007

At 6/13/2007 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Hari said...

Things is you girls simply can not manage your mess for obvious reasons. If not, with same kind of contractors how come the food is far better in other halls in campus, say, 5,7, and 8?
You don't get good service just by expectation but active participation is needed. This is not hotel It is our hostel. We have to manage!!

At 6/13/2007 02:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, i am sorry to be the party pooper, but this usually irritates the fuck outta me.
I am from IIT Kanpur, Bt-Mt dual degree, final year, blah bloody blah. I have eaten in 3 messes and that includes the "legendary" hall 2. my point is simple this: STOP BITCHING.
I agree the food is bad, but it's a goddamn mess that servers to over 400 people, what do you expect? bloody Ruby Tuesday?

And please, it's unfair about the lizard. When lizards pop out of coke bottles and mess omlettes alike, it's a testament to the reptile's perseverance. The mess food may be worse than hog shit, but it's hygenic. What i'm trying to say is this: shit happens. get a change of omelette. fucking eat it. enough said

At 6/13/2007 09:22:00 PM, Blogger palaash ki talaash said...

i knw the food in our mess are not that good but they r not as bad as u have described.and "chipkali" part seems all cooked up...pretty ordinary story and doesnt seem 2 be true at all

At 6/14/2007 06:16:00 AM, Blogger Mridula said...

I thought I have put enough distance between me and my IITK Ph.D. days. But some of the comments left today remind me the kind of assumptions that can be made.

1. Nit pick when irritated on English language

2. Assume women can't manage their affairs even without checking how ancient the blogpost is.

3. Use four letter words and show how manly you are!

4. Accuse people of lying :)

Get a life guys.

At 7/03/2007 04:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Four letter words are not the only set of words that we want to say.

I guess you never had any friend amongst the UGs or you would have got some flavour

Many people manage to culminate their frustration against IITs but the reason for the frustration is generally not what they publically lament about.

About the food, I dont know what kind of messes did they have in your ancient times but at the moment I can bet that IITK has the most well equipped and clean messes serving best food possible (considering the mess charges) in India

At 8/30/2007 09:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
What do you want to say? or rather convey? Nothing of that sort happened with Mridula? She is imagining it? Or she wants to defame ITT-K? Or in your IITs no Admin problems happens? If yes, all the management gurus from all over the world will be ready to sit at the floor of the IIT-K and ready to learn.
And as far as four letter words are concerned, one has to make friends with UGs to know about it? Ok if its so great use it in the presence of your sister, mother, daughter...the list can be endless

At 9/08/2007 02:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry that such a nice and interesting post ended like this and that too at IITians level; how sad!

Mayank Mandava, your reaction has done worse harm to the reputation you seem to be trying to protect, in the public eyes like mine.

At 11/19/2007 04:41:00 AM, Blogger satanicoutput said...

I agree Mayank, that your post has done more harm. Although I think he is not trying to protect the IIT image. Its his final year and he has already started feeling the pangs of seperation.
Btw its a classic case of UG's not giving two hoots about the PG's whom they consider inferior. I guess some of the blame lies with PGs too. They dont participate in anyway in the institue activities and are generally aloof and tend to keep to themselves thereby promoting stereotypification.
In case you are curious, I am a second year UG.

At 4/03/2008 01:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can confidently say that IITK has got the best messes for a govt. college. You may have had a lizard in your food, but those days are far gone.

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