Sunday, January 23, 2011

From PS to BS

Those who have studied in PS will acknowledge the fact that the place was terrificly managed. Though there were about a thousand children, everything worked in clockwork precision, and there was always second helping of everything, and you were a happy, well-fed, cog in the wheel. But the HS (and comparing the two has become something of a hobby now)was a different story altogether. Here are some examples of some lessons for managers, in how NOT to manage things.

Lets begin with the lunch. In PS, since there were so many children, everyone was not
'called' for lunch at once. Instead, each class would be called for lunch one after the other. So, that way, by the time one class was called, almost all the other guys would have finished their lunches (except those who ate slowly who would be made to sit in the sisters' side, and then eat slower). However, the system in HS was something else.

A bell would signify we could leave school and walk to the hostel. And then another in the hostel to announce that lunch was ready. Then, a second bell to say we better get our asses in the hall, and quickly. Now, when everyone was in the hall, everyone would take their plates, get served (“Brother, some more vegetable? Limited. Brother, some more dal? Limited. Brother, some more buttermilk? “Sai Ram”, a divine way of saying 'Buzz off').

We would wait for everyone to take their plates, and after the last guy has taken his plate, the prayer would begin. Now, imagine the plight of the guy who was the first to take his plate. Poor guy must have been hungry, and probably ran to take his plate, but now has to wait for the last guy, who would sashay in at his own sweet pace, and take his seat. Then, the prayers would begin, but not before Rammohan sir would first give some important announcements, or just some arbit gyan. Once that was done, Om would be chanted thrice, followed by the gayatri mantra, chanted thrice, in slow motion. This was then followed by the Sai gayatri, thrice, in slow motion, followed by Bramharpanam, in slow motion. Now, think again about that hungry guy who was the first to take his plate. His mood feels like shit, and his food has gone cold, but he has to eat it nevertheless. And there will be two 12th std guys standing by him, in case he turns to tell the guy next to him that his food tastes like shit.

Another rule that perplexed me was the whole 'not entering other's room' thing. The history behind the rule was that once, Swami had said, “Boys are not studying. They only keep going to each other's rooms like cats and dogs.” Now, anyone with an IQ over 100 would tell you, the emphasis is on 'not studying'. There's something called inference. But no.

The rule was that you could not enter others' rooms. So, if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to do it while standing on the threshold of the room. And if you wanted to talk something in private, well, you know the kind of implication saying, “Aye fellow, come out na, I want to talk to you about something in private” would have there.

And now, what happened if you broke the room? You were made to live in that room. Your luggage would be shifted into that room, and you had to sit there during study hours too. I found this rule baffling, but extremely enjoyable. During my three years, I stayed in a number of my friends' rooms, and it was always great fun. Of course, you had to endure a few PHWs on the way, but it was alright.

Among the other gems was the one for money spending. Now, we all knew spending money is a vice and it was important to think beyond the banal, and the materialistic. Point noted. Now how we do go about it? Don't let the students handle money. In its place, introduce a total kickass foolproof, desire-curbing method that made the Lehman brothers seem like Lava and Kusha. It went like this.

If you wanted to buy something, you did not use cash. Instead, there were yellow slips on which you wrote your name, your roll number, the item you wish to buy, and the price, and then signed on it. This was terrific, for those who had money and wanted to buy. It was also terrific for those who wanted to enjoy life's little pleasures (like Fruit Salad for dinner) without having to bother about little obstacles like paying for it. So what you did was you took a slip, thought of the biggest asshole in the class, wrote his name, roll number, and signed on it. There, you had what you wanted, without having to stoop into the maya of the finances of it.

Not surprisingly, some people of the class had a negative 3000 rupees in their accounts, inspite of only eating Satwik produce that was prepared by Dr. Nilakantha under the able hands of cooks who sometimes burnt their sins along with the food. After about two months, everyone realised that this would not work. To the utter dismay of many of us, this system was replaced by another terrific system, the Credit Card system. The Credit Card system was announced to us in the Prayer Hall by Rammohan sir, as being the Masthishka Putra of Janardhan sir.

The Credit Card was another stroke of ingenuity that would put investment bankers to shame. The Credit Card was a rectangular card, that had numbers printed on both sides. So you had 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2... and so on till 50. If you want to buy something from the stores, you approached your class sir for a card. Your finances were checked and you were issued a Card. The guy in stores would take your card, and punch on it whatever was the amount of the item you took. If you wanted to buy something more than 50 bucks, you had to take two cards.

Our swindling brothers got around this one too. You first bought something worth 5 rupees or so, and then hold the card from the punched side, covering the hole that had been punched. But it was too much risk and if you could got caught, you'd get punched yourself.

The end result was that you thought of the process of buying from the stores too cumbersome. Instead, you walked past the stores, looking longingly at the all the things you would have bought, if not for this galeej idea. Your desires were never curbed, they were only limited to 50 bucks.

Crazy shit!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Favourite foods

I know Annam is Brahma. But then we all have our favourite Gods, don't we? So, I think I can safely go about listing my favourite foods without my name going to mam, or my soul going to hell. When I would go home in the holidays and people would ask me what sort of food they gave us in school, I really didn't know what to say. Was is South Indian food? Or North Indian? Or Continental? I think it was Heavenly. I have had food every single day since I left the school :-) and I have to admit, nothing matches up to the kind of food we were given there. Not a patch. Here a list of my favourite foods. You tell me yours.

Vada: I have had what Mumbaikars call 'vada', the one they put in the vada-pav, and I can't help smirking. Those guys have no idea what an actual vada is. I mean, the original brown vada, the vada with the hole. The vadas in PS were big, round doughnuts that were crisp as they were tasty. I have had vadas outside, and they were all either chewing-gummy, or dripping with so much oil that they would give Iraq a complex. But the vadas in PS were to be eaten to be felt. And you could take as many idlis as you pleased, but it was only one vada per kundalini chakra. This made the vadas even more pricey. I remember a friend of mine and me once were supposed to serve breakfast before morning darshan. We flicked handfulls of vadas, ran to the pantry and started stuffing ourselves. Sadhna mam caught us, nearly yanked our ears off and told our class teacher about it. I was let off, but he had to forego his 'tray chance'. I am still undecided if it was worth it. I mean, eating three of those vadas was moksha in itself.

Chitraannam and Pongal: The name Chitraannam gives me memories of Keya aunty going around with the vessel, screaming 'Sitraanaam Sitraanaam' and everyone in the line raising their hands like Nazi officers. Chitraannam was rice mixed with a bit of ecstacy and spruced with groundnuts. Chitraannam was perhaps the most common breakfast, but we never got enough of it. And come Shivratri, and the joy was taken a level higher. Hot chitraannam coupled with delicious, palm-licking good Sweet Pongal. We followed a simple process to eat. First hog Chitraannam till your tongue is on fire, then lick Pongal till you can't eat anymore sweet. Then switch to Chitraannam and continue the process till you have to rush to East Prashanti to answer the best preacher's call. Vicious circle it was, and we jumped right into it.

Rasam: While the above items were given on an on and off basis, the one thing that truly stayed with you through thick and thin, through Sunday and Morning darshan, through haircuts and own baths, was Rasam. And if you didn't like any of the items, you could always raise your plate and wash it down with the slurpy rasam with a loud surrrrrrrrrrrr. Any mention of rasam would be incomplete without 'Top Part' and 'Down Part'. The bucket of rasam would be divided into Top Part and Down Part. The top part was red and spicy and surrrr worthy, whereas the Down Part had pulses, which could be mixed with rice. Rasam was also used to eat chapathi. The rice area of the plate would be filled with rasam, and then the chapathi laid right in the middle till it grew soft. Then layers of the chapathi would be peeled off and devoured.

Mango Pickle
: I don't know if many of you remember this, but it was one of the best parts about Sunday lunches in PS. The pickle would come in plastic buckets, and each of us would be given a dollop full of it, one piece and lots of gravy. This pickle was explosively kaaram and greed could lead you to the Medical Room. I am yet to see a pickle that is as red as the pickle that we were given there. And we came up with our own ways of eating it. We used to lick off all the gravy, and then wash the pickle and chew the piece as if we were 90s rappers chewing on some really expensive gum. I know it sounds kind of gross now, but back then, that was the extent we went to retain the taste of the pickle in our mouths.

Orange Laddoo: This was not technically a food item, but a prasadam. If any of you have watched Meerkat Manor, you would understand the behavioral pattern that occurs when the big brothers are called in to get the vessels of sweets from the Interview Room. This was the only time when no one spoke. When they would step out, all the younger lot would crane up their necks to see what it was. Most of the time it was the laddoo. But there were two types of laddoos. One was the common type, the type given in the South Indian Canteen, which had raisins and cashews in them. But then, there was the other sort, the orange Motichur laddoo that was given by G. Pulla Reddy. I don't know who he is, but if I ever meet him, I shall go and hug him. So, Mr. Reddy's laddoos were totally fabulous. The Orange laddoo was softer and juicier. I don't think I ever took just one sweet. I would invariably take two or more.

Swami's Food: I still don't know what this was. I have only had it once, but the smell of it drove me crazy. This was cooked by Headmistress aunty for Swami daily and was sent to Swami's place. One 7th standard guy was sent to give the food to the Sevadal outside Poornachandra Auditorium, to be given to Swami. I got this 'chance' once, and I remember fighting the urge to open it and check what it is that was actually being cooked. I also tasted it once, it looks a bit like rice mixed in Sambar, but the taste is something I have never, ever had anywhere again. Whenever I see come across the cuisine of any new place, the first thing I do is to check if its the same 'Swami's food', but I have never come across anything similar to heavenly food.

Other foods that came pretty close but lost out:

Bonda kaddi: Made of besan, bonda kaddi was quite a rare occurrence when it came to lunches. However, a lot of people feel that the bonda kaddi can be easily found in places and so does not have the sense of exclusivity that some of the above mentioned items.

Green peas curry: Green peas curry was another favourite of everyone. One thing I remember about the curry is that if you dint eat it immediately, it would form a thin, green layer on top of it. Green peas curry was perhaps the most commonly served food item among those mentioned here, and again, this works against it.

Mealmaker curry: We were in class three or four, and we were serving dinner to the new first standard guys when one of them raised his hands, and asked for 'chicken'. I was shocked out of my wits, but soon realised he was talking about the curry. Mealmaker curries were quite popular among seniors who bullied juniors and it is perhaps the unhappy memories that are associated with the curry that stop me from putting it on to the list.

So there you go, I have given you my list of favourite foods. Go ahead and gimme yours.