Saturday, May 14, 2016

9. Food Revolt


This will be the first revolt in the history of the Vidya Mandir hostel. Irony is it happened in the mess hall, which was much loved by all the students (will inmates be a better word!). It was never intentional. It happened spontaneously. The surprising part of this revolt was it happened during the period when Master Blaster Varadarajan was the warden.

It was a Saturday night. Everyone was relaxed, as there is no study after food and the next day being Sunday (TV watching and chance of meeting parents). That night, the menu was rice meal- sadham, sambar, poriyal, butter milk and pickle.

The rice was served after the prayer. At first, no one noticed it, the rice was badly cooked or it was just half-cooked and added to it, the rice had a bad smell. Some still felt it was good. Balaji, sitting to my right said it was good, while Aravind on to my left disagreed (Left always disagrees!). I couldn’t decide, for me one bite was good and the next tasted bad. Everyone was still seated, the low whispers started to take some decibels. Someone from Ramakrishna hall line shouted that we shouldn’t eat this food. Hearing this call, the Shradha big boys joined the wagon. Unable to decide what to do, we Vivekananda boys were just sitting idle, with one hand inside the plate. 

Mani and other staffs had arguments. Usually by this time there will be food munching sound, but rather today, it was shouting and arguments. We were still seated; we were neither prepared to get up, nor prepared to eat the under-cooked food. Situation was about to go out of control and we needed an arbitrator quickly, before someone throw the plate in the air!

Hearing this unusual noise from his room, Varadarajan came to the mess. He didn’t come in, but was standing next to the door. He was patiently waiting and noticing what was happening. Few students spotted him and cautioned the boys next to them. After a minute or two the entire hall went silent.

He then walked towards the kitchen and tasted the rice. His first reaction was not good; he must have felt the rice is not good. He then spoke with Mani and the other staff. He came to middle of the mess hall and apologized for whatever happened. He said it won’t be repeated again. And, all will be provided with five biscuits. Everyone quietly dispersed by having the biscuits.

That was a calm night.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

8. Mess Hall Is Not Messy

Eighth chapter in In Search of Swami series


Among all things which worked in precision, mess hall was the perfect place to be. Given anytime, there were around one hundred and fifty hungry stomachs to feed. The head cook was Mani and he had few associates, whose shelf life in the job was six to eight months. Due to his military like orders no one stayed there for long time. Mani had a big mustache and was feared by small kids from Vivekananda hall.

All through my stay in the hostel the taste of the food was uniform. Mani must have been accurate in his measurements and the ingredients. The food was (pure) vegetarian, can’t expect non-vegetarian food, when saffron cloth clad people were trustees.

The taste of tomato rice with sompu (Fennel seeds) still lingers in my tongue (This was written to show my creative prowess). For dosai, Mani used to make mashed potato gravy in lemon-yellow color. This was a unique combination. Even while walking near the mess, our taste buds will get a tickle.

All three halls (Vivekananda, Ramakrishna & Shradha) had mess team. The team was responsible for serving the food. It was a volunteer effort and I was part of my hall mess team. Daily every team will take turns to serve. Before we start serving Mani and his associates will keep the food in separate vessels. Once the prayer is done, the battalion will be served. 

Chapatti was a sort after food. Aravind, being a north Indian disliked our Tamil Nadu chapatti. Due to chapatti my other friends Balaji, Selva, Vinu & Ravi (this is another Ravi) will radiate excessive enthusiasm on Friday evenings. Four chapatti’s will be served per person, but an extra will be served to our friends when they ask for, this will be done without the knowledge of the staffs. The hard part is when we serve to Shradha hall big boys. They’ll push us to serve more, but we’ll be moving as a busy “server” as if we didn’t hear them. 

Another much sort after item is mango pickle. A big bowl of mango pickle will get over while only serving to 30 plates. They’ll eat mango pickle like poriyal. Equally hated will be lemon pickle. I took pity of lemon pickle and started liking it. 

For evening snack, sometimes, they used to give bhajji, but this will be biscuit bhajji. Yes, a Marie biscuit will be dipped in the flour batter and will be deep fried as a normal vazakkai bhajji. It’ll be sweet inside the biscuit and outside the batter will be crispy and salty.

With all these good work done by Mani and his team, there were some bad patches too. Yes, we had a food revolt once.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

7. Warden

Seventh chapter in In Search of Swami series


Rama Krishnan was typical old school with his safari suit and thick rimmed glasses. He looked like Major Sundarajan from early K Balachander films, except with his bald head. He was the warden of the hostel during my first year.

He wasn’t the strict kind of warden that we usually see or hear in films and stories. He was very friendly with students. May be because of his age and looks, everyone respected him a lot. As I said in my previous chapters, everything went clockwork and there was no need for an external force to control us and moreover we students were preoccupied with our work.

Nothing major unwanted incidents happened that year, but something big happened in coming year, which will divide the school. We will talk about that incident later.

Rama Krishnan used to have food with the students. Every afternoon during lunch he used to sit on the table, while we will be seated in six rows on the floor. Half way through that year, Varadarajan, who was History teacher in the school used to come along with Rama Krishnan to have lunch at hostel mess.

Varadarajan looked slim, clean shaved looked like bit thin Ajith Kumar. He had those gold colour rimed thin glasses and a soft voice. He used to quietly come with our warden have lunch and quietly leave. At that time we never realized that there was an Anniyan hidden inside that Ambi.

We experienced that Anniyan during my 6th standard, when he became the hostel warden. Rama Krishnan retired. Varadarajan was a master blaster. Cane was his weapon and the store room was his play ground.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

6. The Post Card

Sixth chapter in In Search of Swami series


After few weeks, I realized the reality and started enjoying the hostel life. My mom used to visit me with home cooked food every weekend. Gradually, it became two weeks once and then standard three weeks once.

She gave me some post cards to write. Probably we were the last generation to write on post cards, but she forgot to share our address. She might have thought I knew it.

I took the empty post card on a Sunday afternoon along with Aravind. First problem is how to write, whether to write in landscape format or the other way with short lines. I thought more words can be written in landscape mode, Aravind agreed for it. 

Now, what to write, first, I wrote the date and place on the top right hand corner. A pillayar suzhi on the top center then started with “Anbulla Amma”. My Tamil was horrible (even now). I enquired about the family members. Then I wrote about my well-being here in hostel. I forgot exactly what I wrote, must be three to four lines. Then I turned to the other side of the post card to write down the address. I knew the street name, but got confused with the door number and pin code. I had to rewrite it again and again. The right side, were the address was supposed to be written was full of mistakes and I had to cross and strike it many times.

Aravind gave the idea to write the proper address on the left side and make an arrow from right to left so that the post man can understand. This time I wrote my mother name, my grandpa name, his occupation, tentative door number, street name and luckily I got the pin code from the manja pai which I had in my trunk. The bag was from a prominent textiles (You can decipher it as a cloth store or showroom) in our town. The cat on the post card was staring at me as if he or she yelling at me “What is this dimwit!!

I asked Aravind, “Will the post man read the letter?”

He replied, “Don’t worry, he won’t understand your handwriting”

I posted the letter into the post box, which was very next to our school gate. I wasn’t sure the letter would reach home. In fact it did reach safe and sound.

Following week mom came with the letter. She was happy to see her son had written a letter, ignoring my dreadful spelling mistakes.

I must be one among the lucky ones to write a letter at that early age.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5. Time Table

Fifth chapter in In Search of Swami series


You are now in 5th chapter and must be puzzled of what these all is about and what point I’m trying to make. The point is, there is no point, but point you to my wonder years and kindle the wonder years in you.

Back to the hostel, it was Shutter Island for few weeks, but then it turned out to be a paradise. All our activities were covered by rules. We adhered to the rules without any compromise.

Once we passed through the big gate, there was this big, long board which was hanging on the front portion of the hostel. I don’t know when the board was made, it was bit rusty. The board had a long list and it read as follows,

Read as Time – What to do.

5:00 AM – Wake up

5:00 AM to 5:15 AM – Brush teeth & washing

5:15 AM to 5:30 – Morning Prayer

5:30 AM to 6:30 AM – Yoga or exercise

6:30 AM to 6:45 AM – Coffee

6:45 AM to 7:45 AM – Read\Homework\special class

7:45 AM to 8:15 AM – Get ready to school

8:15 AM to 8:30 AM – Breakfast

8:45 AM – Leave to school

9:00 AM to 1:00 PM – School

1:00 PM to 1:45 PM – Lunch

2:00 PM to 4:05 PM – School

4:15 PM to 4:30 PM – Come back from school. Change the uniform

4:30 PM to 4:45 PM – Coffee/Tea/Biscuits

4:45 PM to 6:00 PM – Playing/Library

6:00 PM to 6:10 PM – Face wash

6:10 PM to 6:30 PM – Prayer

6:30 PM to 8:00 PM – Reading/Homework (Except Sundays)

8:00 PM to 8:30 PM – Dinner (TV will be turned on for news)

8:45 PM to 9:45 PM – Home work (Except on Saturday and Sundays)

10:00 PM – Sleep

Sunday- After morning TV till lunch is study time. After lunch till Monday morning it is free time.

All the above activities happened like clockwork. Someone rang the bell at the correct time and our mind was perfectly programmed for it. It might sound ridiculous, but as a kid, it taught me a lot. It was so much in my blood that I used to practice it even while being in house on vacation.


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Sunday, May 8, 2016

4. Who is Mike Tyson ?

Fourth chapter in In Search of Swami series


Oh!! Just reading the last three chapters, I forgot to mention the name of the school. Should I mention it? It is Sri Vidya Mandir at Salem.

Up until 5th standard, the class rooms were on the first floor of the hostel. After 5th standard, I had to go to the adjacent building and ground. The classroom was a familiar environment. Since it looked similar to my previous school classroom and emotionally it gave me a familiarity. First day, all the teachers asked who were hostellers and day-scholars. I don’t know why they asked it, but that was the first staple question. Later I found out that there is a gethu-effect on being a hosteller.

There was also segregation on who knew Hindi and who doesn’t. Remember, I was straight into 5th standard and I don’t know how to read/write/speak Hindi. The spectacled Hindi teacher, Reena miss, wearing matching ear ring and bangles, said that those hostel students who don’t know Hindi will have special tuition, which will be taken by Muthu Krishnan pandit. Yes, like how Tamil teachers were called as Ayya or Amma, Hindi teachers were called as Pandit. Sanskrit teachers were called as Sharma. There were no female Sanskrit teachers!

Our class teacher was Ramesh sir. He took science and looked like the Nivaran 90 ad guy!

I acquainted easily with other students. Suresh, Bala Subramanian, Vidya, Aravind (he was a hosteller). Yes, it was co-ed. Suresh, short guy, walked limping for some reason. He was a Mike Tyson fan, on the very first day he reveled it to me. I asked him “Who is Mike Tyson?” He didn’t talk with me the rest of the day!

Bala, taller than me with the well-oiled hair, he might now look like Clark Gable. His father was a banker. All his notebooks were covered with IOB oil paper sheets. 

Vidya had an unkempt hair, which made her terribly unattractive in front of Maha Lakshmi and Radha. These two were a different league. Padips. So we don’t need to care about them now.

Aravind was from North India, technically central India, Madhya Pradesh. He will be my best buddy for the next three years. His mother was a singer; she once sang “Papa Kahathey Hain” in the school anniversary.

Enough of the school, let’s go to the Shutter Island to see its rules and regulations.


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Saturday, May 7, 2016

3. Coconut Rice

Third chapter in In Search of Swami series


The first morning in the Shutter Island is still fresh in my memory. As I opened my eyes, I saw the huge vacant hall. All the kids who were sleeping besides me on to my left and right were gone. Some were busy with their heads poked inside the cupboard, some were inside their trunks. There was some kind of activity happening outside, that was the washing and bathing area.

As an exception, first day there is no early morning chores- prayer, exercise or yoga.

Somehow, I wrapped the bedsheet and pillow. Washed and dressed up in new school uniform. Suman, a lean guy, who was one year senior to me, guided me. Later, I learned that he was from Sri Lanka. The time was around 8:15 AM. The bell rang. Everyone started walking towards the mess hall. Suman said it’s time for breakfast and took me to the mess hall. On way to the mess, I saw my mother, she signaled me to go in and eat. 

The mess hall was double the size of the Vivekananda hall. There were six rows. 1st and 2nd were meant for Vivekananda hall. 3rd and 4th was for Ramakrishna hall. 5th and 6th was for Shradha hall. As you might have guessed by now, the 1st hall was for 5th and 6th standard, 2nd for 7th, 8th and 9th standard and the last was 10th, 11th and 12th standard.

Once everyone got seated, they recited a Sanskrit prayer- manthiram or slokam. I was like ahhhh!

The breakfast was coconut rice and appalam. I couldn’t eat much, still half plate left; I decided to throw it in the bin. Suman cautioned me that I’ll be caught by some staff, if I throw food. He asked me to wait for some time and then gave a signal to go. I briskly walked towards the hand wash, suddenly someone grabbed my arm.

He shouted, “Hey,, why are you wasting so much food??

I couldn’t answer him or don’t know what to answer.

Someone in the background said, “He is the new kid”.

The guy released my arm and said “From tomorrow you shouldn’t waste the food, now go”. After few days Suman taught me how to manage my plate and also various ways to escape from being caught, if I need to throw-away the food.

It was 9’O clock and it's school time.


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Friday, May 6, 2016

2. Shutter Island


Mom and I reached the hostel at 10 AM. There were few small kids (this will happen since I’m big now!!) like me with their parents. I still couldn’t grasp that she is going to let me there all alone.

We were let into a huge hall. It was named as Vivekananda hall. There was an imposing 10 feet by 10 feet painting of Vivekananda on the wall. On right side of Vivekananda there were several cupboards on one side of the hall. The wooden cupboards were numbered and all had latches to lock. As the array of cupboards ended, there started the line of rack. The rack line ran from one end of the hall to another end. The racks were used to keep the trunks. Mom kept the trunk on the rack. Pillow and bed sheet underneath the rack.

There were steel\iron beros on the other end of the hall, where the long rack ended. They were similar to the wooden cupboards, but with single door. 3/4th of the hall was empty, 1/4th of the hall was covered with 2-tier steel cots.

Me, being a short and small kid, they allotted the ground level cupboard. The steel cots were already occupied. It was lunch time. Mom took me to Salem Café, which was a famous hotel at Salem.

I asked her what is this all about and I don’t understand.

She finally revealed the truth.

I started to sob. She tried to console me and said “It’s a good school. You’ll learn many thing.. “blah..blah.. blah..

Nothing went into to my mind.

Afternoon, we did some shopping. She bought a plastic bucket and mug. Evening, we had dinner in some hotel and went back to hostel.

It was like the initial scenes of the film Shutter Island were Daniels and Chuck entering the hospital.

She was about to leave the hostel at 9 PM. I cried and shouted like a mad dog. The entire hostel turned up to see my theatrics on the floor. She left. Radha Krishnan sir, who is in charge of the hall asked me to sleep and said tomorrow morning she’ll be with me.

This was my first night at the Shutter Island.


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Thursday, May 5, 2016

1. The Entrance Test (In Search of Swami)


I don’t know what made her to take this decision. She took me to this place (school) to write general knowledge test. Yes, that’s what my mother said when she took me to this school to write the entrance test.

We reached Salem after three hours’ drive in the bus. The city didn’t scare me. Still with my age and understanding, I was not in a position to know the difference between a city and small town. The test was easy, but the math part was little tough.

We came back in the evening. The rest of the summer, I was chasing the hoop made with the cycle tyre on the streets. So here I’m celebrating the holidays, eagerly waiting to go to 5th standard. But, all the enthusiasm was drowned with the letter (post) from Salem. It said I got selected!

As she read the letter, I asked her “Selected for what??”

“You are going to a new school”.

“Why.. What is wrong with the present school?”

“This is a better school”

“You’ll be coming with me.. ”


I never knew then I had been put into the hostel and I’ll be missing home for next few years.

After few weeks one Sunday morning, I and mother travelled to the same school, but this time with a trunk (big iron suitcase/box). The box was full with my clothes- shirts, thick half-pants or better called as knickers, t-shirt’s with funny cartoons, towels, face powder, hair oil, mirror, vibuthi, shoes, flip-flop (chapal), a pillow and bed sheet.

I never knew what was in the store. The next three years is going to shape my school life and for rest of my life time I’m going to carry the reminiscences of these years.

“In Search of Swami” is inspired by RK Narayan “Swami and friends”. I want to write about my school days, especially the hostel life and here I’m penning it after many years. 


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