I don’t know why I do this. I keep disappearing from this page and then come back with a resolve to be more regular with my writing, only to fall into the same trap again! Here I am, back again after a long hiatus, promising myself that I’ll be more disciplined going forward. Let’s see how it goes.
The other day I was talking to a friend from school and was getting nostalgic about those growing up years. We spoke about a lot. The school assembly, the teachers, the basketball court, getting punished, the dreaded homework, and the best of them all, the lunch break. I don’t know how it works today in Jamshedpur, but back in the late 80s and the early 90s, the lunch break at schools across Telco Colony was a sacred affair with a great many rituals performed. Everyday, the same pattern would play out and we would participate in it with vigor and cheer.
At the sound of the bell announcing the lunch break, we would rush out of the classroom, not wanting to waste even a single minute. The destination was the assembly area near the school gate, where all our tiffin boxes were kept. We didn’t carry our lunch with us; it was sent to the school by our mothers through tiffin-wallahs, who would collect the lunch boxes from various homes, before getting them to the school on their bicycles. We would identify our lunch boxes by the bag that they used to come in. Sometimes, even bags looked similar probably because they were bought from the same store in Telco Colony. In such cases, improvisations were performed, such as etching the name of the student on the lid of the lunch box.
Once the box was claimed, we used to get it to the corridor outside our classroom and sit on the floor.Yes, no fancy canteens with tables and chairs for us and guess what, we were very happy sitting on the floor. However, the lunch box would be kept on a wipe cloth measuring about one foot square, which was popularly referred to as a ‘duster’. This wipecloth was issued by Tata Motors (then Telco) to all its employees, so, a lot of us ended up carrying wipecloths that looked exactly alike.
We would sit with our backs to the walls of the corridor, thus creating two lines of students facing each other. Sharing of food was the norm, and even robbing each other was not looked down upon. I know from experience, having participated in and having been the victim of numerous such robberies. The lunch box, usually made of aluminium, consisted of 3 or 4 compartments meant for chapatis, rice, dal / sambar / curd, and vegetables / meat. Sometimes, accompaniments such as sweets, pickles or chutney were sent in separate containers usually with a note which said that the containers need to be carried back home in the afternoon. We would sit there in the corridor, eating, joking, laughing, pulling each other’s legs, having loads of fun.
As I write, the memories come rushing back. I can actually see the sights and hear the sounds. Feels like yesterday. It has been sixteen years since I passed out from school. However, the memories of those fun-filled lunch breaks are still very much alive. It just takes three words for me to go on a trip down memory lane – ‘Its Lunch time!’