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CANTEEN CRISIS
CAMPUS SCENE: Couples are a more common sight on the Presidency college campus than a teeming canteen. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

College canteens are not so shabby any more. It’s not so easy to find broken tables, which doubled as tabla, the rejuvenating matir bhanrer cha after a boring class, ghugni and pauruti and innovative slangs.

Now college canteens are sophisticated, glowing with a fresh coat of gloss, and politeness. Today’s youth know how to behave. Even inside the college campus. They are focused on what they want — and it is not the empty conversations of previous generations.

The facelift is literal for the ancient and formerly smoky Presidency College canteen. “Sunmica” tops on old wooden tables, a gleaming orange menu board and a glass partition dividing the students and canteen-owner Promodda suggest enough changes have occurred in the last five years.

The glass partition is symbolic — like the demolition of the Jadavpur University (JU) lobby was six years ago.

Then

Five years ago, at any time, it would be difficult to find an inch of space at the Presidency canteen. Even the space behind Promodda’s counter was not spared. It was the same at the JU lobby at the arts building or at Milanda’s canteen or jheel par. St Xavier’s College green benches were not far behind.

“Our lives revolved around the college campus. There were hardly any diversions outside the campus,” says Abhijit Gupta, who teaches English at JU and is an ex-student of the university. “There is a nostalgic connection with the lobby. Plays were planned and music was composed there,” he adds. “We could not think anything beyond canteen adda,” says Juthika Das, JU ex-student.

Presidency: Now

Times have changed. It’s 4.30 pm, that too a week before the college elections, and it is hard to find more than 20 students in the canteen. That is less than half the number present on a usual day four or five years ago.

At JU, the staircase of the new building in front of Milanda’s canteen is a substitute for the lobby

“Very few juniors come to the canteen these days. The interaction between seniors and juniors has gone down,” says Sanjukta Ghosh, third year economics student, Presidency College. “The canteen closes by 6.30 pm. Though it is an order, there is no point keeping it open anyway as there is not much business after that,” says Promodda. This is a novel situation for the institution who has presided over generations of Calcutta’s brightest and used to throw students out around 8 pm.

Love in the air

It could be the cafes and other choices outside; it could be the students. One reason behind adda losing ground is the preponderance of Cupid on campus, implying more self-absorbedness. Though prem was one of the ‘P’s that spelt Presidency College (politics, porashona and Promodda were the others), the accent on it is stronger. “There are more couples now. They prefer being with each other than mixing around,” says Jishnu Dasgupta, an ex-student of the college.

Canteen is just another eatery. Anuja Gupta, first year political science student, Presidency College, says: “We spend about 15 to 20 minutes in the canteen to eat and discuss boyfriends, studies and the usual stuff.”

Thought for food

Canteen-owners know. “Earlier luchi-ghugni or chilli chicken-fried rice would be considered a treat. But now I have to serve good quality full meals,” says Promodda.

The talk has changed, too. Is rebellion dead' Studies take up the major part of the discussion. “Unbelievably enough, the students are more disciplined now,” says Jishnu. The sight of students ducking flying earthen cups or being playfully punched by a gang of students is not common any more.

“We never think about doing that,” says Debak Das, first year history, Presidency.

Earphones & iPod

A scrap on Promodda’s canteen community in Orkut: “People are talking about the canteen on Orkut but the college canteen is empty.”

The changes are less obvious at JU, but there. Says Ivy Pushilal, second year, international relations: “We hardly spend half an hour in the canteen. We prefer to go to the cafeteria or any of the malls because you get more variety there.”

There are other reasons. “The destruction of the lobby in the university divided the students, bringing about a change in the adda culture,” says Ritam Dutta, ex-student of the university. He also blames technology. “You find a couple sharing earphones to listen to music on an iPod.”

But the need to consciously create a space for interaction has been felt. “Now the staircase of the new building in front of Milanda’s canteen is a substitute for the lobby,” says Gupta.

Other hangouts

Adda was never so popular at Xavier’s, at least in Arunda’s canteen. But the college has its green bench. “Though we are stopped from sitting on the green bench before 3 pm, we still do it,” says Stuti Agarwal, who prefers hanging out at the college. “But if we have free time, we go to watch movies at Forum or go to 22 Camac Street near by. There is also CCD (Cafe Coffee Day). For food we head out of college,” she adds.

Off-campus famous hangouts are not faring any better. One is Narayanda’s thek (teashop) near Nazrul Mancha. Students not only from South City College but also other colleges came here. It does not exist any more. Same for the Gol Park-er adda and the numerous para addas. The Central Avenue Coffee House, an adda institution, if for senior citizens mostly, has been transformed into a wannabe Barista-like steel-and-self service zone.

Sign of the times

Not that adda has much of a choice. Prasanta Roy, former head of the department of sociology, Presidency College, says: “You cannot blame just the students. The habit of attending college is on the decline, which explains the dip in the popularity of canteens. Moreover, students seek diversion these days.”

“We used to spend all our time in the canteen common room or Boudi’r chaer dokan in front of our college, whiling away time,” reminisces Anindo Chatterjee, a former student of Scottish Church College and singer with the band Chandrabindoo. “There is more pressure on young people now. They are more focused. They know exactly what they want in life,” says Anindo.

But adda is missed. “I have always said that I learnt more in the canteen than I did in the class. I doubt any of the present students would say that,” says Jishnu.

Before and after

Presidency canteen

Five to six years ago: Regular: Singara, Dim-er chop, Fish finger, Chicken roll, Vegetable chop, Bapuji cake (at Rs 2 a favourite, now extinct), Cha, Aerated drinks.

Special: Luchi-Alur dom, Fried rice-Mangsho.

Now: Regular: Parota, Chilli chicken, Momo, Fried rice (veg., non-veg., Chinese; with kishmish), Chowmein, Fish fry, Fish finger, machine-made lemon tea and coffee, Cha, Luchi-Alur dom and Aquaguard-filtered water. Special: There is nothing special.

Jadavpur University (Milanda’s, Ashirbad, AC Canteen)

Seven years ago: On regular days: Singara, Kochuri, Luchi-tarkari, Cha, Cheere-doi, Dhoper chop (Milanda special)

On special days: Fried rice, Chilli chicken, Mishti

Now: On regular days: Fried rice, Kochuri alurdum, Chicken chop, Fish roll, Dim-er chop, dosa, G-4 (omelette-wrapped bread with chicken filling), coffee from vending machine.

Special: Biriyani for Rs 10 in Ashirbad (rare), fried rice, paneer.

The other dimension

Five to six years ago: “We bonded not only over cha but also booze and weed. Students forgot differences and sat down to have a drag of the peace-pipe,” said Ritoban Das, ex-student, Presidency College. At the JU lobby, one could see large groups sharing a joint.

Now: Forget ganja and booze, people don’t even light up a cigarette that often in the Presidency canteen. The well-known sites, canteen-er chhad (rooftop), the tank, the benches, are squeaky clean. At JU, the lobby is gone and so is Vivekananda Hall’s adda. But though it may not be a common sight and the groups may be scattered and small, there is still smoke on the water.

 

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