In Memory of P.G.W. Canteen

I have been thinking of writing a post dedicated to P.G.W Canteen that was an integral component of my everyday life as a student in Delhi University from 2000-2007. Yesterday, a friend called me and she fondly exchanged notes over how she has managed to crack the recipe of Chini Parantha (Parantha layered with sugar) that she and I used to have in P.G.W Canteen. P.G.W Canteen is the abbreviated version of Post Graduate Women’s Hostel Canteen. The Canteen once known for paranthas, tea and was the lifeline for many female students in that vicinity if they wanted a packet of biscuits, Maggie or even Sanitary Napkin has died a slow death.

The slow death of this canteen calls for a closer self reflection of the ways in which spaces in Delhi University have been subject to surveillance and how rationing of food in girls’ hostels is part of the University Culture. Rationing of food in the name of wastage has always troubled me.  My first tryst with a Chicken meal in a P.G. Accommodation in North Delhi was somewhat like this. Two pieces of Chicken stared at my face from a bowl that could have been used to serve vegetables and a bigger serving bowl brimming with gravy… It was not only aesthetically unappealing but also reflects how public eating cultures assume “women” to be small eaters. This pattern continues in the university hostel rationing cultures where there is a cap regarding the number of slices of bread one could take, to a person dedicated for serving Milk to ensure “equitable” (?) distribution and a choice between fruit and egg? I wonder if our male colleagues in Hostels for men are subject to such rationing in their mess halls. Some hostels do not allow women residents to carry food to their rooms and special permission is to be sought if one intends to do so.

Such surveillance run deep and the food rationing practices is one of them. So, for people who felt hungry and want to skip meals in their respective hostels ( Meghdoot Hostel, Miranda Hostel, DUWA hostel) and female students and teachers dropped by in P.G.W Canteen for their daily bites which could have been breakfast, lunch or an early dinner. Since it was within a girls’ hostel premises where there are timings of entry and exit for visitors and residents; female students were supposed to leave by 8pm. Yet, we did not complain because of lack of “canteen” facilities in our respective hostels as P.G.W Canteen was our saviour.

P.G.W Canteen was a legend and institution and for reasons best known to the authorities it closed down. The owner of the canteen whom we fondly called Dipu Bhaiya shared a love-hate relationship with the students. The Canteen best known for parathas with various stuffings (potato, cauliflower, onion, radish, potato-onion,) served with a spicy pickles of cabbage and onions was a hit among students from North Campus. The Chchole Batura of P.G. Canteen was also a favourite and if the people at the kitchen were in a good mood they would also give a helping of the Chchole with paratha. The parathas priced between Rs 5-10 were cheap and affordable. The vegetable toast and their special tea was the evening snack most of us gorged on. For some of the students, their bread roll was appealing as well. Most importantly, if you did not want to trek down to Kamala Nagar or Kingsway Camp you could walk down to P.G.W in your shorts, and pack food for dinner.

When I was in college we also got food packed for our 24 hour journey train ride. The food never went bad. Everyone of us had their own favourite pick. And anybody who frequented the place would remember the famous Maggie they served. A friend told me that she has managed to recreate “P.G.W Maggie” and it’s a favourite with her family. Most importantly, it was a place where a student could indulge in comfort food within Rs 20.

Many such memories haunt me every time one sees the closed shutters of the P.G.W Canteen. Such closed shutters dot a University space that seems alien to people like us who stepped in this university a decade ago. With the familiar spaces gone, what remains are such anecdotes…


Food Censorship –II (Contd)

Why North East Dhaba, JNU is not allowed to sell beef and pork?

Anybody remotely interested in foodscape of canteens in India will be aware of the legendary Dhabas at JNU. One such Dhaba that looked promising in JNU was North East Dhaba.  Well if you thought you could skip the stalls at Delhi Haat and will try out dishes from  the states across NE India in this Dhaba you might be disappointed as it is not allowed to serve any pork or beef dishes. Why? The pamphlet  titled “ Why North- East Dhaba is not allowed to sell beef and pork? Democratic Practices and Eating Habits in JNU” by Naga Study Forum, JNU argues “… Though North East Dhaba was primarily established to cater the dishes of the indigenous cuisine of the cultural communities from the region, till date the administration of JNU has not permitted the food joint to sell any main dishes of the region which comprises of pork and beef. Any right thinking person will question why the North East food joint in JNU serves Chinese dishes mostly? When we say we are not Indian by culture and its food habit, it doesn’t mean we are Chinese”. This kind of food censorship in one of the premier educational institutions of the country which has numerous students from North East India and foreign countries is astonishing.

 In a recently concluded Public Meeting on “The Politics of Food Culture: The Holy Cow and the Unholy Swine” organised by The New Materialists at Koyna Mess, JNU on 20 March 2012 Prof Nivedita Menon in her talk pointed out that “ In a democracy you have no option but to live with difference”.  She also argued that food  habits is at the same time an intimate activity but shaped by specific socio-cultural formations as coded and practices through food taboos. She explored the category of “difference” to argue how food practices and global ethical voices of food habits and embedded in a certain politics of food and the inter-linkages between food movements, religious pedagogies and finally how politics of food also produces hierarchies within communities and also gender.  Prof. Kanchah Illiah in his remarks took us back to the debate on politics of beef eating in Osmania Campus and showed us how a campus which celebrated religious syncretism through three separate sets of kitchen in Nizam’s times has become intolerant towards beef consumption which is part and parcel of Dalit food culture. Prof. Bhagat Oinam in his speech illustrated how power relations operate though food practices and congratulated the students for initiating a debate on food politics.

Three sets of issues emerged from the public meeting:

While eating food is an intimate activity, the social codes that govern food are embedded in caste politics and its impact is felt in the way food is regulated in public spaces and campuses are no different.

Secondly, the need to recognise difference is an integral part of democracy.

Thirdly, the “sociality” governing food makes it an interesting site around which food taboos, eating behaviours and even industrial codes on food censorships are regulated and manifested.

Itiriti urges its readers to think about the ongoing campus practices relating food and support the call for serving of pork and beef in North East Dhaba in JNU.