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…