The lunch break
N J Ravi Chander
During my school days, the lunch break provided a welcome rush of excitement. The half an hour recess was not only a much-needed break from the humdrum routine of the classroom but a time to bond with your best pals, forge new relationships, share lunch and last but not least indulge in some fun and frolic, albeit briefly.
The lunch of rice, curry and other accompaniments adoringly rustled up by my mother, Padmavathi, would be delivered steaming hot by an elderly housemaid, Andalamma. The wire-knitted bag contained beside the tiffin carrier, a pair of teeny-weeny hand towels, steel tumblers, spoons and a water bottle. The small dining area had a makeshift asbestos roof overhead and a few long wooden benches and tables.
Andalamma would unpack the tiffin carriers and nudge us to eat. As we dined along with the classmates and other students, the flavours from the assorted lunch packs around us would fill our nostrils. The era of fast food – noodles, pizzas, burgers, hot dogs and spaghetti -was yet to arrive, and we relished the humble rice or rotis.
The lunch boxes came in all shapes, sizes, and colour. There were also students of varying appetites, tastes and preferences – vegetarians and non-vegetarians, fussy and champion eaters and even a tribe that gorged on junk food. The last-mentioned were from well-heeled families and always hung around the school Tuck Shop, splurging on sandwiches, fried snacks, chikkis, sandwiches and ice-creams – all manufactured by the school staff. Some regulars at the Tuck Shop even maintained an account and cleared the arrears once a week.
My late father, M N Jayaraman, availed his month-long annual leave soon after our summer holidays ended and would ferry our lunch boxes during this period. His lunch trips to school always thrilled us as he would treat us to little packets of goodies from the Tuck Shop or pamper us with the fare dished out by the street hawkers who frequented the school.
We always gobbled our lunch in a hurry as we longed to get into the playing arena and plunge into a game of cops and robbers, seven tiles, marbles or vie with each other, sprinting and racing. When every inch of the wooden benches meant for dining lay occupied, we would spread out our towels on the playfield under the shade of an old mango tree and enjoy our lunch amid the hustle and bustle of school.
Winged visitors like the crows, ravens and sparrows would hop in and pick up the crumbs that lay scattered around, unmindful of the children. We were overcome with trepidation whenever a bird parked itself directly on the branches overhead for fear of the feathered beauties pooping on us. Few senior students would repair to the open ground in front of the campus for a surreptitious smoke. A popular cigarette brand in the 1970s featured Hyderabad’s famous monument, Charminar, on its pack.
The sound of running feet, screams of tiny-tots and the dust kicked up by young legs on the playground was something to behold. Everything fell silent after the post-lunch chime of the school bell as students stood in line in front of the classroom and were marched away by the teachers or the class monitors to the school kitchen to down a tall glass of hot milk. The milk simmered from a large cauldron hanging over a coal fire in one corner of the kitchen and stirred by using a ladle. I yearn to go back in time and relive those nostalgic moments!
(The writer is a former banker. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)