Remembering the school day lunch
During my school days, the lunch break provided a welcome rush of excitement.
During my school days, the lunch break provided a welcome rush of excitement. The half-hour recess was not only a much-needed break from the humdrum routine of the classroom but a time to bond with your buddies, forge new relationships, share lunch, and finally indulge in some fun and frolic, albeit briefly.
The tasty meals rustled up by my mother, Padmakumari, was delivered steaming hot by an elderly housemaid, Andalamma. The wire-knitted bag contained a tiffin carrier, a pair of teeny-weeny hand towels, steel tumblers, spoons and a water bottle. We dined under an open-air dining area, which had a few long wooden benches and tables.
Andalamma would unpack the tiffin carriers and spoon feed my brother Prasanna Kumar and me. As we dined along with our classmates and other students, the flavours from the assorted lunch packs around us filled our nostrils. In the old days, fast food such as noodles, pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, and spaghetti was unheard of, and we relished the humble fare of rice and curry.
The lunch boxes came in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Students of varying appetites, tastes and preferences – vegetarians and non-vegetarians, fussy and champion eaters and even a tribe gorged on junk food. The last-mentioned came from well-heeled families and always hung around the school's Tuck Shop, splurging on sandwiches, fried snacks, chikkis, sandwiches and ice-creams – all homemade by the school staff. Some regulars at the Tuck Shop even maintained an account and cleared the bills once a week.
My 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 inhale 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 scattered around, unmindful of the children. Trepidation overcame us whenever a bird parked itself directly on the overhead branches - the feathered beauties did not hesitate to poop 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. There was a real buzz on the playfield - the sound of running feet, screams of tiny tots and the dust kicked up by young legs. Everything fell silent after the bell rang post-lunch. Students lined up in front of the classrooms and were led away to the school kitchen to guzzle a tall glass of milk. Stirred by a ladle, the white fluid simmered from a large cauldron, nestling over a wood-fired oven. I yearn to go back in time and relive those nostalgic moments!