"So How's the Food at a Boarding School?"
When you move away from home, you’re bound to face some problems. Adjusting to your new life, to the place you live in, your budget and monetary issues, to the people, and more importantly, to the food – especially at a boarding school.
You get used to everything gradually, because you learn to make your peace with it. You can do nothing about either the dorm space that you’ve been given, or the schedule which is enforced upon you. You don’t really have anything to spend money on because there is literally nothing on campus to spend money on, and ‘coupons’ given to you are the basic currency for anything which is remotely available (like the canteen). The people come and go, and there’s good people and bad people, and you are either a good person or a bad person (most probably both at the same time). But the food.
What can you actually do about food? You cannot change that either, so you have to make your peace with the same menu for seven days a week, which is also the same for 365 days a year, with the addition of soup served in winters. So when I tell people I went to a boarding school, their usual questions mainly comprise of them pretending to care as they ask, “How did you stay so far away from home? Did you not miss your parents? Oh and what about the people? Should I send my daughter to the same school as well? Will she manage? Oh no! Will she adjust to the food?” And for some reason, the last question is always laid most emphasis on. That’s reasonable, considering that food is the most essential thing for survival – to most normal people, at least.
So how did I adjust to the food at my boarding school? Like I said, I made my peace with it. It’s been two years since I graduated high school, but the feeling of walking around that beautiful campus is etched in my brain as though it were yesterday. My routine was pretty basic but it had its own twists and turns and something new (usually controversial) used to happen everyday. I used to wake up for breakfast in the morning – and perhaps the only phase of my life where I actually went for breakfast every single day – get ready in the standard school uniform, march out the dorm room and out of the hostel and off to the mess with my usual “squad” (that’s what kids these days call their group of friends). And perhaps breakfast was the best meal of the day, and the most peaceful too.
Every morning, I used to enter the mess with a bottle of Bournvita in my hands with writing all over it, saying, “Property of Nikita Achanta, C-1855. Do not touch, you will die”, like everyone else did so that no one would steal their Bournvita (Bournvita was how a bottle of vodka is to most people today). I used to pick up one of the steal glasses from one of the tables, and used to pour myself a glass of chilled milk, put in two heaps full of Bournvita in it, and then sit at the table, mixing it with so much concentration so that none of the granules remained undissolved. Breakfast was usually the time where students from different ‘houses’ got to meet each other (our curfew was 9 P.M.), and exchange gossip and other news (mostly controversies) which would have happened over night (well, that’s what happens in an all-girls’ boarding school). To me, breakfast was the only time I could get my peace of mind till the next morning. And the feeling of downing that glass of chilled milk down my throat was the best in the world. It was what made Mondays bearable.
They used to serve a traditional meal of dal-baati on Tuesdays, which I never grew a liking towards, and sometimes kulcha chana on Tuesdays, which was alright too, because I always ending up eating the kulcha by itself. Fridays were extra special though. Not because of the weekend slowly creeping up on us, but because lunch was probably the best dish ever served there – rajma and rice. Walking into the mess on a Friday afternoon had a thrill of its own. Getting in line for rajma and rice, with curd on the side, was sort of like a race to all of us seniors: you always wanted to be the first one to get the food, and the first one to finish eating just so you could go and get yourself another serving.
As I write this, I realize how much I miss all of that, and what I would give to go back just for another Friday lunch at that overcrowded mess. So when someone asks me, “So how’s the food at a boarding school?” I don’t really know what to tell them. It was not about the food, as much as it was about the people I shared it with. The same mess I sat in was the same place people I both loved and hated (both from the core of my heart) did as well – strangers who had become friends, and friends who had become strangers.
To think that teenagers today get excited over partying and drinking and smoking and “chilling” with their friends and socializing. On Tuesday nights, my “jam” used to be some hot pav bhaji and a couple laughs with the outsiders who became family. Ces’t La Vie.