I visited The Cafe at St Stephens college today with a colleague Shantanu. It was like shaking hands with an old friend, like the smell of a place I have been before. I was a little lost in the maze of corridors as we entered from the western side. The students and visiting students had distinct differentiators in the looks and clothing department. The students, gentlemen, wore, sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans (unwashed), floaters, slippers sandals and a sling bag, with an emphasis on mufflers and long scarves. Pretty much what they wore in the winter in my salad days (23 years ago). And the ladies very pretty much dressed in the same shaggy look as the unwashed men. The fashion for both gentlemen and ladies, is to flaunt their intellect and not their looks. They are the shishyas (disciples) of Amitav Ghosh,Upmanyu Chaterjee, Alan Sealy and Khushwant Singh.
We walked in through a large hall with rattan chairs painted yellow, read the menu on the notice board and calibrated my memory 23 winters ago. Its uncanny as we sat down, the old waiter "Bhaiyan" or Jadunath emerged from the kitchen and said, mince and scrambled, I said yes, with toast. This was exactly my or our standard order then (they offer it to the veterans I suppose). We absorb the atmosphere, a few foreign (White Caucasian) students with a Kinley water bottle on the table. Mahesh Rangarajan, the psephologist and political analyst immersed in finishing his Veg lunch plate of rajma and rice. More shaggy sweaters and mufflers. Some getting their order of chicken curry and rice. We get talking with Mr Varma, the college employee and manager of the Cafe. It's managed by the college and the hostel mess. No contractors here. Bhaiyyan brings in our order. Its two scrambled eggs each, three toasts each, two mince cutlets each and a nimbupani. All of this costs Rs 97/- for the two of us. Much below my Rs 100/- mark (for the Salesman's guide to eating out- Local exotica). This would have cost about under Rs 20/- in 1985.Its quite a large plate and helping.
The taste was just as I had left it 23 years ago, the brilliance in the mince and the quality of the nimbu pani. The mince was a potato cutlet with a keema embryo, nice. The toast and butter, as toast and butter is supposed to be. The scrambled egg had all the shortcomings it had even then, onions can never cook with the eggs and tomatoes, so you have crunchy onions, with a gooey, egg and tomatoes with a strong eggy smell, almost like a parsi home in the morning. And no, ketchup to dowse it. They served a feedble mint and tamarind chutney masquerading as a sauce. Listen how much can you talk and mince words and over analyse, a mere Rs 97/- lunch. However there is no price tag for these memories revisited.
When did the Stephens cafe slip in the lunch plate veg as well as non veg plate is something I forgot to ask. I would urge the more knowladgeable Stephanians and other children of a lesser God like me (visitors and guests to the cafe) to enlighten us. Well today i.e , December 03, 2008 the non veg plate was, chicken curry and rice at Rs 30/- and the veg plate rajma and rice was Rs 20/-. At seeing the punjabisation of the menu was almost like paradise lost. But, what the hell everything else was pretty much the same. The same waiters, Jadunath has been their since 1976, the rattan chairs have been there since I visited last. And more importantly the original menu of scrambled and mince was absolutely the same at the cost of repeating myself.
Filled to the gills we stepped out to the tea and nimbu pani stall in the memory of the two miles (3.2 km ) onSundays, so called cross country open to all students and ended here with free nimbu pani and a samosa. We had one each,what the heck.
Now for the parting questions,
Who is the owner of the Nimbu pani and Samosa stall, name please ?
Can someone also please tell when did the cross country stop and why ?
So Long !
So Long !