In the mess bill that is religiously brought out every month by JNU’s Jhelum hostel, there is an outstanding amount of Rs.5200 against the name of J.Muthukrishanan. This is the sum that he owes the ‘nation.’ It is a bad education loan, given in kind, and extracted pitilessly. The research scholar’s relationship to the university is one of debt.
Every day at noon this mess hall is the site of a display of abundance. Lines of vessels bearing mounds of rice and dal decorate the dining tables like some dietary solar system. This is shock and awe, of the pettiest kind. Food is regimented. Food is something to be hoarded in ‘bhandars.’ Famine lurks around the corner. There is thunder in the distance. Everything, from food to its end-product must be harnessed in the service of a rigid social hierarchy. Arguments about food have to be subtle, and nuanced. Blunt force might cause trauma. Of course, rules are meant to be broken. But there are strict rules regarding that too, on who can eat and by how much.
Ananta-Das says that Kabir decided to hold a public feast for the devotees, presumably with the bullock-load of food left by Hari. Kabir gives everything away. This angers the Brahmins and Sannyasis who complain that ‘Kabir has given everything to the Shudras.’ The Brahmins and Sannyasis go to Kabir and demand to be fed. Kabir says he has nothing to offer them but agrees to go and purchase some food for them. Kabir leaves again and hides himself somewhere. Then Hari himself assumes the task of feeding the Brahmins, he again appears in human disguise, this time as Kabir himself and gives rice, flour, sugar, and ghee to the Brahmans. Each is then given a rolled pan. At least for the time being, they go away pleased with Kabir.
~ Lorenzen, David N. Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das’s Kabir Parachai. SUNY Press: Albany. Pp28-29.
According to hierarchical strictures, there are four kinds of Rin (debt): Pitra-Rin (parental debt), Brahma Rin (Debt to God), Deva Rin (Debt to deities), and Guru/Rishi Rin (debt to teachers). There could also a fifth kind of Rin, viz. Mess Rin. This is the worst kind of debt. The surfeit of spirituality segues into a scarcity of food.
In a Facebook post titled ‘Eating My Cat Food,’ dated June 29.2016 (https://www.facebook.com/muthukrishanan.jeevanantham/posts/1815904641965986) Rajini Krish (moniker of J. Muthukrishanan) wrote about the NRS Mess at the University of Hyderabad, his alma mater:
EATING MY OWN CAT FOOD #
I washed my hand, and enter inside the Mess. I got my mess card from the counter. From last month there had been a “Rose colour” mess card, nobody knows the reason why?. I got my mess card, and went towards the food counter. Due to the rain, the Mess floor was very slushy, if you not aware on your foot step, you will be skating through. Carefully I reached the food counter,the floor and Mess plate has all the similarities. Because after they washed the plate, there will be some water dancing over the plate, it will be calm down after the “chappathi” took place in the plate.Because the Chappathi is sharper than Topaz shaving blade, oh sorry! I could not able to find it any “Make in India” Blades’. Sometimes I used to think,” I should preserve this chappathi, and give it to the shop com “Saloon shop”, it will be useful for shaving purpose, by doing that I can get free hair cut also!. Finally I got one of that kind, but I took only one Chappathi, throw it one to the nearest plate.
Let us go to the Daal section. The Daal basin is very huge, even two person can swim inside the basin. But many time we used to hear, the annoying stir up sound with tiny spoon, while searching the Daal on the basin, which filled with yellow color water. While looking at the Daal basin, I always remember my brother tushar, because he used to like Daal very much, and in a unique way he used to take the Daal in plate. After seeing him I too used take Daal regularly. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen today. Because the Daal already got over. I looked at the wall clock it was showing 8.10P.m. Now I have only one option. I have to get the special/Non-Veg, before it get finished. I asked the Mess card giver by nodding my head, “is there any special available?”. Form his table he shouted that, “Bhai last token for Mutton, if you want please come fast”, he said. I ran to the table. With my wet hand, I wrote my name and mess card number. Though the coupon buyers were making noise and disturbing the card giver, within a minute I got the token stamped as “MUTTON. NRS. in the light green chart paper.
I got the Mutton curry, and came back to my usual seat. I was so excited to eat the Mutton pieces,and hungry too. Yes mouth watering kind of. But before that I have to take the rice, which is almost going get over. Tonight there is only one rice basin in my table, surrounded by one group, we used to call them “coupon fellows” they all taken the rice, after them I got a little. Somehow, With that rice I started to eat.Near by me one fellow from “H” hostel, told me that, “Bro, How you eating here everyday?, the rice did not boil well, and the broth, Rasam are very spicy. In this “mess food”, nothing is good and tasty.
I told him that,” what should I do, I do not have any other options. Three days before also, I found stones in the Daal. I complained many times, even I shouted at them inside the Kitchen, when I got long hair in the rice. But nothing will change here”. After him another fellow was eating straight opposite to me, from him I heard the stone grinding sound. We both looked each other, and he started to scold the mess secretary in bad words. I do not want to hear them. I moved little away from him.
I was searching the mutton pieces, thereby I found only two meat pieces among the full plate of bones mixed with black colour broth. I put away the bones with paper plate. Thereafter I planned to eat with “Rasam”. In the meantime the rice got over. I was worrying, not because I did not get rice, but “The “bald head man” (used to be chatting in Shop com stationery shop, often wears Red T – shirt) not going to eat tonight. He used to eat in the big rice basin.
While attending conferences, at lunch time, students are sometimes physically pushed back, since the meagre supplies are to be rationed and the delegates have to be served first. If you are used to seeing Chomsky and the like waiting in line for their grub, or baguette lunches, this could be an amusing predicament. But here the logic is that of Arathamma Pillai Thankachi, a character in CV Raman Pillai’s Malayalam novel ‘Dharmaraja’ who says: ”if you want to consume food by the granary, your uncles must have amassed land by the acre.”
JNU’s GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment) has meanwhile clarified that it had received no complaints against the deceased. Most things that hold true for food, also hold true for love, especially in India.
Umar Nizar is a research scholar in JNU. His poems have been published in the Ibex Press Year’s Best Selection, Vayavya, MuseIndia, Culture Cafe journal of the British Library, and also broadcast by the All India Radio. He lives in Jhelum Hostel.