Every college has it. Every college needs it. None is ever complete without it. A place which is more than what it is. A place without which a college is never really a college. Yes, not an exaggeration this. A place where most stories in the campus often begin,are discussed and sometimes even end. Which or what is this place?
Yes, the canteen but not quite. The canteen but not the proper or designated college canteen.
The hangout which is every bit what it is, a hangout and has nothing to do with food really, even though that's what it is primarily open for. The hangout where the quality of food and hygiene might actually qualify it for the opposite of a michelin star. But still a place more frequented than one with three.
A canteen, an eatery, a dhabha, call it what you wish, it is known by several names. A place right at the entrance of a college or near about.
A place more about relationships, friendships, bonds than food.
We had one too. It was called Pancham. Yes, it looked every bit the kind of place you should avoid unless you really wanted the stomach bug. But that did nothing to deter the scores of students, year after year, crossing its threshold.
An open area with a makeshift roof, wooden tables and benches, not the most hygienic of kitchens but one which served food most students would swear by. A hotbed of everything that happened on the campus.
It was THE PLACE to be, well, at least for the boys. Whether it was the tea, those hot samosas or chats, they swore by it. Ours being mostly a college full of conservative professors, the girls weren't really found there but that didn't deter us from sourcing our samosas from there. But it was never about the food really.
It was the place to be after bunking a class. It was the place to be in between classes. It was the place to be after class. It was the place to be at all times.
It was the place where serious discussions happened over a half plate (samosa and chaat) and a special chai.
It was the place to be before campus selections and after. Like I said before, it was the PLACE to be.
If you liked a girl, it was the place you would wait for her. Yes, even if just for a glimpse. If you liked a boy, nine out of ten times you would spot him there.
It was the place where seniors and juniors got together. It was the place where legs were pulled and dates were fixed on behalf of the other. It was the place where serious discussions happened over a half plate (samosa and chaat) and a special chai.
At that time, I used to think it was only something that was integral to our college. But boy, was I wrong?
Around a month back while on one of my journeys, I happened to pass a stretch full of Engineering and Medical Colleges and that's when I realised it.
I realised no matter how old or new, good or bad, well built or in shambles a college is, it always has that dhabha kind of canteen. It is almost always near the vicinity of the main gate and is the perfect vantage point for everything in that college. No college was, is or can ever be complete without one.
Every college has a Pancham, so tell me about yours.