Of Roti, Matar, Alu Dum, Kofta, Bun, Puri, Pakora and More

Writes: Bal Krishna
Nostalgia can hit in many different forms, at times it’s a song, at times a smell, may be a restaurant, or a even a bar… this pic brought back flood of memories from my childhood days, and I am sure many here must have shared similar experiences as me.

Back in the day when Darjeeling was still a not so globalized town, with no Pizza Hut or KFC to boot, every school going students would swear by three characters – Bari who was the primary source of food, Didi/Bhola who was the primary source of Alu dum and other goodies, and then there were these awesome people who walked around from school to school carrying a tin full of various food and goodies.

This may surprise some, but I knew the father of the man seen in the picture below. In St. Robert’s school circle the man whose picture is shared below is known as “Katley” raicha, sorry this is not a name I gave him, for I don’t know him… but I knew his father. We used to call him MIXEY (मिक्से) UNCLE – as in the one who mixed stuffs. He was a delightful character.

Darjeeling then and now
Darjeeling then and now

In almost every school we have had our shares of Badi the primary matriarch figure who was more of a parent then a mere food vendor for every student. In our school, Badi was revered even by our Principal, as he had himself been a student once at our school, and Badi was there seeing him grow up from a student, to a teacher to being posted as the Principal. Everyone respected Bari, and her alu dum and matar were to die for. She refused to sell in “baanki – credit,” but she couldn’t see anyone go hungry as well. If someone couldn’t pay, she would give the food for free that day. I don’t know how she made her profit, but every day of my schooling life she was as constant as the school bell. Come rain or blazing sun, at 12 when we rushed out after the school bell rang, there was Bari with her small little shop spread out in a chatai – mat, which was earlier made of straw, and later made of plastic. Such an Icon was she that once we got a Principal who was out of Darjeeling and he banned any food vendors from selling stuff outside the school gates, undeterred majority of the students headed to her home – which was thankfully nearby – for lunch. Bari sold her goodies from her tiny little kitchen everyday for almost 6 months, and eventually the Principal had to give in. Such was the clout of Bari, she would not stop from even scolding the teachers as and when she felt the need to. Most of the teachers had once been a student too, so they knew when Bari scolded someone it was for a good reason.

Then there would be didi – who was a bit more modern, and wouldn’t just sell food, but also offer tea and cigarettes to whoever bought it. Didi’s were more like a small rebellion happening right in front of our eyes. An upstart trying to undo the clout of Bari. I am sure our school ko Bari must have resented Didi, not for the competition but for the fact that she was selling cigarettes, which some of the students would buy.

Then there was “Mixey Uncle”… he would carry a tin full of goodies that Bari didn’t sell, he would have Bun and Kofta and Dal Puri and Nan Khatta and what not. It was a riot of food on display.

However, imagine around 500 hungry kids, descending upon these three food vendors during lunch time.

No one messed with Bari as we all loved her and we were partially scared of her, Didi was by reputation “chucchi – strict” too so no one messed with her too, then remained “Mixey Uncle” who was our favourite punching bag of sorts.

While he dealt with one, two others would have stolen the bun or the pakoras… day in and day out, “Mixey Uncle” would literally get robbed, but I never saw him complain. Like a valiant knight, undefeated, he would be present with his tin the next day.

Years later, I would visit my school again, only to find that Bari was no more, and in fact who we used to refer to as Didi had now become Bari and she has perhaps acquired the qualities of Bari for she no longer sold Cigarettes, but Roti, Alu Dum and Matar and other such goodies. There was another Didi giving her competition, hopeful perhaps she would one day become Bari too.

I never got an opportunity to meet “Mixey Uncle” after my school life, but his son bears his exact look, so when I saw this picture today, I felt I did owe him, and Bari and Didi an ode of sorts…. a THANK YOU note for being awesomely tolerant towards us, and for taking care of us even when they didn’t have to.

I am sure all the schools have their combo of Bari, Didi and “Mixey Uncles”… hope our younger generation refer them to as such, instead of naming them “Katley” which is not just derogatory, but also a poor reflection on the youngsters.

Via TheDC

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