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Remembering the ways of the past…

September 14, 2006

Call me a sentimental old fart if you will… but I can’t help lookin back at the days gone by with a wide-eyed wonder very much like that of a child… walking about the gardens of a heritage hotel in Kota, looking out over the water of Chambal as they unhurriedly flowed past, I was overcome with a sense of awe at the splendour of a structure that had stood the test of time. I am not speaking of the beautiful architecture, though I could spend hours doing that… what I’m referring to is the preservation of a way of life. A proud old culture that learnt to assimilate, not adapt to, its present… my thoughts soon turned to XL and I reflected on the many changes we witnessed in my two years there, and the ones I observed when I revisited XL last month. I rummaged through my old stuff and dug out two articles I had written in my first year for X-factor. On Dadus and Bishus. I was overcome with emotion upon goin through them, and was left with an overwhelming sense of loss… the questions that are buzzing around in my head are, I’m afraid, too indulgent to be of interest to a casual reader. However, I leave you now with the two articles, snapshots of a moment in time, and maybe you will find yourselves asking the same questions…

Bishu’s… a legacy

Imagine this… you wake up at midnight, ravenous after a hard day’s work lying in bed, pull on your winter gear and make the long trudge from your room across hostile terrain to GH1… only to find the mess lights off and the area deserted. You blink in disbelief—are your eyes deceiving you or is it just a bad dream? What happened to the Xlers usually hanging around, sipping endless cups of tea and zealously guarding their plates of cheese maggi? What happened to the night canteen? What happened to that familiar face behind the mess counter, patiently flipping an endless number of aloo parathas and tolerantly reminding yet another XLer to clear his credit?

Worry not, nothing has changed… not yet. The Night Canteen, or Bishu Da’s as it is more commonly known, has been in existence for the last 8 years. It started with students bringing food over and casually asking Bishu da to cook it for them late at night. Then Mess Comm provided supplies for a while, with Bishu da being given a salary for his services. Over time, Bishu da was asked by Mess Comm to set up and run a night canteen. From then to now, he has been running the night canteen in much the same way, improvising on his offerings based on preferences and selling on credit to a large number of students.

Bishu da’s isn’t just a quick-stop snack bar. It is where birthdays are celebrated in true XL style, where we take a break when the pressures of a Pray project or an impending Gango quiz become too much, or when we simply want to catch up on the latest Grax.

Most of us cannot imagine night life in XL without Bishu da and his daily offerings—noodles in soup and egg-aloo paratha are just some of the quirky combinations he prepares on demand. Many will vouch for the lifesaver that his nimbu pani is during particularly thirsty times, when laced with a little something. But that is an altogether different topic of conversation.

Most of us, at some point of time, have carried on a conversation with him that goes beyond “Bishu da, ek bread omelette”. But how many of us really know the man? Ever wondered what his story is? Each time I’d see him settling in for the night in one corner of the mess I’d wonder what drove him to live such a life. What forced him to make those choices?

Bishu da has been working in the XL mess since 1980. His two sons are in school while his 7 yr old daughter was born deaf and dumb and needs special attention, besides medication and hearing aids. As with most families, he is the sole breadwinner for his family. It is a tough life he leads, but he is by far not the only one. All around us, there are people who have no choice but to push on in order to make ends meet.

As management students of a premier B-school, we are expected to understand what corporate social responsibility is and to practice it. It starts with being sensitive to one’s immediate environment and to the people in one’s immediate vicinity, understanding their needs and motives, seeing beyond their functional use and acknowledging the individual.

Bishu da and the many other residents of XL aren’t just sources to fulfil our needs… they are individuals who have seen XL grow, have grown and changed with our alma mater, and are the link between XL’s past, her present and her future. They are XLRI’s legacy to us… part of the kaleidoscope of memories we’ll carry with us that identify us as an XLer. So the next time you have a craving for some cheese maggi, or just some midnight grax over a chai and sutta, remember the people who make that possible…..

Dadu’s… timeless and priceless

At the recently held 25th reunion of the XLRI batch of 1979, voices were heard murmuring about the changes at XL… “When we were here, the Acad block area was a huge lawn” “Everything has changed so much…” As the XLers of ’79 took a walk around the campus, nostalgic and a little overwhelmed, the one place they rushed to with a sense of relief was… Dadus. Yes, the one place that has remained unchanged… both in terms of location and the warmth it exudes.

Dadus was started in the early 70s by a man named Srikanth, who later came to be known as ‘Dadu’, in the football ground. A few years later, XL set up the building that currently houses this little tea shop. Run by Niranjan da, the son of Dadu, this ‘quaint lemonade stand’ as one XLer of the batch of 2006 called it continues to be a vital link in the social life of an XLer.

A typical day at Dadus begins at the twilight hour when, after a hard night’s ‘work’ (read movies on LAN, graxing, wetnights, AoE, NFS…), an XLer knocks on the wooden window shutter to grab a cup of chai and sutta before crawling into bed. Boni money is kept handy in the form of small change, and the log lying outside is the perfect place to sit down, sip one’s tea and watch a new day dawn. Till a few years back, says Niranjan da, he used to be woken up as early at 4.30-5… in the winter months, though, it is only a brave few who venture out before 6.30-7.

When asked about the changes he has seen at XLRI, Niranjan da says that his whole life has been lived out at XL—to recount the changes would be akin to narrating his life story. Niranjan da and his brother Chittaranjan (or Chitto) live near Sonari in a joint family. Their father passed away a few years back, and their mother lives with them. Niranjan da is happily married with three children. To Niranjan da, Dadus isn’t just a teashop or a means to earn his living—it is his father’s heritage, and he intends to continue running it the way it has been run all these years.

Asked if he particularly remembers any batch, he says that to him, life has taken on a cycle of continuity where every year he sees a host of new faces that somehow all converge to form a composite called the XLer. Many come back years after passing out, and drop in to say hello. They leave their corporate image at the gates of XL and when at Dadus they are, once again, just XLers sipping their nimbu pani and graxing.

Dadus is witness to the host of celebrations and events that go on at XL throughout the year… the placement processes, MAXI fair, XL-IIMC and various festivals. Dadus is especially decked up during Durga puja, when the walls are newly painted and the entrance decorated with a string of coloured lights.

Xlers don’t just drop in at Dadus for a bite to eat or a sutta—they also drop in just to step away from life for a little bit, take a break and savour a few moments of peace. Life’s simple pleasures can be observed in the way Buddhu and Mangal, the two boys working at Dadus, interact with the students. To Niranjan da, they are a part of his family and so are the students and faculty who frequent his shop. Service is homely and given with a generous dose of laughter and chitchat.

Asked what he does in the summer months when the students are away, Niranjan da replies with a smile “Karne ko kya hai? Hum June ka wait karte hain jab sab waapas aa jayange aur phir campus mein jaan aa jayegi”

Niranjan da says that his life is full and content, and he has no ambitions of expanding business. XLRI has been a part of his life for far too long now, and it makes him happy to be doing what he is doing.

When approached for this article, he promptly took out yearbooks from way back and photographs over the decades, each snippet telling its own story and forming a mosaic of life at XL viewed from his eyes. Speaking of the current batch, he says “CRP is baar bhi achha ho jaye, sabko apne pasand ki naukri mil jaye… hamari taraf se All the Best”

His affection for XL is apparent in his new year message to all XLers “Naye Saal ki shubh kaamnayen, and hamein aur XL ko zaroor yaar kariyega… aap jab bhi lautenge, hum yahin honge.”

On that note, XLers, here’s wishing everyone a happy 2005… and remember, whenever you come back, XL will still be here.

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