I have to admit, I have even surprised myself this time with the topic that I have chosen to write here, but nevertheless I shall try and do justice to it. The idea actually took birth a few days back when I was editing an English course book for kids at my workplace which had a chapter on a kid and his exploits in school. He went on to talk about many things he does in school and out of that the Tiffin box makes a tiny entry. That very mention somehow transported me back in time and hence came this idea. I had actually always wanted to write something on the experience of my school days, which I will one day, but for now I want to explore another really not-so-important aspect of my growing up days in school: the Tiffin box.
During my kindergarten days, going to school, I remember used to be a pain. I do not have vivid memories of those times, but I do remember my Tiffin box and its contents. I had s small green coloured lunch box with a spoon in the front, back then and the contents would generally be limited to a couple of ‘sandesh’ and a few pieces of bread and butter or biscuits. Not much of a diet you would say, but for a four year old it was more than enough. I relished munching the sandesh though, it was blissful. The soft and tasty sweet would be wrapped up in a thin sheet of paper as I would take it out during lunch time and gobble it up sitting on the floor of my classroom as the others would look on greedily.
As I grew up, my Tiffin box and its contents too changed with me. However it is my primary days that I consider the golden period of my Tiffin eating days for many reasons. Primarily because of the varied memories it gave me. I think it was during my second standard that I had gotten a new Tiffin box then. I was thrilled then as it was the first time I was getting to use a ‘real’ Tiffin box. My father had bought shiny new lunch boxes for both me and my brother. It was a big moment for me then; exploring my white coloured, two cased lunch box and thinking of showing it off to my classmates. I remember it had a brown coloured bear drawn on its front, but as the years went by the bear too faded away. I would always envy my brother who would preserve his Tiffin box without a scratch for years at end, and mine would just be wilting away. I preserved that lunch box of mine for quite some time even after I stopped using it. I had my sentiments and whole lot of memories attached to it. It’s no longer existent but the box did not just provide me with food, it gave me a lifetime of memories.
Moving on to the content of the Tiffin box in my primary days. Those days, as I had just entered my teens, I needed more nourishment. Alu ki sabzi and roti would make for my staple menu for most of the days (It still continues though. Being a vegetarian does puncture your options a bit. Sigh!). Those were the days when we would eat our lunch as quietly as mice. All of us students would be seated on our benches quietly and without uttering a word would munch our lunch. However, the third standard gave us some liberty. It was during this time, that I discovered a new dish with my close friend. My friend would be very fond of the sabzi that I used to bring and he bought along a small box of bhujia with himself. So what we would do is to take his bhujia and mix it with my alu ki sabzi. My friend would prepare the mixture quite efficiently I admit and despite people giving us strange looks in the beginning, it tasted quite tasty I tell you. It was our special preparation and slowly it became quite a hit in my classroom. However, the greedy wolves that we were, me and my friend would never ever share ‘our’ special dish with anyone. In fact I had become so fond of the dish, that it would be the reason I would look forward to my lunch breaks. No sooner would the bell ring; me and my friend would get up, eat some of our staple lunch and then go on to prepare ‘the dish’. There would be one ball of mixture in my hand and one in his. We would smile at each and other and say a loud ‘Cheers’ before gobbling it up. It was foolish, but fun.
Apart from these there would be the occasional time when I would get to bring some other ‘special’ dish’ to school. They would be generally limited to paav bhaji or maggi noodles. Inconsequential as it may seem now, it would be a big thing for me to eat the cold paav bhaji or the yellow and sticky maggi noodles on occasional days. I would wait excitedly for lunch time on these occasions and would gobble up the remains of my lunch box in no time; showing off my spick and empty Tiffin box with pride to my mom at the end of the day.
I have another fond memory of my lunch days during my fifth standard. This was the time that my lunch breaks would be like that of being in an army school. Our horrendous P.T. (Physical education) teacher would make us eat without even uttering a word and wouldn’t even let us look at another fellow’s box. But me and a fellow mate of mine decided to be rebels. I do not know if this is how everyone else feels, but somehow in those days, we always used to like the contents of our other classmate’s boxes more than ours. And I used to just love my fellow mate’s lunch and he mine. He used to bring simple alu and sabzi too, but the taste would be different from mine and I would eye it greedily. We then decided to formulate a way out, without letting anyone know. I would quietly take one morsel from my box and putting my hand under the desk would pass it on to my mate. He would then do the same. It would take time to finish our lunch then, but it was cool. Doing something right under the nose of our ‘Hitler’ teacher, without anyone getting any inkling of it made us feel thrilled. I used to like that guy; he was very simple and nice. After that I never really got the chance to meet him. I don’t know where he might be today, but I do hope that he does remember our little adventures. I know if ever he gets the chance to read this post, he will smile. Thank you mate; I still remember the taste of your alu bhindi. It was sumptuous.
As I grew up further the Tiffin box and its contents slowly started taking a backseat and were replaced by other more ‘important’ matters. As the shorts were replaced by full length trousers, the Tiffin box did not matter anymore and in fact it started becoming an embarrassment to carry. As hormones took control of your emotions, it suddenly seemed ‘cool’ to not have a Tiffin box to carry around every day to school and eat from the school canteen. In fact, even the days I would bring my lunch box; I would hardly give it any credence and eat hungrily from other people’s boxes. In these days, the contents of the Tiffin box would hardly last for minutes and would be devoured by us like hungry hyenas. The thrill of the lunch box had unfortunately been replaced now; it lay insignificant in my life.
And now, as I have graduated to being a man from the boy that I once was, I still do carry my lunch box. But its purpose is primarily to feed my hungry tummy in times of need. The thrill of a new box or bringing some special dish to share with someone no longer exists. However, a few months back when I bought a swanky new lunch box from a super market, I felt that thrill again, albeit feebly. Yes, I can be pretty childish at times. The next day however that thrill went away as I noticed my office colleagues eating somberly in the lunch room, without so much as a look at my new box. I opened it and ate quietly, perhaps a little disappointed as well. As I finished and was about to get up though, a female colleague exclaimed, “Hey, that’s a new Tiffin box isn’t it? It’s nice.” I looked at her to see if she was kidding me. She wasn’t. I don’t know why I felt happy and perhaps a little relieved. I smiled and just said, “Thanks.”
It was lunch time at my work place. I waited for everyone to finish as I usually like to eat alone with my own peace of mind. The school story that I had read in the morning was still ringing in my head as I opened my Tiffin box. It was the same old alu ki sabzi and roti. I sighed and started eating. Then I noticed I had been given bhujia too that day. As I opened it I abruptly stopped; suddenly feeling a pang of nostalgia. I don’t know why, but I took out the bhujia, poured it on the sabzi and made a mixture with it. I made it into a small mixture and looked at it happily. The image of my school friend and me suddenly swam before my eyes. My friend of my school days would have been proud of me. I suddenly felt a strange pain in my heart, my eyes became a little wet and the throat went a little dry. I thought, “Me, the Editor of a book publishing house, making a stupid ball of alu-bhujia and feeling emotional about it; what was wrong with me?” I just closed my eyes, and could now clearly see my school, the corridor, my class, me and my friend, and the mad cacophony of other kids. Everything else then became blurry, but just the picture of me and my friend making our famous dish was crystal clear. I opened my eyes again, but the image of us two still remained. I smiled weakly at us, took the ball of mixture and muttered ......... 'Cheers’.