Humans of Insti: The Campus Cafe

They are the inconspicuous cogs that keep the IIT-M machine well-oiled and running (well fed, in this case). Without them, insti would be a much poorer place. Yet, too often, we don’t notice them or acknowledge their role in insti life. Given their unique vantage point, they have stories to tell – stories that give us a different perspective. We believe those are stories worth hearing and worth telling. Because, after all, stories are what make us human. The better you know people, the better you appreciate the work they do. It is for this purpose the people of insti– the people who make insti the amazing and advantaged space it is – are highlighted. The answers and stories we get from them never fail to surprise us with their profundity.

(All the articles in this series can be found here.)

The vantage point for all the voracious hoggers is the Campus Cafe. This always abuzz food joint has an aura to it. Not to forget the increase in its popularity after the recent shift to the new, more spacious location. For a lot of us, Campus Cafe is still a remarkable place to have a break in between the tedious lecture hours (sometimes, during). 

The one thing that makes this humble place close to our heart is, we realized, the staff. T5E decided to take a dive into their lives and unearth a few brilliant stories. Read along for some intriguing insights gathered by Abhinand Shankar, Raghav Simhan and Divya Vijaykumar.


Kaliyaperumal (Server at the tea and coffee counter)

I’m Kaliyaperumal. I’ve been working here for roughly four years. Before coming to CC, I was a handloom weaver. Back in Jayamkondan, our ancestral village life was great. Back in the day, our village was renowned for weaving and handloom. Now, the power looms have replaced everything and most of us in our village have been put out of jobs and we have all come to the city in search of a livelihood. I have two children, one daughter and a son. My daughter is working. My son is yet to find a job. My four years in CC have been a constant, barring the canteen being shifted to the new hall. This new hall is spacious. You don’t feel the crowd here at all. I manage the crowd mostly by myself here, aided by my colleagues on some occasions. I live in a rented house near the check post, come here at 7:30 in the morning and stay on till 7:45 in the evening. That’s more or less my entire day.

dsc_0047
Mr. Kaliyaperumal serving coffee

 

Whether I like it or not, I have to work here. I do what I have to do. I cannot complain about the monotonicity and that’s life. I have to bide my time on this planet. I don’t specifically spend time with my colleagues. I rarely do talk to them or inquire about their lives. We don’t eat lunch together or any of that. We are by ourselves, going about our routine. I know everyone here, but, there is no real occasion, reason or time to interact with them. It is the same with students. The students, who come to CC, are rather warm and they occasionally chat with us. I’ve had no aspirations and desires of my own. I’d be working somewhere else if not for this. I’ve had no career goals or even personal goals so to say. I’m just living my life on this planet!


Tilakavathi (Server at the meals counter)

I’m Thilakavathi, I’ve been here at campus cafe for the past ten years. I’ve worked at the other, smaller campus cafe, which has now shifted to this big space. This one is far more convenient for me. The older one was very congested. I was working at the canteen in Gurunanak College (which can be seen while walking towards Phoenix Market City from Insti’s Velachery Gate). Before that, I used to work at a glucose production factory in Chennai. At the campus café. I only serve food here. Of course, I can cook, though. My routine has changed after coming to CC. I live in Taramani, travel by bus. I get here at 8:30 am and leave at 6 in the evening. I do have a lot of friends here. I keep in touch with them even after work hours. The students especially are great kids. I interact with them as much as I can. It is a diverse group, from various states. They speak several languages. I’ve picked up a few words from all the languages spoken here- Malayalam, Telugu, even some English! I speak Telugu very well now. Not just students, there are a lot of staff that come to the cafe as well, unlike in Gurunanak College. I interact with them, too.

dsc_0032
Tilakavathi akka

We, the CC staff, work a lot harder because of them. We want to give them good quality service. However, I can’t really claim that I have any friends among the staff or the students. I don’t have any goals or dreams in life. I only wanted to get my children married. I’ve done that. That’s about it. I’ve not wished for anything else. My work is done. It’s way better than sitting at home. Moreover, since I have blood sugar, doctors say that I could use some exercise every day. Working here at CC gives me my daily dose of physical exercise.


Vijayaraj, the cashier

My name is Vijayaraj. It has been 7 years since I’ve come to this canteen. Before this, I was in Tirupur (a Northern district in Tamilnadu) working in a garments export factory. Prior to that, for 17 years, I worked in GE Power Control as an operator in Hosur, near the Tamilnadu border. My father worked in the Customs Department of the Tamilnadu Government and he got me the job at GE. Since then, there has been no looking back and I am now 54 years old, living life happily. My experiences at the workplace have been varied. I hail from the southern district of Thoothukkudi and came to Hosur for employment. I left my family behind in my home-town and stayed with relatives at Tirupur during my stint as a worker at the garment factory. I worked in the dyeing unit. However, when the textiles business in Tirupur, as a whole, saw a huge slump post 2008, my employment in the factory was under threat, much like that of all my colleagues. As a result, I moved out of Tirupur and came to Chennai and took up a job in a group of restaurants and hotels called Sri Bhavan, while simultaneously helping my family resettling in another town called Puliyangudi in Tirunelveli, which is close to my hometown. My wife currently sells flowers, that are handpicked and bundled for sale from our three small plots. My two daughters and a son help in the same. After six months, I joined Campus Café, run by AR EN AR Caterers, which runs 4 hotels and 5 restaurants in total. After coming here, I have developed a good friendship with all the staff working at Campus Café. We respect each other and listen to each other.

A year ago, around the time of the December 2015 floods, I was diagnosed with an incurable paralysis and, at that time, my colleagues at CC came to the hospital to visit me. Within a week from being hospitalized, I returned to work at CC to carry out my role as the cashier. Please do not take this the wrong way but I think people are sympathetic towards me due to my being handicapped. Well, if not sympathy, I would say some sense of additional respect or something. I am able to carry out my duties peacefully here at CC without any problem. I speak English, Telugu and Tamil fluently and can understand Kannada because I have lived close to the Tamilnadu-Karnataka border. Hence, I have no problem communicating with the students who come to the canteen.

dsc_0064
Mr. Vijayraj

Suresh, Cashier #2

I am Suresh. I work as a cashier here at Campus Café, It has been ten years since I started working with the group that runs this canteen. I worked, first, at the Campus Café at the neighboring Anna University for a couple of years, thanks to a recommendation by a relative of my father-in-law. My hometown is Madurai, known as the temple city of Tamilnadu. I have completed my SSLC. In Madurai, I started out as a farmer. After a while, I decided to begin a groceries store, to supplement my income from agriculture and support my wife and three children. I, then, moved to Chennai in order to provide better education and exposure to my children.

dsc_0006
Mr. Suresh

I guess it paid off because now my elder daughter works in a software company in Bangalore and my second daughter works at Caterpillar, Chennai. My son has been selected as a Probationary Officer at a bank in Chennai and will receive his posting very soon. I am very glad that my wife and I took the decision of leaving our hometown and moving to Chennai, which initially seemed like a strange city to us. Now, my children are doing well in life only because of the wonderful opportunities and experiences that they had here in Chennai. Moreover, I feel grateful that I have had the opportunity to work with a diverse and wonderful set of people here at Campus Café, because of which any regrets or sorrows just vanish. Moreover, interacting with the customers, here, is also teaching me something or the other, everyday.


Behind these hard working personalities lie the even more humble, simplistic and benevolent hearts whom we could never reach out to. This was an attempt to familiarize with these amazing people who make Campus Cafe the home-like place it is. Cheers to these unsung heroes!

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
Content copyright: The Fifth Estate, IIT-M's Student Media Body. For permissions to reuse part or whole of the content, email us at t5e.iitm@gmail.com