Upholding grandiosity and magnanimous diversity in all aspects, including its terrain, academic influence, and especially its people, IIT Madras is more or less a web of students, professors, workers, and other officials from this massive ecosystem. It is imperative to remember that in this ecosystem, the workers of insti- from the hostel officials and catering staff to the cafe and small shop owners, form the heart of the “insti experience” which makes our college life unique and memorable. In this list, one of the places which occupy an indelible place in the students’ hearts would be the twin cafes of Usha and Coolbiz located in the centre of the institute. The two shops have seen students in the ups and downs of their college life, from staying up till midnight to drink a milkshake from Coolbiz to being stuck in the queue to buy Maggi at Usha during rush hours. T5E decided to have a look at the lives of the heart and soul of the cafes: the employees, in an attempt to excavate some exciting aspects and experiences of their job, interesting tidbits, and to explore the beautiful symbiosis between the students and staff of the shops.
My name is Rizwan. I am from Malappuram, Kerala. I have set up a juice/drink shop named Coolbiz in IIT Madras. I have been living in Chennai for eight years. Upon coming to Chennai, I started with the Coolbiz branch in Adyar, of which we now have eight branches. Two of those branches are situated within insti itself!
Coolbiz at IITM functions from 9 am to 3 am. We generally work two shifts, one in the morning and one at night. Many people might find it odd that we function late at night, however, we approach such business solely with dedication. It is common for students here to stay up late, therefore we too keep our shop open till then. We never have the heart to turn away anybody in insti who needs a cold drink. When the students are on vacation, we do not have as many customers as usual. Even so, we still keep our shop open since we believe that everyone who approaches Coolbiz for a drink is entitled to one anytime. We are at our busiest at about 11 am in the morning and around 5 pm in the evening, because that is when students crave refreshing drinks.
From the classic lime soda to exotic ice cream shakes, we have good business across many products we sell. A certain variety of drinks unique to Coolbiz like carrot smoothies and peanut butter milkshakes sell really well if students are celebrating. We do notice from time to time that certain drinks like mango milkshakes, watermelon juice and our novel Falooda seem to be popular among the students.
Life at IITM has been amazing for both me and my co-workers. Coolbiz is not like any other shop outside of insti, where business is purely limited to customer-worker interaction. Our bond with the students is really special and unique. No matter which state or country they come from, our interactions with them have been nothing short of friendliness.
At Coolbiz, we do not really find the language barrier a hurdle, rather we consider it an opportunity to learn new languages. I myself have learnt Tamil upon coming to Chennai and have become more fluent in English! Learning a few words of several languages like Telugu, Hindi, German, Tamil, Malayalam, etc is a salient feature unique to IITM alone I feel.
There are times when we find ourselves noticing the absence of some regular customers, upon which we jovially ask them where they had been for the past few days. The students really do play an important role in making Coolbiz lively and bustling. We really do miss them during the vacation period!
I am Parthibhan, but people call me Praveen, and I manage insti’s infamous hotspot “Usha Cafe.” My sister Usha is the one who owns the cafe, and so I happen to control the shop. As you can see, the restaurant is named after her. Having gotten a B.Sc degree in Computer Science, I worked in another job before I started supervising the cafe; so when my sister asked me to help her take care of the shop, I dipped out of my previous job and began to manage the cafe full time. To be candid, Usha is her brainchild, and I just occurred to manage the shop.
Usha was started in 2018. Having been nearly four years, it has bloomed into a landmark of the institute. We did not function during the pandemic since all the shops in the insti were asked to be closed, and we did not get permission. Usha cafe started out in IIT Madras and prior to this, we had set up our branch in HSB (which has recently been reopened!). It achieved a lot of profit and growth; consequently, the institute noticed its success and approached us to start a branch here in IIT Madras. A typical day in my life includes arriving at insti from my residence at Tharamani by bike to open the shop at seven-thirty or eight in the morning; finishing all the prep-work by nine, and then service will be started. I’ll close the shop only after midnight; sometimes, the cafe will be active till two in the morning, but I won’t be handling the cafe throughout the day. The other workers in the cafe and I take shifts to take care of the cafe since it would be exhausting to work throughout the day with no breaks. Since I manage the shop, I am in charge of buying and transporting the produce and food while the boys look after the cafe, taking a load off my back.
One of the exciting aspects of working in the cafe is the recurrent arrival or, should I say, breaking in of monkeys into the cafe. Sometimes I feel like they are the main customers and not the students. Whenever the students buy something from the shop and go to the washroom to refresh, their food gets stolen by monkeys, and the students end up only with empty plates, making the whole ordeal of monkeys bittersweet. I have asked the management to install nets around the windows to stop the monkeys from barging into the cafe, and the management gave us a reply that they will set them up as soon as possible. I used to place a tiger plushie in front of the cafe to scare them away, and it did work until four or five months ago, but now they just come in with no hesitation, and it is becoming a significant problem in insti. Nevertheless, we live in its habitat, so I can’t exactly blame them; but these monkey-human contact incidents have astronomically increased after the pandemic.
It should not be a secret that this cafe is unique to the students and me. There are three hostels near this cafe, and many students come here to hang out and chill. I have always felt a warm connection whenever I interact with the students; that is undeniably omnipresent, and students say it too. This cafe has more or less become a household name in the hearts of IITM students which says a lot because they are the reason this cafe is up and running. Even the alumni and students who leave say that they miss eating at Usha; they call me and reminisce that they miss our shop’s coffee, sandwiches, and Maggi; and so the bond between this cafe and students will be there always. This cafe has been working non-stop since 2018, nearly five years, and has been frequented by students who have studied for almost five or six years; so they gradually grow along with this cafe making Usha one of the most memorable haunts of this institute.
“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.” – Auguste Escoffier. insti is a second home to many, clad with peaceful spaces and good food. The people who make this possible are as vital to insti life as we students are.
Edited by Devika Deevasan
Design by Alphin Tom