Oct 6, 2011

A man in his early fifties

The red TVS Scooty came to a halt in front of the vacant space near the security desk of Krishna hostel. On the wall next to the security desk was written "No Parking".

Apparently oblivious to the signboard, he parked his scooty, turned off the ignition, picked up his plastic bag and walked towards the Krishna mess.

His wrinkled face, silvery mustache and near bald head showed that he must be a man in his early fifties. His blue shirt with stripes told me that he works for the Hostel management. The wall clock stroke 7 times when he entered the mess hall, the time at which the breakfast begins.

The mess hall was mostly empty, only a few early birds were waiting for the mess cook to serve idly with sambhar. The sleepless night spent on putting a fight with my work was slowly taking its toll, making me feel sleepy. Not wanting to sleep on an empty stomach, I was waiting in the queue to have my breakfast before hitting the bed.

The man in his early fifties went inside the mess kitchen when one of his juniors came out with a plate full of idlis to be served. I waited in the queue until my turn came, picked up two idlis and vadas. "Sambhar will be served at your table," the junior said.

While I was waiting for the sambhar to be served, the man in his early fifties emerged from the kitchen with a plate full of steamed idlis, enough for a family to feast. He kept the plate on one of the dining tables, took the tiffin carrier from his plastic bag, started filling idlis in each of the boxes. He filled the topmost box with freshly prepared aromatic sambhar.

After filling up the boxes with idlis and sambhar, he kept the carrier inside the plastic bag, took another one out and filled it with the remaining idlis and vadas. He took the water bottles out, filled them with ozonized drinking water from the mess, and collected hot tea in a flask. Content with the quantity, he carefully placed the flask inside his bag avoiding spilling, took the bag and went out.

"Is he going to eat all the idlis himself?" I doubted. "Maybe he is taking breakfast for his colleagues as well", I reasoned to myself.

I finished my breakfast, dropped my plate at the wash counter, picked up a glass to drink some tea. It was about 7.30 now, and there was movement in the mess. The counter was getting busy serving idlis and vadas to the students where more people in the blue shirt with stripes were spotted, standing in the queue.

"Why are they standing in the queue? Didn't the man in his fifties take breakfast for them in two big carriers?. If his colleagues have come to mess to have their breakfast, for whom did he take the food then?", I asked myself.

"Does he run a shop of his own outside the campus? Is he taking the food to his shop to sell and earn some extra money?", my thoughts started to build conspiracies.

Had it been true, it would not have come as a surprise for I had read enough about corruption in government institutes/organizations, thanks to the print and online media. But do the mess manager and the student secretary know about this?

It suddenly dawned on me that he was not stopped by the mess officials when he went into the kitchen, came out with the plate, filled his carriers and left the mess! Is it a network of organized corruption at mess level, at the expense of student's mess bill?

A sudden rage enveloped my thoughts wanting me to take an action to put a full stop to the corrupt practice I just witnessed. I was about to head towards my room to write a mail to the mess secretary asking him to take appropriate action when my phone rang. It was a call from my friend who works in the same lab as me.

"Hi! I have high fever suddenly. I got myself admitted to institute hospital", he said. His voice was too low as if he got drained of all his energy.

It must be a viral infection, I guessed, for a number of students were getting admitted to insti hospital due to sudden fever in the past couple of days. "I will come to see you in a few minutes", I said.

I cycled to the insti hospital, enquired the way to reach the ward where my friend was admitted. The hospital nurse was leaving the ward noting down the temperature and collecting my friend's blood sample to test for viral infection when I entered.

"Did you take your breakfast? Shall I get something for you to eat?", I asked him, not sure if he had had his breakfast before getting admitted.

"I just had it before the nurse took my blood sample for the test. A man came and served breakfast to all the ward mates about ten minutes ago", he said. 

Being a residential institute, the students of IIT are first tended by his friends or the faculty, before their relatives come to take care of. In most cases when its minor health issues such as common cold or fever, the relatives do not even know about it! "Our insti hospital has made a wonderful arrangement to ensure proper food for the patients", I told my friend.

"Would you like to have some tea?" a voice from behind me asked my friend. At the entrance was standing the man in his early fifties, with the flask in his hand, plastic bag at his feet.