Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Chhedis in a village like KGP is an institution. Sometimes a lot more than that.

How does one describe it? A quaint version of a tea-stall which does not server much food, but is a source of sustenance for KGPians in a perpetual state of abject penury? Maybe that’s the best description it could get…

Chhedis is a ramshackle establishment just outside the main campus of IIT KGP on the side of the Puri Gate. There are other stalls in this area, mostly serving Bengali food in squalid, depressing surroundings. Most famous among the other ones was Ashok-Da, who served delectable mutton curry on Saturday and Sunday mornings. However, Chhedis was special. The first time you come to Kharagpur, there is a pretty high chance that you would miss it. But the orientation is quick, and soon you are a regular in the establishment. And things are better if you stay in RP Hall, the hostel closest to the institute gates.

Chhedis, in essence, is just a tea-stall. Which serves food. By food, I mean – Maggi (various forms of it – Egg maggi, Plain maggi, Top Ramen Curry which is a spicier version of the normal maggi but pretty nice, Egg Curry), and the ubiquitous Tinku. For the uninitiated, the Tinku is the KGP version of an egg burger, consisting of a bun cut in half, stuffed with a poached egg and splattered with spicy red masala and a few onions. The first time with Tinku is never a great one, and you wouldn’t like it in all probability. But gradually, with decreasing finances and an all-encompassing time-crunch, Tinku becomes a way of life, and you crave for it, ache for it, and finally, there is a time when a day does not pass without the Tinku. Towards the later years of my stay in the village, things improved (some say they worsened) in Chhedis. It got a brand new look, a fan was installed in the main-area, it got tube-lights for a less shady and a little brighter ambience, and Chhedi bhai started making great samosas.

More than the food, Chhedis was important because it was a meeting place – a place for the infamous adda. It is tough to define adda. Some say it’s an inherently Bengali tradition. Put very simply, it is the act of sitting with friends, normally with a glass of tea in one of your hands, and a Wills Navy Cut cigarette in the other, and discussing about anything under the sun. Chhedis was a hotbed of adda and pseudo-intellectual discussions. The term hotbed probably gives the wrong impression about the place but I guess that’s what it was in essence. Anything could be a topic of conversation, starting from the relentless tyranny the professors wreaked on the hapless students to the seeming scarcity of all things modern and human in this village far removed from civilization and any remnants of it. Topics ranged from good food to mess food, admit cards to HMC politics, BC Roy Hall and its chicken curry to Rabindra Sangeet, Bapi-giri to the next ETMS production, and from WTMS with its deep under-currents to recent developments in the political scene. KGP wasn’t a very happening place, and it was discussion and meaningless conversation which kept us a few feet away from insanity and senility. It was this meaninglessness which meant a lot to each one of us, far from worldliness, far from pleasures, in a seemingly bottomless void.

Chunnu was the cigarette-shop guy just adjacent to Chhedis. He was Chhedi bhai’s son and a nice man. Chunnu had the concept of a khata which was very similar to a credit roster, with no interest. Chunnu never refused a cigarette when you were broke and still wanted one, and never refused you money when you were broke and wanted to drink in Park. The khata solved myriad problems in life, and created several others at the end of the month when the bill frequently touched the thousands. This invariably led to tremendous tantrums at home, punctuated by mindless quarrels and unending lectures on the insensitivity of the younger generation towards the important and value of money as an entity.

All said and done, Chhedis and Chunnu were integral parts of our existence in the haven that KGP was. It was a place to hangout, catch up with old acquaintances who had shifted to different hostels, a place to relax and unwind after a harrowing day at school, it was the place for a steaming hot cup of tea to calm your nerves after an all-night binge on a freezing winter night, and most of all, it was a place where you could go and leave your troubles behind. It had a way about it which endeared itself to you, in spite of everything.

This documentary has some info about chhedis and is worth a watch.

1 comment:

Anandaroop said...

Extremely well written and very nostalgic! One thing you forgot to mention is with the cash crunch, the Wills Navy Cut also got replaced by Bijoy (no filter cigarette), pouch, and sometimes biri.