As I made my morning cup of coffee in the office today my mind wandered (as it is proned to do) to the canteen boys that are littered all over offices in India. After coming to London, one must get used to the fact that there is no one to make your morning coffee/chai at work. Phew! It feels good to be able to say that without being looked upon as some elitist snob (these English I tell you). But those of you who work in India will understand. Even before your prehistoric PC has booted in the morning you're on the phone to the canteen asking what's for breakfast and ordering a chai. And as your PC is still groaning to life, a canteen boy will come scampering up with a plate of steaming poha and masala chai. Bliss. (There's nothing more depressing than making coffee from a sachet that says Kenco Frozen Coffee Granules)
But back to the canteen boys. 12-13 years of age, scrawny, beady eyed and always called Raju. (We once had a canteen boy we all called Raju for 7 months before we realised his name was Suresh) They start out as shy and timid creatures who you can bully and send back too sweet/too milky/too cold chai to and demand a replacement free. You can shout at them, harass them and ignore them. And then they learn the power they wield. They'll start bringing you your lunch cold. Then they won't bring you your lunch at all and pretend like they never got your order. Worst of all they'll slap you with a canteen bill so large you'll need a soft loan from Citi to pay it off. (Don't even bother looking over their ledgers either - it's written in a secret canteenish script that only they understand)
But be nice to them and they'll love you for life. When I quit my first job to move to Bombay, the canteen waived my bill of 500 bucks. A marriage gift they said. (I know - awwww).
Good or evil, canteens are an integral part of working life in India. It provides employment, is a great place to bitch about colleagues and bosses and has pioneered the art of making masala chai. I miss them. And I miss fighting with the Rajus in my awful hindi (which would invariably slip in to English when I was either very angry or when my pool of hindi words ran out).
So here I am in old Blighty, and whenever a caffeine craving comes visiting I can't help but instinctively reach for the phone. And in an attempt to recapture the past I've christened the office kettle Raju.