I suppose everyone, excluding undergraduate students, believe that undergraduate days are the best ones in life. Any remincing of those old days often vivifies even the most unexpressive faces: their eyes glaze over with a brilliant spark and an involuntary smile escapes on their lips.
For those of us who have been hostelers, these memories hold an even special charm. We can incessantly dwell upon the long-lost breakfast conversations, late-night banters, impromptu dance parties triggered by rain, campus walks, and last but by no means the least - the mess and the canteens, where most of our hostel lives revolved.
Arguably, canteens (and here I am including all non-flashy eating joints in and around the campus that students frequent) are a qunitessential part of the hostel life, and are the most etched out on memories. You may well forget the basics of KOMs, DOMs, and EDs, but you remember well the menu of your frequented canteen - the tawa paneer, the aloo paranthas, and ofcourse, the essential 'Chai', over which you would have perhaps criticised almost everything under the sun - from Profs to the Government to even the cosmic design.
One of such favorite hangouts of IITD used to be Tanku's - the unassuming dhaba in the Qutub Institutional area behind IIT. For IITians, Tanku's was almost a graduation place which you begin to frequent after your sophomore year. (The earlier years being confined to discovering KL and the AIIMS Anda parantha shop).
We began to visit Tanku's in the third year, especially in search of Maggi, as the latter was still a desired rarity in the campus during those times. But we soon got hooked on to the delicious, vastly affordable food. The set-up was the typical dhaba, only it was frequented not by truck-drivers but by students - IIT, IIFT, FORE, etc. (So, ofcourse this also turned out to my first close encounters with the management jargons, thanks to the MBA crowd).
The place was full of random chairs, under the tree, on the road, tilting, breaking etc. And at all times, all of these chairs would be full irrespective of the weather. Though ofcourse, winters was especially crowded due to the added benefit of enjoying the sun in the open. The food was yummy and ranged from mughlai to chinese and even continental in some cases, though you quickly realized that it was better to stick with the Indian preparations. My favorite menu: the tawa paneer, egg bhurji, lachcha parantha and the chai.
Such places, ofcourse are quite advnced in CRM and customer service, for after a few visits, the chai begins to appears before you even take your seat.
Almost every fortnight, there used to be news of closing down of this beloved place (I am sure you have guessed that it was an unlicensed establishment). The uninitiated would be depressed, unaware that it will spring back up the next day, and everytime this happened, a lot of patrons went to the place to rejoice in the reopening.
Today, I often go to swanky restaurants, the ones which were a dream during those days, and enjoy the food and service. Yet, with all their flair and elitism, they never quite match up the standards and the feel of that small dhaba :-)