Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, October 16, 2003





A probe in to school cafeterias

Can teens expect better canteens?

Canteens…the words conjure up images of mindless adda, and little dramas of everyday life being conducted over low-cost munchies. Whether in school, college, or university, you go into class for academic education. When the recess bell rings and you head into the cafeteria, you receive education of another sort. Hot gossip, new trends and fads, worries about grades…everything comes pouring out (well, if you're going to fill your stomach with food, you have to clear it of the peter kotha, right?). A few days spent listening to the conversations can tell you a lot about the people you associate with. Then there's always the occasional catfight to look forward to.

Trust me. You aren't the only fan of that small, over-crowded food stall that serves succulent delicacies (or in some unfortunate cases, substandard munchies only) at prices, which, by the grace of God, do not do much damage to your flimsy pocket. When the classes end (or are just too plain boring to attend), when your stomach's screaming for ANYTHING edible, the canteen is the perfect place to run to.

Well, almost perfect. The chewing gums stuck on the underside of the table, the less than desirable hygienic conditions, the ketchup on the tables, chairs, floor (gosh, what do people think ketchup is FOR?) and the more unsavoury items on the menu that one wishes could be more fit for human consumption, carts off some of the charm of these canteens.

Many grumble about the tastelessness of the food served. Added to that are the lack of variety of snacks in most schools. "It's the same samuchas, shingaras, pizzas, rolls, sandwiches, kebabs, etc. The taste buds get tired eating the same food day after day," comments one student. And there's of course the frequent complaint of the food tasting as if they were at the least two to three days old. Let's not forget the numerous complaints about canteens being too small and way too congested to challenge the growing needs of the hungry students. As one student sarcastically remarks, "Our canteen's more like a dismal and pathetic attempt to turn a shed turned into a shoddy food stall!" In spite of all that, when you're desperately hungry, even the most unsavoury slop tastes like ambrosia.

Canteens in schools like Scholastica and Viquarunnesa, however (to name just two), can claim to be as close to being perfect as is possible in Dhaka city schools. One serves the Carte du jour of Dhaka's respectable restaurant Sajna and the other boasts of their very own outlet of Fakruddin Baburchi. The canteens/cafeterias are spacious and clean, the food delectable, and the items very much affordable considering the quality and quantity of food served. On the other hand, even in renowned institutions, the picture isn't half as thrillingat least not for the students who have no choice but to drop in there for occasional snacks due to their long hours of classes. Rumour has it that the chorbi (fat) from the meat is discarded on the floor, and then picked up again in order to be divided equally among the meat items when
necessary to do so. Not an appetising thought, is it?

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, "Something is better than nothing". Consider the smaller private institutions that don't have the canteen facilities as yet. The burden of ensuring food for the children falls on the parents, and this is an added strain on working mothers. Those who leave the tiffin-making business to their ayaas have to worry about whether their children are getting the right food or enough of it, and those who buy lunch from outside feel the pressure on their wallets. No matter what complaints there are against school canteens, one cannot deny the importance of such facilities. The authorities of the educational institutions should, however, take these complaints into consideration…after all, we pay them enough every month, and we should expect at least this much in return. Here's hoping for more adda space and better food. Right now, let's just content ourselves with the oily samosas, why don't we?

RS Desk

Of spiders & women

By Nusrat Matin

Martin Luther king said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself". I never really understood what he meant but I sure felt the magnanimity of his words; knew that it was something wholly important. An axiom, encompassing all of humane nature. However all these philosophy about men and mice was the farthest thing from my mind as I leaned against the bathroom wall perspiring like a racehorse.

It was one of those days when deep down the pit of your endocrine system you feel excitement lurking. I was already late in getting ready for my cousin's wedding. A gala event highlighted by woman, no rather ladies hunching from the weigh of heavy gold necklace and by delicious oil soaked Biriani. In such cases the actual marriage ceremony comes as an after thought .So here I was pushing my way through a sea of unyielding bodies that filled our house, destination: The bathroom. Armed with a razor and herbal shampoo, I was ready to claim my fair share of beauty.

I stepped into the bathroom rather unceremoniously humming my favourite shower song: Its raining men.. halaluiy..!

The bathroom was soaking wet. Bedraggled by mud, mud and a little bit more mud. I slammed the door shut and started the arduous process of entangling my incorrigible locks. As I looked at the mirror, all the time-old trite harbinger of absolute fear happened to me. The comb fell willing of my fingers, I gaped open, the bottom of my stomach opened into a bottomless chasm.

There descending down the bathroom wall was the biggest spider I had ever seen. Its colour was an immodest black with long tapering legs and it was ogling me in the most redoubtable manner.

I am not a melodramatic person however I swear I actually heard the sound of stampeding wild horses. Seeing the spider descend in that imperious manner brings back a lot of memories, but not in a good way. It's just that my whole life flashes before my eyes. On the other side of the world my sister started banging the door, which caused His Highness to crawl further down the door .So that was I to somehow open the door there was a strong possibility that He might view my frizzy hair as a
cobweb and defiantly land there.

I quickly calculated the statistic: the distance from the door, my speed and of course his speed.

In moments like this, locked with fear, I somehow was able to think clearly. In retrospect I was really programmed to fear spiders.

My eldest sister, a miserable victim of acrophobia injected the fear of spiders in me when I was in daipies .At that time I was a little girl who had to be spoon-fed cereal and logic. Then when I grew up in whichever book I delved in there were lethal malicious spiders planning global domination. It was as if the literary world and fate conspired for me to be an acrophobia.

Then suddenly a surge long-coveted optimism slinked through me as quietly as the spider .In primordial times my ancestors have fought beasts all the time and survived. Surely there was some of that brazen courage in me. I will not go without a fight .My heart swelled up with raw passion 'Mankind will not stoop to arthropods, we are bigger than them, in size. And surely size does matter.'

I clutched the soft rubber sandal in my hand, the muscles in my arms bunching up. Then I let out a terrifying scream, one that would give a life long vegetarian a massive heart attack, and aimed for the object of my apprehension.
I missed. He made run for the adjacent walls, and I bolted out of the doors screaming at the top of my lungs.

Later, clad in an outrageously ugly sari I went to my cousin's wedding. There at the wedding amidst the clamouring and the chaos it suddenly came to me of how terrified the spider must have been. The universal fact is that such fear is illogical and circumscribes life in various ways. I mean I could never hope to find the cure of some incurable disease from the spider's venom; I mean I would never be able to work in Africa among the Zulu tribe who for all you know probably eats spiders. Then I thought adamantly, no sir, I am not suddenly gong to start loving them, disgusting little freaks of nature. I smirk ridiculously to myself and went off to eat oily Biriani.




home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

© 2003 The Daily Star