Here’s a post I wrote for Jury’s Out, the GNLU Magazine, called Night Mess Nostalgia:

Everyone associates phrases with things – “sadness and rage” with exam season, “happiness” with an e-mail that postpones exams owing to a National holiday in light of mourning. The phrase I best associate with the night mess is a sharp yell which, if listened to carefully, is “ANDA RAICE TEJAAAAS”, but from afar, is an obfuscation in a cacophony of sound.

I first visited the Holy Grail on my first day at University. A senior politely inquired for me, asked me if I had any tests, and when I responded in the negative, sent me on my way with Rs. 150 in my pocket to collect a very specific order:

“4 Cheese Paranthas in 2 plates, one plate with the red sauce and curd, one plate with red sauce and butter.”

I was amused. What is a Cheese Parantha? Being a kid from Bangalore, a multicultural, cosmopolitan city, I was quite certain I had experienced a fair amount of “North Indian” food. Cheese Parantha did not feature on the list. My curiosity knew no bounds – and I was thrilled to be sent on the assignment with an extra 30 Rupees with the meek: “Tujhe kuch chaihiye, tho lele.” My broken Hindi meant I nodded along and smiled without any knowledge of what was said to me.

But I went forth.

I didn’t really know where I was heading, I’ll be honest. Having joined GNLU 3 weeks late, I wasn’t up to speed with where things were or what random phrases meant (it would be 2 years before I understood KLPD, for example), so I had to ask for directions from my roommate, who smiled and accompanied me – because he was given Rs. 60 by another Senior.

As we chatted about what the “night mess” represented – my roommate explained that it was where Seniors devoured copious amounts of food and gained their supply of Caffeine for the night – my brain began to wonder about the Economics of it all. When I discovered that it was run by Mohani, I went into overdrive about how hilarious the Gujarati businessman trope was turning out to be. First loot the kids for mess food, and then operate a night mess where kids pay extra money to make more profits? Amazing.

That’s when we reached the stairs.

I’ll confess. I have this massive fear of heights, so even today, I’m bloody hesitant while climbing up the night mess stairs. My worst fear, and this is something I’ve almost experienced, is that, one day, when it is raining, I will slip while carrying food, and slide my way down to my death, clunking my head across the metal steps. But on that day, the fear of disappointing a senior and becoming publicly humiliated won over, and I trudged on.

In my first month, I was solely responsible for the collection of Rs. 3420 by Mohani Caterers. I made 41 trips to the night mess for seniors – and I have an Excel sheet tracking this (because I’m weird like that), with 23 Plates of Cheese Parantha ordered.

By the end of the month, Gopal knew my name.

In that month, I met every single batchmate of mine and got to know them over the question “Kiske liye hai yeh?” and “Kaunsa room jaa raha hai, bro?”

My identification of kind souls changed from those who had a smile on their faces and made warm conversation to those who offered to get your order along with theirs. While I came to Law School with the understanding that a lot of multitasking was necessary, I learnt that the biggest asset, in that first month, was your ability to juggle orders and remember personalized plate requests.

I hold nothing against those seniors, because my world has not been the same since.

Soon it was intra-season, and being caught up in the business of making an intra-memorial that would look nice (because Ctrl+Shift+K is so fun to do), I skipped dinner one evening. The hidden agenda was to eat Cheese Parantha myself, and understand what these seniors enjoyed about it. When I dined that evening with my friends, I learnt that it was possible to be rendered speechless by a singular food item.

As first year dwindled on, the night mess became my source of comfort. I stopped there everyday on my way back from the library at 12AM with my fellow enthu first-years, and had Hot Chocolate, and dabbled with tasting every item on the menu, before settling for 2 Aloo Onion Cheese Paranthas as my favourite (at the time).

But that’s enough about the food.

The night mess is a GNLU institution. It has belonged to us, the students, far longer than Aura has, and it has supplied us with a co-working space for more time than our “Students Lounge” has. The night mess is the facilitator of terrible lifestyle choices: late night calorie and caffeine consumption, and messing up your sleep cycle by guaranteeing you carbohydrates at 1:30AM. It’s the meeting point of every Committee (sans faculty), and the sole place on campus where you can attempt to understand what GNLU culture truly is.

The next time you’re at the night mess, stand bang-in-the middle and take a look around you. You’ll see an orderly queue for food, people chilling, people working, people playing board games, reading books, chatting about life, submitting a moot memorial. That’s what GNLU nurtures, right? Our lives here have flaws, granted, but you can’t deny that the University gives you the freedom to say, “Who cares, I’d like to do my own thing” and execute that thing.

That execution? Half of it is at the night mess. The identity you have is intertwined with your experience of the night mess. Are you a debater? You can’t get through 5 years without 1 debate, 1 motion breakdown, and 1 feedback session at the night mess. You’re a mooter? You would have finished draft discussions, and potentially constructed your memorial there. You’re a part of the Theatre/Music/Dinner Clubs? You’ve finished a performance and had a late-night dinner with everyone else from the club. You’re a Quizzer? Someone’s run through a quiz set there. Are you a GNLU Student? You’ve eaten at the night mess.

That’s what I love about the place the most.

Which is why it becomes so difficult to adapt to change, especially when any change to the night mess is a discredit to the years of regular service we have received.

There was a period I hated the night mess because of how uneconomical it had become and how tiny the portion sizes were. Paranthas were reduced from the large plate monstrosities we gobbled on, to these tiny things that could fit on disposables. We complained daily. Mohani relented, large paranthas were back.

In my second year, an attempt was made to shut the night mess earlier, at 1a.m. or so. Not much would have changed in 30 minutes. But we complained. And the night mess is open till today till 1:30 a.m..

The University attempted to ban us from bringing night mess food into the hostels for a while, a ban I refer to as “Five Days In Hell”. But that, as you can see, did not last very long.

My grouse today is twofold, starting with the coloured lighting.

It has been a month, and I cannot understand why we have blue, yellow, and red lighting at the night mess. Sources inform me that it is to ward off flies and mosquitoes, but I’ve been bitten and annoyed by both those creatures on my visits there.

To me, it’s also very weird that there is water on the table and cups which are readily available. It’s also super weird that the tables are aligned the way they are. I derived this simple joy at the night mess from picking an aerated drink because I had to walk further for water.

But I can adapt to that.

I’m getting used to the TV also. Because I think TV’s are useful for mass screenings, and such.

The lighting though, is not up my alley. White light is just more pleasant to look at, and makes work a lot easier. There is less squinting involved in understanding text when the light is white. This is a Scientific fact.

I also think that coloured lighting ruins the aesthetic of the night mess. I’m not sure how, but the night mess is suddenly less attractive to me as a location. While that is excellent for my waistline, my pocket, and my overall physical health, it’s very troubling for my emotional balance and well-being.

The second thing I find super weird is that people serve us at the night mess now. It’s made it so much more formal, like a restaurant, almost. I dislike that. A huge part of the night mess experience is the false hope that comes with someone screaming out your exact order, followed by a different person’s name, and the subsequent joy when your name is called out and you can sprint to claim what is yours.

That element of surprise is now gone, because you can see when the person is getting the food toward your table.

That is deeply disappointing. I’m hopeful that there is some discourse on this post or elsewhere that helps to make the night mess great again.

It is 4:30AM in the morning as I type this. To fully appreciate how much I love the night mess, you must understand that I have been unable to sleep because of two reasons:

  1. The night mess was shut today and I therefore missed out on anda rice.
  2. I’m thinking about how terrible tomorrow night’s dinner is so I have an excuse to eat anda rice.

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