Good food brought togetherness, fun, and blossoming friendship at D74


My blog story will be the live example for the saying of Mr. Yotem Ottolenghi, “Food can bring people together in a way nothing else could”. The global pandemic, COVID-19, brought some undesirable changes in everyone’s life. But the one good thing it brought in my life was a beautiful friendship among six people, and we are sure that this will continue for our lifetime.


My friendship story started with the start of a global pandemic (COVID-19) in India, whose severity got accelerated in March. By the third week of March, the admin announced that the institution will remain closed till further orders on the account of the global pandemic, and the students were advised to leave the hostels. Since India was planning to cut all its transportation means to avoid community transmission of the disease, the students had only three to four days to book their trains or flights and reach their hometown as soon as possible. At that time, I had the only option of booking the flight from Chandigarh to Chennai via New Delhi, which costed around Rs. 15000. I felt the cost to be very high, triple the cost of a normal booking price. At that time, the pandemic was rapidly spreading at Delhi and UP. So, I was in a dilemma that whether I have to take risks and reach my hometown or ask special permission from my institution and stay in my hostel. If I would take a risk, after reaching my hometown, I had a chance of carrying the virus to my home and parents may get affected because of me. So, I had very little time to take decision on my booking. My parents advised me to take a risk and come to Pondicherry and told not to bother on the ticket price.


At that time, I met my friends, Balaji, Mahendran, Balakrishnan, Louis, and Akash. They were living in my hostel. Though we had chats before, we were not very close to each other. We were friends just because we all belong the south parts of India and once we cooked lemon rice and puliogare, together, the taste of which came out amazingly well.


During the pandemic situation, they were also in the same dilemma whether to leave for their hometowns. The Chandigarh administration announced a total lockdown for the next 3 days and my institute also announced closure of the canteen. So, we had a discussion and made a wrong judgment that this lockdown will last for a maximum of one month and thought that the situation will get back to normal again. Then, we decided to stay at CSIO hostel and cook together in my room, D74. Since we had an induction stove and a pressure cooker, we thought we can easily cook using these items. After this decision, the fun part of life started!


Then, estimating the lockdown, we bought the grocery items needed for cooking and snacks at the Singla store, Sector-47. Don’t think differently by its name. It was the only store, where we can get all the south Indian food items in one place. As per the DNA of south people, we cannot eat these basmati, roti, and dal for even 2 consecutive days! We need at least south Indian rice, pickle, appalam, curd, sakthi masala, black imli, and spices to manage our food! Please don’t think this is too much. According to us, this list is very less! Using this situation, we thought not to make roti and dal for the whole month ☺. Instead, we planned to make south dishes like sambar, rasam, kurma, kootu, poricha kootu, etc.,


Luckily, during the initial days of lockdown, the basic needs like milk, grocery and vegetables were available to us. When we started making a list of items, there were 32 items! We headed towards the Singla store and gave our order. The total price was Rs. 3000. It was a big sell for him, but we were disappointed that he did not give any discount!☺ We thought we can manage these items for one month. But again that was a wrong judgment ☺. Since, we were eating these roti, dal, and sabji at the canteen for the past 8 months, we felt like living in a desert, not smelled any of our south Indian foods. Due to our thirst for south Indian foods, we all were eating the sambar and rice like anyone and there was a rapid decline in the stock of rice and pulses. What a surprise for us! We need to again purchase in another one week. Likewise, we spent nearly Rs. 8000 for the first month. Luckily, we had very good cooperation in sharing money. So the budget was not a problem for us! My father was kidding me that it was too high when compared to the monthly family budget for food items ☺. Initially, all our families were very concerned about what we are eating. But they later came to know that we were only eating and gaining weight ☺. In the first month itself, we all gained a lot of weight. But we did not bother because we were very happy together.


I was staying alone in my room, since my roommate went to his hometown, Dehradun. So, my friends came to my room at 10 AM and we cooked and ate together, and had fun chats and they will leave by 4 PM. Again, we will get-together by 7 PM for dinner. We made dosa, Maggi, etc., and we took milk every night and again will have fun chats till late night, sometimes played LUDO and they will leave by 11 PM for sleep. Balaji was the source of fun content during our chats. After he started the fun, we all will travel on that point and end it after an hour ☺. Akash was younger than all of us. So, we will always troll him, seeing his less-matured activities.


One day, we planned to make vermicelli upma for dinner. Usually, there are two varieties of vermicelli, one for paayasam and other for making upma. The first variety will be very soft, meeting the texture of paayasam, and later will be a little bit hard, meeting the texture of upma. We did not know this matter at that time. Unfortunately, we bought the first variety of vermicelli and tried making upma. Finally, upma ended up like a paayasam ☺. It was so fun at that time that we were compelling each other to eat that without wasting.


On the other day, our neighbor, offered us a chutney, which tasted very sour and he named it as “spicy” chutney. We were very much disappointed on its name. Usually, every day, we will give the remaining food to the street dog and thus maintaining a good friendship with it. On that day, we did not think to give that chutney to the dog because we thought that a single dish might break the friendship with dog ☺. So, for the first time, we buried that dish in the sand in the ground ☺. We felt very pity about him that his wife is not making him tasty food and later we started offering him some part of our food.


YouTube channels paved the way to learn cooking different kinds of dishes. I made poricha kootu, paruppu kootu, sambar, and kurma. Mahendran was a master of making rasam. Balakrishnan was a master of making sabji. Balaji, Louis, and Akash were masters of making Veg biryani. We had the best foodie times in our life.


Our predictions were going in vain and the lockdown was extended till the end of May. In the first week of May, our ray of hope, The Singla store, was closed. But, we cannot stop making these dishes. So, we called that shop owner and told to supply the grocery somehow. He told me that he will open the backdoor of his shop for 15 minutes. At that time, we were advised to take items, that we need and pay him via GPay. We thought not to leave this chance and took a bike and went to the back door of his shop and filled our baskets with whatever he had in the backdoor area. Pickles, ready mix, and some other spices were not available at that time. But, we managed to buy whatever he had that time. We followed this for three weeks. Now, you people can imagine how much we would have eaten that time ☺.


Sometimes, Dr. Vinod Karar Sir would happen to meet us while going to the grocery store and advise us not to go out unless there was urgency. Then, he tried to help us by giving his food stock. But, seeing our grocery list, he felt like no one in the campus can satisfy our needs. Only some of the students stayed on campus, managing their food with kilos of wheat. But our requirements were diametrically opposite, eating spicy foods. We had the mentality not to compromise on food even in a drought situation ☺.


Another problem, we began to face was due to the advent of rats and mice in my room. Since we used to store more amount of food items, we had a greater challenge of securing the items from these advents! We thought that these creatures got attracted by the great smell of our cooked food. This may be right! Somehow, we managed to secure those items.


Once, when we went to the Singla store, we were caught by Chandigarh police, for not following the lockdown rules. Please don’t think too much! It was not a big rule! The rule was that only one person was allowed to travel on a bike. We were buying these many items and they don’t understand that we need at least two persons to safely bring them to room 😢. Then, we paid a fine of Rs. 3000. Even in our hometown, we have not paid this much fine and finally, Chandigarh made us pay this much. We felt very bad about this. But now, when we rewind those memories, it is like a full-length comedy film.


In May, we had many unfortunate situations. We came to a mindset of going to our hometown and get rid of these problems. At this time, there was an unfortunate announcement of the extension of lockdown by another one month 😢. But, we felt that we became mentally strong and could face any hard situations.


In June and July, I had online classes all time and that was a different experience, submitting online assignments. In July, my friends left for their hometown, one-by-one, taking an emergency pass from Chandigarh administration. At that time, the government made some special trains available for travel, connecting major Indian cities.


When each of them leaves, we were very emotional and felt like a college farewell, missing our friends. Now, all of them got safely settled in their respective home towns.


But, even now, we will have online chats and video calls filled with laughter, and rewind our lockdown experiences.


This lockdown taught us many life lessons like to be mentally stronger in hard situations, togetherness, learn cooking skills, knowledge and sharing, tolerance to any bad situation, the importance of research, and the importance of having the best friends with us. Though we all feel bad about this pandemic, taking away many lives of people, we also thank this pandemic which taught many practical and precious life lessons to us.


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