The common driveway of the old (1980-1986) Boys and Girls hostel led out to the Sholapur Road on the north side of AFMC Campus. Just across the street under the big tree was a MSTC bus-stand. And every evening at nightfall, Amuni would bring along his ‘Redi’ (a 4-wheeled cart) on which he had the full paraphernalia of a tea and snacks stall with a gasoline stove, a huge kettle and a frying pan – and park it under the big tree.
The snacks menu mainly consisted of ‘bun-maska’ (bun-butter-with-a layer-of-sugar); ‘bun-keema’(bun with minced meat); ‘bun-aamlate’ (bun with single/double eggs omelette); ‘bun-King’ had both keema and omelette in it. Amuni also exchanged our eggs(which we used to gather from the mess after a late night and missing the breakfast). Another item was the ‘Medu wadas’ - which for unknown reasons was called Hema Malini (a famous film-star). He also stocked ‘samosas’ and a few packets of Parle-G biscuits. Tea was served in several categories – ‘saada’ (without sugar), ‘shakkar maar-ke’ (with-sugar) and ‘peshal’ (special tea with either cream or ginger/pepper).
An emergency stock of cigarettes was kept only for select clientele! He also kept a reliable supply of pot which he used to smoke and share with a select few in his small black clay ‘chillum’. He would usually stay up to 3:00 or 4:00am in the morning - depending on sales.
The piece of land on which the redi stood, was triangular, with the north-side gently sloping upward a few feet and was called the “balcony”. At night, the entire area was dark. Everyone crossing the street could be seen and identified under the street-lights, but anyone sitting on the balcony was practically invisible. Maybe one could make out shapes but no one sitting there could be identified in the dark. Thus it was an ideal private-place-in-public where budding romances could remain discrete. Would-be doctors who were romantically inclined would call on the lady of their choice in the evening and ask her out “to just have tea at the redi, that’s all”.
Since it was just across the road, the ladies felt safe and secure and usually didn’t hesitate to consent. Little did they suspect that there was a certain magic at the redi which enchanted generations of AFMCites. The gentle cool breeze, the occasional moonlight, the reassuring sporadic bursts of familiar laughter of friends and classmates ringing out in the darkness, the constant supply of tea & snacks and the attention of young men – all put together were a heady concoction for the young ladies. Generations of romantic couples in AFMC have formed sitting on the ‘balcony’ of the redi.
Amuni had no children of his own. For more than two decades Amuni used to bring along his redi to AFMC. It was as if he had adopted the college and all the students in it as his own. The earnings from the redi were his sole livelihood. Through cold winter nights or heavy monsoon rains, Amuni never missed a day, except for the Muslim festival of Eid. He used to bring along two illiterate young boys called Barkheya and Pakiya. They served as waiters and cooks in tandem.
But between the three of them they maintained a fantastic information and gossip centre. Who had gone downtown, who had failed an exam, who had gone to station to catch the night-train to Lonavala, who was romancing whom, who had broken off with whom, who had lost money gambling, who had gotten drunk, who was taking pot, who were popping pills, who had borrowed whose bike – they knew it all. While they had tea & snacks, Amuni, Barkheya and Pakiya plied the students with seemingly casual questions but they remembered every detail and knew the dynamics and intricacies of the hostel life better than most students did. One time, they called a final year girl to chaperone them, while they counselled an innocent second-year student to break off from her boyfriend because he was two-timing her.
The redi was the place to hang-out in general, even for boys and girls who weren’t with their dates. The redi was the rendezvous for some group going for a movie or another group heading out for an all-night hike. The redi was an information kiosk where students left messages: ‘tell XYZ that I’ve hitched a ride to town – will be back by midnite’. Some, who were reclusive, used to come to the redi to smoke pot with Amuni and go back to their rooms after a few ‘chillums’. Guys who got drunk, came to the redi to grab a bite.
Once somebody brought along his guitar and sat playing on the ‘balcony’ … before long a crowd of 50-odd boys-n-girls had gathered around in the moonlight – guys sang songs by Kishore or Rafi, a few girls sang songs of Lata – and all the while Amuni and the boys made brisk business … silently working the crowd with tea, snacks and an unending supply of pot for joints and chillums.
Once a bunch of rich guys in car from a neighbouring locality were getting fresh with some girls from AFMC – Amuni and the boys raised an alarm and within moments a mob of 100 plus boys came charging and the villains ran away – fast!
Once a few boys were about to enter the adjoining race-course tracks to go for a run in the moon-light. Suddenly, Pakiya appeared and said the tracks were very wet and soggy and not suitable for running. The boys took his word and went jogging towards Hadapsar instead. Later, it was learnt, that one of the final year students was making out with his girl-friend right on the tracks, under the moonlight and had posted Pakiya as guard-dog!
On party nights, they made extra money and were absolutely strict about being paid cash up-front. At AFMC, on party nights, the girls’ hostel gates were open until 2:00am. Party nights included Lohri, Republic Day eve, All-India Inter-Medical College Basket-Ball Tournament (all 7 days), Holi, Freshers Day, Election Week (7 days), Janmasthami, Durga Pooja/Navaratri (2 days), Christmas Eve through College Athletics Week until New Year Eve – that’s about 28 days scattered through the year. On party nights, there was usually a dance going on in the ‘New Insti’ while during the Basketball Week, the dance was held on the Basketball Court itself. Before, during or after the dance boys and girls would head out to the redi, have tea or snacks and hang-out there or return to the dance floor.
All other days, credit was carefully extended to those who paid monthly or weekly. But amazingly, in the days and weeks preceding the exams, if students didn’t have money, Amuni never insisted and gave huge credit just so that no one would have to study on an empty stomach. In that period he even used to deliver tea and snacks to individual rooms. Barkheya and Pakiya would visit the hostel rooms till wee hours in the morning to take orders and make deliveries. On one occasion, Amuni even lent money to a student to pay his Terminal Exam Fees because the boy had spent his money partying with his girl-friend.
At the time we were in college, we sort of took the redi for granted, but on looking back years later, it came home that the redi had become such an essential and integral part of our college life. During our 25th year re-union, we learnt that Amuni has passed away after a one year long fight with lung-cancer. It felt good to know that the students of the college at that time had ensured that he received free treatment in the Command Hospital until the day he died. Still, for old times’ sake, we went and sat at the ‘balcony’ remembering the ghost of the redi. One could almost imagine hearing the bursts of familiar laughter ringing out in the darkness. Any minutes it seemed the most popular girl in college would come out of the gates and say, “Amuni, ek peshal chai dena!”
Vivek Sanyal, 6th May 2012 S-Batch (1980-1986)