Leap of Faith
! JOURNEY OF A CONSCIOUS KITCHEN AT THE &ILM AND 4ELEVISION )NSTITUTE OF )NDIA &4))
I had read a few days ago that in some place in China the word for ‘chaos’ and opportunity is the same. I also realized it lately when some things happened in my life. I had been volunteering to manage the Boys Hostel Mess at FTII. We had worked to make it organic and bring in various changes. Often some friends used to tell me to write some thing about it. I never had the time to do it as I was busy with the mess and stuff happening around it. Recently there was some commotion around the mess. Some students who had issues with the mess got together to get me out of the mess. They kind of succeeded and the General Body Meeting some how decided that the mess will be run by a committee of students only. I felt that there was some manipulation but as our friend Munir Faseh from Palestine says that, “people are always right, even when they are wrong, they are still right.” I feel the same for the decision of the general body of students and I have faith in the students and that in the end they will do what is in the best interest of everyone. Though, I had myself envisioned around January 2010 that the mess should now be run by a committee of students and would be glad if this committee makes efforts to ensure a healthy and smooth operation of the mess. But I was surprised and disheartened by the way the decision was taken. I felt that the facts were not verified and I was not given an opportunity to present a clear view.
So I began to write my response to what all allegations were raised against me. In the process I realized that what I as writing was more like a reflection of what was happening in the mess for the last one and half year. I reframed my response, from being a reaction to what others had said to an intentional reflection about the story of the mess and the vision behind it. I am proud of being part of this endeavor and feel that my life has been enriched by it. I have met lot of inspiring people in FTII and outside too. The mess attracted lot of interesting people with whom I shared some common ground and have decided to work with them on ventures in the future outside the institute. I have had support of lot of students since we began to walk on this journey. Even those who were against me or my ideas in the recent past were at one time supportive of what was happening in the mess. I don’t have any thing against them. Their reaction has forced me to think as to where I went wrong and there are enough areas which make me rethink on my ways of working and I am glad that their strong reaction has offered me great lessons. I am sure if I work on them, it will enrich my ways of working in the future. This experience once again reinforced my belief in one of the Buddhist tenets of ‘Anitya’, which means that every thing is transient or impermanent and one has to be prepared to take it. a friend of
mine wore a T-shirt which said, ‘change is the only permanent thing’. A friend, Edgard once said that the fall of the present system is imminent. Our challenge is to make spaces which will support people when this system collapses. I am not sure if the collapse will be sudden or slow but I think that what happened at the mess at FTII will inspire others who are on similar journeys which will aim to take more control over our own lives. One thing that I learnt while doing this was that right now the move towards healthier life style is going on at a fast pace, people are questioning modern science and the modern paradigm of development. It has refused to deliver what it had promised and people are feeling cheated and looking for their own creative ways to reclaim their lives.
My Story: From Working in Mumbai to Conscious Kitchen Some students have at times wondered why I am here. How come some one who has graduated as a cinematographer from FTII, doing here in the hostel kitchen. Infact while I was studying here I myself would not have imagined in the wildest of my dreams that one day I will be here. Some understand my vision behind it while some think I am from ‘Art of Living’, or some one said that I am from an NGO and am getting paid for the job from the NGO and some thought that I am a card holder of a left party. I would like to clarify that I am associated with none of the above. I have been volunteering here without taking money. Though, some times it is difficult for people to understand that some one could be doing work without taking any money….. I was living in Mumbai like most film school graduates and was working as a cinematographer. One day I developed asthma. I don’t know if it was 12 years of smoking, the pollution of Mumbai, the greasy and unhealthy food of the shoots or the stress in my personal relationships at that time which caused asthma. Maybe it was a combined effect of all the factors. As a result I began to take the inhaler, which is mainly steroids. I realized that I had become dependant on a drug corporation for my breath. It was a shocking revelation for me. I thought that I don’t want to lead rest of my life using an inhaler and began on a journey about food.
I read about what we eat, what is our natural food, how is disease related to formation of toxins in the body, etc. I also got to know of Vijaya Venkat ji and her kind of cooking. About the value of steaming food, having raw food in the form of salads, fruits for breakfast, avoiding sugar, avoiding wheat as it is high in gluten, which is difficult to digest. I also learned about the connect of food with our environment, as to how growing food with chemical not just harms our bodies but pollutes the air, water and soil and affects the farmer too as they go around spraying poisons on the plants. Besides what we do to the environment, we do it to ourselves. As Wendell Berry says, what you do to the earth you do it to yourself. I also realised that food is a gift from the divine and one has to have sense reverence towards it. Since then I began to work on the idea of ‘conscious kitchen’ wherein one consumes food with more awareness and tries to get more control over it and therefore our own lives. I have spent three years at FTII and I see myself as a part of FTII community. A few years ago I had visited FTII and realized that the huge old Banayan tree’s were not allowed to go in the soil due to unnecessary concretization. That time I had met the registrar and suggested that we do some thing to allow the roots to go in. He agreed to it but nothing happened. Incidentally the tree, which was more than 50 years old, fell down. I then wrote a stinker to one of the e-groups of
ex-students. That was the time when I was more aggressive and would write such angry mails. So like most ex-students of FTII I too was attached to the place….. Two years ago, I had made a film named ‘Leap of Faith’ about three families. Where, one is in self healing and they don’t take any medicines. Second one is into ‘unschooling’ and their children learn form the whole world as they live at home and in their community instead of going to school. The third family was into organic farming. I showed the film to the students in the Film School here. When ex-students come here they offer booze as a gift to the students, I offered some salads. Had a talk with some students about food and Ganesh, who was a student, suggested that we try to serve organic food in the Boys Hostel Mess. I didn’t have much hope from film school students then as thought that their life styles here are far from my notion of ‘healthy’. But we thought of giving it a try. With Vikrant, who was then the Mess Secretary, we began to look around for sourcing organic food. It was fun exploring and meeting interesting people. We managed to source lot of organic food in Pune and in the process met a lot of interesting people and groups. For example, the pune home schoolers group, the ecological society of pune, paani panchayat( a group of organic farmers). Besides I met people who were doing interesting experiments in their lives. I found people who were
Some times some left oriented friends commented, as to why I am working on to feed those who are already well fed. Or a friend had once said that why don’t I do my work with food in some slum. As an answer to such questions, I would like to share an experience. Once I was in a community media meet and holding a workshop in video production in Nasik. When I asked the participants what would they want to make a film on, they said they want to talk about the ‘problems’ of the villagers. I felt it strange that we ourselves are so much screwed up in so many ways where we don’t have any control over our own lives in terms of what we eat, how we ‘entertain’ ourselves by mainstream media, how our children ‘learn’ in schools, how we are ‘protected’ and provided safety by police, etc. We have basically outsourced our most essential things to all kinds of ‘contractors’ and in effect lost control over our own lives and in the end are also not happy with that arrangement. So for me it made sense to work in the mess because I saw myself as a part of the larger FTII community. For me getting to know more about our food, how it is grown, how much it has traveled, whether poisons were used in growing it, etc are some things that I want to be aware of. I see myself active in the field of food and if at all I see myself as an ‘activist’, the activism is inspired by Gandhi ji’s idea of “be the change that you want to see in this world”. That too I don’t think that activism is some thing that I would do in some one else’s community but in a place which I see as my community.
I had been also been inspired by the ideas of unschooling and deinstitutionalization that I had given up any hope of some thing really new coming out of instiutions, even like FTII. But as I mentioned, my interaction with Ganesh and Vikrant reinsured me that there is a lot of possibility of some thing new coming up in places like FTII.
ABOUT THE THE FOOD SERVED IN THE MESS Eat Organic as a Political Act When we eat organic food we are enriching our own health, supporting the well-being of the soil, the lives of the farmers moving towards swaraj (Self-Reliance) and coming out from the labyrinth of corporate slavery. What is Organic The most commonly understood definition of organic food is, that it is grown without use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Today most farmers have converted to chemical farming due to all the propoganda and advertising by the government agricultural institutions and MNCâ€™s who are producing these chemicals for farming. In Chemical farming, when a farmer tries to add chemical fertiliser to the soil to increase production, the soil becomes acidic, this kills most micro-organisms (including the earthworms) beneficial to its fertility. Due to this the soil becomes weak and barren. A plant grown with artificial fertilisers is like a body grown on steroids and anti biotics. Obvioulsy, such plants are weak and are more vulnerable to pests and get infected easily.
It is said that about 98 percent of insects, eat other insects. But when we put pesticides it not only kills insects which feed on plants but even those who eat other insects. By doing this we break the natural cycles and now plant eating insects dont have any predators which would keep a check on their numbers. By the end of each cycle of chemical farming, due to the increased acidity of the soil, the micro organisms and worms which would have in the normal course maintained the fertility of soil are no longer there. So each time we need to pump up more chemical fertilisers which further kill life in the soil making the soil and the plants growing in it even more weaker. This brings more attacks from pests and then we add more poisonous pesticides. This cycle goes on till the soil is totally dead. Now most of the soils of the world has was subjected to chemical farming for about fifty years. It has been like a body on steroids and more steroids. The body then stops responding to the increased doses. That is some what happened to our soils in Punjab and Vidarbha. The corporate scientists had to come out with a solution and that was a further super strong dose and that came by the name of Genetically Modofied(GM seeds)
What is Genetically Modified Food? Typically, genetically modified foods involve a process where genes from one species are inserted in another species to make a new seed. Often along with genetic modification, certain hormones are also introduced into the seed to change the color or increase the size of the crop. For example, Bt Brinjal has been artificially created by insertion of a bacterial gene (Bacillus thuringiensis-BT) to produce a toxin 24X7 inside the plant to target one pest-the Brinjal Fruit & Shoot Borer (it has to be noted that while many pests and diseases attack the crop, this technology is claimed as a solution to one such pest). Just as it attacks the pests and kills it, it also attacks beneficial micro organisms in the human body, thus causing irreversible damage to our immunity. How our food security is threatened by corporates? The issue with modern seeds provided by corporations is very complicated. They have now come up with seeds that have a terminator gene which does not allow the farmer to use the seeds coming from their crop to be re-sowed. As a result every time the farmer has to go and purchase new seeds. However traditionally farmers saved and exchanged their own seeds and had no dependence on corporations.
With the use of fertilizers, pesticides and GM seeds the soil is becoming dead. So after 10-12 years of chemical farming the crop returns are dramatically falling. The farmers are getting more and more dependent on external inputs, which is putting a huge financial burden and debts on them. India is largely and agrarian country. This is affecting the lives of farmers so that more and more are looking at abandoning their villages and moving to urban jobs. Increase in farmer suicides is also directly connected to these issues. Some of the farmer suicides have happened in areas where farmers were purchasing GM seeds which are super expensive and the returns never matched the ones that were promised by the companies who had done experiments in model farms in highly controlled situations.
This January, I had myself articulated in a letter to the students, that I want to move out of the mess and would like to hand it over to a committee of students. I had even put a notice inviting the students to come forward to form a committee. But no one came up. So I continued as I thought that the mess could not be abandoned just because there were not enough people to take the responsibility of running it at that point. I felt that the mess was like a baby which needed some more attention before it could stand on its own. I would also like to say that whatever happened in the mess was a collaborative effort and a lot of students had put their energy to support its flowering.
Knowing the source of our food: moving towards conscious kitchen As much as possible we tried to get organic rations. About 80 percent of our dry rations like atta, dal, rice, oil, spices, gur are organic. All are onions are organic. However the supply of organic vegetables is fluctuating. Often four days in a week the veggies are organic and some time it could be more or less, depending on the availability. Our veggies come from Vasudhajiâ€™s farm near Daund where groups of students have gone for a picnic twice and seen the farming methods. If anybody is interested in visiting the farm, another visit can be arranged. Vasudhaji moved to organic farming after her husband passed away after suffering from cancer a few years back. Our other source for dry rations is Yusuf Meharally Center in Panvel. They also have a store in Bombay at Chowpatty municipal market. Another source is Organic and Naturals at Junglee Maharaj road and people are invited to visit them. pay a little more to get organically grown food.
Breaking the myth of organic as expensive… We get the veggies from Vasudha ji who brings them to sell in some neighborhoods in Pune. If we place an advance order the prices of organic veggies are about Rs. 25 to 30 a kg. However if we take the veggies that have been excess left over from their sale in the various neighborhoods then it comes to Rs. 15 a kg. This was little higher than the rates of the wholesale market. When we would place the orders we were given organic veggies at the rate of Rs 20 per kg. Since our mess doesn’t have too much money and we are not sure if the students here want to pay more for organic food so we are buying only veggies that come at the rate of Rs.15 only, even though personally I think that we can pay a little more to get organically grown food. A monthly member pays Rs.1000 for lunch and dinner, which amounts to Rs.16 per meal, which is unlimited in quantity and largely organic. For the guests who come once in a while we charge 25 Rs. per meal.
How did we cook our food: ‘conscious kitchen’ at FTII We have been serving salads every day as we believe that it’s important to eat some raw food every day. It’s said that all animals in the wild, eat raw food and they hardly fall ill like humans who eat so much cooked food. Also raw food is said to be alive since its full of enzymes. The enzymes help in the digestion of the food. Besides the fiber from the raw food acts like a broom and cleans up our digestive tract. We also steamed our foods and added the gravy later. Its known that steaming of food is like slow cooking and does not expose food to very high temperatures like boiling, pressure cooking and frying do, which actually kill the enzymes and vitamins and makes the food pretty dead. We were also using organic Gur instead of sugar as sugar is known to be highly processed and carries chemical like sulphur which once inside the system create sulphuric acids. Our oil was organic and Rs. 120 a kg while the oils like Gemini come at the rate of Rs. 60 per kg. besides we were also using much less oil. That was giving us the cost advantage to spend more money on buying other organic foods.
We were using organic whole grain rice. Its known that rice mills, mill the rice for the farmers free of cost as they take the bran that comes out and sell it to pharma companies who use it to make vitamins. Isnâ€™t it ironical that we lose vitamins in the rice we eat and then we fall ill by eating empty calories of white rice which is also devoid of all fiber after polishing and then pay more money to buy vitamins? At times, we were also using rice bran oil which is also considered high in vitamins. We were also using rock salt instead of other refined salts as rock salts are supposed to be high in minerals. We were also making sweets like mung dal halwa without any ghee or oil and using fresh coconut as an oily thing. We were trying to serve local, seasonal and wholesome and as much as possible organic foods.
Hiring more staff: relief to the over worked staff Mr. Nainan who has been the manger of the mess for the last 25 years is 67 years old and he is not able to give energy to the mess. But when we talked of his retirement, some students felt that on humanitarian grounds we should keep him. So, if we want him to continue and don’t have any one instead of Mr Nainan we effectively end up having five people running the mess instead of six. Cooking lunches for 115 people and dinner for about 70 according to me is too much work for them. Besides, often times some one is on leave so at times, we had 4 people actively running the mess. That too we are giving them about Rs. 3000 a month which I see it as simple exploitation in the name of providing low priced meals to ‘students’. Recently, one of our staff, Rupesh was unwell and out for more than a month. We were left with four people to do the work. During the same time Baban, who does washing, was also out so we had 3 people doing all the cooking for 100 people. At that time we were at the verge of closing down the mess for a few days. Thats when we realised that if the mess has to run smoothly we need two more people and therefore hired more people. So we hired the services of Kailash and Gitanajali. When Mr. Nainan retires the salary of one them will come from the institute and there will be no extra financial strain for hiring that person.
But still, the mess will have to get the salary of one more person as of now. For that too, since we are doing the kitchen garden we have asked a gardener, on daily wage and we have proposed this person’s name to the registrar. It has been agreed to get his salary from that account. He also help in the mess when there is more work in certain times of the day for which the mess will be paying Rs. 1000. Since now we are little comfortable with the number of mess staff we have also begun the provision of providing them 15 days of paid leave which never happened before. So effectively in some time we get two more people with just an extra amount of Rs. 1000 on the mess. I did mention to some students about raising the guest coupon charge, but that was to augment the salary of the staff who, even after the recent hikes that we have given is less than Rs. 4000. We have to decide if we would let those who cook for us get Rs 4000 and slog and we continue our lifestyles or we also take some responsibility of raising their salary so that we don’t exploit them, knowingly or unknowingly.
Ways of fund raising to augment the remuneration of the staff The salary of the mess staff is low and we haven’t been able to raise the subsidy that we get from their salary from the Institute. So we have been thinking of ‘creative’ ways to raise the money to them. In the history of FTII the mess staff has not been paid a single penny over and above that which is obtained from the subsidy amount from the office. We have been paying all the staff members over and above the subsidy amount. We have tried various ways of raising the money for them: 1. We are serving tea and the money from it goes to the staff. This came to Rs. 800 last month which was divided amongst all. 2. We are paying 3 percent of all the money collected, coming to a total of 3500 last month 3. For the last two months we paid the profit from the breads to the staff which was total 600 per month. Last month each staff member got Rs. 700 to 800 Rs from these newly introduced measures, which is more than 25 percent hike in their salary. However our mistake was that all this information was not passed, maybe if people knew that the money from the bread is not just accounted for but is also going to the staff, they would not have any issues.
FTII Kitchen Garden: tending the earth and dignity of labour I was once in Brazil where I had learnt to make jewelry and was selling it on the streets to make a living for some time. I was hanging out with others who were doing the same. Once with a friend Augusto I happened to go to a college in Rio to sell jewelry. Being there I saw that Augusto’s life and skills were different from the college students. I felt alienated from the lifestyle of the students as I felt that their engagement with the world was largely academic. This I found to be artificial. I then realized how I had been all my life while I was in India as a student. I had not done any work with my hands and only ‘studied’ in schools and colleges. Once I had been to a ‘cycle yatra’ where some of us had gotten together to cycle around the country side for a week without taking any money with us. We were supposed to earn our food in exchange of our work. On one day I carried some mud on my head. That day I became aware of the strength of my neck and realized that I had never carried any thing on my head all my life. I wondered how come I lived in a country where so many people do such manual work, and I never did it. I then realized that I was living in a strange and unnatural world in my own country for all these years. I also realised that we don’t get to work towards growing our own food. I also saw the futility of formal education where there is total fragmentation of the body, mind and our soul. Where one is taught to
use only the mind. That too is taught by some one else or the system to use our minds in a certain ways to become a cog in the â€˜Machineâ€™. Or in way it is largely programmed to behave in set patterns and not really move towards your own enquiry. Seeing that there was some land which could be utilized for farming in the FTII, I began growing some veggies as it would also give me an opportunity to tend the land. Working some times with full involvement with the land was a very fulfilling experience. According to me there were two reasons for starting the kitchen garden: Since we donâ€™t get enough organic veggies all the time, we thought that we could put to use some of the unused land for kitchen gardening. The idea was not to get all the food of FTII Mess from such a small piece of land, since it is not practically possible. We do get some small quantities of eggplants,basil and pumpkins, bhindi from there once in a while, till now . Besides I feel that the present education system does not give dignity to labour and does not teach us to connect with our most essential things like food. I personally think otherwise and had seen this as an opportunity to engage with the food that I eat. Besides from time to time some students have also participated in farming activities which has helped us know each other better.
The soil at the kitchen garden is not good. But in the last one year we have stored all the leaves from the campus and kitchen waste near the kitchen garden for composting. It will take some time to compost and add to the soil, which will increase the fertility. I have gone through the solid waste management guidelines articulated by the Supreme Court, where dry and wet waste of institutions and buildings have to be separated and composted at source and not transported all the way to landfills (a fancy name used to dump garbage of a whole city in a village). I have personally ensured that the sweepers donâ€™t take away the wet waste instead of composting it on site. By doing this we have ensured that organic waste does not go with the non-biodegradable waste in the landfill causing environmental problems. When the organic matter like leaves are dropped near the kitchen garden, they are full of some plastic bags. Initially I tried to convince the cleaning staff to separate the plastics out but they didnâ€™t do much. I later realized that if I insisted too much on it they will stop putting the leaves so it is better to have the stuff and I can myself take out the plastics. This way we at least we got them to add to the fertility of the soil of the kitchen garden or else they would have gone in landfills. Lately, in Cuba people have realised the importance of organic food and all universities are growing a
large part of their own food. Even the Defence Ministry took out their lawn to grow organic veggies for the staff. Inspired by all this too we began to grow our food on unused spaces in the campus. It practically costs nothing besides the labour and can give you the pleasure of connecting with the soil and be in nature. Our guess is that if we work on the soil and manage the kitchen garden efficiently, we can perhaps get veggies to cook three-four times a week from there.
Whole wheat breads and paos with bhaji and connect with the city of Pune. Our friend Guru who is an ex-student has lately gotten involved in making breads. He inspired us to buy an oven for the mess. We made a proposal and after lot of deliberations we finally got it. Now we make whole grain organic breads to be sold in the mess. Some times we took them out to sell at one organic store. The reason was that our organic veggies suppliers had asked us for it and we thought that it will also augment the salary of the staff. We even made whole wheat paos for the pao bhaji that we make in the mess. Some students did not agree with us selling the bread ‘outside’. I feel that the objection to taking the breads ‘outside’ as a problematic one. As long as the money is accounted for, our taking stuff out of the mess to sell and making connection with the outside people does not seem problematic to me. When Neetu was sent home, we had gone ‘out’ to get her back. Interestingly the person who was helping us most had come to support our strikes 12 years ago. Not just that, we had support from the Pune Municipal Corporation Union, Bank Employees Union, LIC Union, Sasoon Hospital Union, and many progressive people from Pune. I think presently, it is this inability of FTII students to interact with outside world that is making it a Ghetto, which I think is a matter of serious concern. I feel that we need to interact more with the outside world even for getting inspiration for making our
works and our films. Also we are constantly going out asking for locations from people of Pune city whom I think have been generally very supportive to FTII students. Besides once we had also supplied, on payment, food to a conference of people fighting for the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. It would be worth knowing here that Union carbide was making pesticides to be used on our food. Our commitment to organic food makes us bond with such movements.
We even got the mess wall broken to open it to a green space behind it. Some months ago we had asked for feedback from the students and one of the students suggested that we have an arrangement for sitting on the ground and to break the wall to open up the beauty of the space behind it. I was impressed with the feedback as rarely people give such â€˜extremeâ€™ suggestions which are very fundamental in nature. For the sitting area on the floor we got an old TT table and made the sitting area on the ground. As for breaking the wall and expanding the sitting area in the backyard, many people think it is a great idea and besides a new batch will be there in a few months and there will be space crunch. Hence we made the suggestion to the Director and it was approved to have the wall broken and have some additional seating area. Also there has been a demand for starting the breakfast from many students, so we are making a small counter at the back where we can serve healthy breakfast in the morning. Things like whole grain breads baked in the mess, fruits, juices, cereals, etc.
Power of information and cleanliness of the mess. Till now the mess was cleaned by the mess staff. When we took over, we introduced some new things like salads which took their time and it was difficult to spare enough time for cleaning. I noticed that the common dining area of the girls hostel was cleaned by the institute’s cleaning staff. So we asked them to do the same for the boy’s hostel also, but they said that it is not included in their contract. So I checked the contract with the administrative officer and found out that there was a mention of 221 sq meters of area of the mess included in their cleaning contract. So we referred this contract to the staff and requested them to start cleaning the boy’s mess as well. This relieved the mess staff to some degree.
Changes that were initiated in the mess in the last one year: The following things were initiated in collaboration with the mess staff, mess secretary and any student who wished to be involved. Most of these changes involved submitting proposals to the director and following them up with various departments like purchase, accounts, CCW, estate, etc. The institute paid for the renovation and purchases of goods. 1) Renovation of the kitchen floor with stone flooring. This was necessitated as the old floor was broken and would gather dirt and was difficult to clean. 2) Making of a store to keep the rations. Since we began the organic mess there was need to store rations as we couldnâ€™t but it on a day to day basis as it had to be got from some select sources. Organic rations are such they cannot be bought from the Grocery store next door. Since we had sacks of rations lying around it would be an invitation to the rats and they would manage to enter the store. We got the institute to buy tin containers to keep the rations. 3) Making of wire mesh cupboards on all shelves where onions and rations are kept. 4) Taking the facility of the office vehicle to go for purchasing vegetables and rations. For some of the veggies that we had to buy from the general market we were buying the stuff from mandai but there was a bigger whole sale market where the rates were much lower. But the market was a bit far. We proposed to the director for getting the office vehicle for these purchases. He agreed but the
production manager was not very supportive initially as he had never given a vehicle for mess shopping. It took him some time that mess is also as important as academic work. 5) Installing phone at the counter of the mess. 6) Installing computer for accounts (all the accounts since November last year are on the comp, in case some one wants to study them). 7) Fan in the rooms where staff sits to do the cutting. 8) Replacing of some aluminum vessels with steel and purchase of other new utensils including a steel steamer. Aluminum is a soft metal and if we cook in it its traces come in the food and it said to be causing serious illness like Alzheimer disease. 9) Purchasing Dosa stove. Till now we used to make dosas once in a while and would hire a stove from some place which used to cost us and there was lot of work around it. 10) Purchasing Oven for baking breads and cakes. 11) Fans and CFL lamps in the sitting area outside the mess. One day some students took out the tables in the verandah as there was some program. The students seemed to like it and after that the tables never went inside. It became a nice hang out and outdoor eating joint. 12) Starting a kitchen garden. 14) Purchase of emergency lights. Whenever there was a power failure, even tough it looked nice to
have candles it would cost about Rs 100 to the mess. So we proposed to buy emergency light and the institute got them for us. 15) Purchase of juicer mixer. 16) Approval for the office bus to take the mess staff for a picnic for three times in a year. 17) Approval for making four sinks for washing plates as more people can simultaneously wash their plates. 18) Installation of the new overhead tank with bore well water with 24 hour water supply for washing utensils. 19) Breaking of the mess wall to have a view of the forest and an extra outdoor sitting and serving area. 20) Introduced herbal tea and gur. 21) Introduced salads. 22) Stopped using Dalda for cooking and instead got organic cold pressed oils. (Dalda is a transfat that gets deposited in the arteries and creates blockages leading to heat attacks) 23) Opened a bank account of the mess. (Indian Bank, FTII Extn. Counter) 24) Served fruits for breakfast in the canteen for a few 25) The mess collaborated with organic suppliers to set up a snack stall at â€˜maha-organicâ€™, the organic fair at agricultural college in pune.
26) Holding of Sunday food markets. 27) Many visitors/students come to the kitchen to cook for the mess. 28) Sales of organic rations to students and residents of Pune. 29) The Mess hosted a healthy and organic food stall in collaboration with our organic suppliers. It brought in some money to the mess. Some students had volunteered on that stall.
Culture and Agriculture in FTII 1) While we hosted parties, like the Spanish lunch, Lohri, Iftaar, Nihar’s daughter’s birth party or Sunday Food Market, we always used eco friendly leaf plates or mud glasses instead of styrofoam and plastic cups and plates. So after any party the next morning it was never difficult to clean the place and it didn’t look like a war ravaged zone which often happens when parties are held at wisdom tree. We also made sure we left the place clean after the party. We used to encourage plastic free shopping and we used to take sacks and gunny bags to buy the veggies from the market yard. 2) We also tried to introduce a culture of washing our own plates. The idea was to give relief to the over worked and underpaid workers. Also it makes the students feel a sense of stake holding or ownership in running the mess rather than they being mere consumers of it. It is sad that for some reason the practice got discontinued. Some students like Maheen and Akshara would wash twenty to thirty plates some times. The ideas like washing the plates were also inspired by Gandhi ji’s ideas of dignity of labour and that it can come only if we all do labout. It is worth knowing that while Gandhi ji was traveling in South Africa, he read ‘Unto his Last’ by John Ruskin. There was a mention about ‘bread labour’, that each person should do there honest days of lobour or ‘shram’. Till then he was politically active and would be organsing Indians there for demonstrations and petitions. But after reading
the book he realized the importance of shram and kind of overnight moved to a farm and started his ashram life at ‘Tolstoy Farm’. Some times washing of plates was a tedious process as there were only tow sinks and there would be a que. We proposed to get six sinks installed so that it could be done easily. They will be installed soon. 3) Pierre once initiated a drumming circle with instruments made of waste like paint drums etc. Some people saw the possibility of developing mess as a cultural space. 4) Dorian had initiated the screening of films outside the mess and even set up bar-be-que after one of the screenings. The program ended up with a dance party outside the mess. A space was created where food, music, community and cinema got interconnected. 5) I also wanted to work more on making it more like a cultural space where not just students but people from Pune could come and interact with the students and present their works. 6) We are planning to serve healthy breakfast of fruits, juices, porridges, idlis, etc in the newly made outdoor space behind the mess. It was seen as a café space which will generate healthier food and conversations.
Some steps to make the mess fair to all students.. A. We said yes to treating all those who come to the mess with equal respect. Earlier the food was served from inside the mess with largely fixed/limited quantities of veggies. Besides the chicken was served from inside and the staff would keep select pieces for some favorite students. we brought the serving of chicken out so that there was no secrecy and extra favors were stopped. We also began to serve the whole meal as a buffet where people could take food with their own hands. This created a sense of abundance of food. In the same spirit we said NO to giving special favors asked by some students who would ask for more when there was limited quantities of any special items served to everyone. B. We tried to not give out of turn personal favors when dosa was being served and tried to ensure a line. C. Some staff from the institute would come to the mess and provide booze to the mess staff who in exchange would provide them with chicken on sundays. We stopped that D. Some students/guest members would ask their food to be kept and come late, we tried to ask them to pay in advance as often they would ask for a meal but later not come and the food would go waste and the mess would also loose out on the money. E. We said yes to distributing the surplus money from the mess equally among all the staff members, in a way promoting a culture of a cooperative mess. We stopped some people from the
mess staff who were handling money to siphon off money and who never showed any returns from the mess sales. F. We saved enough money as working capital so we could purchase in bulk. Earlier messâ€™s finances ran in a hand to mouth way on a day to day basis. Even a packet of salt was kept in lock and key. We now have an inventory of rations worth Rs. 31,000.
Finances When I had started volunteering in the mess in July 2009, it had shut down as there were no funds and the mess had a debt of Rs. 17000. We collected money from the students and put some money from the mess and paid about Rs. 14,000 to clear the old dues. I put some money of my own to run the mess. At present we still have to pay old debts of about Rs. 3000. Presently, from a yearâ€™s functioning, we have about ! Rs. 24,000 in the bank account >MLK:L ! Rs 10000 as of cash in hand on 18th August, 2010. ! Loan to the tune of Rs.2000 to babu ! Loan of Rs. 2300 to vijoo ! At present we have an inventory of rations worth Rs. 33,500. Ç°FUPUBMPGBMMUIFBCPWFDPNFUP3T So starting the mess from a debt, I am leaving it with a total value of goods and cash worth Rs. 72,800. Apart from this, we have collected Rs. 7100 for Mr Nainanâ€™s retirement fund in the bank account. This is after paying salary of Rs.6500 for two extra staff members and a bonus of about Rs. 700 â€“ 800 to each staff member per month. This is also after serving organic rations and better quality oil, some of which costs more than the non-organic rations that is available in the market.
Student Run Mess: A real challenge to reclaim our lives The mess is supposed to be a ‘student run mess’ but unfortunately students have not taken active responsibility of running the mess in the past and it had been at the mercy of the old mess managers. One of the ex students, Atul, who heard of what’s happening in the mess wrote to me about six months ago about the old times. Recently some students who were dissatisfied with the way we were running the mess suggested that the mess should be given to contractor. I personally feel that its a ‘student run mess’ and students need to come forward and take the responsibility of running the mess. Some students had tried this experiment in the TV mess by getting a contractor last year and after some time the food quality fell down and the contractor was asked to leave. I don’t think it solved the problem. I believe that a mess can only run well with active and selfless working of the students. Ideally it would be great if students actually volunteered to run the mess but some how in our academic institutes, the academic curriculum is the foremost and any other activities were not seen as learning opportunities. But if they want good food they have to come forward to take the responsibility rather than merely relying on the staff.
I also feel the change that will today come out will be from a very different politics, it will have nothing to do with parliamentary politics and amendments but a change of heart and engagement of our body. As ThĂch Nath Hahn said that the new Budha will come in the form of community. I feel there will be sensitive and resilient communities, which will shape our lives and all of us will be the lead actors in them. We will need to question everything, and constantly question at every moment, even look critically at our ways of questioning. Even for the mess, I think it will do great if the student community takes full charge of it rather than passing the responsibility to any â€˜efficientâ€™ staff.
Community We began the Sunday Food Market, where the students were supposed to cook some dishes on Sundays and set up stalls. It began on a good note but then people didnâ€™t take responsibility of cleaning up after cooking. Besides, since the food was priced and even though the money was going to the students, the people who were coming there, stopped seeing it as a community thing and instead seem to be buying as if they were in a market. At times I felt the people who were putting up the stalls were also doing with the mentality of making money rather than with a desire to serve. But then didnâ€™t feel like taking initiative for doing it. Maybe we could have talked to people about what I feel and we could have found of other ways to doing it but some how it didnâ€™t happen. There was still lot
of power to it as and a sense of community, whereby students were cooking and serving food to each other instead of buying from outside.
The offer to be an ecological consultant for FTII For the last one year I have been living in the mess, as I thought there was a shortage of rooms. But at some point I felt that I needed my space and I thought the least I can ask for my services was a room, considering that my work is voluntary in nature and I am not taking any payment for it. As for being the warden, about six months ago I was asked by the Director, Mr. Pankaj Rag, if I would take up the post of Assistant Warden, as he felt that it will help keep the hostel in a better shape. I had declined the offer. But recently when the matter came up again, I said that my interest is more in the ecological environment of FTII. The director asked me to write the profile for my job. First of all, I have made it clear that its not a job but consultancy. I have made a profile for this job which entails making suggestions about separation of garbage, rain water harvesting, treatment of polluted water from our lab before it goes in the municipal drain, using eco friendly materials for sets, using CFLâ€™s in the institute. Which implies working on reducing the ecological footprint of FTII.
What were the ‘mistakes’. I admit that I could not make appropriate spaces where all the info was shared. I was doing the accounts well but was not getting the time to put them on the notice board. Or not talking much about the food in terms of how healthy it is. I thought that people knew what was happening but that was not true and so some of them were not aware of my deeper thought or vision behind it. I in a way got distant from them and that created some confusions and miscommunication. I have now realised that talking about ones work is equally important especially when there is a community of people one is engaging with and one’s work is touching their lives very closely. Food is some thing that is really close to people.
Intricacies of ‘Leadership Transition’: I was also trying to create systems so that the mess ran after I left volunteering it. We did create certain systems but then I withdrew from cooking the food and was hoping that the cooks do it the way I would be doing. I later realized that this didn’t work. As people were feeling that the food had changed from what I was serving in the beginning. I think there is some balance between putting effort to run it oneself and taking small steps out to make the space for others to take it up. I feel some thing went wrong in that balance and the food quality dropped since the staff there was not prepared
to take on the mess full on. But at the same time we did create certain systems for the mess to run even after I have moved out. I feel keeping this balance is like a tight rope walk and its better to pay attention to the present and let the future take care of itself.
Going with the pace of the community I was seeing food as a community nurtured thing. At one point the community did come forward, but maybe I took too much on my self so that the community thought that I was taking care of it and they kind of gave me the charge. In a way they became distant from it or at least were not as close as they could have been if I had consciously made an opportunity for them to participating in the mess. I was having more ideas and I kept implementing. I think its also a matter of pace. When one wants to work on the community one has to go with the pace of the others and let things grow more organically. If one person does much more and others cant keep pace with him or her, the person is in the end left alone and wondering if he alone wants the change. Or one takes special effort to convey to others about what, why and how one is doing what one is doing and take them along in the process.
Trust Building Apart form this there were vested interests which got personal benefits from the status quo. I couldnâ€™t create healthy trust building with them to make them know that I was also equally interested
in creating ways to provide for their just needs like the raise in salary. I was making efforts for that too but it was not conveyed to them at the right time.
Spreading myself too thin Some times I feel that I also took up too many things and tried to work on many fronts. I began serving fruit breakfast, which was also too much work. That was supposed to happen with the support of other students but they did not come forward. I then stopped doing it as it was too much work for me to do the breakfast and take care of the mess.
Loss of humility Some times I was kind of insensitive and not able to address diverse feedbacks that came, some of which could have been accomodated to the mess. I would defend my position and not listen to what others had to say. I have realized that humility and listening are the most important thing when one is leading any initiative.
GBM as a safe space When I was a student and President of the Student Body at FTII in 1997, we had lots of protests and strikes for what we thought was for good of the institute. We played ‘politics’, we sometimes used to have majority to get through our proposal for a strike but when we did not have enough we would try to engineer the meetings in such a way to finally get a vote in our favor. We used to try all kinds of tactics, doing head counts of our supporters, thinking who is going to pull maximum people in our support and trying to manipulate them, sometimes lettting the ones who were more aggressive to come in the forefront. We used to have closed door meetings and some times not share all the information. I don’t have doubts about the causes or the ends we were fighting for but our means were not pure. As a result, those who didn’t agree with us were seen as our enemies and in the end we encouraged a culture of aggression, which went on with us in our day-to-day interaction even after the strikes. That time itself I had realised that aggression cannot solve issues and brute force can take any unwarranted direction at any time. So once the students tasted the power during the strikes, it would later manifest in aggression towards each other. We were not interested in dialogue or listening, we just wanted to win our point in any way.
I would like to apologize to all those with whom I contributed towards creating negative energy during those times by knowingly or unknowingly involving myself in such manipulative politics. I would also like to say the GBM that I saw on was full of negative energy that I am talking about. I have nothing against those who were against me or my ideas but I am more concerned that if that is how the so called ‘democratic bodies’ are going to function it can only create a negative energy in the institute. It was disturbing to see that a certain group of students were aggressive and shouted at any one with a different opinion. I think the present structures which are the outcome of parliamentary democratic system are not really democratic and are open to lot of manipulation as these bodies don’t have a soul or a heart and they often encourage dishonesty. The worst is that they assume more validity because of their pretension of being democratic. No wonder why many students have given up on GBMs and stopped attending them. Besides the rule of the majority does not often leave space for the minority. Even if I agree in this case that the majority does not want organic food, which too I am not sure of, but my question is that
where do we make space for those who want this kind of food even if they might be a minority. One has to move from politics of vote to that of consensus and from debate to dialogue. We should work on making it a safe space of heartfelt communication. In debate there are winners and losers, while dialogue encourages genuine listening and it moves towards a win-win situation.
What enriched me here…. When the food was served in the mess, it felt good to arrange everything out, present it, make sure that things don’t get over soon and interacting with people when they would come to the mess was something that I used to like. Seeing the plate some times which would have so many different colours of the food was fulfilling. Doing experiments to make healthy sweets and cooking with students. For example, it was also fun to cook a special french desert with Dorian’s mother who is from France. Seeing the vegetables from the kitchen garden, even though small quantities, come to the mess. Taking the kitchen waste and making compost out of it gave me a sense of meaning as I realized that by not taking the waste to the landfill we were reducing the carbon footprint to the mess. Besides I was happy that large part of the food that was eaten by about 100 people was grown without
poisoning our environment. I am glad that I got an opportunity to interact with so many people from the institute as well as outside. Also I got a chance to cook and serve film makers whose work I have held in great respect. I also saw that the people who came here expressed their support to a certain kind of food and a way of thinking.
7RITTEN BY 3HAMMI .ANDA
7ITH SUPPORT AND GUIDANCE FROM .IRALI 'URVINDER 2AJEEV )LLUSTRATIONS BY )NDRANI AND !VIRAMI $ESIGN BY .IRALI 3HAH 3ENDING GRATITUDE TO ALL THE FRIENDS WHO HELD AND NOURISHED ME THROUGH THESE TIMES