Our idyllic childhood memories are primarily reflective of particularly pertinent incidents, but invariably the fondest are the ones linked to food. While growing up, I was a lanky child who persistently gorged only on cheese parathas. When I look back, I remember each of these meals attached with an exceptionally naughty act of mine. Tales of Crucible and Cauldron – the latest in the series of books chronicles experiences of cadets at Rashtriya Indian Military School (RIMC), encapsulating fond memories they associated with food served at the dining hall. While reading the book, I recalled each of the delightfully gastronomic yet naughty episodes during my childhood.
The book begins with Mahatma Gandhi’s wise words: “To the hungry god cannot appear in any other form than bread.” On the Camphor Series of books, Brigradier H Dharmarajan notes, “What a wonderful idea! It is so very absorbing, particularly when one can relate to every single word in it. Needles to mention, one invariably homes in onto one’s contemporaries. To that extent, your mix of the young and the old is a great blend.” In the foreword, Brigadier Chander Singh Thapa pertinently explains, “This book should not be mistaken to be dealing just with the delicacies of RIMC kitchen. It talks at length about mess matters, how integral to the growth of a child as a gentleman.” After the tales narrated by Rimcollians conclude, there are recipes of famous dishes from the RIMC mess coupled with respective photographs. These legendary dishes include: the scotch eggs, mutton shammi kabab, roast chicken, baked vegetable in mayonnaise and jelly with cream.
Editor of the series, Sidharth Mishra in the first story Bison - the behemoth elucidates on aptness of the title, with the RIMC mess being both a – Crucible and Cauldron. “The cadet’s mess at the RIMC is not only about serving some very delectable food but also generating many a food for some long-lasting thoughts. It’s not just a cauldron where the best stew is brewed but also a crucible where ambassadors of different cultures come together to give rise to new ethos – the idea of being a Rimcollian,” writes Mishra. He also explains the significance of the head of the bison, which was presented to the RIMC as a trophy by the 3rd Cavalry in 1936, “This Bison is like a guarding angel, wanting every cadet to be healthy,” says Mishra.
Illustrating this very fact, the book’s cover which depicts the cadet’s mess with the Bison mounted on top, has been designed by Dipti Mishra.
Across the short stories penned by varied RIMC alumnus, the love for ‘Scotch eggs’ runs like a common thread. This dish seems to be the most desired and coveted item served at the school across batches. Notably, the spirit of sharing and generosity is inculcated at the dining table for these young cadets. Chiranjit Banerjee in ‘The Cauldron’ mentions, “Barter as a seamless means of trade was taught to us on the mess table. However, Scotch eggs were hardly ever traded unless pancake was the draw. Pancakes were always high on the radar of the carnivorous lot.”
In ‘Dining and Doings in RIMC’, Col Shailendra Arya beautifully describes the benevolence bestowed in the hearts of these youngsters. “... Pudding was also passed to a person or a sporting team as a mark of appreciation. The birthday boy invariably got a number of puddings, sometimes the entire course (class) passed to him from different tables. Irrespective of the quantity or number of puddings, they were consumed as a once-an-year affair by the smiling birthday boy.”
In Beyond scotch eggs, Commodore NAJ Joseph explains the symbiotic relationship between Scotch eggs and RIMC: “Scotch Eggs and RIMC seem to have developed a synonymy of its own and we forget the repertoire that our butlers and cooks have conjured at school.”
He also recounts the delectable menu served at the mess, “Breakfast was invariably porridge, eggs, ham, bacon, sausages, bread, butter, jam, rosemilk in our initial terms and hot milk in our later and with cutlets, pancakes, cheese toasts, rolls et for vegetarians.”
Arya also notes, “The old vintage of the mess kitchen and the limited quantity of food prepared had lent it a personal taste, typical of a place, never bland and gradually relished by the boys. It was also healthy and adequate, served by dedicated waiters like Billu, Kalidas, Mamraj and Yashpal and supervised by the butler Bachan Singh.” The last emotive tale – Mamraj, extra toasts! penned by Mayank Kanungo is about a waiter named Mamraj and how fondly the cadets like Kanungo remembered him. In fact he starts with how Mamraj’s death affected him “in an unknown, unexpected way.”
Kanungo reminisces “Cheerful. Smiling. And just a happy go lucky man. He (Mamraj) and the other waiters reached out to the homesick kids in their own adoring and admiring way.” When he met Mamraj last in 2011, Mamraj didn’t recognise him at first but later after he did they “chatted for few minutes didn’t speak much, just smiled, as if to please.” After he left, they “gave each other a silent appreciative nod and a smile with the implied promise to ‘see you again’.”
The book then ends with a beautiful line by Kanungo – “Sometimes, nothing is as eloquent as silence.”