Forced out of Presidency University canteen, Pramod-da sleeps at Sealdah station
On January 15 this year Pramod Sain was given a ceremonial ride on a phaeton from Swami Vivekananda’s residence to Presidency University. The car moved with a majestic slow motion, trailing a crowd of alumni of the famous institution walking the 1.5 km stretch. The occasion was the bicentenary celebration of Presidency College, the first college of the country.
On July 4, Sain found himself on the pavement in front of Presidency University, evicted from the institution by the authorities who wanted to transform his canteen, a centre for brainstorming by generations of Bengali intellectuals, into a food court.
“l went to meet my wife and daughter in Cuttack. when I returned on July 4, I was not allowed to enter the canteen. I was asked to collect my belongings and leave,” the 60-year-old man alleged.
Evicted from his home of 47 years, and nowhere to go, Sain slept for three nights at Sealdah station. From Wednesday night, Suman Bhattacharya, a former student of the college, offered him shelter at his office near Lalbazar.
To many Pramod Sain, 60, the man who ran the canteen for more than four decades, is no less iconic than the institution itself. He enjoys such a stature that the Presidency souvenir shop sells coffee mugs with Pramod-da (da is a shortened version of dada which means elder brother in Bengali) printed on them.
A large section of the students on the campus have started agitating to let Sain run the canteen. Members of the Alumni Association have also come forward to help him obtain trade license and food licenses that he will need to compete in the tender that was floated on July 7.
Two of his cooks, who used to make rolls and mughlai paratha, have left. “I have come to the canteen today after a long gap just to rustle up something for the students who are agitating in my support,” Sain told HT.
Registrar Debojyoti Konar swears to be fair and transparent in the entire process. Says Alumni Association member and lawyer Partha Sarathi Sengupta, “There is nothing to object is there is a fair and transparent bid. Some of us are helping Pramod Sain to obtain the various licences that he will need to participate in the bid.”
“Did I imagine this happening to me? In January, they told me you are living history. Imagine I, who ran a canteen, was riding a phaeton, while hundreds of alumni including giants like (Jnanpith award winner) Sankha Ghosh was walking in front of me,” Sain said.
“It is impossible to start the day without a cup of coffee from him. He is the fourth P of Presidency -- prem, politics, porashona (studies) and Pramod-da,” said Ishani Ray, second year student of political science.
“There seems to be unanimity among students on retaining Pramod-da here,” remarked Arkopaul Dutta, a student who was the convener of student union Independent Consolidation last year.
A few former students have planned to approach education minister Partha Chatterjee to lobby for Sain. But despite the overwhelming sympathy for him, Sain himself seems to have conceded the game.
“They want to set up a food court and one has to prepare food from different states such as Punjab, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. It is impossible for me to deliver. But members of the Alumni Association are urging me not to leave the field and compete,” Sain told HT.
Sain has his wife and daughter, who passed MCA, live in Cuttack. His son and daughter-in-law both work for TCS in Bengaluru. “My son wants to take me with him. But all these years I have lived and dreamed only for this college,” said Sain in a choking voice.
His association dates back to the early 1970, when the smell of gunpowder filled the Naxalism-charged air of College Street and Presidency College. Sain, a boy of 13, came to the city under the shelter of his uncle who was a cook at the college hostel. He started working in the canteen for a monthly wage of Rs 20.
The next four decades turned him into Pramod-da.
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