Sumptuous Food in the 1950s


“What struck me was the amount of butter they served during breakfast: a full one-inch cube!”

The author (Photo courtesy: GSS Murthy)

I was in the IISc hostel during 1956-59, when I was a student studying for D.IISc in the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering, and again during 1960-61 when I was a research student under the late Dr BS Ramakrishna, a professor in the department. Our life in the hostel centred around the mess and the gymkhana.

There were 6-7 blocks in the hostel (A to F/G) and I stayed in E-block, which was adjacent and attached to the vegetarian mess.

Although hostel life was not new to me, the quantum jump in the quality and the quantity of the food served in the mess was so remarkable that whenever I went home I spoke more about the mess and the food than about the course I was attending and my studies!

Breakfast, lunch, evening tea with snacks, and dinner were all sumptuous. Food was unlimited, except for perhaps the daily dessert at the end of the dinner. What struck me was the amount of butter they served during breakfast: a full one-inch cube! There were platefuls of jam, and you could consume as much as you wanted.

At lunch and dinner we had different dishes catering to the students coming from the south and the north. Papads came heaped in big plates – there was once a hilarious situation when a student from Bengal drew the papad plate near him believing that the whole plate was meant for a single person. Someone quietly told him that the plate was meant for the table and he withdrew himself from the adventure of consuming the plate of papads.

The cooks must have been experts – we rarely thought of them in our eagerness to consume what they prepared – and one dish I remember and long for was the mouth-watering stuffed-tomato, the likes of which I never came across after I left the hostel.

As students came from all over India, their table manners were varied. There was one person who would touch the ground with a finger and lick the finger before starting his meal and there was another one who would use the right hand both for eating and passing on the dishes. I think someone told him discreetly and he started using the right hand exclusively for eating afterwards. Of course, there were knives and forks, but most ate in the Indian way.

The non-vegetarian mess was a projection of the building and ran parallel to the E-block. The mess supervisor was one Mr Nair, a genial middle-aged person with a gruff voice.

At the beginning of an academic year, there was a welcome dinner for the new entrants and each person was asked to introduce himself to the gathering. As I came from a village and my father had agricultural lands, I called myself an agriculturist in my introductory speech. Somehow the others found it funny and an Andhra friend of mine remembers me to this day as an agriculturist!

GS Srinivasa Murthy worked in telecommunications after leaving IISc, and retired in 1995. Since then he has been studying Sanskrit and has published a collection of Sanskrit poems. He is 80 years old and lives with his wife in Bangalore.


For more stories about the mess and accounts by alumni, follow the links below:

A History of the Messes: Dining at IISc

Eating Together: A Student’s Letter of Protest

The Common Dining Hall: ‘Neither Indian Nor European, But Something New’

The 1940s: Strange Encounters of the Kheema Kind

The 2000s: How to Get Dosas Without Waiting in Line

Interview with a Mess Supervisor: ‘They Still Remember Our Food’

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