The canteen boys in all the newspaper offices I have worked in have been Mangloreans. Over the years, I have observed them closely, they have without exception been industrious and enterprising, and I have affection and admiration for them.
They plau football in the morning, work through the day, go to night schools in the evening. While we other more privileged say that education has no value left and degree cannot get up a job, they have great faith in educations. There is not a boy among them who does not go to night school and has not profited by doing so. They are the real earners-learners of Bombay.
Many years ago, midnight, after an evening of several bottles of country liquor, a photographer and I were returning home. On a traffic island on Queen's Road, opposite the Charni Road station, there was a night school on. The teachqer himself was a student of a regular high school. Then, after that got over, he used to conduct a class at the traffic island after 11 p.m. for those Mangalorean boys working in restaurants who could not find the time to go to even a regular night school.
The photographer took a picture getting the illuminated ‘Keep Left' sign of the island into the picture, I wrote a report, it appeared on the front page of the TOI. A few weeks later, M.V. Kamanth sent a despatch from Paris reprting that the story had come up before UNESCO and it had decided to do something about it. In almost a half century of reporting for newspapers, that story, I think, is my only genuine contribution to society. And to think I did it in a highly inebriated state.
But this column is not about me, it is about Mangaloreans. All the canteen boys I have know have moved on in life. As they served tea, they learnt how to work on the machines and got absorbed in the press. In one classic case, a boy finished night school, went to college, learnt shorthand and typing, joined the administrative staff and in a few years became the assistant to the managing director of the Free Press Journal and my boss.
Another boy, Shetty by name, was a peon and rose to be a chasier at the FJP, though the paper did not have much cash to count in those days. He was a tall, rangy fellow, keen on football, the State Bank employed him as a junior officer and made him its goalkeeper.
But these are individual cases. What is impressive is that entire generations of Mangalorean boys, every five years or so, through sheer hard work and determination, have risen and moved on. Soon another generation of young boys will come from Mangalore and Udipi and North and South Kanara, or whatever it is they call it, and man the canteens and restaurants. And Bombay will never be short for a cup (glass) of tea and sound and solid citizens.