I really love those soya pies! Maybe I should eat less!
While Veg Out may not be in the centre of U.W.I, indeed it is a centre of our U.W.I experience.
Give me the name of the place where a French Lecturer starts a random conversation with a Administrative Assistant who is sharing the same $20 lunch of a thick tomato sauce pasta bowl with a second year Physics major? Established in the year 2000, Veg-Out is not only a central location of the University of the West Indies, it can easily be considered the capital of the campus; the only competitor that attracts dignitaries with the same frequency is the Alma Jordan Library Eric Williams Collection.
It was first set up to meet two major needs of the campus community. First, to fit in the niche of providing vegetarian food to vege-lovers (like I-n-I) and second, establishing a cute coffee and teashop environment where customers can fit in like family. It is standard to pick up a cup of coffee, read one of the daily newspapers, talk West Indies cricket and politics and feel the same comfort of a living room. Most persons refer to the owners as Aunty and Uncle. “Good morning, Aunty Angie, hello Uncle Chan”, is a common greeting persons share as they pick up an over the counter snack or settle on a high chair. I too am one of the thousands of nephews and nieces the owners have…unlike many of the other concessionaires on campus, we identify ourselves with Veg-Out, we identify with Anganie and Chandru as part of our relation.
What connects the diverse community of Veg Out family is the vibe of the place. If you believe in the gods of cricket and great music, this your shrine. Adorning the walls of this welcoming house you find art in memory of Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, Bob Marley on the microphone guiding people to Zion, The Beatles clock and quotes from the Dalai Lama. Chandru Chatlani finds power in his spiritual guide Baba Gurinder Singh. I had the opportunity to sit down with Uncle Chan to understand his model of business. I needed to make sense of the low key lunch support for needy students; the support for student entrepreneurship such as the Canada Hall resident’s cheesecakes; the struggles of family operation which drew on the goodwill of students who volunteer an hour or two to assist in the back. He replied, “Service for a price is not a service. Service without return is a service to God.”
There is a dark place in our University that has buckled under neoliberal pressures of global capital and has come to frame everything that matters on our campus as a business. In our commercialisation of the U.W.I, how does it account for the story of cheese paste sandwiches to PhD? What business practices from on top gives support to environmentally friendly and healthier option business from below? I want to hear of the testimony of the student who was stressed with her final year exams seeking advice and receiving good advice in KFC or Rituals?
Like many of the students who have passed through the U.W.I, Veg Out holds a special place in our hearts. Yes, it is the hot spot on campus for local music, snacks from the parlour back home and mehndi art; more importantly, it is a reminder to all of us who are studying hard and have hope of being productive in the economy that there is greater power in the abilities of the soul and not the motivation of profit that can occupy the mind. If our University does not understand this too then they completely miss the point. Every morning, Aunty Anganie, Uncle Chandru and Aneeta wake up at 2:30am preparing food for the store, leave Port-of-Spain at 5am to get to St. Augustine in time for the student and staff member in need of a pencil or hot cup of tea…we honour your love and dedication.
But seriously, those soya pies are the bomb!