For most of the faculty and staff at IIIT-Hyderabad, the typical day does not get a shot in the arm until Vijay pops in, asking cheerfully if they want tea or coffee. And it has been this way since 2006. “Only 5 days leave in about (every) 5 years, “ he says with a chuckle. His stories of hardwork and perseverance are such stuff that dreams are made of. You can spot him and his genial wife, Adilakshmi manning the snacks counter at CIE and tirelessly handing out teas or coffees or short eats. But this physical establishment has only been a recent phenomenon. Prod him to trace his footsteps so far and he enthusiastically begins in a chronological fashion.
Kerala to Hyderabad
Even as you look searchingly at his near-black mop of hair, unsuccessfully trying to second-guess his age, Vijay stops you with a “51 years old”. And as if for added emphasis, “ Born in 1967.” In Kerala. However, it wasn’t until 1982 that he first came to Hyderabad when he was selected to join the Indian Navy. As fate would have it, he was compelled to seek a medical re-examination on the grounds of having bow legs which apparently stood out prominently after a sprint. When he attempted to reapply after a recuperative month, he was told that there were no more vacancies.
He waited for six more months before turning his focus towards selection processes into the Indian Military Force, and the Railway Recruitment Board. among others. Finding it financially difficult to bear the cost of his lodging while appearing for interviews and such, he supplemented his income by waiting on tables. However, Vijay had to face a reality check when he was accosted by a couple of strangers promising him a guaranteed selection into the myriad of Governmental agencies, in return for bribes. He says ruefully, “It was the same with the Railway Recruitment Board”.
Switching with ease between Telugu (in a pronounced Malayalee accent) and Hindi, Vijay states matter-of-factly, “Onam, our big festival arrived and I had no money and neither had I made any progress..career-wise. It was then that I made a conscious decision to give up that route.” A string of waiting stints at various restaurants followed. “Sudha Hotel, Ameerpet, Madhu Niwas, Chikkadpally, Minerva Coffee Shop, Somajiguda”, he rattles, mentally ticking them off in a an orderly manner.
Initial Foray At IIITH
Through an acquaintance who used to then be in charge of the guest house at IIITH, Vijay got his first break at the institute. But not as a tea vendor. He was asked to operate the STD/ISD booth at the NBH hostel. All went well for the first three years but the advent of cell phones sounded the death knell on his source of livelihood. He shrugs, asking rhetorically, “When it used to cost 50p or Rs.1 to talk on the cell phone, who would want to pay a minimum Rs 3 just to say a hello?”. But in true entrepreneurial spirit, he quickly zeroed in on another need. “Everybody needs tea or coffee. I thought why not start supplying this to the staff here?,” quips Vijay.
Beyond Tea and Coffee
From a modest beginning where he used to ferry tea and coffee flasks on his scooter in large bags, to a counter dispensing an array of teas (lemon, green, ginger), coffee, Boost and snacks, Vijay has certainly come a long way. “After supplying the beverages between 10-12, I used to be free till 3pm. So that’s when I learned how to make snack items like bhajjis, pakodas and puris.” But demonstrative of his responsiveness to suggestions of the increasing tribe of the health-conscious, his snacks today shy away from an all-out oily fare. Boiled eggs with a generous sprinkling of salt and chilli powder seem to be a crowd-favourite. With the mercury beating down mercilessly on us, he talks of diversifying his standard fare. “We’re planning on dispensing cut fruits, fruit juices, milk shakes and even ice-creams very soon.”
Having kickstarted his career in an academic milieu, it’s not surprising that his aspirations for his children influenced their decision to study Engineering. “My daughter is in her final year and my son is in his second year of B.E”, he says with pride, while recounting how he owes not just his career break to IIITH but also the right educational impetus his children received. “It was thanks to an ex-professor who is now the Dean of the engineering college where my children study..Thanks to his intervention, I didn’t have to pay capitation fee.” Vijay’s friendly demeanor finds him chatting away with the professors even as he goes about his daily business of serving tea. While they ask of his family and children, he sometimes solicits their advice on career counselling.
Now and Forever
When asked about what has made his bond with IIIT stand the test of time, he thinks for a moment before replying that he prefers the easy-going environment that only academia or an educational institute can provide. “I do my work and go. There is no kirkiri here.” His mentor, confidante and go-to person for any kind of issues is Ramana, Deputy Registrar in the Administrative Office. We ask him if he plans to hang up his boots any time soon, Especially in view of the fact that his children will very soon start contributing to the family income. “Of course not!”, Vijay exclaims in mock horror. “As long as I have strength in my legs, I will continue to do the same work till my dying day”, he says. Let’s drink (chai) to that!