Every Saturday, before signing off for the day, Mohammad Rafiq, head constable at Esplanade police station, follows a ‘ritual’. He visits the Broadway bus terminus, now a temporary market for sale of groceries and vegetables. He then lugs the purchase to the police station and on Sunday it goes into the making of a hearty meal for all police personnel at the station.
The complete lockdown on Sundays has turned this British-era Esplanade police station into a community kitchen for its personnel.
“Cooking is now additional work, but we don’t see it as such. For, it ensures safe food for all, and more importantly, having food together strengthens bonding among the police personnel at the station,” says S. Lakshmanan, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Flower Bazaar Police District.
Rafiq shoulders this additional responsibility but enjoys his new role as ‘cook’. As head constable, he heads a team of six police personnel including a few women constables attached to the (Madras) High Court Police Station. They all come together to cook breakfast and lunch for around 70 police personnel including 18 constables from the Armed Reserve (AR) wing of the Police Department.
The police team also cook additional food to be served to at least 30 persons, mainly homeless families in the neighbourhood.
“As a boy, I used to help my mother in the kitchen. But I never thought I would cook for my colleagues. We also make chicken biryani for lunch once in a while,” says Rafiq.
The police personnel divide the work, which includes cutting vegetables mainly onions and tomatoes; filling drums with water; shifting of LPG gas cylinders and cooking food.
Rafiq decides on the quantities of the ingredients including rice and groceries that are required.
On an average, 15 kilogrammes of rice, five kilogrammes of onions and tomatoes and other vegetables and two kilogrammes of edible oil are needed for the Sunday meal. The menu comprises idlis and sambar for breakfast, variety rice including sambar rice, lemon rice and curd rice and complete meals with papad for lunch. No dinner is served as most of the police personnel return home in the evening except for those on night shift.
“As I live in Tambaram, I pack food for the day. However, on Sundays, I don’t miss eating the food made at the station along with my team. It’s like college days,” says D. Jayachandran, Inspector (L&O), Esplanade police station.
The single-storey building, which belongs to PWD, accommodates three police stations — Esplanade (B-2), High Court (B-4) and All-Women High Court police station (W-11) — on its ground floor. The office of the Assistant Commissioner of Police (High Court) and the Armed Reserved Wing function is on the first floor. Close to 400 police personnel, including 120 women, share space at the building which has around 3,000 sq ft. The police personnel work in three shifts (6 a.m to 2 p.m; 2 p.m to 9 p.m and 9 p.m to 6 a.m) with each shift having a strength of 70 police personnel.