Complaint – Thi Janakiraman

We all complain, nowadays, about the food dished out by the airlines; about the plastic trays, the aseptic smell, the quantity and taste. The reason could be the food served by Indian Railways have improved. Anyone who travelled long distance and did not have the luxury to pack food from home, would have tasted the meals in Indian trains. We all would have had this experience. First you are hungry and desperately look for the meal, you get the meal, eat it and then regret why did you eat this stuff.

This story will bring back the strong memories of those days. A light read from my favourite author, Thi Janakiraman.

Complaint – கம்ப்ளெய்ண்ட்

“You have brought a thick letter. Looks like seven or eight pages.”

“Nine Pages.”

“What about?”


“Of course complaint. That’s why they have kept us here. You sound as if this is the first one we have received. What is it about? Have you read it?”

“Yes. I have.”

“Brief me. On what has he complained about in nine pages.”

“About food.”

“What else would they complain about in our country? What is struck at the edge of the letter. It’s black.”

“I also did not understand. I thought it was a piece of coal. But I was wondering how a piece of coal could be in such a perfect square in shape!”

“Show it to me. Hey this looks like Mysurpak.” (A sweet made of lentil and sugar).

“Yes that’s the complaint. He opened the meal tray and took the sweet in his hands. He always wanted to start the meal with the sweet. But he ended up getting this.”

“Yes. This would have been Mysurpak. Probably it fell in the fire after it was made or somewhere on the stove where the surface was very hot. I have never seen a Mysurpak like this. Even if scratch the outer surface it’s black inside. It’s burnt totally. Has become carbon in chemical transformation. But why did they pack and keep it in the meal tray?”

“Someone has kept it. That’s why complaint has come.”

“Which train?”

“Grand Trunk Express.”

“The one from Delhi to Chennai or the Chennai to Delhi? Who has made the complaint? Guy from here or North?”

“From our city only. He was sleeping in the afternoon and the guy who took the order for dinner did not wake him up and ask if he needed dinner. When the other passengers were served dinner in the evening, he did not get one. He asked the boy why he was not being served and the guy replied you did not ask for one. So our passenger asked why was his order not taken. The boy had replied, you were sleeping. He asked him why did you not wake me? And he replied, you might have got angry if I had disturbed your sleep. So our complainant had asked him, should he have been awake the whole time. The boy replied, yes if you wanted dinner. So our passenger requested for a meal as he was hungry but the boy said there was no meal left.”

“Our friend would have looked at all the passengers eating; saliva drooping from his mouth. Poor chap.”

“Fifteen minutes later, a waiter went through the compartment shouting he had two meals let. So the complainant caught hold of him, paid four rupees for the meal, opened the meal tray and had found this.”

“OK. He got a perfectly shaped piece of coal. what else?”

“He tried to open the cellophane pack which had puris. But he could not open it. He used his teeth and prised it open and found all 5 or 6 puris stuck to each other. He tried his best to remove one but ended up oil from the puris spilling on to his silk shirt.”

“Stupid ass. Would anyone eat a meal wearing a silk shirt. If he did not know elementary eating habits, how could anyone help him?”

“Somehow he struggled and ate the puris. Then he tried the rice which was totally dry. Each rice grain was staring at him and he had to use his nail to pull it out of his meal plate. It looked like note book cover and he had to eat it like a cow. He has complained the curry and pickle all were dry and got struck to the plate.”

“Oh he had to use his thumbnail to pick them off the plate as well. Poor chap. Then?”

“So he called the attendant of the compartment, showed him the coal piece and asked him what was that? The attendant just kept staring at it but could not answer.”

“The way I stared it few moments ago.”

“Yes then he told our passenger that he did know what was that but he would find out who served this plate. He asked our man to identify the bearer. Our friend had replied that he was young, tall and had a step hair cut. The attendant had replied every waiter in the Grant Truck Express is tall, young and had step hair cut. This is like finding a tonsured person in Tirupati temple. He asked our passenger did he notice the name badge.”

“Our friend was so hungry. Would he have watched the name badge?”

“The bearer was about to throw the Mysurpak outside the train when our complainant retrieved it from him.”

“Oh yes. He wanted to send us the proof. Hmm then?”

“After a while, two waiters passed by his compartment, stared at him and made some comments laughing. He approached them slowly to check if one of them was the culprit. But they ran away through the vestibule.”

“OK what else?”

“He has made the same complaints we receive often from other  passengers.”


“They serve only half cup of coffee. After sometime, waiters bring thermos and sell coffee. Once he paid for it and opened the flask, he found the coffee was just cold. Some cheats mix all the left over coffee, pour it in flask and dupe passengers. He has asked the railways pay the staff well and provide other facilities. Why resort to all these cheap tricks to make an extra buck? Not only that. In the olden days, coffee used to be brewed inside the train and would be fresh with aroma. Nowadays we serve instant coffee and it smells like cloths just rinsed in soap water.”

“What an ancient man he is. Technology has developed so much. If we boil water, pour it on coffee filter and wait for the filtrate, by the time we could serve coffee, the train would reach Delhi. If we boil water in Delhi, you will get coffee only after reaching Madras. They don’t understand technology. Why do these old guys travel in trains? What else?”

“Nothing. He is asking us to make enquiries and address his complaints.”

“Who has signed it?”



“No address.”

“Oh Anonymous letter. Venkatesan is Lord Balaji’s name. Just like the water commented it is like finding a clean-shaven guy in Triupati.”

“But his complaint is genuine. He has written what’s happening in our trains.”

“If he was sincere, he should have given his address. Should have mentioned the date of travel, berth number reservation number etc. He has complained without any basis. OK keep the letter there.”

“Should I make a note and send it to seniors for action?”

“You keep the letter and go. Let me decide if I have to forward the complaint. This Arun Shourie has made our lives difficult. You can go.”

“Yes sir.”

“Why are you keeping it here. I said keep it there. Look! There!”


“No here.”


“No. Look down. Can you see? There.”

“Sir this is dust bin.”

“Do you have to tell me that?”

********************                                                                                                      1980s??

Thi Ja

Janakiraman(also known asThi Jaa, 28 February 1921 – 18 November 1983) is a Tamil writer from Tamil Nadu, India. He is considered one of the major figures of 20th century Tamil fiction.

He was born in a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family of Madras Presidency in 1921.[1] He worked as a civil servant. His writing included accounts of his travels in Japan and the Crimea.[2]The writing style of Thi Jaa is simple and narrative. His best-known novels are MogamulSembaruthi, and Amma Vandhaal. All these novels have feminine feelings embedded in their subject. Though the story is spun around delicate feelings, the author’s narration is flawless and spontaneous. His short stories such as Langdadevi (a lame horse) and Mulmudi (Crown of Thorns) also follow the same style of writing. – Wikipedia





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