The Manna Experience… – I

It is said that the life at Trivandrum Engineering College won’t be complete if you don’t stay in the college hostel. Getting admission to the college hostel was always difficult as there was great demand for the rooms. It was not surprising, as the monthly rent for a double room was only Rs. 60 compared to the rent outside which was more than Rs. 250. Also one does not need to spend money on transportation and the hostel food was considered better than most hostels in the city like the Medical College Hostel.

My friend Isaac and I managed to get admission only during the fifth semester. By that time, many of our privileged friends were already in the hostel. Till that time we were staying in the city—I was staying in a hostel near Spencer junction (opposite to the AKG Center) and Isaac at YMCA. Because our friends have already established their presence and were quite influential, we got a room next to theirs. So we had eight rooms to our gang, four on either side of the corridor at the end of the right wing on the ground floor of the B-block (more about the complicated construction and architectural beauty of the hostel in another post). There were 16 of us—Bibin, Hari, Saju, Rajgop, Sujith, Jose, Regi, George, Vinod, BalG, Aby, Appu, Reji, Anish, Isaac and I. It was great fun living in a place with so many friends with nobody to watch over your shoulders.

In addition to the hostel mess, there were many eateries in and around the hostel. One was called Manna (named after the food miraculously supplied to the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness). Manna was the final year project of one of the architectural students; the building was constructed at the end of the hostel ground and the funds were provided by the college.

The gentleman who designed and built Manna was running a small-scale café there after completing the project. Nobody had any problems with that until in one meeting of the hostel union somebody had a brainwave. If rumors were to be believed, a ‘very good friend’ of the architect pointed out that since Manna was situated in the hostel property and since it was constructed using college funds, a rent should be charged as the building was used for commercial purposes. Thus it was decided to give Manna on lease for three months (as a trial) to students who wanted to run a restaurant there. Once the decision was announced, the hostel union was beleaguered with requests for the building. So it was decided to conduct an auction.

We wanted to practice and perfect our entrepreneurial skills and decided to take part in the auction. The atmosphere at the auction room was as tense as at a liquor shop auction with many genuine and as many fake participants whose only aim was to push the rate up thronged the room. Bibin and I went for the auction with our upper limit as Rs. 2000. But the competition was fierce and after an hour of very aggressive and competitive bidding we managed to get the lease (the building, the furniture, the LPG cylinders and stove, the cooking utensils, and the permission to use electricity and water and place for the employees to stay) for Rs. 3900.

We decided to retain the name as we had heard about the famous Manna restaurant in London founded in the 1960s by Kate Alexander and her husband Don Wreford.


Manna had a simple, elegant and unique design (the above photo of Manna was taken in 1987). Both our college and hostel are built on top of hills. So the view was panoramic. We could see the entire valley from Manna. Manna was a marriage of traditional and modern design. It had a room with brick walls and concrete roof that housed the kitchen and the store. Then there were the serving counter, cash counter and parapet (which doubled as seats) all made of brick with cement plastering on the top. This area had thatched roof and the roof was supported on pillars. There were no walls for the dining area. Seating benches (brick with cement top) were also built around the base of two Gulmohar trees near the building, which formed the open-air portion of the restaurant. The back of the building was a deep valley; on the left side was the hostel ground, on the right was road from hostel to college and in the front we had the hostel. We used to get good breeze almost all the time which obviated the need for fans and other cooling mechanisms. Even on a hot day, the temperature inside was pleasant, thanks to the thatched roof and shade of the trees.

Since the building had all the infrastructure we didn’t have many problems in opening our restaurant. Once we opened, all of us who were having food from the hostel mess, switched to Manna. So the owners formed majority of the clientele. We retained the cook who was with the earlier management.

Initially we took turns taking the orders, serving the dishes and managing the cash counter. But soon it became a problem as we had to cut classes to manage the restaurant and for most us, the attendance was below the required 75%. So we had to attend all the classes we could. The impending fifth semester examination did not made things easy as we had to prepare for that as well. In addition we had to complete the lab sessions and submit the semester end assignments. So we appointed a full-time employee as the cashier cum waiter and agreed that we would step in during the rush hours. Thus on the operational side, we were managing reasonably well with two employees. But financially we were in trouble. We were not even breaking even let alone for making profits. In fact we were losing money and if the trend continued we would have to close shop and file for bankruptcy.

To be continued…


  1. Jithu said,

    August 2, 2005 at 2:23 am

    Man that was amazing. Really proud of my CET and my kids out there, if I can say that. 😉 Keep the spirits high guys!

    Sujith (CET 2002)

  2. Jithu said,

    August 2, 2005 at 2:37 am

    Hey I am sorry… 🙂 I checked ur profile only after reading ur blog chetta 🙂 From there I came to know that u passed out in 1989, 13 years before i passed out.. he.. he..

  3. Alexis Leon said,

    August 2, 2005 at 10:05 am

    Hi Jithu, apology accepted. Was Manna still there when you were in CET?

  4. Jithu said,

    August 2, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    That building was there and some third party was running a store there.. v used to get tea/cold drinks/snacks from there, not heavy stuff.. bt that was three years ago!!