A strange notice in a railway station

BE THEY LARGE OR SMALL, I always enjoy railway stations. Today, the 7th of January 2023, we visited the Central Station in Chennai (Madras). This huge edifice is also known as ‘Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. M.G. Ramachandran Central Railway Station’. It is the busiest station in southern India. When we visited it at about 11 am, it seemed rather sleepy even though there were many people waiting for their trains.

The station was designed by a British architect George Harding. Its distinctive exterior has neo-Romanesque decorative features. It was first opened in 1873, but was rebuilt twice: in 1959 and 1998.

We bought coffees to drink in a canteen within the station. After paying at the cash desk we were given two small plastic discs, like counters used in board games. Each disc had the word “coffee” printed on one side of it. We handed these to a lady who prepared excellent South Indian filter coffee.

The walls of this small café-cum-restaurant are decorated with murals depicting Chennai and the Central Station. Numerous informative notices were also displayed in the walls. One informed customers that all of the water used had been filtered. Another forbids the eating of “outside food”, which means food not bought in the canteen. Yet another reassured customers that “medium refined” cooking oil was used in the kitchen. And another warned clients that they are under cctv surveillance.

One notice puzzled us. It reads: “NO BILL FOOD IS FREE”. Grammatically, it made no sense to us. We asked another customer, who was standing close to us, if she could explain. She smiled, revealing a set of teeth that would have benefitted from orthodontic treatment, and then, as quick as a flash, she explained that these words mean that without paying, no food will be served.

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