When I got down from the autorikshaw before the main door of the hostel, which was going to be my home for the next couple of years, there was a shimmering sun and a beautiful scent of the wild flowers that had sprang up around the hostel was lingering in the air. The hostel was a three-storied building with a passage jetting out in the middle leading to the canteen and mess. On a big box cum bench at the entrance of the hostel, some boys were sitting, wearing lungis and shirts and keenly observing the newcomers. They obviously were the seniors. I was allotted the fourth room on the left wing of first floor. There were Science Boys’ Hostel, Research Scholars’ Hostel, and Self Cooking Hostel apart from our hostel, widely spread apart in the campus. These hostels were for boys and at another end of the campus; the girls had about three hostels. Research Scholars’ Hostel was separated from the by a wide and deep valley on the left side of my hostel and the opposite side was occupied by a vast patch of land with thick vegetative growth. Some trees looked to be belonging rare species that I had not come across. Later I came to know that it was called Botanical Garden. We could go the Main Building of the University using the shortcut through the botanical garden. It was a meandering path way created by constant use by the trespassers. One of the better-trodden paths led to the University Library.
I came to know, to my distaste, three freshers were allotted a room each for the first year called previous and two students could share a room if they are in final year. When I entered my room, it had already been occupied by a couple of students. I had to occupy the third cot adjacent to the window. The room was designed for two students but it was big enough to accommodate three. There were two cupboards built in the wall, which too had been taken possession of. A boy who was sitting on his cot looked up and asked me which department I belonged to. He had a fair complexion, a straight nose and a narrow chest covered with hair that was peeping out of his transparent shirt. He was approximately my height and his voice was a bit high pitched.
“Political Science” I replied. He seemed relieved and said, “ Nice, I too. Good that we both are going to the same department. I am Vijay. Where are you from?” I too was happy that there would be some company and said “ I am from Belgaum. My name is Harsha”. “We better be leaving now”, he said getting up from his bed, “if you are going to attend the class…you have already missed quite a few lectures. Where had you been after taking admission?”
I had thought of unpacking my luggage, but I didn’t have time. He handed me a duplicate key for my use while I was replying to his query. “ I was down with paratyphoid. It seems I have to meet the HOD to explain my absence”.
He looked a couple of years older than me and didn’t seem to know English well. I was used to talking to people in either English or Hindi in my college although my mother tongue is Kannada. We were conversing in Kannada and I could guess that he belonged to a farming family of Dharwad district. He told me after a while, when we were passing through the botanical garden, that he was from Hirekerur taluk of Dharwad district and had completed his graduation a couple of years ago from an adjoining town. He was a very mild type of person with lot of humility and compassion. He said he was lucky to have got admission to the master’s course this year.
When we reached the department, I parted company with him to meet the HOD. Some student was inside his chamber, and some others were waiting at the door. I saw that those who were going inside were removing their footwear at the door, as if entering a temple. A peon was standing there and enforcing it as if it was a rule. However, when my turn came, I gave an angry stare to him and he didn’t say anything to me. I knocked the door and when I heard “come in” in a bass, I entered the chamber of the HOD.
HOD was a tall man of about fifty and had a heavy body with a bulging paunch. He was wearing a thick spectacle with wide frame, through which his black eyes were looking bigger than they were. His voice too was very heavy, befitting his heavy frame. When he spoke, his mouth, which had thick lips, slanted and it looked even more pronounced because he wasn’t sporting moustache. He didn’t offer me a seat. His was an authoritative attitude and he looked more like a bureaucrat than a professor. “Yes, what is it you want?” he asked. I leaned on his large table while speaking unknowingly resting my weight on my hands. “ I am a student of previous year sir, and after taking admission I had fallen ill. That is why I could not attend any lectures till today.”
“Stand straight or else you may fall down on my table!” said he. I immediately corrected my posture. “ It is not a problem. Just give a letter stating the reasons for your absence and enclose a medical certificate. Hereafter attend the classes regularly. You may go now”. With these words, he dismissed me.
It was as much a shock to me as it was a surprise. I had thought that since all those who came to study here were graduates, they will be treated as grown ups if not as equals. But I did not know at that time, that more was to come.