I was astonished as well as amused by the satire he could bring into his tone when he said ‘she is so kind and compassionate’ as if she really was one. We approached the patio of university library building. It was indeed a huge structure, not in terms of elevation but in terms of the area it covered. Unlike the main building of the university, this one had a modern architectural design. With a large square entrance and wide windows, with its colour combination of red and cream, the artificial tiled roof from outside although it was covered with a roof of concrete slab, and a very light gray coloured doom jetting out of a portion of the structure right behind the entrance, it looked awesome. The calm and serene atmosphere in and around it was only occasionally disturbed by a stray human laughter or the hum of the honeybees. I was brought back to the world when Bhaskar intoned,” The Big Boor was almost getting ready to talk to her when I pulled him aside. He is such a shameless fellow”
We crossed the entrance of the library without caring to enter it and approached a small canteen. It was but a tin box kept in the corner on the outside of the building and there were no chairs or tables. The person standing behind the counter, or rather standing in the box was a short, bald headed man with a very innocent look in his eyes. We ordered for tea for all of us and collected our hot, steaming steal cups. There was a long wooden bench with no backrest. I could not hold the hot cup longer and I kept it on the bench. The moment Bhaskar saw a newspaper was lying there, he took it and began reading very intently. And this was to remain his habit throughout our stay on the campus.
The tea was more or less like hot sweet water. But what could you get for a mere fifty paise? But it tasted better with pulls at our cigarettes in between. Some girls wearing skirts and jeans with t-shirts were going towards the university, but they had not come out of the library. “ You see, all such modern looking girls are to be found only in the departments of MBA, Journalism, English, MSW and psychology… all other departments including ours, will have to do with studious, bookish, rural type of girls. That too very few.” This was Mohan who said so. Bhaskar was grinning and he asked me, “ You are from a more urbanized city. You must be having some girlfriend”. It was more a question than a statement but I had to answer it. This is the time, I thought, I must make a favourable impression on those fellows. Or else, my misery will continue. But it had always been near impossible for me to lie. Therefore I just flashed them a mysterious smile. “ I knew it”, burst out Bhaskar. But then I felt compelled to add, “ But not any more…” I could not help the melancholy smile creeping on to my face. It was perhaps, taken to mean that I had a girlfriend who ditched me or the circumstances lead to our separation!
I think the thought of falling in love and facing the trials and tribulations in making it successful appeals to the guys a lot. But the failure in love, more so. I could see that sympathy was written in bold on the faces of Bhaskar and Vijay. But, on the face of Mohan, I could see more than that. It was as if he was transported to his own world of melancholy. “I think you fall in the category of Mohan”, said Bhaskar with some feeling.
After a while, Mohan and Bhaskar said that they had to go to their undergraduate college to meet some buddies. They took our leave saying that they would be back to the department to attend the function in the afternoon. Since we had nothing to do, Vijay and I decided to go to the Mess located in the Students’ Home to have our lunch, since the mess in our hostel has not yet reopened after the summer vacation.
The Mess was really in mess! It was the left portion of the structure used as Student Home housing a big hall for indoor sports, a waiting lounge and the Students’ Guidance Bureau on the first floor. Scores of students were already having their lunch and another couple of scores was in the queue to purchase the coupons. The coupon had to be produced at the counter to get the plate filled with two types of boiled vegetable or pulse dishes, two chapattis, a bowl of rice and another small bowl of curry. It was like the popular rice-plate that is served in most of the south Indian hotels. The cost of a plate was two rupees and seventy-five paise, much below the prevailing market rate of about nine rupees. But the food did not look delicious and I was to discover later that it was in fact, insipid. I could hardly eat the second chapatti but was amazed to hear many students complaining that the quantity was too less. I began to miss the well-oiled, soft and tasty chapattis and the varieties of vegetables my mother used to serve me, not to speak of the mutton and chicken dishes I got during the weekends. Food is one of the reasons why guys become homesick.
“What can be done man, we should get used to it now”, Vijay, who was observing me closely, said. “Ok, let us finish this and go” I replied and began thrusting the food down my throat.
When we finished eating and came out of the mess, on the outer wall I read what I had not seen while entering the mess. Some guy, certainly frustrated with the food had written with a charcoal “Note: Those who eat in this mess, cannot beget children. But the management will not be responsible for the same!” Some one else had scrawled below “ Eat at your own responsibility!”