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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Friends' Circle

By the time the function was over, it was almost six in the evening and just as I was thinking of going back to the hostel, Vijay asked me, “Partner, Mohan and Bhaskar are going to the city for dinner. They were asking if we care to join them”

“What for?”

“They have to purchase some buckets, soaps etc. I think you too require getting them. Shall we go”?

“Well, you are right. Let’s go”

Soon we were all off to the city in a bus.

It was getting dark. I could see through the window of the bus that the university beginning to glow with fluorescent lights, and man, it did look great. Sitting by my side was Vijay. Mohan and Bhaskar were sitting a row ahead and it was Mohan who purchased the tickets. This time the bus was taking a round about route to the city and I had the opportunity to see another part of the city. But all of a sudden it began to rain and I had to close the window. The rainwater covered the already soiled windowpane and began dripping down. I could hardly see anything through it. It took more than twenty minutes for the bus to reach the city-bus stand and it was very difficult to get out of it due to rain. None of us had an umbrella and we had no other choice but to jump out of the bus and run to take shelter under the concrete tapering shelter. “It is better we directly go to Sitara” Mohan suggested. “Yeah, it is already late”, Bhaskar agreed. I did not know what Sitara was but I guessed it might be a hotel.


Sitara turned out to be a bar and restaurant. Mohan and Bhaskar hadn’t even cared to know my view. I just had to follow them, thankful to be relieved of hopping over the potholes on the road, filled with dirty, muddied rainwater. It was a small newly constructed restaurant with a hall of the size of our lecture hall behind the counter, surrounded by about eight rooms with curtains. It was clean and the waiters wore white uniforms. Since it was early in the evening, we could occupy a room. I was soaking wet here and there, all over my clothes. Still surprisingly it felt good.

“What would you like to order?” Mohan asked me immediately rejoining it with “ We usually take whiskey”. “It is fine by me,” I said. “Nothing for me. I don’t drink”, Vijay said. “What man, how come you don’t drink? It is considered backward these days. Isn’t it?” Bhaskar asked with a grin. “No brother”, said Mohan, “ It is good that he doesn’t drink. We will never compel anyone to drink.” Bhaskar’s grin widened. Said he,” Right brother. There should be someone sober enough to take care of us. Like we used to have Swamy.” Both Mohan and Bhaskar laughed loudly.

Mohan, watching my puzzled look, said, “ We have another friend, we call him Swamy because he neither drinks, nor smokes, and leads a very pious life. But he would never miss being with us during drinking bouts. Before last year, on the New Year’s Eve, we had a cocktail party in our room. We started drinking all sorts of drinks, right from the sunset. By 11, half the guys had left and only Bhaskar and I continued. All the while he was serving us soda, water, cigarettes and listening to all our blabber. Soon Bhaskar blacked out and he began to throw out in his sleep. I went out of the room and slept on the verandah on the cold floor. I think Bhaskar kept on puking for about half an hour. But in the morning, the room was spotlessly clean. Swamy had washed the room with his bare hands!”

More laughs followed. But Vijay said,” But don’t you dare expect such a service from me. Ok?”

“Got you! I knew I will be able to catch you here!” It was from a guy of medium height, wheatish complexioned, who was standing at the door with the curtain pushed aside by his right hand. He had small eyes, arched brows, and cheeks scarred by pimples that he might have had when he was stepping into adulthood. “Nice timing! Come on in.” Mohan invited him.

“ Are you alone?” Bhaskar asked.

He sat by the side of Bhaskar opposite me.

“Yeah. I was waiting for Suryavamshi Raja. He did not turn up. I think he is stuck up with some old friends of his in Hubli.” He said, and then looked at me.

“This is Pavan Sulebhavi. He was our classmate in the college. He also has joined for PG but in History department. “ Mohan introduced him to me. I shook hands with him saying, “ Harsh from Belgaum. Nice meeting you!”.

Obviously they had a very large group of friends, what they termed ‘friends’ circle’.

We ordered whisky and soda water and boiled peanuts for munching. The conversation drifted to Mohan and collegemates and the funny things that had happened. I had to observe silence for I obviously was an outsider. My roommate knew quite a few of their friends since he hailed from the same or the neighboring Taluka and threw in some comments here and there. I kept sipping my drinking and listening to them. After a while, Bhaskar became more animated and his face turned red. He called the waiter and asked for ITC smalls.

Bhaskar, I realized, had a very attractive way of speaking. His satire and wit held others’ attention and often resulted in roaring laughter. However, it was Mohan who was the natural leader of the group. I could make out that he was he was a leader for those of the group who were not present there. Pavan was a bit withdrawn and drank silently. I found that he was drinking it neat. Now they were talking about their collegemates who could not make it to the university, or those who had chosen to join B.Ed College. But the focus was on the girls. Bhaskar said, “ Brother, Katyayani has joined a private B.Ed College. I met her the other day. She was inquiring about you specifically”.

“Oh! Don’t mention it. It was a good riddance “ Mohan replied. But Bhaskar continued, for the benefit of Vijay and me and narrated how every one in their college was mad after her but she was herself mad after Mohan.” Was she very beautiful?” I asked. “No man, not very good looking. But she had something in her personality which attracted all the guys.”

The conversation soon turned to the university, with Vijay asking Pavan about his department. Pavan replied. “It is all the same in all the departments in the university, man. I have heard of some Ph.D students washing clothes, and bringing groceries for their guides.”

“Hard to believe” said I. “You will soon find it yourself shortly,” Pavan said. Mohan said, “ It has changed to some extent after the introduction of double valuation in the PG exams. But teachers know how to control their wards. Girls seem to have an upper hand in the university exams. One of our seniors who passed out in the university used to tell us that you should be very intelligent and servile to get better marks. But if you have what the girls have, then things may be easy!”

“That means you should have either tits or wits to be successful in the university” Bhaskar said. Everyone laughed out loudly and I too joined them, although I found it hard to believe.


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Inaugural Function

We wandered in the campus partly to acquaint ourselves with it and partly to spend the time, for we had another hour to wait for the function to commence in the department. Finally, we reached our department and found that the seniors were decorating the lecture hall, in which the function was to be held, and some of the seniors were writing the details of the function on the black board using pieces of chalk of different colours. We did not want to disturb them; therefore we walked out and stood near the banister. Soon, Mohan and Bhaskar arrived, bringing with them the smell of cigarette that they might have smoked just before coming there. All others too began arriving and entering the hall. Although nobody said so, we had decided to sit at the last bench to watch the proceedings. A senior walked up to me and asked me to speak a few words in reply to the welcome speech, as is the practice. I was in two minds because I was not too sure of being able to speak in Kannada. However, he put me at ease by telling me that I had been chosen because I could speak in English.

The Welcome Function, as it is known popularly, had its own set format. It had the same format in almost all the departments of the university. It will be presided over by the HOD and there will be garlanding, introduction followed by welcoming by the senior students who were supposed to say all good things about the university and its teachers, and advise the juniors as to how to conduct themselves. Then a couple of junior students would reply assuring the teachers and the seniors of their good behaviour and of sparing no effort in bringing good name to themselves and the university. At the end will be the address by the President of the function.

As I entered the hall, the fragrance of the perfumed sticks burning on the dais struck my nostrils. At the same time, there was also an intoxicating fragrance of the jasmine flowers worn by the girls. All girls were wearing silk saris of different hues with rich embroidery. I thought they were vying with each other to look more beautiful. I could not look at individual faces for the fear of embarrassing them and I wouldn’t recognize any of them even if looked at them. Mohan, Bhaskar and Vijay followed me to the last bench. The function started with a prayer sung by some girl among the seniors and I was quick to note that it was badly out of pitch. It was followed by a couple of seniors ‘heartily welcoming’ the juniors and profusely extolling the teaching staff. We were also briefed about the facilities available on the campus such as the library, students’ home, health center, gymkhana, PG diploma courses, etc. How much more servile can they be, I couldn’t help wonder. Although they were speaking in their own mother tongue, the halting way in which they were pronouncing their each word, the effort they were trying to put into what they were saying, was all funny.

But the funniest part came later when a senior student walked on to the dais. He was less than five-two, fair with a reddish tinge, short and wide nose, and very skinny. He was wearing a dark red shirt over somewhat greenish trousers and shining rubber shoes. He began his speech in a high-pitched, nasal tone. “ Respected HOD of the department, lovely teachers!” Perhaps he meant loving or affectionate by lovely. “My dear student-friends!” As if we were all his students and friends!

He continued, “Today is a great auspicious day! Because welcoming the new students and also teachers there. Last year I was also newly came. I was feared so much about seniors and teachers” May be he meant he was afraid. “But later I found all are equal! Seniors were very friendly! Teachers are also very kind and nice! Now I am fearing nobody…” Some teachers began to suppress their smile. Some looked embarrassed.

“ All are coming from different different places. Everyone belonging to his own place!” As if somebody may not belong to his own place. “But after coming, all are friends. All belonging to only once family like brothers” He did not say sisters. I was sure he deliberately refrained from saying so. “ The campus here is very beautiful. Only worry is food. They are giving less but cost is also less. Only quality is not good. Chapattis are like rubber bands. Curry is only water and water. But we have to eat. Hostels are good. Sometimes water is not there. Very difficult in the morning for… for…everything!” He contorted his face while saying this. There was a loud laughter.

“ We come here to study, not eating and washing” More laughter. “ So we should concentrate our study. And bring name to us and teachers and also university. Juniors should obey seniors. They will get all help. All notes of all subjects you can Xerox. Please study hardly and success is guarantee. On behalf of all seniors, hearty welcome to all juniors. Thank you all” Teachers were looking here and there, without knowing what to avoid looking at. There was applause.

When it was time for the reply by the juniors, the name “Miss Kalavati Khot” was announced in response to which a girl rose from the group of our classmates from the second row of the benches. She was very lean due to which she looked very tall, but was of average height. She had sharp features and pronounced chin, which she had the habit of holding very high as if she was intellectually and morally superior to all those around her. She was neither good looking nor ugly but seemed to believe she was beautiful. She delivered a well-rehearsed speech, in Kannada. She must have learnt it by rote after practising it before the mirror a hundred times. Every move, every gesture of hers seemed to have been practiced well, just like the schoolgirl rehearsing for the elocution competition.

Just like all others, she was fawning and quoted profusely the vachanas, the free verse developed by the followers of Veerashaivism in Kannada beginning with, if I remember correctly, 12th century A.D. Oh God! She was going to be in my class for the next couple of years. Extolling the university as the peetha of Saraswati, the Goddess of Vidya, and dwelling in what she had head about the reputation of the teachers, she went on and on ad nauseam. In the end she asked the seniors to be kind enough to pass on to the juniors, the notes they had prepared during their previous year.

There is a saying in Kannada that unless you become a slave of the guru, you would not have salvation. It is true to some extent, and it used to be true to a great extent in the olden times when there was gurukula system of learning at the feet of the teacher for the simple reason that the only source of acquiring knowledge was the guru and modern education system has changed all that. The teaching has now become a profession and there are hundreds of sources for learning what one likes, the libraries and museums being the least of them. A couple of decades ago, I had enrolled for higher education, the computers and Internet had not become commonplace. And what she and all others like her were talking was not as much about acquiring degrees in order to get a job, as acquiring knowledge. I had always believed then, and even now more than ever, that up to a certain age, one requires to be taught. Thereafter, nobody can teach you anything. The fact that the teachers are called ‘teachers’ in the schools, but are called ‘lecturers, readers and professors’ in the colleges and the universities, is not a matter of simple coincidence.

I was amidst of all these thoughts when my name was announced. It brought some chills to my body. All said and done, it is not an easy task to make a speech, even less an extempore one. By the time I joined the university, I ad concluded that I would make a very bad teacher; if ever I would be made one. A couple of my earlier efforts at delivering a speech had ended in disaster. However, I was good whenever I presented a paper in the seminars conducted in my college. With some amount of preparation, I would have given a tolerable talk. I never prided in my oratorical skills, for I had hardly any. Now was the time when I had to make a speech without any preparation. But there was no turning back. I rose slowly but went to the dais very swiftly. I had learnt during my presentations that I had the capacity to speak long sentences in one breath, with a soft accent. I did the same here. Even before anyone could make out what I was out to tell, I had finished my speech! I just made a couple of points. I began with requesting the seniors not to pass on any notes since spoon-feeding would not help our objective of acquiring knowledge, and moreover, it would tend us to limit ourselves to the notes only and keep us away from the books and other original sources. I said that our purpose should be acquisition of knowledge and not mere acquisition of a degree.

The HOD, in the end delivered his presidential address in which, referring to my words, he said acquisition of degree is as important as acquisition of knowledge, especially for those coming from the less privileged backgrounds. It would land them in some job, which is the very purpose of their coming to the university. Allthesame, he said that acquisition of degree is not separate or distinct from the pursuit of knowledge and academic excellence as far as this university and this department is concerned. He concluded wishing us all the success in our life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Long Day

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!”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Growing Up....

There was some time before the lecture of the day was to begin. I just wandered down the verandah and read the nameplates of all the lecturers, readers and professors. All but a couple had Ph.D’s and a couple of them had their degrees obtained from abroad. Well, quite impressive, I thought. As I entered the lecture hall, I found that it had been fully occupied and I had to take a seat in the last bench. I had never been a last bencher in all my student life. But this didn’t disconcert me. For everything there is a first time. There were about fifty boys and only five girls. My roommate got up from the middle of the rows of bench and joined me. There would be three lectures every day with a lunch break of 45 minutes, I noted from the time-table I had copied from the notice board a while ago. Three courses were compulsory and one was optional and I had opted for Parliamentary Institutions while filling up the form. Everything around me felt so unfamiliar that I yearned for my undergraduate days. But the very next moment, I was happy that I would no longer be going to the college. Somehow you develop a distaste for anything you do or you hold for a long time, although in retrospect, 3 years in the college do not seem to me to have been that long. I was just looking forward to the new, trying to forget that part over which I had no longer any sway. I would certainly have changed a thing or two if indeed I could.

However, there was very little that was different now. Instead of a large number of highly fashionable girls, there were a very few unfashionable, bookish type of girls. Instead of sitting in a large lecture hall, I was sitting in a smaller one with wide windows situated on the highest floor of a colossal building. Instead of familiar and friendly faces all around me, there were unfamiliar and grim faces with anxious eyes. Instead of hearing different languages including English, now I was hearing only Kannada being spoken. Before long, I came to know that only 4 students will be writing their examinations in English and all others will continue to write in their mother tongue as they had done in their undergraduate classes. Difference for them will be listening to the lectures in English.

My first lecture was truly uneventful. I quickly realized that it is going to be the same as it was in my undergraduate classes. The same course further elaborated with different emphasis and stress. The professor who delivered the lecture was immaculately dressed and made some impression with a few opening lines. However, it didn’t take long me think ‘thus far, and no further’. What was to be noticed was that very few students showed any response to the lecture as long as it went in English. They kept their head low and pretended to be taking down whatever was being said. Some simply stared at the black board and some had a blank look on their face. The moment the professor switched to Kannada, which was not very often, they looked at him and showed the expression that they understood everything and even appreciated it.

The other lectures for the day were suspended because there was to be the inaugural function including the welcoming of the freshers by the seniors. It was scheduled at 3 pm and we had about three hours of recess.

Not knowing what to do, I, along with Vijay, followed the boys going downstairs. There was a tall boy with athletic figure wearing uncreased striped gray shirt and light dark pants, speaking loudly with a short heavyset boy. The taller one was swarthy in complexion with thick moustache and was clean-shaven. The shorter one was very fair wearing a light blue shirt and dark trousers. After clearing the landing and the portico, they stopped under a gulmohur tree by the side of the asphalted road within the campus and without any hesitation began to smoke cigarettes. As we approached them, Vijay whispered to me that the taller one was Mohan who had topped the merit list. He said that both of them had studied in the constituent college of the university and were not newcomers to the place at all. As we approached the boys, Vijay talked to them. They were already acquainted with him and he introduced me to them. I spoke to them in English and asked a few questions. But soon, I could understand that they were not very comfortable with English. Soon I drifted to Kannada to accommodate them. Mohan offered me a cigarette.

It triggered a surge of memories…

For the last three years as an undergraduate student, the only pleasure, apart from reading the books, I had was fag. It all started as an effort to show myself and be counted as a grown up. It seems it is what is called growing up. Everyday along with the few friends I had, it became my routine to visit the college canteen and smoke a cigarette after having tea. In the beginning it was with a lot of effort that I could smoke one cigarette and there is to be very little inhalation. Later, I began to enjoy it. Due to my lean physique and lack of sufficient hair on face, I looked much younger than I was and I wanted to make up for the same with my deep male voice and stern mannerisms. Smoking, I supposed helped me in this endeavour. I was vastly different during my undergraduate days from my fellow college-goers, or I suppose I strenuously tried to keep me different. All the guys in the college wore fashionable jeans and trendy clothes. But I always wore only kurtas, many of them made of khadi, over my trousers. However I never carried any bag to look as ‘jholawalah ‘ intellectuals. All others must have felt very strange about my choice. But still I persisted with it and I never mingled with other guys and girls in any festive celebrations, playing pranks, trying to impress each other, bunking the lectures and so on. Never did I join them for tours and picnics for the fear of looking smug… for I did think all of them to be too commonplace and materialistic. It is said that every individual has three characters, one which he thinks he has, the second which he shows to the others and the third which he actually has!

But was I happy doing all this? In fact I came to think that I had stretched it so much that began to look like an enigma. I was withdrawn to my own cocoon and built a formidable wall around me through which very few could break in. All the while, I was compelling myself to believe that everyone was in fact, trying to break in. More girls than the boys…I liked to believe. Sometimes I wished that I would get all the sympathy, love and attention due to the veneer I had smeared around my personality. But against all my hopes, none took notice. Girls were attracted by looks made up of trendy clothes, sports-shoes, idiotic talk which they thought to be witty and laughed unnecessarily as they had been tickled to death, and of course, bikes! Intelligence, wit, hard work, industry, sincerity, honesty, punctuality, appreciation obtained from the teachers – all these utterly failed to impress them. A couple of girls were indeed impressed, but they didn’t have a sustained interest in these. It was limited to getting help with their subjects, getting my notes to be copied and discussing with me all sorts of personal problems they were encountering!

It was Mohan whose voice I heard again. “ Don’t you smoke?” I had already decided that I would no longer be what it never paid me. I wanted to get rid of all sorts of walls around me. I had already changed my dress code. Now I was wearing pants and full-sleeved shirts, tucking the shirt inside the pants and had also purchased Woodland shoes. However, I had not grown my hair long and I did not comb them without parting at the side. Further I couldn’t develop the mannerism of brushing my hair from temple to neck very often, as it had become a trend then. Mohan had developed such a style. His hair was long and straight and he was pretty handsome in spite of his slightly dark complexion, or rather because of it.

“I do, but this is too close to the department’, I said. My roommate Vijay too supported me. He said,” You know, university is like the primary school. I have been told that if any of our professors catch is smoking, talking to girls, or anything they don’t like, you will be marked out. You never know how they may react”. Now was my turn to be surprised. There wasn’t even half the regimentation in my college. “Come on brother, let’s go the canteen,” this time it was the other boy, the shorter one, who said it addressing Mohan more than anyone else in the group. I observed that he too looked older than me. He was good looking, thanks to his fair skin, black eyes, straight but short nose and thick moustache. His name was Bhaskar. He too was good looking and there was a glint of mischief in his eyes. We moved to the canteen but instead of entering it, we decided to walk through the big plot of thickly grown trees towards the library. Now I took a cigarette from Mohan and lit it. Vijay did not smoke but he had no problem being with smokers. As we trudged on the meandering path, we started talking about a host of things. But the conversation was dominated by Bhaskar. The topic was their college and their former classmates. Both Mohan and Bhaskar had studied in the same college and had been friends for the last more than three years. Vijay hailed from the same town as Bhaskar and knew many of their classmates. I knew nobody, but Bhaskar was a real story-teller, a very funny one at that.

“You know Vijay, the other day I and the Big Boor were passing through the passage between our college and the public school. You know who was coming in the opposite direction?” He didn’t wait for the response. “It was the Mosquito-Coil”

I could understand that the Big Boor and the Mosquito Coil were nicknames. I was curious to know who they were. Bhaskar said looking at me, “ It is quite a story why that girl is called the Mosquito-Coil, Harsha! And a very interesting one. He lowered the pitch of his voice and said, “She is so kind and compassionate to all the guys, that she never says no to anyone for anything. And she is so understanding, that she is not worried about the place she will be taken. Most of the guys, being the students of our college, cannot afford to take her to a nice place. It is the garden around the college where they take her. Some times a couple of guys together take her. She is too accommodative. But it is only during the dusk that they take her to the garden there. It is full of mosquitoes. She is least bothered. Even when a guy is using all his strength and vigour, and panting between her legs, she remains unaffected. She doesn’t even look at the guys. She will be busy in swatting the mosquitoes. That is why some boys once took a mosquito-coil there. But even then, there was no reaction or response from her during the act. That is why guys started calling her Mosquito-Coil”

Monday, March 8, 2010

Back in the Campus

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.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Coming to Terms

Ah! For once, I have someone prepared to hear me out! At least a feeling that someone is hearing or reading me! Thanks to the pace of modern life, even in small towns people do not have time to listen to others, especially when they want to talk about themselves. The time when you require to have a prior appointment to meet your own spouse or son or a daughter is not far, looking at the things are heading now. That is why, it seems, the number of people being glued to their computer monitors and to the Idiot Boxes, if they belong to an older generation, is rising by meets and bounds. And now I have an opportunity to pour my whole heart out, but I am afraid, even the machines have their own mind and heart. I do not want to strain their patience. Therefore, I must begin, not at the beginning of my life, but at the time when I was sufficiently grown up enough and wanted to take admission to a post-graduate course in Political Science, in one of the prestigious universities of the South India, more specifically of Karnataka.

The admission process was very simple, that of selecting the candidates based on their scores in the subject in the undergraduate course. I no doubt had every chance of being admitted, but my only anxiety was to know what my position would be in the merit list that would be published at eleven in the morning. It was Tuesday, in the month of June,as I remember. I got down from the bus in the Main Bus Stand, as it is called even today and caught a city bus from the CBT which is City Bus Terminus.

As a cool breeze brushed my hair gently, I felt that at last I have the freedom. Like all the growing up aspire to be free and independent, I too had been looking forward to it since long and I always felt that I had grown up long before even the first sparse semblance of hair appeared on my upper lip. But elders around me thought otherwise. It was a crowded bus, full of young boys and girls and all had anxious look on their face. Looking through the window, I could see a beautiful red coloured college building before which a vast playground had grown green due to some heavy downpour the city had received a couple of days ago. Even today was not a very bright and sunny day. It was overcast and gloomy and raining intermittently, in bursts and stops. Boys carried black umbrellas and the girls, multi-coloured ones with different designs and flowers which blossomed when they opened them. I remembered a poem by a famous regional poet about the umbrellas. The handles of the boys' umbrellas were crooked as in an inverted question mark '?' and the girls carried umbrellas with straight handles which symbolise Exclamatory mark '!' The poet had wisely concluded that the boys were always like a question mark to the girls and the girls were like a wonder to the boys. How true, I thought. Girls that had come in life had always made me wonder..filled me with wonder...and kept me wondering.
When I looked at the huge dome tower of the University Main Building which is located on lush green hillock, it looked gigantic yet beautiful. I have always wondered why most of the government buildings tend to have these domes, and why not other shapes.The same goes true of the clock towers. It is a common knowledge that they are all inspired by the colonial buildings which drew their inspiration from the Persian culture, whatever their claims are. I am not much of a connoisseur of architecture and have never felt any compulsion to study them. I have read many descriptions of art and architecture in the history books, but never could remember the technical terms relating to them. Above all, one cannot learn much from the illustrations in the books. What appealed to me most about the University was the thick vegetation that surrounded it, as well as the neatly maintained gardens.
When I reached my department, there was already a small crowd around the notice board and after trying to lift myself about a couple of inches to peep at the notice, I found that my name was indeed the second. I was shocked, for I was given to the understanding that I had scored the highest marks in the subject and was about to be awarded a Gold Medal. But it wasn't the time to think or worry about it. I went to the office and met the clerk, a lean bespectacled man with a permanent scowl on his face and asked him the further procedure I needed to follow. He handed me a bank challan and asked me to pay the fee at the bank and return a counterfoil to him. Right at that time, he was summoned by the Head of the Department and his frown widened into a mild irritation. I thought better of staying there and immediately rushed to the Bank.
By the time I returned from the bank, I was feeling sick. I returned the counterfoil to the clerk and didn't even enquire when the lectures would commence. I rushed back to the bus stop, got into the first bus and reached the Main Bus Stand. I found a familiar face staring at me. I recongnised it as that of a senior student of my undergraduate college. He came forward and started a small talk with me but I could hardly smile and reply. He helped me get into the bus. I couldn't even remember whether I got a seat or it was offered to me by someone. My friend took care to drop me at home and I was rushed to the hospital by my father.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sixty Point Someone

You are sure to think of 'Five Point Someone', a campus-based autobiographical novel written by Sri Chetan Bhagat by which the Bollywood movie '3 Idiots' is inspired or is said to be based on depending on one's own perception, when you read this title. Even if one doesn't have an opinion as to which side is correct in the controversy that raged a while ago when the movie was being promoted or when it was released, one will be aware of the existence of the same. Your guess is bang on and a good one, for when I read the novel, I felt it is the story of every student whether belonging to the prestigious IIT or IIM or any college in India. Only Bhagat wrote it whereas others didn't, for not everyone can be a storyteller.

Although I myself am not much of a storyteller, but I do have a story and I do want to tell it. However, I might not give all credit for inspiring and motivating me to do it to Bhagat because I read a similar kind of work in Kannada by Sri Aravinda Malagatti almost a decade ago. The question is what will be new in my story that impells me to undertake the writing of it and that might invite or attract people to read it. Every lover of any form of art will know that art is nothing but reproduction or reflection of life. So many people in so many languages have written the same stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, yet newer interpretations, newer versions keep on appearing. What keeps people glued to the stories is not the basic framework, but the real characters in blood and sweat. Therefore, the stories sound original whenever a really creative artist tries to retell it. No experience of a single individual can be exactly the same as that of another person. And the difference in perception of the same experience, the reactions to them, the results thereof, and the pleasure or pain, relief of the burden of carrying it, all create an altogether a new image, a new experience and a new story to be told. My story too waits to be told... Expect it’s beginning in the next blog.