Anyone who is used to taking a vehicle to cover the shortest of distances will find the HCU campus quite a challenge. I was told to expect a massive campus in the middle of nowhere, but nothing had prepared me for 3,500 acres of blazing hot scrub jungle, over 30 kms away from familiar territory. My most vivid memories of campus are that of long walks to get to any place- the library, the hostel, the shopping complex, the ATM, the auditorium, the post office.
A famous joke on campus goes something like this: a fresher asks his senior as to how he should get to the main gate to exit the campus. The senior gives him a sad smile and says that he's been looking for the same gate for the last 10 years.:) I know in my head that it's not an original story but I want to believe that the joke originated on the campus I grew to love. Trust me, after two years of trying to deal with long walks in the hot sun, idealistic ideas too naive to survive reality, and making do with 'imported' soaps and shampoos at the lone marwari shop, you get quite comfortable in this odd setup. 'Reality' in the big bad world, 30 kms away, begins to look rather illusory. The rather romantic, sleepy set up takes over like a drug. For some the drug sustained, others like me snapped out of it a little too early perhaps, finding our way to the main gate.
Monday, November 17, 2008
As someone who had rarely mixed with anyone who wasn’t middle class, urban and Tamil, the Central University of Hyderabad was a whole new world. At least 50% of the university’s student and teacher population were made up of non locals. And since most of the locals preferred to stay off campus, there was just the right amount of hyderabadiness in the pot-pouri of Indian cultures on campus. There were also the international students from around Europe and North America, who came on short exchange programs. So that added a bit of colour, literally and metaphorically. Then there were the Arabs, mostly young men from the gulf, who made up another small but prominent group on campus. I suppose they had to struggle the most to negotiate through this large mix of students. The firangs, most of them at least, got along quite well. For one they were here only for a short spell of time. And I guess everything was just so fascinatingly different to them. By the time they began getting annoyed about the inefficiency of government run offices, it was time to head home. The Arabs had to stick it out for much longer spells, most of them staying through a PhD program.
It was only natural for people to prefer hanging out with their own kind. Most of us were away from home for the first time and a familiar language seemed to guarantee common ground to build companionship. But this was not always the case. At every onam, saraswathi pujo, shankranthi and pongal, there would always be this bunch of missing people. Often these guys would show up for dinner but wouldn’t be seen earlier in the evening and certainly not at any one of the meetings to plan the celebration. These were people like me who either felt out of place in these get-togethers or were just plain lazy and couldn’t care less. And predictably enough these bunch of left outs ended up together. These groups often looked very mismatched in every way, no common language, no common experiences, and to top it all, a whole lot of prejudices to work with. My own group was one such weird “salad bowl” to borrow a term from the American nation builders. And I’d be lying if I were to say that the salad always tasted great. Of course there were the rotten bits, when certain cultural barriers just couldn’t be crossed, when certain prejudices just wouldn’t let go. But for most part, I’d say we fared quite well. And at the end of our stint together, we had all taken back a bit of each other, perhaps opened up our minds, just a peep wider to let in a little air, and some light. My life on campus revolved around these individuals, so my first post serves as a round of introductions.
Deepthi Sebastian: My mallu roomie and best buddy on campus. She did her undergrad at the famous Stella Maris college mistaken to be better than the Women’s Christian College, where I did my undergrad. We fought for hours over who went to the better institution. The topper in the class, she always had me on my toes as I would panic each time I saw her hard at work. Her piles of books just about fell short of reaching the ceiling and I spent a good amount of my time in the room rearranging her books that I toppled over. She’s yet to understand that larger books go below, smaller ones at the top. But more ranting about her in another post.
Jyotsna Yedem (aka Jyo): My favorite gulte stress buster during the exams. She’s brilliant but also brilliantly lazy. My pattern of behavior during exams was interesting. I’d panic in the room, thanks to Deepthi and would run down to Jyo’s knowing she wouldn’t have begun studying. She won the Bunk Master award at our farewell party. She’s the absolute party babe of the group, would sleep through mornings and come alive at night. Deepthi, who by the way is doing an Mphil on Lesbian Gothic Horror, often wondered if Jyo had vampirish tendencies! My most weird conversations, Jyo would call them ‘deep’ were with this woman.
Soumalaya Chakraborthy (aka Gogo aka Gogs): He’s the dude who nearly missed being with us. He returned home a few weeks into Univ, only to return “home” a month later after realizing the Calcutta University was not exactly ‘the place to be’. The true blue Bengali, he’s crazy about sweets, the sweeter the better. I hate the coffee he makes coz it tastes like payasam to me, thanks to all the sugar he throws in. He loves trains and he loves long walks. The first time he boarded a cycle, he was 22 and on the University Campus. Thanks to the intricate local train routes in Kolkatta, he can figure his way to any place in a train. Sadly, he’s yet to understand that an hour long walk to a pizza joint is not exactly something that the rest of us savour. No Gogs, not even to work up an appetite.
Jasmeet Kaur Sahi (aka Jess puttar): Interestingly she’s the first sardarni I came into contact with. When I told her that, her only response was “How did you manage that? We’re everywhere” lol…I suppose she had a point. Sporty and arty as hell, Jess is the individual to be trusted when you’re in shit. And you can take my word for that. Her dad was in the army, so she’s been all around the country, never staying more than a couple of years at any place. At the moment she’s truly ‘home’ at Chandigarh, making friends with the kudis there, who can’t stop discussing splitsvilla, lipstick, and boy friend troubles ;)
Thongam Bipin Singh (aka Bips): Bipin was an exception amongst us. He was very passionately involved with all Manipuri festivities on campus. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that there were only 8 Manipuris on campus, but I think it’s more because Bipin was just such a brilliant team player. Be it foot ball, a campfire, a cooking expedition or just a walk to some unexplored territory on campus, Bips was always there to pitch and be the sport. I for one was always fascinated by his skills at cooking the best fish curry, climbing any wall, any rock, and any tree with the ease of a cat, and being able to start a fire in no time at all.
Carolyn Herman (aka Caro): The firang (and amrikan at that) on the block, she quickly became a part of the group in the third semester. She was in India as a rotary ambassador and as a part of the understanding with the rotary, she had to be affiliated with an educational institution. And she picked HCU. Older and more mature than the rest of us, she ended up counseling us a lot- love lives, petty quarrels, examination blues, she knew all about the drama of 06hema. She lived right across my room in hostel and had this huge water kettle. All of us would troupe into her room and have long conversations over cups of chai. Jess even left a note on her door “Caro café”. All of us translated that in our languages. “Caro Kapi”, “Caro Chai Kada” etc.
Swati Kansal (aka swats): The group would have been incomplete without the Guju wouldn’t it? But this one’s not Guju all the way. She’s been all over like Jess and has spent more years outside Guju land. An awesome cook, she was always making us exotic food. We lived in adjacent wings and were always running into each other at 4 in the morning in the loo. She, getting ready for bed and Deepthi and I just getting started for the day!
Manu Kurup: Them Mallus are just too many in number. Even our group had two of them ;) Manu was the passionate communist in our midst. He was actively involved in campus politics and even offered to pull the strings to get a replacement for my University T. Shirt. He was the only guy amongst us who actually rubbed shoulders with the Student Union leaders. Right now he’s busy studying to become an IAS officer. Sure hope his influence can do a little more than replace a T.shirt for me. Lol…
So that’s the bunch folks, look out for my posts on vaish goes to university!