Ramblings on My Red College

There are two or three things I remember about college the first time I entered it, which still glow vividly inside my head whenever I switch on the memory button. One, is that the shuffling of feet in the corridors sounded more adult than the pattering of polished black shoes back in school. As all people entering new surroundings are wont to do, I tried to be smarty pants and went around claiming the shoe remark to be my aphorism. I was labeled a ‘weirdo’ for some time thus.

Anyhow, the second thing was the beautiful, buttery feeling of lounging on the grass of the lawns in the winter afternoons, staring at images of college brick walls, their red sharpened by the clear crisp sunshine. And then there were the new people. New faces, pretty faces. Since I had spent such a long time in school – 14 years no less – there became attached to me certain quirks, characteristics, stories, reputations and the like, which coalesced onto my skin like a crust of persona. And by the tenth or eleventh year of school, the crust hardened like plaster of Paris. So there I was, the real self buried beneath this rigid crusty unreal self. College was the hammer which lent a cracking blow to this all-body mask.

Reputations and specters of the past shattered, everyone was all ready to make a new beginning. This time the crust would be lovingly prepared, and the selves so prepared would suffer none from the bumps and irregularities seen earlier. For we were adults now, and therefore adept at sculpting ourselves the way we wanted to. But let me stop here, for I don’t want to admit that college changes you somewhat, and that whereas school was an enormous shapeless cavernous hall which had enough room for everyone, college is a pretty palace with little rooms for little disparate groupings. If you don’t manage to get into one of those, you are left out in the corridor.

There were other things too of course. I saw that other kids are really different from me in ways beyond being able to add up squiggly little numbers better or worse than I could. Free from those little restrictions school imposes, they were all but flying in different directions like kites let loose on a windy day with the strings out of the kite flyers’ hands. It was pretty nice to watch, everyone coming to his own, asserting ground. Those who get a bit carried away by all this may even brand college as a rebels’ cave. I would rather call it a thugs’ cave, since even with all the assertion and all the kurta flapping, I never really saw anyone in college who had the wherewithal to stand up for principles or had the balls to speak out. Maybe I am digressing a bit here, but really, with all the careful sculpting of our personalities and the like in college, we were petty much hollowed out inside. We basically developed a distorted sense of ‘liberty’ which actually served to disconnect us from everyday life since it was typical of us to become selfish with the tag of freedom and ‘growing up’ serving to justify it.

Well I do have a knack of sounding unbelievably morose at the end of each paragraph. But if I have to pluck out memories of how I felt like when I entered this place then, I find it pretty nigh impossible to keep out some of the oily ‘judgment’ stuff from seeping inside too. Moving on, college made limbs, ears, hair, nose, even eyebrows look like exotic appendages for the first time. You could decorate them like so many baubles, metal glinting on people. There evolved categories diverse. There was the archetype Stephanian, with kurtas, jholas, longish hair sneaking boldly over the ears (a lot of these guys had uniformly curly hair; wonder how they managed that); then there were the ‘sportsies’, who guffawed and ate and guffawed again; the arty types were next, reading books and listening to metal together, talking in Hindi with a musical lilt and generally pretty to look at. There were the Others too of course, encompassing all of the above and more-crude lewd jokes kinds, the Marxist-hash kinds, the Bongs and the Mallu kinds (well not the kinds; they were unmistakably Bongs and Mallus) and the sugary sweet student’s union society kinds. It was a theatre of faces. One little thing is certain. If the great Eugene Ionesco were to ever have based his play, ‘Rhinoceros’ (where all the people of a town turn into panting rhinoceroses because they are all alike and aspire to convention) on the little ball of humanity that is college, he would have had to read up on a lot of different animal species…

Arjun Upmanyu


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