“What is your score?”
“Out of funda” (a term that is roughly equivalent to – at ease soldier.)
“Twenty four, Sir.”
“Let’s make that thirty. Zone is family after all.”
You have arrived at a college of considerable repute, you have become the talk of your chai-sipping neighbours (who disburse advice at free will) and well-meaning relatives and you are the toast of the town. You think it gets easy henceforth. It doesn’t. It gets infinitely complicated. Easy is boring. Complicated is beautiful.
This piece is an homage to the three (and a half) best men I have known all my life.
A half because – I never really had a chance to see out undergrad with Vinay. He left after a year and a half – he remains the best roommate that we wish we had. My initial lethargy notwithstanding, we have re-established contact through WhatsApp and Facebook. We recently met online after seven long years.
Abhijit was a quintessential ladies man. He is short, light and street-smart. Having grown up in south Calcutta – he was (is) a brilliant footballer and a self-proclaimed Counter-Strike specialist. He was our visionary – we credit him with introducing us to all the fun stuff in the world. (I maintain that he is made of smoke and alcohol.) In fact, I think – I would go on to smoke my first cigarette with him. Since he was in Computer Science – he spent most of his time in the room (watching passionate videos that made him worldly-wise) or on the football field – marshalling the team’s attack. He was also the butt of our tortures. He is currently in Mumbai, pursuing his dreams – in the office or in night-clubs, and I am still mending the bridge that I destroyed when we left college for good.
Rourav was the intellectual. He had grown up in a cold sleepy town from the north of Bengal. He was the nine pointer who dated another nine pointer. He is an excellent poet – a strong advocate of Sourav Ganguly, and a mediocre footballer at best. He would wake up early in the morning to study (and sleep off, and wake up and so on and so forth.) He always had a book in his hand. He pined for a girl from his childhood – who he was ultimately unsuccessful in wooing. He ended up with a close friend of ours, and an infinitely better soulmate for him. He was the kind of chap, who could rattle off formulae or Tagore poems when he was drunk. He is currently in the US pursuing his masters.
He once got his classmate thrown out of class because he was intently scratching his legs and his classmate found it hilarious. He once set his bed on fire, because, in his attempt to study early in the morning, he had lit a cigarette and had fallen asleep with it lodged between his fingers.
Tathagata was the self-proclaimed wise guy. He believed he had the capacity to make the world infinitely better. He had immense faith in his emotional maturity, when in fact – he was the most immature of us all. He had grown up in South Calcutta – and he idolised Fernando Torres. He was a good sportsman. He was wise, sharp and always in the good books of the professors. Like Torres, he’d also remain injured most of the time. If you ask him, he might go on to attribute some of the injuries to my tackles, when in fact – he was basically fragile, both on the outside and the inside. Towards the final year of college, he retracted into his shell as he struggled to cope with matters of the heart and the head. He was the mediator. He was the go to guy when we ran into problems with our relationships.
I do not remember how we met. I do remember that at some point in October 2008, we were all staying in the same room. And we were all being ragged by our seniors.
Our seniors were mostly a few years older than us. They were extremely knowledgeable, bright individuals who constantly encouraged us and indulged us in team building activities, even though we sometimes felt, their methods were a little outmoded. We were often slapped during such sessions (called our score) – these, we were told, were aimed at bringing us closer. They did bring us closer, in our hatred for them. One from our batch lost his hearing partially, while another had a breakdown and left college midway. Now that I live in Chennai, all by myself – I have them to thank, as I have become an expert at cleaning my house and I pull the best poker face while my boss rails at me. I have them to thank, more than I could ever thank my parents. After all, they took it upon themselves to train us to face the harsh, cold world.
We constantly discovered new things in college. We discovered how to bunk classes without getting caught, how to scale the walls at 3 in the morning for an early breakfast. We discovered that the football field looked especially lovely during the foggy, floodlit nights. We discovered friendship as we broke our bones, trying to scale the walls of our hostel. We learnt that our personal sorrows were never bigger than our happiness together – we learnt that the swollen faces would disappear as soon as we’d play in the evenings. In our struggles with our little romances, our professors, our balancing acts of work and play – we did not have our parents to bail us out. It was always us, without an iota of experience – who held each other while we defeated our personal demons.
The first time I was commanded to source stuff, I told myself – “This is the last time you are going to be studying in this college. Look at your room, your roommates and your books. You are going to get caught and your career will be doomed. You will be sent back home, and your parents are going to cast you out, and call you an addict. Your neighbourhood will disown you and you will have to learn to live on the streets.” The orders were as cryptic as the task. For a guy who’d never bought a cigarette in his life, this was as uphill as Barcelona trying to overturn a 4-0 deficit against PSG. I shook hands with my roommates one last time, and with a heavy heart – started walking towards the highway.
It was midday and the temperatures were soaring. I was looking for a temple by the highway. I expected the setting to be sinister – where heavy set men, dressed in lungis would be sitting and staring me down. I expected weapons to be brandished – I basically expected a scene out of Godfather, where I’d be stabbed to death and would be left to die in a pit. I noticed a shrine of Hanuman. And then I noticed the shop. A small, bespectacled man was sitting in the shop – rolling some sort of paper and listening to his radio. The entire environ was smoke filled. He looked up at me and asked – “How much?” I showed him the fifty rupee note I had – he gave me a long hard look and muttered, “Senior sent you here?” I nodded. He got up from his seat and walked over to the shrine of Hanuman. From a small pouch hanging from the mace of the God – he took out a packet and handed it to me. I was about to walk when he stopped me and said, “Don’t make this a habit.” I nodded. I had made it alive this time!
Of course, I would make it alive several times thereafter. And those would be the nights to remember.