I went to my college yesterday.
I happened to be in the neighbourhood, and, after the customary meal of a kathi roll at Nazim’s and a strawberry shake at Keventer’s, I found myself gazing in the general direction of my college.
What the hell, I figured. It had been a long time- and who knew when I would be here again? The last time I was here was three years ago, to collect my marksheet, when I had met a couple of my teachers.
Would I meet someone again, I wondered? Even at this late afternoon hour? And if I did, what would I say? Should I be bothered that I haven’t shaved? I digress, but why is it that we feel compelled to leave a good impression on near-strangers simply because we meet them again after a long time? I hardly cared what they thought of me when I used to see them every day- and I would perhaps never meet them again.
I crossed the street and started shuffling towards my college. It was a familiar stretch, and yet, curiously new. There was a new bus stop there now, proudly displaying the college’s name. All we had in our time was a crowd of people that the bus drivers instinctively knew to stop in front of. Strange, how much pride a mundane little thing like having your college’s name on a bus stop can bring about.
The little lane leading up to the South Campus canteen (one that the guard never let anyone through) had been opened. I just marveled at the convenience the students would have now, and how much shorter their walk would be. I distinctly remember pleading with the guard there on a daily basis to let us through. Of course, now with a Barista, a Café Coffee Day and other such joints in the Satya Niketan market, the students may no longer understand the importance of the warm Gulab Jamuns, tangy Bunta and Dal-filled Tikkis of the South Campus canteen.
And then, the building came into view. The letters constituting the name of the college had been re-painted recently in a shiny red, and greeted me in a magnificent gesture of false bravado. I walked in, half expecting the guard to stop me and ask what business I had there. However, the guard never did care in the three years I was here, and he did not care now either. Like always, I walked up the small path to the tree which formed a fork in the way- one way to the entrance, the other to the library. And like always, I took the former.
I want to say that the corridors greeted me like a long lost friend. The walls smiled down at me and asked how I have been. The big blackboard which announced the names of the teachers on leave was empty- probably in preparation for the next day. I remember the eagerness with which I would check that board out every morning, hoping with bated breath to find the name of at least one of our teachers there. The canteen ignited evocative memories of great times and samosas, and the classrooms leapt up in joy at the sight of me- which, for them, had always been an admittedly rare sight.
I want to say all that very badly indeed- but if I did, I would be lying.
No such thing happened. The corridors were empty, cold and dark. The stark walls seemed foreboding and aloof, and the classrooms were still strangers- even more so now. I had no awkward meetings with any teachers- even if I had met them, I would nothing to say to them, I realised. The plant pots lining up the bottom step of each staircase seemed new, as did a new cane building in the middle of the grounds. I glimpsed no familiar faces, and no waves of nostalgia swept over me.
This was my college building, for God’s sake!
I stood in the middle of the corridor and tried to figure out why I had none of the romanticized, nostalgic feelings I expected. I have spent the greatest days of my life here, and my head spins with the memories accumulated in this building. Some of the best friends I ever made- or will make- I found here; and it was here, in these very corridors, that I understood the meaning of friendship, love and life, in the process leaving the boy behind and became a man. I should, ideally, feel immense loss, nostalgia and longing for this place.
Why, then, could I not find any such feelings within me?
I spent a long time thinking about this then, and I spent a long time thinking about it afterwards, long after leaving that concrete maze. It slowly dawned upon me then.
This was just my college building.
My memories are not of this place, but of my experiences here. I often feel loss, nostalgia and longing within me, but it is for my friends and the time I have spent with them here, not for these walls and corridors.
I was standing in an empty vessel, rummaging within myself for some semblance of emotion for it, when all my emotions were in fact already with me, because my memories- and more importantly, my friends- were still with me. No soulless concrete structure, no vapid grand institution is going to make me long for days gone by- only my friends can do that; and they will always be with me. And just like my friends, I will forever carry in my heart the memories of the innocent and incredible days gone by.
And when you finally become conscious of being so full with the warmth of your memories, and so saturated with the affection of friends near and far, what space is there within you for anything else?
Nivedita, Abhinav, Kanika and Urvashi- as far as I am concerned, College is You.