Thursday, May 14, 2009

A little bit of ourselves

The academic calendar was hardly of any interest to us. It was just a schedule interspersed with internals, vivas and assignment submissions before the menace of semester exams re-surfaced. However what we did look forward to if there was anything that could be put under that head would be the college fests. They were of little consequence to anyone not involved in them, and might not have even been impressive to the unbiased observer but for those who organized them, they'd be the centre of the universe for at least a month in time.

For me, it'd be the Mechanchie society's Magnum Opus, and the two biggies of the year for the entire college in the form of the tech-fest Literati and the cultural Confluence. Life was tough as far as getting sponsorships for the fests was concerned. Kurukshetra wasn't quite a name which would spring out of the pages when a senior executive of a company thought of killer brand placement. Consequently, getting the sponsors to shell out more than a pittance and then live up to their expectation to buy the moon for a dime was a near impossibility. But we tried.

"Prof Night", a standard feature of all IIT and big city college fests where a professional musical artist/group performed, remained a spectre through the fog during our 4 years in engineering school thanks to administrative red-tape. The attendance from neighbouring colleges and big cities remained sparse despite our best efforts to portray our inter-college fests as the best there was going to be. Sometimes it seemed that the only ones who believed the event to be a success were we the organizers ourselves. Everyone else was either turning their noses up at the "fun" to come or worser still, running away to avoid the boredom.

We were oblivious to all these shortcomings, us who were in the thick of these things. We'd continue to slave away over the posters that would build up to the events, engage in passionate debates over what actions would draw the 'crowds', spent late nights and long phone calls over supplies & fresh ideas that could pump more life and encourage more participation than last year or the year before last. The unbelievable efforts that we put into what would at the end of it all be just another tacky college fest defied belief. The grandiose nature of these events may only have been a illusion but it was a very useful one for us nonetheless. 

We had invested a little bit of ourselves & the zest of our youthful spirits on each of those tossed away pamphlets that were now being blown around the grounds, into the giant backdrop of the stage, on the furniture that we lugged onto the truck, the giant speakers that would screech in electromagnetic indignation and the million other activities that stitched together this attempt at college fest greatness. If spirit counted for anything at all in these cases, then we were at par with any of the hallowed institutions of the world stigmatized though might we be by being located in a little pocket of rural Haryana.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rolla' coasta'

Back in the sad old days when I was ignorant enough to tolerate boy-bands and their sentimental rubbish, I had heard a song by Ronan Keating which went "Life is a roller coaster, so just start a-riding..." What nonsense! I so wish that life were like a roller coaster but it is so not.

As the coaster rolls up to the point of no return, the mind goes "Shit! Shit! Shit! Crap! Crap! Crap!" in an infectious rhythm and when the cars cascade down the precipice there is a primeval "Yaaahhh" sound that arises instinctively out of the rows of open mouths. The twists and the turns and the upside down, cork screwy motions of the ride are welcome because there is no other option but to submit to them. If there is one place where a man is completely helpless against the powers of fate, it is on a roller-coaster. Absolving it's riders of all responsibility and ferrying adrenalin-charged participants to a scream-fest, the coaster is a creation for everyone to literally ride their luck. They know that the feeling of danger is real but the danger is probably not. It's like watching dinosaurs on a giant movie screen instead of being pursued by them down the street. 

Life on the other hand is full of observations, schedules and picking between myriad choices each of which have completely different consequences. If only it were as simple as strapping onto a mass of carriages designed to subject the body to G-forces that it wasn't designed to handle nor wanted to, and then wear a silly smile all the way through the self-imposed, self-indulgent freak ride from start to finish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Exhuming the past

Memory is a funny thing. It tends to build upon the past in such a way that the very earliest ones are buried deep beneath the foundation of consciousness. Total recall is an expectation to laugh at and the contents are so hazy that most of the times I wonder whether these qualify as memory or just a concoction of my brain painting an inaccurate vision of the past.

My memory takes me back only as far as when I was 3-4 years old. The preceding years that I spent in Calcutta find their manifestation only in family photo albums and that is the only reason why I can somewhat agree to the notion that they really happened.

Coming back to what I actually remember, I remember the vast housing colony of Roopnagar in the middle of nowhere (also known as Valia somewhere in south Gujarat, to be more specific) for the GNAL factory where my dad had been hired. I remember the ground-floor flat with the two verandahs- the front and the back where Kelo and Bhuto, two mongrel puppies would show up everyday for food scraps doled out by us delighted children. I have almost a hallucinogenic image of the grounds that lay behind our building. The lawns seemed to be without end as I would run on the neatly mowed grass and do an occasional roll to soak up the refreshing moisture that remained stowed away in those tiny blades. On a sunny day with friends whose names I will never know, I'd be out on these lawns with nary a care in the world and for the most part, high on happiness and the freedom afforded by ignorance.

I distinctly remember Dad coming back from office and puffing away at his harmonica every evening. It was Dad's time-out after a long day at work so I'd sit unintrusively in the living room listening to the tunes being brought to life out in the front verandah. I never really found out what tunes they were because by the time I had reached an age of cognitive memory Dad had stopped playing the harmonica for reasons known only to himself. I am reminded of my Dad whenever I listen to "Hai apnaa dil to awaraa" but not exactly because my dad was as debonair as Dev Anand in this song. It's more because of the carefree attitude exuded by the song and it's harmonica segment. The song seems to resonate with my Dad's throw-worry-to-the-winds approach to life perfectly.

I also recall with chilling clarity, the laugh of the hyenas that lived beyond the boundary walls of our colony in the dead of night. This was still a really wild place a few steps outside the periphery of this enclave of man-made shelters and late at night the hyenas ensured that no one ever forgot this fact. With the numerous stories of hyenas making off with children being told to us to rein in the wayward behaviour of us kids, there were nights spent soaked in cold sweat and unspoken terror of what lurked a stone's throw away from the protective circle of our colony. I am not sure that my parents intended to scare me that much but boy, were they over-achievers in this respect!

As I dig up these old memories, it's hard to believe that it is my own life that I am talking about. I suppose any event when sufficiently in the past ceases to be a reality, ending up as a pile of fine stardust filtered through the multiple sieves of time, only to be scattered further by the wind.