IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 3

January 22, 2011

The Department Visit:

Day 1 afternoon was reserved for department visits. While most of us walked a few steps to their respective departments, we, the metallurgy folks, had to make a longish journey. There were 11 of us, some having travelled from the USA and Hong Kong. Most of the department faculty was present at the entrance to welcome us and we were ushered into LT-1, the largest lecture theatre in the department.

 

At the Metallurgy Department

I did not mention it to the others, but I had a distinct feeling of unease as we approached the department. Even at the best of times during my BHU days this trip was hardly looked forward to. And this one, after 25 years, was even more tense. I had this fear that one of the professors would catch hold of me and ask me to draw the “Iron-Carbon diagram” on the black-board. For those not familiar with this monstrosity, let me briefly explain it simplistically to you. It is a plot of what happens to iron with increasing percentages of carbon (X-axis) and increasing temperature (Y-axis). Iron being iron occupies a fair share in metallurgy curriculum. And the iron-carbon diagram is what any self-respecting metallurgist should know like the back of his hand, so to speak. The diagram always spooked me. Did I say monstrosity? Well make it a dinosaur. Actually make it two dinosaurs- entwined in a post-coital embrace. Lest you start worrying about my stress levels, let me assure you that I was spared this question. But before you heave a sigh of relief, let me hasten to add that what transpired was even more stressful. The faculty asked the 11 of us to occupy the chairs already placed on the dais while they (and some students) sat in the audience. We were required to fill them in on our lives of the past 25 years!

A cold shiver ran down my spine. Here I was, facing our professors, some of the most illustrious names in metallurgy research and education in India. And to make it worse, of the 11 of us on the dais, nearly all were involved with metallurgy, or at least with engineering. Just two exceptions: Sethi sells insurance products in Hong Kong and I am peddling medicines! Many of the others were Ph D’s. Some are even famous researchers. Including the rockstar of the ‘85 batch, P. M. Ajayan, the chap with mentions in the “Guiness Book of World Records”! I was the last to introduce myself. Fumbling for a suitable angle to justify my days at the department I made a weak joke about how I can take part credit for the success of Ajayan. I am sure the joke was not well received by the audience. (I said that after a listless first year performance I decided to do “something” in the 3rd semester. I studied hard and ranked among the top 3 of the class. Ajayan felt threatened and decided to work even harder. And that was the start of the rise of Ajayan the famous researcher!) I also mumbled something about how the department prepared us for the real world…..

Anyway, I thought I escaped pretty unscathed from the department visit, it could have been really bad!

Ganga Boat Ride:

A Bajra-ful of alumnii

The IT-BHU metallurgy department has a name, and for good reason. They are thorough and meticulous. And it was not different in this visit. So much so that the meeting got prolonged and some of us missed the boat-ride along the Ganga starting at Assi Ghat. Well nearly so!

A quick call to Anshu ensured a rescue boat for the four of us laggards. And soon we joined the four bajras tethered together facing the imperious- and the very famous- Dashashwamedh Ghat. Actually we were in the middle of two ghats, the name of the other eludes me now. But each ghat had its own Ganga aarti which started soon after dusk. The beauty- or shall I spectacle- is something to be seen to be believed! Dhoti-clad and bare-chested young men holding ceremonial lamps performing various pujas and rituals to Ganga with shlokas blaring from the audio system. Our cameras were going berserk capturing the scene.

 

Ganga Aarti

The spectators sitting on the four bajras were going berserk on something else too. Anshu had lined up a series of utterly delicious snacks for the evening. A never-ending stream of chaats of multiple varieties, gulab jamun, thandai and many others whose names I do not remember now. And to add to the “picnic-y” feel, packets of roasted peanuts were handed around to the group.

When we were finally brought back to terra firma at Assi Ghat, I heard someone say whether anyone will be hungry enough to have the dinner at the party later that evening!

Gala Dinner:

I had heard from Anshu that the place he had booked for the dinner for both nights was a decent place, but he had not prepared me for the grandeur of the place. Kuber Complex is located at Rathyatra, just a stone’s throw from Sigra. It houses some fancy showrooms and the top floor has the banquet hall.

We enter the banquet hall and the first thing which stuck me was the sheer size of the hall. And the seating arrangement, banquet style, promising something grand to follow. The hall was done up with hundreds of balloons, blue and white. Also in hundreds were the food counters lining the walls of the hall. Across the expansive hall from the entrance was a stage complete with mattresses covered with sparkling white sheets.

We were late for the party, or so I thought. There were hardly a handful of people in the hall. We were not late, I heaved a sigh of relief! But the relief was short-lived when I walked towards the stage end of the hall. There was a large lawn adjoining the hall where most of the gang was busy catching up. And then I saw the magnificient bar with busy bar-tenders tending to parched throats! I had suspected initially when Anshu’s name came up as the organizer that Anshu, being what he is, would interpret drinks as sherbet, milk, lassi and thandai. Thankfully, he remembered that there were others in the group whose tastes in drinks went beyond the chaste ones mentioned above. And the lawn was also very helpful to people with the other common vice- the smokers! One could smoke in peace there and not have to take the trouble of taking the lift downstairs to the ground floor. And for even more dedicated “smokers” there was a helpful niche in the lawn area and soon enough a dozen-or-so had gathered there, reliving the days of the past even more intensely!

 

Zaamin Khan

Not all action was happening in the lawn area. There was entertainment lined-up for the attendees, Zaamin Khan, the son of the legendary shenai player from Varanasi, Bharat Ratna Bismillah Khan, was at hand to entertain the guests. After an hour or so, he was followed by a singer from Lucknow, Alpana Mehrotra, who sang many popular folk songs. She was accompanied by yet another shehnai player (from Lucknow), Saahibe Alam. The magic of Alpana’s singing was such that over time she managed to pull in a bulk of those in the lawns into the hall. It took Manoj Prasad (V Mining.) to make the only audience request to the singer, he wanted her to sing “Baarah maasa”, a popular folk song. To which she obliged, albeit briefly. She sang the chau maasa! Manoj’s crib at the end of the show was that the singer did not cover all the twelve months in her version.

 

Singer Alpana Mehrotra

If the spread at the lunch that day took us by surprise, we were now positively astounded at the elaborate fare at the dinner. Sample this: tikka (both paneer and chicken malai), kababs (both mutton and mutter), fish fingers, and babycorn for starters. Anshu would have thought this was not sufficient so he had carried with him in his car from Lucknow tons of semi-cooked Kakori kabab which were ‘finished” at the venue and served. A choice of multiple dishes as main course (veg biryani, chicken biryani, burhani raita, gilaoti kababs – veg and non-veg., paneer mughlai and chicken mughlai….the list was seemingly endless). Throw in some soups and salads and multiple varieties of rotis for good measure. In case you had a sweet tooth, you could partake of a sweet platter consisting of lawanglata, jalebi, imarti, malpua, gulab jamun and rasbhari served With hot rabri. Or you could have a baked malai boondi or a malai pista sandwich. In case you had an adventurous palate (considering it was really cold in Varanasi) you could even have the flavoured seekh kulfi.

All through my dinner, I was studiously trying to avoid the disapproving glare of my wife. I knew I would get an earful when we would return to the hotel room. And I did. She yelled, “Eating all those sweets and the fatty rich food! Come on, you are now in your late 40’s. Behave like one!” I wanted to say I was in my early 20’s, this was 1985 afterall. But I dare not. All I could mutter as I got into my razai looking forward to a night’s rest that once I return to Bangalore I would eat only dry rotis, boiled veggies and salads. And, no sweets, ever!

To be continued

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IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 2

January 12, 2011

The hugging, kissing, back-slapping dispensed with, the crowds proceeded to G-11 and accommodated their extended posteriors into the “new” bucket seats of the room. The benches of yore had been replaced. I could hear many-a-sigh from the gathering. Clearly, this G-11 was not the G-11 without the benches! Benches we would thump at every action scene of the movies we saw here, benches we would thump when the local favourite gave a crackling performance during one of the many contests during a “Kashi-Yatra”.

 

A View of G-11. Notice the changed seating arrangement

Anyway….

The serious bit was about to begin. Venerable professors like Prof Tripathi, Prof S. N. Upadhyaya, ex-director IT-BHU, Prof K.P. Singh, Director IT-BHU and Prof Veerendra Singh, Dean IT-BHU, were on the stage along with the founder of our e-group Salil. Balloons and malas all over the place. The crowd of some 180 or so in the audience all agog with excitement.

And then began something which is the inaugural item of all formal functions at BHU: the Kulgeet! The Kulgeet which only very few could remember the words (though as a ready-reckoner we always had it in our shirt pockets: it was printed in the Institute ID cards). Only some of us could hum along during the myriad BHU functions during our time (some accomplished singers who could sing it well were in great demand). But that all of us carried the Kulgeet close to our hearts over the last twenty-five years was obvious to any observer at G-11. Some eyes in the audience were moist, some were humming along, and all deeply absorbed in the melody.

 

Release of the Kulgeet CD

But this rendition of Kulgeet was with a difference. Actually many differences compared to our times at the campus. To start with there were no self-conscious girls fidgeting with the drapes of their saris as they got set to sing. Saris draped onto them by a dozen lobby mates in the Women’s Hostel (WH) and held together by a copious number of safety pins. There were no boys on the stage either. No one fiddling with the erratic microphone; and no cries from the audience. (Remember Au-Di-Ooooo…..!!!) The Kulgeet was delivered with the means of technology which did not exist twenty-five years ago. Namely, a compact disc, a lap-top, an LCD projector and Google Earth. While the first three may be obvious to all, the Google Earth bit may require an explanation. And that bears a connection with the afore-mentioned WH.

I did not mention earlier that the Kulgeet was sung to the visuals on the screen projected by the LCD projector. The AV maker (was it you, Jayadev Chakravarti, V EcE?) did a great job of the AV- integrating the audio track with the montage of visuals of the BHU and IT campus and images from Google Earth zeroing in onto the BHU campus. It is just that Jayadev showed his bias to just a small portion of the campus layout, the AV would revert every few seconds on the WH on the Google Earth image, much to the amusement (delight?) of the 40-somethings in the audience!!

And now my thoughts on this version of Kulgeet. This was the most soul-stirring rendering of the Kulgeet I have ever heard. Pure, clean and altogether melodious. Kudos to Anshu Tandon (4 Chem.) for having got this recording done by professionals in Lucknow, including a shehnai version! I can bet that over time this will become the official version of the Kulgeet. And that will be one of the lasting contributions the batch of 1985 would have made to the University. Ishpal Panesar (V Mech.) requested in a mail to the group after the reunion that there should have been a memento. Dear Ishpal, to my mind, the CDs distributed at the venue is the best memento we could think of.

 

Salil delivering the welcome address

Post the Kulgeet, Salil gave the welcome address in his fluent and highly textured Hindi, followed by talks from the various dignitaries on the stage. Prof SNU’s talk was a laughter riot! Remember “khuda hai”? It was then time for a break for tea and snacks.

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Back to G-11 after the break for some serious discussions on the way forward with our support to the Institute. Multiple suggestions followed; making donations to an already existing fund, donating to the Institute directly to specific and lasting contribution to the Institute exclusively by our batch. And yes, this included a discussion on good-old wi-fi connectivity in the hostels. Some even mentioned the deplorable condition of the now mandatory two-seater hostel rooms and how we could support with foldable furniture for the cramped rooms. Talking of deplorable conditions, a refurbishment of the G-11 was also discussed. The discussion was getting long delaying the lunch and it was Milind Chalisgaonkar (4 Cera) to bring this session to a close in his tactful way. Now the time to get some food!

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Lunch was arranged at the neighbouring IT Cafeteria. It looked exactly as we last saw it 25 years ago. The ramshackle tables, the grimy walls, the leaky wash-basin tap. But there was something shockingly different in our lunch arrangement. Food would prove to be one of the highpoints of the reunion! Anshu had connived with a leading caterer and plotted the widest and the most intriguing spread for us. Not one dish was repeated during our two days there. You would expect aloo-sukha at IT-BHU, would you not? Maybe add in some matar-paneer since this was a special occasion. Some puris and pulao. And vanilla icecream with hot gulab-jamun to round off the meal. What we saw at lunch on day one was a feast. Friends of mine who are reading this post would remember the feast in our hostel mess. Ok, not a feast, but PHEEST! Bujha gaya? But what we had on display that afternoon at the IT Café was a real royal spread! For those who did not partake of the spread, here is an analogy: if the normal lunch and dinner= 1 diet, and depending on its nature a pheest ranges from 2.5 to 4 diets, this spread would easily be somewhat in the region of 35 diets. (Non-BHU readers please forgive me for giving a very BHU-specific analogy.)

We should have seen this coming, after all the menu was decided by Anshu who all know is a great connoisseur of food. And he had given a teaser trailer during the morning tea break with the fancily textured samosa (I discovered later it is called Jalidar Samosa) and the exotic kheer kadam. Besides lots of other snacks.

Not only was the lunch spread fit for a royal feast, even the often ignored mundane stuff were taken care of. The plates were Corelle and not the routine (and often chipped) melamine. The water was served in factory-sealed plastic tumblers. And the roti was served hot, yes, it was tava phulka! Now for the fare on offer.

Banarsi Lassi to start off with and Banarsi paan to sign off with. And in between tons of stuff like salads, “snack-ey” items like kachori and jalebi, and main course  dishes like paneer tikka labadar, methi matar malai, dahi pakodi……, I don’t remember all the names now. And in case you have a sweet tooth, you could choose from rasmadhuri, rasmalai or kulfi faluda. Or you could have all the three. Like yours truly did.

There is famous laddu shop in Kanpur called Thaggu ke Laddu. One of their slogans proclaims, “Jo khaye woh pachhtaye, jo nahin khaye who bhi pacchataye”. You would regret if you consumed the laddu– you would regret not having had more. You would also regret not having the laddus at all. And that summarizes what this lunch was all about!

Probably we would get palangtod paan at dinner, I thought to myself munching on the banarsi paan, thoroughly satiated at the end of the meal.

To be continued


IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 1

January 4, 2011

Arey, tum?”

Tumm!!??”

Waah kya baat hai!”

Kya baat hai!!”

A stranger leaps onto me entangling me into his arms. I reciprocate the entanglement, and vigorously try to squeeze him closer. But our generous paunches get in the way of a closer hug.

Waah, kya baat hai!”

Waah kya baat hai!”

The initial salutation repeats itself. Two old friends have met!

Only that we did not know who the other was. Twenty five years is a long time, long enough for these two friends to forget what the other looks like. Long enough for the respective paunches to show generous growths. And long enough to get two hitherto unknown persons to hug each other, yes, I had not know the other person at all, all through my five years at IT-BHU, Varanasi. But how did it matter, we were together again!

We were there together at the G-11 auditorium at IT-BHU, Varanasi, for the silver jubilee of our batch.

And then I ask a friend who I recognize: “Who was that?”

“Who, who?”

“He, who!”

“No idea!”

“But you too just hugged him!”

“He is at this reunion, and he must be our batch mate! So what is the harm?

No harm at all, I agree; we were there for the silver jubilee reunion of our batch. Some 120 batch mates had gathered in the campus, many along with their family members.

This trend was to repeat itself over the new few hours at G-11.

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I must admit I was a total skeptic when this idea of a reunion was mooted. I even wrote on this blog about why such meetings were totally boring and you should never even attempt such meetings. Having vented my feelings, it was left to a batch mate who had read my past to make me change my plans. Someone who I barely spoke with at the campus but for many reasons- which I cannot get into now- keep speaking with him over the last 25 years, called me on a Sunday morning a few months ago when I was sitting bowed to my barber at my favorite hair-cutting saloon. In between the snips of the hair-cut I managed to utter “yes”, “totally agree”, “of course”, “what are you saying?” and eventually, “sure I will be there”! The first thing I did when I returned home that morning- even before the mandatory head-bath after a hair-cut, I sat myself down at my computer and “made-my-trip” to Varanasi for 23rd December. I said, “my?” Just omit that please. It was “our”trip, my wife insisted that the family accompanied me. I thought she would get bored, but my efforts to persuade her to forget about the BHU meet were in vain!

Thank you Arun, (Anant Arun of V yr. Chem, if you don’t know him well enough), thank you! Arun, you made my haircut memorable!

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First things, first. My good friend Salil Samshery was the one to make this meet possible. He created a Yahoo group of our batch mates about five years ago. He called each one of us and enlisted us into the group. Salil has a responsible job in the Himachal Pradesh Govt. but he persisted in this private venture in his spare time till he had nearly all our batch mates enlisted into the e-group. It was he who proposed a 25-year reunion. Multiple suggestions followed from the members and we then zeroed onto the date.

Truth be told, the reunion date finalized was some 6 months after the silver jubilee. The distance was maintained so that our NRI friends could join us as well. And they did, some 25% of the gathering comprised the NRIs who took the opportunity of the long winter vacations in the USA and in the other countries, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Egypt. Many (most) of the participants were those who were not the vocal types in the group and were there present for the sheer love of seeing their “lost” friends and catching up with their University and their Departments.

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Anshu Tandon, a resident of Lucknow- a city some 275 km west of Varanasi- had taken charge of the ground level organization of the Reunion, more about his efforts, in later posts. What a hero he proved himself for the team!

He was at that time enmeshed into a project very dear and important to him. More about this, later.

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A couple of weeks after the Reunion party is over, I think about the fairy-tale like situation I had travelled into. Some of us batch mates met in a dream-like situation after the lapse of a quarter-of-a-century, caught up and dispersed again. Some of the paris (fairies) met in the heaven, sung and danced and rejoiced, and then split away.

Who knows when we will meet again! Will we ever?

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I will post later my other memories of the reunion. All I can tell you for now that I have much to write about!