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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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