IT-BHU 1985, Silver Jubilee Meet, Dec 2010: Part 4

February 26, 2011

“It was for you.”

“No. No. I did it for you.”

“No. You. Believe me!”

“No, no. You!”

Happy married lives are made of such selfless gestures. My wife and I were trying to convince the other that the delay in waking up was due to our consideration for the other on that cold wintry morning of 25th December at Varanasi. We had over-slept, plain and simple, and had missed the meeting of our batch with the current students of IT-BHU that morning. I have the reassurance of friends like Chalis, Anshu and Arun Anant who I knew would play the roles of responsible seniors and address the concerns of the juniors. And they did as I heard from the others

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I was woken up by a call from Bipin Jha, an old friend and an ex roommate at 112, Limbdi.  I now had some urgent matters to attend to. Bipin had a tummy upset and needed some medication. And I had a very old favour to return. As I told you, Bipin was my room mate in our first year. He, incidentally, is also from my school in Jamshedpur but I barely knew him then. He was the one who had nursed me into health when I was having a severe bout of blood dysentery. So much so that we had to seek specialist care at the University’s hospital, Sir Sundar Lal Hospital, commonly called SL by the campus denizens. But the problem with the hospital was that it was not limited to only the Univ. students. Patients came from far and wide, such was the reputation of the hospital those days. (It is another matter that the University residents got thrown far and wide as a consequence of events in the hospital, but more about that later.) And for anyone to get some time with the consultant on duty was a difficult proposition. And I, and for that matter, Bipin, were just a few weeks old in the campus. No hope for me. Till Netaji’s intervention.

BHU in that era was a hotbed of student politics. Politicians of all hues, parties, ages and departments were active in the campus. The Netaji referred to above was none other than IT’s Manoj Sinha. He accompanied me to SL, both astride a cycle-rikshaw with Bipin pedaling behind on his cycle. Thanks to Netaji, I was given a priority appointment by the doctor and was out of the hospital quickly.

I think I am digressing now, the student politics of BHU deserves a post (maybe posts) of its own. Back to the Reunion meet.

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We reached the campus only at lunch time, the morning’s interaction was missed. We gathered that many in the IT café had missed the morning’s session as they were busy sight-seeing. But all made it a point to come for the lunch. Rantim (V Mech) and wife came from Sarnath, “No way we could miss out on the reunion meals”, they said! I shall not delve into the details of the spread, suffice it to say that it had a distinctive Rajasthani flavor. And a little Bhojpuri too. There was litti-and-chokha, amazingly well made. I was busy canvassing for this and I remember persuading many of my friends to have it. In case you are not familiar with this sinfully delicious stuff, here is a definitive guide to it! A most satisfactory lunch, I can tell you!

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Post-lunch was the time for introducing my family to MY campus. Started that with a pilgrimage to 112, Limbdi, which surprise, surprise was open (in that vacation season) and we were welcomed by the current occupant whose name eludes me now. He was happy to invite us into his room. The room looked pretty much the same but for a feature which was non-existent in my 1st year engineering, namely a PC! My teenage sons found it strange that I had studied in an era when there no PCs. “So weird, Papa.” That’s what they had to say! “So weird!”

112, Limbdi. Do not miss the current occupant!

The Expansive Limbdi Campus

Oh those hanging towels and undies!

The scene outside the room was familiar, the famous towels and undies drying in the sun in the “lobby”. So reassuring, I thought to myself, there is a bit of the old BHU alive even now!

A march to the “mess” after that. A current student was showing off the mess to his grand parents. We peered into the cavernous corridor of the mess from behind the closed doors but could not figure out any of the royalty; no maharajs around! Even the “canteen” where Sri Hasanand Punjani, the canteen contractor ruled had been converted into multiple messes.

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After Limbdi we proceeded to the DG crossing, the setting for many an exciting debate during those five years. I have written about this in an earlier post of mine.

The next stop was the Arts Faculty Auditorium. I was involved with dramatics in the campus; some plays I had directed while in the others I played various roles. A lightman, the backstage incharge, a prompter etc. The auditorium was locked and some helpful persons guided me to the chowkidar of the Arts Faculty, I think Lachhoo was his name, who cheerfully opened the audi and let us in. Felt a bit weird to have it only for ourselves, no audience milling around! My kids were excited to see the stage where a “debacle” of sorts had happened during one of my plays, “Kamala”.

Director awaiting audience!

Time to leave the campus, but a stop en route at pahalwan’s to partake of the delightful lassi! Unfortunately, there are three Pahalwan outlets at the same location (the family has split since we left the campus), none sells lawanglata anymore.

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The dinner was at the same venue as the previous night’s. And as expected, another grand affair! It was the Christmas day, and to add to the X’Mas cheers, the hall was done up with white and red balloons. The waiters wore the Santa Claus’ red peaked caps. I would not have been surprised if the caterer, who paid so much attention to details, brought in a pair of reindeers into the hall! And Santa Claus himself with his bag of goodies for us. Well, the caterer had the dimensions of Santa Claus and he was indeed carrying his bag of goodies. All spread on the tables for us to savor. Yet another fabulous meal. Thank you very much Milan Caterers, your fare made the reunion that much more memorable.

Don't miss the peaked caps!

The evening entertainment was provided by a one man band- Rolando orchestra. Rolando from equipment the “one-man” was playing on. I love music, but the action on the lawns outside was a lot more exciting. Just a few hours to go before this fairy tale of a reunion came to an end. Big time (re)-bonding was happening outside.

Anshu: the one man army!

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Arey, idhar aa, phir galey mil jaa

“Don’t you visit the US? Please drop by the next time round!”

“We REALLY must meet again, maybe when our batch turns 30.”

Apni beti ki shaadi kab kar raha hai tu, I wish my son was old enough for them to get married”

“Go away, this group photo is only for the 1980-81 Limbdi gang.”

Some of the 1980-81 Limbdi gang

The lawns outdoors

Sandy scurrying about with his massive photography equipment. Chellam urging all to fill in their demographics in a book he was carrying. Salil, the methodical organizer as ever, persuading the laggards to pay up the contribution for the reunion (I was one of the laggards). Anshu flitting from inside the hall to the lawns ensuring all were happy and occupied. Kaustabh making sure that his corner of imbibers were kept well provided for. Balaji doing what he does only can do best; regaling us with his one-liners delivered in his chaste Tamil-Mumbai Hindi. The sagely Chalis (beard-and-all) spreading peace all around. A shawl-clad Anant Arun guffawing as only he can. An impossibly black-bearded Panesar (which hair dye do you use? I need to try it out myself) narrating tales of Canada where he lives now. Bipin Jha, a little weakened after a night’s illness still managing to join in the revelry, that too minus a drink!

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Ojha is flitting between the lawn and the indoor hall. In the hall nibbling into a kabab, patting a friend’s son on his back, keeping an eye on his sons who were lost among their new-found friends, getting introduced to a friend’s wife. As his wife, who had kind-of forced her way into the reunion, bonds with the ladies in the group.

Some wives! (Oh dears)

Ojha returns to the lawns to discover the “smokers’ corner” even more active. He even gets invited to inaugurate a new smoke round. And clink glasses with yet another group.

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I get back to the lawns, the more happening place.

Ajeet Saran grabs me by my shoulders: “Ojha, jaantey ho, I have continued doing plays even after the campus days!”

Manoj Prasad is intrigued I want to see a mine: Open cast he says, will you be interested? Of course I am, Manoj!

I am now suddenly missing those who are not present there. Randomly. Ramki (one of the andhas in my play “Andho ka Haathi”). Partha Dey (the guitarist). Subhash Shanbhagh (Shambhu we called him). Rajesh Tiwari (Tavare, named after the Brit cricketer of those days, Chris Tavare). Biju John from Thiruvalla. Sunita Singh, the lone female protagonist I have had in my plays. Bhandarkar, for no reason at all.

And then, I catch myself weeping, tears flowing down my cheeks.

Don’t know why.

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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!


That Crazy Cycle trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 4)

March 29, 2010

Road travel can be a very educative experience. For example, in our case, it brought vividly to us that India is a huge and diverse country. We were cycling across the Hindi heartland and only some 750 km. The sense of diversity was ever-present. Pure Hindi was rarely the language we got to listen those six days. We started our trip with Banarasi Bhojpuri which turned into Avadhi and its variants as we approached Allahabad. This metamorphosed into something reasonably similar to pure Hindi (khadi boli) as we got closer to the Kanpur area. This progressively changed in texture and tonality turned into pure “jat”-speak as we moved into Western UP on our way towards Haryana. I read later somewhere that in India dialects change every eighteen kilometers. That could be an exaggeration but I heard with my own ears those changing texture of “Hindi” during the six days and five nights I was on the road.

The trip broke another stereotype of the aggressive, uncouth North Indian. The North Indians we met were uniformly helpful, friendly and courteous. They would unfailingly deliver messages from one of the group to the others. They would politely direct us to the next big dhaba which served the best food in the area. And when one of our friends cycled off the highway into someone’s sugarcane field, he got rewarded with a hipflask-full of freshly crushed sugar cane juice. The flask got passed around the group that early winter morning and we happily sipped off the elixir! Cold, sweet and very, very, invigorating!

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I have digressed from the sequential description of the trip. Well, for those who like the facts, from Sikandara we made it to Shikohabad for our night four. The police station hosting us for the night was in the heart of town. Which meant we have a proper meal in a restaurant. There is this side-story of one of our group getting into a scrap with the local people. But I do not have clear memories of that.

From Shikohabad we left for Mathura. This was to be the last halt before Delhi. Once we reached Mathura, we were tempted to cycle even further so that we could be as close to Delhi as possible next morning. And we found ourselves sleeping in Jaint police station. Yet another of those non-descript police affairs in Uttar Pradesh.

It was a usual early morning departure from Jaint and then a stop at Palwal, Haryana, for lunch. I still remember the lunch at Palwal. It was the first time ever I had some beer. One whole glassful! Since I had read somewhere that beer is had chilled- and my beer was not- I had insisted upon ice cubes being added to my glass. Much to the amusement of my more knowledgeable companions.

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The entry into Delhi was smooth. We had covered 750 kms from Varanasi to Delhi without any major hitch. Not even a single puncture. Imagine we had together travelled something like 4500 man-kilometers over the previous six days and not one puncture. The puncture kit which was first on the list of must-have items when we were preparing for the trip went totally unused!

The only source of amusement was when the only Delhi-wallah member of our group decided he had had enough of cycling when he entered Delhi (at Sarita Vihar). He just chucked his cycle into an auto-rikshaw (called a “scooter” in Delhi) and went off!

The remaining travelers, all non-Delhi-wallahs asked their way around the mysteriously identical-looking roads of South Delhi and managed to reach our planned location for our stay, one of the hostels (was it Karakoram?) at IIT Delhi at Hauz Khas.

Three days of rest and recreation and we were ready for the journey back to Varanasi. Not on our cycles, of course, but on a train. The cycles were loaded into the parcel van of the train. Thankfully! As we readied ourselves for the practical exams!

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PS: A few months after this expedition, one of the fellow-cyclists and I were returning after seeing a movie. Nigh show, of course! And then we realized that Los Angeles Olympics 1984 was starting a couple of days hence. We were feeling sorry for ourselves that we could not catch the inaugural ceremony live as those days (July 1984) Varanasi did not have any TV station. Suddenly it struck us, Allahabad did have TV facilities. And that Allahabad was only some 130 km from Varanasi. As we peddled hostel-wards, we had made up our minds!

Early next morning saw us peddling on the familiar highway on our way to Allahabad.

(concluded)


That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 3)

March 28, 2010

The Cyclists: Raghav Ranjan, Kamlesh Singh, Vinod Kumar, Rajesh Sethi, Satish Mittal, Anurag Subhash, Santosh Ojha

The pic you see above is the only one surviving over the years. This was taken at Raghav Ranjan’s house in Kanpur (mentioned in Part 2)

It is usual for a group of cyclists to get separated on the road. You start at the same time and cycle together for half an hour or so. Then one in the group pedals a little quicker than the others and soon is seen as a dot in the horizon. Then another one takes off while yet another decides to stop for relieving himself. In a matter of an hour the group is spread wide apart, by some five to seven kilometers even. How the group members get together in case of an emergency or for a meal, you will wonder. Remember those were those days there were no mobile phones. No STD booths either, not that these would have really helped to establish communication within the group. In a strange land what would the group do?

The land could be strange, but the lay of the land was simple in our case. We were all cycling on National Highway number Two (NH 2), a long, straight road connecting India from East to West. Unless of course someone veered off the road and decided to take in the pastoral beauty by venturing into the villages; which in our case it rarely happened.

Whenever the group got splintered and someone felt the need to group together, the one who thought was ahead would park at a roadside dhaba and wait for the others to catch up. If he was of the more cautious variety, he would request a scooterist travelling in the opposite direction to convey the message to the other group members regarding his whereabouts. Like “stop at the dhaba just after milestone which says Mathura 65” or “look-out for the tea-stall next to Bunty’s garage on the right”. The one at the rear would do a similar request to another mechanized vehicle rider, but riding in the same direction. “Tell my friends to wait for me at the next petrol bunk.” You will wonder how the messenger would know who he had to deliver the message to. With our NCC dress, our black cycles with the placards announcing “Cycle trip: Varanasi to Delhi”, the kit slung on the cycle carriers and our general mismatch with the looks of the local populace, we were not difficult to spot. In fact we stood out quite starkly!

Sometimes this separation would create dramatic results! I remember this episode when we were proceeding from Shikohabad towards Mathura. The sun was setting and we still had some three hours of cycling to go before we parked for the night. We were hoping to have a night-halt beyond Mathura- we would then be within a kissing distance of our destination, New Delhi.  Most of us were cycling in a bunch, there was one guy behind, but we were within sighting distance. There was one chap whom we had not seen for the last couple of hours and who we assumed was far behind us. Suddenly in the rapidly declining light, one of us saw a body sprawled on the roadside. A closer look revealed a body clothed in khakis, like ours. It was the chap who we always assumed was bringing up the rear! Sethi!

“Sethi! What happened?” we all exclaimed in unison.

“Leave me alone guys”, Sethi groaned. The chap was in agony.

“What happened?”

“My lower back hurts bad, I can’t move, just leave me alone. Carry on guys, I will manage!”

It was getting darker, and colder. And there was no way we could leave him alone. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Well we were on NH 2, but there was not a soul in sight.

Then our Captain Satish took charge. He hoisted Sethi onto the cross bar of his cycle and began cycling after instructing us to bring along Sethi’s cycle. Those of you who have experience of cycling would know that it is possible to ride two cycle together. You sit astride your own cycle peddling normally. You hold your own bike handles with one hand while guiding the accompanying rider-less bike with the other. Not difficult, if you know the trick. And most of us were good at it and we took turns at this while Captain Satish was coasting along “double-ride” with Sethi.

I now think of it and shudder to imagine what would have happened if we had not spotted him!

(To be continued)


That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 2)

March 28, 2010

And then we reached Kalyanpur Police Station.

The daroga (inspector) was a portly old man clad in his lungi and a chaddar. He was holding an object in his hand which he was diligently inspecting. His lackey stared at him admiringly. Our weary bodies were aching to find some place to sleep in when the daroga piped-up: “Kaun ho tum log, kya chahiye?” Our leader thrust the NCC documents under his nose and requested refuge for a night. “Thik hai”, he said, “so jaao”. Before we could figure out where we could sleep, he intoned ominously, thrusting at us the object he held in the dim lantern light. “Pata hai, yeh kya hai?” We stared closer. It was a crescent shaped object wrapped in gunny-bag cloth. “Abhi-abhi mila hai, kisika khoon hua hai issesey. Khoon. Samjhey, khoon. Murder!” Shivers went down my spine, a weapon of murder so close to me! The daroga had been busy sealing the knife for onward transmission. The lackey was nodding in admiration all the time as our group gaped at the murderous package.

There is a Hindi saying:”Raam- raam kartey raat beeti.” That was my fate. As I am sure it was for others too. I am sure we all dreamt of a khooni chaku slitting our throats as we slept in the verandah of the police station between our NCC-issued blankets.

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Jaan bachi toh laakhon paaye”, I thought to myself as I peddled furiously towards our next destination. That was a lot milder one, and a lot more welocming. We were headed to for lunch at one our fellow-cyclist’s home in Kanpur. He had planned his cycle adventure to end there. We reached there just before lunch. We never had a more luxurious hot water bath ever before in our lives and what a sumptuous lunch it was!

Bye-byes done, we were off to our next destination. Sikandara.

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It was past 10 at night when we landed at the Sikandara Police Station. A scary, decrepit old building. And we were tired and famished and extremely scared, NCC dress notwithstanding. After the Kalyanpur P.S. welcome we were now expecting the worst. And we were completely taken aback when the daroga welcomed us, albeit sternly. “Aao, aao.” He barked. “Kahan sey aaye ho?” Our leader showed him all the NCC documentation we had. And the daroga’s stern look softened a bit. I wonder whether he understood the documents.

And then dropped a bombshell: “Darr nahin laga, yeh Phoolan Devi ka ilaqa hai.” Phoolan Devi’s infamous Behmai massacare had taken place a few years ago. Here she had avenged her slight in the earlier years by gunning down dozens of innocent inhabitants of Behmai village. We were aware of this one. But none knew that Behmai came under the jurisdiction of Sikandara PS. One of us gathered his wits and said, “No, we were not scared. Phoolan is in jail now.” Indeed she was, taken into custody after much drama only a few months ago.

The daroga now actually smiled and offered: “Sona hai? Toh yahaan so jaao.” And he gestured toward a crummy looking room next to his desk. “bahut achha hai, bahut achha hai.” I was wondering whether he was referring to his own reaction or was referring to the room. He resolved the matter for us very quickly. “Yeh hamaarey thaney ka lock-up hai. Abhi thodi hi der pehley ek kaidi chhoota hai yahaan sey. Puwaal taaza hai bilkul. So jaao aaraam sey.” He was reassuring us that the hay on the floor was fresh and would keep us warm. As an added incentive he told us that the previous occupant of the lock-up had just left and the hay was fresh!

And then in a sudden fit of extra generosity he enquired: “Have you had something to eat?” In the urge to reach our night-halt destination, Sikandara, we had not had the time to eat anything. The evening tea and snack on the highway was the last we had had. We were famished, and we told him as much. The kind soul instructed his assistant to fetch us some aloo sabzi– the left-overs from their dinner. Said the generous daroga: “The sabzi is dry, add some water to it if you wish. And here is some atta, if one of you knows how to make rotis, knead the atta and there is an oven which is still burning. The cookery expert amongst us got down to kneading dough while the rest busied ourselves kneading our muscles with the aid of some Iodex. Some dozed off on the hay bed.

After a satisfying midnight meal, we all crawled onto our thick hay carpet, unrolled our NCC-issue blankets and dozed off to sleep.

(To be continued)


That Crazy Cycle Trip: Varanasi to Delhi (Part 1)

March 27, 2010

The Routs Map (red dots denote night halts)

It was one of the craziest activities I have ever taken part in. I cycled from Varanasi to Delhi by road. On a bicycle. In the middle of winter. A ride of about 750-odd kilometers. With hardly any support systems save for the few classmates as companions, a rudimentary first aid kit and some puncture repair paraphernalia. The plan was simple, simplistic really, on hindsight. This trip was undertaken in 1983-84 when we were engineering students in the fourth year of our five year course at IT-BHU, Varanasi. (Those days engineering was a five-year course in most places). There was a largish gap between our theory and practical exams and we decided to make good this opportunity by seeing the world a bit.

We had a classmate, Satish, who had done all the planning. We would leave Varanasi early morning on 29th Dec 1983 and reach Delhi on the evening of 3rd January 1984. Satish had not only done painstaking preparations for the trip but he had also gathered a bunch of seven of us. Six were to go all the way to Delhi from Varanasi while one would stay back in Kanpur, his home town. I was perhaps the only non-NCC guy in the group. With nothing to protect us but our youthful enthusiasm and those hastily acquired NCC kits. Those of us who were not members of the NCC enrolled as one, if not for anything else but to get the NCC standard issue gear; a blanket, a jersey, boots etc. And more importantly, a letter from the campus’ NCC commandant certifying us as bonafide NCC cadets and that others should help us in case we were in need.

We had decided that we will have one leader and who we would follow come what may. We instinctively knew that it would be chaos if we did not have a leader, a single person whose commands we needed to obey. Satish being the one who had planned the entire trip was the unanimous choice; and he was the “most-NCC” of us all! “C” certificate and all that. With a demeanour to boot.

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We started our trip from BHU’s Vishwanath Mandir at 5.30 in the morning. We did have a couple of friends to see us off. Puja offered, photos taken, bye-byes done; we were off! The night before we left, some friends had come to wish me all the best. They all placed bets among themselves on whether I would  complete this journey. I was not exactly the physically active types, and hardly the type to cycle all the way to Delhi from Varanasi. Most of my friends were pretty sure that on day two I would be on way back to Varanasi, probably via a hitch-hiked return trip on a truck or worse still a dehydrated and fatigued apparition of skull-and-bones in an ambulance. I am sure some would have even replaced the ambulance in their imagination for a hearse. Since you are reading this post some 27 years afterwards, you know that I have survived to tell the tale.

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The plan- our leader Satish’ plan- was to cycle about 125 kms a day and halt for the night at a police station. Our Day one ended at Allahabad. A government guest house was made available to us thanks to the influence of a friend’s father who was a senior government officer. So the lodging and boarding was well taken care of. But when we reached the destination we discovered that our bodies are made of the elements, lead being a prominent one. Yes, our legs were leaden! Most of us barely had the energy to park our cycles and we all collapsed onto the nearest horizontal space available. Satish went out to enquire about the dinner etc. When he returned, he announced the meal arrangements and also the time of departure for the next morning. Six am, he pronounced. A collective groan all round, but we had no choice. We had all agreed to follow our leader.

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So Six am it was that biting cold morning of 30th December 1983. Seven idiots, with aching calf muscles donned in their NCC gear setting off for day two of the expedition. Destination for the night: Kalyanpur police station.

The first hour was a torture. All the muscles were groaning in unison. Head was telling me, go back you idiot. What are you doing here this winter morning on the highways of UP? You ought to be in your hostel bed in Varanasi curled up with a book on mechanical metallurgy, or thermodynamics, or whatever seizes your fancy. (I refrain from admitting here what really seized my fancy at that age). The heart rebelled: “You twit, you want to get back and prove all those stupid hostel-mates right by returning after 24 hours in the wilderness?” “No way, my heart told me, “no way”, as I continued to peddle on my old hand-me-down Avon cycle. I am sure the others had similar introspective chats with themselves. None surrendered.

After an hour or so, my body settled to the rhythm of peddling, my muscles found their strange abuse familiar. I was singing as I cycled along the highway. I still remember the song I would sing aloud to myself often during the trip: “Zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai; ek srimati ki, kalavati ki..”. That old song of Kishore Kumar from the 1962 movie Manmauji. Maybe it was the simple words, maybe it was the simple tune, that was the song I had used whenever I was asked by my seniors to sing a romantic Hindi song during my ragging days some three-and-a-half years earlier. Or maybe it was the song’s following line which- in those conditions- made me peppy. The line goes: “sewa karey jo pati ki..” I was far from having a patni, but the whole thought of a nubile woman massaging my calf-muscles at that time of the day was enticing. And it is this thought which made me brave on.

Another motivation was to have an hourly stop at the road-side dhaba to gorge on some sweets and some water. Mostly pedas or jalebis. Washed down with liters of water from whatever receptacle the water was held in at the dhaba. Amrit. Pure!

(To be continued)