“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
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.