Last month some of my classmates from college organised a reunion of all alumni. I would have gone but for the fact that no one from my gang was going to be there. I believe it was a great success . At any rate, it made me nostalgic and I thought I’d write a letter to my college going self .
How wonderful to reconnect with you after all these years.
For starters you weren’t called BellyBytes and you hadn’t even imagined you’d be doing something called ‘blogging”. Computers in those days were completely out of the public domain. They were huge big monsters, cloaked in secrecy as they hummed in important places like Defence establishments and scientific laboratories. In fact,the closest you’d ever got to one was a punched out card from a mainframe as a memento of a friend’s visit to an Armament factory.
Things have changed a lot since then, haven’t they?
For instance, you actually went to college at 16 years after a wonderful 6 month holiday! Those were the days when your school leaving examination papers were actually sent to England for correction! They went by Sea Mail and were corrected with those of hundreds of other students studying in different parts of the Commonwealth!
Doesn’t it seem fascinating that 16 year olds from Singapore, Darjeeling and Zimbabwe studied the same syllabus that you did and answered the same questions on exactly the same day.
And while you waited for the results to be declared you enjoyed a 6 month break doing exactly what you wanted before college began in June. Those 6 months you spent in actively bringing your weight under control by walking a 6 km trek back home from the hobby classes that you had enrolled in.
The campus of the JJ School of Arts was impressive and you enjoyed giving reign to your creativity so much that you actually wanted to pursue a career in art. In those days career opportunities in art were limited so you listened to your parents’ advice and chose a more traditional path.
Your first day at the premiere College of the time, was momentous in that you actually slipped on the muddy pathway that you took as a short cut from your hostel to the college building! It was the first time ever that you stayed away from home and every day required you to think on your feet. That’s where you also met girls from other colleges, learnt to share a bathroom and even hand wash your own clothes.
But because you scored well in your school leaving examination, you were allowed to skip the first year of college and got your BA degree by the time you were just 19. Those were heady days weren’t they when you learnt Logic and History of the West, Social Psychology and Political Economy? You were swayed by the ideologies of Keynes and Marx and actually had visions of joining the Civil Service. You learnt French at the Alliance Francaise de Bombay and enjoyed the early morning classes at the French Bank Building.
Doesn’t it seem strange to you that you were a Francophile without having the faintest idea of France apart from what you learnt of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars?
Tea dipped finger and social upheaval
Those college days were glorious weren’t they, hanging out in the college canteen that was nothing more than some tacky benches , stray cats prowling around and the canteen boy Shiva who brought you a glass of tea with his finger dipped in as he carried three hot teas in one hand!
Jayprakash Narayan, the old socialist politician had sounded his call to agitate against a government that was getting increasingly authoritarian and didactic. Half the time the road in front of the University was blocked by students/protesters demanding one thing or the other and buses were routinely diverted. It was commonplace for universities to cancel their examinations and you were lucky that you could finish your BA in three straight years without any strikes by teachers, railway men or workers.
In your final year at college, you had your own personal upheaval as you watched your mother come under a car. Luckily she survived the bizarre accident and even though she was in hospital for three months, you managed to sail through your finals. You did brilliantly, winning a University Prize for scoring the highest marks in Economics and Psychology. You also won a National Merit Scholarship.
College was idyllic and uncomplicated. You made best friends for life and enjoyed the freedom of living in a big city that was still civilized and safe. You and your friends would go for the morning matinee show and see the latest Hollywood movies for half the price. Those days you could walk out of a theatre if you didn’t like the movie as no one suspected that you had planted a bomb and was therefore leaving the movie hall.
You could travel up and down in a local train without fear of being pushed out. And you could actually walk alone on Marine Drive at 9 in the night. Those were the days when you didn’t have to go Dutch when you went out with your friends . And when a boy asked you out, it meant that he was picking up the tab.
Those were the days when you actually used the public pay phone. You also went well in advance for an appointment because there was no way you could inform anyone that you were going to be late. Do you also remember the music store across the college ? You could listen to the latest vinyl’s in an air conditioned cubicle. In those days you could actually listen to three to four EP’s at a time and the salesman didn’t even think you’d walk away with one.
In fact you could even walk into the most luxurious hotel in Mumbai without raising any eyebrows and share a cup of coffee between your five friends. You could even eat off the street stalls without fear of getting an upset stomach.
They were simple times weren’t they?
Do you think you’d have done things any differently? I doubt it.
Take care and keep smiling
Today, my old college is not even one millionth the college it was in its hey days . Today I cringe when I tell people I’m an old alumnus . Barring a few good institutions, college education in India is quite dismal these days. This has led to a brain drain of sorts with several Indian students preferring to take loans and go abroad to study.
In my time, going to college was a given . My college fees were so low that I don’t even remember what they were! College education in India is slowly getting expensive. Many have to borrow money to get an education. Sadly, there will be many students with out-standings at the start of their careers.
Coincidentally this post was also inspired by Earnest. It was a reminder that the Universe does work in strange ways!
For any of my readers in the United States who are interested in refinancing their student loans, check out Earnest!