Saturday, 5 October 2013

Three men in a college

Hostel 2, MREC (c) Ajay Deewan
Houses in old Jaipur are pink-coloured. But the hostels of Malviya National Institute of Technology (formerly Malviya Regional Engineering College – MREC) are not coloured (In recent photos I see a thin strip of yellow in between). The only colour that pervades there is the friendship among the dwellers.   

The hostels are made of stones – they absorb heat and cool off instantly. So are the students – they get into tiny fracas here and there, and again get back to their normal routine – attend the class, complete the assignments and party hard with friends. Like the agelessness of the stones building the hostels, the bonding between the hostellers lasts forever.

Circa 1999-2000. I was placed in Hostel 2. The fact is, nobody wants to land in the hostel in the final year. Hostel 5 is the darling of final year students. All students, from all faculties, from all states of India and abroad, who are just a year away from celebrating their metamorphosis into engineers, get to stay together in a hostel which is more than a home. And the few unlucky ones are dumped in the Hostel 2. 

As there is a silver lining in every black cloud, you get more time to study hard in the step-hostel. You slog through the boredom but have enough time to incubate the creative ideas that come to your young and restless mind. In my case an interesting incident happened that changed my perspective towards friendship.

It was daytime and one of my friends was resting in his room.

He hears a knock on the door. He says, "Come in". But the knockings don't stop. He opens the door to the sight of a man in his early fifties.

The intruder politely says, "May I come in."
The man steps in and goes near his bed. "May I sit on this bed."

He sits on the bed – a metal cot with thin mattress and a regular bed sheet. He feels the connection, relaxes, looks at the ceiling and again stands up. He rises up, goes near the study table and asks, "May I sit on the chair."

My friend says, "Yes, please."

The man fumbles with the pen from his pocket and seems to scribble something on a piece of paper. He is expressionless. His mind seems to be swimming in void.

Sitting on the chair, he reaches the switch board and asks, "May I switch on the fan."

What an irritating man! My friend, holding down the vexation, says, "Please Sir, go ahead." He repeats with emphasis, "Do whatever you want. Think this as your own room."

The emotionless man's face turns bright. "Thank you my friend," he utters in his glorified tone. "Twenty nine years ago this was my room. The bed you are sitting on was mine. The chair, table and the fan, all were mine. It's been 29 years and now they seem foreign to me."

Tears start trickling down from his eyes and he breaks down. My friend finds it hard to console the man. Thanking him, the man leaves the room. Feeling curious, my friend follows the man from a distance.

The man heads to the central lawn of the campus. Two men of similar age join him and hug each other. They lie down on the grass, break into tears, laughter and joy. After 29 years.

Later we came to know that the other two men had also knocked on the doors of two other final year students. They had also posed the same set of questions and broken down at the end. The three men had graduated from MREC and had been working in the Silicon Valley in the US.   
In those days, social media was a mere dream. Thanks to, they met in the virtual world and planned to meet in reality – at their beloved campus. They also met their teachers, hostel warden and roamed around the campus streets, canteen and lecture rooms.

This day whenever I think of MREC – the hostel, the room, the cot, the chair, the table and the fan – they still hover round my head. The memories are indelible.

I long to get to MREC and indulge in the colour of friendship, once again. But I am waiting for my friends to poke me and instigate the desire. To be there. With them. After 29 years. Like the three men in the college.  

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A cup of tea in the Golden City

Jaisalmer Fort (c) Wikipedia.
Author: Adrian Sulc, User: Hinterkappelen
The train was speeding past the vast sand dunes like an arrow whizzing away from a bow. The babool trees near the railway track amalgamated with the sparse vegetation and the warm wind was hitting hard on our faces. My friend Tashi's fluffy hair was rising up and falling down with the gush of wind blowing past our faces.

We were standing at the door of the railway carriage. While he was busy capturing the panoramic view of Pokharan in his analogue camera I was guessing the distance of the atomic test site from the railway track. Our friends had left for their homes, but Tashi and I had decided to spend our winter vacation in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer, the golden city, is 575 kilometres west from Jaipur and is the most strikingly beautiful city in India for travellers who have never been to a desert. It lies in the Jaisalmer district which borders with the neighbouring Pakistan. 

Both of us were Mongoloid and being taciturn in nature we could not make any friends in the journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. However, a Bihari man became good friends with us. He had been to Jaisalmer many times and the Collector (Chief Administrative and Revenue Officer of a district in India) being his distant relative, he assured us to provide help if needed.

While walking from the railway station towards hotel, we met few army men. Seeing us they asked, "Have you come to apply for the BSF (Border Security Force)?" Nearby was a recruitment camp and every year many Nepalis came there to test their luck – to get enrolled in the lucrative service. Both of us were well built and in spite of our denial they didn't believe that we were there for our holidays.

It was getting dark when we reached Hanuman Chauraha, a roundabout in the way. It was pitch dark and we were still searching a place to stay. We were worried. It is hard to get a room in Jaisalmer during the peak tourist season. Then we remembered the words of our Bihari friend we had met during our journey and went to the Collector's residence.

We had no difficulty locating him. As chirpy he was, he dialled a number and scribbled the name of a hotel and address in a piece of paper. He was sure of fetching us a room in the unknown city. With his assurance we left for the hotel.

When we reached the hotel, we felt like scolding the friend from Bihar. We had already been to the hotel and the manager had shown us a "No Room" sign. However, we decided to ask once again. This time the manager was polite and was grumbling. "You should have mentioned earlier that you are the Collector's men," he said complainingly, "I got scolding for no reason." The man's face was worth seeing. The Bihari friend had admonished him badly. Then we, at once, got the best room in the hotel. It was a sweet relief.

As we were to check in the room, the manager came running upstairs, grabbed my arm, and took me to a corner. "Sir, can you please come with me for a minute," he requested and I followed him to the reception.

"Dai (elder brother), you are a Nepali that's why I thought it was my duty to warn you," he continued.
"It is nice to meet you in an unknown place, but why do you want to warn me," I enquired.
"Isn't your friend a Bhutanese?"
"I confirmed from the registration slip," he said. "You know, the Bhutanese chased us from Bhutan. Most of them hate Nepalis and I am afraid he might hurt you at night."
"Don't worry, my friend is a very good human being," I consoled him. "Even in his dream he won't think of harming me."

I left for my room thanking for his concern for a fellow Nepali. We freshened up and were immediately on the hotel's roof to capture the amazing photos of Jaisal Fort. In the dusk, the fort was dazzling – glittering like a golden palace dropped straight from heaven. The lighting was mesmerising, it made the fort look more beautiful. As the fort is made from golden yellow sandstone, it is also called "Sonar Quila" in Bengali. The fort built by King Jaisal who founded Jaisalmer houses a thriving city with Jain temples, palace and houses of commoners.

After clicking photos till we consumed the whole reel, we set off for dinner. As we reached the main street, a police jeep stopped in front of us and the enquiry began. Since Jaisalmer is near Pakistan border the security is very tight there. The police start interrogating as soon as they come across a new face in the city.        

Waking up early in the morning we strolled to a nearby row of shanties for a cup of tea and snacks. As we went nearer, we heard a man singing a Nepali song "Yo gau ko thito ma kanchha mero nam, audai jadai garnu hai sablai Ram Ram" (I am a guy from this village, my name is Kanchha, please keep coming, greetings to you all). The voice was melodious and reminded me of Udit Narayan, the original singer of the song. He hails from Nepal and is an established singer in Bollywood. The man singing the song was a dark coloured Nepali man from the lowlands (Terai/Madhes) of Nepal. Seeing us he had started singing the song and as we went nearer he invited us to his tea shop. While sipping the tea we came to know about his hardship since he left his hometown Butwal in Nepal. The journey from Butwal to Jaisalmer was full of thorns which he hid under his forever smiling face. He had met a Nepali after many days so he didn't allow us to pay for the cup of tea. His master, sitting at the cash counter, smiled at us. To him we were his worker's friends. For him we were mere Nepalis searching menial jobs.

After tea, we went to Gadisar Lake along with a small Bengali family in a jeep hired by the hotel manager. Together with the family we went to the Sonar Quila and Patwon ki Haveli, the mansion earlier inhabited by the ministers and likes. Jaisalmer is also called Golden City, deriving its name from the golden yellow sandstones used for building the houses. Cherishing the golden memories of the Golden City, we went to meet the Nepali friend who had sung Kanchha mero nam seeing us. As we bade farewell after drinking the tea made by him, he was smiling and waving at us. But his eyes were moist with tears.

Read the Nepali version at .