Home Real Life Starts Only When You Leave

Real Life Starts Only When You Leave

by Anu Moulee

“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”

Group photo

It seemed a perfectly good idea to be at the 25th reunion of a batch I sort of belong to so I went. That and the prospect of meeting folk I hadn’t met in a long time. From the flurry of emails that made the rounds before the event, I had a vague feeling that I was expected to do something – anything – for the event. In the spirit of this I went to Hostel 10 a few days before the meet. Because you know, that is very helpful.

Alumni are so much the big cheese now that they have a secretary dedicated to us. The poor child at Hostel 10 was nervous about doing a good job. How to reassure without letting her know that the dramas of being a secy are not even a blink and miss moment in the movie of your life?

The day of the reunion. Either I am shallow or aesthetic or both, but my first thought is: will we ever have a clothing memento that is not a white polyester T-shirt emblazoned with something banal? I blame the Americans for the sartorial low that is the tee. Wouldn’t that group photo have been vastly improved by designing a proper shirt – remind me again, why does IIT have an IDC if not for this?!

The important bit. I mingled with the crowd and was genuinely happy to meet up with folks known and unknown.

The dramas of taking group photos! They happened, proof now exists that a reunion happened; we can all crowd around it and not recognise people who are now 25 years older. After this, the PowerPoint Presentation on Important Topics aka how much are you going to cough up for the old Mater is a relief.

There were a couple of nifty tunes played along the way, though the gentleman singing gave me a cold stare as if to say “I very much doubt you know the words, forget the music”. I was prepared to bunk bed at H10, but some high living is called for now that we are old and rich so we are at the Guest House. It is still shabby genteel. The geese are still around. So are the moskis. It feels good.

Either I am shallow or aesthetic or both, but my first thought is: will we ever have a clothing memento that is not a white polyester T-shirt emblazoned with something banal?

There are a few families around and some remarkably patient children. All the teenagers looking like Whatever!

Then there is a felicitation of some sort and in a sudden change, everyone has gone all classical in matters sartorial and pretty soon an “uttraiya” is being draped around us.

Joseph Campbell once wrote that the general social atmosphere of India is that of a co-ed boarding school with segregated sexes and depleted finances. This was back in the 50s but it was probably true of IIT in the 80s too. There is probably a book waiting to be written about all that IIT undergrad URST (unresolved sexual tension), but I am not holding out for it. Neither am I writing it. That URST probably still persists because you know, instead of moving towards co-ed boarding, we have a new girls hostel with high walls. Which requires a thorough Freudian analysis.

This I think is exacerbated by IIT being unapologetically undergraduate. There are noises now and then about “our PG alumni” and attempts to be part of the wider research community, but it is seemingly hard to shake off this overwhelming culture of male adolescence. It’s arguably part of the charm of the place, but you are very skeptical of it as an adult.

Proving this male adolescence atmosphere, by the time dinner happens groups have already been drinking a fair bit. Since I wasn’t invited, I assume I am not part of the cool/ in/dissolute groups! Or just that I am female. And an ex-PG.

In any other adult gathering, drinks would be served with dinner. But here, in a nod to student days, it is a surreptitious activity. It’s a sign of the times that though there are no drinks and no after dinner speeches, we do get a stand-up comic. Let me keep my trenchant critic notes on that to myself. lets-drink

The long night walk reminds me that there is nothing quite like the relatively quiet, cool roads of IIT.

The next day is Alumni Day and there is an entirely different feel to it. The folk who descend on campus are varied; the campus itself appears used to this yearly invasion. It’s a small peek into Indian aspirations, particularly since the first batch that graduated is celebrating 50 years of being out in the world. Before the speeches and the awards, we squeeze in a Department meet and one has to shake off that student feeling and remember to be proper and professional and adult.

The awards…I am not one for awards. Just being at a ceremony feels silly, too often it feels like teacher’s pet has been awarded a shiny gold star. But this time around I don’t mind it that much; everyone is gracious and modest in their speeches and really can one carp at a moment of triumph? It is better to leave insolent cynicism to the young…though I am at this very moment also wondering where I can employ the title Insolent Cynicism!

But I do feel a lot mellower about things. The 87ers are a motley lot – you can sense the jostling of varied emotions in the crowd 25 years on. I meet a few folk who are resolutely the opposite of a Dante lost in dark woods midway through life. While this lost in the woods is a fatally attractive state when one is one’s 20s, now I appreciate tranquility and lack of pretension.

Someone hands me an IIT magazine and a few folk yell you must write for this. I am directed to the “H-10 page” which it turns out is a whole lot of “how we met cute on the IIT campus”. I feel a stab of irritation but much later I think if I do write a piece, it will be about the girls I knew in H10. Everything about that time is different – IIT friendships are neither the fierce adolescent friendships of college that dissipate quickly nor are they like the friendships I made as a working adult. I lived with these girls; I know them as I know myself even if I don’t meet them as much any longer.

The long night walk reminds me that there is nothing quite like the relatively quiet, cool roads of IIT.

There is a new initiative in the hostels for mess workers – the handing out of cash gifts for various milestones achieved. Anupa and I are to hand them out, it’s also good to meet other ex H10ers who are around for the occasion. I spent so many years in H10 that I know most of the workers; I have met a few families. It’s a little embarrassing when the young ones dive to touch my feet. The smug mess worker back then is still smug with the little successes of her life. Which are many. The daughter of a mess worker who died is a pretty new bride resplendent in jewels. I mention her mother, her shoulders shake, her eyes fill with tears, it takes me a long time to console her. I suddenly feel a little emotional.

Two weeks before the reunion my grandmother died. In 1987 she came for my graduation, neat as a pin in a new sari bought for the occasion, careful not to display pride in her granddaughter. In the courtyard of the hostel there were scented blooms everywhere and she sat there one evening enjoying that little patch of cultivated wilderness. Now the courtyard lies bare, patches of scrub the only indication of life. A new building is to come up here. As it should. When I walk out from the hostel, I am happy to have made it to the reunion but equally I am happy to leave. Once it seemed impossible to leave IIT, even going home for the weekend was a chore. It turns out that real life starts only when you leave.

December, 2012


Panja July 24, 2015 - 10:28 pm

Nice to have been associated with every step of the journalistic journey …. Of course starting from the Pagal Gym and then all others incl the reunion

Keep writing

Anu M July 26, 2015 - 7:43 pm

Thank you – Pagal Gym was the best, too much fun 🙂


Leave a Comment