They walked with hurried steps, all twelve of them. There was a lot to see and experience, and four hours was hardly enough time. Satish brought one hand up over the top of his glasses to block the lumens of the unforgiving October sun. At eye level, a wide, red wall stood before him. A clump of students were gathered around a hole in the wall. It was a small hole, about the size of an observation window in a prison holding cell. “That’s Rambhai,” Vinod said. Satish turned to look at the students again, as they chatted away, teacup in one hand, tea stick in another. The benevolent guard outside handed another inmate her daily allowance.
The group next headed to the library. As Satish crossed the entrance threshold, a grave silence enveloped him. He saw intelligent-looking faces wearing serious expressions, some lone, some paired, still some bobbing up and down in little seas of hushed debate and muted conflict. “Most of them are study groups.” Satish had heard a thing or two about IIMA study groups. The Program Office plays Big Boss in this year-long practical joke that teaches students lifelong lessons in anger management and suicide prevention. Some sort of sadistic reality show. You want out? Tant pis, man. You have to do your time. Rumour has it that the Office has the feedback, notes and submissions of these groups stashed away in a dark nook of the campus; professors sometimes dig into those piles to have a hearty laugh, “Bheja Fry” style, during some of their more sombre parties.
Meanwhile, a few students seemed distracted by the presence of the contingent, so the group shuffled out of the library quickly.
They took their seats in a half-full classroom. “What course is this?” He was told four words, a couple of adverbs, an adjective, a noun for effect. The words abbreviated to a hard-hitting four letter word. A lot of four-letter words seemed to go around in this place. The instructor was a middle-aged man with a dull taste in clothes and a low, soporific voice. Occasionally, he would sweep his eyes across the classroom like a lighthouse beam, and elicit participation, voluntary or obligatory. Students then expressed their mostly impoverished thoughts with purported Pareto efficiency. 80% of the words that made up their arguments were in close proximity of “actually”, “basically”, “the point is”, “what I mean to say is” and other vacuous phrases. Amazingly, several students seemed to be genuinely impressed by their own thoughts and words. The group witnessed this open molestation of good sense and a fine language for the next seventy-odd minutes.
At Vinod’s suggestion, they next went to the students’ mess to have lunch. It wasn’t very crowded. Satish filled his plate with a few of the fifty shades of yellow laid out in the name of food. They took their seats at one of the empty tables. Loud music played from the idiot box across the hall. Satish looked on with a smirk, as Shah Rukh Khan danced fervently on a Panchgani hillock, flaunting business casuals. A barely legal Divya Bharti gyrated alongside him, dressed like a particularly gaudy Diwali lantern. He looked down into his plate. The shades were similar. He turned to look as a bunch of students settled down at the table beside them. One young woman seemed determined not to let the hem of her shorts approach her knees. The men, on the other hand, appeared to be staunch believers in pre-industrial fashion. Their clothes looked old and untidy. They seemed to treat washing wrinkles with the same quiet resignation they did their aging wrinkles. The whole lot of them wore tired expressions. Meanwhile on screen, Shah Rukh Khan had changed into business formals and was bouncing with a renewed swagger.
They succeeded in washing their hands in three or four attempts. The washing area had a North Korea undertone to it – two out of eight basins were operational; the remaining six had probably been constructed as part of a covert scheme to reduce unemployment. Quite possibly the brainchild of the Dear Leader in these parts, whom Satish vaguely recalled hearing of as a brilliant man who sports a generous, grey afro and a name that helpfully rhymes with hashish. On his way out, Satish picked up a handful of fennel seeds. Graciously, there were two varieties. That was more than one could say about the foregoing meal.
They were to see the new campus next. They walked through the crowded lane approaching the underpass. Satish cringed as he mentally read out the names they had given to their food outlets. Forced puns and amateur wordplay. But hey, this was no Upper West Side, folks were only here to learn and earn. Sandwiched in the scant space between outlets sat a modest hand cart that looked in dire need of at least a perfunctory HACCP review. A cacophony of clanging coughs rang from behind the counter. A couple sat lost in each other’s eyes on the jute charpoy before the cart, sipping tea and sharing a bowl of maggi. Satish felt a little sorry for the girl.
A ginger cat sat self-consumed at the underpass entrance, contemplating its singular name if Eliot were to be believed. Its nonchalance was endearing. The overzealous students could learn from it.
As they entered the underpass, Satish spotted a loft of pigeons defiantly stationed high up on a set of spikes. It reminded him of Hema Malini’s “Mai Nachungi” madness from Sholay. Down below, the wall on the right was lined with a series of picture frames displaying historic images, like a disassembled time machine. As they walked past vintage photographs of Messrs Sarabhai and Mathai, they absorbed a little bit of the rich history of the campus construction. They exited the underpass and regrouped at a peepal tree, the unacknowledged venue of countless meetings and partings of students in their first year. “CR 10. It’s this way.”
A few students stood scattered in the classroom. It was after lunchtime now, so the lecture sessions were done for the day. They had entered in the final minutes of the paper distribution of some course. Cloaked in an air of self-importance, a scrawny, older looking man stood in the centre of the classroom, three anxious faces swaying tentatively before him. “That’s the TA. These are his best moments,” laughed Vinod. Satish watched one of the faces contort and swell in anger and frustration as its owner pleaded clemency with the emperor. “That’s the topper of our class,” Vinod remarked dryly, as the group filed out.
They arrived at the IMDC building. An army of taxis stood parked around the curb, with “Ola” and “Taxi For Sure” decal plastered to their sides. Satish wondered whether they were here to transport recruiters or were recruiters themselves. A short distance away, a small man in a shabby suit waved his tiny hands with gusto as his tall friend stood in focused attention, arms on his waist, head leaning forward into wisdom. “You see, successful people are bimodal. Now, within this, there are two kinds. There are the default assholes, who can force themselves to be nice when the time comes. That’s fool’s gold. And there are the default nice guys, who can force themselves to be assholes when required. The difference is so subtle that even the best firms often end up making type 2 errors. And so, the best firms sometimes appear to be filled with pesky insufferable knobheads. That, my friend, is the problem with placements.” The tall man nodded in agreement.
They turned around and walked back the way they came. Someone suggested they sit down at Radhika’s for a quick snack. Satish perused the menu – two dozen allotropes of rice with names generated using a context-free grammar on a terminal set of four or five Udipi culinary buzzwords. He settled for a humble coffee and spent the next few minutes in desolation, waiting for the others to finish.
The old campus wore a deserted look when they returned. They marched through the narrow path between the LKP lawn and the football ground. The lush grass on both sides of the divide was a joy to behold. Good times these, for grass, across Indian campuses.
“I hope you guys had a good time”, Vinod said, adding a few other insignificant courtesies. Satish paired up with someone for the ride home. They crossed the iron gates, arched their backs and hailed an auto. Their raised posteriors pointed unwittingly at the famous IIMA plaque. “Bhaiyya, L.D. College.” “Baith jao.”
Advait is not too pleased about the quality of North Indian food on campus but he’s not sold on the efficacy of the Lavanya solution. He is also keen on doing the happy feet dance in its original environment but doubts anyone will sponsor him.