Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Admission Blues and Other Stories- To My Children- 17
I still remember the day when I crossed the threshold of the illustrious Maharaja’s College aka University College in Trivandurm. The monsoon was still on and the roads leading from the Trivandrum Railway station were not in a good shape. My mother accompanied me to the college on the admission day. The walls that emulated the red bricks through the play of brown and white paints were quite imposing that that was the hall mark style of most of the buildings built during the 19th century in Travancore. I noticed the huge old mango tree in the courtyard of the college. Under the shade of this mango tree, people from different walks of life gathered along with the students of the college when a vital issue was to be discussed and the attention of the government was to be brought to it. Those were not the days of live telecasting and instant news breaking; corner meetings and coffee houses still had their own relevance in the lives of the college students, intellectuals, artists and people who thought differently from the routine of the mundane life.
I stepped inside the campus with a sort of elation brimming from my mind and oozing out of each invisible pores in my body, which was typical to person in his late teens of that time. His or her freedom to a different world existence was not through the early introduction to television or internet. He was given pair of wings when he plucked himself away from the protective eyes of his parents. Graduate colleges and cities provided them the sufficient cover to hide and nourish their secret dreams of freedom.
My mother, who was serving the Revenue Department of Kerala as a senior officer, was posted in Trivandrum during that period and I insisted that she should accompany me to the college on the day of admission. Though I used to think that I had had enough introduction to the world of the grown up through literature, cinema and imagined revolutionary political activism, when it came to very personal things I used to feel so helpless and abandoned that I needed my mother’s help even for selecting my undergarments. I was well aware of the brands of these undergarments (we were still a nationalized state in the late 80s and we did not have too many varieties to choose from) that used to get advertised in the magazines. Still I was shy of going to a garment shop and asking for a pair of underwear. So I always sought the help of my mother. Once my mother took me to a readymade shop along with her elder sister and they were looking generally for ladies’ under garments. Standing there, I started mentioning the names and shapes of those undergarments available in the market. My elder aunt looked at me first unbelievingly and then at my mother with a lot of scorn. I was behaving naturally and my argument was that if those things could be advertised in the magazines that were read by everyone at home, they why couldn’t we utter those names in public? The taboos were working in many different layers and levels in a conservative Kerala society.
When I recount these things I remember a hilarious incident that used to occur repeatedly at the drawing room of our home that we had rented out in Trivandrum as both my sister and I had joined the colleges there. The landlady was a Nair lady with an indeterminate age. From certain angles she looked middle aged and from some other angles she looked really old. She had two husbands as they followed the matri-linear custom of the erstwhile Nair families in Trivandrum. From these two husbands she had three children. The elder son was living away from home and a married daughter and an unmarried son were living with our landlady. Both these daughter and son worked in government departments. By evening, after the office hours, the daughter of our landlady came back home quickly, finished helping her mother in doing kitchen chores, took shower and came to our home which was in the same compound, to watch the Doordarshan programs as they did not have a television set in their home. Those days, people used to gather in the drawing rooms of other people and watched television programs as if they were doing some kind of pooja or satsang.
This lady whom we used to call ‘Chechi’ (elder sister) had the habit of repeating anything written on the television screen. So when the commercial breaks came, as we did not have the option to switch channels either we talked or gossiped or just kept our eyes lingering on the glowing screen. When advertisements of things like Nirma, Glycodene, Bombay Dyeing, Dinesh Mills, Carefree sanitary napkins and contraceptive Nirodh came, our lady of the evening recited the names religiously adding her own comments to it. It was a very subconscious response to the visuals that she was involved in. But those were the days when people averted their eyes or scrambled through other things, when the screens showed the images of Mala-D or Nirodh or Carefree. But our Chechi, each time these advertisements came, uttered their names loud and translated the function of each thing into Malayalam to everybody’s embarrassment. But for her it was not a big issue and she behaved as if she were quite unaware of the social taboos.
When I walked into the campus of the University College, I felt a sense of Deja vu. I had done it before, only the location was different. Yes, I had done the same exercise in another college in another city, almost a month back before the admission in the Unviersity College, Trivandrum. It was in the SN College, Kollam. I had gone there with my mother, she carrying all my certificates in her bag and me holding a couple of books to read while travelling by train, had stood in queue, sat in a hall, faced interviewers and had gained admission for BA English Language and Literature. Though Kollam was another city towards north, lying equidistance with Trivandrum from our place, it was not preferred as a centre for studies as we were more familiar with the city of Trivandrum. But I was forced to take admission in Kollam as a precaution. There is a story behind it.
The family members, except for my mother and sister, thought that I was going to be a doctor. Our family in general had generated a lot of government servants and artists, but except for a couple of cousins there were almost no doctors in the family. As I was good at studies and always scored fairly good marks, everyone thought of me giving Entrance Examination for Medicine. They thought that my experiences at the Medical College, Trivandrum during the illness and hospitalization days of my father, would make me vengeful to become a medical doctor. But I was thinking differently. Though it was fashionable to become a doctor or engineer in those days (I was not quite aware of the economic implications of both these professions in general life and in marriage at that time), I was simply lost interest in studies. If at all I wanted to study I wanted to study English literature and become a what...err... a journalist .. a writer? I was not sure. I wanted to be in Trivandrum, that was the first and last thing in mind.
In every family there will be a couple of people who are highly revered for their worldly wisdom, age, job, authority and financial strength and equally detested for their passion for creating obstacles for anything that other would run smoothly. The youngsters in the family always want to see them dead but the more they think in those lines the more they seem to get power in their lives. These are the kind of people always get reverence mixed with hatred. They like to give a go ahead to things that would obviously look dubious and when things go wrong they would be the first to say something like, ‘look-I-had-warned-you-before’. When there is something that must be a cakewalk or a great alliance, they would come up with some outlandish theory and derail the whole project. These people are famous for creating obstacles in love affairs and arranged marriages. Young girls in the family always hate these guys. But like a necessary evil, these people are always consulted fearing wrath and more vengeance that they could wreck upon the unheeding family members.
My family was not an exception in that case and there were two or three of them and were very potent too at that point of time. One was like, ‘you have to read this or that weekly otherwise your life will be runied’ type. The other one was, ‘hello... are you okay and are you still the son of Mr.Lakshmanan?’ that type. So when came out of closet (I was not a gay to do that but a future doctor refusing to be one and going to a less lucrative subject was as good as being a gay at that time) and declared that I was not going to give any entrance examinations to become doctor or whatever, it created some sort of furore amongst the family members. Some people accused me of becoming wayward after my father’s death. Some accused my mother for not bringing me up properly. Some even thought that I had gone mad.
When I declared my intention to join the University College, Trivandrum, one of the evils in the family reared his ten hooded head and hissed behind my mother. Are you sure that he would get an admission in the University College? All the cream students come there and he has not studied in the English medium. I don’t think he would get admission here. Then, if at all he wants to pursue literature let me apply to some colleges that are not so hot for that subject, he splattered his venom on an adequate platter and that was enough for my mother to turn blue with melancholy, tears and a treasury full of sighs. As an eighteen years old boy this reaction of my mother put me also in panic mode and I started thinking that I would not get admission in the University College and I should seek admission elsewhere.
S.N.College, Kollam was the second option then. As expected I got interview call from there. In fact it used to be interview cards. The fifteen paisa worth post card will come with a rubber stamp impression of the college and the interview date. You were supposed to go, face the interview board, fill the fee and join- that was the procedure. I was immediately selected at the English department of the University College. I was standing in a queue and a few paces away my mother was standing under a shade and was waiting for me to come back after submitting necessary documents and fee at the counter. I was happy and I was humming tunes, totally oblivious of the whole world. Suddenly, to my surprise one girl who was standing next to me in a parallel line just touched me on my hand. I turned my neck and found this young girl of my age, with a file held closer to her boson, wearing skirt and blouse standing next to me with a smile in her eyes. ‘Gely,’ she introduced herself to me. I told her my name. ‘Do you sing?’ she asked. ‘Yes, I do. But I am not a singer,’ I said. She said she too was going to be in the same class with me as she too got admission for BA English Literature. I found a friend there. I felt lucky and like any other boy of that time I vowed in my mind that she was going to be with me all my life.
But nothing happened. Within a few days I got a post card from the Trivandrum University College. I went to the SN College, Kollam, collected my documents, got a relieving certificate and so on and came back happily. The college was not yet on and I could not see Gely anywhere. Those were not the days of telephone and I had forgotten to take her address out of excitement and leaving the memories behind in that flat barren land of the college campus I left for the railway station, boarded a train and came back home. Throughout that journey I thought of a life without any girl and thought of another life that was going to be really exciting at the University College, Trivandrum. Defying the prediction of my venomous relative, I was going to get admission in that prestigious college. Almost three years later, while I was still in University College, doing my first years MA in English literature I had a visitor and I was surprised to see that visitor.
Looking straight to my eyes, she was standing there. It was Gely. Now she was studying in the Women’s College, Trivandrum, another famous and respectable college established by the kings of the Travancore kingdom for promoting the education of women in the country. During my graduation days, a few students from my class used to get selected for inter collegiate Quiz competitions and I was one amongst them. We used to travel to other colleges and compete with other teams. The finals used to be telecasted by the Trivandrum Doordarshan Kendram. One competition was held at the Women’s College. I don’t remember Gely was studying there at that time or she came there next year. Somehow she came to know that I was in the University College and she decided to pay a visit. It was a great surprise. She asked me, ‘Do you sing still?’ I said, yes. But I was not anywhere in singing. But I was desperate to please her and I was a growing poet then. I was too happy she came and met me. She said good bye and left. I never met her afterward.
In the large hall on the first floor of the main building, adjacent to the room of the Principal, looked upon by the oil portraits of stalwart professors and scholars who had associated with the University College, smelling the fragrance of a golden age, we all sat at the desks where many a masters had left their indelible marks. Despite the tube lights reverently shedding lights on the professors and teachers at the interview desk the room looked dark and serious. With abated breathe we all sat sending occasional glance at each other. Surprised by the gazes and astonished by the friendliness in our eyes, we prayed deep from our hearts that all those present there should have got admissions. And most of them got. And all of a sudden we were all a part of the family. The first year degree class was on the ground floor next to teachers’ room.
We, the students found comfort in each others’ company. We were a team. I don’t remember the names of all the students now. But I could recount most of the names who are still my friends even after two decades of life spent elsewhere differently and eventfully. Thara (Tara) was the biggest and the prominent one. Then came Geetha, Bina, Stella, Leju, Kartika, Robert, Ambi Das, Jayaprakash, Indukumar, Suresh and my most favourite friends of the time John Jyoti Raj and Clement Stephen.
Thara was the daughter of Prof.Nabisa Ummal, who had served as the principal of the University College at one point and also as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Kerala. Thara was the true daughter of that reverend and progressive mother and initially we all viewed her with awe and fear. Later she became our best friend and after years I had the opportunity to meet her in Trivandrum. Stella is lecturer in English at the SN College, Varkala (where I did my pre-degree) but currently she lives in the US. Leju lives in Trivandrum. Bina lives in South Africa. Jayaprakash is a well known journalist and Indukumar is the head of the Jai Hind TV, a private television channel in Kerala (He moved to Jai Hind after a long stint with Asianet). Clement Stephen now lives in Middle East and he is a qualified advocated. John Jyothi Raj is a higher secondary English teacher and lives in Trivandrum. Suresh is in State administration and no clue about other friends.
I have a lot to talk about all of them. And I have a lot to talk about the days that I spent in Trivandrum. In fact those were the days of experiments; experiments everything, from literature, cinema, poetry, radio, television, love, kiss, sex, locally brewed liquor to marijuana. Those five heady years almost served as my foundation for the future life. A new phase of my experiments with life started there in Trivandrum in 1987.