"Wake up, nut-head !", Sandeep was shaking me hard to wake me up from my fake-slumber.
We had reached Madurai Kamaraj University campus where the South-Zone National Inter-University youth festival was to happen. It was around 4.30 in the morning and still very dark, apart from the long line of tube lights lit up all through the tarred roads of the campus. Our bus had stopped in front of some office building inside the campus and from the window seat, I could make out that our DSS representative was trying with all his might and with all his knowledge of English and Tamil to convey that we were the Mahatma Gandhi University team come to participate in the youth festivals-
"Sir, naangal coming from Kerala to participate pannarathukku in the youth festival... MG team ! MG team ! Accommodation enge irukku intha team boys and girls ?!"
I tried to suppress a fit of laughter when I saw the alarmed look of the big-moustached, dark complexioned man whom he was addressing, who clearly knew no English and was surprised to hear something similar to his mother tongue coming out of this person who was using it as enigmatically as possible.
My friends were already up, and the other DSS staff who had accompanied us in the bus was giving them directions for unloading the huge set for the drama competition that the Women’s college team had brought along. I at once got a whiff of the situation and that’s when I decided to fake my sleep. We had already seen the heavy painted boards tied to the top of the bus even before we had boarded it from our university. But then it didn’t even cross our minds that this burden was for us to carry once we reach Madurai. We had already received long lectures from the DSS representatives about working together as a team, helping each other, this... that...
"Not me, man... I’m not gonna sweat and break my back carrying some girls’ drama set", thought I and closed my eyes.
Sandeep, a worse crook than myself, discovered what was going on and decided to come over and pull me up. He shook me so hard that even sleeping beauty would have woken up after two shakes, had I been her. Mouthing an obscenity, I rose from the seat of the bus and went over to my mates who had already untied the boards and stuff from the top of the bus, and helped them carry to a corner of the hostel in which the girls were to stay. After half an hour, there we were, panting and dirty from the effort, and angry at the girls who seemed to be enjoying their vacation. I remember getting into the mens’ hostel, entering the room that was kept ready for us, falling on the iron cot with a dirty bed on, and slept till 10 in the morning until someone woke me up.
Daylight showed us what the nature here was like... How the thick bushes and the wind that blew here all the time was way beyond beautiful. There were peacocks flying in and out of the bushes unafraid of all the people around them. There were Neem trees aligned with the sidewalks of the roads that gave out a constant ‘hush’ sounds when the breeze caressed the millions of bitter leaves as it passed by. All of us had fallen in love with the nature here that had no rustling traffic and sweat and all the sickness that was a city from where we had come. We were in another world the previous day and I felt like within twelve hours, we had reached another, a hundred times better in many ways. Occasionally, someone would find a peacock feather lying around and immediately run after it and fight over it like school kids. The sun shone bright and hot down on us, but the breeze was way too cool that we didn’t even feel the heat . Each building block in the campus was placed with considerable distance from each other and we had to walk a little bit every time we had to go somewhere. But I tell you, it would never wear you down. Mother Nature was preserved with all her grandeur here, and that is one big reason I loved the stay there. I know that even though the description I’m giving you is not at all sufficient to describe it completely or even 50 percent of it, some of you reading this are slipping into a deep nostalgic feeling. And I’m happy about it. I will someday return to the University and walk those roads again, either alone or hand in hand with someone I had promised that.
The only thing that was breaking the serenity was the 24 hour rehearsals that were going on. Folk music and dance items are great to see when performed, but when you’re around a rehearsal, it could get on your nerves like a nagging woman. The big hostel room adjacent to us was occupied by some students from a South Indian University, and these guys were rehearsing for their performance. These items were to be conducted on the very last day of all the programs, which meant we won’t be getting any sleep for the rest of the days, or we should go deaf. It was louder than gunshots, believe me, and we had to shut the door tighter every time we were in our room to keep the sound off at least to a small extend. But don’t ever have an impression that we were all silent when we were in the room. It was hell and it was party (Well... In our own way of booze, smoke, songs, big laughs and the drum that we had smuggled out of college!).
Our first day passed on with registrations for the events, distributing circulars among the team members, listening to the DSS guys... bla bla bla... But by evening, we realised that we were in deep s**t. There was a procession that was to happen in and around the university along with the inauguratory function of the events. But it was not the deep s**t that we were worried about. We had to wear a formal jacket throughout the procession. Us !!! We hooligans wear formals? "No effin’ way!" The only queues that we used to follow with great discipline were the ones at the ‘Beverages Corporation’ outlets. Now we had to walk in single file with a stupid formal jacket on? We hadn’t known what discipline means in the past three years of our graduation life and we had this to follow in our final year? "No effin’ way again!". Our only relief was that were already notified about it, and we had made a plan to slip away and hide somewhere in our hostel just before it was about to start. But the DSS were a little bit cleverer than we had thought about them and saw through our intentions and held on to us like leeches throughout the day and even came to our hostel to take us along before the procession started. So there we were, clad in the jackets that you could clearly say that it had passed on through quite some generations.
I am no John Rambo, but a fair remake of Charlie Chaplin and these jackets they gave us were all "One size fits all" kind - They were all made for guys of six feet and a well built body. Misery awaited me. Only Nijith, who was stout was comfortable with it and he was wearing it proudly, and I being the smallest of the lot was having a real tough time. The jacket reached just above my knees and I had to fold the sleeves back so that nobody could notice the excess length was simply hanging loose. Apart from that, I had to fold my arms around my body throughout the procession so that no one sees how loose the jacket was hanging on the sides of my body also. This wasn’t very different from my other friends, some of who were wearing a jacket for the first time. The girls in the team seemed to be having a good time though, dressed in Kerala style ‘Mundu and Neryathu’, a beautiful cousin of our classic "Saree". The procession itself was very colourful and every university were trying their best to display their cultural art forms, dances, and whatever thing that could earn them better points (There was points given for the procession- we learned it from someone later). I remember slipping to the back of the line once we got midway and removing the jacket to hang on it on my shoulders without the DSS personnels watching. We all even made up a story that the material of the jacket was making our skin prone to itching. But the stone headed DSS guys were actually clever in reality (no offense intended) and weren’t buying that piece of cheese. Sad... We went back to our group meeting after the procession, obviously not performing very well like some of the other universities, but very relieved to throw away the heavy piece of cloth that was like salt water to earthworms. Thus was the ‘comedy of errors’ we had to face during the great time there, but I can feel this light smile playing on my lips when I remember it now.
You might be wondering why Ponnu was not even for once mentioned in this second note. Well, the fact is that just the name had only registered somewhere way back in my head and we kept off the other girls in our team. Some guys from our group went up to the girls and boys from other colleges and had made some introductions to each other, but not the proud us. We occasionally had chats with the girls from our college, and kept off from the girls of other colleges. One or two guys (whom I shall not mention for the fear of life) among us were literally hanging on the tails of the girls from our college, to be honest and I still remember ourselves looking at these "girl-sponges" in an "I-would-never-stick-to-any-girl-shamelessly-like-that" look on our faces. Well... Not dry branches like us, of course. All our concern was to get to our hostel room and have all the fun in the world that we could. Some of the other girls tried to start conversations, but somehow that lamp didn’t burn long with our dreary-rain attitude in position. But something else was written in the eternal book of life, and those few days taught me how wrong you could be if you were to go around judging something without even taking a chance to experience it. But isn’t that another story meant to be said later?