I recently happened to read a Malayalam book titled “campus ormakalude pusthakam”. It was a compilation of write ups by different writers on their college days, mostly in the 70’s and 80’s. It was very different from my college days. Though I belong to this generation, I never felt I belonged here, I don’t think I enjoyed my college days due to this feeling of non belongingness. When I was young and watched famous movies on college life in the eighties I idealised college life that way and when I read this collection I realised this is what I wanted from my college life.
But my first year in college life was the most boring one yet it was my first encounter with life of youth in Kerala and I welcomed all those experiences good and bad but they did help me be who I am today. I felt proud to be one among the lot who enjoyed college life at pre-university level. When I saw my counterparts in school uniforms and imagined my siblings being pained in school even after 10th I took pride in the fact I was free after 10th to wear colour dress, to bunk classes and loiter( well we loitered inside the campus those days and hardly had money to roam in the city), to discuss politics and cinema at canteen, to beg for votes and get ragged , though I knew all this was short lived and at times meaningless I enjoyed floating with the crowd who had locked up “ reasoning skills” for two years labelling it freedom and with them I floated too……
As every teenager who found freedom all of a sudden mixed with an urge to define one’s new identity formed gangs, I found 6 girls with whom I became friends. Coming from the gulf I looked like a gulf baby weighing 68kgs so no doubt I was to be ragged. Ragging was no big deal, some of my friends got away buttering and some got ragged for being stern. In our gang we had two tom boys; one was a dog lover so we called her dog J. She would look at any guy and say “hey he looks like a cross breed of a dachshund and boxer together”. The next tom boy was more like the leader in the group , she in fact wore her father’s jeans and gave a cold stare to any guy, Now we were hardly 16 and most guys were shorter than her she took full advantage of it and exerted her frame to give an imposing look. Next was a Muslim girl who loved Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Akhthar and prayed India lose matches against Pakistan. She lived on fried fish and started every sentence with two words “Allah or Padachon”. The other two were like twins; one was the daughter of a lawyer a sophisticated female who taught me about Loreal and Maybeline, she was class conscious and into fashion shows in college. I remember trying to sell her dad a computer shield as a part time job as well as sales promotion for my cousin. Her father asked me if my dad wasn’t earning enough and why am I a girl , a daughter of an NRI from a well to do family doing this menial job.I felt bad then and never ventured for anything like that but now that I think of it , it makes me puke at his dumb , chauvinistic thoughts. I had not been introduced to feminism then. The fifth member the twin I was referring to was a Muslim girl who was loyal to our fashion girl. The last member was a Brahmin girl shortest in the group who wore tight dresses that would attract any guy and pretended she never knew, we were together known as “ dynamites” – I don’t know why though I too agreed for the name and put up the tough image and out of loyalty to group even wrote it on walls.
An unforgettable event in my pre-university life apart from college elections, politics, NSS and whistling at college day was “Valentines day. Nah…. No romantic experiences … in our college, college union used to sell small chart paper cards for Re.1 each and people could write messages to whomever they liked. I too wished to get secret admirers and when the box came to our class prayed for it. Ms Fashion got 3 cards none of my friends got, Then suddenly the guy who had the box called my name, I was thrilled to know there was a card for me. When I opened it read
“You’re slender hands like French beans, your breasts like ripe mangoes, your eyes like mulberry and your butt like melons makes me uncontrollable”.
Without me realising I started to cry. I stopped wearing frocks thereafter, my friends consoled me, I felt conscious about my gulf baby image and started to diet but that was not all.
We made a list of all potential enemies and waited for the next year, we bought hundred cards and wrote in all possible awkward handwritings and waited to see their expressions. From the guy who commented Ms fashion in Hindi class whom we nicknamed ‘frog’ to my rivals in campus politics , to guys who ragged us in NSS and even their friends who flirted with us we spared no one. The note written below is the famous of all which I wrote with Ms Fashion. It won’t give the feel it had in Malayalam still I will try my best to translate it.
“Darling of mine”,
I know you turn back in Hindi class to affirm your love for me.
I am yours and I pledge that in the name of each an every acacia tree on this campus,
that pond of ours with the crocodile, and that stale sambar of our canteen.
You are mine and mine alone and if you dare look at any other girl I will commit
suicide jumping into that pond .
Poor fellow was so shy and would turn back in Hindi class to figure who out of the 100 girls wrote to him and Ms. Fashion and I would hide and laugh behind our books. The conditions of all others who received the cards were more or less the same. Some would stare at us in corridors and we could feel their eyes asking ‘was it you’? And we walked with pride of having done a heroic act and smiled reciprocating those glares which meant” Girls can have fun to you losers”.
Years have passed away , my sister went to the same college, the acacia trees, pond still remains there, canteen has improved I hear, no more politics in campus and no valentines cards I was informed. But as I pass the campus today even today I feel those mischief and fun reverberates .