We moved along again, descending from the second floor, using the flight of stairs at the west end of the spine, and reached the ground floor. On the ground floor, we moved from the west end towards the middle of the hostel once more, headed for the mess hall now, and the adjoining canteen. Moving along, I looked at the circular driveway once more and remembered that fateful night when the above-mentioned ruckus had happened there. This place had been the scene of action that night. The hapless senior had been dragged out of his room at night by a horde of boys from our batch, pulled along the stairs from the second floor to the ground floor and had been given the thrashing of his life in the driveway. He was half-naked and nearly unconscious with pain and fear when the proctorial vehicle had arrived. All the boys had run helter-skelter, no one wanted to get caught in action so that the action may be denied later. Mona, however, had been caught in the ground floor lobby dressed only in boxer shorts. When questioned by the security guards, he had come up with an ingenious idea, so typical of Mona.
‘I was on my way to the washroom, Sir,’ he had confided to the credulous security personnel; his deadpan face giving them no hint of the white lie he had served them. Later, in happier times, we had laughed our heads off thinking about that time when Mona had been caught in his shorts by the men in khaki trousers.
I smiled to myself, thinking of the incidence, as we turned towards the mess hall. The left wall of the entrance had a notice board which was used by the administration to paste notices and by the boys to play pranks on other boys. I remembered this one incident when a new murder-mystery movie was screening in Banaras. Some boys from our hostel had gone for the ‘first day-first show’ and had come back to the hostel in the dead of the night and had pasted a notice on the notice board declaring who the culprit in the said movie was.
Next morning a group of boys crowded around the notice board and peered over each other’s shoulders to see what the notice was, which had suddenly appeared in the night. When the group of them realized that they had been taken for a ride, they made sure that they weren’t the only ones who were duped. So, they called every boy in the hostel, shouted to them, sent mess boys to wake them, and showed them the notice. By the evening, every boy in the hostel knew the plot of the movie and no one knew who the initial culprit was. Thus, I never saw the movie! The memory tickled me, and I smiled widely, eliciting curious reactions from the children.
I explained to the them the genesis of the mirth and told them the story behind it. Soon, they were laughing too!
The whole BHU campus was filled with such memories for us, memories associated with structures, places, people – I called such objects or people ‘memory generators’. They generated memories and later triggered them when you revisited those places or saw those objects or people. Every person’s life is full of such memory generators or memory triggers. They are our link to our past, sweet, bitter, sour, happy, sad, aching, melancholy. A plethora of emotions are unleashed upon encounter with such memory triggers. I was experiencing one such tidal wave of memory that is difficult to put down in words.
And thus, wallowing in my memories – happy and sad – I walked slowly inside the mess hall, following Appu and Sutanu, and the children who had picked new leaders since I seemed to be getting lost in my memories.
The mess hall was already crowded with people – DK, Mona, Vibhuti, Umesh, Macha, Shyam – everyone was there. Most of them recognized the mess boy too and hugged him warmly. The poor fellow was overwhelmed with emotion, seeing us after such a long time.
‘Come Sir,’ he said, ‘have tea.’ And he threw open his small cafeteria for us.
‘Do you have anything to eat,’ DK asked, or maybe Mona did. The children were hungry.
‘Yes, yes’, he replied and plied the children with packets of chips, peanuts and cupcakes. Soon everyone was drinking tea and crunching peanuts and potato chips. The children hogged the cakes and the chips and went back for second helpings. Who was paying? We didn’t know. But he will get paid, this we all knew, and get paid in good measure. The children couldn’t care less. It was a veritable party.
I stood alone, looking out of the broken, grilled window of the mess hall, out at the hostel beyond, but my eyes saw farther than that. They saw the past and the future. I saw myself running in the lobbies of this structure, I saw others run too. Some boys were from my batch, some from other batches. But wait, there were others too, from a different place, a different time. The hostel had remined unchanged, the people kept coming and going. This was the way life was. The world remained here, unchanged, timeless – the people kept coming and going. In that split second of my thoughtless drift, I saw the truth!
‘What a pose,’ Somu said, breaking me out of my reverie. He had clicked a picture of mine, holding the cup of tea, looking out of the window – at the past and the future – my eyes distant. It was a poignant moment, and Somu had captured it. Somu had an eye for detail, and he was great with his camera. He showed me the picture – it was stunning. Later, I would come to see more pictures clicked by Somu during this reunion and truly appreciate what a great artist he was.
As I exited the hall, collecting the children, bullying them to follow me or be left behind, I saw Mona and DK and Appu stuff money into the mess boy’s hands. He was emotional, his eyes brimmed with tears, his hands overflowed with money. But it was more than money that he had got that day.
We exited the hostel and boarded our vehicles again. Next stop – KG hostel. Vaishali wanted to go inside the hostel. Swati and Sudipa would follow her too and Srabani too. She had somehow got separated from the girls’ group of our batch and had landed in our company and hence she would accompany Vaishali and the kids to the KG hostel, while Appu, Sutanu and me would go to ‘our temple’.
To be continued………………………………….
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