En-route to Ludhiana from Chandigarh on a roadways bus after what seems like a life time. The journey finds me thinking of then and now. Precariously balanced on the edge of a Rexene clad three seater, next to a bulky uncle, I end up reminiscing about the time that was.
When we would jump aboard gleefully onto a yellow and white roadways bus at any time of the day. Mostly in packs. Even if there was no place to sit we would bundle ourselves into the rickety buses eager to enjoy the journey and each other’s company till one by one we got off at our respective destinations. There were no iPods in those days or iPhones or BBM. Some lucky ones had the good old Walkman which was gladly shared or equally gladly not used at all so that no one remained left out.
I remember it used to be a lucky thing for us if we managed to hop off the bus for just a minute at Talwandi and buy 3 oranges for Rs. 10. Wonder if anyone even knows how much oranges cost these days.
We did not look for AC buses or Volvos at that time. Mostly because the option was not available and also because it didn’t really matter. It did not matter if we had to stand till Talwandi or Moga or even all the way home.
If we got seats, we sat quite comfortably oblivious to the world of germs or dirt. Did we wrap our faces up with bandanas then? I don’t remember. We did use hats and caps a lot as it was awfully sunny all the time.
I also remember keeping a hand between the seat’s rod and a friend’s head while she slept to prevent her from getting hurt. Did we carry wet tissues and hand sanitizers then?
We walked to and fro from college to hostel a zillion times in the hot Sun. Some of us had the sense to use Sunscreens. Many didn’t. I used to get miserably tanned and my friends back home would find it astonishing that I could let that happen. I still don’t care about Sunscreens but do I go out in the Sun with the same gay abandon? No Sir!!
Travelling home used to be a simple task. BUNK. PACK. JUMP ON BUS.
There were some who had to board overnight trains too. To Delhi. These also travelled mostly in packs. It was fun to see this pack off. In winters, each carrying a bundle of their blanket for protection against the mind numbing cold. Stopping at Yatri Nivas for dinner. No one travelled in AC coaches then. Do we do that now? I don’t know. I try not to. In-fact it has been years since I traveled in a train.
Good time pass was sitting in the college canteen where many a times a friend herself made awesome tea. Or bunking class just to share uncle’s kadak chai while playing cows and bulls with a friend. It should be studied how many fruitful hours that simple game can occupy.
I guess I bunked a lot. I was told, once an exasperated prof during attendance screamed, “ye Geetanjali kaun hai? Main aaj tak nahi dekhi!!” (Who is this Geetanjali? I have never seen her!) Thankfully I was bunking that day too.
It did not take much courage or bravado to skip lectures. Now often just to take some time off from work, one has to carry a laptop, data card, give elaborate handovers and what not. Maybe if someone paid us to attend lectures things would be different.
For entertainment a friend and I once borrowed the juice wallahs bicycle and rode off to the cantt area. Rarely do we plan such excursions now which do not have an agenda.
Wonderful times were those, when there was just enough money for a tea and cream rolls between lectures. When the high point in life was bunk. When trips were planned just to get together and go to Husaainiwalla Border. How I miss the place. Quite a few weekends were dedicated to the border retreat and we would come back awestruck. Just to come back and have a mad water fight in the hostel. I remember the caretaker once cried out in frustration, “chandi chaddh gayi hai kudiya no!!” (“the girls are possessed by a demon”).
Often we went on strikes just to increase the hostel in time. Again no guts or glory. Just a matter of fact voice against the obvious injustice. Now to speak up against bosses at times one has to first make a mental note of available job options.
I miss Ferozepur in many ways, though I know I would not want to go there as long as I can help it. The freezing cold, the unfair hostel timings, the food.
Yet it is just the good stuff I remember. The supplis, the internals or the sometimes weird profs don’t fill me with anger any more. What comes to my mind happily is friends, cows and bulls, bunks, cokes, highest mess bill in the girls’ hostel, sad partings.
There were a lot of partings, with every year a batch leaving. One good friend shared a hand written note with a select few. I don’t remember much except how it made me feel and a “coke precariously balanced.” That note is still a part of my treasures from college.
With a very few I remember the beautiful discussions on books, life in general, madness and Harry Potter! Yep!! Harry Potter came when we were in college.
And I remember the passionate discussions on self, independence, Ayn Rand with yet another friend.
And there is a friend, with whom I shared a balcony, the English Patient and a bond which remains strong even after all these years.
It is funny how in a drab place like that we found many little oases of kindred spirits.
I am not saying that our life now is crap and was heavenly then. Maybe it was heavenly crap then and now it is crappy heaven. (This sentence is here just ‘cos it sounded funny).
As I wipe my face with a tissue I try to fight against the touristy feeling. It has not been that long but maybe I am thinking about it for the first time because of the roadways bus. The flight from Mumbai to Chandigarh did not generate any such emotion.
No, things are not bad at all now. Just different. We can buy what we want, go where we want, live in nice places, sit in AC offices, in front of laptops, take exotic holidays. Yes this life is good too. But will it inspire a sudden trip down the memory lane. Maybe. Of a different sort.
I had this mad impulse to ask anyone out there reading this, to take a trip together to the border and see if it still overwhelms us. But then impulsive actions are not too actionable. We have to do a feasibility check, logistics check, pros and cons and what not. I guess this is where the difference lies.
I heartily congratulate all who have still somehow maintained the spontaneity of life in some way or the other. I am sure we still are impulsive but in different ways. Like shifting fields of work completely just for internal satisfaction (which I realize now is the most important thing). That is a spontaneous and courageous act too albeit on a different plane.
I also hope, in some way or the other all have achieved the dreams that were cooked in the four years of Ferozepur.
While I wait for my stop musing, I hear the jolly conductor walking up and down saying in good humpur, “bhai, koi hai jeene tikat nahi litti?” It brings a smile to my face. Nowhere else would a conductor talk like that.
I am filled with a sense of deep peace. I am home.