(This article is scheduled to appear in WeXaverians, the magazine of the alumni of St Xavier’s College, Calcutta)
A college friend started a closed group on Facebook which has grown to nearly 200 members including me. And it has been a blast of nostalgia with good and bad humour, puns, repartee and insults traded freely just as they used to be in the canteen. Arunda’s canteen, the cultural nerve centre of Xaves!
I don’t remember the colours of the tables and benches, (were they benches or chairs?), in the canteen anymore. At 8 am in the morning the aim was to grab a cup of coffee, and a chop to put between two slices of the softest bread known to man. The choice of coffee was made available only for the early morning B.Com hordes. The day scholars got the dregs that were left over and then had to make do with tea, of which, I believe, many urns were emptied over the course of the day. Arunda, the ever smiling and indulgent man behind the counter, made sure that horseplay was contained and the service was prompt.
Just outside the canteen was a favourite sit down and lean on place. Two big pillars, joined by a balustraded wall that made the perfect counter to lean on and look down the walkway to the back gate, to watch for people walking down. On either side of this spot were steps, one leading to the canteen and the other took you to the dark corridor that went past the gloom of Room 6 and the office on the right to the front of the college.
Classes started at 6:00 am sharp, especially if you had the misfortune to have Fr Joris in the first period. A typical day in my life at St Xavier’s College went like this, especially in 3rd year.
4:30 am: wake up, make and drink tea. Shower and dress.
5:15 am: Open front door, unlock grille gate at top of the stairs, leave the house, shutting door and relocking grille gate. Walk down 3 floors to unlock the grille gate at the bottom of the stairs. Exit, locking grille gate behind me. Walk to the open air garage behind The Super Snack Bar at the bottom of Majerhat bridge, opposite the Grindlays bank.
5:25 am: Wake up garage attendant, sleeping in his underwear (oh! what a delight…)on a cot under a mosquito net. Grab his bunch of keys and unlock garage door. Drive out about 10 assorted cars to get to my Standard Herald parked at the end of the madly jumbled parked cars. Drive the Herald out. Drive back all the other cars in. Lock door and slip the keys back to the attendant.
5:45 am: Head out to Park Street.
6:00 – 6:10 am: Arrive at back gate, parking car on Short Street or Wood Street.
6:15: am: Meet fellow students heading the other way for chai and samosas. Climb into their car, a tape deck! Pink Floyd’s Animals takes us to Annapurna on Lansdowne or the Russel Street dhaba.
8:00 am: arrive at canteen in time for coffee
8:20 am: arrive in Room 15 at the head of the canteen stairs
9:00 am: awake and refreshed, keenly aware that the first of the girls may pass by the room at any time. Waiting for the extended “ooohhs” and “aaahhhs” from the other rooms to indicate their arrivals.
9:40 am: Leave class and head out to the audit firm client’s office.
1:00 pm: Speed out for lunch and head back to college for lunch with the girl friend in the Oberoi or the Ritz, which as people of the time will remember, were what we affectionately called the two lunch sheds halfway down the walkway to the back gate.
2:00 pm: Head back to work and occupy the time till 5:00 pm.
5:15 pm: Head back home
6:00 pm: Call girlfriend and walk out to meet her
7:30 pm: See girlfriend off at home and head back home
8:15 pm: Complete dinner
9:00 pm: Asleep
Weekends were spent playing cricket during the day and partying late at night, learning what goes well with vodka and falling on rum and coke as a fail safe option. I spent most of my college life in ITC as an articled clerk making a princely stipend of Rs 115 every month, supplemented with free cigarettes, so some measure of popularity was guaranteed in college.
Memories come flooding back, the as-many-as-possible-a-side football played with a tennis ball on the basketball court, or as we got more daring, in the gym, right at the base of the field, in plain sight of the authorities in the guise of Fr. Maliyekal or Mali. “Everybody freeze, Sanjay Vatsa’s lost a contact lens!” and Mr Vatsa on hands and knees scrabbling amongst the many feet. “Found it!” And game on.
In the days before exuberant riders started doing wheelies inside the compound, it was possible to park your 2-wheeler right up along the edge of the walkway. An enduring memory is the 90cc Honda that Pawan used to ride. It had a broken kick start so could only be started by running next to it and jumping on. Or the one that Sanjeev rode, a Yezdi that was so beaten up that it was possible to walk off with parts off the bike with no tools whatsoever.
I sometimes used a scooter, arriving fashionably late for class. Monday, helmet in hand, ran into Mali at the top of the stairs 5 yards from my classroom, Room 15. “Puncture, Father”. Tuesday, ran into him at the base of the stairs right outside the canteen, “Alarm clock stopped working, Father”. Wednesday, decided to use the other stairs that went past the girls common room and Rooms, 17 & 16. Saw him going the other way down the corridor and ducked into Room 17 and sat down for the duration of the class.
The Saturday ritual of the exam meant an early exit at 8 am. This was followed by the Monday morning ritual of greeting the professor with “Marks, Marks, Marks” yelled at different pitches. Newspapers were brought by many people and our Maths professor, who was young and inexperienced was often the butt of much misbehaviour. His worst fears were confirmed one day, when, suspicious because of the sudden silence, he turned from the board to see a flapping airplane made from the middle section of a newspaper about 6 inches from hitting him between the eyes. He fell back, lost his footing and slid off the edge of the platform below the board. And how we monsters laughed!
Finally, Law with Professor Bhavnani, who emphasized a point by jabbing his thumb at you and adding “isn’t it?”. It was Conrad Dennis, I’m told, who put his hand up in class.
Professor: “Yes, Conrad?
Conrad, gravely: “Sir, it is…”
And it was.
A great time.
Ajesh Sharma, was in B.Com 1978-81, could have been in Economics, wanted to be in English, should have been in Engineering, Architecture or Design somewhere else.