on libraries

I’ve been writing about memories of late,with the kind of ridiculous nostalgia that accompanies feeling ridiculously old- the way one can only at nineteen,and with a strange dimension of distance,too,that seems to detach you from whatever past you are looking back on.

So today a post about G.D. Birla’s libraries popped up on my newsfeed and I was on the bumpy trip down memory lane once again. The G.D. Birla library comes back to me with a certain distinct,pleasant smell that always seemed to cling to its walls.I remember musty-spined books,dust laden volumes lining the walls,collapsing on the floor from bouts of laughter while browsing with a friend once,and a lot of happy,happy times.The library,with its limited collection of books and its odd,quaint charm seems to be,in retrospect,the site of my happiest memories from my last two years of school,my two years in that school.

And I go back to every library I have ever set foot in-the week-long anticipation for and the air-conditioned luxuriance of South Point’s junior school library,the instinctive picking up of a copy of Anne of Green Gables from the senior school library and the beginning of a lifelong romance-big words at my age,but it’s been eight years-the plush two-storied grandeur of Garden High’s library and the extensive sections we,as middle-schoolers weren’t allowed to browse-leading to some natural Harry Potter inspired parallels.

So this is to every library I have ever been in,to every librarian I’ve got on the last nerve of,every book I’ve devoured and forgotten,or not read at all,to all the dreamful wishful whispering amidst the rustle of yellowing pages.Here’s to you.

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I go to subversive history-steeped,rebellion-happy and movement-famous Jadavpur University.It’s a nice enough place,ponds with water lilies-one with a romantically dilapidated bridge in the middle-and canopies of green all over, misspelled inspirational slogans beckoning from signboards at every corner. There are a lot of posters-graffiti too-ambitions of dismantling the government or changing it,of smashing patriarchy and freeing Kashmir jostle joyously with each other. There is a lot of smoke-wafting out of professors’ rooms and through the corridors,there are sprawling ledges to sit on,overlooking views that get more picturesque the higher you go,there is music heard every now and then from dusty staircases and cosy nooks in the corridors,there are professors with Rosie the Riveter posters on their walls,and there is a wide variety of people,normal,nerdy,wacky,sanskari(traditional),sanskari with an edgy twist and everything in between.

Like I said,nice enough place.There are things to get mad about,too but I’ll leave that for another conversation.

I vaguely remember responding to the environment of the university with incredulity the first time I stepped in-this is an educational institution what -but I was very young,and was in JU accompanying my mother who would get her PhD from there,and i went to a neat,single-building primary school.So Darshan Bhavan,nestled as it might be among surrounding greens,was greeted with disdain-it was so traumatically dingy,this university,I would never want to study there.I have one nice memory of my childhood tryst with the place,though-sitting under a tree to read Wishing Chair while Maa visited her research guide.

Almost a decade later,I would want nothing more than to get in there,free me from the claustrophobic rigour of my second choice college,god,please?

But this post wasn’t supposed to be about my evolving relation with JU.This was supposed to be about a certain aspect of the university,its canteens.

I have tried to follow a meal plan over the last few months,and nothing has perhaps made it more difficult that this almost magnetic pull of visiting the canteens-not just for the food,but to infuse some purpose into the hours of doing nothing between classes.And more.

My first acquaintance was with Milon Da’s- the Arts favourite,with tree-shaded places to sit and a shack-like building you could previously go in to,but now have to gather at the counter of. It was Milon Da’s that sheltered us from the rain that soiled our first bouts of exploration of the campus,it was Milon Da’s where I discovered a love of cold coffee-its invigorating and soothing powers,as required,even when badly made. It was at Milon Da’s where I discovered the potential fear of the life-threatening,having bitten halfway into an oil-soaked dhop er chop ,only to realise it had prawn in it-a food my asthma has always kept me from.It is to Milon Da’s that I still steal away whenever a bad day has left me in need of a sugar fix-Coke or crunchy Oreos or chocolate cake or Nutties or,of course,generously sugared and milked cold coffee.

Then there is the canteen near the Engineering department,overlooking a cricket(?) field.There are two canteens that meet that description,actually,one is cheaply priced,and where I have fond memories of sharing greasy chicken chowmein with a friend by evening,and one is where i laughed so hard at something long-forgotten that I managed to fall down from-no,with-in my defence,broken, plastic chair.

There is an AC canteen-one that greatly disappoints to reveal that the AC in its name does not stand for air conditioned-and another among particularly picturesque settings,near gate 2.

And then,of course,and then, always,is Moni Da,stowed away off the main campus,with its bamboo shade and its two dogs,its Chinese and other experimental food,where crispy baby corn is delicious when fried and accompanied by hot tangy sauce.

I haven’t been long enough here to relate the culinary specialties of the canteens,nor do I  have fascinating insight to deliver about them.

But I write this to articulate,make sense,even,of a certain something.Of the way I,even when I have no wish to eat,will suggest a detour to any of these places-because in the dusky calm at Moni Da,or the hazy din of Staff,food is more than just food,taste is more than just grease or fry or 500 calories.Canteens make university university,make it that much more hospitable,that much more home.Because food.And because more.

Because they are parts  of campus where you need little to justify your existence,because they provide that much impetus to dawdle,to breathe in a little more of this life because it will be all over so soon,too soon and the more you can absorb now,by way of taste and sight and sound and smell,the better.Because here and now I’m forever voracious-for life,though it seems I am always still searching. But sometimes,in the way dusk dawns over Milon Da’s you will feel like you have found it.You will feel like you are there.

 

 

The rain today makes me nostalgic.

First I think of campus.Of the way it rained relentlessly the first few days of college, and vague memories-snippets of evenings spent in campus when the weather was a lot like it is now,the sky similarly overcast,a breeze similarly soothing blowing.There would be cups of coffee to be bought from Milon da’s-and the sky would be a benevolently darkening grey.And I would be enraptured,drunk on the heady dreamful of caffeine,on newly found freedom,on the first flush of love,for my love affair with the campus,then in its first chapters,would be shod in the sort of untainted,rosy glory that accompanies the first stages of acquaintance,of discovery.
And so today the rain makes me feel a strange kind of nostalgic-a nostalgia for a present,if that is possible,that seems part past,part half forgotten dream in the way it was seen and felt and soaked in by this me and yet a different me,a long while and a short time ago.And the rain today makes me wonder just how much of our lives is really lived in the reliving,through memories-the workaday of yesterday gains so much significance in retrospect,and even the apparent trivialities of emotion reveal themselves in a certain majesty in memory,in a way they didn’t when experienced as the present.

And then memory takes me back to times I don’t normally relive much.Because they sicken,perhaps,more than hurt.The school where I did so well,the teachers positively doted on me.Where I was the fat ugly kid who was only good at studies-only-“if you weren’t fat people would like you” etc.

But god,the fields there,the tiny flowered garden,and clouds gathering over the walls lining the bus bay.But,god,the best friend I found there and the quiet roads I would take to school-now bustling,now all the desolate beauty gone.

Then the school I went to after that-how did I survive two years there?Yet. The drowsy afternoons,poetry scribbled at the back of history notebooks,empty classrooms and long,deep conversations,eating chocolate in Sociology-a friend had got an assortment for her birthday and was generous enough to offer, unresentfully share-  and doodling Warsan Shire’s poetry all over my diary in Political Science.

Life wasn’t easy then.I was younger,dreamier,softer,less jaded. But also so tired,school-the daily ritual of getting up,putting on an uniform and taking down notes all day long would drain me out-but there were those moments,little snatches of happiness that still make me smile.

Maybe this is the way it’s meant to be.Life will sometimes be a bad dream,sometimes a dull hum.But you will get scraps of these approximations of happiness,or contentment thrown your way  every other day-sometimes adulterated,like the worry of calories clouding over your enjoyment of your favourite flavour of ice-cream-a Cornetto double chocolate in my case,and sometimes not-the pure bliss of feeling the weight of a newly bought Harry Potter book in the bag you are clutching at twelve,or sinking your feet in the sand and letting the ocean breeze rush past your ears.And those fractions of seconds will fill you with a certain something so deep that the memory will be enough to get you through anything-when nothing seems to be okay anymore.