Kaushik, less heavy than he would be two years hence but still sufficiently stocked up for post-apocalyptic survival, went to Business School in the summer of 2006, two years after he’d finished his Bachelors in Engineering. The two colleges were of vastly differing statures, so much so, that he was perhaps the only human being in history to have studied in both. The Business School – IIM Lucknow, was considered amongst the best in the country, having mass produced future wearers of double-breasted suits for over two decades. The Engineering College, on the other hand, was a rather more modest affair, its greatest achievement being that it was the best of three colleges in the sleepy town of Dhule, located near the middle of the country and of nowhere, miles from any city of significance. In years to come, this would become the object of much friendly banter from his more illustrious Business School mates.
But, as he never missed an opportunity to point out to them, they were there and so was he. When his cab, led and followed by a continuous stream of other cabs, entered through the gates of IIM Lucknow, he felt he had left behind him an entire history of mediocrity and nobodyness. Understandably, it was the happiest Kaushik could remember himself being in a very long time.
There was a touch of apprehension too. He didn’t know if he actually fit in. In the months that led up to the start of the session, filled with self doubt and a need to lab test himself before plunging in, he had spent hours on Social Networking Sites, searching for would-be classmates and seniors, urgently pursuing conversations, whenever he found someone. The exercise proved inconclusive; most of the chit-chatting was amicable, even pleasant once in a while, but essentially cold. Like him, everyone else was testing the waters too – curious but wary, clinging to the safety of commonplace subjects. Kaushik slyly mentioned the existence of his blog. It was read and politely appreciated. A few years later, Kaushik, his tastes evolved manifold, re-read the material and was embarrassed to find how utterly juvenile it was.
And so, he carried his apprehension with him to Lucknow. The first couple of days, he wandered around the campus with his parents, as did most others. It was a large, lush place - narrow alleys leading up to short, pretty red brick buildings, widely spaced and surrounded by slender trees towering over dense undergrowth. A single tar road circled around the entire campus, bordered by a footpath dotted with cozy wooden benches. One could spend hours sitting on these benches, undisturbed and isolated, apart from the odd motorcycle whizzing past or a couple of students on a rejuvenating walk. The sense of peace and desertion was complete; it was difficult to believe there were nearly a thousand people inhabiting the place.
He was allotted a room in one of the newly constructed hostels. It would be a ten minute walk from there to the academic block, he surmised. Over the course of the two years he spent there, he realized it was more like a frenzied three minute sprint to reach the classroom in time. His room was small, clean and unimaginative, as hostel rooms are. There were scribbles on the walls and the doors, ranging from rants of megalomania to declarations of love, mostly copied from 70s and 80s rock songs. There was a small balcony too, although its effect was greatly reduced since his room was at ground level and all he could see outside was wild foliage. A solitary window opened onto this balcony from the room. It was covered with fine meshed wire to keep out the insects and mosquitoes, of which there were millions. Two shelves, hollows in the wall, a chair & desk, and a wooden bed. It was a five star suite compared to what he’d lived in, in the other college.
He met a few students, fellow hostellers; the conversations from the online chat rooms reinitiated face to face. A three day official induction began – the batch, three hundred of them crowded into a large hall, were told how special they were to be sitting there. They were told what they would go through in the two ensuing years and where that would lead. Intense rigour and competition were hinted at. Their dreams, already plump, were bloated further. They cheered.
The parents trickled out gradually. The session began. They learnt of the idiosyncrasies of their professors along with the obligatory legends and anecdotes. The pretty girls were spotted; courtships begun. Life became regular. It was then, that friendships were finally formed. This was when Kaushik first met Ritankar, Ashish and Suresh although they wouldn’t become close friends until much later.
In one lecture, every student was asked to make presentations on various topics. Kaushik waited his turn nervously. When it came, he walked onto the platform and started to speak. Somewhere in between, he cracked a joke, even as his palms and underarms sweated. It came off well and the class applauded. That was when he finally decided that he did indeed belong.
In later years, Kaushik often reflected on how little he remembered of those first few days. There were hardly any actual incidents and images his mind could recreate, just a vague, muddled sense of the time and place. All his concrete memories were from much later, when the lines between his friendships and casual acquaintances were firmly drawn and he knew where he stood.