Friday, March 6, 2015

Hostel Memories - Story of Optimism about Life!!

The last semester engineering exams are going on and everybody is so excited. The students have spent four long years in a hostel, miles away from families and friends, slogging away day and night to realize the dreams of their parents and to build their own career. Plans are being chalked out every single day, we will do this, we will take a vacation there, we will shout like crazy in a chorus after the last exam, etc… There is a ‘Days to Freedom’ counter that has been set up on the wall of my hostel corridor. The last 31 days are written on the wall and with each passing day one number is stricken off by a member of the hostel with his autograph. The hostel is a mixed bag of emotions; everybody is excited and nervous, sad and anxious, some are confident and assured while some are apprehensive and confused… There is that strange sensation of impending joy and happiness mixed with a tinge of anxiety and sadness which is just around the corner but which is very difficult to put in words.

Only the last two papers remain now. Last 9 days before a new batch of engineers graduate and join the grind of corporate lives. Just a day before the second last exam, a friend and fellow hostelite suffers from what appears a heart attack and dies while on the way to the hospital. Let us call that friend ‘Amar’ because he will always remain alive in our memories and hence is immortal. Amar was a friendly and jovial boy; a little shy and quiet, always ready to help other students in times of their difficulties. He was not spectacular with his grades but he was not a failure either. The whole hostel was in a state of shock and pain. We had lost a friend, a friend with whom we had spent the past four years and someone who was on the cusp of being an engineer. There was speculation that he may have had a bad paper and might be under stress but I had seen Amar for 4 years and he was not the kind to be distressed over fewer marks in a subject.

We did not know how to react to such a loss; I guess none of us had seen death from such close quarters. The hostel which was always buzzing during the exams was silent as a morgue. Almost all of us attended his funeral later that day with tears in our eyes. Yes, we had to study for the exam slated for the next day but that was the last thing on our mind. Sometimes, something’s are just more important than studying for an exam. We tried to comfort his parents but they were inconsolable. His mother cried non-stop and we told her that she may have lost one son that day but she has surely found another 20.

It was over the next 8 days that made me feel so much like a human being. The loss of a fellow student and friend had brought the rest of us closer to each other so much more intimately. We all stood united in the face of adversity and we behaved like mature and responsible people. The boys engineering hostel is a boisterous, raucous and messy place at the best of times. But it was all very quiet in the corridors since that incident. It was decided that the ‘Days to Freedom’ counter would not be updated in the memory of Amar. Where Amar had signed, we wrote messages for him. After the last exam there was no wild celebrations or chantings, loud music which was a norm after each exam was conspicuous by its absence. There was a heaviness hanging around the hostel and the eyes seemed weary. There could not be any victory party after a comrade had been left behind.

It has been more than 8 years since that fateful day but it is still very much clear in my head. It took a death as we students came together, showed solidarity and just the way we conducted ourselves in the face of grief is something that makes me proud even today. There were some heart touching scenes throughout the incident and it filled me with so much hope about our future. The love and emotions that flowed, the moment when we all observed a two minute silence for him after the last exam got over; those moments filled me with optimism about life, about love.

My hostel memories came rushing back recently when Phil Hughes died after being stuck by a bouncer at SCG. The way the whole cricket fraternity came together was just in a way that we had done. Cricket actually took a back seat and when it resumed it was a better place to be in. When Johnson stuck Kohli flush on the helmet in the first test, he seemed petrified. All the Aussie players seemed genuinely concerned and surrounded Kohli enquiring about his well being. In the normal course of events, they would have sledged him and giggled but death teaches us all so much. Remember Venkatesh Prasad once hitting Ponting on the head down under in the 90’s and rushing to inquire about his health but Ponting had just waved him away with an abuse. Yes, how times change and change for the better. Sometimes, it just takes death to teach us how to live.

Tell us your favourite story of optimism - optimism about life, about love, about the world and its future.

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