By Piyush Roy
Part 1 / Series 1
“My name means dawn,” giggled Anisha, before bursting into that full moon laugh of hers, as I rued my luck, for having to contend with only a fleeting peck on the cheek. The carrot on dangle that had upped the spirits of us guys whiling our time in the canteen corridors, was a ‘real’ kiss, if we could decipher her name correctly. The closer we were to the real meaning, the greater the chances of the reward turning into a smooch was the rumour, and we all had believed. Boys will be boys; but then why reign imagination at the cusp of one’s twenties! I had missed narrowly, guessing her name to be meaning something like the ‘end of night’ or ‘darkness’ perhaps.
“Better luck next time,” she whistled as Anisha picked her purse and made a dash for that ubiquitous classroom, which enjoyed popping into existence after every 15-minute break, all through the day, from eight in the morning to evening eight. And mind you, these were only the official hours, the unofficial extending well into the midnight under the normal circumstances of an assignment-ridden weekday in a student’s life.
Rather, read an MBA-pursuing student’s life, in one of those select ‘new-age’ multi-acres spread finishing schools, with promises to create different managers for the new millennium. Mine was different in a way that it was tucked in scenic environs, few kilometers away from the din and bustle of India’s student capital, Pune. The historic Poona of the Peshwas from where they had ruled a sizable chunk of India few centuries ago till the third battle of Panipat had pushed them into regional satraphood. An old city adapting to new flavours; raising a grudging toast to that non-interfering traditional Maharashtrian hospitality finding itself thrust on to crossroads of sacrosanct traditionalism and lucre-induced compromises. The city’s retired gentry, elders and the financially able had started bartering parts of a hitherto cherished private space to those outsider students, who wouldn’t even bother caricaturing their dear city’s nomenclature for anything from a Marathi-accented Punhe to the anglicized Peune.
Not my versions, or distortions, but fond accent induced references of the countless students flocking from all over the globe and within for a culmination of varied professional dreams in this, one of India’s keenly sought forth university towns. At one count it was reported to be home to an over three-lakh vibrant student population by the turn of the twentieth century – few permanent, most floating. Hence, numerically speaking, the 30 odd students pursuing a master’s in business administration (MBA), in my class, specialising in Media, Advertising and Communications might not have been a consequential drop. But they did make their presence felt at least in the college of their enrolment, before they left this academically ebullient city.
Some were also destined to leave a mark beyond, from among those select 30, which our nascent host institution had taken great pains to scout from across the country. A representative multiethnic, tumultuous mini-India at the modernity junction of post-liberalisation, fighting the last impeding restrictions of constancies and values left back home. The freedom of anonymity riding a crescendo of abandon, providing an encouraging leverage to live a Jekyll and Hyde kind of existence, alternating between ambition’s spurring leash and passion’s preying indiscretions. Where studying like mad, also entitled one to that much-awaited break called partying wild. A work and fun routine or vice-versa that camouflaged itself under indefinable little rivalries and brittle competition, morphed under the sophistication of a grades propelled race to the top. A laboured guard that was to break soon, perhaps in one of those moments of homesick emotional giveaways under the assuring warmth of a friendly touch, discovered over a ‘cuppa’ of the infectious Rum-&-Coke, at our first, self-funded, self-dedicated introduction party at Pam’s outhouse.
Pam or Parminder Sing (minus that self-effaced mandatory ‘h’), was a wasted scion of an over-populated wealthy farmer family from Patiala, living off a few land holdings and two farm-cum-outhouses at Mehrauli and Pune. The latter address came handy to our cash-strapped class, when this boxer Surd with a warm heart and a hot head, proposed free, the providing of a venue, to an irritated Anisha and a disinterested Priya who were quite near hijacking the mandatory ‘getting-to-know-each-other-well’ welcome party with their respective reservations.
While Anisha was all for going for the privacy of the venue, cost non-issue, Priya vehemently put her foot down on the cost factor. No further holes in our bleeding pockets, she had reasoned with many buying the argument, as most of us had already deposited advances to the tune of twenty thousand rupees, apart from shelling out advance monthly rents, ranging from a minimum three thousand rupees, to gallop beyond, as the one-room kitchen set-ups increased in floor space. These definitely were like big bang reverses on modest student budgets, given the little disposable income that away from homegraduates-to-be, paying exorbitant fees and maintaining a staggering lifestyle were left with.
“One needs time to manage one’s economy… Anisha let’s get the niceties over with something cool but cheap,” Priya said.
“Cheap — that’s a dirty word for me. I can’t lend my name to anything that lacks class,” went Anisha, in her typical style, oblivious of the gathering sneers. Pam intervened with a decent bail out, robbing Rahul of one more opportunity to act the God-sent queller for the quarreling damsels.
The year was 1999, the annual packages on offer at the best B-Schools in the country, the IIMs had just started touching five figure salaries, and we still had six months to get into the new millennium.
The writer has authored two works of fiction, Alexander – An Epic Love Story and Never Say Never Again (2007), one non-fiction Bollywood FAQ (2019), and a forthcoming poetry collection, All Heats Dusted (2020). He’s twice been a judge on Star TV Writers Program.