Notes from IIT Delhi
It was six in the evening. Delhi’s winter sun had already set; not that it had made its presence felt in the smog filled capital earlier. As the darkness began to settle, my taxi brought me to the main gate of IIT Delhi campus, my alma mater. At the gate, a security guard peered inside, seeking something, a password of sorts, that would confirm me as a harmless visitor.
The security checks were made more rigourous after the 9-11 attacks in the US, and have remained so since then. Ideally I should have been carrying an alumni card. However, I wasn’t.
‘Vindy’. I voiced the name of the hostel where I spent four years, hoping the hostel name hadn’t changed and that old ways still work.
The gates flung open, and I entered the campus once again after 14 years. In front, the principal artery of IIT Delhi that connects the main gate to the hostel gate, a three kilometre long, two-lanes strip, lay spread. This was the road that I had walked several times over, and this evening I decided to walk all along it again.
The mind first seeks familiarity, and then the comparisons come. I scouted for the known too — the classrooms that I had spent years in, and earmarks, such as coffee shops, that had punctuated my journey of four years here.
First, I walked to the library, a building that I had spent several hours holed inside. In its less frequented, dusty corners, away from all the science books, I had discovered Camus and Rushdie. It was on its neon-lit Study Room’s tables that I had learnt to write stories. Underneath the library is a coffee shop. This used to be the gathering point in the breaks between the classes. Even at this hour, when there were no classes on, a small crowd of students had gathered around this hole-in-the-wall shop. I too picked up a coffee, and settled myself on a stone ledge across.
Above me, against the dark of the sky, a curved piece of stone projected, one of its corners pointing far away in the galaxy. ‘XY=Z’ is the equation of the curved stone, I was told the first time I had entered the campus. I never confirmed whether it was so. In those days I believed almost everything that I was told.
The main building of the campus is a dominating, multi-floor stone establishment, called ‘Insti’. The spread of the building blocks the wind, except letting it through a small roughly 40 metres-wide channel at its base, which for obvious reasons is called the ‘wind-tunnel’. This used to be yet another gathering point for the students and the faculty. I walked over to the wind-tunnel, finishing the last of my coffee in the chilly gusts of the winter evening. At this hour, the wind-tunnel was abandoned, and the action had shifted to the hostel area, another kilometre long walk from where I was.
I walked past the hockey and cricket grounds. A lone warrior jogged along the perimeter. I waved my hand, a show of support from the distance. His hand waved back. Just around the hostels’ zone, where a juice-corner used to be, is a tea-shop now, encircled with amphitheatre-like seating. It was crowded, and I wondered why. Why wouldn’t all of the students here walk outside the hostel gate to Sasi, the guy who ran a tea-stall that served stronger tea, and better snacks, at far-cheaper prices?
‘Oh, but Sasi was demolished long time back' pat came the reply from the fancy tea-shop guy who I’d asked this question to. ‘That was an illegal construction, so the police removed it’.
Sasi is gone. It sounded ridiculously unimaginable. Sasi was where we as students used to gather, before exams and afterwards, at night and during the day, for some self-reflection or with friends. And now he is gone, removed from the margin of the campus.
I lost the appetite to explore more, for my associations with the campus had suddenly come lose. Despite the similarities, I realised that the campus has evolved, as it rightly should.
Tucking away my memories, I took out my phone and ordered a taxi. As I waited, I heard cheers from far-off, where the tennis courts used to be. A tennis match was being played. The roars of the crowd rose in and fell sinusoidally, its raw energy pulsated the thick air till this far.
I took out my phone and cancelled the taxi. And, turned around to walk to where the shouts were coming from.