Friday, March 3, 2006

Learnt my lesson now there's nothing left to say...

Finally. The great bureaucracy that is Anna University saw to it that a year after I wrote my last examination I receive my degree.

So I stand before you (Oh alright, I sit piddling about in front of this monitor that is connected by wires and signals and other technological tomfoolery I don’t really question, all the way back to you, the unfortunate soul who’s actually reading this against your better judgment) Lavanya R N, Bachelor of Engineering, Computer Science.

Actually, in retrospect, I’m rather glad that I had to wait a year for the ceremony. Well, it had its disadvantages of course, one being that most of us are bloody out of the country and pursuing a post-graduate degree in some air-conditioned, wi-fied sprawling campus with rabbits and squirrels and other bambi-esque creatures scampering about – having a bit of a laugh no doubt at the thought of the rest of us poor SOBs sweating it out under the 45 degrees Madras sun. But it was wonderful in that it took a year of being ‘of the workforce’ to fully appreciate what we had enjoyed and probably taken for granted in college.

The dress rehearsal for starts. So it says on this wonderfully cryptic messages circulated to an elite crowd, that we are to appear for a dress rehearsal at 10am on ‘graudation’ day. So we arrive, some of us flying in from Bangalore and Hyd to be at the ceremony, others braving the traffic at Nandanam signal and wiping away tears of nostalgia as we watch the light change red for the 4th time, and in true AU spirit, we turn up at a half past ten. I must take a moment here to remark on the long walk to the auditorium.

Those of you who stay in Madras probably know that AU recently went ‘all-green’ - Well, not quite… semi-green anyway, a mild vague-ish turquoise at the very least – so that means no vehicles allowed inside the campus, at least for students. If you’re the staff, more power to you! Waltz right in with your diesel-guzzling SUV, the more students who die of asphyxiation on your pleasure drive into campus, the higher up the academic hierarchy you are perceived to be. Our Vice Chancellor has his own tank, driven by six foot men clad from head to toe in vomit-inducing dirty purple, in keeping with the stringent dress code.

We lesser mortals need to content ourselves with being allowed parking space at least, quite benevolent of them to let us park on the right side of the wall for once, this after we go thru the harrowingly bureaucratic process of obtaining a measly sticker to paste on the windshield thereby allowing us to park a few feet inside the wall as opposed to outside. Thus begins the walk. It’s about a kilometer from the gate to the Computer department, two kilometers if you’re running late. It’s a long straight road, flanked on the one side by a vast sports field where it is rumored, several men in white gather to play cricket once in a while, and on the other side by small bylanes leading to the hostels. Rows of old trees on either side shield you from the harsh sun and I’ve spent many days and had many intimate conversations with good friends on the long walk back. It takes about twelve minutes but if you’re walking with a friend, halfway down the road you’d realize you wouldn’t be able to finish your conversation by the time you reach and opt to sit down on the pavement instead. Or, if you’re walking alone, you’d probably use the long walk and quiet solitude to have your shining moments of brilliance.

At the end of the walk, there are the departments. The Computer department is thankfully just around the corner. The auditorium is not far off either and this is where we decided to meet up. It’s wonderful when you meet your college mates after a span of a year and you can just pick up exactly where you left off. We slip into our old routine of mindless gags before finally realizing that the robes are being rented jus outside the audi and rehearsal’s at eleven.

Filing into the auditorium and looking for our seats, upsetting a few chairs, passing on wrong information to all and sundry and generally spending a good fifteen minutes running about like chickens without heads while some pompous old fart bellowed into the mike that we please maintain discipline: priceless. Slipping into that familiar plastic chair I could forget that I had ever left and that a year had passed. A few students trying to slip away unnoticed in the middle of the proceedings and then promptly caught and reprimanded by some beetroot red professor about to have a heart attack, Constant pleads to maintain decorum, Laughter rippling thru the crowd at some genuinely funny moments due to mishaps/mix ups on stage… It was like the world hadn’t changed at all, like my mind was just playing out a string of nostalgic memories of my days at college and I was going to wake up at any moment and realize I need to get to work.
The comfort of it, I suppose that’s the marvelous thing really, that it all felt so comfortable, so familiar, it belonged. We belonged. After spending the last year, looking for bearings, struggling to belong and yearning to be labeled again so that I may enjoy a place when I belong, friends whom I spend time with and share a purpose, even if it is rather meaningless at times, after all that, it was marvelous to walk right into the old Alma Mater and simply know that for one last time at least, this is your University, these are the roads and trees and classrooms where countless memories have been formed, this is the Boathimaram – the tree in front of the department where you spent countless hours just whiling away the time with friends, this is your place and this is your set, you are of it as much as it is of you.

It takes a year away I suppose for you to fully appreciate the comfort of belonging to some grand scheme, you and the hundred-odd other people whom you have come to know intimately in the course of those four formative years. Family will always be special but there are those subtle moments that can be filled only by friends. The people who’ve gone thru your trials and tribulations, your triumphs, your successes and your failures and your moments of pure madness, standing by your side thru that life-changing roller coaster ride that is college. It really does change a lot after that doesn’t it? Work’s more independent and the friends you make have their own lives that don’t centre around something grand and fabulous and life-altering that you share in common. School friends and college friends are the ones who you can always fall back on and pick up right where you left off I suppose. It’s probably because you’ve changed and they’ve changed thru childhood and youth and all those transitional phases in between when you’re figuring out things for yourself and defining your principles and then breaking them down again and setting up new beliefs, new priorities and all along they’ve been there, murking about in the background or right in the thick of things, going thru the same gut-wrenching motions. There was so much bonhomie and nostalgia doing the rounds, old friends hugging each other, an occasional tear or two being wiped away. It was fantastic seeing a lot of familiar faces at the graduation ceremony.

About the ceremony itself, well what can I say? It was a ridiculously ostentatious ceremony, an awful awful band, the deans and heads of departments marching in to what could only be described at a hideously mangled version of Henry Mancini’s ‘Baby Elephant Walk’, the running commentary (courtesy of the few generous souls seated nearby) that had us in splits during the long-winded speech, and us laboriously trying to maintain some air of solemnity. To think that after a year, we could come right back and slip into this role with ease and be herded by officious looking men in safari suits, it really is reassuring to know that some things never change.

The actual ceremony itself wasn’t really as bad as I expected it to be. To speed things up, it was decided that only the gold-medalists of every department would receive his degree on stage and the rest of us, as one professor so eloquently put it “will be awarded degrees standing on the seat”. What he meant to say is that the rest of us nameless, faceless pheasants on hearing ‘Kartikeyan and the other 378 graduates of B.E Computer Science and Engineering are awarded degrees’ will stand at our seats like some grand, fantastic cattle auction and beam upon the mothers and fathers and second cousin twice-removed who’ve been cheated into appearing for the graduation ceremony of their beloved family member. Incidentally, this Kartikeyan chap has been singled out for his moment in the sun because he heads the roster, by virtue of him having the good sense to flunk a year and be bumped to the top of the next-passing-out students’ roll call.

And so that was the manner in which yours truly, replete in an eye-searing yellow graduation gown, became Lavanya R N, B.E. (Don’t ask me about the yellow, I am still smarting about having to look like a uniformed Mad cow disease inspector instead of being tastefully clad in dignified black. And no hats even, just to rub a little salt into already raw wounds.)
Pictures will be up shortly. I promise.

Note: The picture of the college incidentally was taken from this site. Its a really really beautiful collection of snaps of the college so if you have the time, do take a look.

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