I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play …
Diesel fumes. Litter. Traffic jams. The ceaseless monkey chatter of hordes of stupid people. Shopping. Heat. This is not my refuge.
I lived here, on and off, for about twelve months between 1989 and 1991. Most of my companions said they hated the place. I could never figure out why, because I had everything I wanted. Shaggy hills, cool air that was pleasantly crisp when I went out on my midnight rambles, a library, gym, tennis courts, the smell of greenery. Even like-minded company every evening in 30, Ganga.
Well, 30 Ganga doesn’t exist any more. Now it’s #214. Even 5 Narmada, which I made my own over three phases of training, is now just #105. Gah. The view to the east from the top of the hill, where we looked out over miles of space to the next ridge, is now blocked by a monstrous building out of The Empire Strikes Back.
Oh, the campus is neater now. Where we struggled uphill after breakfast over pathways of concrete slabs, there are now covered well-paved walkways. Lit up at night, too, so there’s far less chance of a well-lubricated probationer taking a tumble on his way back to the room and turning up sheepishly at Dr. Jain’s infirmary the next morning. Our pathway between Cauvery and Ganga blocks has vanished under another covered walkway, with a staircase where we clambered (three careful paces down a slippery slope, jump down onto a small rock, then once more to a larger rock before we found level ground).
But the billiards room is locked and silent, in contrast to our good times after dinner when we’d watch and cheer over the click of the balls, and sometimes mask our amusement when an aspiring Lothario tried to “teach” a lady the finer points. Have you ever considered how deliciously improper the cue-ist’s stance is, especially if an “instructor” is leaning solicitously over her and trying to improve her bridge? Oh gumdrops and green cheese!
The Happy Valley block is still faintly eerie at night, the roof creaking in the breeze off the hills, spooky noises from the firs outside as the monkeys stir in their sleep. I didn’t go down to the stables; Dara is long gone. Dara – barrel-chested cynical cussed nimble-hoofed handsome fruit of the loins of Belial, who persistently tried his best to kill me and once nearly succeeded.
The old blocks – A.N. Jha Block, Mahananda – still slumber in the summer sun under their green roofs. The Director’s Block stands guard at the edge of the lawn, but now it is dwarfed by the bastard space-port opposite. Besides, it is no longer the lair of BNY - tall, dark, cadaverous, opinionated despot, half genius and half con-man. We sneered at him, we bent his rules, once we even shouted at him (it probably cost me a few rungs on the ladder) but he ruled our world with undisputed authority.
I did an evening walk-about, up and down the hill, then went back in the sunshine the next day. You know how sometimes reality doesn’t live up to memories? That was what I was checking out. I stood on that hillside and looked out to the west, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even with the stucco-sided monstrosities, the strip-lights and the tiles, I could be happy for a year with just these views. (I have to admit the riding ground is greener now, that's an improvement over the sea of dust from our days)
Or wait – could I? Was it about just the place, or was it the people? Perhaps what I’m really thinking of is (barf cue!) a reunion. Blleeeaahhh ….
Now I should shut up and go away before I start spewing old stories in an awful soggy gush of Old-Gafferism. (Update: four members of the Royal Club - R, the Man with the Smile, the Paranoid Punj and the Bong - did have a reunion of sorts in Delhi. It was good. But we missed the Horrible Hillman. Hoo-oop, Bong!)