Sunday, June 18, 2006

You can never go home again

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!)

**** ****


Anonymous said...'re sweet when you're all mushy.

Nice post, ancient person. Good to have you back.

Anonymous said...

Humbug! Humbug! Humbug! Phew, you know how long I have waited to scream that out here. Please do gush, we promise not to snigger.

Tabula Rasa said...

that's *exactly* right. now i know where i've met you before. you're the Oldest Member!

Anonymous said...

nice :-)
I love the place too..but have the "benefit" of not knowing what it looked like in the glory days as it was the parents who were there, a long time ago. And who still mope about the destruction of the ladies' block. Managed to successfully tag along for a couple of trainings a few years ago.. time to go again I think. The BNY description is spot on, by the way!

Deep said...

What a nice blog & what a nice post!
Yes reality often doesn't live up to the sweetness of memories :(
"Drove my chevee to the levee, but the levee was dry"

Poorna Banerjee said...

American Pie er linegulo khasha use korle.

Btw, oi kathagulo mone porchhe, at the end of the waste land(this has to be because of your ID)...
"Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence. "

Ar pore... ekebare seshe...

"I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?"

km said...

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

There. That's why we eagerly check for updates.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Tom P - hrrmph. Too damn fresh.

Ph - why humbug? Please do explain, we promise not to sneer.

T Rasa - high praise indeed. But no golf stories!

Mala - you've piqued my curiosity. Tell me more.

Deep - thanks, I like your blog too. Btw, the more common spelling is "Chevy".

Panu - glad you find it apt. The lines - re. Kolkata now, or some more abstruse reference to my post?

KM - (gulp)

Uma - Not gyaan, but not much fun either. Wait for the post!


GhostOfTomJoad said...

Hmm, sometimes reality does fail to live up to its far superior version that we carry in our minds.

Funnily, it was only halfway through the post when I realised that you were NOT talking about my campus :-)

Poorna Banerjee said...

I should nod sagely at this point and say "go figure it out for yourself" which I precisely shall.

Bengali Guy said...

JAP, Is this where only the IAS folks go for training ? Or all the others as well - IRS, IFS etc ?

I've allways wondered why is the training so short - only 1 yr ??? Thats it ?? Is it mostly lecture based ? or do they also use methods like cases ?

I'm picking up golf. Got any advice ?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Tom J - I think the post title sums it up. Parts of your campus are pretty skeynik too, but excuse me - didn't you see the HILLS in my pics?!

Panu - you imply, I infer.

Bengali Guy - all services join the 3-month Foundation Course. The IAS trainees have two more phases of training. Lots of stuff apart from lectures. In between, there's a year of on-the-job training in the respective states.
And please pay attention here ... I. Do. NOT. Play. Golf!!!


Anonymous said...

Nothing really to get curiosity-piqued about- am sarkari bachha who has been to Happy Valley a few times and really likes the place. Met old "phamily phriend" at a wedding last evening and realised he's the current director there - promptly cadged an invitation there. Soon, soon..