Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Kanpur IIT: A Memoir

Many decades ago


Prologue: A distant memory

I, at this moment, live in Grenoble, a beautiful mountain city of France. I am a postdoc and I receive a salary which, even by French standard, is considered to be good. I can rent a decent apartment; I can eat best possible food; I can drink good wine; I can visit some tourist spots; and, after having done all these, I can save some amount of money in my bank account. Despite all these, my life now, in many ways, is not as comfortable as it used to be a few years back. 
            
     Until a few years back, I had been living at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur).
            
    Professor Amartya Sen once described India as the islands of California surrounded by the ocean of sub-Saharan Africa. IIT Kanpur represented one such California. There were many occasions, the rest of the Kanpur city, amid extreme hot and humidity had submerged into the darkness, while we, some residents of IIT Kanpur, were busy playing football in a completely floodlit ground  the contrast was so huge, so exceptional.

Not only had we the floodlit playgrounds, IIT Kanpur, in each and every aspect of life, contrasted the reality of India. The trees in the gardens and the grasses on the grounds consumed more pure water than the auto-drivers on the streets. IIT Kanpur had almost everything which, the average person of a developed nation, most of the times, even cannot imagine.

Apart from well-maintained basic facilities, there were swimming pool, tennis court, number of play grounds, gymkhana, and music club. Students could use them either free of cost or with a throw away price. There were yoga training facilities, French and German language courses, various physical and mental training programs, to mention only few, mostly very cheap in cost.    

The students did not clean their rooms; there were cleaners. The students did not cook; there were cooks. The students did not clean their cloths; there were washer-men. In the canteens, the students commanded  the canteen boys were always ready to execute their orders.

But everything was not honkey-dory. It could not be. Almost in each semester, on an average, one or two students committed suicides. A large fraction – perhaps most – of the IIT Kanpur students were extremely frustrated and pessimists in nature. IIT Kanpur had its own contradiction, own reality. And very often this reality was a cruel one. This memoir is a reflection of that reality, that contradiction.

I had spent six eventfully eventless, though important and productive, years (2005-2011) at IIT Kanpur (IITK). This memoir is mostly a simple narration of what was perceived – and that may or may not be fully correct – by people surrounded by me. This is not, by any stretch of imagination, an intellectual analysis of IITK; rather, this reflects on a world of intellectuals as was viewed by a committed non-intellectual.

I have tried my best to limit my narratives within the student community. In other words, I have avoided bringing the faculties among us, unless absolutely essential.

Since I was a PhD student at IITK, it is only natural that my narratives are slightly post-graduate centric. But I had the privilege to be a part of undergraduate curriculum in another IIT, namely, IIT Bombay. Therefore, I believe I have not done complete injustice to UG too.

Finally, I must tell you the truth behind this writing. I, couple of years back, published a similar writing — a monologue in Bengali. Almost all of my Bengali friends, some of them are otherwise very critical, deeply appreciated the events narrated there. Some of them insisted me to bring an English version of the story. Many friends and comrades, who don’t understand Bengali, also asked me to translate this into English. This is an effort in that direction. Though, I must tell you that, this is far from a direct translation. At the beginning, I made an attempt to translate. But, shortly, I had to abandon the plan; the inherent structural difference between two languages — Bengali and English — made it impossible for a non-expert like me. Therefore, I would say that this, in its own way, is an independent monologue.

The pictures are quite randomly chosen. They may or may not have any links with the texts. The story is far from being complete  I invite you to bring your version of the narratives.    



             
Part-1


Zoo and its animals

In our time, it was largely believed that, the entire student constituency of IITK was composed of two kinds of species: Homo-sapiens and PhD. Among Homo-sapiens, B-Tech (Bachelor of Technology) students were considered to be the supreme (9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu). They were, no doubt, intelligent. They were, though engineer, exceptionally good in commerce: after graduation, many of them decided to sell Pepsi and Coca-Cola in USA, and some counted money in various national and international banks. Other homo-sapiens included M-Tech and MSc students. Like B-Tech, the M-Tech students were intellectually extraordinary. Within two years, including one year coursework, they used to produce a strange object called THESIS. This would, on my part, be extremely uncharitable, as an alumnus, to unravel the magic behind most of the so-called THESIS. MSc students were considered to be the last and marginally-survived homo-sapiens. And finally a species called PhD – the only hitherto-surviving non-homo-sapiens of IITK.   

A deceased welcome

My first interaction with IITK took place on a romantic afternoon. It was first or second week of May of the year 2005. I went there – along with many other students across the country, some of whom subsequently became my colleagues and comrades – to confront a PhD interview. The temperature was merely 48 degree centigrade; and we were mesmerized by the cool breeze of the dry wind. It carried the ethos of IITK: whosoever may be you are, the temper is always very high. Interview was good. Much better was the mango-juice, its taste and flavor, sold by the fruit-vendors in front of Hall-1 main gate. But what fascinated us the most was the beautiful melancholy of peacock during the dawn. I shall discover, later on, that many bathroom-singers, including me, were highly influenced by these national birds.
           
       I went to IITK, for my interview, by Tufan Express (Cyclone Express in literal translation) from Howrah. The person, who gave the train this name and designation, must have a very strong sense of humor; I don’t think there can be any worse train in the universe than this. During this eventful train journey, I ate the cheapest food possible as I didn’t yet earn any money; I drank water, from the platform of almost every station the train stopped, to fight back the midday-May-heat in a second class non-air-conditioned compartment. Within days of my returning home, I discovered – failing to discover India not being a Nehru – that, I have acquired typhoid.

MayurBahar
Beggars in shining India

After three months of suffering, I again returned back – virtually without flesh and only with few handful bones like Kareena Kapoor to a certain extent – to IITK, as a PhD student, to begin the second innings of my never-ending-student-life. Most of my friends decided to pursue a research career. Many of them moved abroad, mainly USA, either for better research facilities or loving dollar. Lack of opportunity or courage had forced many of us to become nationalists. Some of our relatives and old-friends, coming to know that we had chosen research carrier, asked: when were we going to rediscover ‘Relativity’ or ‘Gravity?’ Those who were relatively sensible asked: how our research in physics or engineering is going to change their lives immediately? Or is there any remote possibility that the price of basic commodities, like potatoes or onions, because of our research, would come down sharply? In a very short time, we recognized that we were quite isolated from the outside world. That apart, our stipend was quite pathological. India was then ‘ shining’. The GDP was high; there were plenty of jobs in the software companies and earning thirty thousand rupees per month, given most of our background, was not very difficult. Thus within our own class, with only eight thousand rupees per month, we were virtually representing Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. Some of my friends, who could already have secured one, were ditched by their girlfriends. Some observed, with tears in eyes, that their ex-girlfriends were roaming around software- or abroad-lobbies. Some, to maintain the relationship-status (status-quo), had quit research and went ahead with a software job. Those who failed justified the loss of girlfriends by saying: “Oh! That was not a true love:” Historically, grapes have always been sour. 


Summer blow

I have already said that, my first interaction with IITK took place on an afternoon of May. As time approached towards the end of April, the temperature, in this northern part of India, had raised to an unbearable level. Normal water virtually boiled. The entire IITK used to transform into an Arab-dessert; the men and women, to combat the scorching sun-light, always covered head to feet during a day-out, even in the absence of Sharia Law or a Fatwa. Electricity consumption used to go up; air-conditions, in various laboratories and central library, would begin to operate with their full capacity. The entire central library would typically be crowded; even those students who were best known as Sachin Tendulkar in studies –thanks to air-condition – also appeared in the library very frequently. The books were used as pillows; even those exceptionally old and thick books which were purchased before the creation of the universe (Big Bang) and perhaps nobody, including their authors, had ever touched them, suddenly would become very useful. The proximity (direct contact to be more precise) between books and heads transferred knowledge faster. This made IITians so exceptionally knowledgeable. Many wise observers of IITK believe that this was the only significant discovery – how to transfer knowledge from book to brain – that deserved a Nobel Prize in its nearly half a century existence.    

In front of the Central Library 


During these dry-summers, the consumption of water, both internally and externally, had gone up; increased the sale of fruit and fruit-juice; and also, increased the sale of cold-drinks, mango-shake, banana-shake, and other shakes in various canteens. In the evening, in the absence of direct sunlight, the ambiance would become better; though, it took quite a long time to radiate the heat out of atmosphere. Now people unveiled. Light and casual dresses: barmuda, kurta, skirt (both mini and non-mini), frock, lungi, pajama etc. would become visible in the public domain. Students gathered in the canteens.


Fruit vendors 


Beauties and very beauties

Among all the canteens, in our time, the most popular one was the canteen of Hall-4, owned by Ashoke. I lived in Hall-4. That apart, another reason behind the popularity of the canteen was its proximity with the Girls` Hostel-1, which never had a good canteen. During the summers, plenty of girls, who – like owls, would completely disappear during the day-time – would suddenly appear, disappear and reappear in the evening with an eternal beauty. Here, in IITK, every girl was beautiful. They were beautiful mathematically. There were ten boys hostels, whereas, there were only two girls-hostels and one of those was very small. And, therefore, the approximate male-female ratio was 10:1. Thus, to the boys – by definition – every girl of IITK was either beautiful or very-beautiful. To my mind, the number of beautiful girls overwhelmingly outnumbered the very-beautiful one.

Scavengers

Before I am beheaded by the feminists, let me also describe few things about the boys. Most of their cheek & chin had been covered by ancient bush, unshaved for decades. The dirty clothes they wore, which had already become a source of air-pollution, had been unclean for time immemorial; now these, if washed, would definitely lead to water-pollution. Altogether, they represented our real ancestors whose evolution had been stopped in the previous stage. Apart from their external physical beauty, a bizarre smell, while opened, came out of their mouth. The public lawns and other places, including toilets, were much cleaner than their rooms which could only be compared with any standard well-used dustbins. These scavengers were actually, as you may think, not so foolish. They understood that, here, to secure a darling’s love, mathematically, they would have to fight with ten others; instead, if they put out a photogenic face – with the help of Photoshop if necessary, and for most of us it was indeed necessary – on Facebook or Orkut, and highlight IIT Kanpur anywhere possible, the chances were much better. 

Grandfathers

Coming back to Hall-4, now I shall pay my tribute to the grandfather-class. In my early days at IITK, I used to observe a group of people who sat all the time near canteen under a tree known as Bodhi Brikhs.  They, time to time, went inside and subsequently came out from the canteen. They discussed issues ranging from KamaSutra to Che Guevara; they knew everything under and above sun.  Most of them were chain-smokers. Later I learnt that they were a group, indeed a very big group, of PhD students and had been pursuing research for years. They had seen quite a few directors of IITK. They had watched – here, in IITK – last few cricket and football world cup tournaments. And, most importantly, some of them were well versed about the history and constitution of IITK, and nobody, including the higher authorities, dared challenging them on any IITK related issues. In my early days, I disliked, in fact, hated these people. Time passed. God smiled. And then one day I discovered myself amidst them.


A shadow of darkness

Hall-4, no doubt, was unique in many ways among IITK hostels; nevertheless, the hostels of IITK had some common resemblance; the stories of the canteen boys being one such. Most of the canteen boys, needless to say, had come or had been brought from extremely poor and vulnerable families. Almost all of them were very young. Some of them could be classified as child-labors; though, to be technically correct, they would usually register their age as per convenience. They obeyed everyone`s order. They worked day-in-and-day-out. To be fair, the authorities, especially, the student bodies had always shown humility to them; and, as far I know, they had made sure that they get maximum wage and comfort possible. In spite of all these, the undernourishment clearly reflected on their faces. It’s because of them the real India existed within the artificial India created in the name, shape, and form of IITK. One day I asked some canteen boys: Why do you guys work here? One of them answered: Given our family and financial background, we shall have to work here or somewhere else; there is no escape. Here, we get good salary, clean toilets, free water and electricity, and the company and help of you people. Who would, elsewhere, provide us all these! Others agreed.

The legend of "Subho da"

Hindu-Catholics and pure Bengalis

It was Hall-4, where, I met the Hindu-Catholics who used to preach, or paraphrased to be more precise, Islamic theology – there is no other god but GOD – in their own terms. ‘Lord Krishna is the supreme’ was their central theme. They almost monopolized the ‘spiritual’ domain of IITK. They celebrated Sri Krishna Janamsthami. Wonderful sweets and fruits were distributed. Thousands of people gathered. The faithful took part in the rituals. The over-faithful, often described as faith-fool by the non-believers, flung themselves into the finite feet of infinite Lord.  Time to time their activists tried to sell Bhagbad Geeta as translated by Prabhupad. Some of their activists, directly blessed by Lord Krishna, used to receive fantastic gifts, like, laptop, mobile etc from their western comrades. In my time, the key activist, a little in height, was a very ‘interesting’ person. As a young man, he had possessed a face with exceptional innocence as if he had never encountered any sin in life. In any discussion, he would end by saying: whatever you might say, Lord Krishna is the supreme.

It was again in Hall-4, where I met the Bengalis who were extremely fluent in Bengali; who brought Kolkata with them; who had improved their Bengali communication skill at IITK; who brought Bengali under-wear from Bengal; who cried and died for Sourav Ganguly; who still waited for Subhas Chandra Bose and believed that one day Netaji would return and punish Nehru adequately.  

Nationalists

IIT Kanpur was well furnished and well maintained: there were cleaners and other workers for every hostel, and unlike most of the other government institutions, they discharged their duties properly. The verandas were cleaned twice. The trees in the garden received adequate water. The toilets, except for those in the proximity of the canteen and other public places, were by and large worth using. IIT Kanpur was too clean to be qualified as an Indian-institution. Some nationalists objected. During morning brush, they spat the liquid tooth-paste from their mouth on the ground. Some, to check whether the gravitational constant had changed significantly, spat from the first or higher floors. Some of them – the beloved sons of mother-cows, imagining that their shit is holier than cow-dung – didn’t bother to flush after cow-dung-aftermath in the morning: after all, these were, in a way, public toilets; and the nationalists wanted to reflect on the larger ethos of the nation. 

Somarosa, like sex, was against Indian culture
There were other bunch of Hindu-nationalists who, might or might not have the above qualities, had justified our present caste-systems; who had justified dowry; who loved Bal Thakrey; and who were unapologetic about the Ajodhya 6th of December1992 and Gujarat-2002 incidents and aftermaths. To them only eighty percent Indians were true-Indians. To them everything, before Muslim invasions, was holy and sacrosanct about India. To them all great achievements of ancient India took place in isolation. To them Vedas contained all science, arts, commerce, politics, and comedy and so on. In their complementary world, there existed a bunch of Indians who blamed their grandfathers for their wrong geographical choice on the awful days of 1946-47; who, till the date, could not have made their mind about whether Arabic or English should be their children’s priority; who, till the date, tried to understand the philosophical insight of Quantum Mechanics with the help of a 6th or 7th century`s desert theology. Though, with my great satisfaction, I can tell you that, the overwhelm majority of the students, irrespective of region or religion, were nonsectarian by temper and practice.
GPL: the ethos of IITK 

Part-2

Wounded geniuses

I shall, for a change, now, turn my attention towards academic arena. IITK was (and still is) most famous, as was already said, for B-Techs and its students who, later, would prove their credentials as businessmen or businesswomen or accountants or anything else but engineer; and to be fair, you should not blame them fully for that, as, most of them wanted to become something else, but were forced to study engineering by their parents. Even those who were compulsive engineers lost their enthusiasm after first semester when, for the first time in life, many of them experienced failed (F) or marginally passed (D) grades. The average, in a relative grading system, was ‘C’ and was considered to be bad enough. Thus, most of the students, after few semesters, survived with severely injured spinal cord. By that time they also crossed twenties; those bizarre hormones had already been circulating all across their body for quite sometimes and the youthful zeal wanted to manifest and unfold in the best possible way; but for boys, as had been analyzed before, there was hardly any chance of success simply because of laws of probability. The same probabilistic theory and too much attention on top of that, gave most of the girls the impression, rightly or wrongly, that they disserved a perfect prince who would look like Hrithik Roshan and have an intelligence of Einstein. In the end, both sex was unhappy and lived mostly with broken or unpleasant heart along with already injured spinal cord. The combinations of all these, after couple of years, created so many physically and mentally handicapped undergraduates that hardly anyone was left out to be qualified to be a competent engineer. Some individuals, despite all these, stood tall; they played games; they played music; they were involved in social activism; and having done all these they secured ‘A’ grades almost in every course. Because of this group of individuals Brand-IITK survived.  

Getting a chance to study at IITK, especially for undergraduates, was tough; rather tougher was to survive, and perhaps no one could feel this better than an average MSc student. B-Tech, as has already been said, was tough too no doubt, but nevertheless the students got four years to understand the ocean where they were supposed to swim, and therefore, they, if careful enough, could learn how to swim adequately and more importantly could identify the sharks they should avoid and abscond. MSc being a merely two year course, students didn’t have this opportunity or luxury. And the humble bookish, most of the cases, discovered that their hands and legs have been chopped off smoothly before understanding anything. A professor name withheld, with prolific career both as a student and a faculty, once told me: “I thank god that I never have studied in IITs; otherwise I could not have come here as a professor.”

Theses factories

One of the standard measures of achievements, for a professor, was the number of students he/she had supervised, for their thesis, in his/her entire career. For basic sciences, in the absence of job opportunities, there were many students who pursued PhD research as carrier. But for engineering departments the story was quite opposite. Thus, the engineering faculties, desiring to supervise a thesis, depended heavily on M-Tech students. And, therefore, M-Tech existed. M-Tech, in principle, was a two-year course including one-year coursework. Thus, effectively within one year, the M-Tech students had to produce a thesis. As a PhD student, even after two to three years, most of us virtually struggled even just to identify a problem worth pursuing, whereas, most of the M-Tech students, with their extraordinary wisdom, completed their thesis within a year. Once I asked a professor – who had to be present during many awful M-Tech thesis defenses – about the quality of the M-Tech thesis, and in his words: “Well, you know Dibyendu, most of the M-Tech theses are quite extraordinary. Sir Isaac Newton observed that the apples fall towards earth due to gravity, and most of our M-Tech students have subsequently proven that not only apples, but also guavas, bananas, mangoes and many other fruits – if not all – fall towards earth due to gravity.”           


A solitary afternoon
 

Fishes and Fishers

Before I turn my attention towards the PhD students the alleged researchers or original thinkers of IITK for a change, let us briefly visit one of the temples of IITK, namely, Southern Block Laboratories. This is a big building; most of the physics and many chemistry laboratories were set up here; there were also few engineering laboratories. It had a canteen known as Faculty Lounge. During most of our time, I think until 2008-09, the canteen was popular for three-rupee tea and four-rupee special-tea. Except for paying a rupee extra it was impossible to appreciate the specialty of the special-tea, and, therefore, the experienced and radical tea-takers hardly consumed any special-tea. Except for tea, it sold kachori, samosa and pakoda. It sold pastries and patties. One could get cold-drinks. During lunch hours, it prepared, on a small scale, some typical lunch items: dal, chawal, puri, sabji, parotha etc. Nearby this canteen was a fountain. Proximity to that was the central library. Many people, apart from those working in Southern Block Laboratories, came to this canteen in groups and also individually. Altogether, Faculty Lounge was fairly popular and busy.  

In front of the faculty Lounge: waiting for tea

              
 The dynamism of the Faculty Lounge was very well reflected by the dynamism – inter and intra, and mutual – of the various departments. Amongst all the science and engineering departments – to most of the male PhD students – most popular and interesting one was the Biological Science Department. It had plenty of female students. This was the only department which, in comparison to boys, had proportionate number of girls. Now I shall have to tell you a perception – that may or may not be accurate and politically correct for sure – which was fairly popular in our time. It was believed that, amongst science students, most of the cases, only those who didn’t feel comfortable with and scored badly in mathematics chose biology. The uncertainty principle of nature, on the other hand, makes sure that the brain and beauty cannot coexist. And, therefore, whenever somebody discovered an unknown beauty, it was quintessentially believed that she either cut trees or killed frogs. From the Biological Science Department, two canteens, Faculty Lounge and Chemical Canteen, were almost at equidistant. Thus, roughly, fifty percent girls of the Biological Science Department, obeying the laws of probability, came to Faculty Lounge for a tea break. After some time, the fishers could learn, from experience of observations, when the fishes would come. And, therefore, time to time, the Faculty Lounge was over crowded.

 Beggars’ apprehensions

Returning back to PhD life, the most memorable part was the coursework. The entire one (first) year was dedicated to it. During the coursework, a student was supposed to revise, master and internalize the knowledge she/he had gathered from bachelors to masters. Since the students came from different universities, to bring uniformity, as once explained by a professor, this coursework was constructed. I don’t know whether the purpose had been fully served, but in any case, coursework was a very decent get-together. Students worked collectively. They copied each other’s assignment. They identified the poor graders who had the potential to make their lives hell. They identified, rightly or otherwise, the demon & Satan. They identified GOD, occasionally though.  
    
Those who survived the coursework battle, now, could formally dream a path-breaking research career. But still a small hurdle – another examination, mostly, in the form of an interview – had to overcome. A fanciful name – comprehensive examination – was given to this battle. All possible questions – like, the mass of light, or, the speed of Einstein, or, the chemical formula of Osama Bin Laden – were asked. Students answered. The success rate, if not in the first attempt but in the second attempt for sure, was nearly hundred percent. Once done, the students could now formally dream to de-discover relativity.     

Selfless fathers

At this stage, the PhD students – though, now in the second year, but nevertheless still young – suddenly discovered a change in their lives and body languages. There was no coursework, and therefore no get-together, no gathering. The old collective effort suddenly disappeared, and instead, life took a new turn; a new life began as a new entry in a well-crowded or almost-empty laboratory. A new struggle began. Students began to recognize, in a strange and detached way, the abstract and peculiar nature of their profession. Subsequently, they could realize that life was too much dependent on one person, called, guide i.e. the thesis supervisor. And, therefore, guides were secretly called by Baap the eternal Father. 
The young fathers, thanks to the idea of promotion, were normally accessible. They worked with their children. But, most of the cases, young-fathers lacked adequate funding. They, therefore, many times, compelled to reduce the stature of their children to that of a working class people. The old-fathers, now mostly professors, on the other hand, were wealthy in general. Their children may or may not be productive but could lead a lavish scientific life. Old-fathers were mostly administrators and not so easily accessible. Despite these small differences, young or old, given an opportunity, the fathers could sacrifice everything for the children and nation in general. One could very often observe one such instance of sacrifice during summer vacations– from May to July. During these times, while the entire student community of IITK enjoyed sunbath, these fathers, instead, taking great burdens on their shoulders, travelled USA and Europe, to propagate the scientific glory of the nation.


Extraordinary non-achievements

It is often said that science and research are without any boundary. The behavior and activities of the majority of the PhD students were, by and large, a perfect reflection of that idea. Mechanical Engineers didn’t know how to open (forget repairing) the door of a car. Civil Engineers wanted to become Civil Servants.  Chemists loved Kalidas and tried hard to cut the branch of the tree they sat on. Physicists confused themselves with physicians and discussed a concoction of politics and poetry. With time, as the scholars grew older, their preoccupied enthusiasm had slowly been substituted by the thought process of waves and vibrations of negative energy. Instead of discussing what could be scientifically achieved in a given circumstance, most of the times, they (read ‘we’) discussed why certain things could not be achieved. Instead of discussing independent ideas, the valuable times were wasted criticizing the guides and the systems. Altogether, they reflected the behavior of perfect researchers: one could learn from them, to become an ideal researcher, what must not be done. But their exceptional behavior and attitude towards science was not an isolated event; they merely continued the well-established rules, legacy and culture. But what about the fathers? Well, I am afraid, I can only quote or paraphrase the old Biblical saying: Anyone who has seen the son has seen the father. And, therefore, it is no surprise that, IITK and IITs in general have not produced anything substantially – no Nobel Laureate, virtually no path-breaking work – worth proud of. I know – at the core of my heart – that, my narration, perhaps, is bit too exaggerated, but, nevertheless, I don’t know any alternative way, in the absence of a counter narrative, which could explain the extraordinary non-achievements we, the IITians, have ensured in the last nearly fifty years of its existence. 
 
A worth investment nevertheless

Howsoever disappointing – especially, the state-of-art fundamental research – might have been the grand narratives of IITK or IITs in general, the individual excellence and effective personal achievement, in financial sense of the term, was worth admiring. Hardly any student, with an IITK degree, was ever unemployed. The dynamism – that, the course structure and overall activism generated – was a real blessing for the undergraduates, and, thus, the generations of undergraduates had been welcomed by the top American universities. Those who wanted to quit academic arena also found a respectable and financially lucrative positions in the banking and the corporate sectors. As a whole, for those who survived for four or five years, IITK was a decent investment for sure.

The PhD students, on the other hand, did master the art of patience and perseverance, and learnt how to absorb all kinds of abuses and insults from within and outside. The experimentalists got some decent basic trainings – like, how to cut metals, how to carry gas cylinders, how to mix two dangerous liquids, how to boil water and so on – which made them, in distant future, committed and competent househusbands or housewives.

Butchers

The stories of the individual departments, beyond these grand narratives, were also awesome. Biology Department, as has been hinted already, produced some fine butchers specializing in frog and rat slaughtering. Some specialized how to halal a plant. Some collected insects: mosquitoes, bees, ants, and so on, and kept the campus clean. The profound and deep attachments with the nature provoked the biology students to become a permanent member of the beautiful campus; and, in fact, they did top – not necessarily in terms of performance, but in terms of prolonging PhD – amongst the students. The PhD life of some of the biology students extended up to almost a decade, and the average being almost the same.

The Fekus

The physicists joined the queue. It took almost 7 to 8 years, especially for the experimentalists, to submit a thesis. In the meantime, the students discussed politics while taking cups of teas in various, especially in the Southern Block, canteens. The experimentalists were trained in metal-cutting and polishing, soldering and wiring, and various other technical stuffs. Time to time, one could see them carrying liquid nitrogen and helium (if available at all) bottles on the floors of the Southern Block Laboratories. Theoreticians were trained how to log on and shut-down a computer. Two segments, theory and experiment, did exist; but they hardly interacted; there were hardly any serious collaborations. Most of the cases, there were no significant collaborations within experimentalists or theoreticians as well; many times, it gave impressions that, two outstanding neighbors, India and Pakistan, were standing side by side.
Thinker

Bonded labors

In terms of research work and reputation, the most remarkable department, arguably, was the Chemistry Department. Each supervisor, on an average, supervised more than ten students. Apart from PhD students, each laboratory had to accommodate many masters and other project students. Altogether, most of the chemistry laboratories could be compared only with the typical fish-markets of Kolkata; half of the total PhD students of IITK, therefore, belonged to this department. Apart from the number strength, in the national level scientific discourse, as was hinted at the beginning, this department played an important role. Many respected, respectable, and not-so-respectable professors of this department were Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awardee. This was, in a way, quite exceptional achievement, especially, given that the cousin department, i.e., the Physics Department, had none. The Bhatnagar culture made, quite rightly so, most of the professors of the Chemistry Department very ambitious. But who, if not students, could be employed to fulfill the ambitions? Almost in every laboratory, students, therefore, worked very hard. But in some laboratories, really very few in numbers, they had to work like bonded labors. They worked all seven days. They worked from morning 8 to midnight or more. They hardly took any holidays. These students, slowly, transmuted to robots and became intellectually feeble.

Fish market


Makers of invisible technologies 

IITs, as the T suggests, were established to achieve technological excellence, which was impossibility without a special emphasis on the technological research. In the recent times – as had been articulated by director and other IITK stalwarts in the responsible positions – the efforts had been made to transform IITK into a predominantly post-graduate institute committed to fundamental and engineering research from being mainly an undergraduate institute committed to teaching. This, along with many other socio-economic factors, had led an increase in the number of PhD students in various engineering departments. Even then, the strength and health of overall engineering PhD students were far from satisfactory level. There were hardly any visible engineering research outputs. Apart from few exceptional cases, forget about innovating any mesmerizing technology, even the well-established technologies could not be fully explored. The best and brightest engineers were mostly theoreticians; IITK had been far from being self-sufficient in research; despite having so many engineering departments and workshops, IITK hardly designed, fabricated and automated any state-of-the-art device that could be employed in real life or to pursue any fundamental research.


Part-3

Beyond the life and death

In a men dominated society (in terms of numbers) of IITK, the girls’ hostels, as has been described already, played an important role and quite understandably so.  Much more important role was played by another divine place situated almost equidistant from the two girls` hostel. Even Yjoma, the god of death, was horrified by this place and its architects. It was believed that, Tagore dedicated his famous song, Beyond the Life and Death, to this place and its players. This was IITK hospital. Some remarkable medical doctors enlightened it’s ambient. Some of them had an impression that ‘pain’ is the main reason behind all kinds of diseases, be it physical or mental, or, be it an injury or something else. They began their treatments, for any disease, with a particular type of pain-killer. No one before these doctors, in human and inhuman civilization and its medical history, recognized that one particular tablet can cure so many diseases simultaneously. The second category of doctors had a different approach altogether. Even for an insignificant or no disease – like, nail or hair pain – they prescribed almost ten to fifteen different medicines and relied upon chances and probabilities. In the era of inter disciplinary subjects, like, biophysics or biochemistry, these doctors – perhaps, the only in the universe – intermixed medicine, statistics and humanity. But the most astonishing class of doctors belonged to a different category. They were extremely philosophical minded. They internalized and lived with profound Hindu philosophy: They were convinced that God exists everywhere, and every living creature has soul and thereby equal in spiritual sense. And, therefore, they disregarded that human being – being apparently different from mice, frogs or guinea pigs– can claim some extra materialistic benefits. Drawn by this spiritual belief they applied all their brain-born innovations – the way, the biology students, in biological laboratories, do the same to the mice, frogs or guinea pigs – to the patients, especially, if the patients happened to be students. I had the good fortune to experience some of their inexplicable excellence. One of their legendary representatives had demonstrated on my right hand ‘how to convert a small skin infection to a permanent black spot’. Later on I learnt that that particular doctor was a great fan & follower of Swami Vivekananda. Following his guru’s advice and desire, he wanted to keep a permanent impression on my arm.

The true love of sisters (nurses)


Defeaters of Mughals

IITK had a restaurant. Its name was Campus Restaurant, abbreviated as CR. It was qualified as a ‘restaurant’ because its name carried the word ‘restaurant’. It didn’t have any toilet. As has been said already, the most of the toilets of IITK were very well maintained, whereas, the nearest common public toilet of CR was a vomiting center. It was never cleaned. Hardly anybody could show the courage to use it with or without an empty stomach. This extraordinary free toilet facility made the ambiance of CR – especially, for young, romantic and busy couple who forgot to use toilet before meeting – very pleasant. Inside the Campus the ambiance was decent. The waiters were normally polite and humble. The available foods were even more humble. There was no fish. Every meat-item tasted exactly the same; hardly anyone could make a distinction between chilly-chicken and honey-chicken. It was a holy place: there was no beef or pork; the faithful, the protectors of mother-cows and father-pigs, could come without hesitation. The only available meats were chicken and goat-mutton. Mutton- or Chicken-Biriyani had been prepared, perhaps, by extreme right wing Hindu nationalists. Legend says: Mughals, after having eaten Mutton-Biriyani in CR, dared further invading India; the tastes were so extraordinary, and could only be described as “the tasteless wonders”. Some vegetable items, like, Mewa Alu and Navaratan Korma, were worth eating. IITK had many vegetarians and it was the only ‘restaurant’. CR survived.

CR: it did not have a toilet


Festival of Chamchas

IITians celebrated – going beyond day to day life’s struggle for existence and the rat-races for grades – some social and some inclusively IITK-born festivals. One such festival, an inclusively IITK-born, was the celebration of Hall-Day. Each hostel, known as Hall, used to choose an arbitrary day, apparently for no reason, to celebrate. The friends living in other hostels were invited on the eventful evening of the Hall-Day. A mammoth amount of foods and drinks (no alcohol) were arranged. Students invited their friends. Students, especially the M-Techs and PhDs, also invited their guides; PhD students invited them mostly unwillingly; many M-Tech students had a different interest altogether. It is believed – at least I know many who did – that, feeding someone’s stomach is the best way to please a person. Hall-Day was a descent investment in that direction, though, by heart, like PhD, the M-Tech students mostly prayed guide’s absence on that evening. Altogether, Hall-Day, like marriage, was a great day for the guests and a nightmare for the hosts. The host-students, as long the guides were present, maintained their calm, quiet and gentleness. They prayed for their guide’s quick departure. The secret drinks – when the GOD finally approved their prayers – were opened. There was discotheque. Those who desired danced.

Virgin vultures

In some sense IITK life was extremely harsh. Students were mostly confined within the campus. Those, who, wished to go outside campus to visit Kanpur city, were repelled; Kanpur city was too clumsy and dirty compared to the ambiance and atmosphere of IITK campus. Experienced people used to say: the most beautiful place of Kanpur was IITK itself. Inside IITK, the segregation of boys and girls were made as much as possible. There were separate hostels, as you have already learnt, for boys and girls. After midnight the boys and girls – including the post-graduates, some of whom could well be nearly in their thirties or more – could not enter each other’s personal room. This was the law. Even in a normal hour, a boy, by rule, could not close the door of his room in presence of a girl and vice versa. Any sexual activities, by law, were condemned and prohibited. IITians – like any other authentic and pure Indians – were taught that sex is a sinful act: more than one billion Indians have tumbled from the sky. They were also taught that Kamasutra was written by Russians in Latin language and the temples of Khajuraha belonged to England and constructed by French women. This sexual segregation and brute-force-virginity culture made most of the students (post-graduate for sure) extremely un-smart in front of the opposite sex. The students, in the absence of a real pleasure, took shelter in the world of fantasy. Two hands were used efficiently; and, on those awful physical and psychological journeys, the only comrades were the wonderful collections of movies in the common students’ server.  Smarter people (couples) broke the rule. The losers – who could only enjoy the bizarre sound, they were familiar with after watching Basic Instinct, came out from the neighboring closed-doors rooms – felt vulnerable and jealous. Their cultural consciousness raised high. Time to time they complained to the authority.

A fire in the heart

I have already said a few words about Hall-day celebration. Hall-day was more of a local celebration in the sense that each hostel separately celebrated its hall-day. Though, a large number of students living in other hostels and people living elsewhere were invited, but neither everybody could be invited nor everyone could be accommodated within the limited space of a hall. That apart, Hall-days were no official IITK festival; each hostel celebrated its day in its own capacity; many times, many hostels decided not to celebrate hall-days at all. It demanded a more universal grand celebration. It demanded pan IITK festivals. And, here came Antaragni- the only pan IITK cultural festival. 
 
Antaragni generated hope. As its Hindi name suggests, it generated fire in the heart.

             End of October was normally chosen for Antaragni. Though, the exact timing was flexible. It broadly depended on that particular year. It took place after second mid-semester and approximately a month before the end-semester. At this point in time the students really required a break. Antaragni generally lasted for four days. Around hundred colleges and universities participated. There were dance, music, song, fashion- shows, discotheque, art & painting and so on. Most of the programs were competition based. Winners got thousands of rupees and a celebrity status for a day. Some programs were for pure entertainment and cultural cohesion. The best music bands and individual music personalities would be invited. They performed. The crowd enjoyed the music. The crowd enjoyed the gatherings. Music followed by poetry or the other way. Hindi Kavi Sammelan, the gathering of poets, drew many people. This was the best time to improve Hindi vocabulary. The fragrance of sound purified the air polluted by the street Hindi and slangs of IITians for the whole year.
            For IITK communities, especially for those who had already spent few years at IITK, Antaragni was just a change. A break, a much required break: A break to break the monotonic day-to-day events of mostly, so to speak, an eventless life. But for most of the outsider participants, it was a dream. It was a long awaited dream which finally became reality, became true. The outsider participants heard so much of the myth of IITK and its B-Tech students. Now they could eye-witness some of them. They could enjoy their proximity and company. They came prepared. The investments were visible. The well-dressed girls – including those who had no desire to take part in fashion-show or any other contests – invested time and money in the expensive beauty-parlors. It was evident from their recent hair-cut. It was evident from their facial expression and body-language. It was evident from their facial complexion while juxtaposed alongside their carefully exposed body parts. The boys didn’t lack behind.

            The love & emotion dynamics of IITK found a new equilibrium. The conventional idea of beauty and very beauty took a back seat. The girls-chasers of IITK tested their fates. After four days they ended up where they began. The love & emotion dynamics of IITK returned back to its old equilibrium.        

Readers’ comments:

Dear Readers.   IITK stories can never be completed. Many things will always be missing. I am ending on my part. Now it is your turn. Feel free to add your comments. Say whatever you like. If you want to add your memories do that. Good luck. 




Melancholy in solitude 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Melodies of Roses

Mikolaj sent the SMS before fifteen minutes. It was exactly 10 AM when I noticed. He wrote he would join us at ten past ten. We three were waiting for him at hotel La Bistrol. Here lived Nicholus, a friend of us. We were preparing for a road trip. The destiny was Roses – a small city located on Costa Brava, in northern Spain.

   
Making of Melodies of Roses
      
It was the last week of May and a Thursday. Unlike most of the other Thursdays, it was a holiday. The next day– i.e., the Friday– was a forced-holiday, so to speak. Forced-holiday is a French invention. If Thursday, for some reason, is a public holiday in France, sometimes the French institutions – to ensure a long weekend –announce Friday a mandatory holiday. This was one such “very-French” Thursday.  Mikolaj would bring his car to La Bistrol. He would drive. We, the rest three, would accompany him.  Only he could drive among us.

        We began our journey around half-past-ten. We crossed the bridge – Pont de la Poste de France – and reached to the Bastille side. We left Grenoble behind, keeping Isere to our left. Within fifteen minutes of our journey we were overwhelmed by a cracking cry from inside of our car. Nicholus discovered that, he had forgotten to carry “Carte de Sejour” – the French residential permission card. It's he who cried in foul.  

         The moment Nicholus revealed for the first time that he forgot to carry “Carte de Sejour”; it reminded me the eventful road-trip, when I was “detained” by the Italian police. That was the story of the previous year. We were visiting Turin. We were almost the same group of people, only instead of Ranjan, Ian, a friend from South Africa, accompanied us. While crossing the French-Italy boarder, our car was held by the Italian security personals. They – though were quite polite, but – scrutinized us thoroughly. Finally we were released and allowed to enter Italy. Mikolaj travels a lot by car. By that time, he had traveled almost entire Europe. He never had such experience. He, who eventually keeps a deep interest in the New World Order theory, perhaps understood the real underlying meaning of “the new world order”, i.e. the pain to carry a brown man with beard in the post colonel Europe, especially after 9/11. So, this time, we had to return. Someone murmured, "Morning shows the day."

*****                                                                                                                      

This was the essential beginning of the boring story of four expats – Nicholus, Ranjan, me, and Mikolaj. Nicholus is an Indian. Legend says, the moment he was born, there was a terrible earthquake. Observing various symbols, his wise Brahmin family members predicted that he would be staying in France in future for a long time. Thus, he was named Nicholus, so that he doesn’t encounter any namesake racism in France. I don’t know how his other friends in India reacted to his name, but when I heard his full name – Nicholus Bhattacharya – for the first time, I had the impression that he was born to a Bengali father and a French mother. Ranjan is my old, good friend, and we knew each other from our IIT Kanpur’s days. Now a father of six month’s old daughter, Ranjan was lamenting naturally for his daughter and wife, as they were still in India. Mikolaj, a thorough gentleman, was the third chemists, along with Nicholus and Ranjan, in our group. Thanks to Nicholus I met this invaluable Polish friend. Along with numerous other things, he was famous for his carefully maintained long ponytail, which sometimes made his female friends jealous. Slightly introvert, this man, with numerous calibers and other humane qualities, was arguably the most eligible bachelor the world had at that point in time. And finally me – Dibyendu Hazra, a newly married bachelor, as his beautiful-half was still in India, waiting for her passport and VISA.


The (in)famous four

We restarted our journey at eleven past fifteen.  Mikolaj warned us: ‘Check out your documents twice, thrice, four times, as many times you want, but I don’t want to return again,’ before he started up the engine of his sixteen years old car, which he had bought in a dealership of second-hand cars. He feels a sense of belongingness to this old good car, and quite unwilling to change it, despite receiving numerous troubles time to time. We left Grenoble behind. Along with Grenoble, we left the skyscrapers of Notre Dame, the Kebab shops of the city center, the parks of Victor Hugo and Paul Mistral, the canteens of Polygon Scientifiue, and the cacophony of Saint Bruno. We knew that they won’t be the part of our lives’ narratives for the next few days.  



Mikolaj's old-good reliable car
           
       Leaving Grenoble behind, within half-an-hour, we reached the busy highway. Inside of the city, possibly, was much less crowded. Many people, like us, were leaving city to spend the long weekend elsewhere, preferably in the southern France or northern Spain, where Mediterranean, with her playful grin, was waiting for everyone – male and female, young and old, gay and straight.  
      It was sunny when we began. Temperature was high and the weather, altogether, appeared to be unpleasant for a long road trip. But the fortune was not that bad all the times. The shadows of the spattered clouds brought some relief. There was no rainfall. The landscape, on both sides of the highway, had very little variation. It is also possible that, from inside of a running car, I could not perceive the subtle changes the nature underwent. Enough trees, mostly unknown to me, were implanted. The leaves of many trees were yellow or radish in color. I believe their color transformed due to excessive heat. The leaves took contorted curly shapes. Every now and then there were the cultivable lands and gardens at the proximity of the highway.  Away from us, the horizon terminated at the top of the unknown mountains.

      Almost every half an hour of our journey, there were car parking and petrol pumps. Adjacent or attached to the petrol pumps were shopping malls and restaurants, dedicated to the travelers. We were taking break in every two hour. We had to. Only Mikolaj could drive.


A nice resting place on the way to Roses


     We crossed cities after cities:  Valence, Montelimar, Orange, Nimes, Montpellier, and Narbonne and so on. Every French city has unique character; accurate observers say this very often. Perhaps every city in the world is unique in her own way. But the highways, most of the times, are built away from the main cities. Thus, from highways, it is always difficult to appreciate the true character of a city. 

*****                                            

Mikolaj expected that we would reach within five hours. But the traffic condition was really terrible. So we knew, from the beginning, that we would be late. But late by how many hours, was the only question in our mind. After almost eight hours of journey, leaving highway behind, we entered inside the city. Mikolaj printed out the necessary maps. We didn't have a GPS. 

        The red roses on both sides of the road hinted that we didn't take a wrong path. Our last years’ experience in Barcelona was horrible. Roses, compare to Barcelona, was too small a city to get lost.  We could identify our hotel from the car. There were enough parking slots just outside and adjacent to the hotel. Parking was free of cost. 

     The lady in the reception appeared quite old, above seventy for sure. She spoke broken English. She spoke very softly in general. But we understood her mumbling. 


Nicholus from the Balcony 

      We booked just one room. There were two beds and one sofa-cum-bed. None of us was particularly fat or gigantic.  Whatever the room had possessed was enough for the four tiny men. Our room was in the third floor. Adjacent to the room was a balcony. While standing at the balcony for the first time, the Mediterranean made eyes at us from few yards. The four bachelors were easily seduced by her blue eyes and playful grin. Restless, we were drawn towards her shore. It took about a minute from our hotel to reach the sea beach. By then it was already 8 PM. It was cloudy. The daylight was fainting. We had a plan to swim this evening; but the breeze of mild wind made us feel cold; we had to postpone the plan till the next day. 



Sea beach and the city


        We, rather, began to walk along the wide concrete footpath, constructed at the proximity of the sea beach. The crowd on the footpath was pretty thin. There were plenty of hotels and restaurants at the proximity of the footpath. Almost all of them were quite crowded. Apart from hotels and restaurants, there were small shops. On one side of the footpath, at some corners, few hawkers, almost all of them black people, were selling some stuff like toys, sunglass, swimming itineraries etc., on a small scale. We had to buy few things: half-pant, swimming glass and so on. Instead of buying from footpath, we preferred to go inside a shop. 



***** 
                                                                                  

We returned to our hotel after shopping. We were exhausted; we had to take bath. Mikolaj went first. He took time. His long hair demanded special care. He was followed by me. Nicholus was the next. Ranjan already took bath in the morning, skipped. Three of us could finish within half-an-hour; there was no woman. 
After bath, the hunger began to murder us from inside. Only Mikolaj could ignore the hunger, he decided to stay home. We three went out for dinner. People eat to live; Bengalis live to eat. Instead of city center, we went towards the beach, the same place as before. We chose a restaurant at the proximity of the beach. It was already 11 PM. The daylight disappeared. 


        Nicholus and I ordered paella, the famous Valencian rice dish. The forms and ingredients of paella have evolved over a period of time. Its nighty-gritty varies from place to place. It was, from what we ate looked like, a kind of hodge-podge. Sea fishes, prawns, snails, and few other vegetables along with conventional meats – like, chicken, pork, and beef – are mixed in a spicy rice environment. Except for Paella, those who wished drank. Married Bengalis are generally too courageous to drink in front of their wives. Married Bengalis, by definition, never drink in the absence of their wives. 
Paella


          When we finished our dinner, it was almost midnight. The entire restaurant was empty. The waiters were closing the gates. Only one gate was kept open for us.  We took our time. The quantity and quality of the food, in comparison to the price, really brought big smiles to our faces. Much before traveling Spain, I learned from some experienced friends that it's fun to earn in France and spent in Italy or Spain or for that matter most other parts of Europe. Now I could get a glimpse of that. Though this was not a new experience; we had the same pleasure last year while visiting Barcelona and Turin. 

          After dinner we began to walk along the footpath, adjacent to the beach. Many people were walking like us. Most of them were old couples. There were few small groups as well. The weather was stable. The ambient was very pleasant. As we moved forward, we met many more people. But we didn’t encounter any young woman or couple. Everyone, except for three of us, was pretty old, at least above fifty, or pretty young, at least below twelve and came with their parents or grandparents. Naturally we were upset. After half-an-hour forward and backward walk, we halted in front of a luxurious hotel. It had a large open space. There was, as one could see from the footpath, a small gathering in that opens space.  A guy, perhaps a professional singer, was playing music. He was singing in Catalan language. He was the sole player.   

         This part of Spain, known as Catalonia, is a sensitive zone. Catalonia is an autonomous region. But for a long time there has been demand for separate nationhood. In some sense, Catalonia can very naively be compared with Kashmir or northern part of SriLanka; though there has not been any serious violence for quite sometimes. Most part of Catalonia belongs to Spain; only a small tiny part has been a part of France. Historically, Catalonia has been ruled both by French and Spanish.

           In Catalonia the native speakers speak Catalan, which – as I have learnt from some unauthorized source – has closer resemblance to French than Spanish. Because of the separate nationhood claim, many Catalan speaking people have apathy towards Spanish. While listening to the Catalan music, I recollected the memory of a Spanish friend of mine. She was originally from Madrid. She spent few months in Barcelona, which is the most important city of Catalonia. She recollected from her memory that, whenever she spoke in Spanish in Barcelona the reply came in Catalan, whereas, she noticed that, the same person spoke perfect Spanish with other foreigners who, unlike her, didn't look Spanish. She, as she used to say very often, disliked, in fact hated Barcelona.
       
        We were neither Spanish nor Catalan. Reaching above the cultural clash and identity, we could simply adore the wonderful dynamics of human emotion, the melancholy in the unknown language. The singer-cum-musician had a wonderful voice. He began to get good appreciation from audience. From the melody, now, he switched to more rhythmic music and songs. Like us, many people from here and there were flocking around and clapping in the rhythm. The old and completely drunk couple began to dance. While the magical combination of music and alcohol had brought down the ages of the older couples to nearly thirty, three nearly thirty year old youth decided to move slowly towards their hotel. 

***** 


Next day we visited a museum. I went unwillingly. I normally don't like museum, as I didn't like this one. Both Mikolaj and Nicholus are fond of museum. Ranjan seemed to be an unwilling visitor like me. This museum was built on the dead-body of Ciutadella, a medieval city, which was completely ruined by the French during the beginning of the nineteenth century. The new cities, like Roses, were subsequently built along its eastern part. The museum was divided into indoor and outdoor sections. In the indoor sections, there were plenty of medieval stuffs, the old statues and rusting metal ingots. The wall-pictures, systematically arranged, were demonstrating the medieval history of that region. Outdoor sections had quite a few walls struggling to survive in isolation and semi-destroyed medieval buildings. I found them mostly unimpressive.  My other comrades also didn’t look much excited. Here, from the veranda of a ruined building, we could see the Mediterranean. We immediately felt a thirst from inside. We knew our real love, our real destiny. 



Mikolaj The Great  inside the museum


        We came out of museum and marched towards the beach. On the way, we discovered that we had only one mat to sit. For four people, we required at least two. As I said, there were plenty of shops nearby. You remember that last night also we went to a shop. This time we chose a new shop, much closer to the main beach. We didn't have patient to go further. A middle-aged brown woman welcomed us. She didn't look Spanish or Catalan; anyway, I could not have made that fine distinction: Spanish or Catalan. Nor did she look typical Arab woman we see in Europe, especially in France. Like most people in this part, she spoke French as well. She asked me in French whether I was an Indian. I said we three were Indians. She asked whether we were coming from India directly. I replied we were working in France. I found she was satisfied with my answer. I understood the essence of her question: Except for very handful rich people, normally Indian-Indian can't afford to travel Europe; whereas, an averaged income European can! 


A historical anchor in the museum

        We completed our shopping. We bought a mat and a football. Mikolaj bought a spectacle for snorkeling. We came out of the shop and stood on the beach in front of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a sunny day, though the summer didn't begin with full blow. The slow winds were pouring the sands over our feet. The sea beach gave the impression of a desert; nothing was to provide shadows except for palm and date like trees. The beach was not very crowded. The peak time for tourist is considered from the middle of June. Few groups assembled, here and there, in a scattered way. We found, or should I say managed, an empty space to play football. Few groups were already playing.   


We played football
    
      I played football after almost three years. As I began to play, I immediately recognized that playing on the grass and sand was quite different things. Three of my other colleagues were also not skilled footballers. After a while two extremely young kids, hardly 8/9 years old, desired to join us. These kids were French. Without even bothering to ask whether we understood French or not, they started speaking French with full flow. It reminded me a Biblical verse: Those who have seen the son have seen the father. If Jesus was French, he would have said: Those who have seen the father have seen the son. 

        A football match began: European Union vs India. Clever Mikolaj chose to become a goalkeeper and allowed the French kids to do all the hard work. On Indian side, it seemed that Ranjan and Nicholus didn't touch football – or even jogged – for decades. On the other hand, the French kids were full of energy and could run relentlessly. The result was expected. We suffered a humiliating defeat. I understood why India stood 150 in Football ranking. Only consolation was we scored few goals, digesting the double. 
The French kids jumped in joy. They hopped: the British sarcastically call French frogs– I suddenly recollected that. The glorious victory at such young age gave them pride and confidence. They ran to their parents to announce the victory. When they reach to their parents, the middle-aged French couple had locked themselves in deep kissing after a sea-bath. They were delighted. The mother exchanged a smile with me. She looked younger. The kids now found a new group to continue their football venture. 


        The next few hours were passed by periodic and repetitive swimming, taking sunbath, and watching the beautiful displays of women's underwear. Others could see our ugly tummies. Occasionally we could see magnificent faces of fat Arab women in veil, accompanied by their male counterparts with extravagant bellies. They looked pretty odd in this nude heaven. Civilization, in some sense, has always been about veiling and unveiling of human race. 

***** 

In the evening, intending to walk along the sea shore, we set out on a long march. On the way, we were mesmerized to notice some fancy architecture lay on the beach, designed and built by local architects. We saw these before, but perhaps for the first time we observed them so minutely. They were castles, constructed by sands and waters. A very primitive technology was used; the castles could hardly withstand the blow of the wind; time to time, the architects had to repair or rebuild some parts of the castles. 


Architecture


     Most of these architects were homeless people. At nights, they rested at the proximity of the beach under sky or in crumbling tents built for temporary measures. I had no clue where they lived during winters! Near the castles they built, they kept a bowl. Their fortune completely relied upon the mercy of the kind-hearted tourists. Most of the bowls were almost empty; only few ones were partially filled by 20 or 50 cent coins. Altogether, it seemed, the lives of the architects were difficult ones.


Ancient cannon


        Besides those architectures, some ancient cannons were kept under the sky for displaying. There was no security nearby. The sheer weights of the cannons were enough for their self-protections. They miraculously survived the bad habits of birds and street dogs. Nicholus pushed a canon to have a sense of its weight; Mikolaj and Ranjan climbed on top of it for a photography pose. As the last activity of the day, after photography, we marched towards the port to see the sunset.

        



Sunset from the port


*****

Next day we visited Cadaques which, in comparison to Roses, was indeed much bigger and popular city. While planning for the trip, Mikolaj wanted to stay in Cadaques, instead of Roses. But we could not find any accommodation. All the hotels and the youth hostels, by then, were reserved. Cadaques is a typical hilly city whose elevation (23 meters) is much higher than Roses (5 meter). From roses, it took us about half-an-hour by car. Amid greeneries, our car took numbers of upward turns in a spiral-like trajectory. The traffic was normal; there were not many cars on the way. Hardly any human being or households came to our notice. Almost halfway, we halted on a plateau near a roundabout. Few cars – whose drivers perhaps had awful direction sense – returned back from this roundabout. Mikolaj and Nicholus were overwhelmed by the magnificent view of the mountains.  They came out from the car in desperation. Anyone standing outside might have the impression that something serious had happened: such was their desperation. Mikolaj began to climb up. Nicholous flashed his camera again and again. I and Ranjan, till waiting inside the car, finally came out. A gentleman – who perhaps spoke only Spanish or Catalan – made a gesture at us. He wanted us to take his photo in his camera. 

     Sitting on a hammock, I and Ranjan chatted on various topics. We discussed contemporary politics. We conversed on Grenoble. We admired the eternal beauty of French women. We talked about French habits, their foods and drinks, their beautiful language, their English pronunciation – how do they eat ‘H’, dissecting their language we came up with our own interpretation. We recollected the memories of IIT Kanpur: How did we spend our times during playful summers; how, many of our patriotic professors, instead of enjoying sunbath, preferred spending summer vacations abroad, propagating the scientific glory of IITK; how we always obeyed the non-alcohol policy of IITK. We recollected our crazy friends; the famous, infamous and notorious teachers and their popular scandals; the popular gossips that dominated the public domain. We recalled the miserable male female ratio of IITK and how that compelled most male, starting from boys to men, to remain single and virgin till their late twenties or early thirties; and how the sperm, thanks to compulsive celibacy, used to climb up to the brain internally. While we were nurturing our world, the rest two, who were lost somewhere for quite sometimes, finally returned and joined us in our prolonged conversations.  Momentarily we forgot that we had a different destiny.  I don’t know how long did we spend there.  All I remember now is that when Mikolaj restarted the engine everyone was in a dreamlike state, lost in an inner solitude. This dreamy state continued for a long time. Then all of a sudden we entered inside a fairly populate city. We reached Cadaques.  

A stop on the way to Cadaques

      After parking the car inside a grand underground parking, we began to walk towards the sea beach. Mikolaj opened his map. He was directing the direction. While walking, we noticed that this part of the city was very congested. The roads were narrow. The cloths, towels, and underwear were hanging from the walls. After walking ten to fifteen minutes, the narrow lane terminated near sea, to a wider road. In front of it, the Mediterranean was waiting for us.  We continued walking, keeping Mediterranean on our right. On the other side, there were plentiful of restaurants and shops, very much like Roses. In this part the beach was not spacious. There were only handful people. 



Cadaques town center, Sea, and three idiots

        As we had moved further inside, the landscape kept on changing rapidly. In some parts, the sea shore terminated just to a vertical wall. In some other parts, the beach was quite wide to accommodate few people. After tens of meter, the road took a new turn, keeping Mediterranean still on its right. The number of shops and restaurants, in this part, was less. The population density reduced dramatically. Now leaving the main road, we came down to the beach and started walking along the sea shore. Then all of a sudden we reached to a place which was quite isolated from the outside. Here, the beach was spacious. We decided to settle down.    
The interesting flora of Cadaques




         Mikolaj first went for a swim. He was immediately followed by Nicholus; then joined Ranjan. Someone had to look after the belongings – bags, clothes, cameras etc. I was appointed for that. Every group was devising the same strategy. After fifteen minutes, Mikolaj and Nicholas returned. Now it was my turn.     
  
       I dipped my right feet into the sea and slowly touched the ground underneath. Unlike Roses – where, there were soft and smooth sands underneath the water – here, I felt the presence of hard and cracking rocks and stones which had fairly large size distributions. The smaller ones were sharper. Everyone, eventually, got small or big leg injuries; though nothing was very serious as such. Apart from stones, the water in Cadaques was freezing compared to Roses:  Cadaques is exposed to the open sea, whereas Roses is a bay. Now I felt the presence of a thick layer of green algae that made every single piece of rock extremely slippery. As I moved from sea shore to the deep into water, I got some favors from the bouncy force. I felt lighter. The body could undermine the reaction from the hard stones. In Roses, the sands made the water dirty and unclean: Inside water, even with the proper spectacle, one could hardly see anything. Here in Cadaques, I could see small planktons floating inside the water. 


Swimming and snorkeling in Cadaques

      In every 15 minutes, we were exchanging our positions. Now I was again sent back to land to look after our belongings. I could notice people surrounded by me. Ever since we had come to Cadaques, one thing had definitely made us happy. We could see many young couple. Here, though, most couples were middle aged, above 40. There were some very young couples as well. During sun bath, many couples were undressing everything, except for lower underwear. One could compare and conclude: nudity and beauty are two different things altogether.


          During the lunch hour, we entered inside a restaurant on the way back to car parking. The ambient of the restaurant was pleasant; on the opposite side of the restaurant, one could have a nice view of the ocean. It was already 5PM. The restaurant was not particularly crowded. We were given an English menu card. We ordered Paella. We found special offer for a group: for four people you just need to pay for two. We called the waiter. We wanted a confirmation. The water spoke broken English. He knew enough vocabulary to communicate. He spoke fluent French, as I could hear him speaking with the French group sitting in the neighboring table. He confirmed the offer. Ranjan speculated that the amount may not be adequate and hence such an offer. Paella was brought within fifteen minutes. The amount was sufficient. Thus Ranjan was not disappointed. I found here Paella testier than Roses. Altogether it was a satisfactory lunch.  The time was shorting, so we could not pass lazy ours inside restaurant chit-chatting. On our insistence, when the waiter brought the bill, we discovered, with surprise, that we were charged for four Paella. We asked for clarity. This time we discovered that the waiter spoke almost no English and no French, as if he had no clue of what we were asking. He only said “four Paella”, so 4 multiply by 20 equal to 80 euro. None of us had the energy to contest or fight him back. Nor we could without knowing Catalonian. We came out from restaurant, mastering a form of business strategy. 


           We had to return Roses, but still we had plenty of time. We, Mikolaj in particular, wanted to see the light house which was located few hundred meters upwards. It took almost half-an-hour to reach. Like any mountain path, here also we moved in a spiral like trajectories. The landscape was quite similar to what we saw during our journey to Cadaques from Roses. From the light house, from this top part of mountain, the Mediterranean looked magnificent. As we looked towards the Mediterranean, we could only see the endless blue water – without any beginning and without any end. Occasionally, far away, few ships came to our vicinity. Because of shear distance, they looked like toys.  


View from infront of the lighthouse


*****                                                                     

It was already evening, when we returned to Roses. Except for eating hot, spicy prawn soup in a restaurant, the evening was event-less. And then came the final day, the Sunday, the day to return home. We vacated the hotel room by 11 in the morning. Around the auspicious 13th hour in the afternoon, Mikolaj started the engine. Before the final departure, as a symbolic ritual, we had taken the last holy deep in the Mediterranean, to avoid possible trouble in the road, just a symbolic buttering to the God.  When the car reached to highway, we understood our rituals and prayers have been fulfilled: the traffic condition was as ugly as the day of our arrival. The French were returning home. The cars, including ours, were moving like a bullock cart. Quite a few hours were passed by counting almost static cars which were desperately trying to move amidst the jungles of other cars. Mikolaj got furious now. Some nice words, very unlikely of him, came out of his mouth. And that was not merely because of horrible traffic. In the last few hours, it was difficult for us to estimate the distance we had moved, but we had already paid heavy toll taxes quite a few times. After almost four hours, our inner voice told, we should wait till the traffic condition improves. Thus we began to hunt for a parking slot or an empty space in the roadside. 

      I don’t remember exactly when, but our fortune favoured partially. An open space, just in the proximity of the road, came to our sight. Mikolaj parked the car. Three or four cars were already parked there. The space was limited; people were quibbling; we were lucky that we could manage a space for our car. Most of the other cars were quite big. Each of them could carry about 8-10 people. Just immediately after our entrance, couple of cars followed us. Virtually no place was left for them. Thus they parked on unauthorised spaces. French break rules if needed. Now we saw a long queue in just 30 meters from us. Something serious was happening. People were too busy and alert. Some were too active; some were too impatient. There were two toilets. People were fighting to entre. We noticed that no one was using the left most one. Then, all of a sudden, one desperate man from nowhere, perhaps infected by bizarre urgency, entered in hurry to that toilet.  Surprisingly, no one’s – who were waiting on the queue for a very long time and eagerly waiting for their turns – objected. Almost instantly after his entry, the man was reverted by some supernatural forces from inside the toilet. He returned devastatingly while vomiting. Someone on the queue, manner less, giggled loudly. Shit happens. We looked at each other. None of us had the guts to use the toilet thereafter. 



A stop to abscond traffic jam 



           We, rather, preferred to explore the locality. We walked randomly for about an hour. It was just an eventless expedition. Nothing extraordinary happened. Almost no experience was gathered. When we returned to our car, there was no queue in front of the toilet. We thanked God. And then God returned our thanks for not polluting nature with natural and unavoidable instincts. The last phase of our journey began almost immediately. The day light was slowly disappearing. The traffic condition was still disappointing. Everyone wanted to outsmart others, resulting in chaos and further slowing down the speed. Mikolaj explained us: instead of outsmarting others, if everyone maintains an average speed, everyone would benefit. But most of the drivers perhaps lacked such common sense. So the 21st centuries sophisticated engines mostly moved like ancient bullock cart.  

        Sitting in the car, I gazed through the window to the outside world. The landscape was familiar. We crossed the same road few days back only. Everyone inside the car was quite silent. Perhaps a kind of mental tiredness had infected all of us. Mikolaj was concentrating hard on his driving. Nicholus was reading “Shiva Trilogy: The Immortals of Meluha”, and occasionally commenting on his compelling read. Ranjan was snoring in his dream. I stared through the windows to the outside world and kept on watching the same old field, the same old mountains, and the same old trees. I observed with hateful instinct the cars that overtook us. Then all of a sudden the landscape changed dramatically. I couldn’t believe that I had passed through this road only few days back. Our car entered into an oasis. Amidst the jungles of the palm and date trees, Mikolaj was driving like a superman, avoiding clashes with the trees. Just few yards from our car, the jungles of palm and date trees had ended, and began cane fields that extended miles after miles. The Arabs were celling palm and date wines, and fermented cane juice. I saw among them the famous Buddhist monk, who was born with circumcised penis and three legs. I told this to Mikolaj and he smiled in response with a sense of disbelief. I saw the princess of Arabs stood immediately behind the monk. She wore just a pink bikini and gazed at Nicholus with her seductive green eyes. “I am Rebeca,” she shouted waving her red handkerchief at Nicholus. Her fleshless, bone-only, lean body was vibrating in the air. The hidden dimples on her round face were displaying complex geometries. Nicholus was unresponsive. He was meditating. Ranjan started singing loudly. I never heard him singing before. He was singing English Gazals. I could not believe that he could sing with such fine accents. Mikolaj was driving. He didn’t care about what was going inside or outside. Now the car entered into a populous city famous for its White Castle. The castle was huge and magnificent. It extended for miles. I could remember this castle. I lived here long long long time backs with my thousands of wives. It was a different time altogether. Here, ‘Hoja,’ the first black convert to Islam served me red-wine. In the third floor of the castle lived that famous cousin of Ursula, who was born with a pig’s tail. Near by, there was a brothel where the visitors were mesmarized by the melancholy of the thirteen whores who were compassionately loved by thirteen inter-twined brothers. I wanted to tell all these to Mikolaj, to Ranjan, and to Nicholus. I could not. A sense of fear shook me. I wanted to cry in pain. At that moment, I was jerked by Ranjan. “Are you sleeping?” he said with his tired voice. I discovered myself amidst the cacophony of “Saint Bruno,” just in front of the building of my apartment. We returned to Grenoble. 

     Many months later, while resting in solitude, as I shared my dream with someone who understands my psychology better than anyone else, she only responded “Really! Are you sure you recognized colour in the dream?”   


Genesis of the bizarre dream
         

Acknowledgement: I sincerely acknowledge my lovely wife for her insistence in writing this travelogue. The last part of the story was entirely typed by her. She gave me plenty of ideas about the story telling. Many thanks to my friends – Mikolaj, Nicholas, and Ranjan – without whom there would be no story. 


This story is dedicated to you Mikolaj. You are one of the great friends I had in Grenoble. I wish you every success in life. Where ever you are, just fulfil your dream.