Finally we all met for our 25-year class reunion, traveling from across the globe!
Excepting a couple of potbellies here and there, we’ve not changed much, just that our crowning glories disappeared or turned grey or brown. Thirty-years later, we still connected the way we did in college. I have met some of my classmates after a quarter century. It was surreal.
Was it due to the sylvan setting of the Gandipet lake or the perfectly manicured landscapes of the Golkonda Resort, or the Hyderabadi home team’s Mehman Nawaji trimmed with TL&C, I don't’ know, but everybody was in their elements. The reunion was total fun. It can put any laughter challenge to shame. Honestly, my face was sore from smiling all day. My palms ached of endless clapping. The riot of laughter still resounds in my ears.
When I look back, I find my Class of ‘91 uniquely talented. It produced award winning architects and designers, teachers, researchers, valuers, software professionals, planners, managers, photographers, housewives and even a rock star. Most of us got graduate degrees too while some of us even earned Ph.D.s. Isn’t it remarkable?
"We were naive small town boys coming to the big city for the first time," recollected one of us.
"I landed at a namesake boy's hostel with a non-existent mess," laughed another.
"I was the best cook and made the tastiest rasam," popped yet another self-proclaimed culinary expert from behind...
Eighteen somethings from all pockets of the country (yes, we had a girl from the Andamans too) were bundled together into a cohort that spoke a dozen languages. Despite our myriad incongruities we harmonized.
"When our theories evolved differently, we knew it was the time to part and yet be together as buddies," said one of them introspecting.
"I practice living on the edge."
"I constantly challenge myself!" Two others pitched in with their stories..
May be that's the beauty of our class. In fact, our class was super-diverse and we remained rightly so, a microcosm of India.
What I liked most in the reunion was our introduction and reflection session (not self-introduction let me clarify). No wonder the introduction-reflections produced infinite images like parallel mirrors. I was excited to present my buddy to the rest of the class, giving my version of her finer nuances. Probably, everybody was at ease with the rest in the group, and must’ve enjoyed presenting their peers. All pervasive was a sense of camaraderie.
During the meet, we neither judged nor bragged. That made the difference. People really opened up. It was a storehouse of stories. A mini Katha Sarith Sagar unfolded. I heard dozens of snake and ladder accounts from my peers. Vivid, crisp memories hidden behind all these years… I had lost some of these but the other guys kept them intact.
I felt as if a time machine literally took me back to all those world heritage sites we visited together: Hampi, Lingaraja, Konark, Tadipatri… The limitless fun we had working for the NASA competitions...
"It was in your house we toiled and burnt the mid-night oil together," I reminisced.
"Because, our homes were the closest to the college, and not for any other reason," my friends interjected.
"Your grandma was awesome," quite a few of us recollected her innocent love. Memories …appeared in flashes as each one of us reflected.
"Where did we play the dodge ball?"
"Banaganapalli!" Someone volleyed.
"Hey! We operated a train.. A diesel engine right?... "Where was it?" I wasn't able to place it.
"On the way to Araku from Vizag," my friend completed the puzzle.
"Remember, trains 've two horns, for low and high frequencies. Yes! Exactly! For short and long distances," a couple of us could pull out the train trivia with the same alacrity even today. I wish we had architecture classes in train engines!!
We traveled back in time riding high on train (!) reliving those moments. But this time without the cantankerous college bus or its dandy driver. It was priceless.
I was curious to revisit the narratives from our studios of a bygone era, which my classmates reenacted to perfection. Some of the stories were the most illuminating. Nostalgia is fun. Nostalgia can be melancholic. To some, nostalgia is wrought with pain and rejection if you happen to slip back from the wheels of fortune or the good books of the tutors. All the more, if you are from the hinterlands...
A few boys candidly put their perspectives.
"In one of my juries, Sir refused to speak in Telugu and I didn't understand a word he spoke. We continued our silent battle for a while. It was going nowhere. Then I came out and pulled him in, to translate. Do you remember?"
"In fact, we wanted to start an agitation to include Telugu teaching and communication."
Some of the boys narrated their struggle in navigating through a curriculum not designed for regional language speakers.
"It took four years for us to adjust in Hyderabad," Some North-Indian boys quipped about their troubles in adapting to an alien food culture and language.
"But once I settled here, I didn't feel like going back," added another.
"Well, we improvised glass plate copying! With a cellophane, I used to erase his name and resubmit the assignment as mine. I was never caught," declared a hero...
"I passed all theory exams because he allowed me to copy from his" humbly confessed a boy, greatly regarding the generosity of his classmate.
"Me too! I copied from her. She used to sit in front of me," joined a couple of others in chorus, without being remorseful.
"By the time we finished four and half years and landed in Delhi for practical training, we realized we had hardly learned anything," lamented a handful of them albeit in a lighter vein.
"I regret not graduating despite trying for 10 years," said one of the most creative fellows of our class. I could visualize his abortive attempts and challenges in balancing a passion for music and talent in design. These were bitter moments of stress and alienation, despite the humor and pun laced around them now. These were the travails of students on the fringes of the learning arena.
Had it not not been the reunion, I would’ve never been privy to these very personal anecdotes. I couldn’t but sense, how insulated I was from these experiences... Personally, I totally internalized the Architecture lessons from college. They influence even the smallest of my daily routines like setting up a dishwasher or kitchen shelves. And these compelling stories laid thread bare, the fissures in our very education. It was irrefrangible.
I realize how some of the simplest of classes I took for granted were nightmarish to some other students. I feel unjustly privileged. I wondered how the system failed on some of my classmates, despite being admitted right royally from a multitude of backgrounds. Perhaps, we need to redesign our content delivery and evaluation systems. It's time our studios turn inclusive.
Never would I have got to know that our class had so much of singing talent, but for the post-lunch Karaoke. Oh! My goodness! Almost everyone sings, not counting the singing pro! By any chance the gastronomical delights served at the sky tower did any trick?? Or the videos of our class photos cast any magic spell?? Or the buzzing WhatsAp group pushed the limits? I wonder!
On the flip side, I failed to trace the coordinates of a couple of our class girls. And could not meet those who didn't make it, notwithstanding their Skype con-calls… Well, when it comes to a warm handshake, all of Skype and Face Time miserably fail. After all, this overwhelming togetherness is worth the travel. As we departed, I’m sure one question must've lingered in everybody’s mind, “When are we meeting next?”