Locked Spaces 

The auditorium. (sjc.ac.in)

H 302, they said. That was where the first year EJP students had to assemble, right after the orientation. There was the college anthem, college choir, the principle and of course Cheriyan sir – who had to be stopped for lack of time. From the huge, closed auditorium with large speakers hanging on either side of the stage, like the fangs of a tiger, I entered a golden room with brown benches and chairs. An amusing name it was, like in apartments – the block, the floor and then the room number. Undefined fuzzy faces chattered with excitement, P wore spectacles that were almost frameless, S sported a watch that had a dial whose diameter equalled the length of her wrist, and there were at least three girls who had chosen to wear blue that day. The seniors walked in and explained their experience of the course to us. We were a class of 52 – and the numbers were to come down, they warned. 

An AM meme.

The next day, I searched for my classroom on the notice board outside the block, as it gazed down upon me. H 407 it announced, and after a lot of hard work the destination had arrived. It was larger than the previous class, and was pale yellow with light brown benches. On the second bench, right under the fan, I almost froze to death as my three fourth sleeve was not warm enough. Everything after the first half an hour went in a trance, while I tried hard to concentrate and not fall asleep. During break, the canteen was tested on – houseful, but spacious enough to figure out the separate billing counter. After almost vomiting the once bitten fried, dried up mixture of potato, peas, carrots, onions and Maggi masala that they called vegetable cutlet; I tried to adjust with the chocolate they gave as change and the mineral water I bought (for fear of further experiments that day). 
Post lunch, the first hour was language, and this time it was H 305, hid behind an open cube, almost a terrace garden. It was a dusty brown, with cold brown benches. A few minutes into the class, the Welfare Officer came to collect me. He walked me to the lift, and warned me to take care of myself in the Bangalore climate. (Only later did I realise it had been royal treatment, for later that year others had to write 250 words on why they had used the lift.) I went home, and did not attend college the following day. 

A Sunny H308. ©NM

The next day, it was H 308, a blue room with wooden brown benches, and dark blue curtains. The classroom was opposite the open square space, which had a few potted plants. I would cut across, in order to reach my Hindi class faster. That was a classroom we all loved, every one of us had our own place in it. It was essentially in that room that we had the best movie screenings, the most hilarious classes with AM every day of the week, except for Saturday. That was where we had after – movie question – answer sessions with him, after the two hour slot on Thursday afternoons. AM would throw space age cows, flies, and bird brains at us, when we ask, “Why was the movie screened in class?”, or “Why is the movie called so and so?”. And if at all one of the cows dared ask him what the name of the movie was, he would roar, and stroke his beard before throwing the question out the window. 

Another one.

The canteen white – white tables and chairs, white walls, and two old alien menu boards with spelling mistakes. It was one place, where one could always find students, but still there would be a place to sit. That was where AM would send us occasionally for assignments that could only take shape in his head. Our work could be done efficiently, sitting at college, thanks to the Wi- Fi.

A year later, we were shifted to H 403, a white room with milky brown benches, where in one could barely see what was projected on the white sheet – due to absence of curtains. I would sit in the middle row, second bench, as always. The room was right next to the one which seated our juniors, and our poor seniors didn’t really have a permanent class. Teachers changed, classes changed, posts changed; the number of students and our work increased. We saw lesser and lesser of AM, and the floor would be crawling with BCom students. The open square space was converted to staffrooms at both the third and the fourth floor. 

THE Department. ©NM

And here, Cheriyan sir would often complain about the absence of curtains in the room, at the same exclaiming, “ Oh! What a wonderful view you have.” It is also where we had numerous arguments with VJ, our class mentor; but she would never let us win. I remember her mentioning in one of the first year HRD classes that she disliked kids, for they were noisy. But she was like that stubborn kid, who no matter what argument you gave, wanted us to give her a better reason to give in. “Why did I make you read this piece? Because I liked it.” She would say. In one of her creative writing sessions , P interrupted my trip to the past since he had forgotten why he had thrown a stone at his cousin brother. I had to snap out of my head, so that I could remind him that he had intended to throw the stone at a pesky rooster, but the stone had adopted another trajectory, and he had to immediately teleport from there. 
In another one of her classes, H had narrated – with what-the-hell written all over his face – his experience at a small hotel in Palakkad. More like what we call a thattukada, I believe. He had ordered for a Poori Masala, his brain’s dictionary had autocorrected it to Masala Poori. But alas, when the food arrived he was shocked to see what he called Poori Bhaaji. P and I, almost killed ourselves – kollu kollu kollu. I facepalmed so hard that my eyes almost catapulted out of the socket, and landed on the bench – facedown. Evidently, he had not noticed that we get Masala Dosa in the canteen, and not Bhaaji Dosa. 

More cameras popped up at every nook and corner, and there were prohibitions on mobile phones, among other things in an attempt to make our lives more scientific and organised. The Wi- Fi would never work, and there were new restrictions on it – you could never access social networking sites or apps, or sites which have content that come under entertainment, fun or even hot – sites on food, and food writing that is. The large media lab had undergone binary fission, resulting in two unequal media labs, with big technical names. An these were often used for Disciplinary Meetings. Students started sitting outside the canteen, due to improper seating arrangements. 

Under construction. ©NM

And then, the college realised that students outgrew the college, and they decided to perform plastic surgery on the humanities block. Apart from covering the face of the block, this also resulted in live background noises. Another year later, the operation is still going on. Faces popped up outside the windows of our classroom, on the fourth floor – and no, they were not levitating. With canteen 2.0 just four floors away, students started buying parcels, and eating it in class. It also led to, “stuffing your faces” as AM called it. Though it has multi-cuisine , and idly-dosa over it, this canteen did not have any of these. It mostly had samosas, coffee and tea. 

Stairs. ©NM

H 408 is handicapped for our course, as it does not have a projector. It divides the class into two wide rows that extend up to the last benches. And with no more middle row, anywhere I sit is too distracting – either too front, or too behind. During Ingnitors, it took us 20 minutes to reach the ground floor from H408, and another five to reach the allotted classroom in the science block. AM does not directly meet us anymore, other than for one of the electives, or for Disciplinary Committee meetings. Externals for our first and fourth semester Journalism Practicals, became our professors. The entire college works by the shift system, but we go home only to eat and sleep. Storms will come, throw cows, trees and birds at EJP, but EJP will not budge. The one professor that has remained constant would be ER– he taught us Optional English in the first semester, still does.
The strip from the stationary, the space in front of canteen, all the way up to the auditorium has been converted into a ramp for students and bikes. The strip is a potential accident prone zone, and in future, will probably exhibit a sign announcing the same. 

While waiting outside the Department of English, one cannot ignore the ground, which beckons you into the windy sandful centimetre squares it covers. Students were mere iron fillings in it as they assembled for sports day, beginning with the march past. Nobody loved to walk around in the sun, and in the second year it was not that sun but the rain that made me frown at the idea. Moreover, after an almost failed attempt at a quick brunch before the march past, while the sun had directed its energy to dry up the ground in time; I was interrupted by the realisation that one required permission to grow long hair. 

The New Face of the Humanities Block on a Sports Day. ©NM

The tug of war was the only class event we participated in by choice, but we did not have enough boys for a boys team. We lost to the same team both in the first year and a second year, and had managed to upgrade to a silver in the second year, from bronze. The first year, around five of us had fallen down, oxidising our silver grey  shirts into an apple brown. The ground was also where we had fests like Footprints, and Exodus – ramp walks, and various performances with food stalls orderly sprinkled across. 

At the far end of the ground, on the left side was a diamond net which separated it from the Quadrangle. Or rather The Banyan Tree, as AM preferred to call it. It cannot be a quadrangle – he had tried to explain once, looking at all of us with his eyebrows almost knit into each other – because it is not closed on all four sides. And then, end of discussion. The Banyan Tree was the main venue for Meta, the LitFest run by the English department. Where I had missed, and also enjoyed numerous performances, jam sessions, and panel discussions. “I am going to be making decisions, and you are not going to like it”, AM had announced during a jam session in Meta 2016. The first year, I remember volunteers almost hanging off the first floor of the science block  trying to take down the web of painting that had been up on the stage. 

Puddle. ©NM

On the right side of the ground, are new unmarked buildings. It has let bikes and scooters be parked on it, and footballs no longer break bones. At the far end of the ground, near the basketball court, stand skeletal steel structures, on spaces that are yet to be swallowed. 

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