Sunday, June 15, 2014

I return to IIMC

I was over at IIMC for a conference a couple of days ago. I was returning to the campus long years after I had graduated. It was, as you might expect, an emotional moment, if not exactly in the same league as General Douglas McArthur's triumphant return to the Philippines in World War II.

Kolkata has changed although not as much as you would have thought. The airport is thoroughly modern and pleasing. From the airport to Joka (where IIMC is located), there is now a road that bypasses the city initially and  joins at Park Street. The  ride for the first thirty minutes or so via Rajarhat is exhilarating. It's a two-lane road dotted with greenery on the divider and a pleasing mix of empty spaces and buildings on both sides. There are the exquisite buildings one would associate with the IT sector and even a Finance Centre along the route. Open spaces are making way for mutli-storied apartment complexes. Hmmm, you tell yourself, Kolkata has changed for the better.

Park Street pulls you up short. The buildings and eating joints, rickety and worn, might belong to the time I spent in the city as a student. Alipore, the locality of the old aristocracy, retains its majesty with plenty of greenery, imposing mansions and the National Library. Further down at Behala, you return to the past. There are more buildings and the odd attractive one but the locality as a whole remains as rundown as it used to be. Next come Behala Chowrasta, Shakar Bazar and Thakurpukur. Again, the years seem to have largely passed them by. I pass buses with see people hanging to the straps. I recall my days on these crowded buses (mostly, 12 C) but, in those days, one thought it fun.

Finally, the IIMC campus. Near the main entrance is an unsettling sight, an open sewer on either side of the pathway leading into the campus. I experience a thrill as I cross the arched entrance with the Institute's name inscribed on it. Once you enter the campus, the transformation is real and substantial. In my student days, you had  a set of four hostels separated from the main building by a lake, barracks that served as a library and a some staff quarters in the distance. Otherwise, the entire campus was open and wild.

Now, you are first greeted by an executive complex called Tata Hall. Then comes our set of hostels, now called Ramanujam Hostel. H1 and H2 are entirely for girls (in our time, it was just the top floor of H1). Further on, more hostels (including a Tagore Hall) and a cafeteria. You keep going past wild shrubbery and then you begin to see the real development. A whole set of spanking new hostels and another executive complex (where I stayed), all overlooking the lake. The executive building is still under construction and the mess is yet to come up.

I check in and head for Tata Hall for lunch. Then, I make my way to the main building via the narrow road that skirts the lake. The lake itself is ringed by trees now, which is a pleasing sight but you no longer have an unobstructed view of the lake. I cross an imposing white-coloured building, the new library building and am soon face to face with a multi-storied building. Our 'main building' is no longer that. Classes are held in the new building, which also has faculty rooms.

I search for our 'main building'. I have difficulty in getting my bearings. On the road from the hostel, you turned right, as I recall. I think I have located the 'main building' of our time- it's now called L1, L2, L3 (somebody please correct me if I got it wrong). There is also a Computer Science Center. Behind the office buildings are a complex for the PGP Executive programme and faculty and staff housing quarters. I feel  a surge of pride. Unlike much of the city I just passed through, IIMC shows visible and substantial change.

After the conference, I retrace my steps. Tata Hall is not up to scratch. It's run down, the dining room is dingy and depressing, there are signs of peeling plaster, the building is standard PWD stuff, not something one associates with a top business school. The food was mediocre (and I say this as somebody who is hardly a foodie).

One thing is striking. The employees look emaciated and are poorly dressed. They are helpful, almost eager to please. Suffering is writ large on their faces. That is the impression I carried away from my student days. I'm distressed that this too has not changed. How come? Are these contract employees who are under-paid? They should do a lot better on current government pay scales.

I head for my old hostel. It's exactly as it was. The low entrance, the hostel office to the left, the dining room right ahead, the common room to the right. There are a couple of changes. To the left as you enter is a table with a watchman sitting behind it. The common room has shrunk and has only the table-tennis and billiards tables. The sofas with papers and magazines- they don't seem to be around. At the mess itself, time has stood still. Two rows of tables, about 14 or so in all. The cafeteria outside, run in the old days by the reliable Keshavan, has changed but very slightly. More beverages than before. I ask for a bottle of rose milk. "Shaab, change ho ga?". I cough up most of the coins I have.

I wind my way through the corridors to H-4. I climb up the staircase (I recall I used to scamper up and down at least half a dozen times every day, now it's a measured tread). At the landing of H-4, I turn left and head towards the end. Ah,there's my room. It used to be 207, now it's labelled 309.

I lean against the railing and survey the floor. Right ahead to the right were Mohan Krishnan and Talwar. At the landing itself, Sanjiv Vaidya. At the opposite end was H K Patel. I let the memories surge for a while, take a few snaps and head for the staircase. Almost reflexively, I look straight ahead at the top floor of H1, where the girls had their rooms. Sure enough, a young thing in shorts steps out. She sees me and seems faintly startled. Clearly, an unfamiliar face.

I introduce myself to the watchman. He, in turn, introduces me to a fresh entrant, a boy from IIT Chennai. The PGP-I batch has just started coming in. Several vehicles drive up unloading their passengers. Even the boys seem to be accompanied by one or both parents. I guess that was a luxury in our time.

I park myself in the seating space around a tree outside the hostel and take in the buildings slowly. I recall the innumerable hours had we spent there. Stepping out with a cup of tea was almost mandatory after breakfast and at tea-time. After dinner, there was the post-prandial walk, followed by a session in those seating places. Boy, am I glad I went to IIMC, which gave you the time and the space for these indulgences. At IIMA, life in the first year is a grim struggle for survival. After the torture I went through at IIT Bombay, that's the thing I liked most about IIMC: it was a place for gentlemen. They didn't believe in silly things like compulsory attendance.

I allow the memories to float by and feel a sharp pang. There was a lightness to living then, which is the quality of youth itself. As time goes by, life begins to seem more and more of a burden with endless chores, rigid time-tables and nameless worries. I leave, heavy at heart.


chandramouli said...

Enjoyed reading your blog. Felt like reading one of "kalki"'s writings. (Of course I know you have not read Kalki). Thoroughly enjoyed reading again and again. Great writing. But, in 40 years the changes that ought to have taken place, it appears, have not happened at IIMC from your detailed description thereof. 40 years is a very long period, but still the development there has not been overall.

Arpit Srivastava said...

Dear Prof.

Have followed your blog since my UG days and now that I am at IIMC, it feels good to know that you are one of our Joka tribe.

The common room is now separated into two parts separated by a wooden separation which sports the spirit of OH with vivid paintings. The one you saw has the TT table and Pool table, while the other has the sofas, a TV and magazine stand. There was a small door on that wooden separation that takes you to the TV room.


T T Ram Mohan said...

Hello Arpit, Thanks for letting me know. I guess I missed the portion of the room behind the wooden separation.