Reminiscences of college life
It was the year 1960. Having completed my school final, I had to decide on my future career. Medicine was ruled out as blood and flesh were anathema to my family. Could I pursue a liberal arts course like history or geography or literature or social sciences? When I discussed this with my friends and well wishers, they ridiculed the idea, saying that liberal arts people ended up as clerks, leading a hand to mouth existence. Else, one has to set a goal of reaching the pinnacle by entering the administrative service. For a person hailing from rustic background that seemed a distant dream. Therefore I decided to take up engineering, at the degree level. The next obvious step was to gain admission in the Pre University course, with Mathematics, physics and chemistry as core subjects.
Madura College was a well established one, run by the TVS group. I got admission in section A of the college, with advanced English as a special elective.
We had some of the best teachers in my class. Section A comprised the cream of the students, there being 6 sections, each with a strength of 60 students. Our mathematics teacher Professor Veeraraghavan, was considered a young tiger, being the disciple of 'tiger' Thothathiri Iyengar. He used to solve enormous number of problems in mathematics. We were bowled over by his remarkable teaching, and looked up to him as our role model. The advanced English paper was handled by the Head of the department Professor Vedanarayanan himself. We had Julius Caesar as the text, and the professor transformed the class into a medieval stage and all the characters came alive and kept us on tenterhooks. The non detailed text was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. There were two principal characters called Pip and Estella. The paper was handled by a spinster called Janaki madam. She was the only woman teacher in the entire college. We were anxiously waiting to see how she would handle the portion where Pip kissed Estella. When the particular piece came, the madam gracefully skimmed through it, and our eager anticipation was thrown into the gutters.
The Chemistry professor Sundaram conducted his classes in the chemistry laboratory itself. He taught us with practical demonstration of each experiment. He expected us to reproduce his notes verbatim in the class tests. You either scored centum in his tests or just got grace marks. It was rot learning, but it helped us get the highest grade in chemistry. And it was one subject that still keeps me fascinated.
The college used to conduct debates and literary discussions, both in Tamil and English. The pre university students were encouraged to take part in these activities. I was called upon to give a talk. It was about a journey to my native place called Villur. I started off well, but mid way my mind became completely blank, and I had to sit down without completing my talk. This initial defeat spurred me to participate in all future events, until I developed a flair for extempore speech.
I was a cadet in the NCC. The rigours of parade and marching did not have much appeal for me. However the puri, vada and coffee served at the end of the parade was what sustained my interest in the NCC. Moreover, as a cadet, I was not up to the expectations of the Senior officer. Therefore from cadet I was re-designated as the quarter master Sargent, whose responsibility was to go to the mess, and fetch these items, to be distributed at the end of the parade.
The college celebrated the annual day as a gala festival. There was special lunch and evening high tea for all the teachers and students. His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore was the chief guest. He was a burly person dressed in regal splendour and bearing a majestic appearance. He gave an inspiring speech. This was followed by the highly motivating speech of the Chairman of the governing council Mr. T S Rajam. Both were wonderful speakers, making us wonder how they have mastered the alien Saxon language.
I was put up in the hostel of the college. Hostel stay was most enjoyable part of the college life. The hostel was located in a vast campus, forked by the railway tracks of Rameswaram and TIrunelveli. So you can be sure of hearing the whistling sound of rail engines throughout the day and the night.
The hostel mess was the best liked place, because the food was cheap and excellent. In the morning we were served dosa or idly or uthappam or puri or pongal or vada, accompanied with sambar and chutney. Iyengar style of cooking added to the taste and flavour. But the sad thing was that everything was limited. And for a growing young lad of 16 or 17 years of age, always
ravenous, this was totally inadequate. So I resorted to ‘looking after’ the cooks and the servers, so that when they served me, one or two additional scoops of the items used to land on my plantain leaf. Other inmates were aware of the secret arrangement, but they did not grudge, as I usually sat near close friends only; and occasionally treated them to the latest cinema fare.
The College Hostel was located in a low lying area, and prone to flooding at the slightest breach of the Madakulam tank. This happened at least twice in a year during heavy rainy seasons. The entire hostel submerged in one foot of water, so that the hostel had to be closed for a week, until the water receded. The students had to vacate the rooms and go home for the period. The hostel authorities gave us money to meet travel expenses, and we joyously went home for a mini vacation. On our return we prayed for another bout of rain and flood, atleset within the next 6 months.
What a wonderful college life, that has now become part of the memory.