… and how I survived to tell the tale.
This one needs no prelude. To sum it all up: I went, I croaked, I came back. But just so you at least know what I’m talking about, I was a part of the ten-member contingent that represented our dear darling university in the East Zone Inter University Youth Festival held in Kalyani University just a few days back.
The woman of too many words that I am, if I were to put down all the instant-by-instant emotions and opinions that I felt during the entire trip, then this post would run the risk of turning into a novel. So I’ll do what I do best. Paint the snapshots that remained with me, even though it took me three whole days of doing absolutely nothing and remaining submerged and insulated from everything to get a life back.
To start from where it all began would be a waste of space, since for me, it all truly began the moment we arrived at the Ghoshpara railway station (which, incidentally, is just one big platform, and is a minute’s walk to the main gates of Kalyani University) hungry, dirty and with all energy sapped out of us. So imagine someone (namely me), who’s not slept the whole night in the train, not had a single morsel of food since previous night’s excuse of a dinner, with a guitar slung on either shoulder and a backpack on her back, one tabla on one hand and a heavy pair of “borkaah” on the other, being confronted by an angry mob of students just on entering the university campus, with cricket bats and heavy sticks on their hands, breaking anything that comes their way. And then being asked to leave the campus quietly just so no “harm is done” to anybody unintentionally. Hurriedly taking refuge in the quarters of a compassionate faculty member till the storm died out. Being numbed with shock for a little while at actually having witnessed such a frenzied mob.
I think the best part was that all the “worst”s we encountered were on the very first day. Like getting to know that no less than fifteen girls were alloted to stay in a four seater room in the girls’ hostel. Or that we would have to walk for twenty minutes to reach the place where food was served. Then sitting for lunch after more than twelve hours of not having food and realizing that the food was so hot we couldn’t have more than a few morsels. That was maybe the only time I almost cried out of hunger (people who know me better know the relationship I otherwise have with food), and the worst part was that I did have food right in front of me and I couldn’t have it.
But after that the ride was significantly better. That was the day we discovered the joys of riding on the “van”. Aah, you have to ride one to know how it feels to totter about sitting on a huge wooden plank supported on wheels. And it just gets better. It cost just five bucks per person to go from anywhere to anywhere! That was also the day I learnt that ultimately it is about the people who are around you, and not the place where you are. And I learnt to laugh through all of it, even though my dinner comprised of “roti”s and “Maaza”. Oh, and the fact that we got to know that the ten other girls who were alloted to our room would not be attending the youth festival after all did go a long way to ensure that the smile remained intact.
From the next day onwards it was a tiring albeit happy blur for me. Dancing barefoot on the streets of Kalyani in full “Sattriya” costume for the cultural procession that marked the inauguration of the fest. Passersby showing us (the smallest contingent, with one-fourth of what other contingents had) the thumbs-up while half the time I was wondering if the next minute was going to be the one when I pass out of thirst and fatigue. All of us sitting and trying to figure out how people could be at two different places at the same time, since the same people were taking part in parallel events. And miraculously pulling it off alright. Dropping off dead each night and waking up each morning with a strange desire to tuck myself away for the whole day and make myself unavailable. Crying out loud for my lost voice and making it worse. Preparing a new group song in five minutes and performing it like confidence permeated in our veins. Letting myself down in my western solo, and then being pleasantly surprised by compliments flowing in from other people (that was something, let me tell you!). Witnessing some awesome performances that left me awestruck and spellbound. Rushing, rushing, rushing all around, and yet having time to belt out the “Bhola Baba” song while on our way between venues on the vans (complete with guitars and the tambourine and the harmonizations!) Making friends and witnessing crushes (wink, wink!), having disagreements and then sorting them out. And the last night, walking all the way back to our hostel, singing Jayanta Hazarika numbers with LT playing the guitar while walking with us like the cool dude he is.
Taking a detour, this reminds me that LT is not a dude to be mentioned in the passing. He’s the sort who would sing “Summer of 69” AND Bihu with his guitar on the same stage, with a “gamosa” tied around his head to show the people just which beautiful land he hails from. He claims fame as the boy who made all non-Assamese out there dance Bihu to his tunes. Just so you know.
Coming back, obviously the prizes count too. And win them we did. For a contingent of ten members, getting five prizes would be considered some achievement, eh? I did win a bronze for my solo after all (thank you, thank you), and we won the silver for our impromptu group song, which means we get to attend the nationals. Our debate team won the gold, because of which our team won the best literary team. And our champion photographer, DB bagged the silver, although in our eyes he deserved the gold (poor guy had to empty his memory card of some of the best photos he had clicked just for the event).
But somehow, what I would most remember from the trip are snippets of moments, flashes that just happened, you know. They just came without any warning, and left us doubled up in laughter and tears. Like AB being confused for a guy not just once, but quite a few times. Will never forget how the “haye-haye” party (you know what I mean) in the train demanded money from her and yelled out “Aye, handsome, Salman Khan, chal nikaal…!“. Or AG learning to speak broken Bangla, and resorting to sign language for words she couldn’t find. Or the famous “bottle attack” (this is the best kept secret among us girls who were there, let me tell you.. so I wouldn’t dare divulge it here even though I am dying to). SS getting a love letter from some “fan” with her name misspelled. And the girls in the hostel getting us breakfast to our room on the last day, just as we were wondering how to have breakfast AND be on time for the valedictory function. Oh, and the first bite of the famous “papri chat“. I don’t think the taste will ever fade from my memory. How can I forget the sweetheart K from Central University of Jharkhand, who asked a drunk van driver to let him drive the van, and then took me and JD for a long van ride in the campus sometime around midnight just because I had mentioned that I fancied a walk…!
And the music… it was all around. If we were going about yelling songs from our vans, there were people who chose to sit under a shed and sing quietly late into the night. Even in the rooms where everybody would be rehearsing, there was music all the time. And boy did we have a song for each moment. We cribbed and cried and lamented and laughed, but most of all we sang our hearts out. Whether it be under the nicely lit streets with lamp posts adorned with strings of lights, or on the steps outside the boys’ quarters with semi-nude guys bathing under rows of plastic taps right next to us, there was always someone strumming a guitar, humming a tune, playing a neat beat.
Did I mention this was meant to be a “short” piece? My due apologies. Sometimes I really don’t know when I start getting carried away. But maybe I am still out there, drifting in that campus, floating around with the music… so just so I bring myself back with a thud, I wrap this up with a thud. Mid terms from next Thursday and singing my way through it won’t be much help, you see.