Pulsating cursor on a blank screen of a blandly titled ‘Document 1’, I sit here, 40000 feet in the air, faced with my toughest writing assignment yet. Its barely been two months since I looked upon the main gate for the last time, out of the back of an auto as it pulled away ever-so mercilessly, the words ‘National Institute of Technology Rourkela’ receding fast till I could see it no more. That was the last glimpse I had of my college, and my life has seen all kinds of changes since then. For starters, I have become exactly the kind of person I used to brand as “corporate sell-outs” while sitting in the midst of encircling fumes seeing Hendrix work his magic at Woodstock for the hundredth time; back when I believed, or rather hoped, that I would somehow become something else. Now I work 60-hour weeks and weekends are spent rejuvenating, via copious amounts of alcohol used almost therapeutically, for the week ahead. Its telling that these two hours encased in a metal tube being hurled from Pune to Delhi is the only time I have had to myself for as long back as I can remember. When I said as much to Kunchur, he made a bad pun about expecting “lofty standards” and proceeded to pat himself in the back for his wit and continued watching ‘Rakhi ka Swayamvar’, on Youtube no less. Chief Editorship can do strange things to otherwise sensible humans.
When the class of 2013 checked into Rourkela in the autumn of 2009, NITR was a very different kind of a beast. The transition from the crumbling edifice that was REC, to the crumbling edifice-but-now-with-agleaming-coat-of-all-weather-paint-so-that-you-don’t-see-it-and-your-parents-drop-you-off-and-leavehappily NIT was just nearing completion. The township of Rourkela was coming to grips with the idea that the new flock of “national-level” students who now study in the college wouldn’t beat them up and break stuff for no reason and were reasserting their rights on their domains; the neutering was underway. The last batch of NITians that had been ragged in their first year by the legendary RengColians had passed out and admin was clamping down with all the might of its new dentures onto the time-honored tradition of a senior’s right to interact with the fresh fish in the pond. Hall 8 was just a hole in the ground and CVR, well; suffice to say no one even knew that the hall existed. Back then one could say “I am leaving Orbit will meet you at Quad” and still make sense. Cows grazed and dogs humped in the fields that are now the BT/BM building and LA, Hex was a scam, and Rengcol wasn’t even worth the ten bucks it cost someone to eat something there, just because of the fact that you had to shout yourself hoarse every time you went in. Not to be discriminatory but it is always a bad idea for a canteen counter to be manned by a semi-deaf person. But that didn’t matter seeing how 90% of the first year batch wasn’t even allowed to enter. It was in the midst of these momentous changes that the new batch walked in, albeit through a different gate, and crammed, six to a room, into the antiquated halls 3 and 4.
The first few days were spent PTSD-ing, the huge adjustment shock of the living conditions, the tiny itch of disappointment when you looked up the faculty and did not really see the industry-shaking patent pending geniuses you had expected, the realization, while climbing the stairs of the main building all the way to the top floor for your 8 ‘o’ clock, that the lift is just an ornament, much like the air-conditioning vents of AV Hall and LG, and speaking of morning, the uniform-wearing DHOL-tolerating “jogging sessions”. All the Anti-Ragging fliers, hundreds of them, that the insti printed out using the SAC printer, after which the poor machine broke down and stayed out-of-order for the next four years, were promptly disregarded and calls started coming in from halls 2 and 7 for late-night interactions. Sanctions were imposed, funda lists were mugged, and there was intense love-making to all kinds of inanimate objects( I am pretty sure there is a door in Hall 2 that would still go red if I walked past it). By the time we settled in, picked and chose your clubs, and barely survived the exams (or not), it was already second semester and it was then that the NITR journey truly began. There is no word in the English language that truly defines the opposite of loneliness. And it’s a shame, because that is how life back in college is. It is the sense of collective living, of shared camaraderie, be it cursing the powers-that-be for the black-outs before the exams, or even worse, during a CS game, or coming out of your room on a chilly winter morning for a class, cursing your stars, and seeing that there are hundreds of footfalls in the very same direction as yours, each one wearing the same look, feeling the same disgust at the situation, as you. It is the petty rivalries between Leo and Rota, between MM, Et Cetera and Degree, between Fusion and Rechargers, which we like to take so seriously, yet will come out blazing if an outsider makes a snide remark. It is the seniors who ragged you turning out to be your closest friends and mentors; it is finding the one or two profs on campus who you can truly admire. It is entire groups of guys upturning their wallets and shaking out every last coin to still find themselves short. Time never stops in NITR. You step into a different world when you step in through the posts. Inside are a few hundred young men and women, hurrying to class, hurrying back from it, downing tea at the backpost, or attending meetings at SAC. You hurry on because you are one of them too, there is that place you need to be, or that thing you need to do, or that girl you need to meet. You curse and grumble. You huff and you pant.
Take a look around.
See where you are and stop wondering how you got there or where you have to go next. The most beautiful patch of land in the world with the most awesome people you will ever meet in your life. A NITRian owns his own life in college; four years of all the time you want to do the things you truly love; four years of being your unique little snowflake before becoming just another cog in the machine; four years of torn jeans, chipped guitars and unkempt hair; four years of being a version of you that you will never get to be again. You miss the campus, you miss your girlfriend, you miss your friends, your clubs, Jam, and your hostel, but what you miss most is the person you were, that person that steps out of the scene when you step out of the gate for the last time.
As I sit here wondering as to why the hell would an airliner hire an all-male cabin crew, I can’t think back on the magical time I had and not smile. I know we will all be old stories and fading pictures someday, the beauty of this time is the fact that it is fleeting. My laptop’s wallpaper theme is a looping slideshow of various snaps by Third Eye, of the campus, not the girls, the same adorn my cubicle at work, and I realize, as so many before me had, and so many after me will, that there is a campus-sized hole in my heart that no amount of money or comfort can fill.
Uire Maire Maire Maire…
Editorial Note: Despite its meaning being lost to time, Uire Maire Maire Maire… Alisha Baba Ho!” is institute’s slogan of National Insitute of Technology, Rourkela for the last 50 years.
Story by – Devraj Jee.