Mayank Shekhar: Time to go: Alum, alum, alum

Published: Jan 23, 2018, 06:15 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Why I don't avoid reunions: A group of strangers from the same college, even generations apart, makes for a hit party still

It was a rather odd sight for me to watch someone vomit his guts out, as a friend of his patiently waited on him, while the rest of the party carried on. It totally felt like I was back in college. Representation pic/Thinkstock
It was a rather odd sight for me to watch someone vomit his guts out, as a friend of his patiently waited on him, while the rest of the party carried on. It totally felt like I was back in college. Representation pic/Thinkstock

Mayank ShekharPuking, by and large, is a good thing. It cleans out the toxins -read that as phenomenal amounts of booze - in your system, from an evening of excess, so you feel perfectly fine as you wake up in the morning (or afternoon). It's a common drill among young, collegiate drinkers: almost a ritual, before you call it a night. No one I know somehow indulges in it by late adulthood, unless it's an odd featherweight (strictly occasional drinker), invariably at New Year's Eve, Holi, or the annual 'paisa vasool' office party involving unlimited supply of alcohol.

It was a rather odd sight, therefore, for me to watch someone vomit his guts out at the corner of a hotel terrace, as a friend of his patiently waited on him, plying water, furiously patting his back, while the rest of the party carried on totally undisturbed by an wholly expected sideshow. It totally felt like I was back in college. Except the concerned gentleman, dapperly dressed in a formal suit, was well past his middle age. As was his thoroughly concerned friend. They had gone to college together though.

So had everyone else at the party - mostly bankers, corporate execs, bureaucrats, some of them retired - exchanging deliciously horny/sexist jokes (typically '70s all-boys' humour), referring to each other by strange nicknames. As you can tell, I'd gone over to my college alumni dinner, an annual gig that, unlike other friends my batch, I try not to avoid, simply to survey a momentarily insulated world, and appreciate the fact that no matter how old or tight-assed one gets, or whatever station in life they're in, it takes very little to blissfully regress to how young and joyously stupid they once were, if only left in the company of those they were once with. Somehow this restores my faith in humanity.

This sort of unconditional acceptance of basic root exists only as much between parents and children, or siblings. In their interactions, the kid to the dad/mom/elder sibling remains simply a kid, regardless of how old she gets. It's a deeply comforting thought that you could be anywhere (in life, or otherwise), but there's always an old nest only nourished further by nostalgia. It could be home. It could also be a college campus -with its permanent inhabitants, from principal, professor, to the peon -making for a lifetime of common conversations/legends to be shared, between thousands of strangers, who passed through the same passage, only several generations apart.

Like most non-engineering/medicine grads, I went to a desi liberal arts college (St Stephen's, Delhi), which by its very nature, attempts to evade education by simply providing a non-professional degree - putting toge­ther a motley crew pursuing anything between BA Pass (a series of elective subjects) to Physics/Economics, in the hope that some day, someone or the other, will make something of whatever it is that they're pretending to learn. What they make of it is up to them.

Why does such a place remain the last citadel of innocence? Because it's the only place two blokes would ever see each other as equals, before reality, eventually, bites. And I mean equality in a horizontal sense, as I watch a gentleman sing praise of his classmate (standing beside him) having 200/200 over all the papers in Math in his year, while another one goes gaga about running 100 metres in under 11 minutes flat, a college record during his time.

They would be deemed equals, briefly, while they were only in college - perhaps the math guy (a mathematician now) is doing considerably better now (hard to say). But beyond these two is the confident College Don, who peaked in popularity rather early, drawing crowds around him in his heyday, for his innate sense of humour, his wisecracks, ragging skills - basically being the unpretentious dildaar entertainer, masterful 'passer of time', and, inevitably, a great friend.

The world has no instant use for his charms. Unlike Aamir Khan's character DJ, who finds it hard to adjust to realities of the world outside the campus he once ruled, the College Don can't go back to college. But among fellow collegians several years later (and a younger lot who're happy to hear his stories), he's still very much the centre of attention. He ought to be. His peers know he was more equal than others, when relationships weren't so transactional, and success not so objectively defined. The reunion is where he shines again. I love his company the most.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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