I recently joined a group of ex college batch mates and interacting with old friends brought back a rush of nostalgia for the 5 glorious years I spent as a student at St. Xavier's College, Bombay.
For the clueless readers, St. Xavier's has the distinction of being one of Bombay's oldest and most distinguished educational establishment. And I'm not just saying that coz its my Alma Mater... its because its TRUE!
The bias may infact be an inhetited factor! You see, I come from a long line of Xaverites... mum, aunts, uncles, second cousins twice removed.. they all traversed the "first quad" on the way to classes, all sat under the famed arches that give the building its unique look, all "bunked" classes and ran to the nearby movie theatres to catch matinee shows and of course all hung out in the woods at sometime or the other. Many feature make St. Xaviers unique. The woods are one of them.
The first time I came to Xaviers (for admissions) I walked right though to the end of campus... and then turned around and demanded of my mum... "So... just were ARE these woods you're always yapping about??" and was completely flabbergasted when she gestured to the cluster of trees we'd just passed. I counted them. There were seven.
So wait... all this fuss for a measely seven trees? Well... yes! Primarily because Xaviers, unlike many other colleges could actually lay claim to possess a "college campus". However small it may be, it was a place for Xaverites to call a second home. Most other colleges were bland modern buildings facing directly onto a (often) busy street. Students of other colleges had to lay claim to the surrounding streets and call that their campus. We Xaverites didn't have to. And in a city where every square inch of real estate is more precious than the Khohinoor Diamond... for Xaverites, those seven trees was something that no other college had... and hence it was part of what made Xaviers so special.
Sadly the seven trees were down to six by my final year thanks to one particularly bad monsoon getting the better of one of them, but at least till my last day there, I had the pleasure of walking though what truly could be referred to as Xavier's history!
Generations of my family have spent hours under those trees meeting up with old friends and making new ones... rehearsing plays and or just hanging out after bunking class... and later copying notes from those who didn't. And of course there was that one time when an entire First Year Chemistry class had to evacuate to the relative safety of the woods after my uncle and his lab partner managed to blow up whatever experiment they were working on! True story... Guides honour!
Fast forward to December 2004 and a visit back to 5, Mahapalika Marg. After what seemed to be an eternity of questioning from the security guard (Customs at the airport was less of a hassle!) I ran though the "tunnel", past the 2nd quad (still gory with Britannia signs) and came to a dead halt just past the foyer. NOTHING....absolutely nothing prepared me for the appalling sight that met my eyes. Gone were the park benches and simple stone settings around the trunks.... and in their place an abomination of unsightly shiny ultra modern benches and strange little shrubs and a path that meandered its way through the surviving 3 trees and (oh holiest of terrors) a bridge (!!?) that traversed... nothing ... and lead...nowhere!!
WHO let this happen?? Would it have happened if we were still there? Does this new generation know nothing about preserving tradition? Those crumbling, pigeon crap encrusted benches and khattas were just as much a part of Xavier's as are the arches and imposing stone facade. In my eyes... it was nothing short of vandalism!
Or was it just a sign that my time at Xavier's had past... and the college, the quads, the classrooms and the woods now belonged to a new set of students who perhaps prefer this new look and are in the process of creating new traditions.
All I knew was.... memories were what brought me back to Xavier's that day.... and memories were all I had when I left.