Last month a small group of us decided to visit our old college in Delhi University, the academically venerable but very low profile Hindu College. It brought back some wonderful memories. As the name suggests, the college was started in 1899 as a nationalist college. The old college magazines contain a lot of material on the events of the time. The British frowned upon the college.
Our little group had joined the college and hostel in July 1967. Most of us were just 16 years old. Imagine, just 16! A few were all of 17. The oldest lot were just 21, finishing their MA degree, but they made up barely 15 per cent of the total. The freshers were ragged by the seniors for a month. Then on Aug 15 they were hosted to a grand dinner by them. Ragging was traumatic in the first week but you got used to it because it was never vicious. My best recollection of it is my having to follow a senior around at all times with an ashtray in my hand so that he could flick his cigarette ash into it.
I was not allowed to speak but let off for class. The same senior also once took five freshers to a film. He paid for their tickets and sat in the row immediately behind them — and told them they had to look back at him throughout the film and then tell him the story over dinner. It was, for the most part, harmless fun.
Well, 1967 is 54 years ago and it was nice to see that in that time, other than some new buildings to accommodate new courses and more students, the college had not changed much. We wondered at the small classrooms that accommodated just 25 students. My class had started with 14 students in the first year and ended with 10 when we graduated three years later. The teaching was very cosy because if the classes were small, the tutorial groups were even smaller, 3–4 strong. Besides, most of the faculty lived on the campus and sometimes the tutorials were held in their drawing room over tea and samosas. It was all very civilised.
The visit brought back some wonderful memories for all of us — disappointments, successes, infatuations, follies, and, above all, friends who matter.
When you are 16 and have to live away from home along with 120 other boys, it changes you forever — mainly because you are always hungry. It’s not that the hostel food was insufficient. It was just that we were growing up lads and very active. Pocket money had to be conserved through the month, which left most of us hungry at all times because there were other things like films to spend on. And of course the new freedom meant we all smoked. A packet of 10 Charminar cigarettes cost 30 paise which meant ₹9 a month or a fourth of the total pocket money. Hunger was a natural corollary.
The hostel, however, now looks quite decrepit because the college is not allowed to increase fees. We used to have single rooms but now as many as four students are crammed into one room, and this was very sad to see. I hope the hostel is soon rebuilt along the lines of the new, modern girls’ hostel.
The high point of our lives in college was the sports ground. It is a huge, grassy rectangle of about five acres. It had the cricket pitch in the middle and the tennis courts on the side, which have now gone. Cricket was the focal point and still is. In the late 1960s the college team had four regular Ranji trophy and two Duleep trophy level players. It has produced three or four Test level players also since 1955. I tried to play for the college team but just wasn’t good enough!
Disappointments, successes, infatuations, follies, and, above all, friends who matter more than any of the other things college had to offer, the visit brought back some wonderful memories for all of us.
No one talked much. But the silence was eloquent.