Sunday, January 27, 2008

Version One:

For me, even semesters are like axles. It’s held the spoked wheel of routines in place as I’ve rumbled through the complex terrain of three BITSian years . For some, even semesters herald desperate hope. “It’s okay. I’ve got one more semester left. I can still make that dual/transfer.”

For some others, it’s a semester of extinguished desire. “This semester? Doesn’t mean a thing to me. It’s just like every other semester. Another cross on the wall- one less semester to go before I’m rid of this place.”

“So what are your new year resolutions? ”

A new year? I stared at the calendar without replying- the page still said October, 2007. “Still holding on to the past, eh?” My shrug was a declaration of guilt, guilt that stemmed from desperation, not deceit. Sometimes we have to live in the past, if we have to live at all.

This is semester that is beyond the reach of resolve. I can’t believe I’m saying this, I who have been eulogizing resolve throughout my life. Ah, Resolve. Resolve that shakes off perverse pessimism. Resolve of an austere kind, without the transient shine of new-year-resolutions. Resolve that crystallizes when you see that number on that blue-grey card on registration day, resolve that is wrung into existence without being serenaded or even acknowledged, resolve that melts into nothingness in the fiery face of temptation, resolve that is reinforced like ceramic, hardened with the heat of renunciation. So many dragons has resolve slain for me, and yet it fails me when I’m alone with the final many-headed monster.

“How are courses this semester? Ghoting already eh? Anyway you’ll make another nine.” It might be a semester of fruitless transition, from one set of futile expectations to another.

“Which semester will you be on? 4-1 or 4-2?” It might be a semester of goodbyes.

“What? You aren’t preparing for anything? Neither CAT nor GRE?” Or a semester of hard decisions and harder consequences.

A semester of disillusionment- I can already hear tunefully tittering sounds within every note of the incomplete melodies that batter my ears. The barbed laughter of derision. Contempt of promises that were made long back and were now lying unredeemed- like bounced checks. I’d overdrawn on my reserves of resolve. My account of resolve didn’t offer me unlimited credit after all.

A semester of irretrievable losses. A semester of fear. And a semester of defeat. Why did I even come back? To be a phantom enacting a make-believe version of life? With a false smile on my lips and a lament resounding within? The dagger of despair had dug into my heart long back, a strong-willed sickle plowing though parched cakes of land. Pilani pulled it out, only to leave melancholic shards writhing inside. Shards that tugged at my innards and stung painfully, whenever I groped and stumbled through my green room of solitude. I’d rather have the curtain drop and the play slink towards the fickle climax right away- A farcical engineering degree. An accidental six-figure job. A trashcan of memories. And a putrid compost of rituals to deal with it.

A forlorn cry pierced the sharply, tearing down the wintry veil of silence to shreds. From my corner in the classroom, I could see the source of noise- a molted grey bird, “I thought these peacocks had died in the cold. Looks like they have survived the winter.”

“What?” She gasped as I flung away my jacket. “You’ll freeze to death.” I smiled back, my glance still lingering over that miraculously air-borne grey shape. “No. I’m not feeling cold anymore.” What was frozen within me had started to thaw. The play was over; the hecklers had left. Among other things, this would be a semester of life as well.

Version Two:

The frames in the third reel were running out-the black loops of film wound around the top were thinning stubbornly. The movie, till now, an unbroken strand of honey clinging to a hive, suddenly seemed frail and strained under the threat of a disruption. The very instant the final length of film fell away from the top wheel, the second machine took over nonchalantly- beaming an uninterrupted ray of flickering light. It was like the awe that a flawless relay team might inspire, while we watch their baton change hands in milliseconds.

Everybody remembers their first RAF movie. And we would probably describe it in the same terms. The petulant wait for the stubs, the crowded counters at mess tables, the frantic pleas for those little coloured square chits, the whistles and cheers accompanying the descent of darkness, and then a communal cacophony of enthusiastic heckling and inappropriate applause. And of course, navigating your way through dense chattering crowds that would line every road that leads away from the audi. Has this picture changed? Or has it vanished altogether?

My companions listened enraptured, while the technician pointed out the frozen images and the Audio-tracks on the layer of black plastic. I was more interested in the disconnected audio-tracks that was playing within my mind.

“…we need more membership this semester to make ends meet.”

“RAF? I used to sign up regularly. But then, what’s the point in signing up? I don’t go anyway. And I can watch much better movies on my computer.”

“How am I supposed to go? They seem to screen movies only during tests.”

“RAF is a tradition. It would be sad if it shut down.”

“Come.” I snapped out of my reverie. “Let’s get out before we get caught in the crowd.” My friend said absently as she glanced at the door. “Crowds?” The man laughed. “There are no crowds anymore.”

Do we await Music nights purely for the “music” performance? Does “Sky” translate literally into “I’m hungry and I’m just looking for a burger”? Are batch snaps strictly confined to “getting a framed picture with your CDC-mates” and nothing else? Does the clock tower exist for the sole purpose of displaying time?

Throughout our history, we’ve shown a knack for transforming simple routines, seemingly plain events and the bare chores of existence into potential adventures, hallowed rites of passage, and yes, traditions. That’s why Sky, Music nights, batch snaps, the clock tower, RAF and a thousand other things have become unique BITSian symbols and rituals. Seemingly mundane features of our humdrum existence become enshrined within the portals of coded meaning, ritual and sentiment. And we’re in danger of undoing this process, of hacking away at these shrines, of wiping away that sacred dust of legacy. It’s like looking at the clock tower while it’s slowly stripped of its numerals till it won’t show us the time anymore. That’s what we risk- watching some of these symbols disappear in our blasé silence.

As we stepped out of the Audi, we glanced at the cardboard carton lying at our feet- upturned. Torn blue stubs flew out to litter the road. And soon, they vanished- some in the winter breeze, some between the thorns of dark green hedges and some under the heavy thuds of unseeing feet.

Version three:

The Fine Print, Issue six, Page one.

PS: I've always been conscious about the quality(but not the brevity ;) of the editorial, and four of my editorials, on six have turned out with coherence, consistent style and tone, and of course with impact. A general thumb rule I've adopted as a writer- give yourself as many choices as possible, hasn't worked. After three drafts for a possible editorial, I chose the worst written one for the issue. Note to self: keep your personal traumas out of a piece that is supposed to inform, entertain, stimulate thought, provide insight, and err I'll stop. I've mentioned all possible connotations contained in the cliché "editorial food for thought" What I seem to be producing instead is "editorial purgatives for a confused adolescent (me.)"