In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
A very long time ago, when we were young, emotions were pure and life was new. Nights were balmy, feelings were free from shackles, winters were mild, and all the best quotes were beautiful the first time.
A shock of unruly hair falling on a forehead or a deep stray voice heard in the midst of amateurish music on a makeshift stage or the pattering of dainty sandal-clad feet expectantly waiting next to the staircase outside the classroom could create a magical atmosphere like no other. The careless wave of a rolled up sheaf of paper with a boyish nod could make us obsessed drowning all other senses because perception was new and stimuli were plentiful.
Life was indolent, perpetually ready to receive, to feel, to take an imprint of that which passed around us in the atmosphere of perpetual idleness that was our college.
No projects, no term papers, no essays, no responses, no comments for weeks and months on end. Nothing bound by the banality of temporality, a place where everything slowed down like the tropical haunt of the Lotus Eaters, focused around the legendary canteen where traditional education fell in slow motion like Tennyson’s cascading waterfall on the foster children of our education system with neither the progressive promise of technology nor the healing promise of medicine (yet all the zeal and fervour of fascination with the beauty of stillness of tradition and cultural capital).
Ironically, indolence made way for the best new teachers.
We learnt poetry and prose from the very best in the business–Shelley and Keats and Byron and Charles Lamb–granted all dead and gone a very long time. We figured out good writing simply from haphazard reading through minds perhaps too eager to receive and express with time on our hands for trial and error.
I say perhaps for it must have been so. We hadn’t seen much of one another’s writing to know we were writing for sure. The few exams that slowly rolled us shoreward of our college experience every year or two only returned a few numbers from a nameless, faceless deep that was the system. They may have left us stranded on the shores of the wide world with nothing very useful on our hands but the spent years . . . but college had certainly coloured our lives with experience, deep if not always pleasantly desirable.
Hence, most of our days were spent in the college canteen cultivating personas. There were no blogs, no Facebook, no online avenues of expression in those days for the canteen flâneur. No way to record the daily for those who might have felt the impulse.
What would it have been like had there been such avenues of amateur expression?
A few months ago I found a green diary with lots and lots of writing in my rather haphazardly slanting hand carefully saved by my rather organized mother. The dates told me it was from those magic years. It had been carefully put away by me in the steel locker section of a thick steel almirah where no one was supposed to see it. This was one of those diaries my father always got as gifts (with the new year greeting cards and the occasional cake with Seasons Greetings written on it in cursive) at the beginning of the year. Such diaries were always considered too grand by me to be written on at all until the year had waned.
There it sits on a shelf in New York for many months brought all the way in a suitcase from Calcutta. I have thought about opening it many a time.
And I am still waiting.