In the 80s, making a pass at a girl was a thoughtful, carefully-planned out activity. The boy employed the services of a child, preferable aged below two years, and stood with the kid perched in his arms outside W.H.

When the girl for whom these efforts were made passed by, on her way inside, the boy nudged the child, announcing loudly,

‘Beta, chachi ko namaste karo.’

Other methods of eulogy were to mention aloud some commendable points related to the girl or her attire as one passed by. I have heard the following notable observations in the lanes of A.U.:

‘Hallo, Rosy’ (on a day I was wearing a rose-printed kurta)

‘Hi dear Heera Moti (on a day when my kurta was embellished with some glittering stones)

Ahhh, those were the days! As we would enter the W.H., there would be eager enthusiasts hanging around at the gate. They would address us, respectfully:

‘Sister, sister, S.N.H.?’

This meant that they wanted us to pass on a chit in at Sarojini Naidu Hostel to a girl, to inform her that he was here to meet her. (Remember, there were no mobile phones in those days.) In most cases, he was her ‘cousin brother’.

We would, of course, say that our destination was P.D., the other hostel and not S.N.H to dodge the request. And the reverse if the original request was for P.D.

Till we met a ‘cousin brother’ who had two chits, one for S.N.H. and one for P.D., as Plan B. We were trapped!

I remember that on the first day of undergraduate studies, I reached the Psychology department, dreamy-eyed and excited. Those days, there was a serial being aired on Doordarshan called ‘Chunauti ‘ which was based on campus life. So, there we were, a group of giggly girls, huddling together all set to start a phase of our lives full of fun, frolic and romance. The day started with an Orientation session. We were all seated in the classroom, listening to Prof Tripathi and taking notes.

Suddenly, there was a sound of a large group of boys approaching the department, shouting slogans. They sounded angry. We were told to carry on and there was nothing to worry. Till, we heard a  stone being flung against a window and the loud shatter of glass.

We jumped out of our skins, petrified! Vivid scenes from Chunauti flashed in my mind: rowdies coming in and beating the students with sticks. And, the heroine getting caught in the melee. Then, the strapping, good-looking hero coming and shielding her with his body, taking all the blows.

Wow! Would that happen? My fear was now tinged with hope.

The slogan-shouting group entered the department. The session was discontinued and the professors went out to address them. The freshers now started kicking their chairs behind and getting up in panic.

We looked around for the strapping, good-looking hero. There were none. Mostly, there were skinny, fearful boys who looked like cockroaches reacting to a spray of the dreaded repellent. They climbed the tables and started jumping out of the windows.

‘No, no ! This is not the way it’s supposed to end’, I screamed inside my head.

The girls now scrambled under the tables and waited for rescue, huddled together, almost in tears.

After a good fifteen minutes under the table, we were approached by some seniors who yelled at us,

‘Are you guys mad? Come out. No one harms students. This was just a protest. Get used to it.’

That was the real orientation.

Few years went by and now we were in post-graduate classes. The boys had depleted: going on to study elsewhere. And we had just two remaining: Rajendra Prasad and Jitendra Kumar.

Rajendra looked old and erudite – with just few fine, downy hairs on his head. He would sit on the front benches, side-ways, the crook of his arm on the back of the chair, turning his head to look at the girls. He would smile a lot at us.

It seemed that he knew something that we did not know. No one would really smile back at him, but that did not deter him and he continued smiling. One day, he went missing. We had no idea what happened to him. Then we found out:

He had flunked all his papers and he was now in the class junior to us, and smiling at them.

Jitendra Kumar also went missing one day, only to return with a box of sweet. He has gone to his village to get married, I learnt. He started distributing the sweets in the class.

One girl berated him as he stood in front of her with the ladoos :

‘How can you get married? Are you earning? How will you support the girl? Women should be treated with respect: the time has come for that emancipation, to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts, to change the world.’

He stood there, his jaw-dropping in dismay, his lips quivering, as the yelling continued. He had to think of a face-saver. Finally, he whispered, in defence:

‘Theek hai, gauna nahin karayenge abhi..’

 

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