October ushered in autumn, the long awaited Puja vacations and a trip back home after about two years! The crispness in the air dwindled, the sunshine mellowed down, the grass withered gradually while the mist thickened each passing day, heralding the gradual arrival of winter. And then He came, wrapped in His cloak of mist, striding in His stallion of frost and enveloped everything under a blanket of cold wherever His sceptre struck the earth. The Winter King had to be welcomed! Protesting His frozen countenance some of the trees shed their leaves copiously and the grass shrieked out the last remains of life dying upon the ochre earth. The grim Sal trees, however, remained unvaried and refused to let go of their green cloak.
It was cold and a bowl of hot Maggi seasoned with cheese kept us warm. The month of November was rushing past and the assignment dates that had been decided upon a long time back haunted us. Cursing our laziness we burned the midnight oil to complete the assignments. I remember with terror the many papers to download and read, the writing, the formatting, the printing job at the Photocopiers bursting with people, lab manuals to finish, the viva-voce to prepare for, the fiasco that it turned out to be and the exams! We wished for more time, a judicious time-table, less to study; none were granted and we miraculously survived!
Before the winter break, a pending decision to shift to a hostel dangerously close to the main building, a single room for each one of us, took prominence. It was an imminent displacement, I sensed. My roommate cajoled me to stay back while my classmates insisted we stay together in the same hostel. Quite a predicament! I cannot remember what won me over, but I shifted and an assortment of emotions surged. The sense of an ending always feels hollow; since attachment comes easily to me, the decision to shift to a single room simultaneously swallowed and charmed me. The fading yellow walls were replaced by a peeling whitewashed one; the off-whiteness of the tiled floor was replaced by a cold grey one and I had to spread a mat to prevent the cold that shot up through my veins every time my soles touched the floor; the sight of fluttering Sal and Peepul trees replaced that of little grey and pink piglets rolling aimlessly and screeching with excitement the moment their mother showed up, who would then knead over the grassy patch and fall upon the earth with a thud while the piglets would outrun each other to reach their mother! Puppies howled through the night, the cold was unbearable and mercury levels plummeted down to newer records. I froze under the blanket and no pair of socks, pullovers, layers of garments made any difference! Another blanket that a classmate had lent to me thankfully kept the numbness away!
I remember complaining each morning, my voice echoing and trailing off through the mist, about the rule of signing on the register at the department in the early hours of the day. I remember falling sick early Spring and the undying help that each of my classmates extended, keeping me company, splashing colour into the ghostly whiteness of the dispensary walls, where I had to be admitted, and dispelling the pallor that had set upon my cheeks with their vivid conversations. I remember sickness shadowing us that semester for two of my classmates were tyrannized by its wicked spells over the course of time. I remember the long walk with some of my classmates to the riverside one wet afternoon. Unseasonal January showers had softened the earth and made the air particularly chilly. Grey clouds groaned above the wet earth and a howling wind cried through the forest. The river loomed beyond the forest and a mustard garden flanked its banks. The rain had eroded the muddy banks, baring its red flesh and robbing it of its shabby cloak of grass. As though saddened by its fate, the banks wept rust hued tears, which trickled down into the river and faded into her grey bosom. The yellow mustard flowers remained oblivious to the raging storm and caressed each other lovingly while their sweetly pungent fragrances stung us. Trying all possible means to keep the cold at bay I tightened the muffler into a think coil around my neck and pulled the sleeves of my pullover bundling it tight into a little knot in my palms. A classmate suggested a fire be lighted and then began the attempt to salvage dry twigs, splinters and anything that looked inflammable. An acrid bluish grey smoke appeared first, then a little yellow flame flickered and morphed into a brilliant orange, rising higher, and we huddled around the little fire, palms against the flame witnessing the whiteness of our cold palms turning into a soft pink as the twigs crackled from a shade of bright red to grey ash. I remember it all, the anecdotes, the walks, the conversations, the sense of togetherness, the simplicity of life, the joy of Maggi, the joy of little things, the joy of BIT Mesra.