College Life - Aditanar College, Tiruchendur (6/6)
Hostelers and Day Scholars
Generally, in most classes, hostelers and day scholars would be in two different groups. There were only few boys who went beyond these boundaries and mingled with all. It was better in our class because our class was small in size. Some boys who were from nearby places would be hosteler for sometime and day scholar for sometime. When they get bored with day scholar life they would join the hostel and vice versa. Some hostelers would always roam with day scholars. Most of the times they would be in one of the day scholars' houses. They would know almost all local girls that are known to their day scholar friends too. Likewise, there were a lot of day scholars who used to be with us always. Most of the times they would be with us in the hostel. They would leave only when the watchman asks them to leave. Some of them were even warned by the wardens for being in the hostel always. They were so close with us!
One such day scholar who was always with us was, a guy by name Roshan from a nearby coastal village called Alanthalai. There is an emotional story around our friendship with him. When we were in the final year, Roshan's father met with a major accident (there were even doubts that it might not be an accident) and was admitted in ICU in a hospital in Tuticorin. When he was in the hospital for a month or so, every night two guys from our hostel would go and stay with his family in the hospital in rotation to help them. Another two guys would go every day to donate blood . It's a touching experience. I am not sure if the same guys would be able to offer so much help now. That period was like that. That's a period in which you have no expectations and never think for yourself, right? Finally even when he died despite all our help and treatment, there was a huge crowd from our hostel till the last minute in his funeral. I am sure our mere presence beside him would have helped him a lot at that time of grief. It would have also helped him come out of it faster. Isn't it superb? That's the specialty of college friendship, right?
Another unforgettable experience from the college life is the communal clash that took place in the last month. Our college had good reputation from the beginning. Generally, we used to have good respect everywhere. As some colleges in nearby towns Tuticorin and Tirunelveli were notorious for their strikes, indefinite closures and public nuisance and our college was so decent being in the same area, we naturally commanded that respect from public. The credit should go to our management for that. The college was founded by Mr. Aditanar and his son Mr. Sivanthi Adityan is the current president of the college committee. People in that region have great respect for him. He wouldn't tolerate the college's reputation taking a beating for whatever reason. This communal clash would have marred exactly that - the reputation.
There was no sign of such a problem in the first two years. It was as peaceful as how it was all along. It was not a problem of the entire college. It was just a problem in one of the two hostels. The other hostel (Gandhi Hostel) didn't have this problem. To be more precise, it's a problem of few individuals. They wouldn't have known the seriousness of the problem they created when they did it. These problems would be there as long as the college is there. It would all be fine as long as there is no such problem but once someone breaks the ice all hell would break lose. Because, the whole crowd doesn't go at the end of the year. One third of the crowd leaves and a new one-third arrives. So, that means the other two batches will carry forward the hatred. Then what is the end for this? There is no such thing!
Generally, such problems don't crop up in places where there is only one majority community. It happens only in places where there are at least two communities in more or less equal strength. That's the reason why we never had such problems in our college or hostel. The batch that joined the first year when we were in the final year introduced all these to us. There were two caste-based groups in that batch. Once they had some problem with each other, guys from other batches also joined them, took sides and worsened the situation. Thus it became the entire hostel's problem. As far as I remember it was just few guys who were behind this whole thing though it was called a communal clash - the problem of communities.
This problem helped us witness many strange things in our lives. One, enemies became friends and friends became enemies overnight. Devils became angels and angels became devils. Some guys who were hated like mad by almost everyone became heroes overnight. Nobody liked them in the first two years but they became the darling of more than half the people in the final year. The only reason is, they had taken something called caste in their hand. Those who wouldn't even like to see each other eye to eye became relatives (mind you - not friends) in the process. Once you know someone is from the same caste as yours, he becomes your relative. That's their theory! I have seen this in many places. Someone completely neglected by people around him will think all night and take up some sensitive thing in hand. Suddenly he would have a huge fan following as planned. All those who hated him from the day one will start loving him. He would suddenly gain so many new friends and well wishers in the same old place. That's what happened there also.
On the other hand, there were many close friends who ended up seeing each other in opposite camps. I think, enmity without a valid reason is a cheap thing. I had the privilege of seeing that cheapness first hand. It was spreading silently like cancer for half a year. Everyone secretly added fuel to the fire and discussed strategies against those in the opposite gang. Some guys were spying on both the sides. Though we were all scared of what was going to happen, somewhere in a corner of our mind we were also hoping that nothing would happen eventually. But, it didn't turn out to be nothing as we hoped.
I always wonder how it is so easy to split our people by taking such a sensitive nonsense in hand. It would have resulted in a big communal riot if it was any other college but it didn't become so bad in our college. There was one group of people who ensured that things didn't go that bad at all costs. Maybe, if the college had continued for some more time or the problem had started little earlier, all that would have happened. Luckily, the course ended without having to see such things. Such a major problem in the offing was controlled so well by some actions. There is a lot of criticism on the way those actions were taken but it was a big relief that the problem didn't become as big as we feared it to be.
The Last Month as Day-scholar
This one month is unforgettable in the college life too. One of the actions taken because of the communal clash was, dismissing all final year students from the hostel. So, that forced all of us to rent a house or room outside. Some of us rented houses. Some others just stayed in lodges only on exam days and studied from home on other days. Thanks to the temple in Tiruchendur, there are a lot of good - affordable lodges, hotels and restaurants in town. We had tasted in almost all restaurants in Tiruchendur in that one month. Even when we were in hostel, the mess wouldn't be open in study holidays. Those days, we would just stay in the hostel and come out for food. Our experience with the outside restaurants during those days did help in the last month later.
With the help of our professor Mr. Velayudham and Mr. Paul Pandian (the professor from my place who helped me to join there) four of us (Nathan, Raja, Ramesh and I) rented a house in Tiruchendur town. Though it was only for four of us officially, there were many other friends who used to come and stay there. The house was in a beautiful street near the temple. There was a house in the same street where we got good home-made food every day. Once in a while we used to have food in our professor Mr. Velayudham's house also. He is from a distant place called Pattukottai near Tanjore. Every year he would bring a few guys from his native place to this college. There were maximum of three guys in our batch. Nathan, Raja and Ramesh were such people who came from his place. Raja and Ramesh are his relatives. Nathan is from his native place. I just disturbed him during that one month when I stayed in his neighborhood but these three guys would almost go every week to his house even when we were in the hostel. He had just got married then. These guys wouldn't just care about all that. He had his first kid when we were staying in that house in his neighborhood. We used to spend a lot of time with that kid also at that time. He would have become a big boy by now. If we meet him somewhere now neither would he identify who we are nor would we be able to identify who he is.
The bus stand is in the north corner of the town. Our house was few kilo meters southwards from the bus stand in the town. The college is a kilometer away from the bus stand on the north side. We used to commute this entire two-three kilo meters by walk. The one kilo meter distance that we walk from the bus stand to college was in the outskirts so it was very beautiful. The road is parallel to the beach. There was a backwater between the beach and the road. Sometimes it would be connected with the sea and other times there would be a gap between them in which people used to walk. Such a wonderful sight it used to be. There was a railway station opposite to the bus stand where no train used to come. I think, there was only one train to Tirunelveli. It was a meter gauge line. That comes parallel with the beach and the road. The railway station is a good place to hang around (those days we used to say it was a good place to 'study'). Sometimes we would have a tea and hang around in the railway station as well.
What else after the last month? It's the last day!
Needless to say - The last day is a more important day than the first day for many reasons. The next day would be the first day of a new era. We would have to stand on our own feet. Scared of the future on one side and the sadness for the quick end of such a beautiful life on the other. The grief of separation on one side and the pain of in-fights that came before the separation on the other. Despite all that, the separation was inevitable. Some guys postponed the separation by a day by staying back for another night. Some guys spoke emotionally with all their friends in the last one hour and said 'good bye'. Some guys couldn't even express their emotions because they don't believe in expressing emotions. For them, they should just be felt without having to express. Some people even burst into tears. I was surprised when some boys cried on the first day but on this day three years later the same act of crying made sense to me. Some guys smoked their sorrow of separation away. Some chose to drink to get that relief. Some of us from computer science went to one of our classmates Janardhanan's coconut grove in a nearby village called Paramankurichi and just drank tender coconuts before parting ways. We computer science students had a hope that others didn't have. We hoped that we would soon meet in Chennai or Bangalore. It became a reality for some and didn't for some others. Let's discuss about it in another series sometime later. For now, the college life ends... Thanks. Bye... Bye...