A Walk Through Jadavpur University

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Getting out of a numbered parking lot (essentially places in the dirt under trees with signs) in Jadavpur University, my old “alu matar”, I immediately had a knot in my stomach. It was then I told myself “No silly, you dont have a class test today. That was eleven years ago.” Conditioned reflex. I tell you.

The last time I had been here at Jadavpur University had been 1999. Salman was seeing Aishwarya, Buddhadeb was still considered a Communist and Azharuddin was our knight-in-shining armor idol. So yes I was anticipating a whole lot of changes.

And changes there obviously were.  A person was sitting below a tree listening to music on an iPod. A boy and a girl were touching shoulders while looking at a Sony Viao laptop (presumably class notes but I know better). There were shiny signs all around like a zone marked off as “Only researchers in this department can throw litter here”. Some of the departments had appended cool buzzwords at their end to make themselves more with-it like Metallurgy now had Material Science and Nanotechnology added to it, even though Mamata has made sure Bengal is a Nano-technology-free zone.  There was a new book store in the Arts section, stocking books which “socially aware” students in JU read in the same breathless manner that most of us read porn, easy-reads like  “The Marxist Reader”, “Agrarian movements in post-independent India: a manifesto for revolution” and anti-capitalist tomes like “Learn .NET in 21 days”. The jheel-paar (side of brook), where countless generation of men and women (and also frustrated Nawabs and Babas) had held hands, had a gate. Gandhi Bhavan, the auditorium, full of memories of ogling “outside college” women during Choreography, had been torn down. My department now had a spiffy looking office with a computer—though why the computer was there I could not fathom. The old ancient monitors (black/white and some with green Matrix-like lettering) in our labs had been replaced by flat-screen Dell monitors.

However what surprised me was how so much had actually remained the same. One of our regular canteen haunts still looked like it has been excavated at Harappa. Aurobindo Bhavan, the nerve-center of JU administration, still had that air of silent, peaceful “Men may come and men may go but I do no work..ever” intransigence. Massive piles of files left out in the passages, dusty, molded and covered with cobwebs, in exactly the same place as they were in eleven years ago. The classes now had air conditioners (that’s new) but as a professor told me, not supporting lines to draw power which is why they didnt work (that’s classic JU). The engineering section of the university still looked like a men’s prison. And the arts section a garden of butterflies.

For me the  most important thing was that the benches in the classroom were exactly the same. No not exactly. Because what we had written on the benches, as aids during exam, had been overwritten for 22 more semesters. Needless to say, there were scribblings on the walls  like the caves of Altamira—proofs of theorems, code snippets, mathematical formulae and derivations. But it was what was on the benches that fascinated me and my friend, Nilanjan as we sat in silence poring over each bench trying to trace the evolution of the JU CSE syllabus over the years. Because a bench in JU isnt just a piece of wood on which you rest your arms but a living history of education. Given that, we were thankful no one removed these heritage monuments.

The students still had demands. Many of them. One of them I couldnt exactly make out since it said that “We don’t want just reviews. But also previews”. I presume they mean that they dont just want their exam scripts to be reviewed on demand, but also that they should be given the right to preview the question paper should they want to. An entirely reasonable request in my opinion.

When an oldboy like me comes back to his university, what he actually is looking for this constancy, an ossification in time , if only so that he can feel “Everything is the same as I left it”. Change on the other hand is disquieting, it makes one feel old and strange in familiar surroundings.  But positive change is also necessary and ultimately, in the larger context, welcome. From that perspective, if there was anything a bit saddening was that, despite some transformations in the window dressing, based on my impressions (hasty as they were) I felt JU had perhaps not changed its fundamental nature enough.

My favorite moment of the afternoon was however when I peered into an old classroom. There were some students there hanging about. One of them caught my eye. Thin with big outsized glasses he was standing up, laughing at possibly something inanely silly he had done. What caught my eye was with his shirt— hanging out, and with the buttons not aligned with the holes.

I don’t know why that was my favorite moment. It may be because I saw in that person, someone else. As he used to be eleven years ago. Someone who was also thin, had big glasses and had problems aligning his shirt.

Then of course he reached for his cell-phone. And the moment was forever lost.

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76 thoughts on “A Walk Through Jadavpur University

  1. Yes Arnab, JU has remained the same though there has been cosmetic changes. I think that has been the story of everything in my beloved state. Everything has got a fresh coat of paint and new computers. New students carry cell phones instead of ponytails. The Jheel Paar has competition from the South City Mall. But in the heart of it , all have remained the same with the same laidback ‘Kortey Pari kintu keno korbo’ attitube.

  2. The engineering section of the university still looked like a men’s prison. And the arts section a garden of butterflies. — Awesome.

    “Then of course he reached for his cell-phone. And the moment was lost.” – !!!

  3. great bong thin ??? cant imagine that from ur current pics…
    btw reading ur book .. i was wondering how i would spell to the bookstore cutie at crossword “may i hebb” assuming she might bring some other book on marketing.. but the girl smiled n said “that new book from a bong” .. “right here sir” … u seem to be building a reputation here 🙂 …u should be on cloud nine …

  4. one more thing that pluggin out the computer comp and realizing that the guy was techno enough to keep a UPS was a laugh out moment … tht was an insight as to why Indians are the leading country in IT services (could see resemblance with the explanation in freakonomics !!! ha ha )… will most probably finish off the book today … btw i really wanted to know one thing who exactly are your target audience here for the book … ppl born in 80s is that it ?? … do post some details on ur sales in few months i am intrested to knw how many ppl are buying it … out of sheer curiosity n no other ulterior motives 😉

  5. Beautiful post. It spoke to me, not because I recently had any such experience of going back to college, but because I am on the threshold of leaving college and all these friends I stayed with here in my hostel. Your experience and mine, I think are different and yet same in some aspects. Co-incidentally, I too wrote a post about my memories of the past three years yesterday – you may want to check it out – http://pratishgandhi.blogspot.com/2010/03/one-where-it-all-ends.html

    Keep up the good work, man..

  6. I went to my engineering college a few years back and immediately thought “Aaj kal ke students bachchon jaise dikhte hain!” I always thought my batchmates (and I) were so much more matured and looked so..so… rough, tough, experienced…

    Just today, I came across a few ‘final year’ old pictures and realized “Gawrsh!! Even we we looked like ch***as”.

  7. Fantastic … really feeling nostalgic. Some facts that I think can also be added .. the roads, the gates and the canteens (staff canteen and also to-be-remodelled Milan-da’s canteen, which for now is residing inside a car parking).

  8. Its strange that even if I have’nt seen JU even in pictures , this post made me very nostalgic … Then I realised that even though you are speaking about your own college , it compelled me to go back to my own college/school life … Its funny and ironic that a life and the times spent we despised in the past has become the most memorable ones …

  9. “Then of course he reached for his cell-phone. And the moment was forever lost.”

    wow!!!you are truely Great, bong 🙂

  10. Nostalgic. Very Nostalgic. It’s not been 11 years for me. But three years is quite a long time. I agree that JU has remained the JU a Prashant, an Arnab and a Kabir Suman ‘left’ it as. Whether that’s good or bad is a different topic altogether. The adda at Gachhtola. The Sanskriti OAT night. The chaap on the exam eve. The jhola. The shengara-cha. At the heart of it, everything has remain as is. However, there was a complete revamp of the Staff Canteen the last time i visited it – which was selling iced tea, then! Even Vivekananda Hall was renovated. Yep. Changes are there – but the soul remains the same. Really nice post!

  11. Nostalgia….there is nothing that sells like it …………..
    tooo good
    u almost killed me with the cell phone valla line

  12. Fantastic post ………. being a resident of Jadavpur i have been to the campus on several occasions & could visualise the scenes. This post reminded me of my visit to the JNU campus in new delhi 9 yrs after i had left it. it was nostalgic, i too was trying to find out which all things have remained unchanged, and it was strange feeling to see the changes which had happened there. even there the change was not drastic & i guess admin blocks across india’s educational institutions seldom change.
    particularly loved that ‘we need preview too’ bit ……. such a logical & worthy demand 🙂

  13. The window-dressing is necessary. And so is changing the names of departments. Every student needs a fair shake at embellishing resumes for job interviews and grad school applications abroad.

    So what if they’ve never actually had a class in nanotechnology? It looks good on the transcript and they can learn as they go along.

    😉

  14. @GB – Greap post overall but if I could nitpick, isn’t it “Mobile phone” and not cell-phone since technically its not using the cellular technology anymore.

  15. Loved it. Your Alu Matar is also my Alu Matar, so this naturally made me nostalgic. As for the boy with unaligned buttons – you never know, Jadavpur also had a very rich and grey ‘pata’ culture. And I am hoping you weren’t that way for the same reason.

    I have gone back to campus a quite few times since I left, actually more in the early years after leaving. I felt something else has changed among the students of FET at least. We were “habhate bhikiris” who lived through four years with shoe-stringest of daily budgets imaginable. I was from production, and considered rich for being a day scholar who gets (almost) 20 rs a day. We used to make those evening excursions to the PG canteen near OAT because that was a somewhat obscure and less popular place that nevertheless served some exotic stuff, heavily subsidized – so avoid the queues of Ashirbad and hog. These days students use laptops in class, most have a personal vehicle (which in our days, if it existed, usually meant bicycle for the hostelites, and a handful of folks from Saltlake would have a motorbike or even a Maruti Zen – they had already made the cut on the “jor of baba’s poisha”). Sanskriti budgets rarely touched 1 lakh. The last I heard was 2005 when it was 6 lakhs. But the JU was a place we could slip into just about anytime of the day or night, dawn or twilight. We could lie around endlessly in the fields, cover the stoned and sleepy friend with grass torn from the field like “jhaa**”, sing and play guitar in pavilion (the Alumni association’s “baranda” or on Macha (near Jheel paar) where sometimes we would catch the glimpse of one of our own, climbing effortlessly up the windmill, hold the blades and try to coax it to go around with a “boka …. ghor na”, and then walk down (inevitably under the influence of Vitamin G).

    The good old days of penniless innocence (in a very non-innocent sort of way) are gone, grayed out. The stories, just anachronisms.

  16. GB, got the shipment of your book from Flipkart.com. There is a scribbing on the very fist page under your name… Is it your signature…. Did I get a signed book 😉

    Off to reading now!

  17. Going back to one’s alma mater without a companion from the same era can be depressing, suicidal even. The toilets seem cleaner, the snacks affordable, the girls better looking and even the professors more genial.
    And when you crib about all that, people look as if you are a fossil or something.
    Only a batchmate can understand the pain.

    And point out while there are ACs installed between our generation and the next, there were probably fans being installed between the previous generation and ours!

    A very helplessly nostalgic post.

  18. Brilliant post as usual…but the last bit reminded me of that scene in Dil Chahta Hai…where amir khan looks at some guys from his car who reminds him of his old friends and previous self

  19. yeah greatbong…. I have been in Mumbai for the las 2 years… and every day I miss my University… those days with bunked classes.. the whole day on the “maath”(ground), the union room, carrom room, tt room, the staff canteen, Sanskriti…. everything….

  20. Dear GB…. isn’t there something you could do to make things better @ JU. When will the fabled give back hour start?

  21. AnindaD,

    When we were students, an alum wanted to donate (yes donate) books to the library. There was so much red-tapism around this simple act that the thing ultimately never happened.

  22. I left J.U. long back but now i go to J.U. every week….J.U. has not changed..jheel par, OAT, Canteen..EVERYTHING IS SAME..only thing is that there is a coating on it.

  23. i studied at bhawanipur college !! the beauties are cherry picked by a man who looks like Dalmatian. And then the seats for boys are given to rich, educated boys whose dad can donate funds to trust.I passed out of college 7 yrs back.. College had unlimited internet connected PCs at all the places except toilet. Students were allowed to browse desibaba in the playroom! The classrooms were getting fully airconditioned.

    There are no unions.Library had magazines like femina.

    College also rent out part of premises for marriage parties, film shooting etc to add additional funds.Everything good happened there except serious studies..LOL

  24. what a beautiful description sir….I am always amazed at the endings u provide to these posts….”And then he reached for his cell phone.And the the moment was forever lost”…how could u think of something like this…just brilliant….

  25. we meet to create memories
    we depart to preserve them..
    i just went through this and after that i listened to denvers “leaving on a jet plane”

  26. That’s Sugar Cane/That’s Tasted Good
    Thta’s What You Are/That’s What You Could

    Come On, Come On

    No one Can See you Cry…

    Dear Prof,
    generally I don’t get over my laziness(Stay in the midwest for long and it grows on you with each year’s never-ending winter) to commnet. But those last scene as written by ur mighty pen makes me think that you have ability to write something more poignant than MIHUAP. Thanks

  27. So are you telling me that those super fast spinning ceiling fans in the Mechanical department classrooms have been replaced by ACs ….. oh no …..

    Also I heard that they now have a computer center like the IITs, is that true

  28. @greatbong
    Why do you think MSD doesn’t want Sachin in the team?

    Why do you think he wants Yuvraj in the team?

    Do you intend to write a post on this?

  29. Arnab,

    Why do you think MSD doesn’t want Sachin in the team?

    Why do you think he wants Yuvraj in the team?

    Do you intend to write a post on this?

  30. Sania Mirza to wed Shoaib !
    What ha Malik got that Indain girls are after him.
    Some get married quickly and quickly get divored on phone.
    Sania alas remained the prodigy and could not fulfil her potential.

  31. i simply loved it! da humor, da sarcasm behind each & evry line had me in splits & i could also feel that those reminiscences shall drive all the “ex JUians ” nostalgic!:)

  32. My first comment here. I resisted all temptations to comment on your posts, hoping to make a debut with ‘ipod-winning’ comment 🙂 (watch out guys..I have my eyes fixed on that ipod too) Damn you! You managed to tame me! And damn you for making me read this post on a Wed morning. 7:30AM: Started the day with ‘big plans’. 8:30AM: All that I can see right now are flashes from the past.
    I want to go home…

  33. I passed away from JU in 2005, but still visit there quite often. Let me see if I can bring some nice pics to make you all nostalgic enough!

  34. Thanks Arnab Da for writing. I left JU at 2006, but till date I visit at most frequent intervals, and I really know and noticed the changes.

    Much appreciated your work.

    Cheers.
    Arun

  35. wow…musta been some feeling going back after so long…I went back to my univ after a year and a half and felt a strange belonging. The child in me wanted not to leave the coziness of the place!

  36. Great Post! Though I have passed out from JU in 2005 only, I often found things have been changed a lot whenever I visit JU these days… the campus and the students are far more suave now… not ‘kyabla’ like it was in our times..

  37. GREAT post! Was almost searching my pockets for an iTime that I could use. Speaking of which, I think we were among the people (graduated in 2007) who saw the onslaught of technology that you keep referring to, coming. Almost none of my classmates (and nor I) owned a cellphone when we joined JU. By the time we were finay year students, SMS was the de facto way of circulating class-test dates.

    ANOTHER distinct change that I’ve noticed is the brand of… orientation that takes place for the freshmen. We were terrorized by some of our seniors when we joined, and those very individuals became our close friends, advisors and even punching-bags as the semesters rolled on. Nowadays, with regulations that do some good but also are exploited by a minor fraction of unsporting freshmen, things are quite different. One’s identity on campus is now more associated with his batch than with his department, imo.

  38. GB..this must be one of the nicest posts of urs…for i think each one of us who has since left college and have built a monument in our nostalgia would be going thru the same feeling…in my case, i wanted to keep the nostalgia alive so much that i was reluctant to go back to my alma mater for 6 years…and as u say, it was all the same but then in a moment, ‘the moment was lost’. hmmmm..

  39. am really not sure… but were you expecting your alma mater to remain the same as it was in ’99? why is it that we tend to romanticise everything about our “alu matars” as soon as we leave them?

    I like your writing/blog… no doubts on that…i even have it bookmarked on my cellphone…. i even bought and read your book… liked it… but Arnab, this post of yours is cheesy (for lack of a better word)…havent you changed?? and if so … why rue the fact that your college has?

    but then… there is certain degree of confusion in your article coz you then rant that perhaps JU had’nt changed enuff: “But positive change is also necessary and ultimately, in the larger context, welcome. From that perspective, if there was anything a bit saddening was that, despite some transformations in the window dressing, based on my impressions (hasty as they were) I felt JU had perhaps not changed its fundamental nature enough.’

    and bro, the last paragraph was the cheesiest…. straight out of Dil Chahta Hai (aamir khan in his mercedes outside wilson college looks at a bunch of students and thinks of himself..) didnt expect this from you….

    its been just 10-11 yrs since you graduated… big deal! dont start romaniticising about JU (or any other college/school) unless you have stayed away for 20 years…

    visitors like me spend a decent amount of time reading what you write and following you in twitter etc… I,atleast, expect better from you…

  40. Gr8 dude… It really made me nostalgic after 5 years i have left JU… Thinking like go there again and have the same exp by myself….

  41. Liked your post ..this line caught my attention “a bench in JU isnt just a piece of wood on which you rest your arms but a living history of education”.. like my pal (Sat) said.. made me nostalgic!!

  42. Nicely written. Thank you much. I graduated in 2005 from our classic JU and now I am in Texas A&M – one of finest school in the states; but I am terribly missing JU. It stands out somehow. Let me rephrase it, I am not missing it exactly but I feel for JU. I dream of JU getting all her systems changed with out ruining it’s classic image. Everytime I see something good here, I just compare it with my “alu matar” (in your way). I imagined the hypothetical situation and its pros!
    anyway, thanks again for your awesome post.

  43. gr8 post. loved it. had been out of JU…..15yrs. visited in Jan for a transcript. particularly agree with what u observed on Aurobindo bhaban and its people, same old, they can’t think of working in their farthest dream. getting a transcript in one week’s time, is a great challenge.

  44. “The engineering section of the university still looked like a men’s prison. And the arts section a garden of butterflies.”

    Incorrect statement corrected below:

    “The engineering section of the university still looked like a men’s prison WITH A FEW CACTI THROWN IN FOR GOOD EFFECT. And the arts section a garden of butterflies.”

    And regarding Bhawanipur College….everything Sunny stated is true. The best chicks (outside of Loreto and Sri Shikshayatan, which were/are not coed) and real G’s with 9 mms.

    Good times…..

  45. feels like being thre once again….but oi….firbo bolle fera jae naki…periechho desh kaal jano na ki ei samay….

  46. I graduated from JU in 2007, pretty recently actually, and for the later days I was in Kolkata, was a frequent visitor. JU was and is lovely….the field, the ‘gachhtola’, AC canteen, Milan’da, Arts Dept (specially for the Engg graduates like us), OAT … it’s been a magical 4 years of my life, also the period of my life I cherish the most.
    “I felt JU had perhaps not changed its fundamental nature enough.”
    ……… so do I. And I don’t want it to change. Seriously. There should be a few days where we can enjoy the simple things in life and appreciate idleness and ‘lyaad’ .. (JU parlance) before we set of behind the rat race named career and life !! It’s really heart-warming that a walk down the field on any evening in JU feels the same as it did 7 years ago.

  47. I am not an active blogger or reader but can’t help responding to yours. Your article evoked really nostalgic memories. I think agenda for the day would be to touch base with some of those old, long forgotten friends; to relive memories of lounging in the canteen, lolling under the trees (parking lot as you call it) and endless walks from the engg to the arts sections, pretending to be super busy. “Porano shei diner kotha!!!”

  48. Really become nostallgic while reading…lot of sweet memories coming to mind…..mechanical engg… class test…. supply no. calculation…the arena… cl… dl… workshop…class bunk…my love…placement…

  49. I was wondering if you could write something about ur days in south point..its jus been over a year dat i passed outta skul bt stil happen to miss it a lot..:)..n i’v visited ju many times to sit n chat at world view opposite milan da’s canteen since a whole bunch of my frnds r studyin thr bt i myslf am a presidencian tho..

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