Standing with the jostling crowd, with distracted listeners around me, I had just agreed to hop on a train in a few weeks to go to Pune. I didn’t have the faintest idea about the rules of a MUN or even how to register. I only knew that there was a team, and I was part of it. We didn’t know how we’d do this. We didn’t know who’d get tickets. I told myself that I couldn’t ‘wing’ this: that I had to know ‘the plan’, and make decisions. Let’s call the first year who brought this up ‘A’. A answered a couple of questions, and we left for our hostel rooms after agreeing to talk on WhatsApp. I called my parents and told them what I knew; they seemed pleased.
What now? I waited, and tried to get things in order before the time would come to leave. I didn’t know when it was – sometime in early February. I hadn’t seen the website yet; I trusted A to know enough to alert me in time. The following week was spent in the usual routine, with the thought of a journey at the back of my mind, like Frodo about to leave the Shire. Not that the monastery is the Shire for me: despite the friendship and comfort we enjoy at the hostels, I, for one, still consider myself a private gentleman rooted in his domus. The many trifles of conversation that have some bearing on my adventure escape my memory (my memory being something which worries me often). I think I had seen the website by late January, and had begun my enquiries with the Secretary-General. There were no limits to a delegation’s size, I was told – you could be single, or go with a group.
The trouble began with one of the first years. At a time when you had to be sure of yourself, he wanted to back out. The next day, or that after, A told me he’d talked him into staying in our team. I still didn’t know if there would be teams at the MUN, but I figured we needed to stick together. But I was worried about something else. A team is only as strong as its weakest member, and I wasn’t so sure about the number of people joining us. I think I can confess without inviting criticism that having known them for almost two years, not everyone could be relied upon. The last thing I wanted was to make Pune an extended walk in the park, with clueless man-sized children holding a mini parliament to decide on taking a taxi. Readers familiar with the gentlemen involved will guess the object of my fears.
It was at this time – the weekend, I think – when I found out that my father was having chest pains. He had an angiogram last year that told us that he was ageing as someone well past sixty often does. I had never intended to involve my father in these proceedings except when prudent or necessary; but on the other hand, I couldn’t leave him unattended at home. I told the others. Everyone agreed – half of whom barely knew me – that they would be a considerably weaker team without me. Then they decided to back out. Imagine my dilemma when my personal problem intruded on a plan that involved, at that point, no less than six people.
The myriad experiences of Pune have wiped the smaller details from my mind. Two things stand out. Among these potential delegates there is one young man, well read and showing much promise as a future scholar of literature, whom I have been friends with for over a decade. We were in the same class in school. I remember telling him, after making a public confession of my father’s condition, that I could not let go of this opportunity. Something that I didn’t know how to do had already assumed the stature of a personal campaign in my mind. And I told him that I owed it to my father.
For my father had sat me down, and explained in a serious tone that he was ageing, and sooner or later, time would get the better of him. It was his wish that I use his remaining years to take counsel from him. At this point, there was nothing he wanted more than for me to attend the MUN, and give my best. He wanted me to leave him; he was sure he’d be fine. The implication was that even if he wasn’t, he’d want me to go out into the world.
The next few days were not easy. I explained my dilemma to SP (our Head of Department), and true to his nature, he was encouraging and sympathetic. My teammates had all backed out. Something that I had not known about lay ahead of me, and an ailing father lay in Kolkata – one whom I wanted to stubbornly guard, even while my eyes turned westward. I read what I could, as my father wished. What else happened? I can’t remember; I don’t particularly care to.
I decided I’d take a last-minute flight to Pune if I finally did go. I had my application of leave signed by SP, and then the resident monk of our hostel. When I went home, my father surprised me: he had booked train tickets without telling me, and I was set to leave. I registered as a delegate (turns out most committees only have single delegates), and packed my bag (I decided to take just one).
And so it was that in the early hours of the 4th of February, in the two-thousandth and sixteenth year of the Common Era, I left my home and my college for uncharted waters in the west.