A Warm Welcome

We went into Room 101, and I found I already had a roommate. There was a king size bed near me, and I saw two smaller beds: on the sofa (actually a ledge of the window made into a sofa for the room, with blankets and a pillow added to make that sofa into a bed), and one on the floor. They needed to keep as many people as possible in each room: they weren’t cheap. The Sec-Gen said we’d have more the next day. He repeated that there were restaurants below, and the other two organisers came up to the door for a moment. I don’t remember if they said anything. The Sec-Gen told us to rest, and to attend the orientation in the evening. There would be WiFi if we paid some money, and we decided to wait till we had more roommates. Then they left.

It turned out that my roommate was also from Kolkata, and on top of that, he’d been in the coach next to me on my train. He seemed to prefer English, though. He was a year younger. I don’t mean to connect those two thoughts. We decided to take the bed, since we were the first there. He let me take a shower first. I left my suitcase next to the bed, and implicitly laid claim to a small, round table next to it, and a wicker chair. I had three hangers, and there were more in the wardrobe, but I’d end up needing several. Anyway, I took my things (soap, razor, etc.) into the shower.

It was pleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever showered barefoot, but I couldn’t resist trying the stone floor. It took me a long time to get everything running, though – there were things to be turned and pulled. The city was really warm, as my friends had said, but warm water, at long last, was welcome. I apologised when I came out, but my roommate was as polite as ever. He went in, and I tried to figure out where to keep my things – a problem that would plague me for the next few days.

As always, the order of things escape me. I do remember taking a good look around while I was alone. It was a comfortable room. Outside, after parting the curtains next to the sofa, I saw the broad. busy, sunny street I’d crossed. There was a hill close by, on the other side of the road, at the end of a lane. I might as well say this now: Pune is a surprisingly hilly city. Living in the literal artesian well that is Kolkata, I found it remarkable how compound walls were built like stairs, or a room could have part of its floor a step below the rest of the floor. The Symbiosis campus itself was all about walking up and down as much as horizontally.

Now, as I recall, when my roommate came out, I said I was going to eat something, and he decided to busy himself with his laptop. I went down in my modest pyjamas to Papa Johns. Now, I know this casts me in a very plebeian light, but I’d never eaten at Papa Johns before. I went in, and it looked good enough. I had to pay first, then sit, and have my order brought to me – a method I found not unpleasant. I ordered a farm fresh pizza, I think; it was nice. After lunch, I went into the bright sunshine and had a look around. My room was directly above the restaurant, itself immediately left of the entrance to the hotel.

I guess I must have gone back up, after calling Ma. My roommate was sitting on his side of the bed, studying on his laptop. He’d been to several MUNs – ten, I think – and he was in the Nazi War Cabinet. They had to plan Operation Barbarossa.

I never could figure out where to put my stuff. I just set down my razor and soap on a small table, and my socks under it. I’d taken my laptop, but of course it wouldn’t start. I fiddled with the RAM, having brought my trusty screwdriver, but it wouldn’t open, so I just read on my phone.

The next thing I remember was getting dressed to attend the orientation (or call it what you will). I was in my dress shirt and trousers, the way most people remember me from my school days. The two of us went out and took a taxi – they look like autos in Kolkata, the way taxis all over India look. The Symbiosis campus was a few minutes’ ride up the road I’d followed earlier – past the Marriott this time.

When we got there, we couldn’t figure out which was the entrance, because we’d been told to be at one gate, but the security officer asked us to use the other one. But that was the wrong one, and then we went in through the other one when the Secretary-General met us. There was some sort of fiesta on campus, and I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if that kind of thing happened back home. We walked past the multiracial and multicultural dancing students, to the canteen with a couple of young ladies, whom the good Sec-Gen introduced as fellow delegates and our neighbours at the hotel. The Sec-Gen bought tea for the four of us; I had a coffee. The canteen had a strange feature I don’t remember seeing before: a large part of the floor was a step down from the rest. This is how the hills are carved into Pune – even the rooms have them. My roommate went ahead to the orientation with the Sec-Gen, while I finished chatting up the ladies (let’s not call them girls, shall we?). I asked them if I owed the man a date; he’d payed my taxi fare and bought me coffee, all in the same day.

The orientation went as you’d expect. Some very fun people dressed in casual clothes explained MUNing. It was quite fun, actually. Towards the end, some guy with messy hair came in. I thought he was a delegate; turns out he was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet.

I remember leaving with the Sec-Gen, the ladies, my roommate, and the new guy. We went to a restaurant nearby, where there was supposed to be free WiFi. It was exactly like the low-key eateries you see all over India (including back home), and probably the humblest place I had  the good fortune to be for some time. We drew up chairs to one table and the Sec-Gen and the new guy – let’s call him ‘Messy’ – started giving us free advice on how to MUN. Eventually, we left and crossed the road to get taxis to go back. We all had rooms at the ‘acco’ – the Sahara Hotel. I was in a taxi with my roommate and Messy, and we took a little detour before going back.

Back at the hotel, I went to Messy’s room and met his roommates. Two of them were chairing, if I remember correctly. Very interesting people; value their privacy. I went by the girls’ (let’s call them ‘girls’ for convenience) room next, and helped the one in my committee a little with research by sharing data (something I rarely have to begin with). Let’s call her Pusheen; she was wearing shorts with Pusheen pictures. We’ll call her friend Palestine. They were from Mumbai; turns out it’s okay to call it ‘Bombay’. Palestine said she lived near the cinema in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend video.

It’s been almost a year now, and my memory often fails me in a matter of hours. I think we went to dinner; I couldn’t find my roommate at first. I learnt it was harder to be Jain than vegan, because a Jain eats even fewer things. I made a racist joke that I think everyone liked.

We went back up to Messy’s room, and I know I felt fine. I asked him about how he got into MUNing, and I think he put on some music – he was some sort of music afficionado. Anyway, something about me made him walk me back to my room. Now, look. I know what I felt, and I’m sure I could see the floor straight. Messy insisted, anyway. I do not remember talking to the girls then, but I might have. My lapse in memory now is largely thanks, I repeat, to time. I changed and went to bed. This had been a day when I’d woken up at ten to five, where I normally do at around 7 or 8; I hadn’t slept since, and it had been a long day. I was abnormally tired, and it must have shown.

So in the dark room, I heard my roommate talking to the girls in the room opposite, and I thought I heard them referring to me. Must have seemed drunk when I wished them good night, I thought, and I sat up and got out in my shorts. I went over and told them I was fine, and added that Palestine was really cute.

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows I’m always close to irony, and sometimes, in unguarded moments, I can be a couple of layers of irony down. This was one of those times, I’d say, but it’s pretty hard to defend now. I was later told I was slurring my speech. Impossible, I maintain, but there you go.

And that was it for my first day in Pune. Good times.

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