Not At Home

I woke up early again the next day. If I recall correctly, I rolled over and did a few pushups before getting up to brush. We were going to have to leave that day and my things were all over the place. The morning was spent packing with difficulty, with four or five people in the room. Sometimes you wish people weren’t looking when you’re packing your bag. Without much time to pack, the one suitcase I had was barely closed, and I couldn’t even shave properly. What really annoyed me was that the others didn’t seem very concerned. One of them was in my committee, and he sauntered in an hour after the session started.

Before I left, someone reminded me to pay my share for the water bottles and coffee. I hadn’t ordered coffee, but I was late (by my standards, anyway), and they knew it. I put down a fifty, saying it should cover my share of the expenses. Guess what the receptionist told me downstairs? The net cost of everything ordered in my room was thirty rupees.

An elderly attendant in the lobby, as I believe he may be called, stepped onto the road with me to help hail a taxi. This might have been unnecessary, but I accepted the help. ‘Don’t forget to tip him,’ I chanted in my mind as the minutes leaked out of my watch. Then a taxi pulled up, and he helped me put my bag in, and we were on our way. I only remembered a second before we left, and gave the man a ten-rupee note; he seemed pleased.

At SSE, I had trouble getting to the room. The whole campus, like the city, is weirdly mountainous – one might even say ‘non-Euclidean’. The road simply inclined up or down as in hill stations, but the buildings, rather than being on fixed elevations, incorporated these curves; the garage in one building sloped downwards; the canteen, as I said, divided the floor into two levels; two buildings might have several stairs and slopes in between. I was walking up one such incline with a bulge in my bag when I ran into one of the organisers. Turns out he was Bengali, too. He offered to keep my bag till the session ended, and, thanking him, I got my shaving things out of the front chain and put them in my suit pockets.

I told a logistics member on my way up to let someone know I was coming, or maybe I’d only asked if committee had started. I stopped at the floor below and shaved in the men’s room, getting a bit of my suit wet. I entered committee as I was putting on my tie. Things went on till lunch, after which we were taken to a different room – a large classroom, where the resolution would be drafted.

Australia, who was just fourteen years old, was in our block, and so was Spain, who never said anything and wore a woollen cap. Our problem was that we couldn’t type fast enough – it was Australia’s Mac, and he wasn’t a fast typist, and when I tried, the keyboard shortcuts I was used to on Windows wouldn’t work. Despite our efforts, we weren’t going to get anything done.

Later, when I was yelling at the typist in the other camp to incorporate our point in their draft, he did, but when I asked for credit (as a sponsor or signatory, I forget which), Pusheen told me everyone had put in helpful points, so I wouldn’t get credit. Then, out of the blue, the Secretary-General asked for me, and I had to leave the chaos when I had to be there the most. Why? My parents were worried because I hadn’t called all day. Sometimes you’re too busy to be angry.

Anyway, committee was over and we wrote a few lines in each other’s placards. We stepped onto the grassy area where we’d had lunch, where the prize distribution ceremony had already started. In the darkening purple evening, with lights throwing the sky into a contrast that inspired silent awe, we crowded around on the grass. There was a hill behind us that Japan had been meaning to help me climb for the view, but we never got around to it.

A couple of us made the Nazi salute when the Barbarossa delegates won prizes; my roommate was among them. Pusheen and Palestine (who was an Observer State) won awards for their respective committees. For the first and last time, I won something at a MUN – Special Mention! The Chair praised my extraordinary diplomacy and asked me to do better research next time. When that was over, some of us stood around to chat. Many weren’t coming for the socials. When we were parting, I realised – and said out loud – that these people I’d known for a few hours – I would never see them again. There they were, in the white light against the evening.

Bags were taken out and I found mine. Would I leave for the socials now? Messy, who was one of the chairs in the FIFA committee, was leaving. His co-chair, Z, was there, and so were a few others, including Palestine. Wait, would I leave now? See you at the socials? Oh, wait, we’re going together? What?

Not only was this a little confusing, my memory is too bad to recall what confusion there was. I ended up in a taxi with Z on my right and one of Messy and Z’s friends and roommates on my left, navigating to a hotel. If I’m not wrong, he was the one who tried to help me with the cuffs that morning. At one point he asked where the hotel was, and we told him he was the one with the phone. We were talking about something relevant, I’m sure, when I asked Z (this has stuck in my memory since) ‘What’s it like being a woman?’ I believe she said that it was good but different.

We paid the fare and wheeled our bags into the hotel, where we’d wait for the socials. But I didn’t want a hotel room. We sat in the lobby, and I was given the glass of water I needed. The others were here; Z and Palestine got a room; I learned that the navigator from the auto was Bengali (I hate how they kept saying ‘Bong’); I sent Palestine a text when she was sitting in front of me but she didn’t react. Then, I took my leave, and stepped out. There was plenty of time to walk around Pune and I wanted to make the most of this night.

Following the map on my phone, I took turns till I was walking down a wide, busy street, pulling my wheeled suitcase after me and occasionally lifting it around parked bikes and cars. There were several large stores, including a two-storey Starbucks, as I recall. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found that my way went through Fergusson College, which one of my teachers had asked me to try to visit. I crossed the road and entered through the gates, and in all the time I was in there, no one stopped a young man in a suit with a suitcase walking around at night. There seemed to be some kind of garden on the right – I hesitate to write ‘medicinal garden’ – and I walked past another gate, and saw the college building. There were white lights on and around the building, but it was nonetheless difficult to appreciate the architecture in the dark. I realised that I was like Jude when he first went to Christminster.

I walked on, taking the paved road through a turnstile of sorts, where a booth stood; I was not stopped or even looked at. A man was walking abreast of me, and for quite some time I wondered if I should tell him that I’m new here, so he could say a few things about the campus, but I decided against it. The campus, for lack of a better word, grew wild, with large expanses of grass broken by short buildings at slight distances. I had to retrace my steps once because the GPS didn’t seem to have followed me properly. Growing a little wary, I walked on through the dark, phone in hand and a laptop in my suitcase, which was rattling over an uneven path now. After some time, I was quite confused. I’d been walking for a fairly long time and I was still inside the campus. I looked around the moor, as it could be called then. I was new here, and I didn’t speak Hindi very well (or anything else). There were a few fires at odd places, with people huddled around them, and what they were doing was, to me, inscrutable.

I was wondering how to proceed when I saw a headlight approaching. I must have hailed them and asked for help in Hindi – it was a scooter with a young man driving and a woman of about his age riding pillion. He pointed me in the right direction, and drove off. I was walking away when he came back, this time without the lady, and offered to drop me off.

If you were approached by a stranger on a scooter in a strange city, in a dark campus – almost a heath – with shadowy fires burning around you, what would you have done?

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