Some folks think I studied in JNU, the prestigious liberal arts institution for postgraduate studies in the Indian capital. I only studied in IIMC, the media centre run by the I&B Ministry, and which was situated in a far corner of the JNU campus facing Asaf Ali marg. The lone DTC bus 615, I think, plying through the campus took us from Munirka to the terminus near IIMC. The commute was long but I preferred it to the shorter one on the lonely stretch of Asaf Ali Marg, where one had to depend on Bus 620 I think (too crowded for comfort) or ask kind strangers for a lift in their car. Unfortunately for outstation students in the early 1990s, IIMC did not provide hostel accommodation and all of us had to make our own living arrangements. The existing hostel was reserved for guest students from NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) countries, many of whom didnt like the spicy Indian food and preferred PG accommodations outside. The hostel remained half empty much to our exasperation but govt rules being govt rules (stiff), nothing could be done despite memorandums being sent to the authorities. The wealthy ones, like Vishwanathan Anand's future wife Aruna, found accommodation in a nearby hostel but Rs. 2000 a month was beyond my means then.
So I shacked up with an MCC senior who was working and had a studio apartment - all thanks to her beau and future spouse I met on the IIMC interview day. She often had friends of her beau - all JNU research students - visiting her, and some of us went on a short trip to Mussoorie soon after. One of them is a well-known, humorous writer based abroad. All I remember about the trip is a leech sucking the blood off my leg while on a walk, and puking like mad in the bus back much to my embarrassment.
My senior introduced me to stylish and comfortable home-wear from Sarojini nagar market, which became a favorite shopping destination in my two years in Delhi. Out went the salwar-kameez and in came frocks and shirts.
A couple of months later, I found through a newspaper ad a rented sharing accommodation in Malviya Nagar with two North Indian girls. I did not survive over two months there - the cooking, the lack of household appliances (gas connection most importantly), the long commute (the distance wasn't too much but changing three buses was a hassle) and the cultural disconnect with my roommates made me search for something nearer my institute.
A Tamil couple dad and me had met in one of our train journeys to Delhi worked in the JNU office and had kindly given their phone number to me in case I needed any help. Since they did some typing jobs to supplement income, I approached them to type my MPhil thesis. It was they who introduced me to another Tamil family living in the non-teaching staff quarters and willing to give me board and lodging in their two-bed house for Rs 1200 (all the figures and numbers are only approximate as my memories of those days are faded now). Or was it 1200 for 2? Well, since I wasnt comfortable with the idea of living in a stranger's house alone, I took for company a classmate who did not have a stable accommodation either. Not a good idea as I often ended up coughing up (on credit) her share of the rent from my meagre allowance through much of my stay in Delhi, including later as employed people.
When our host decided she couldnt provide us dinner, I ate from the JNU hostel canteen. I cant remember which hostel - probably Jhelum mens hostel which was nearest my living quarters. If my memory serves me right, a simple meal of rice, dal and vegetable for an outsider cost Rs. 15 in 1994. It was not cheap, but I often took it as take away and shared it with my friend. IIMC canteen provided us subsidised lunch and snacks on working days.
I knew a few students who had come from MCC, one lady friend initially sharing her room with me for a few days I couldnt stomach the Malviya Nagar life. Thanks to her, I got involved in the Christian fellowship on Sunday mornings; I went there more to meet people than out of any real devotion! We sometimes had Prof. Rev. Valson Thampu of St. Stephens delivering the sermon. The meeting was at an open field, probably a basketball court, but once in a while it was at the secluded Parthasarathy Rocks, which I think was known as the Lovers' Rock as it was a rendezvous venue for love-struck or lust-struck inmates.
Some of the hostels in the news now brings back memories of the sprawling campus, a part of it uninhabited and dangerous at night. A murder was reported near the East gate years later, I remember. The various schools and hostels and dhabas were nearer the main gate. We could access the library too. I even had the cheek to visit their clinic when I was unwell - the first time it worked, the second time the good doctor told me it was only for JNU students.
I left the campus months after I started working. It was vacation time and our hosts had gone to their native town leaving the house in our care. The hostel mess and dhabas were closed and we could not find meals at night, by then a second Oriya - and then a third - had joined our room making it really crowded. They were friends of my classmate and just decided to pile on. I entrusted the key with the Tamil family who found me the place and left the campus for a more tumultuous life - and much shifting - outside.
Life was hard in Delhi in that 2 1/2 years I spent there. I dont like to remember it much, though I guess it has helped to make me stoic and strong. And with the ongoing ruckus in the campus, memories return in bits and pieces of that hallowed campus I had the privilege to be in. And the bright minds I had honour to interact with - Mathew, Georgy, Jana, Nissim, Sushil etc.
p.s. I did take the JNU entrance exam before joining MCC. Alas! I didnt make it - the Kerala BA syllabus did not prepare me for the hurdle nor was I truly interested as dad had no plan of sending me there anyway. Someone had told him that students lived like in the movies there. Romancing, she meant. I did not see such episodes though JNU had a very free and liberal atmosphere. There was a hostel for married couples but some unmarried people had live-ins too in the men's hostels as there was no restriction on visitors. But I am sure the bulk of those who passed out of the hallowed campus were serious about research and are doing well in life.