“We thought he was depressed!” remarked my batch mate Sanyo. This was over dinner with Chitra and me, in the early 2000s. In an evening filled with loud laughs, good food from Sanyo’s kitchen and old memories, that remark stuck with me. Sanyo was comparing my exuberance from that evening, to what she witnessed in our college years (1993-96).
Fast forward to Oct 2021, I was sharing a recent dream with another batch mate. In my dream, I almost missed a written examination and she was trying to help me out. My friend, Seema, commented, “You always took exams too seriously!”
Chitra knows me from our MBA days (1996 onwards) and can’t seem to associate me with either of these comments. She’s completely aware of my earlier life circumstances, but still finds it difficult to believe. She was able to express disbelief to Sanyo in person, and had a laugh after reading Seema’s message.
Was I depressed or just too serious? Who the hell cares! 🙂
I do have some stories to share from my college years and I’m using fictional names for my colleagues.
my Puma shoes & First Year of college
1992 to 1994 were difficult years for my family, financially. There were months when I knew my mom was grappling to make ends meet. I had large feet – size 13.5 and I struggled to find sneakers or sports shoes in my size. I relied on a maternal uncle, who worked in the merchant navy, to gift me sneakers that he acquired overseas. There were a few years when I would not get any shoes from him. As my luck would have it, one such year was just before I started at St. Xavier’s college.
Close to Crawford Market, in Mumbai, I had seen these Puma tennis shoe in a store’s window display. I walked in to check the price and see if they had my size. The largest size was the one pair on the display window, size 13. Mom managed to save up some money and I bought that pair a week or 10 days before college started. They were a snug fit, but I was thrilled and just too excited, to be wearing them to college.
My excitement was short lived, in 2 days there was a rip on the leather upper of the shoe. The leather was just breaking up (almost disintegrating) and we assumed it may have been on the window display for too long, in direct sun light. I went back to the shopkeeper, but he washed his hands off the issue. With no option, I took it to a local cobbler and he patched it up for me. Now, my new white sneakers had a black circular leather patch, right next to the lace area. In the next few months, I had two more patches and I put a fourth one just to balance the design!
Xaviers had an aura, where everyone dressed well and had some swagger. My confidence was down in the dumps and I was very insecure during the first year. My clothes were just about ‘OK’ and the condition of my shoes was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Shane became my good buddy during my time in Xaviers. He was from St. Francis orphanage, in Borivali. I thought we had a lot in common (especially with regards to fashion, or a lack thereof). There were a couple of times, when he wore something really cool and I asked him where he bought it. He answered with a smile, “Donations, man. We had good donations yesterday.” Interactions with him balanced my expectations in life. We lost contact after college, but I would sure “thank him” for his friendship.
Professor Dara Munshi Scholarship
During my college years, we relocated from Borivali to Mira Road, to Ambivali, to Kalyan, to Nerul. A couple of these transitions were rough. On a lighter note, I may have been the only student to have studied in Xavier’s and commuted in all local train lines – Western, Central, and Harbor!
Every expense on my account (tuitions, clothes, travel expenses, etc), pinched me a ton. I was always thinking of ways to reduce any burden on my parents. It was then that I heard about Prof. Dara Munshi Scholarship. I don’t recall the exact amount, but it was under INR500.00 ($8.00). Back then it was enough to repay my tuition, and also address some other college related expenses. My big goal every year was to bag this scholarship.
I managed to win it in the first year, however I had competition in the second and third year. Samudhrika from my class, was equally motivated and she was also someone I got along with. She was kind natured and I enjoyed our talks. However, in class or during our exams I was obsessed with bagging that scholarship. I would treat her to a good dinner, anytime we meet next, because she nudged me to perform better.
Doing well academically was my coping mechanism, and one factor that kept me afloat with all the turbulence back home. I am grateful to being awarded this scholarship all through my graduation years.
Train Rides & Counseling
As mentioned earlier, like many students, my commute to college was on Mumbai local trains. During part of my first and second year, I was living in Mira Road (a distant suburb of Mumbai). Vaman sir (Dr. Vaman Rao – then Department Head) lived in Dahisar, which was one train stop before Mira Road. There were many days we would end up traveling back home together.
During these trips I got to learn about his background, and life experiences. I was able to see myself in many of his earlier life stories. He instilled hope and the belief that I could have a life like him. Have a family, own a home and live respectably.
Back then I had not been introduced to the concept of counseling, but these were my free sessions! He became my idol and North Star. I could have very easily gone down a destructive or non-productive path.
This trend of train counseling continued for me, as I moved to the central and harbor line with Shinde sir (Dr. Rajendra Shinde – then Botany Professor). Sessions with him were more casual in nature, exploring life, politics and many social topics.
A big shout out to Mumbai Suburban Railways for my safe travels, and doubling-up as my counseling couch. To Vaman & Shinde sir, for their conversations, patient listening and coaching, you guys gave me the courage to take flight.
Field Trip & my Secret angel
Our Zoology department organized a field trip to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. This was immediately after the first term exams, in our second year. Many of my seniors (3rd year students), batch mates and juniors (1st year students) registered for the trip and there was palpable excitement in the air.
A week or so after the trip had been announced, Vaman sir summoned me to his office. He already knew about my family situation, so was confirming my decision to skip the trip. From his perspective, this was a great opportunity for me to observe and learn two very diverse habitats.
A couple of days later, he called me again to his office and announced that I had been registered for the trip. Looking at my confused face, he shared that Smita ma’am (Smita Krishnan – then Zoology Professor) had decided to sponsor me. I don’t recall my reaction nor do I recall meeting ma’am specifically on this topic. It’s hard for me to express my gratitude in words. The best I can come up with is “I will always be in her debt”.
For me, that trip experience was a life changer. I established some tight bonds with a few seniors and many of my batch mates. I got to see Vaman sir in a new avatar, he sang Hindi songs and was not lecturing us. Smita ma’am was at her crazy best, playing card games, cracking jokes and also pulling pranks. But knowing her, she did not need this trip to be in that zone!
I ended up typing a detailed report for this trip and drew all the 44 bird species we spotted in Bharatput Bird Sanctuary. My professors were impressed with the output, and Vaman sir had taken this report to BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society). Later, BNHS displayed my report for an exhibition they were organizing. I guess, it was my small way of expressing some immediate gratitude.
The original report sits in my home office and Yash – my son, who is a wildlife enthusiast, has asked me many questions. Some interesting ones…what is a typewriter?…why did you draw and color these birds, and not take digital pictures?…who is that girl?
Many crushes and my first date
This will be an interesting section and I hope there are no surprises for Chitra! 🙂
I was focused and driven academically, but was also dealing with my raging hormones. So here I go on record, stating that, I had many crushes in college – most of them ‘one way’! With all my insecurities in play, year one was a wash and looking back I am very thankful for that outcome.
The first explicit crush started during the Ranthambore/Bharatpur field trip with a senior batch mate – Cassie. We spent a lot of time together, on the 7-day trip, and I am not sure how evident it was to my professors and friends.
On our return back to Mumbai, we continued to engage, very “naively” to be precise. With my birthday coming up, I informed my parents that I wished to take Cassie for a movie. My dad, in his usual style, sat me down and shared his expectations. How I need to be respectful and ensure she gets back to her home safely. With their consent, I was super excited to pick her up from our agreed train station and start my official first date. We had a wonderful time and I ensured she got back home safely. I was on cloud nine and many hearts flying out of me. Got to admit here, those flying hearts soon popped and this brief excitement came to a firm stop. If I am honest here, the closure of that chapter was initiated by my good friend Suhana. She was convinced of my naivety (she may use the word “stupidity”) and that I was being taken for a ride. I do have to thank her for it, because Cassie soon started dating my good friend Bill! 🙂
We had many fun Botany department excursions to Khandala and in one such trip, I got invited to an adventure walk through an abandoned house. Four of my seniors (3 females and 1 male), one of our professors and I walked after dinner, on a trail leading to this old abandoned house. The challenge was to walk in and out of this house without using torch lights. Vandana, my senior asked me to accompany her, and two other seniors joined us. Our professor and the fourth senior waited outside. It was a crazy experience and that was the beginning of my second big crush. This lasted a bit longer and I can take some credit in improving Vandana’s academic scores.
There were a few more in our third year, all very sweet and innocent experiences. Some of them making it to my free counseling sessions (train rides).
My time in St. Xavier’s
After my Higher Secondary School (HSC) year, I lost my free medical seat by a few percentage points. I was quite devastated and lost for a few weeks by that outcome. I ended up accompanying two of my friends to apply at St. Xavier’s College. With barely any research and no big plans or expectations.
Sometimes, life has other goals destined for us. In my case, it was to study at St. Xavier’s and fly under the wings of some very inspiring professors.
Lastly, a big shout out, to all my friends from Xaviers. I have only good memories of my time there and if I was ever a jerk, please forgive me. Stay well and be kind.
Related data points:
- St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India (https://xaviers.edu/main/)
- Mumbai suburban railways (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai_Suburban_Railway)
- Bharatpur bird sanctuary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keoladeo_National_Park)
- Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranthambore_National_Park)