The first surprise was the knowledge that there were two campuses. The cab dropped us at the new campus which had come up in 2003, eight years after our convocation. The concrete here was a bit disorienting, because campus for us could only have meant the old one, bearing the signature architecture of IIM Ahmedabad—ramparts of bare bricks strewn with arches and circles through which shafts of light catch you at odd turns as you walk past the dorms. The second surprise was how naturally batchmates who hadn’t exchanged a word with each other in more than a decade, and those who had barely spoken even on campus, fell into the sort of raucous banter and teasing that can only come with those who shared a slice of your youth.
One for the album: The 1995 batch, back on campus.
Fifty-five alumni turned up from all corners of the world for the 15th year reunion of the IIM-A batch of 1995—some came with spouses and kids, taking the number to 105—to spend the New Year weekend in the place that had given them a vital part of their identity. Rahul Phondke, who heads MSG Global Solutions (Asia) in Singapore and conceived this plan, says he persisted despite a frustrating lack of response initially because of pride and a passion to keep the batch connected. “Doing this was a labour of love for me,” he says.
A core group of organizers hired an event management company to gently direct us to some sort of structure over the two days. Photos of our time at the institute were plastered on a “Memory Lane” wall and provided for hilarious “then” and “now” comparisons. A bunch of us went on a campus tour, stopping at all the key landmarks. Past the Harvard steps and up the Stanford ramp to the landing which was a favourite party venue. Someone recalled lying there in Bacchanalian stupor on one occasion. Another pointed to where the ICP—Ice Cream Parlour—used to be. A “campus couple” showed their kids their erstwhile rooms. A lot had changed.
Dorm 11 was now a boys dorm. Brick walls in the rooms had been plastered white. There were intercoms and air conditioners in every room and easy access to the Internet—all improvements since our days, done to cater to 21st century students. We ambled along on the leafy path past Dorms 5 , 6 and 7 to the porch outside Dorm 3, recalling “dunking” incidents and Wet DJ nights. It was a walk thick with memories, some grainy and others too layered to unravel.
In the introduction session post lunch, each of us thought hard about the single most interesting thing we had done in the intervening years. Someone had developed a six-pack, a few had run marathons, many had opened and shut companies. The phrase “got bored and quit” emerged with amazing frequency. The odd quests for the meaning of life were the only stray evidence of our impending middle age.
An informal interaction with some faculty members of our times followed. The last day of the year was also the last working day for professor Abhinandan Jain, the legendary marketing stalwart, and professor S. Manikutty of strategy formulation and implementation.
Their address to us displayed their characteristic wry humour and humility. Prof. Madhavan was there too, his frail figure and wide smile belying the terror that his Quanti 3 course causes among students.
All academic pretensions were, however, rapidly abandoned as the evening’s New Year party drew near and none of the corporate luminaries had anything on their minds other than a certain Sheela and Munni. The presence of several mood-altering substances, such as jalebis, unshackled aspects of our personalities that had perhaps become dormant. Limbs loosened and hips swayed on the dance floor, stirring up even the most reticent among us. Tongues loosened too and the incorrigible among us teased and gossiped about old flames and whether any were still flickering.
In an unabashedly sentimental reliving of the past, we welcomed the morning of 1 January by eating breakfast in the students mess. At noon, there was an inter-dorm quiz set by our batchmate and veteran quizmaster, Rajiv Rai, whose day job is with Deutsche Bank, Mumbai. The excesses of the previous night had not exactly left us in a quizzing state of mind, but Rajiv’s sharp questions shook us into wakefulness. We marvelled at the fact that a matinee idol shares his name with the son of Timur the Lame, who was so fond of chess that he chose the name Shah Rukh, the Persian term for “castling” in chess. Soon, with characteristic competitiveness, people were thumping their tables for knowing that Sidewinder is both a rattlesnake and a missile and nearly choking a teammate for passing an easy question.
The bonfire at the Louis Kahn Plaza on the night of 1 January was an evening that will turn into a memory and nestle itself into a warm corner of our hearts for the rest of our lives. Wistful Kishore Kumar songs wafted across the nippy night as we sat together on the lawns, surrounded by the places where we had learnt, loved, laughed and lived so many years ago.
And then it ended on Sunday. Like a beautiful morning dream that is rudely broken. Where else but in an alternate reality would vice-presidents and CXOs respond to dorm names such as Tamatar, Kaddu, Kela and even Chaddhi most naturally, as though that’s what they’ve been called all these years in meetings and conferences. Someone suggested a 25th year reunion and was quickly shot down. That was too far. We can just about wait for five more years.
Vandana Vasudevan writes the fortnightly column, Tough Customer, in Mint. She is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and currently works with HT Media Ltd.
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