Last night I was looking at old college pictures. They were all happy, smiling pictures and they took me right back to the year 2000, when I joined college as a fresher, 18 years old. The Department of Architecture, Faculty of Technology and Engineering, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. All set to conquer the world of architecture , without really knowing what is was all about.
All my friends will agree that they were the most tumulus 5 years any batch could have gone through.
For starters, 2001 saw one of the most devastating earthquakes the world had ever seen. Thousands of people died, buried under piles of debris or simply disappeared underneath the earth, never to resurface again. Though it didn't particularly affect Baroda, many surrounding cities bore the brunt of Mother Nature's 30 second break dance. Ahmedabad, been one of the most badly hit. Huge multi storeys came down like card houses, along with people who never made it to the ground floor.
Bharuch , another small town, my small town, was badly hit too. I was there at home , watching the Republic Day parade on TV. I thought it was my brother shaking my chair just to irritate me. When it got too much, I turned around to shoo him away, there was my Mom telling me to run for my life. It was an earthquake ! I did .. only to realise that I was alone. Neither were my parents with me nor my brother. I started climbing down the staircase, dashing myself against either side of the staircase walls. They joined me soon enough, but we were sure we would never make it to the ground floor. But, we were one of the lucky ones that day. Our old building did not come down and we made it to the courtyard from our third floor house. I saw the building water tank from below. The water was splish-splashing out of it, just like a container would if shook roughly.
Our college was shut for a month and a half in the second semester.
Again, in the second year, that would be 2002, Gujarat saw one of the worst communal riots ever. It all started with that one coach of Sabarmati Express burnt to ashes. I was working in college that day and came back to the hostel for some evening tea and snacks. Suddenly, there was this din which came from the entrance gate. It was Ravi, one of the mess-boys running down the hall and screaming that he heard gun shots and saw mobs of thousands of people with swords and trishuls and guns heading toward the local Muslim slum. I don't remember a lot after that as all of us were told to go to our rooms, shut the lights, bolt the doors and stay inside. And stayed , we did ! I could just about inform my parents that I was safe, with my friends in the hostel and would come back home as soon as it was safe to. I was able to go home only after 5 days when the curfew was relaxed (only for women) for a few hours. I saw pictures of the ill-fated railway coach on TV. The bodies looked like burnt chilly-chicken. The exact number of people killed by the mobs will remain unknown. Most bodies have not even been found yet.
This time around the college was shut for almost two and a half months.
We went back to college only for a few days before the semester ended. Gave exams , as usual and all of us flunked ! 11 of my classmates got detained for that year, some of us just about scraped through with ATKTs. We went on strike, against a teacher whom we thought was responsible for it.
The strike ended in a month.The demands put forward by us were met by the university. We got on with college and life, as usual.
2005 was our last year in the college. It was a week to our final thesis submission. Work was on full-throttle. I had three of my juniors helping me out with my thesis model. I had earlier shifted out of the hostel and was staying with my brother in his ground floor apartment in the Railway colony. My parents had come over to stay and help out. It was monsoon and it started raining. Like it happens in monsoon. But this was no ordinary rain. It did not stop ! It rained like that for 5 days until the dam could no longer hold the water and burst. Flood was declared in Baroda. The lane outside our house got filled with water, just short of the entrance. In my room, facing the garden, the water had reached the sill. I could touch it sitting on my bed.
The Indian style toilet was the first to overflow. Yellow, stinky water came out and filled the adjoining room. Soon , water started flowing through cracks in the wall. I had never noticed those cracks before, until now. My room was the first to be flooded with water (Murphy's Law). My giant of a thesis model was put up on the dining table and all of us were wading through calf deep water. The only semi-dry room was the living room , with a little less than ankle-deep water. We were all sitting there, chirping like birds, with cups of hot tea made by our maid, excited to experience our first flood. Suddenly, there was this “whoossshhh” outside and the entire living room was under knee deep water. There were dead frogs and dry leaves floating. Some body's chappal was bobbing up and down and the plastic garden chair started floating out on its way to the garden. I called my Department head and told him my house was under water.
Thesis submission was indefinitely postponed !
My only regret is that we did not happen to be a part of a Volcano explosion. Maybe, that is saved for another exciting time like this ...