During the early nineties, when my daughter Priya did not get a seat in a medical college in Madras, she did not sulk. Instead, she applied to BITS, Pilani, and got admitted in a jiffy. This august institution, in those days, did not believe in entrance tests; Plus 2 marks were the desideratum. She went about with a galaxy of stars in her eyes, waving the admit.
Days after she found her feet in BITS, I asked her how she felt. She declared: “I love this campus so much, I’d be happy even to be a dhobin in Meera Bhawan, the girls hostel.” The warning that in summer the sand storm blew and in winter the lake froze there cut no ice with her. Priya was (and is) a tad less than five feet tall. She looked like a moppet, among other girls who were tall, sinewy or portly. Ragging was mild and harmlessly playful.
Before long, the Pilani parents formed a cartel. It was resolved they should collect and carry eats like murukku, thattai and burfi that the daughters and sons would miss. At Meera Bhawan, the parents were allowed entry into the reception after an announcement through the mike: “Kamre number 204. Priya ke logon aaye hain.” Before one could say Birla Institute of Technology and Science, she would appear with bated breath, her roommates preceding her, all looking for us enthusiastically, for the eats we would be carrying. The edibles would fly off from the tins. Thereafter, a mini excursion would start, to Connaught Place—the shopping complex—to eat, and the Shiv Ganga and the Saraswathi temple to pray.
When a handyman had to step into the girls’ hostel for any repairs, he would shout in a stentorian voice thrice, “aadmi aa raha hai’, so the girls, you know, remained prepared. A box of medicines would always be with the girls, to be replenished afresh (along with snacks) by visiting parents. But call it the grace of God, Priya did not fall sick even on a single day during the four years. On the contrary, a few of the tall and wiry girls had to lie down in the local Sarvajanik hospital, the diminutive Priya holding their hands with a maternal air.
When I pointed this out, reminiscing after her graduation, she said, “Well, I thought of becoming a doctor. But that was not to be, as the door was closed. Instead, the Almighty in his infinite wisdom opened a window for me, that of a paramedic. A street lamp instead of the moon.”
J S Raghavan