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Fortress DU and its Universal Soldiers

Fortress DU and its Universal Soldiers
It all began with my grandfather. He was one of the early pioneers of thermodynamics. The torch then passed to his son, my father. He was a research chemist, who married my mother a microbiologist. Little did I know while growing up that this was just the tip of the iceberg. My elder brother went on to become a mathematician, my younger brother an economist, and my sister found her calling in the science department of Delhi University. Am I forgetting someone? Oh yes… Me. I am a writer. There, it's out: I prove to be the genetic freak of the family.

In a strange twist of fate, the only significant thread that ties us all together, apart from the fact that we’re related by blood, is the university from where all of us have graduated. Three different generations, one common connect – Delhi University.

CAMPUS CANVAS

The one thing I can tell you for certain at this point is that each of the diverse assortment of people, who pass out from this historically celebrated university, would have a different story to tell. And each story would be as passionate as they’d be captivating. From a ‘rich boy denied admission to St. Stephens and thereby starting a competitor college’ to ‘long history of nukkad nataks (street plays) that give birth to rivalries’, the fables are endless.

This one, amongst many, is the story of hate, drama, envy, competition and lots of love. As much as it promises to be a commercial masala Bollywood rom-com, it is much more than just a Hindi movie. However, there is no bound script. No charming boy meeting a bashful girl. No sensual dance sequences around trees in sudden bouts of tantalising rain. 

Though this is a love story! This is the story of DU – the tale of three different generations and their perceptions of the university that have been etched years back on the pages of a vibrant history.

Such is the romance and melodrama in my home that debating whose college canteen was better assumes a significance far exceeding any IPL match – and trust me, that’s really saying something!

BATTLEGROUND CAFETERIA

A typical dinner table conversation in my household follows a familiar pattern. The war of words is carried on from grandfather to father to son, while the topics of heated discussion — the same old ‘my college is better than yours’ battle — undergo little change. Their colleges might well be the children of the same father but they don't seem to give two hoots about other colleges (of course age no bar!).

Grandfather throws the first punch, ‘Hindu’s canteen food is still unmatched!'Father, not the type to take a sucker-punch with a smile, gives it back ‘I still can’t forget Kirori Mal’s finger licking pav bhaji.’ By now, this has become a matter of pride, so how can the Son not retort with, ‘How can you compare them with the mutton cutlets at Stephens?’

Here’s a note for the readers who haven’t had a chance to study in a college of Delhi University. You see the relationship between the students and their colleges is quite similar to that shared by two siblings. The brethren fight, crib and pretty much make life hell for each other, but if an outsider were to even make a negative remark about their blood brother or sister, lo and behold, s/he would waste no time to take up arms and shoot the interloper down. For three whole years, while in campus, a DU student would incessantly whine and complain to no end about his own college, but once at an outside campus with ‘other people’, the very same youngster would come across as not only worshipping his/her own college but even trash-talking the rest. The bottom-line is that the loyalty of one only lies with his/her own college and even God would hesitate once in protecting anyone who dare cross that sacred line!

Being from Delhi University myself, I can be completely honest and absolutely unbiased (no, please don’t laugh it off!)North Campus, with big daddy colleges like SRCC, Miranda House, Kirori Mal, Hindu, Hansraj and St. Stephens in it, seems more popular, while on the other hand, South Campus boasts of colleges like LSR, Sri Venkateswara and Jesus and Mary as their finest. For all the momos at North, there are the kathi rolls at South. If we dig in deeper, these two just appear to be long lost brothers.

OF POLITICS AND SAMOSAS

Grandfather shakes his walking stick and remarks, ‘Canteens had the addas wherein we kept discussing politics. That used to be our food for thought! Even the student politicians thought so. When cadres of the two leading political parties, NSUI (National Students Union of India) and ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), barged into the canteens shouting slogans and agitating issues, even then their mouths would be filled with samosas!’ He beams with a glow of happy memories irradiating his aged face before continuing, ‘Times have changed and how! The filmy rivalry between these two political parties seems like the most in thing on campus today. Every youngster wants to be a part of it’.

He then shakes his head the way old men do while imparting wisdom to the young. ‘I can't forget the smell of the creative posters of NSUI and ABVP stuck on walls at strategic locations during the heated campus elections’. Father then pitches in with a seemingly casual insight, ‘I remember how NSUI would get a pretty face on the poster to promote its agenda’. Then as if in an afterthought adds, ‘… And it worked too…’

The son at this point had a lot to say, but, more often than not, would take the high road and refrain with a simple, ‘For me, their fights were simply amusing’. Well, to be fair, our politically vibrant campus came alive with student activism, as they artistically designed posters for their favourite party, distributing pamphlets and sticking notices on the walls. And not to mention, the campus roads logjammed by protests, demonstrations, candlelight marches, with the scene no less than the general election of the country! So yes, in short one can conclude that it was all ‘amusing’, to say the least.

TEACHING ARROGANCE

The son, a haughty Stephenain, while sipping his cola says, ‘The morning assembly at Stephens, though intended to be a bonding exercise, usually ended in a controversial sermon complete with the typical thinly-veiled Stephanian arrogance’.

Grandfather chuckles and grounds his grandson. ‘There was an incident, during our time, where St. Stephens wrote on their outside walls, Dogs and Hinduites not allowed. The Hinduites, not backing down, wrote a fitting reply saying, Dogs allowed but not Stephanians!’

Father tries to call truce at this point by diluting the topic, ‘The origin of the most sought after rivalry between St Stephens and the rest of the colleges is still unknown to mankind, though our ears are accustomed to hear many different blasts from the past stories’.

Usually at this point in the evening conversation, the father, while sipping his cup of coffee, chooses to remember his favourite hangout joints while studying in Kirori Mal College — those at Kamla Nagar in North Campus.

Then as the case with all men, the conversation would begin to run its natural course. However, being related to each other, the Son and Father would keep to their silence, long enough for the Grandfather – being the eldest and thereby holding the unwritten right say anything –to finally bring up the topic all of them wanted to speak on … ahem, the campus women!

GIRLS, UNINTERRUPTED

'South Campus used to have monopoly over the kind of girls with beauty and brains together,' he smirks.

Father, excited but completely contained by virtue, begins with his ritualistic small-talk, 'Where in South Campus do you find places like the Delhi School of Economics where a conversation over rajma chawal could produce such great scholars?'

Son, not inhibited by such quandaries, gets the ball actually rolling, ‘South Campus colleges are tiny as hell… no access to chic social life at all!’

Chic, oh really?!Being a trueblue Mirandian, I couldn’t help but not even spare my brother for using that adjective! Sharp, brittle memories that defined many of the choices I have made over the years, among them the most important has been about believing in and hopefully practising a feminist politics based on equality for all. Feminism truly has been a legacy that Miranda and many other women colleges of DU inadvertently bequeathed to many of its students.

Three generations would then sigh inaudibly and continue to sip their beverages late into the evening until my blessed mother heralded us all for dinner.

Everything in the world is balanced, they say. For every good, there exists a bad, for every truth told, there awaits a lie. Love, too, is balanced by an equal amount of odium. Delhi University is no exception to the ceaseless game of love-to-hate-to-love. Such is the addictive romance of DU that once you have been a part of it, you really can’t get enough!
Neha Jain

Neha Jain

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