It was the summer of ’14. We were about to write our first-year PU final exams. It was in the study holidays when Dixit told me while sitting in a playground about this vacation program in Expert institutions, Mangalore. I was interested the moment I heard about it and so were my parents. It was like getting a head start for our second PU syllabus. And we would go to the ends of God’s green Earth to make sure we get better-than-our-neighbours marks at that point of time. Tuition classes all over Mysore had already begun and we had this brilliant idea that would prevent us from wasting time throughout the year attending tuition classes after our college by going to Mangalore for almost three and a half months. It was tempting. I wanted to get out of my daily routine which was frustrating and Expert was a perfect way out. I was in on the plan. It took me a negligible amount of time to convince my parents. We told this to Lale while sitting on my swing on the top floor of my Grandparents’ place in Mysore. We were wondering if he would agree to it and to our surprise he did in an instant. That was the moment which would change the course of our lives for the next 3 months and essentially the next couple of years.
We were excited about the prospect of living somewhere far from home, just the three of us and studying in supposedly the best place for PU and all the freedom we would have. Little did we know that Nayak had different plans for us. (Nayak – Chairman of Expert). We had a very important decision to make though. Our accommodation was a very big question mark. We had no clue how we were going to spend almost 4 months while studying. We were literally coming out of our comfort zone for good. Mysore was suited properly for us. It was the birthplace for all three of us and we knew our way around pretty well. Lale and I literally used to take a different route from our college till our homes every day. We would go to various places to eat whenever we felt like and there was no road where we didn’t play cricket at. All of those would change and at the root of all those was the question of our accommodation. We hadn’t really thought about it for a very long time even after we got our admission. A week or two before the commencement, Dixit’s father went to Mangalore in search for a good place and thanks to him, we found a nice Hotel to stay at after the failed search by Lale, Dixit and his Father once before. The conventional Paying Guests wasn’t really pleasing for us and the very fact that we may have to share bathrooms the entire time made us sick. I wasn’t able to go in search of it the first time thanks to my all-important Physics classes. I can’t say I regret not going. Things worked out for good the second time and we zeroed in on Hotel Surya. The home away from home.
March 7th was our first class at 1:00 pm. We had a math class. We were excited and clueless how things would go. There was a hint of rigidity with regard to rules when we had got the memo that we weren’t supposed to wear T-shirts or take mobile phones with us. We were directed to our class the first day. It was crowded in front of the Expert main building that day. Parents who were filled with hope and uncertainty about their children’s studies, livelihood and future. Students who were not sure why they were there and yet to figure out how things would work out. I was one among them. I had no clue what I was getting into. None of us did. We climbed up a very narrow staircase which led to a corridor with classrooms along the side. The heat had already started taking a toll on us. That was just a prologue for what was yet to come. The classroom was of auditorium type, increasing in height starting from the podium adjacent to the board and the individual wooden chair with a plank to write was something new to us as we were accustomed to benches. We took the last row. Dixit was the last and I sat in middle. Fortunately, we were called to the third row very soon. Why fortunately? You’ll come to know later on. The third row it was. Raj was sitting in front of us and a couple of girls from Sadvidya were sitting in the front row. And so it began. The journey towards glory.
We shifted a couple of rooms in our Hotel before we settled in room 207. It was more than what we wanted. Can’t say it was the best but it surely served our purpose and no matter how much Lale hated it, I can’t say it wasn’t good. After all, we made memories for life there. The second day at Expert was notable as we were exposed to the teaching brilliance of our chemistry lecturer Rajgopal Bhat. His class started at 7:00 in the morning and if we were a second late, he would bury us with insults which would potentially scar us for life. The man was the human form of eccentricity with an un-questionable knowledge in Chemistry. His teaching was something we had never come across. It was vibrant. His body language was borderline intimidating and the last thing you want to do is give a wrong answer in his class. He would insult us on such a level that it would make us question our existence and think about our decision to join Expert or to continue living. Raj was unfortunate enough to be a part of his insults on a daily basis. We had started to feel pity for her.
Our day would be something like this:- Woken up by Lale at 6:20 – 6:30 after he had spent quite a bit of time listening to his usual bathroom playlist. I was the second to wake up while Dixit kept destroying the snooze button. I would literally leave minutes for him to wake up and get on to attend his functions. He would curse me for it every day. If Lale ever goes to heaven, it will be because of the Nutella sandwiches he used to make for all three of us. It was such pleasing to see a Nutella sandwich being prepared the moment we got out of the shower. It was our breakfast. Sometimes we used to order coffee/tea from room service. I don’t know if it was our sleepy eyes or a defect in the vending machines that coffee would have shades of blue sometimes. We drank it anyway. We would run downstairs to fill our water bottles and head towards the main road to find the same Auto guy waiting for us every day at the same place, same time. We shared a special relationship. After a week or so he stopped asking where we wanted to go and he would take us directly to the college. We used to scrape our wallets to gather 30 bucks and give it to him. The only thing that was more pleasing than Lale’s Nutella sandwiches was seeing that our classroom has been shifted to Residential Block as that had AC classrooms. It gave us the world of peace and tranquillity to sit in an AC class given that our notebooks would get wet because of our sweat in a normal class. The heat was extraordinary there. One of the things I miss most about Mangalore, ironically.
Sitting through the Chemistry class was a challenge for us. On one hand, we would be insulted on the highest level if we didn’t concentrate and give proper answers when asked given that RGB thought we were outstanding students from Mysore who had a very good knowledge about the subject. We still don’t know what made him think that. On the other hand, it was sheer, uncontrollable sleep. We would literally pinch and hit ourselves just so that we would be able to keep our eyes open. Perhaps it was the result of the climate or our late night sleeping habits. We were fortunate enough that we weren’t caught for sleeping in the class by RGB. Although, we had our tough times later on. Now you know why we were fortunate to get shifted from the last row to first row. Had we been sitting in the last row we would be spending most of our time sleeping on each other’s shoulders or outside the class for doing so. After seeing what RGB did to people who were sleeping in his class, just to avoid embarrassment, we would struggle hard to keep our eyes open.
The breakfast break was something we looked forward to every single day. We would rush down to the canteen downstairs from our classroom in the second floor just to stand in the queue early. It was as if Government was providing food in a drought-hit area. Thanks to the man who started the policy of queue or people would be killed in stampede there. It was the classic scenario of natural selection. I was loyal to Mangalore Buns and Lale was to his Idli Vada. We found pleasure eating there. The canteen was the ray of light on a clouded day. It was the light at the end of the tunnel. It is a shame that I still don’t know the name of the guy who ran the place. We used to call him the bearded man. The way he ran the business there was better than your average MBA graduate. He would handle orders with such ease and he made sure the money was being handled properly. That canteen had Egg on everything. If it is edible, there would be an Egg version of it. Dixit would eat very quickly compared to both of us and used to savour his Mazaa for a very long time. Every time we used to ask him why would he drink so slow ad every time he had the same answer. That he’d eat fast and drink slow.
After the morning break was the Math class. Our Math lecturer’s name was Vinay and boy was he a personality. I used to imitate every bit of his actions in our room and these two would roll on the floor laughing. He used to take 3-hour classes of higher Mathematics and it would make our ears bleed. He is the only person I have come across who had 4 numbers in his count. Not 3,2,1 but “Ready 1,2,3,4”. Why the hell 4? Again the would strive hard to keep our eyes open and write everything he wrote on the board with his petite handwriting. I still remember the day he made Dixit stand in the corner because he was sitting with his eyes closed. So does Shaan :D. In his exact words, Dixit gave a “proper one” to his nose while moving out in his sleep-deprived state. Lale would never insult Vinay the way we did. He had a thing for Math and he still does. Ergo, Vinay was a messiah who dissipated stream of absolute knowledge to him. Ironically, Lale gave one of the most unforgettable wrong answers in his class. After the lunch break was Vadiraj’s lecture. Physics after heavy, mostly oily lunch and with that heat. No need to explain how the situation in his class was. Again Dixit was caught once because he was sleeping in his class. Ironically, Dixit used to sleep most between the three of us. Funny that whoever sat next to me, got caught for something we both did. It is still the case after 3 years. After we came out of Expert, around 4:00 pm, we would walk almost a mile to the bus stop. Mangalore buses were remarkable. Sometimes they would defy the laws of Physics. The drivers wouldn’t last an hour on Bangalore roads. If we weren’t holding something while standing on the bus, inertia would take a toll on us. We took turns in paying the bus fare and the day there was confusion, we used to start the cycle over.
This was our daily routine. We had reached acceptance level of the harsh climate and the rigid schedule. One fine day, we came to know that Physics lecture was cancelled that day and we felt how the prisoners felt when they listened to the music Andy Dufresne played in the Shawshank prison. We couldn’t think of anything else other than going to Panambur beach. We hurried back to our room, packed a backpack with sunscreen and towels and we left for the beach. It was a journey to remember. The pleasant glitch in our matrix. Those 3 hours we spent there was the break we deserved. It was a brief moment of bliss. The sunset was captivating. The sound of the waves soothed our souls. Coming back was the hard part. As I sat on the bus, I realised that come morning, we would have to get back to the same routine. One of those ‘Don’t be sad that it ended, be happy that it happened’ moments. After some time, probably in the mid of April, we found out that most of our classmates used to go to a nearby gaming centre and play Counter-Strike during the lunch break and after college hours. That was it. There was no stopping us from then on. We used to run to the cyber cafe an start gaming as soon as we got out of the college. We used to make teams and strategies beforehand so that we wouldn’t lose gaming time. Dixit and I once drew maps, pie carts and histograms as part of our preparation for a match against another batch. The friends we made there were really special even though it was for a couple of months. The cyber cafe acted as a uniting factor for all of us. The best part, for the three of us, was when our parents used to come to visit us. We would look forward to it every single time. Not having to count the money we spend on dinner was the best part when they came.
We had stayed in room 207 for such a long time that was acquainted with all the Hotel staff. It was our home sweet home. It would be an utter disgrace to the room if I didn’t mention the time when Dixit was with his parents in a separate room and Lale and I were sleeping peacefully only to be waken up by a sound which was as if a Helicopter had landed on top of our roof. I was convinced that it was the beginning of an alien invasion. Both of us were freaked out. Only when we turned the lights on we realised that it was just our AC giving up on us. Dixit doesn’t know what he missed. We used to spend most of the evening playing cricket with softball inside our room. I used to record using my Galaxy Note 2 in slow-motion to check for LBW’s. That’s how organised we were. I don’t know If I have to be proud of it or not. I used to be awake till 1:00 with Dixit whereas Lale would curl up in his blanket and sleep around 9. We used to talk about random stuff, which would eventually begin to lead to a discussion about ghosts and end up scaring us both. Lale and I used to watch Harry Potter all the time while being criticised by Dixit every time and each time we would call him a ‘filthy little mudblood’. Those were small moments of happiness which would relieve stress and relax us. I used to run in the beginning. I used to go to a very sophisticated colony and used to jog for about an hour only to come back to our room soaked in sweat. One other thing Dixit missed was “The Walk”. It was a gloomy evening, with clouds above our heads. Not something we saw every day. Dixit was out with his parents, That is when I thought it would be perfect to go for a walk and Lale for once agreed instantaneously. We walked for about 2 hours covering unknown residential colonies in sub-urban Mangalore. It was a walk to remember.
In retrospect, the time we spent in Mangalore was something special for all three of us. I used to tell both of them that we would get to know each other very well if we decide to go together and we surely did. And the people we met in Mangalore were incredible. It was like we were exposed to a whole new way of lifestyle, language and mindset. The three of us left to Mysore three or four days before our course ended. Dixit and I had 100% attendance and that gave us a sense of accomplishment. The sad part was after we left, our classmates took a group photo on the last day and three seats were empty in the third row. What was more saddening was that Dixit lost my Slazenger cricket bat while coming back. The bat with which we played hours together. Gone in an instant. I don’t hold it against him though. While coming back, we were sure that we would nail each and every test and exam in Sadvidya. Funny how that turned out. Mangalore was something special to me personally. The time I spent there is something I will never forget for the rest of my life and I am sure it is the same with them also. If we hadn’t gone there, we might not have been such good friends as we are now, I don’t know. But it surely deepened what we had. The hostile climate, the tight study schedule, the compromises we made, none of it accounts to the fun we had during our time at Expert. It was fun in its own way. I cannot say that it didn’t help me academically. The time we spent there, was definitely the time of our lives. If not the best, but we did make some really good memories there. As my Whatsapp status read the day we left to Mysore –
Thank you, Mangalore.