The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Mar 31, 2007

Offbeat Stephanians

Okay, I admit it. I graduated from St. Stephen's College, Delhi. It's been twenty years since I first caught sight of that college, its red buildings and the misaligned cross on the central steeple. I vaguely recall the initial thrill of seeing my name appear on the admissions list for BSc (Hons) Mathematics. This was quickly followed by a slight dampening of spirit when I saw how close I was to the cut-off, and how many others had marks way above me in the stratosphere.

Since its founding, this mid-size institution (during my time, there were 900-odd students in total in all the undergraduate programmes) has produced alumni who have had an influence in India entirely out of proportion to their number. At one time, the Indian Civil Service was the avenue of choice to power and prestige for the discerning Stephanian. We called it the third great national pastime, after the grand orgies of entrance exams for the IITs and AIIMS. By the time I graduated, an MBA from the IIMs was the coveted degree for the masses. Not having kept in tune with the more recent cohorts, I have no idea what the new great fad is. If anyone knows, please don't hesitate to yell.

Needless to say, I didn't make it to any of the aforementioned institutions. Happily for the bureaucrats, babudom avoided me deftly as well. I guess I couldn't say "Yes, Minister" with Sir Humphrey Appleby's suavity when it counted the most. Being a Jostamon and not a super-achiever like some Stephanians sufficed for me.

I suppose there are many other Jostamons on this earthly vale of tears, not all of whom are Stephanians. We shall pass over them lightly. More interesting, I think, is to see who has become a true master of a domain, influential and possibly well-known: Stephanians who didn't follow the herd.

Recalling as I do a few names of people from my time, it's a simple matter to stalk them on the World Wide Web. I dare say almost none of them will remember me. As the wife says, my awkward phase extended well into the last years of the 80's; since then I've gone gray and bald; I don't look much like I did in college, and I haven't kept in touch with the multitude. So no, I dare say very few will remember me, and almost nobody will recognise me now if I were to greet them passing by.

I briefly ragged Nilanjana Roy soon after she joined college (to read English), a year or two junior to me. She was tall and slim and dark and had lovely eyes, and when I asked her what her passion was, she replied, "Black rights". Did she mention feminism, too? I don't remember. She also explained to me that her parents had decided early in their marriage that their daughters would take on their mother's last name, and any sons would take on their father's last name. Now the details are a bit fuzzy, but I think she told me that her mother's surname was Roy (which, coincidentally, was her father's surname as well.) Hmm. I was too distracted by her beautiful eyes to question her closely on this matter, but she clearly wasn't too impressed with me (perhaps my mouth was hanging open in a half-witted fashion). We probably exchanged only one or two polite words over the next few months. Or, as is more likely, she nipped behind a pillar any time she saw me coming.

At any rate, a couple of years later I started to see articles and reviews by a Nilanjana S. Roy appear in various newspapers and magazines. These were opinionated, written lucidly and gracefully, with an easy assurance. Now I see that she's considered India's foremost literary critic, and I wonder - is this the same Nilanjana from St. Stephen's? If so, you go, girl!

Nilanjana S. Roy maintains two interesting blogs: Kitabkhana and Akhond of Swat. I've occasionally dipped into these, and they are good sources of information on all things literary.

Who among my classmates was a superb long-distance runner and pistol shot? Nikhil Alva, yes sirree Bob. He was known to run home from college - a distance of about 20 kilometres - in Delhi's hot summer, just because he couldn't be bothered to get into one of the crowded University Special buses for the commute back to his leafy bungalow. I am not quite sure why he chose to study mathematics as he never seemed to be very interested in it. Just before the exams, he started to appear a bit worried, which was unlike his happy demeanour at other times. I guess his career choice wasn't really a function of his degree. Guess what he got up to? Our man is running a top media outfit (Miditech), producing award-winning documentaries, playing the piano, ruling the roost of reality TV in India, and appearing in this photograph looking spiffy, dark and mysterious.

Recently, I heard news of Vidhyacharan Mohan. He was in my batch, reading Economics, a quietish sorta chap. Guess what he is up to. Conservative Councillor in Croydon, no less. Now Croydon is known for its facelifts and chavs, and a generally messy municipality, but our man is doing his bit to improve matters. As he said upon election in 2005: “This is a fantastic result and confirms that the Conservatives are really back in business in Croydon. Fairfield residents are fed up with the financial mess which this Labour Council has got the town in to and have sent out a very powerful message that it is time for a change.”

It's quite a leap (or maybe not?) from undergraduate economics in Delhi to squaring the budget in a suburb of London, but one may be sure that Vidhi is up to it. Rule Stephania!

Finally, Chandrachur Singh used to be ragged mercilessly for his thespian ambitions and his nickname ('Rocky'). I vaguely remember him from my batch in History. I don't think he ever acted in any of the Shakespeare Society productions that seemed to be the springboard to success for the uber-fashionable crowd. (Or possibly he was in the Hindi division of the society?) So imagine my surprise to see him cavorting and emoting with the best of them in Maachis. Holding Tabu in his arms! The shock was as bad as when Kajol hooked up with that truck-driver Devgan. We all seethed with envy, especially his classmates who had teased him so much.

After his Filmfare Best Debut award in 1996 for Maachis, he seems to have gone a bit quiet. Sure, there have been movies in which he has performed with quiet competence. But we continue to await a performance as stirring as in his debut.


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