Sunday, June 2, 2013


As soon as Kerala receives the rains, and the world maps of the weather announcers shows its raining in various parts of the world and the Southern hemisphere is enjoying its winter, I realise that Delhi at 44 degrees centigrade is my fate. Yes, the Laburnums are out, I remember to say Tarbhuz instead of Kharbhuz to the grocer, the  raw mangos have been distilled into cooling drinks, countless bel have been pulped into sharbat. The leechis have arrived, and the occasional visitor will look for limejuice instead of tea, but what I really remember are doing exams in Delhi University in the month of May. This year the exams are continuing into June.
In 1974, and for the three years that went into a B.A in Sociology in Delhi University, I would write the exams in a room which was open to the summer wind called the Loo. These are the hot dusty winds of May, which often run into June as well. I never survived them. I would go into the exam hall, and my mind would just go blank with the heat. Being good at my subject was not enough, one had to have the will to sit through 40 degrees C and write the answers to  five questions. If you got less than 58 percent, you could not become a lecturer in a University. How hard it was, and I had my first attack of multiple sclerosis, undiagnosed for twenty five years after that, in the exam hall. I couldn't remember a thing. I felt waves of heat, then waves of cold. I ran to Janakiamma, the principal of Miranda House, who arranged a writer. My hands had lost their function.  After the exams were over, my mother took me to Irwin Hospital and the physician said " I cannot find anything wrong with her, see she takes Vitamin B".
 I shifted to JNU because I dreaded the idea of doing 8 papers in one year cumulatively, since DU in the year 1979  had become a terror story of cumulative exams. JNU was very charming, and the teaching was intense, the teachers had interests in the Nation State, of which I had not much idea, since in MH there was no Union, and we were a rag tag bunch interested in  Woodstock and Bertolt Brecht, the extremities of the Emergency being muffled by the Establishment. JNU was a new world, but the heat remained the same, much worse, because at that time there were no trees, we were on a moon landscape, which suddenly came alive in the monsoon with wild flowers. I have never been so happy as I was in those two years, alone, with my books and a steady guy who came to see me twice a week whom I married when I finished my M.A. The summer however remained abrasive. Exams however got over by 5th of May. Unlike Delhi University students who started to pale and wilt in the ongoing density of written exams, we were all home for the summers.

After my first child was born, I got a job at Hindu College in Delhi University, teaching Sociology. I was twenty seven years old, and writing a thesis, as well as looking after the baby. And yes, along with teaching duties, was twenty seven hours of invigilation. Again, the students were writing an exam in a room with open windows, no desert coolers, sometimes the electricity went off, the water man with tepid water from dysfunctional coolers would come around and the young scholars would write away for three hours loyal to the world of ideas.
I understand that Delhi University which has all my loyalty even now, though I returned to my beloved alma mater JNU, still has its exams without facilitating young people to survive the terrible summer. Four years for a BA in the new system, will mean one more year of battling that summer heat for no known reason other than some people have been to America for a BA and are nostalgic for their experiences in a Western country. For people like myself, an opportunity to study abroad was never possible, and having a degree from India was what made us proud to be Indians. As soon as we left the exam hall, we got ourselves something cold to drink, and ate cholae kulcha from the vendor, Immunities were good. The bhel puri man outside Miranda House set up his stall the year I joined in 1974, and was still there decades later. Summer has me in its grip, I think I'll take another trip.