I didn't have a good night's sleep, the anxiety didn't let me. Anyway, my train gradually approached Ranchi and my calculative mind went on a hyperdrive. Clearly all my plans were too abstruse to be of much use & I hadn't lent sufficient thought to the pragmatics of it all. The ground reality was that I was ill-prepared to handle the uncertainties that lied ahead.
My biggest vexation was regarding lodging. Should I keep my luggage at my local guardian's place and then scout for shelter at a friend's place or should I head straight for the campus and get lodged in a hostel (as was originally suggested by the institute website)? What if the institute failed to acknowledge my application for the same? What was the contingency plan? Our campus was located in a hinterland, a good 16 kms from the heart of the city. Public modes of conveyance that could help me retreat from the campus to the city were almost non-existent. Clearly, vital amenities of modern-day civilization weren't introduced to the city yet! With a tight schedule to keep, it would be too cumbersome to lug my bag & stand in unruly queues to register for the convocation attire.
I was lost in this mosaic of thoughts when our train finally pulled into Ranchi station. Ah, the familiar platform, the familiar stalls, the familiar footbridge, the familiar everything! The passengers spilled out of the train that had held them captive for over 40hrs. It was around 11 am. I called up Ujwal, he was already on his way to the campus accompanied by Rajeev. Weighing my options, I decided to take a rickshaw to Circular Road and cover the rest of the trip to the campus via our institute bus.
The rickshawwallas went hankering after the passengers. One of them had already marked me, his eavesdropping over my conversation with Ujwal must have helped him make up his mind to capture me...and he meekly approached me after I hung up. Our exchange of words wasn't brought to fruition and I proceeded a little further to another fellow who seemed to lack the ambition and zeal of the former. He quickly agreed to my terms and I quickly took my seat before he paddled our way through the well treaded streets of Ranchi. The snapshots of the city in my mind weren't much of a departure from what presently met my eye.
We finally reached our destination, I alighted and paid the man his due. I looked around at the familiar chowk and dabbled with the thought of what to do next. Things looked remarkably as they did the last time I saw them. The same chaos, the same digging , the same students, the same vendors, the same peasants, the same noise and the same filth. The traffic at the crossroads remained as disdainful of the signals as ever. They won't need the signals, they won't heed the signals. Nobody complained of the intricate maneuvers at the junction.
It suddenly struck me that the institute bus would be flooded with people as usual, & wrestling my way into it with my luggage would be a rather tall order, especially after the enervating journey. So I took an auto which readily agreed to take me to the campus (from HB Road) for a reasonable Rs.80. My good luck, I thought. I got in and was on my way to the campus, a place that contrasted starkly with the city landscape.
We entered thru the hallowed but low-profile institute gate. Within, it was all-green, all-orderly and all-academic. The distance from the gate to the main building was great, and walking all that distance (at 'full speed') would have itself taken over an hour. Called up Ujwal again as I reached the main building, disembarked and parted ways with the agreed upon amount. There, Ujwal was walking towards me! We hugged tight. Following him at a little distance was Rajeev and we went through the same motions of greetings, hugging and quizzing about each other's deeds (or the lack of them!) during the past half-a-year. Kept my luggage in Ujwal's car.
The sequence of events that followed happened so hurriedly that I don't really remember the trail. Our gang gradually got bigger as old friends were met and greeted. What a relief, I managed to book a room in Hostel #5-B. Mattresses, bedsheets, pillows, blankets, et al were provided. I was floored (literally!) by the generosity. I remember the step-motherly treatment I suffered when I had come to the campus for the first time 3.5 yrs ago. We were asked to lug our own things, including a mosquito net, electric bulb and mattress for the sake of staying overnight before the final selection interview! Anyway, all that hardship was buried in the past & I was in a great hurry to forget those tumultuous years.
After some spirited discussions on where to have lunch, we finally went to a nondescript hotel that lied just outside our campus. The menu was great, but the kitchen couldn't hold on to the promise of delivering everything printed there. What we finally compromised on I don't remember, I was too exhausted to let the little details register. Anyway, I was no longer famished after the fulfilling lunch with my old pals. We now headed once again to the main building to collect our gowns and scarves. As usual, the crowd of people there was a dampener. We had to deal with a plethora of paperwork and elaborate procedures before being able to get hold of our prized possessions. Met Santosh in the process.
Dusk seemed to have faded daylight in an inexplicable hurry. Anyway, I was all too sapped and my legs needed some rest. Took some snaps, bought a few things and met some more people on may way back to the hostel. Samir was to be my roommate for the night.
Ujwal and folks left the campus for their respective places in the city. A buffet dinner was hosted in our hostel. Scheduled for 8 pm, it began at 9. Again, nothing surprising about that. However, the excessive crowd once again made it difficult for me to enjoy myself. Santosh and I were lost in the thick wall of people that seemed to converge in on me from all directions. I decided it was better to have a half-dinner (if the term makes any sense at all!) than to negotiate my way through the crowd. Retreated to my room after that. Samir followed suit after sometime. We kept talking about how life had been treating us during the past few months.
Fatigue finally overcame me and I fell asleep at around midnight. Tomorrow's the big day!