My cousins and siblings went to big city colleges. I took the path less trodden and went to Provy, a small college about 3 km from Sim’s Park and my home. It was with regret that I first entered the college; my mind was full of what ifs but being a realist I told myself that it was my own delinquency which brought me there.
|photo courtesy:Samantha Iyanna|
Providence College for Women is located on the Coonoor- Kotagiri road in a quaint campus of what was once the summer residence of the Maharaja of Travancore. The main house was a rabbit warren with rooms leading to rooms and more rooms; some with hidden recesses and creaking wooden floors. There were some new buildings, of course, but these were utilitarian and quite characterless.
There were a number of springs in the property – hence the name Springfield, I presume. Most of the rooms must have been bedrooms, with large windows and many doors. The biggest room was Room No 1 which had a verandah running around it. It must have been the room where the Maharaja received guests. Then there used to be a small room closer to the main gate which was called the Queen’s bathroom. The claim was that this room was the queen’s bathing room from where she would get fresh spring water from the small spring at the back; many claimed that they could get the smell of Ayurvedic oils at times. The auditorium went by the grand name of the Silver Globe, but in reality it was just a long shed made of corrugated steel. The gardens in Provy were beautiful and the best of them was a rose garden with a naked little boy statue in the centre.
The trip to college was fun and I soon learned the joys of footboard travel. Once I even had the honour of being ordered inside, by none other than the Superintendent of Police. The route was scenic and enchanting and even after those years in Provy I still love the drive. The bus passed the houses with names like Atherston, Strathearn, Blair Athol and Blair Gowrie on Porter’s Avenue and you could see the mallis busy mowing the lawns or pruning the hedges. Once past the homes, the bus trundled under the shadow of Grant Hill and you would get a panoramic view of the hills across the wide sweep of the valley with the mulberry farm and maybe even a flash of silver as the stream deep down in the valley, meandered down the hills.
The students from outside the Nilgiris were from other districts of Tamil Nadu, parts of Kerala such as Cannanore, Kochi, Kottayam; there was also a rather large contingent from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. The foreign students were almost all planning to do medicine and had taken science. But the General English classes were common and we got to meet them there.
More than half the class wore half sari and were from Tamil medium schools. The ones from Malaysia and Singapore were noticeable. They wore the ubiquitous black synthetic long skirt or black trousers which had one side of a zip attached to the bottom end. They doused themselves with perfume and wore synthetic blouses and shirts in bright colours. We from Coonoor and surrounding areas were particularly shabby in our faded denims and cottons.
(Now looking back I realize why. Tea was doing particularly badly and it was the beginning of the rupee-ruble crises. Cash must have been very tight.)
A few weeks after college started, two sisters from South Africa joined our class. They were of Tamil origin and planned to go to medical school in India. Both of them were older than the rest of us as they had worked to earn money to pay their way through college. They were brought to college by some of the local guys who we all knew by sight because they spent a lot of time outside the college gates.
When I got to know these girls they told me that they (the men) were like brothers and were very kind to them; even arranged a nice place to stay and so on. I told them to be careful, as I was local and I knew these guys were no good. The sisters didn’t like that and I guess they told the men that because they used to slow down when they passed me by car or bike and stare rather insolently at me.
Unfortunately, I was proved right as these `brothers' tried to molest the girls. We heard of it through the usual unreliable Coonoor grapevine. The girls did not come to college for a week or so and when they turned up; they found that many of the girls who had been friendly with them were cold or downright hostile. So when I walked up to them to say hello, they were reproachful and asked me how come I didn’t also turn my back on them. That was my first experience of how a victim becomes the object of derision and prejudice.
The second blow for the South African girls came when the Government decided to withdraw the allotted seats in medical colleges for South African students. I used to see them off and on in college after that and I don’t think they completed the course, too.
There were also two sisters from Malaysia. Both of them were very well dressed. They were friendly but no one –including me- wanted to be their friend. During the General English class one side of the large lecture hall would be empty while the entire class except the two sisters would be sitting on the other side. They had a major problem – incontinence.
Life must have been tough for the two stinkos, as they were called. But they didn't bother. They would come and talk quite casually. And the recipients of the talk would be pulling out hankies or covering their noses with their jerseys. Slowly we learnt that their father was a postman (nearing retirement) in Malaysia and had borrowed money to send these two to college in India. Unlike the South African sisters, these two were not pretty or bright.
Then one day as we were lolling on the front lawn we noticed the stinkos all dolled up and waiting. Soon a bike came roaring in. We sat up. Two guys in leather jackets and dark glasses got off the bike. These guys were really good looking. We all sighed. Then came the shock. The stinkos ran up to them and then there was much hugging and kissing. Later, unable to bear the suspense any longer, we asked the stinkos who those guys were. The answer shocked us more, “Boyfriends la – not from Malaysia la, from Madras!”
My thanks to Samantha Iyanna for information