The Snowcity Memoir
Written by Tathagata Banerjee
It was moments like these, which made Bodhisatya feel at home. These known corridors, the canteen smell, the usual humdrum. Life keeps moving, but few things remain same. He always felt home in this college. Like he used to feel at a different college, some two and a half years ago. Graduation days went by so fast, and now the Master’s days are gone too… Life keeps moving, he thinks.
He slowly walks down the staircase. There has to be some surrealist connection between gravitational force and weight of emotions, he thinks. The notion makes him chuckle. This is the kind of weird madness in the train of thought he had always loved to persue. And chapters end. This place – this incredible place – will forever be home. His Master’s campus. His Hogwarts.
He still remembers the first time he came here. Straight out of graduation, Bodhisatya was trying to find a college for his M.A. days. He was called up by this place. It is then when he first visited here. Swaralipi was with him, his closest friend from undergraduate days. It was a perfect bridge, he would later go on to tell her, that she’s the one who accompanied him incase he needed any assistance. Swaralipi was the best person he met during his days of persuing an English Honours. That it was her who was there when this new chapter began for him was absolutely poetic, he thought. Dabbling a little bit in poetry himself, this minute majestic nature of life at large fascinated him.
Bodhisatya was taken in by the grandiosity of the place. As his taxi followed intricate Kolkata roads with an Ed Sheeran song keeping them company, he had no idea this college will change his life. Swaralipi smiled as the cab stopped in front of the large building, with the huge block letters announcing the name of the college – “This is it, Mr. Poet, this is it. You belong here, I can sense it…”
As he walks out of here for one last time as a student – his Master’s passout certificate put gently in his bag – Bodhisatya reflects on how right she was, like she is most of the times. There was a bit of a sadness that day in their conversations, and an unspoken denial of it. They’d go to two different institutions, and the silent terror of losing a friend was palpable in the spaces between the words uttered. Bodhisatya smiled to himself. All these years later, and they’re as close as ever, if not more. This place has always given him everything, never took anything away.
That day, as the car stopped with the two of them, he slowly walked past the gate, her having the conversation with the security guards about why they’re here. These guards, they’ll become known faces over the next couple of years he’d spend here, but ofcourse he never knew that. These lovely people would gently tell him and his friends how the exams are gonna be good, would have the biggest smile when they’d meet at the corridors or the canteen, and would loosen up the strictly followed rules for them even for a bit. And they’re whom he’d have to say farewell now, as he walks out of here today…
“Can you take me back please?” He said to his professors a while ago, cracking them up. It feels good to look into the eyes of the people who change your life and be able to tell them that they changed your life. With his professors, he got to do that. These incredible people, he often thought, have magic. Magic which transcended the everyday experience and turned his time here as something remarkable to him. He’s always loved literature. At this college, they made him feel loved by literature. They made him feel loved. They patted his back and said they were proud of him. He’s not had that experience that much in his life. It felt good. He felt alive…
That day, when he first came here, he was taken in by this place. The huge campus, the gorgeous Library room, the sports arena, the badminton court – all of these will become his stomping ground over the two years. That day when he walked out of here, he had the same feeling as what he has now. He belongs here. He’ll always belong here.
“Never become a stranger…”
It’s a funny phrase, that Bodhisatya has found himself using from time to time. Life, said the Bard, is a walking shadow. Bodhisatya has tried to hold on to little bits and pieces of that shadow whenever he could, despite the obvious. People fascinate him with their chaos, their tranquillity, the confusion, the transcendance, and the palpable need to belong to somewhere, to someone even when the thundering sound of reality underlines the exact opposite. One has to move on. Moving on is life. It’s an endless circle of déjà vu, of going on this Sartren quest of trying to find oneself in others.
The casual humdrum is still here today, but a bit quieter than usual. Walking out of the college seems a task enormously difficult today. And so achingly lonely. The staircase design seems like a kaleidoscope reflecting everything this place has meant to him. He was standing for a while at the corridor, alone, looking out the window. He’s stood here, looking out like this for so many times. Has this always felt like this – like the world looking in towards him through the window? Or is it the nostalgia growing a sentient poetic consciousness? He has no idea. Room 129, at the right side of where he stood, was his classroom. Their classroom. How easy it has felt to walk in and out of this room so many times. Bodhisatya looks inside the room once through the glassdoor. First bench, right hand side, just by the door – that was where he used to sit. Bodhisatya has had struggles in his personal life since the first day he decided not to conform to the societal norms of power hierarchies. This room had been his safe space. Not an escape, but a place of finding transcendance. Literature gave him courage, hope. This room gave him voice, confidence, comfort.
Bodhisatya sighed. His throat seems heavy, his eyes teared up a bit. The last time they had their classes, they didn’t know it was their last day here. That’s the thing about goodbyes. It hurts differently when you know it’s the last hurrah, or when you realise what was the swansong in hindsight… But is hurts nevertheless… He looked out of the window. This corridors, this long balcony where they’ve spent hours talking about the latest Premier League game to discussing Shakespeare’s Iago. The slow October wind ruffles his hair a bit. Bodhisatya soflty touches the walls of the building. He is okay. He’s gonna be okay whatever comes in the next chapter of life. This is home. He’s home.
“I knew you’re gonna be here!” Bodhisatya turns around to face the speaker. One of his most favourite professors stood there, smiling. Bodhisatya smiled back. He loved the teachers here, all of these incredible people who has shaped his identity. Today, as he walked into the Teachers’ Room earlier, he felt the warmth which had defined his time here. They were happy for him – and they didn’t need to tell him that vocally. He could see that in their eyes. He owed so much to them, he confessed. He doesn’t, they told him. But he knew, he did owe so much to them. From Plato to Miller to Virginia Woolf to Derrida, the authors came alive in the classes. A conflicted Hamlet, a brooding Faustus – he couldn’t put into words the aura of this extraordinary individuals. ” Thank you”, was all he could manage. “Thank you, for everything…”
The professors and he walked down the memory lane together, sharing anecdotes. Bodhisatya stood there silently at times, looking at them talking, laughing, sharing foods. It felt like as if this is just another day of college. Like he’d be coming here tomorrow to attend the class about Hemingway. There’d be an early metro to catch. He stood there, taking in all of these little moments which was an everyday affair, which would become part of the good old days, which he won’t get to live day-to-day. His breathing feels heavy… life, the unrelenting horse of a race with no definite ending, keeps on running.
“Do not ever lose the essence of who you are”, the professors told him as he bid them adieu today. They told him to keep on writing, that they’d read and loved his works. This sense of encouragement is something which made him always confidant about himself whenever he’s been in this college. They had faith on him, even when he second guessed himself.
He and the professor talked for a while in that corridor. “I’m gonna miss all of you, so much…” He said. That, he knew, was an understatement. Missing is a far smaller feeling than what he’d feel about this college not being a part of his everyday life. This place has a huge existence in his psyche, and nothing will ever fill this gap. Nothing replaces home…
Bodhisatya steps down the last stair. He has reached the ground floor. “Never become a stranger”, a funny phrase that he’s found himself saying, and regretting saying most of the time. That doesn’t work for here. This place, these people are a part of who he is. There’s no question of estrangement.
Bodhisatya looked up to take in the presence of the whole building. This, this majestic place will live on inside of him. A part of him – he hoped – may live on inside of this known corridors, in the bookcases of the library, in the carrom board pockets…
Isn’t that what memory is supposed to be – he thought – a little bit of us left behind. Like a deconstructed phenomenon, with the meanings continuously deferred.
It’s sure windy today, he thought. The Kolkata afternoon in October feels interesting. It’s not exactly cold yet, but not very hot either. October feels like someone who’s standing right at the middle of a crucial transition. Bodhisatya smirked. Yeah, October feels like him…
It rained cats and dogs the first day he came here to attend classes, he still remembers. The whole city seemed drenched, his Uber struggling to find a way to safely drop him off. He was running late, and by the time he reached – the orientation ceremony was all but over. The very first class he had here, they studied Othelo. In-between intricate discussions about the theatre as a genre and the stagecraft, he slowly started to feel comfortable. Over the course of the next two years, he’d take part in the always interactive sessions. They all did, as their professors always listened to their views with an open heart and utmost interest. Even when he was wrong, or his classmates were wrong, the teachers would correct them with gentle care. There’s no singular notion of an objective tangible reality, he learnt during his days with literature. This place has been a living embodiment of that predicament.
They were reading Hardy then, when a professor called him by his name for the first time. Fairly new in the college, that incident startled him and made him happy. Happy that they knew him. Happiness that comes from being acknowledged. The love he has got from here, he’ll never forget. Gratitude is the perfect word, he thought, to capture his emotions to this institution.
Stepping into the ground floor, Bodhisatya looks up. The building stands tall, the window-panes know all the shared secrets of budding friendships and soft-spoken melancholia. Life moves on, he keeps thinking. He can see the library window. He has spent hours there, reading everything in and out of syllabus. The huge air-conditioned room where the sound of silence becomes the background music for your solitary musings about literary icons. Bodhisatya looks around. The sports arena is divided into indoor and outdoor sports. He’s never been an athletic person, so most of his time in the arena were spent in playing mediocre carrom and terrible table-tennis. It didn’t matter though, what mattered was the camaraderie. The conversations taking place in-between, as one pockets the blacks, whites and red. There had been chess games, and he remembered trying out playing darts once.
Bodhisatya smiled looking at the badminton court. Once, to divert their minds from the exam-results coming out that day, four of them played badminton in this court, borrowing rackets and all from their juniors. Eventually a lot of people joined in, and it became a celebration of everything that this place has taught him – it became a celebration of being alive, and feeling that beating heart of life.
People, said Shakespeare, are poor players in this theatre of life, and one-day they’re heard no more. Maybe he was right. He was right about a lot of things, that man – he thought with a grin on his face. A chapter closes here today, but the ripple effect of it would be felt throughout his life, in whatever he does, whoever he becomes.
“Work’s done?” Asks Kishor Uncle, with a warm smile. Kishor Mitra, around 50, was the first guard he met here. He noticed life’s sense of twisted humour. Bodhisatya smiled, “Yeah. I’m a pass out now. This place is everything, uncle. I’m gonna miss all of you. Stay well…”
Kishor Uncle patted him in the back, and slowly walked on. Bodhisatya started to walk towards the gates. The wind feels stronger now, the trees around the college premise shaking their heads, like how he subconsciously tried to deny the fact that this chapter of life is over.
Before stepping out of the gate, he stops at the threshold. Turning around, he gazes on for a long time to the entire premise. The building, the canteen, the sports arena, the campus, the trees, the walls. He puts his hand up, and waves to all of these.
“Thank you”, he whispers, “goodbye now… “
The October wind feels stronger than ever. A gust of flow rattles up everything around him, a lot of leaves falls away from the trees, scattering all over him, and around… Ruffles his hair and messes it up…
Bodhisatya smiles. He’s gonna be okay. This is home. He is home.
There’s this thing about pain. It becomes a habit. It helps you move. The difficulty of moving makes you move. The hurt that stops the journey becomes a crutch. The pain leads you to work. The incessant need to bring out that suffering becomes a necessity. Pain gets romanticised. One searches for it. In his life, Bodhisatya has found himself falling in this trap over and over again. It’s a mentality he struggles with. In his personal life, there had been constant presence of persisted defiance in the presence of authoritative powers. Power, he had come to realise, is a fragile thing which falls apart easily, when questioned. None questions it, is all that. That is how power becomes comfortable. And that’s why it becomes a norm. And when you question it, there is a price to pay.
Has this personal struggles made his psyche this much of a broken narrative? Or is it some deep-seated Freudian nightmare that has led him to Romanticise pain in a way that at times he feels like he actively wants a tragedy? He doesn’t know. He never knows…
As he stood there on the street, waiting for his Uber to arrive, having stepped out of the college for one last time as a student, these are all the things that kept going through his mind. Bodhisatya looked at the mobile. There’s a bit of time till the cab arrives. He puts on the headphone and starts walking.
“And if this is the long haul / How’d we get here so soon?” – Taylor Swift’s Coney Island buzzes in his earphones. Bodhisatya starts walking towards the bookstore near the college gates.
This bookstore has been a part of these couple of years. He’s come here and read books for hours, sitting there in those comfy couches on his own. The classmates and he spent so many moments going through the bookcases, talking and laughing, sharing a bit of trivia about something they’ve read up. There’s something intoxicating about the smell of new books, he always felt. As he walks in the shop, that smell hits him. The shop-owner and they had become quite acquainted over the years. She smiles seeing Bodhisatya walking in. He smiles back.
His slow, melancholy footsteps find the stairway. When did he first come here – he tries to remember. Early on during the first days of college here, probably. He had met many of his professors here also a number of times, with them having the biggest smiles on their faces.
The biggest smiles. Today, when he went to meet them, they all came together for a group picture with him, because he requested so. It moved him in a way that he can’t express. Looking at the picture, he kept thinking about that – the biggest smiles on their faces.
Bodhisatya walks along the bookcases. Spatiotemporal memories have a weird way to catch you off-guard. An edition of Iliad caught his eyes. He remembered buying an edition of it as a farewell gift for one of their most loved professors. He felt a surreal pull which has landed him back directly into that day. He sighs. “We do reach long hauls way too fast”, he thought…
Walking out of the bookshop, he found still a bit of time left. Bodhisatya started walking. These roads, these turns know stories of journeys that had led him to the goal. They know the stories of detours that lead nowhere. They’ve heard the stories which turn into poems… He kept walking. These foodstalls where conversations took place in between a seminar they were attending, these roads where they’ve walked chatting and sipping tea without any particular target in their minds. These roads where he practically ran through when he was late. The metro station has become the part of his everyday affair.
Bodhisatya takes a heavy breath. Life moves on. Life keeps on telling stories. “Stories”, one of his most favourite professors said once, “are all we have.” The words stuck with him. It felt cathartic. Maybe that is what he’s trying to do now, he thought. Collecting stories. And who knows, maybe he gets to tell it one day…
The October afternoon sun is mellowed. The breeze soflty touches his arm and moves on, like a poet following an idea that needs to be materialized in verse. The playlist in his phone stops abruptly with a call. The cab has arrived.
“Yes, I’m nearby. Coming in a minute. Thank you,” he says, and starts walking. It’s time to return. It’s time now…
His playlist buzzes in his headphones, as Doris Day and Frank De Vol tell him –
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be…”
The exposed bricks style of this cafe perfectly suits with the ambience it is going for. Dimly lit, a few tables and chairs around, the TV at the corner playing the latest sports match. The counter at the centre is always busy. There’s a low music playing, which seems like something he knows. Despite trying to concentrate on the tune over the voices of everyone talking in a hushed tone which makes it a loud sound, Bodhisatya failed to figure out which song it is, after-all.
Swaralipi sips the milkshake and puts it at the side of the chocolate brownie, “Hey, you’re tea’s getting cold man.”
Bodhisatya picks up the cup. The glasses used here for tea have a brilliant glass design which always fascinated him. He takes the sip, “Yeah, it’s still hot. I’m taking another cup of coffee, nevertheless.”
They laugh. It’s been a few days since they’ve passed out of their respective educational institutions, having completed their Masters. Swaralipi broke a piece of chocolate brownie, “Are you gonna have some?”
“That’s a weird mix – tea and brownies – even for me! Keep a little bit aside, I’ll have it eventually,” he quips.
“You know”, Swaralipi looks at him, “You are way too much self-deprecating at times. You’re a pretty cool person, Mr. Poet. We’re all proud of you.”
“I haven’t heard that being said much in my personal life Swaralipi, and you know that. Being judged too much has lead me to question myself,” he sighs.
” I know… I know,” Swaralipi pats his shoulder.
“Anyway”, he cheers up with an intended resilience, “Let’s talk about something else, something fun. Can we?”
The café is full of murmuring noises. Swaralipi looks around, “What do we all talk so much about? You know, there’s this endless need for something to be echoed back to you… To all of us, like that Pearl Jam song.”
“Give me something to echo in my unknown future’s ear?” Bodhisatya asks, quoting the lines he knows she’s talking about.
“Yeah”, She laughs, “Seems fitting, ain’t it? We have an unknown future infront of us regarding our careers, and we’ve to figure out what do we wanna become.”
“And who”, he adds, “And who do we want to become. That, my friend, is the question.”
What does he want to become? Who does he want to become? There is a social normative interpretation of this question. There’s a different, philosophical interpretation of it. The second one interests him. Carving out a sense of identity is a difficult job. Crisis of identity has been at the core of humankind’s existential dilemmas. Maybe trying to figure it out – and failing to do so in the cases of most people – is what the meaning of life is. Striving for an answer, even if you can’t get one, even there’s no answer. The prospect of there being no answer is terrifying, but maybe trying to see if there’s any light existing at all in this thick fog is what the meaning of life is…
Bodhisatya orders another coffee, and takes a spoonful of his portion of the brownies kept aside, “Do you miss the Masters campus already?”
“Since the moment I’ve walked out of that place”, she nods, “It was a place I loved. I’ll never forget it.”
“Yeah. Same with me.” He smiles with a tinge of melancholia, “It was home. I had the time of my life there. The place will always have my heart.”
There are Christmas decorations being put up already in the mall. Certain shops have Christmas gifts and all. They walk into one shop. Bodhisatya’s eyes catch the glimpse of a toy snowglobe. He walks towards that.
It’s a lovely little thing. A bit of a made-up place inside the glass, and fake snow is falling inside of it. One has to shake it once in a while. He looks at Swaralipi, “Something fascinating about it exists, you know? It’s like a little bit of reality, kept in this secured little place, that you can look on from outside but can’t tweak. Isn’t that how memories are? Maybe that’s how my memories of the M.A. days and the college will be. An extraordinary moment of beauty, kept in safe somewhere. Like this snowcity here…”