Friday, October 22, 2010


One small STEP for man

It was Matty Boy who started it all. In that era long gone by when I used to spend the majority of my time in a ground-floor room at the farthest corner of the farthest hostel of one of the far flung wonderlands of the country, I was chatting with this third member of the once-famous great Lit quadrilateral regarding Nihilanth. The finer details of the even that subsequently followed can be read on Rapu's epic post on the same- one I never tire of reading. However, what transpired during the chat was that Matty Boy, then a proud student of the dry campus, informed me that Nihilanth would be shorn of the likes of Sriram and Miglani, both of whom have by now probably sold their soul to some corporate for a heavy profit, who were going to be spending that time in some random country in Europe thanks to the exchange programme which is offered to students in most B-shcools in India. "Cool," I said. "Who gets to go?" "Practically anyone who wants to. There's some academic criteria, but it's not very stringent" was the encouraging reply. My mind was made up. If and when I went to a B-school, I too would participate in this wonder of exchanges. After all, back in our younger days, Sajji and I used to dream about doing our MBA from the Harvards and Stanfords of this world. "We shall not take a step down from the IITs" was our refrain. The prospect of taking a step down or entering the big bad world introduced us to the ugly world of trading your dreams for comfort. However, it might not be Stan, but at least I would have spent some part of my academic life in a foreign land.

More than a year after this historic conversation, traces of which probably don't exist anymore, I turned down one responsibility after another to seek this ultimate goal. They came, they talked, they offered- I never concurred. A few more months and Louvain School of Management found its way over ESSEC-Paris in my list of preferences, well after the deadline, and saw me inadvertently say Adieu to 3000 euros that would have come my way had I not dithered at the last minute. Add it to the list of what ifs. I packed my bags and said my goodbyes. It was a wrench to realize that I'd be staying away from the DebD's and PJ's of this world for over 3 months and a bigger wrench to leave home after having firmly ensconced myself there for over 3 weeks. Just before leaving, I had to say my last goodbyes to the faithful gay orange Toshiba that had served me more than well for the better part of over four years. The VG chip or something shot, some problem with the display etc and it was eventually Sajal who came to my rescue, as he has so many times in the past, by offering his laptop- not gay, not orange, not a Toshiba but a laptop nonetheless. It was only the prospect of Europe looming ahead that saw a cheerful self boarding the flight to Istanbul.

The exchange programme is different for different people but for almost everyone concerned, it's a wonderful 3 month holiday. A break, and a refreshing one at that, from the rigours of B-school and perhaps a last blissful time before one becomes a corporate slave. It's the opportunity to see Europe as the quintessential student- penniless, adventurous and a never-say-die spirit which is put to the test every time one takes 10 trains in a day. I've been here for over a month now and it's been a great 30 days. I've taken aimless scenic walks in Brussels and gazed with wonder at the tower when I was In Bruges. There have been walking tours in Berlin and the impressive Reichstag and going bonkers at Oktoberfest. The Austrian countryside has mesmerized, the ice-caves have dropped jaws. Scandinavia was the promenade at Copenhagen, the star-shaped island with trees in varying shades of green. There was Oslo with its manically designed Opera house who's pictures never seem to be enough. I travelled from Machli Gali in Patna to have Fish and Chips at Goteborg. And then there were the Fjords...

There have been lazy walks around the Elbe and strolling across the Charles Bridge over the Vltava which catapulted Prague right up there among my favourite cities in the world. I could picture Rapu beaming, or at least thinking "There's some hope for this idiot, yet" as I sat in the Church of St. John in the lesser town of Prague, enjoying the magical tunes composed by Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach that resounded from the Organ-players fingers, after having spent the majority of the last month listening to Julie Julie from Jeete hain Shaan se. Buda and Pest combined to show that Eastern Europe can compare favourably after all with its Western cousins. And no trip to Europe can obviously be deemed complete without the customary picture taken in front of the Eifel tower- it's probably a greater proof of your Eurotrip than the visa stamp in your passport.

We've apparently played the part of poor India, hungry India with great success, being served extra bread with Currywurst in Germany and being given some free snacks at a Chinese takeaway in Budapest. There've been negotiations with a Slovakian TT that brought out the Indian bargainer in us. A Norwegian who had enjoyed his own wild days in Goa made us revise our first year course. I've also shopped for groceries, seen my eyes water as I peeled and cut onions and regularly cooked rice and daal, both edible to the point of being tasty. The number of nights spent in a train can compare almost favourably with the number of nights spent at home. The teeth have clattered in Hamburg because I packed 2 pairs of the chest inner, mistakenly thinking one to be for the bottom half. And in all this, almost 2 seasons of Boston Legal have been wrapped up.

I'll be here for close to 2 more months now. Sunny Spain beckons, bringing along with it the giants in the football-club pilgrimage that I plan to go on. There's the south of France, there's Switzerland, there's Italy, there's Greece, maybe even Translyvania if I can manage it.

And there's also the day when I'll be sitting in those long-acclaimed perfectly romantic surroundings- seated in a Gondola in Venice, the boatman singing a melodious tune, the sun about to set, casting that poetic hue over the skies and 4 hirsute fellows as my companions seated next to me.

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