I almost didn’t go. Several key friends had excused themselves, citing conflicts. The dates weren’t the best. But I had some time off, and my father was in India. I had been vacillating: should I or shouldn’t I? The pivotal moment came during lunch with a friend who said he was going to India for one week only just for this. I thought, well, OK, I can be a good son and a good alumnus in the same trip. That’s how I came to attend my class’s Silver Jubilee Reunion in Kanpur this January.
I really wasn’t sure how it would turn out. After 25 years, I could hardly remember the faces, let alone the names, of most of my classmates. I had visions of middle-aged, balding men (our batch had no women) coming towards me, smiling, hands extended, claiming to be long lost buddies—and my mind drawing a blank.
Well, I needn’t have worried. From the train station itself, undergrads met us and took us to the campus. We stayed at the Visitors’ Hostel in furnished, heated rooms with attached baths and hot water. If you’ve ever spent a winter in Kanpur, you can well appreciate the significance of these amenities. And yes, they had thought of name tags.
The institute had laid out the red carpet. The campus was festooned with banners welcoming the graduating batch of ’73-’78. Our four days there included visits to the department, panel discussions, distinguished alumni awards, two nights of cultural entertainment, and lunch at the Director’s residence. The food was the best I’ve ever had.
What I remember most, though, are the spirited undergrads. They were just as noisy and boisterous as I expected, and yet, face to face, they were respectful and warm as only Indian kids are.
On the last day, we played hooky and took off for the canal, once our preferred hangout on hot summer afternoons. That day, however, the temperature was approaching 5º Celsius. The sheesham trees looked beautiful in the fog, their reflections perfectly still in the calm, green water. In a moment of insanity, a bet was placed, clothes were shed, and the canal was crossed twice. Passers by laughed and waved. If only for a few moments, our youth had reclaimed us.