We look before & after, And pine for what is not

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GGoing back to college is bound to be an exercise steeped in nostalgia. A handful of us (yes, quite a handful) who had just hours before been complaining of befuddled brains and fading grey cells, had flashbacks of startling clarity when we revisited Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow after almost four decades. We jogged each others’ memories to remember incidents, teachers and classmates. We remembered the camaraderie of hostel life and promised to replicate it in old age.

Lucknow is no longer a sleepy old town, saying Pehle Aap to the rest of the country — it instead rejoices in Oia Apps. With all policemen on VIP duty, it allows a merry medley of snarled traffic by day and truck jams by night. As Assembly elections approach, all bureaucrats have been prodded into frenetic activity, what with the young chief minister making his presence felt at as many as 14 venues in a day, inaugurating semi-finished projects, laying foundation stones and giving away awards to achievers of all shapes and sizes, even of the female gender. Not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, even Arvind Kejriwal is making his presence felt, as if hoping they’ll say , ‘Pehle AAP’.

Meanwhile, a gang of girls is on its own trip. We take a ride on tempos and rickshaws to go Ganjing, just for old times’ sake. Chikan shopping has to be done at Janpath, since Aminabad and Chowk were out of bounds for hostellers in the old days. Chowdhury Sweet House is the obvious choice for snacks as Kwality’s and Ranjana’s café are history. Lover’s Lane no longer has roadside romeos lying in wait, as it is choca-a-bloc with consumer goods instead of consuming passions. Mayfair, of course, has gone out of show business, taking a whole movie experience away forever.

Lucknow is no longer a sleepy old town, it is a merry medley of snarled traffic by day and truck jams by night being wooed by VIPs

As for IT College, what’s with all the burqa-clad students? Even in 1977, we considered our society conservative, but not a single veil fluttered on campus. There were parental strictures against ‘tucked-ins’, with shirts having to hang loose over jeans-clad bottoms. Girls draped their dupattas decorously to ward off the male gaze. It had a course in library science that gave young women a chance to think beyond teaching and secretarial work. A career counseling centre was set up by a teacher to help women
find their way in a man’s world.

And what of us? How many became career women and how many homemakers? It doesn’t matter because all of us found our own destinies, with the IT stamp helping us in the matrimonial market. If some of us engaged in a big tussle with our parents to be able to pursue careers, it is good to know that for our female offspring, higher education and jobs follow as a matter of course. Women are as nurturing as ever, not having turned as careerist as feared, and families are usually supportive of their worldly ambitions.

As for today’s burqa-clad IT College students, it might not just be that they come from conservative families. Wearing a veil and attending an all-girls college might even be a condition for allowing them to
graduate. The lack of freedom to dress as they wish is perhaps balanced by the opening of their minds that is an integral part of higher studies. More power to all of us!