I stumbled my way in through the hallowed gates of Presidency.
You see, I went to a CBSE school in Salt Lake, Kolkata. “Hariyana Vidya Mandir”. “Yes, Hariyana with an ‘i’.” I’ve had to explain that for years. Once, to an editor who was convinced I’d misspelt my own school’s name on my resume.
I studied science in Class 11 and 12. And the natural thing to do thereafter was to crack an engineering entrance. I didn’t have the acumen for math, and organic chemistry equations left me as baffled as David Lynch does his audience. I wouldn’t make it into an IIT. But any half-respectable college would do. I gave the entrance. Got through. Ranked 11,000-something. And nearly began packing for four years at an engineering college.
But I never went. Because I got selected to study English Literature at Presidency.
I thought my Presidency entrance test had been disastrous. We were asked to write a 50-mark essay on “…fidelity is the essence of prose”. And I wasn’t sure what “fidelity” meant (Yes, dark secret. Now you know). I asked the girl seated next to me. And was told, “I’m not supposed to tell you.” I wrote the essay without once using the word “fidelity”.
I still remember the mid-summer, sweltering Calcutta afternoon that would change the course of my life. On the first floor of the main building, on an old, once-brown wooden notice board, behind a glass so scratched you had to get close to read anything, hung an incongruously new A4 sheet with 30 names. I didn’t have to go past number 10.
I bought a pot of rosogollas on my way home. I wasn’t as much being the sweet Bengali boy, as telling my parents I’d made up my mind. I was going to Presidency.
In the next three years, the college would shape the person I am. In class, I learnt to love Shakespeare and Keats. Outside it, in Promod da’s canteen, I learnt the lyrics to Bhoomi and Chandrabindoo. Class shaped my habit to looking at the arts critically, and to try and prise out meaning from words that, at first glance, seem simple (William Blake blew my mind). The water tank adda right underneath the classroom window taught me to criticise politics and talk about it openly. Coleridge taught me that forbidden substances inspired genius. On the canteen terrace, our experiments with them mostly yielded nonsense.
Yes, I stumbled into Presidency. But three years later, when I walked out, the world would never be the same again.
(Sarit Ray is an associate editor with Hindustan Times in Mumbai. The views expressed are personal.)