Vidya Balan gets nostalgic about her days at St Xavier’s College.
First day feelings
I entered St Xavier’s in 1995 as a junior college arts student. I knew that I wanted to do drama and Xavier’s was one place, which had a plethora of theatre stalwarts, which was encouragement enough. The arts faculty there was reputed and the students always performed well.
My first lecture was with Fr Terry who is very popular with the students. I remember walking into the foyer and then heading to the woods with some friends to enjoy a cup of coffee. Looking around at those beautiful old buildings, I realised I belonged there. In fact, when I went back for the first time after graduating, I was upset when one of the guards asked me for my ID. It felt almost blasphemous that he didn’t recognise me.
On my first day, it struck me that St. Xavier’s is exactly what Mumbai symbolises - It accepts all kinds of people and allows each person to have their space. Whether you are tall, short, fat, beautiful, a rebel, an artist or a mathematician, it’s a place that just lets you be yourself.
Law of the land
When we were in college, we weren’t allowed to wear short skirts or sleeveless tops. There was also the No red rule, but people weren’t very strict about it. Lots of people had been caught smoking in the woods and the common rooms so that was banned. Now the rules have become much stricter, I hear that people are punished for holding hands in public. That’s a bit strange. At one point, the college was a very boho place, which had no pretensions. But extreme rules defeat the purpose of being a collegian, which is, to enjoy a certain amount of freedom.
I loved the lending library because it had big wooden chairs that were perfect for a quick afternoon snooze. They had long arms and you could just curl up and read or sleep if you chose. I wasn’t a regular at the girls’ common room but I had a lot of friends in the boys hostel so we used to hang out on the hostel steps or in the woods.
College was also full of romantic spots, the most famous ones being the chapel stairs. I don’t remember anyone ever getting caught making out there but everyone knew about it. Rooms 41 and 42 were also popular. If I ever make a movie, which requires a romantic scene, I would shoot it on the chapel stairs.
In the mood for food
My staple diet in the canteen was the vegetarian cutlet pao, which was the food item I’d fall back on when I was broke. We also loved the Soggy Maggi that Uday, the mess cook used to make. He’d leave them a little watery and it was delicious. The Veg Manchurian from the Chinese corner was awesome, for lack of a better alternative. We had Anna at the dosa stall, who used to make us Mysore Masala Dosas.
At that time, we had started an eco-friendly movement in college. Most of us regular coffee drinkers would get mugs from home, which we’d wash after using and keep with Anand the coffeewala, so that we didn’t need plastic cups.
I was OC Indian Performing Arts (IPA) for Malhar. We felt that if we slipped up, the world would come to an end. I remember inviting a reputed director to judge a competition just one day before the event. He was offended and yelled, asking me if he had nothing better to do than to wait around to judge Malhar. I remember thinking, “What audacity! Dude. Don’t you know I’m calling you to Malhar. Why are you giving me such attitude?”
I also have fond memories of Janfest, which is organised by the Indian Music Group (IMG). One year, all the girls including me, had the biggest crush on a visiting firangi photographer. I remember telling him that I dreamed of becoming an actor. I was wearing a sari that day and he kept clicking my pictures.
The fantastic thing about St Xavier’s is that it was easy to walk up to someone and just ask him or her out for coffee or a movie. And even then, it didn’t necessarily mean that you wanted to date that person. A guy once asked me out for a movie. I accepted. Only later, did I realise that he was head-over-heels in love with me. In that sense it has a very asexual atmosphere.
I have never asked anyone out, but I made sure that the guy I liked asked me out. The environment is also very liberal about guy-girl friendships. I remember when it was time to leave and go home, it would take me about 45 minutes to go from the woods to the gate because I’d have to say bye to so many people.
Luckily, I escaped being ragged because I fell ill with typhoid just a couple of days after entering college and was on sick leave for a month. But I don’t think my batch mates were ragged either… maybe we just had boring seniors.
When I became a senior, I used to play a lot of pranks… In fact, I polished my acting skills there. I remember sitting outside the boys’ hostel one day and the Xavier’s Institute of Communication students were coming down for a break. My friend dared me to play a prank on them. So I told them that we were doing a screen test for a Levis ad and had come to audition college boys. I made them model and do a few risqué stunts, which I’m not telling you about. But luckily those guys became very good friends later.
Being a starred alumnus
I had read about everyone from Shabana Azmi to Shobha De being ex-students of St Xavier’s. I remember Shabana once visited the sociology department. I was thrilled because I had to pin a brooch onto her. I was trembling. When I went up to her, she said, “I’m no demon, why are you scared?”
I had told my teacher Nandini Sardessai that they would call me back one day. And this year, they have decided to felicitate me. It’s an honour that St Xavier’s considers my achievements worthy of being felicitated. But truthfully, every Xavierite graduate's a confident and self-assured person, which is St Xavier’s biggest contribution.