We were driving towards Gajendra Circle, the campus unfolding before us, and in the typical way of newcomers, uttering exclamations of wonder at all that we saw (admittedly, mostly trees). It was the first day of my first semester at IITM. As the car came to a halt outside SAC, I fantasized about the transition I was about to make. The inside of the car was symbolic to me of all that was safe and familiar; the outside was The Great Unknown.
I got out of the car, putting one foot firmly on the ground, and then another. I waited for a sign. For a moment, nothing happened. The heavens and earth stayed just where they were, and a leaf twirled its way to the ground from a tree above.
And then a Malignance struck me, full in the face, throwing me completely off guard. This Malignance had been absent in all of my fanciful imaginings about college life, and as if to chastise me for forgetting to factor it in, it was relentless in its attack. There was no thwarting this determined Malignance. More charitable people than me have called this Malignance ‘the Chennai weather’.
The weather in Chennai plays an important role in our lives. One’s freshie year is predominantly occupied with attempting to get a seat close to one of the few fans in the cavernous Class Room Complex. The few fortunate claimants of these ‘fan seats’ spend their class hours in relative luxury compared to the uncountable masses that are forced to melt drop by excruciating drop into the stoic wooden furniture of CRC. While CRC has been recently fitted with air-conditioners, that other furnace of IITM, the Central Workshop, remains the quaint replica of hell that it’s always been.
Fashion trends in insti, too, are dictated by the weather. Students display a preference for shorts, especially the loose, floaty kind that are readily available at Gurunath. Crew cuts are always in vogue, and the barber never does brisker business than in the hot summers in insti. Rubber chappals are ubiquitous.
While the flora of insti seems robustly unaffected by the heat, the fauna is more vulnerable. The deer can be seen taking shelter amidst dense bushes, and the monkeys, unfortunately, like to shelter in our hostels (and if they can get inside them, our rooms).
Victims of the Chennai heat are constantly in search of cures for this affectation of the spirit, and thankfully, there are several known remedies. If you are feeling rich, you can seek solace in Café Coffee Day, whose other attraction is that it is air-conditioned and that they let you linger in the AC for as long as you like. If you aren’t feeling rich, Cavin’s milkshake at Gurunath could offer you a measure of consolation. And for those of you who are particularly penniless, there’s always the option of going to hostel and taking a bath.
Then, of course, there are the ingenious ways students have devised themselves to beat the heat. Lit-Soc events, Extra Mural Lectures, and Shaastra and Saarang coordinator fundae sessions are just some of the brilliant excuses the student body has come up with to spend a couple of hours in the strong air-conditioning of the Central Lecture Theatre.
A newcomer to the campus need not fear. Like generations of students before him, and generations of students after him, he will rail bitterly against the weather at first. But there will be unexpected days of pleasant weather, rains and even thunderstorms on occasion. As the tide of insti life engulfs a student, complaints about the weather will reduce to a muted refrain in the background of his life, and with enough time, he may even come to regard the weather with something bordering on contemptuous fondness.
Photo credits: Andrew Abraham