The gate was still the same bulk of unceremonious iron but the rust was gone for good. Probably one of the government grants had come good for a change. The pine trees, defining the narrow path to the modest entrance, swayed their gesture of welcome that brought a twinkle to the professor’s weary eyes. This acknowledgment was some green respite from the blistering heat of his career track.
The corridor bore the customary dead look that pervades the expanse of an educational institution during a vacation break. The gaudy fonts of sign boards atop the wooden doors of dimly-lit chambers reluctantly declared the respective authority surrounding the names – clerical, administrative and faculty - in no particular order. The names of course had changed.
With nobody in sight to act as his tourist guide, the professor set out on his own …..The tour, after all, was his official path for nearly two decades. As he climbed the creaking stairs, he looked around for some form of objection to his expedition, formal or otherwise, but nobody seemed to care a damn about this quiet intrusion. The hushed vicinity of the first floor was mercilessly overpowered by the strong stench of urine and the professor knew the exact location of this nasal terrorism. The ghastly toilet on the extreme left next to the Common room was still the lowest priority for the institute, in true Indian tradition. Few things never change.....even across generations.
With quiet authority, he marched to the cubicle that was once his professional abode. The room, complete with electrical fittings, window sills and furniture was exactly the same. Except for the huge, unadorned wooden chairs perhaps…the mantle of accommodating the institute’s intellectual pride had now been passed on to the smart generation of their plastic counterparts.
Just when he was about to conclude on the complete absence of human existence in the whole expanse, he heard hurried footsteps in his direction. It was the dean, he found out later in the ensuing and absorbing conversation…He found it rather amusing to find the highest authority for sole company in the scholarly abandonment of the place.
This was the dean’s second year in the reckoning and the professor was glad to acknowledge some enthusiasm in the dean’s earnest eyes. The dean, in turn, was pleased to note that this visit was unofficial, a walk down memory lane. This mutual happiness made way for some engrossing conversation. Times had truly changed, the dean lamented – there were hardly any takers for archeology and history these days. Even among the few who lose their way to this place, the majority drop out midway, he revealed a dark secret in hushed tone.
The dean offered tea but was glad to note the refusal from the other end. That saved him some embarrassment. There was no one around to make tea. With mechanical promises exchanged to keep in touch, they parted ways and the dean felt the need to escort the professor to the gate in what seemed like genuine respect for yesteryear faculty. Just as the professor looked back at the building for one last time, he spotted a familiar figure walking towards him –this was Dias- the chirpy peon from his teaching days, now probably in his early fifties and uncharacteristically subdued.
The professor was unknowingly swept over by the unusual reunion. Not knowing how to celebrate this fag-end ecstasy, he searched his pockets on an impulse. Dias took the weathered hundred rupee note, speechless and spellbound. They shook hands in a gesture that was devoid of any formal orchestration. As prominent as the unmistakable delight at the sudden monetary gain, the moist eyes of Dias also revealed the warmth of heartfelt gratitude. The professor didn’t care if the latter came wrapped in a commercial transaction. He seemed obsessed with the unadulterated bliss.
In the low-scoring subjects that he taught all his life, there was no student who could have done him proud with cent per cent result. The bliss that Dias gifted him was hundred per cent. And he was only thankful that Dias was not his student.