Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Best Days of My Life

You can get the Cynthia Rodrigues out of Xavier's, but you cannot get the Xavier's out of Cynthia Rodrigues. Years after leaving college, this is one truth that stands firm. You only have to mention the name of the college for me to get all nostalgic and race into flashback mode.
Post-class X exams, when I made known my desire to join St Xavier's College, Bombay, I was warned by all and sundry that it was a very degenerate place. Drugs were freely snorted on the campus and in the classrooms. The atmosphere was overly permissive with couples smooching everywhere and indulging in scandalous and sinful acts. This was the gist of everyone's dire pronouncements against the college. I doubt any of the many people who warned me against it had actually stepped foot inside the campus. It was a case of a bad reputation getting ahead faster.

I don't know why I had insisted on joining Xavier's. No one we knew had gone to Xavier's at that time. Subsequently many have, but none at that time. I knew nothing about Xavier's, of its fine traditions or its glorious history. I had not even seen pictures of the college.

The name had fired my imagination, that is all. To fight for my right to go to Xavier's, I resorted to every melodramatic trick I could think of. I refused to eat, even showing a saintly aversion when Mum tried to tempt me by cooking my favourite dishes. I announced grandly that it was Xavier's or nothing. If I couldn't go to Xavier's, I would give up my education. Fortunately, my parents were too sensible to be taken in by these stupid threats. After approximately a week of holding on to a hardline stance, my parents, having made an informed decision, agreed to let me join Xavier's.

And that was when the chilling import of what I had earned first hit me. What if I didn't like it? What if it really was degenerate? How could I possibly save face?

The admission form had been picked up by my cousins. We lived in Thane and Xavier's was in VT (now CST). For a Bombayite, whose thinking often follows the linear tracks of the local railways, this was the furthest halt on the Central Railway line. Perhaps that had subconsciously influenced me. I don't know. But the idea of starting something new, something that was physically at the opposite pole from the point at which I was then must have appealed at some level.

When I first went to college with my dad for the admission process, I was prepared to be surprised. This was after all a whole new world, far removed from the sedate convent-school outlook that was mine. As we stepped into the driveway leading to the college, I was transported. My heart beat faster. I had never seen any building quite as beautiful as this. Then when we walked through the commonplace lobby and then into the resplendent Gothic beauty of the quadrangle, every stone block illuminated in the sunlight, I was entranced. I knew I had to be a part of it.

Everywhere I looked, youngsters milled about. I desperately hoped none of the scandalous stuff was happening in plain view. I didn't want my parents to change their mind about admitting me to Xavier's. But there was nothing to worry about.

There was excitement in full force, as many hopefuls like me looked forward to being a part of this world. I remember praying hard. A girl standing next to me in the admission queue asked me my name. When I told her, she said, "Oh, don't worry, of course, you'll get in. This is a Catholic institution. They'll take you in. They are duty bound to take all Catholics in."

Hard as I was praying to be admitted in, I remember wishing that she would turn out to be wrong. Something told me that this was a fine institution, one of the finest. Nay, let me say it. The finest. But I wanted them to take me in because I was intelligent and creative and honest and sensible and had much to gain from here, much to learn, much that I would make my own and then someday, years hence, take out into the big wide world. I wanted them to take me in because I deserved to be in. I wanted the Sorting Hat of Xavier's to think me worthy.

Over the next five, and they were the best years of my life, I learned to take great pride in being called a Xavierite. To a large extent, Xavier's made me the woman I am today. Amid its hallowed halls, I learned that it was as important to question as it was to seek answers. I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. I learned to get out of my cocoon, and seek out the best in others.

I also learned that the negative reputation that the college had earned was entirely undeserved.

Today St Xavier's College is an autonomous institution. But even then, despite being affiliated to the University of Bombay, there was a breath of freedom that pervaded the place. There was a yearning for education that inspired you to cherish learning for learning's sake, that could not be restrained by any syllabus or curriculum. Most professors encouraged us to call them by their first names, reasoning that we were all on the road to learning from one another. It was a refreshing stance, one that enabled us to see them as friends, to be more understanding of each other.

Laughter resounded within those ancient walls. Nothing was so serious that it couldn't withstand being laughed at. Nothing so lighthearted that it couldn't teach us a solid truth.
There were so many treasures within. The reference library where I first learned to imagine that Heaven had to be a library, the biggest of its kind. The lending library with its tall rows of books that I would eye greedily, even ravenously, wondering if I would ever be able to read them all.

Incidentally, the lending library was where I received my first taste of Western classical music. Every afternoon, they would play classics from Beethoven, Mozart and Handel, among others. Having grown up on the heady music of the BeeGees, Abba, Boney M and Kenny Rogers (that was all the music my Dad had), it was my first initiation into Western classical music.

Those were the best days of my life.

There was another reason that made Xavier's very special. Three more reasons. I made three friends who continue to form a very important part of my life. Angela, Liz, Lo and I were inseparable. It was a friendship that was destined to happen. I always believe that the greatest friendships of our lives are brought to us by some sort of a cosmic radar. An overarching force that skims through thousands of people and then, against all odds, out of the blue, brings to you the people that are the sisters you never had.

We used to call ourselves the GAX (the Great Amigos of Xavier's). I didn't know any Spanish then, so it was only much later that I learned that since we were girls, we should call ourselves amigas. But the original name stuck.

Together we laughed each time one of us was bitter and disappointed. And we cried until our sides ached at nothing at all.

At our third year farewell party, I cried as if my heart was breaking and would never mend again. Friends and classmates tried to comfort me. They promised that we would never lose touch. We would call and write unfailingly (pre-Facebook era). But I was weeping for something more.

I was weeping at having to leave a college that had become home for the five years we had been there. I was weeping for a college that was more than an institution, it was our life.

Thankfully, memories are doorways and they can take us back to our past faster than we can imagine.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.


  1. WOW Cynthia ! u r a xaverite. This college has produced many luminaries in every field. My English Sir who taught me the subject in school is a product of this college and he would talk about this great institution. All the best for the contest.

  2. I miss my college right now. Soooooooooo much :( :(
    It was wonderful to read your experience and happy for you that you had a dream (to study in Xavier's) and you fought for it :)
    Way to go lady.

  3. That's really sweet Cynthia. Glad your alma ater was a memorable plce. I never had this bonding with my college. But your emotion about the institution made me feel... I surely missed some.

  4. Who doesn't want to get through Xaviers it has such a high name in our country for its lineage. Well I know for one that the crying part in farewell is very common and mostly for the reason you have mentioned, to leave home. For me school was that. And well another potter reference here! sorting hat :D :D

    Cynthia I was wondering if we should perhaps go back to blogadda forum and discuss the wow posts what do you say?


  5. Mera Xavier's Mahaan. :-)

    This was an nostalgic post Cyn. Proud to be part of GAX.

    Looking forward to returning someday soon there with U, Lo and Liz

    :-) Ap



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