The Sights and Sounds of a Night on Campus
By Aditya Padinjat, UG '24.
“Okay guys, come on, time to decide now. Which one?” The question hangs in the air, unresolved, begging for anyone in RH3 commons to answer it. How have we come back to this again? We do this at least once a week. Then again, deciding whether to watch Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is an incredibly complicated decision. It takes time. We’ve been here before. I’m really not in the mood for this discussion again so I make a decision. I do this at least once a week. I pop in my earphones and set off. I’m going for a walk while this UN summit happens.
“Time just floated by, where I wanna be…” – Floated By by Peter Cat Recording Co.
I quickly run up to my room before heading out first. While I’m there, a person whom I have never spoken to (but has seen me vomiting my intestines out) has decided that at 6:30 PM, it is time to shower. The sound of Floated By by Peter Cat Recording Co. is wafting through the corridor. I do my cursory check and note that like every day, there is an unclaimed bottle of protein powder the size of a small child that has not been touched. One day I’ll find out whose that is. Skipping down the stairs, doing that weird half-eye-contact thing I do when I run into acquaintances out and about, I turn past the commons and out into the front of RH3. Immediately, the choice of turning left or right comes. Weighing up the choices, I go left past RH4 and 5. There is precious little on the right, aside from the now-hollow shell of SR (which we don’t talk about).
“Go on, go on, and disappear, go on, go on away from here” – In Between Days by The Cure
For a campus that is so bustling with life, the lane behind RH5 is deafeningly silent. On occasion, you might find a couple of people walking around and making conversation, or unchaining bikes, but few are there for a long time. And who can blame them? The most conspicuous sight on the trip is THAT building. The building of bad dreams. The premises of pain. If you speak to those who went into it today, a shudder goes down their spine and they break into a cold sweat. It looks so inconspicuous from the outside, with trophies dotted in the window and warm lights on inside, but the Isolation and Quarantine Centre (IQC) is no place to be. Just as you stand outside it, a sharp gust of icy wind blows at you, either to remind you how lucky you were to avoid it or to remind you of the horrors inside. And so, your steps become just a touch longer, your pace a touch quicker. This is no place for a young Ashokan to be.
“Koka koka, ko ko ko ko, Koka, tera kujh kujh kehnda ni koka” – Koka by Jasbir Jassi
Luckily, as you turn out of the ghost town, you’re welcomed by the embrace of better times. Well, it’s not an embrace so much as a rib-crushing hug. I’m not entirely convinced that the dhaba area exists during the daytime, but if you go there once the sun is down you are greeted by the gentle chatter of conversation from the dhaba and loud exultations of good times, both competing to be audible over the sounds of Punjabi music emanating from the Rasananda hut. The smell of Dosai filter coffee rescuing those hopelessly behind on their assignments hangs over the air as people sit clustered in small pockets, all here to have their own good times assisted by a variety of food, drink and others. On the Thursday nights of the apocalypse, these pockets are far less loosely defined, mainly because many of them are preoccupied rolling down hills, lying on the football field or engaged elsewhere. The only thing that is certain is that they certainly will not remember it in the morning. With every second, the prospect of kulhad-wali chai grows more and more appealing, but just as I’m about to go get it, a text appears on my phone asking, “Bro, where are you?”. It appears a resolution is close. I turn left at the tennis court to depart.
“Close to everything and nothing…” – Ottolenghi by Loyle Carner and Jordan Rakei
As far as I’m aware, the sky only appears as a sunset on the mess lawns. From around 6 in the evening, people place themselves on the lawns to act as small centres of gravity attracting friends from all around to sit, take aesthetic photos of Sonipat skies for the #gram, eat snacks, or talk about deep questions (like what on earth the statues on the mess lawns are). As the evening draws on, people slowly migrate from directly in front of the mess to the library steps, picking up others who are exiting classrooms after their last DS or were in the library finishing their work. Everyone there is in their own little bubble, living in their own tiny ecosystem for the evening before life comes to pull them away.
“Mamma mia, does it show again, my my, just how much I’ve missed you” – Mamma Mia by ABBA
For the purposes of ending this article at some point, I decide that the quickest way to head back to the commons is through the mess. Outside the mess, there are some brave souls who have set up stalls to promote their latest endeavour, enlisting a set of speakers to play crowd-favourite songs to attract a crowd. On a good day, this will work. People will stop and listen, sometimes even break out into dance. Inside the mess, you can see the last remnants of dinner. Those who have narrowly missed the window for TKS are now descending the stairs, others are gathered around tables locked in a furious discussion. There are even a few who fancied a quieter moment and decided that the best place to be inconspicuous is in a crowd. In a few hours, this whole crowd will be replaced by a new cast of brave souls who have 8:30 classes or just really like breakfast as a concept.
Having ducked through the mess doors, I’m now on the path back to the commons. The earphones come out in preparation for re-entering human society, but I’m expecting the sound of Dil Dhadakne Do or Ilahi to help wean me off my musical addiction. But no such aid is forthcoming, all I hear is the sound of voices. They haven’t reached a decision; of course they haven’t. Why would they? This is the only universal truth of living at Ashoka: nothing is ever fully decided.