My Mom was there when I moved into B. Borooah College Hostel, Room No. 21. The room was on the first floor, in the middle wing of a flattened ‘H’ structured building. Like all the other rooms in the hostel it had four tables and four beds pushed to the walls. The length of the room could be covered in fifteen steps with a door right in the middle of each end. If one kept these two doors opened then a passageway was created right in the middle of the room, connecting the inner corridor with the outer corridor. The outer corridor was more like a long balcony, from there the backside of the entire college could be seen, in particular the departments of English and Geography. Inside I chose a table and a bed (I chose the one immediately to my right on entering the room.) Mom swept the room clean, and dusted the table and the bed that I had chosen. She laid down the cane mattress on the bed and spread the cotton floral-printed bedsheet. I hugged my mom and smelt her clean and familiar odor. This was where I was going to sleep now. Then I went to take bath quickly, and coming back from the washroom, all freshened up, I put on my college uniform, which was white shirt and grey pants. I have a photograph of me and mom, dating back to that day. The photo was taken on the roof; and now as I see the photo in my mind’s eye I can actually recall that we had already gone to the roof once before. At that time we quickly scanned the precincts; there was the burial ground on the backside of the hostel-building, the Gandhibasti temple on top of the hillock toward South, the Nehru Stadium with its tower-floodlights in the four corners of the stadium, and B. Borooah College on the front. (Having come from a small rural Island, Mom and me never had an occasion to survey a surrounding from a rooftop together.) Then some time later, most probably after the dusting and sweeping of my room below, and getting cleaned up and dressed up, we had gone back up again with our old Kodak camera to click the photo. I am in my white and grey, my belt hangs loosely, my expression is serious and nonchalant at the same time and my hand is stretched out over mom’s shoulder, in a proud and protective hold. Mom is in a light pink saree, simple and elegant as usual; she looks a bit sad and out of place, but not entirely. Maybe it was because she was finding it hard for it to sink in that her son was suddenly now big enough to leave home. And that time was rushing forward, disinterested of what she or anybody felt about it.
The photograph was taken through our old camera, this, the reader is aware of as I had mentioned it previously. But I can’t remember who exactly held the camera while we posed. It could have been Jesen Changsan, the guy from Shillong, who was allotted to be one of my roommates, or else, it could have been that smartass, betel-nut chewing punk batch-mate (I have completely forgotten his name but I can totally remember how he spoke in a rapid, blasted manner) who had come towards me and mom in my very first day in the hostel to introduce himself. These two characters come to my mind because they were the first individuals I got acquainted with in the hostel. Jesen came to me because his Meghalaya sim-card did not work in Assam (today we have free roaming in the entire country) and wanted to borrow my mobile phone. He had an often urgent and constant need to talk to someone back home (he even put in all kinds of free-calls and SMS packs into my sim, of which I had never heard of before until he came along). The other guy, my betel-nut chewing garrulous batch-mate did not know that we were supposed to go to class in a uniform, so he came to me and my mom looking for a formal white shirt. (My Mom often remembers to ask about him when I happen to mention B. Borooah Hostel.) Funny thing is these two characters did not complete their studies and left the college within the next year. I will come back to why they left their studies in a while. Anyway, one of them clicked the photo: only a while ago I was sure that it was my restless batch-mate who borrowed a white shirt from me, and now I am pretty confident that it was Jesen. Both were nice guys: Jesen brought me local meat-pickle from Meghalaya when he returned to the hostel after the winter break. The other guy returned me my shirt the very next day after having washed it, just as he had promised. Now they could be living in a different planet, with their own understanding of the meaning of life and the meaning of work. Only for a small time we ran into each other during our youth, and having tested our compatibility we went our individual ways. And I never felt the need to keep in touch after that.
Jesen left because he did not fit in with the boys in the hostel—he would have fit right in in South Korea because he dressed and smiled and looked like a KPop star. But nobody in B. Borooah nor the rest of the world were so keen on KPop back then. All the ragging made him leave the hostel. Jesen might have survived it just as most of us did if he would have had some friends—but even in us newbies he did not find the connection he was seeking. Luckily I had friends and relatives outside of the college, and in general I did not care about making friends. I remember I used to ask Jesen about his girlfriend—once I had asked him if he had kissed her or not. When he nodded with a smile, I enquired farther: lip kiss or French kiss, you know, with the tongue or without the tongue. He said, with the tongue. ‘My girlfriend can get her tongue into my throat.’ Darn! I flushed all over: that was super erotic. I did not know such a thing could happen. (My own tongue can hardly reach out my mouth). ‘Wow man!’ I said. Jesen regretted it the moment he said it, I was not deserving of such a private information, he knew it. Come to think of it, they probably have had sex before, although at that age, I did not seriously think of anything further than a kiss. Even having a girlfriend to hang out with was a big deal for me. Jesen’s girlfriend used to visit him at the hostel sometimes, coming all the way from Shillong. He was cautious enough never to introduce me to her. He could very well see that I did not have even an elementary understanding of love (or women for that matter). Jesen put on some eyeliner and plucked the corner of her eyebrows, I was his roommate so I knew, and his underpants had blue and white stripes and were none of the underwear brands popular in Guwahati. Not a Jockey nor a Euro. Some boys did not like the dab of kohl in his eyes and made fun of him behind his back. But feminine and masculine distinctions are man-made and fictitious. Jesen has eternal qualities fit for all souls: he was a morally upright individual, he did not steal stuff or spoke ill of others (common things among boys in hostels), he was straightforward, and he respected his seniors (When Kironisha, the senior-most occupant of Room 21, asked us to get his shoes polished, both of us went without a grumble). It’s strange I cannot even remember the circumstance in which he left the hostel, he was just no more among us for the remainder of my days in B.Borooah hostel.
The other guy, my batch-mate, did not pass his First Year exams—he took studies too lightly. He used to greet me whenever I passed him on the corridor, and one day, he left the college, and never came back. Now that I am thinking about it: when he introduced himself on our first day in the hostel, he had a motive to do so, contrary to what I had presumed. The motive behind his approaching me (and Mom) was that he was looking for someone from whom he could borrow a white shirt. He did not do it to make friendship with me. In my mind the two events of introduction and borrowing the white shirt had been two events happening on two different occasions. But now it suddenly dawns on me that these two incidents were actually one single event. Memory really is a constantly changing thing. The same memory remembered again and again has a different story to tell each time.