I would like to take you on a trip down memory lane, to my early days at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); a time when I was busy exploring the meaning of life. As part of some fieldwork in 2015, I found myself on a bus along with batchmates from diverse backgrounds. These were the faces, expressions and tones I had never encountered in before.
The incident I recall here is from when we were returning to the university campus from Ballabgarh via Hauz Khas. We were all tired after a full week of rigorous and hectic field visits to a hospital. But those on the bus were full of enthusiasm, sarcasm and humour, and in such an atmosphere, you just can’t feel tired.
For me, everything was new. For instance, I had never heard a boy say ‘pelne laga wo’ (which generally means talking useless, but means sex in UP), in front of the professors. Then, a female friend immediately replied in the same tone, saying the very same word, which came to me as a shock.
Over the course of the ride, I tried to learn and absorb these slangs with the hope of adapting and fitting in. It was my first proper glimpse of ‘Delhi culture’. This ‘circle’ could be characterised by their affinity for the English language and their open-mindedness. On the contrary, I was a small-town Muslim boy, from a not-so-conservative family but a very conservative district.
I had lived in Delhi before coming to JNU. So, in that sense, Delhi was not new for me, but this culture I was learning now was drastically new in many ways. During this short journey, I felt free from societal pressures, distress and disappointment. It in fact played a significant role in transforming my perspective towards life. Honestly, I didn’t even truly understand the word perspective back then, but I did learn the meaning of delight and companionship.
I felt as though I were a thief, stealing a few moments from their lives amidst the hustle-bustle. I wanted to talk to them but I felt a little shy every time I tried. None of them were close to me, and it took me some time to put myself at ease. I’m not timid as such, but it does take some time to adapt to new environments. I am sure none of them realised the way they helping me internalise new traits.
Then there was a game of dumb charades, during which I had to hold my laughter back, I had never seen such bad acting in my life. But it made the game all the more fun, as the group mocked one another and poked at each other as friends do.
Eventually, the short journey lead to a lifelong change in me. We got down from the bus. It was the last day of the field visit. All of us gathered over tea for a while as people do who have formed a bond, but one which may not last. Luckily, memories are everlasting.
Istikhar Ali is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.