Sunday, 28 June 2015

Kalasalingam College Reunion

College Reunion
On Saturday, May 23, 2015, the third batch of students of Arulmigu Kalasalingam College of Engineering, Krishnankovil, Srivilliputhur taluk, had a 25th year reunion. This was held at Esthell Resorts, near Tirukkazhukunram, not far from Mamallapuram. Nearly fifty  people of the 1986-1990 batch were in attendance, several with their families. A good number were people living in Madras, while others drove or took a train from other parts of Tamilnadu. But quite a few alumni had flown in from countries like Malaysia, China, USA, Scotland, UAE, Oman, Brunei, and some from various parts of India, to be at this reunion.

While small subgroups had got together on occasion in the intervening 25 years between graduation and this reunion, and so could recognize each other, some of us were seeing each other for the first time after college, and hilarious confusion reigned when we wrongly identified each other. Our college had only three courses at that time, Civil Mechanical and Computer Engineering, but has since expanded and become a deemed university. There were roughly 190 students in our batch, half of whom stayed in a hostel on the college campus, whereas others were mostly day scholars from nearby towns. The hostelites generally knew each other; it was in remembering day scholars from differing courses, that perhaps the most confusion reigned. But also, some of us had changed so dramatically, by weight and facial appearance, and the passage of years.

My plans were not certain until the final week, and I was not sure I would join them, so when I arrived, it was a surprise to most of them. I drove early that morning to Tiger Cave near Mamallapuram early in the morning to investigate a couple of things and was delighted that I could find at least one, which I will merely note as Colin Mackenzie’s Inscribed Stone. At Esthell, heading the reception committee were Puli Saravanakumar and my first year roommate Rammohan, two of the chief organizers, Asokan from Muscat, Arumugasamy from Uttar Pradesh, Kumar, Prasad, Watrap Saravanan, Kannan, Dote Radhakrishnan. Some of us spent a few minutes catching up, as others arrived.

For a while, Asokan recalled his early days working in north India with Watrap Saravanan and Arumugasamy. The latter has had to manage a recurring swelling of cerebral fluid in his younger son – a difficult challenge for any family – but thanks to medical advances, going well so far. Kannan recalled his challenges with bipolar disorder. The minor irritants of our daily lives fade in the face of these harder turbulences. Then we joined the larger group still receiving new arrivals - Guhan from Singapore, Saravanan from Malaysia, Johnson, Pandyan from Tuticorin, Murali from Trichy, Kingsley from Brunei, Robert, Jayasekar, Shahul Hameed,  Thevaram Senthilkumar, Thirunavukkarasu from China, just to mention a few. Very little of the jocularity or the camaraderie can be captured even by video, let alone an essay. I write this a month after the reunion, but so many of the memories are still quite fresh.

I have never been hugged so much or so often, or by so many, in my life.

Especially by sweaty guys in their forties, at midday at the peak of a Madras summer!

I think I offended a few people by not recognizing or remembering them. Madurai Viswanathan, now in Scotland, wanted to avoid this mistake, so stood next to me while I identified a few people. When Ilango from Salem looked at Dote Rathakrishnan and commented that the latter had lost weight, there were roars of delight from our group. Dote from Thoothukudi, greeted Johnson also from the same place and said they were meeting for the first time since college. Saravanan and Kingsley said they were quite delighted to see me, a couple of people mentioned they read my blog, and Murali commented that NDVenkatesan’s wife was a Sanskrit teacher and he had urged them to watch my one TV appearance, about debating Sanskrit celebrations. We adjourned for lunch, where Vijayakumar and I stuck to the vegetarian section, and Robert showered me in encomiums that would have made an egotistic politician blush.

After lunch, we had a session of introducing each other, and briefly talking about ourselves, while more people arrived. They tried to go via alphabetical order but only chaotically. Thirunavukkarasu was called first because we call him Arasu, which begins with an A; and Rathakrishnan came under D because we call him by his nomdeplume DOTE!
Retired software engineer! 

Left to Right : Murali Asokan Arumugasamy Gopu Saravanan 

I wont summarise all the speeches or speakers, but note a few that stuck in memory.

Most moving by far, was the narrative of ND Venkatesan who had been diagnosed with and successfully battled cancer. I cannot imagine what going through something like that could possilby feel like. My mother died of Hodgkin’s disease when she was 37, when I was too young to fully absorb the tragedy. Venkatesan was overcome with emotion, so he was not always audible, and the humidity and heavy lunch had a soporific effect on the audience. But it was a riveting recount, from the depths of his soul.

Almost equally moving was Krishnamurthi’s narrative – of his hearing impaired daughter, who just finished her tenth standard exams, with flying colors. Several talked proudly of their children’s high scores in the recent tenth standard exams – 470 and 480 and 490+ out of 500! The next generation ranged from kindergarten to second or third years in colleges! I was one of the two bachelors in the group.
Left to Right : Balamurugan, Ramki, Balaji, Jayagupta, Gopu
Quite a few of us had jobs that were not at all related to our college education; running dealerships, doing middle manager roles, running a bus company, or cable company, moved into software or a family trade.

Mariappan, a civil engineer, now with the PWD in Tenkasi and supervising the dams, spoke with great pride that he was working in the very field that he studied in college, unlike so many of us others. Jayasekar spoke of coming from a Tamil medium education with no idea of what engineering was when he joined the college, or what such an education would mean in terms of life or career. A couple of others with similar backgrounds mentioned the same thing. { For me, it was the exact opposite. Having studied in English medium schools all my life, it was by living in a remote rural area with people of varied backgrounds that I experienced Tamilnadu, not Madras. There were times when Madras was boring, and remote rural Krishnankovil was exciting; not by facilities, but by friendships. }

While these were sombre or poignant narrations, most of the others were just nostalgic or funny or both. Malaysia Saravanan’s Asoka song – the extempore aalaapana with which he used to disturb Asokan’s peace in our hostel days – was the evergreen hit highlight! Since most of these speeches are on video, I wont add much  more to this. People introduced their families with pride, the wives were often shy but proud, the children’s countenances was a varied as their ages.

The humidity took a toll on everyone; the air conditioning was not quite upto the mark; and several people adjourned to their rooms and then to the swimming pool for escaping the heat of the summer. An impromptu water polo game propped up. I recall our hostel days, when sometimes during power cuts, when the overhead tanks ran dry, some of us would walk upto a well near Muniyandi’s hut, power up the diesel motor and shower via its agricultural pump. Best before 8am, otherwise, town buses would roll in with day scholars. I cannot imagine resorts like these in those days.

Cooling off in the pool

There were plenty of conversations on the sidelines. Ramki turned up around 5 and I found out he lived a mile from my Kodambakkam house. Arasu showed me how he was learning chinese with his cellphone app and some incidents in China. Balaji talked about his career with the TVS group, and later about his grandfather’s amateur astronomy. Night rolled in. Balamurugan, whom I had worked with briefly after college, connected me to Athavan in the US on his phone. Then he wondered about the lifestyle I was leading, if one could call it that. Raghuraman and Jeyasekar attempted to sing. Some people danced. Most settled in for drinks, and since I prefer sobriety, echoing CV Raman’s remark that you could see the Raman effect in alcohol but not alcohol’s effect on Raman, I took leave after dinner.
Dancing on the lawns at Esthell resorts 

Group Photo

Most friends stayed on for the next day, and seem to have had a great time. We missed those who could not show up and AL Ramakrishnan, who tragically passed away a few years back. We made resolutions to meet more often. Surely, we must not wait for another twenty five years. 

Related Posts

1. Revisiting my college - AKCE  

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