Under Experience, Kalyani Chidambaranathan, Stopping to Stare
We were the ‘ladies’ of an engineering college, though we hardy felt lady-like. We were a minority and treated on par with a particularly undistinguished, rather unlikable minority…
We’d walk into the auditorium in little groups pushing and shoving so as not be first to walk in and get noticed. The catcalls and hooting would start. We would scramble to sit down in the first few rows as fast as possible so we could pretend we were invisible. Or at least we were facing forward, blind to what was going on behind us. The noise would die down, after a while. But if one of us was called on to speak before the crowd, then it was sure to raise a furore in the hall.
We were the ‘ladies’ of an engineering college, though we hardy felt lady-like. We were a minority and treated on par with a particularly undistinguished, rather unlikable minority. In an era when even going to college was not the usual, accepted norm for women, any interaction between unrelated men and women was frowned upon socially. Even if a boy wanted to talk to one of the girls or act friendly, he was soon pulled back into line by peer pressure. It was only after spending about three years in the college that most girls found the courage to walk anywhere in the campus alone.
Two of us were a little more isolated, because we chose the Mechanical stream, an unusual branch for women. We were also the only two girls in a class of 60, removed for three long years from fun, excursions, shared notes – everything that means college. We were the ghosts in the class.
The crazy part was during college festivals when some barriers were lowered liberally. We did get to interact with the others then, but once it was over, the barriers went up automatically.
The naiveté of all the young people those days is astonishing. The boys thought that the way to get our attention was to make loud remarks. So they tell us now. And we, not realizing their intentions, froze them out. But nature did have her way and a few couples did end up together after five years.
But most of us went our separate ways happily. I can’t say we lost touch. Since you can’t lose something you never had.
After 20 years, strange things started happening. One by one, old classmates started trickling into my life. We slowly got friendly. Surprisingly the people one thought should be in the jungles turned out to be decent, nice, thinking human beings. We meet often in small groups and discuss many aspects of our lives. We share problems about our children, our work and help each other.
And we have this huge reunion coming up 25 years after we left college. Many of the articulate people on the organizing committee are female. We find that we are respected, listened to and, yes, appreciated and admired.
And I got to design the cover of our souvenir. It won’t mean much to the casual reader but it does represent something to me and hopefully to some of my 180 classmates.
For me, it contains several happy hours spent putting it together, experimenting with a great many colours and concepts, and coping with the tricks that Adobe PhotoShop can play on newcomers. And trying to rise above the remark of my daughter, “Ma, accept you are boring engineers and your design is going to be boring, but if you could do that boring concept well, it will be fine.”
Mostly, it symbolizes the ways we have grown in 25 years.
We’ve come a long way.
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