In Jan 2013, AM called for a meeting and we all sat in the old department, dragging our chairs from behind our desks, notepads in hands, looking for pens that worked.
‘Meta’, he said was Greek for ‘Beyond’. That was the first time I had heard of the word. We were all curious to see what would happen, the department was organizing its first fest and there I was, as short as I am today, bursting with more energy than I can remember now and bearing no idea that Meta in the years to come would grow with me.
There are a billion things I have said in the past that I want to forget. When I was looking for a job after my post grad, one of the prerequisites was to get a job that wouldn’t stretch after 5:00 pm. On my first day as a teacher, I realized that that’s never going to happen. I returned home that night, sitting on my bed with a dozen attendance sheets that I was learning how to fill. I filed each of my 6 classes into 6 different stick folders- orange for MCT, blue for Additional English and red for General English. The next day was my birthday but I didn’t realise that until midnight.
Two months later, when the job got tougher, my routine got messier and my life got interesting, I forgot all about the damn prerequisite. I had begun to see the post 5:00 pm of college hours as far more important. That’s where all my learning happened. That and Meta.
At the meeting, we discussed who would do what, and other things. Like all AM meetings, this one also lasted for all of 15 minutes. A good meeting shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes – he always says. Over the years, this will continue to remain true – this and the painfully big smile I feel in the pit of my stomach every time January rolls around the corner.
Meta-2013 will always remain special for various reasons. It doesn’t seem to matter how grand and festive or disappointing and noisy the other succeeding editions are. The first was a blind shot at something unknown – nobody knew what would happen. And we managed to survive it just alright. Sure, there were goof-ups. And I am sure I had something to do with most of those. I emceed like a child trying not to weep in front of her audience, confused various people, got myself confused on many an occasion but always trying to catch up with the blur that Meta becomes in the end.
I remember walking into a classroom in science block one day for invigilation and realising that I hadn’t prepared for my ‘Secret Reading Addiction’. A key feature of Meta 2013-‘My Secret Reading Addiction’ was to impose on every member of the department, the horror of speaking to an audience about a book that they had enjoyed reading. I was the first bakra who was going to inaugurate the series. I quickly scribbled something at the back of a question paper and waited for the ordeal.
I heard myself in the speakers, later that evening, lumbering on about the joys of reading Nabokov, worried suddenly for my voice, cursing it for being so obnoxiously childish. As I would soon learn, my voice should have been the least of my worries; for sitting behind me all this while –hidden away from the world under the banyan tree was AM with a mike and everything.
He called himself ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ and I felt my intestines crawl as I heard the audience break into peals of laughter. He proceeded to crush me – little by little. A week later, when AM was to talk about his addiction, CA became The Grand Inquisitor. When AM heard this, he laughed his big laugh and refused to let CA talk. He picked everything he could get his hands on – bottle, pen, paper, flowers and threw them all at CA. The master plan crumbled and I snatched the tablecloth away from him before he could fling it across.
Meta became Meta when I saw this madness.
I am tempted to say things were simpler back in those days but things are always simpler in the past no? What Meta brought for me in 2013 was, to borrow AM’s term,‘Jhilmil’. It is easier to feel Jhilmil than it is to explain it. But this is what it means for me:
It is when your body is tired and wants to sit itself like a mountain on some chair and then when you do, you look around and see that there is warmth in the air, and people are talking or piling chairs up, or eating coconut naan and drinking chai and talking about the day. And then you begin to feel a familiar fullness in your chest – it bulges and expands and falls and spreads to the mouth, where a smile would have just begun to curve. The body pain will continue to sting, your legs would have retired but you have never felt this calm in ages. Not since the last Meta. And you just sit there and live the moment and watch the Banyan tree grow bigger and bigger in the darkness.
In 2013, the Jhilmil came from enjoying Meta more privately. Yes, more privately than sitting alone with one’s calm. It came from going to Couch with the dept at the end of every Meta day and watching as CA sat erect and watched women’s WWF delightfully, dumping hot coffee all over himself or watching AM notice this and smile his ‘Oh CA is going to say something-smile’ or laughing with ER about something MMB said to VRV whose uncle was/is apparently a snake.
Couch is gone now and so is the old department and Meta from 2013. Meta became too many things for many people. For some, it became that time of the year when things escalate to all kinds of crazy. For some others it became a battleground. For me it has been a Jhilmil and hopefully will remain so.
Two girls from the Science Stream wanted to volunteer for Meta last year. The same year – VB, a Natural Science student championed her way through Meta. The year before that, a very cute girl from PG English promised to become a writer and come back for the future Meta to sign books and everything. This year, two more science students have shown interest to volunteer. I look forward to getting to know these students who are doing various other courses but turn up, perhaps to see what their relationship with literature has to offer at Meta. Or maybe just to see what in the world is happening under the banyan tree, or to see if they can have some of their own jhilmils.
Meta 2016 is barely a month away. Despite all the madness of last year and the dipping low-energy of this year, I am quietly looking forward to it. Much like I look forward to traveling alone.