It’s been three years since I began my life in Manipal. Three whole years. And I just can’t believe that I’ll be passing out in a year’s time. If feels like it was the other day, I happened to be a nervous first year who just wanted my orientation to get over and go explore the town. Now, I feel like I know this quaint little town a few kilometers off the city of Udupi, Karnataka like the back of my hand. (Of course, due to my horrendous sense of navigation I have gotten lost more than once and yet I’ve reached my destinations.) I’ve probably learned more acronyms like KC, SP, TC, DT, et al than what I ought to have learnt in class. (Trust me, the lecturers at the Mechanical Department have already started the usual “If you don’t prepare, you’re gonna end up at TCS” speech.)
I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the years gone by. In my second semester, I remember the unbelievable displays of patriotism and euphoria that broke out when India had won the 2011 Cricket World Cup. And in my fourth semester, I have seen the power of mass mobilization and the boiling over of the latent discontent and pent up rage that ensued after the untimely demise of Ishan Nihalani, may his soul Rest in Peace.
A lot of credit in shaping up my Manipal experience goes to those many unrecorded moments that I’ve had inside and outside of the classroom, like the many tense moments that were spent in surreptitiously writing down a laboratory record, praying that I didn’t get caught, and occasionally, running after said lecturer with impassioned pleas even as he walked out after the lecture having confiscated the book in question – or of those numerous classes skipped when I had been too lazy to wake up and spent sleeping in, eventually cursing myself for my stupidity as I literally dragged myself to class to make the attendance cut, or of bunking classes to have small adventures, which unbeknownst to them have had a profound impact on my nature of understanding of the workings of the human mind as I silently observed and took in their company, spending timeless moments having many a good laugh and animated conversation, be it over puffs and lime at Sutta Point or Sheela’s or while being buzzed with a drink in my hand during a late night spree post sessionals or during a birthday party at Dee Tee, or else passing around a hookah at Black cup even as we chomped on their amazing chicken sandwiches, all of which I can simply sum up in one word, and forgive me for the obscenity, “Bakchodi”.
However, this semester has been more subdued than I would have expected. Under normal circumstances I would have simply passed it off as a consequence of the gloomy weather or of the general feeling of having been there and done that, which is a result of now being a “veteran” of Manipal. But I soon had found reason to believe that Manipal has changed, depending on the way you look at it, for the better or for the worse, in the past two months that I’ve been gone.
For starters, the cops have begun to take notice of the alleged illegality of a lot of hot spots (and I’m not talking about the fast food joint “Hot Spot”, mind you) where students in Manipal generally hang out, which upon further inquiries from several quarters, are a consequence of a recent moral policing attack that happened in Mangalore, their vigilance bolstered by fears of off-the-record rumours of another one to happen soon in Manipal doing the rounds. For starters, Dee Tee has been banned for playing “loud” music during its working hours. Can you believe it? The very same Dee Tee, which is a hallowed institution of Manipal not being allowed to play its trademark music that makes the very walls and floorboards of this venerable cornerstone of The Manipal Experience vibrate? And mind you, I had been there this past week for a casual drink with a couple of friends, and much to my surprise, not only was I able to hear crystal clear the conversation at my table, but also the gist of the gup-shup and gossip in the rest of the establishment as well!! Anyone who’s ever been in Manipal in the past will tell you that’s a first. In addition, a lot of nightclubs and watering holes have been banned from playing music or from operating their dance floor. Needless to say, Hookah has also been banned, with the known establishments that sold hookahs having been raided and issued a strict warning from the cops. Of course, there are always ways to get whatever you want in Manipal if you know your way around, but this comes as a big letdown to people who would enjoy an occasional night out to have a good time within legal limits.
I can’t help but feel pity for the current crowd of fresher’s, and they are literally a crowd, for the intake in MIT alone this year, I’ve been told is at around two and a half thousand students, give or take a hundred. And to quote a lecturer who called my class “Worst Batch Of Students I’ve Ever Taught” (which by the way is said to every batch that has ever walked in to Manipal for the past 55 years or so), the intake used to be around a third of this figure way back in 2000. And its effect is palpable at Kamath Circle itself, with the sea of humanity that’s either on its way to class from the hostels or vice versa making it feel like as if there were some technical festival like “Tech Tatva” underway. And this isn’t the case in MIT alone, with similar instances recurring in other constituent colleges situated within Manipal proper.
All of this has led to an atmosphere where people not just in MIT, but also in and around Manipal are left reeling from the after effects of the recent developments and a feeling of disenchantment in The Manipal Experience. Only some days back, a friend of mine who had looked forward to meeting his friends who were coming from Goa and Chennai had told me that he was dreading their reactions to the sobered atmosphere here, after having filled their ears to the brim with tales of the “epicness” of Manipal.
Of course there are people who would disagree to this assertion. They opine that Manipal in recent years has acquired an intensely negative reputation, owing to the frequent reports of untoward incidents; be they late night fights between rickshaw drivers and students over trivial matters such as the nature of the fare; or drunken brawls at pubs and unspoken incidents of misbehaviour with girls at parties, or God forbid, of students having met with a tragic end during a night of fun and frolic in the dead of the night or having undertaken a misadventure by wading into the sea at one of several beaches that dot the coastline along this region of India. Also, a lot of outsiders have a perception of Manipalites being people who live for the moment and aren’t the type to pursue matters of an academical, extra-curricular (by extra-curricular I mean of technical and cultural clubs) or career based nature. They contend that all these measures are needed to guide youngsters, who are at a critical juncture of their lives and cannot afford to, as the phrase goes, “go off the rails”.
Which brings me to the unspoken question that’s probably on the back of any fun loving Manipalite’s mind these days. Is Manipal as we know it is dying? Or are people just over reacting to some much needed enforcement of the rules that was long overdue?