Rarely, there will be a buzz of an activity in Gwyer Hall and when there is one it is reflected in the canteen of the hostel.
The canteen was packed, chock-a-block of residents and their guests. I was unaware what activity unfolded in the hostel, and I tried to live like a mouse. For I was staying in a room of friend’s friend’s friend’s room as guest on a temporary basis and that friend was away from the campus for three months but he allowed me to reside in his room on a condition that I will keep it clean and will not accommodate another friend.
I stood at the edge of a dining table in the canteen and searched for space to sit. The diners were immersed in discussions on secularism, pseudo-secularism, the imperative for India to be a socialist country in the place of capitalism; and conversations bordering on questions for competitive exams, who has a girlfriend and who doesn’t have among other topics. Instead of finding space for myself, I found out the reason for today’s activity: celebration of Gwyer Hall’s founding day.
At one end of the canteen leading into the kitchen stood Sachchidananda Tripathi, the secretary to mess or food affairs, with this hands on his rotund tummy. He noticed me but ignored me otherwise he could ensure a spot for me to sit: he knew I am not legal resident. Under his direction, the quality of the food improved, and he made his mark in the hostel if not as the secretary to Government of India. He exhausted all his chances in becoming a civil servant with the Government of India which he dreamt of becoming for which he studied sociology, Sanskrit, current affairs, and everything about something and something about everything and everyone on the Earth for over a decade: General Knowledge.
“It’s empty, you can sit here,” a man stated like a would-be statesman.
“I thought someone would come,” I responded. He is the faceless man of Gwyer Hall. He is a tall athletic figure with a normal head but his face is always shrouded like a conservative Muslim woman or like a married Hindu woman practising culture or akin to a Bedouin. All one can see on his face is the white cloth wrapped around his head and almost covering his face and except for the eyes sheathed in Karunanidhi-type spectacles.
Unlike other hostels of the University of Delhi, Gwyer Hall has an air of aloofness for it is not easier to get an admission for residence unless one tops in one’s discipline in the entrance examination, and people with unusual calibre reside here. The hostel retains the remnants of imperial mindset among the successive alumni but laced with the spirit of consideration, and the aura of colonialism lingers in its flora and architecture.
Most of the hostellers usually continue to live here past their educational age by gluing oneself to one or the other area of education on the campus unless a better prospect takes one away. And most of the hostellers demonstrate the spirit of accommodation by accommodating a student— meritoriously poor or money-wise poor or unable to find a place to stay— referred to him by his social sphere. According to the grapevine of the hostel, the faceless man was one of the oldest residents, and almost everyone maintained a dignified distance from him for he was a live ghost but an apparition shooing away the evil spirits from the hostel.
“You thought, how can I sit next to this faceless man? If you want you can sit now. Sooner you will not a get a seat, also the food,” the faceless man said.
“Why?” I asked for I genuinely wanted to know why I would not get food when I had bought the coupons to have meals on a regular and irregular basis.
“Maybe you’re a Gira,” he pointed out, and explained about an unknown thing. “G.I.R.A. It is an acronym, Gira.”
“Gwyer Hall Illegal Residents Association. Are you one of them?” he asked.
“I’m not a member of Gira or that nonsense,” I said slightly offended with the word ‘illegal’ as though I had committed a crime and that made a judge to send me to Tihar Jail.
“But you are not a legal resident, so you are an illegal,” he stressed, and moved himself to the other side creating more space for me to sit.
I sat comfortably, and food was served on my plate following the intervention of the faceless man with his hand gestures towards Sachchidananda Tripathi, the mess secretary. Swallowing a piece of chapatti dipped a bowl of vegetable-less vegetabale curry, I asked “How do you know?”
“If you are a legal resident the mess secretary will pay attention,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said. The presence of faceless man has its own advantages, I thought, food will be served. I asked, “Since how many years you are here?”
“When Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of India.”
“What?” I mouthed out. And we were living in India under the Prime Ministership of PV Narasimha Rao who opened up India to the world: Globalizing India unlike his predecessors. “What you do?”
“Scholars engage in many activities continuously for the betterment of the society the government the institutions in many ways that normal people cannot see and cannot think of. Scholars are for modern India like the pundits were for medieval India and like the Sufis of medieval India,” he observed.
“You will remain a scholar, till when?”
“How old are you?”
“Make a guess?”
“I cannot see your face?”
“The year Babasahed Ambedkar ji left this world.”
“Are you married?”
“Trying to be funny with me?”
“No. That is what students do after their studies, and also scholars?”
“In love,” he said.
Pleased with his answer and a pleasant word, I turned my head towards his head. The happiness showed up on his temples which the shroud revealed.
“With whom?” I asked. And these were the times when many guys and men fell in love with Urmila Matondkar, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol or with an yesteryear star still lingering for that envisioned role in a movie.
“When I had a face, I was in love with Mrinalini Sharma.”
“We were to marry in two months…”
“Lost my face in a chemical reaction.”
“Sorry. Mrinalini is doing, what now?”
“She married my friend.”
“You said you are in love, now?”
“With another woman. She is in Vrindavan,” he declared.
“When will you marry?” I asked hoping if he vacates his residence I could bring it to the attention of the provost to grant his room for me on a temporary basis.
“Talks are going on, marriages take time. They should. It is not like ordering a shirt to be stitched by the tailor.”
“Once you are married, will you stay in Gwyer Hall?”
“We will stay here till we find another place.”
“Can I stay in your room for three months till I find another place or till I get the hostel admission results?”
“You will be scared to death to live with this faceless man,” he stated assertively.
“If that woman from Vrindavan is going to stay with you,” I said confidently with confidence growing up by sitting next to him. “Why can’t I?”
“Good point,” the faceless man said in a voice of consideration, and added in a tone without vacillation. “Let me ponder over.”