Life has an uncanny knack of throwing at us challenges that often leaves us bereft of means to wriggle out of its gripping hold, but as Dr. John Patrick Ojwando discovers, there is solace in cherishing time well spent in the company of friends. Lessons he picked while anchoring a student magazine and fleeting encounters with a former student whose sad demise at young age continue to shape his existence.
It was the onset of the monsoon and during the preceding night, the skies had burst wide open, spewing in its wake a torrential deluge. As I marked my presence on the campus for a scheduled lecture, my balancing skills would now and then be put to test each time I made attempts to avoid the puddles of water that had collected along the numerous pathways.
Not very far away, in the distance, I could also see a handful of workers engrossed in what had become a customary chore with the onset of rains. Their valiant attempts to soak up the rivulets bore close resemblance to that of ground staff preparing a cricket pitch during a rain- interrupted batting innings. Even as I watched them, with half empathy and half exasperation, my thoughts still continued to linger on an impending trip to a media house and a scheduled lecture on media laws, the latter an indulgence that had began to wear my patience thin. The then current batch of postgraduate students seemed to be so disinterested in learning the nuances of the very laws that had a say on the functioning of an industry they would soon seek to embrace. This apathy that they did very little to disguise, had begun to rub me into wishing the task away.
In my unsettled state of mind, I could hardly register the presence of two students, who all the while had been tagging along. A trifle nervous at the outset, it was a young woman, introducing herself as Luve, who marshaled enough courage to broach the subject. It was an appeal to be part of a recently reconstituted editorial board of the college magazine that was under my charge.
“Sir, Dharmi and I seek to improve our communication skills and the students magazine offers the best platform to take our objectives forward,” she stated going a step further. “We will not let you down and promise to do any assignment given to us.”
With the sense of despondence taking a gripping hold on me, the irony their situation presented could not have been missed. On the one hand, there were two eager youngsters studying for their degrees in life science with the presence of mind to improve upon their writing skills along the way while on the other students of journalism one expected to be hard at it often took the training for the profession for granted.
It took me a while to respond to the object of their amber, the initial hesitancy borne out of previous experiences as the spearhead of the publication.
The reason being that it had become a recurring theme with many students coming forward to be part of the publication, all for its glamorous appeal, but when it came to actual performance of the work, they would be found wanting. Secondly, in pursuit of churning out regular stories, the team working on the college magazine comprised journalism students who saw it as an exclusive club where other students pursuing different disciplines made to feel unwelcome. This batch of students had lofty ambitions of working in the media. How would the duo fit into the scheme of things?
Let me reiterate here that though the idea of having a student magazine on campus was not a new one, the regularity and the diverse stories that found their way to the editorial desk made it a worthy endeavour. Apart from its educative value, the venture allowed journalism students who sat on the editorial board a platform to put into practice what they learn within the four walls of the classrooms. Writing, reporting, editing, advertising, distribution and production skills that they imbibed were aspects that would hold them in good stead upon their entry into the challenging media industry. As was the norm, tasks that that went into bringing out the publication were mainly vested in the hands of journalism student whose roles as editors allowed them to make decisions on the stories to be run, the necessary additions and changes. To this end, it was felt they sheltered values of cooperation and their working together encouraged healthy competition amongst themselves.
Coming back to my two young guests, I was not sure if they understood the challenges that stood before them.
All the same, we parted ways having struck a deal that would ensure another round of talks to take forward the deliberations. In the meantime, they were to send samples of their writings, an exercise I thought they might not be able to accomplish. Surprisingly, I had a couple of articles in my inbox by the time I retreated to my abode come the end of the day. It would prove to be the clincher.
If I had been judgmental, perhaps I would have easily have missed out on two youngsters who would soon become my cherished friends.
Ever so often, burdened by the daily grind of life, we do not have the patience to wait and watch what skills each one of us brings to the table. In the case of Luve and Dharmi, their counterparts too had their own misgivings but they proved them wrong.
While Luve was adept at churning human- interest stories, Dharmi took to reporting events with fervour.
In no time, days after Luve and Dharmi had joined the editorial team, word soon spread out that the duo was best of friends but constantly engaged in an unending battle to outperform each other. So intense was their rivalry that at times their personal differences would come to the fore during editorial meetings.
Of the two friends, Luve seemed to be the one in control, determining just about every assignment they took upon themselves.
Every time I got to into a conversation with her to bring them back on talking terms, I always stumbled on something intriguing about her.
May be it was the way she went about her tasks always ready to engage her lecturers and peers alike in lively exchanges that belied her age or it was her gentle demeanour. Aside, the avidity, she exhibited with the release of the college magazine, she wasted no time in drawing everyone’s attention to her bylines.
Whatever it was, there were a lot of things about the student that could either inspire or stomp one at the same time.
I believe that in life we are all learners although traveling on different paths. Through Luve and Dharmi, the editorial board meetings became more like family meetings that occasionally turned into a battleground with duels that helped the team become better. The diversity and range of coverage went beyond the narrow prism that it had been limited to.
When the duo finally passed out of college, I was hoping that Luve would proceed for her master’s degree having secured excellent grades in her university examinations. But alas, when she retraced her steps on campus, her objective was to invite her lecturers and friends to her marriage.
“What about the plans for your further studies?” I asked. “Sir, it still remains my goal but before that I have something important to accomplish,” she replied. “I am moving to another phase of my life and for now your blessings on my big day would suffice.”
On the appointed day, I was amongst the invitees at St. Patrick’s Church off Brigade Road. Trying to fend away my lingering doubts whether she had a say on the marriage or it was a forced one, I could not help but marvel at the composure of a girl barely out her teen, going through the marital rites with ease.
Earlier, on numerous occasions, she had spoken of the compelling personal issues she had to grapple with during her formative years, being the elder of the two girl children to her parents, a lawyer and teacher, in the nondescript town of Mysore. Topmost on her problem list was her dusky complexion and corpulent frame.
Although Luve had no problems with her features, her parents thought otherwise. Several attempts were made to change the laws of nature with a strict dietary regimen imposed early on her. The fear, ingrained in her from a young age, was that this would in long term diminish her prospects in terms of marriage and social status. These inherent ‘middle class values’ in her society made her reclusive but equally sensitive to the plight of numerous others she would soon realise in school and the world around her who were facing more serious forms of injustices in the society.
Not to be seen as a rebel, the awareness of all that was wrong with her society changed her perspectives to the extent that when she was expected to pursue engineering she decided to plunge for life science. These experiences would shape her outlook towards the society and in the process undergo profound liberation.
A year after her marriage, she had called to inform me that she would be joining her husband in the United Kingdom adding that she was keen to follow my long forgotten advice. “I hope to complete my masters time permitting but I am not sure of my doctoral studies since our first child is also due.” In between our conversation, she did not miss the opportunity to chide me for not following her example. “As it is, there are enough priests in the world already,” she signed off.
That incidentally was the last of our conversations. I would later learn, Luve’s health took a turn for the worse on her return back home after misdiagnosed ailment.
Looking back, I have come to believe that some people have premonitions of bad tidings and Luve was a case in point. In all her actions, this young woman seemed to be in a mighty hurry to accomplish just about every task that mattered to her. Perhaps driving her dreams was her complacency in the knowledge that she was living on borrowed time.
I still recall a column she introduced for the college magazine. This being her maiden attempt at writing fiction, She had come with a rather strange demand – to dedicate the entire issue of the magazine to the short story she was writing.
“The readers will love it,” she had insisted, realizing that I was not ready to buy into her idea. However, she had her say after a series of discussions on the issue and we arrived at an amicable agreement, to carry the story in four parts.
Having been witness to the tribulations of many girls her age, she wanted to demonstrate how a protagonist in her story overcame the trauma of physical violence and went on to make significant contributions in the very society that had forsaken her.
The story not only acknowledged the inherent sufferings of the victims of child abuse but also celebrated their successes.
Intriguingly, with the first of the promised year- long episodes completed, I was taken aback when one afternoon, she walked to my desk.
“Sir, I cannot go on, allow me to kill her.” That is exactly what she did, the hurry in which she embraced every other task in life once again coming to the fore.
I consider myself blessed to have been in a profession often disparaged by many but as experiences portend, one surely unmatched by any other. For us on the editorial board, if on previous occasions our focus was on the writings of students of journalism, the arrival of Luve and Dharmi changed all that.
The former in particular was at the helm of several enticing collaborations between the team, faculty and students, proving to be a solution -oriented youngster with a tremendous go -getting spirit. If she found it difficult to conceal her incessant urge to be part of any activity, she always trusted her ability to succeed in tasks you would otherwise think were well beyond her capacity. Aside, she always devoted her time exercising great sway on those who were senior to her.
It gave me so much happiness and the courage to believe that the decision to take both of them on board was apt. Within a short span of time, her peers too understood that there was more to learn from all around us. Surely in life, there will never be enough time. It is ‘unpredictable’ and ‘intense’, as Heather Sinclair Wood of CNN rightly points out, sharing her experiences on teaching. I couldn’t agree more.
The words penned on Luve’s social media status still reads: Lives in The United Kingdom. Maybe!