Places hold us, whether we like it or not…rather like barbed wires…we leave little bits of ourselves there.
— Katherine Mansfield.
Last week, Kinnaird held its 74th convocation. Almost one thousand graduates converged in the Amphitheater behind Kinnaird’s buildings and next to its famed hockey ground. I was one of the black and maroon robbed women, in those mortar board caps.
Five years ago, on a very rainy and grey day, I had entered Kinnaird’s red sandstone building for the first time. The purpose was to take a statistics test which was compulsory to get admission in the psychology department.
When I look back at myself, strolling in those long, colonial corridors for the first time, I see someone incredibly naïve. I wanted to bring a revolution, read every great literary piece, play the flute and have some leisure time to paint, despite majoring in Environmental Sciences and giving due attention to environmental activism.
Throughout the years, there was discontent among the students. Kinnaird was not popular within Kinnaird, partly because, like most government institutes, the administration was neither interested in improving it nor bothered about people’s opinion. Many of the older staff members still believed Kinnaird to be the best, and lived in oblivion of the modern and private institutes that now perforated in Lahore and attract much of the student cream.
It was however, not as bad as many students thought. Many of these students had started their lines, hoping to become doctors, go abroad or join LUMS but couldn’t. They saw Kinnaird as the outcome of their disappointment and were perpetually depressed or indifferent.
Academically, what kept me bound were the many short courses (generals) we had to complete. We could choose these, and here I studied philosophy, Oscar Wilde, theatre skills, psychology, German language and the film studies class that happened on Saturdays when the college was all empty and romantic. I had been in love with the Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez for as long as I remember. Since he wrote in Spanish, it had always been my desire to also attain fluency in this beautiful language; this desire was fulfilled here, through my Spanish classes.
Debates had always been my passion and Kinnaird had quite a debating squad. We gathered every Saturday to prepare for the parliamentary style in which one got a topic and had to prepare one’s case on the spot, with the help of two or three team members.
Through the debating sessions, I was introduced to a girl Maria in the first semester and eventually we became best friends. I had finally discovered someone like-minded and entertaining. We skipped sports parade, sat behind the basketball court amidst trees and took long walks around the old hostels talking about everything under the sun, discussing life, love and literature, giving vent to all our youthful exuberance and idealism.
But Kinnaird was not all milk and roses we had our share of troubles and travails, in particular with tough teachers, random classes, unpleasant assignment, clerical hassles and a host of other problems that somehow still seemed to prevail in the Victorian, archaic atmosphere.
But all that was in the past; at the convocation we were on the threshold of becoming graduates. Sadly, Maria could not be with me as she is away in Germany but she was very much with me in spirit. It seemed that all the old shades of my first entry into those hallowed portals had once again collected around me.
A day after the convocation, I went to Kinnaird to return my robe and the mortar board cap. It was raining, just like my first day in Kinnaird. The first time I walked through these corridors, I couldn’t recognise any of the old faces. Now I couldn’t recognise the new ones. The grand oak in the centre, about which I had coined so many stories, was still there — old, lush and grand in its maternal benevolence.
Just as Mansfiled had suggested, a small portion of me has been left behind in Kinnaird. Amidst the rain drenched, verdant trees, the crimson building looked at me, asking me to return — someday, perhaps.