I am usually a punctual person. But on an important day, I am bound to be late. And so it happened on that August morning that I burst into a full classroom at B.K.P.S. College of Architecture, causing the heads attentively focused on a kindly older gentleman in front to turn around in surprise. I sat down at a desk at the very back, appropriately red-faced.
I had known to come to college, but I hadn’t expected to actually start learning. It later turned out that the kind-faced lecturer was our principal, and he wasn’t teaching after all. He was just giving an introduction about architecture, our college and the like. Orientation day. He made architecture sound fun, and exciting, and easy. Well, we’d find out about that latter part soon enough.
That first day was spent taking in the atmosphere and probing for potential acquaintances (I found two, who later became my best friends). There was an excitement that only comes on the first day of anything; new places, new faces, new friendships. The whole thing lasted only about two hours. I thought if every day here is going to be like this, architecture is a cakewalk. The subsequent journey would prove how very wrong I was.
Our first exercise in design turned out to be also our first exercise in time mismanagement. The task was to sculpt two PoP (Plaster of Paris) blocks, each half a foot on a side, one in a cubical grid, the other however we wanted. All forty of us sat in class that entire day, the classroom filled with the scraping of hacksaws, grunts of effort, and abundant quantities of PoP powder. By the end of the day, everyone was covered in sweat, dust, and a fine coat of white particles. And yet, the sculpting was not completely done.
I reached home and began again after a little break. I figured I’d be done by evening. Nothing doing. I worked well into the night, my body on auto-pilot, my mind disbelieving the 3:00 am time on the clock and how was I still up doing this?! But I persevered.
And when both the cubes were satisfactorily sculpted, the happiness was beyond anything else.
Before entering the college of architecture, I had no idea what exactly architecture entails. I did not know what value the painstakingly draughted sheets and carefully completed models would hold for me. I think the love that any architectural student has for his/her models, sheets and drawings is closely comparable to the love a mother has for her child.
Our college is very particular about the quality of submissions. Incidents have been known to happen where professors have torn sheets, broken models and/or thrown them out of the window onto the street, just because a line was missing or misplaced. In the heat of the moment, anything like this seems really insulting and hurtful. But in the long run, memories of such events will always keep a professional grounded and ensure that his standard of work remains high.
Our college is a very small community. There are only forty students in a batch, which makes us more like family than classmates. A large number of assignments involving team-work make way for further strengthening that bond. Pulling all-nighters for group models, or collectively done measured drawings are the origins of life-long memories. The first time I had to stay up all night completing a submission was bearable because there were five other friends with me, all going through the same tiring experience. Sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, and all that.
In five years, our group of friends has been to each other’s houses at all hours of night (and sometimes day) enough times that now my friends’ parents and siblings are almost like my parents and siblings. There have been countless incidents when we have had to suddenly go on site-visits, which turned into a full-day excursion, which turned into a lot of people crashing at the place of whichever classmate’s house was closest.
What I’ve learned from this is if you’re with a bunch of like-minded weirdos, anything can be fun. Plus, working with friends ensures that everyone is motivated enough, and nobody is done till everybody is done.
One of my school teachers used to say that “If you decide, you can do anything you want.” Emphasis on the if you decide. And for me, deciding to start a submission was always the main problem. Procrastination is a term that I learned, and lived, while studying architecture. Because that is what happens. The submission date is a week away, so you say, “I still have seven full days. I’m too tired now, I’ll start tomorrow and I’ll still have six full days.”
Doesn’t happen. And somehow, suddenly, the submission is looming on the horizon of tomorrow and you are inadequate to face it. The end result is a hurried, so-so kind of job, and it shows: on the untidy model and on the dark circles under your eyes. A submission done for the sake of it is the worst kind of submission. It brings neither marks nor satisfaction.
Study tours are another thing peculiar to architecture. We were taught how to map out settlements, how to do measured drawings, how to understand the fabric of a town. We learned what it is to mingle with a new town in the process of studying it. Day-long excursions for settlement mapping, roaming the streets to observe people and buildings, and draughting in the most unimaginable conditions are common occurrences during study tours. But what makes them memorable are the crazy incidents that occur during them.
For instance, our Bhuj trip has become unforgettable due to something that happened at the time when we had all gone to see the expansive Rann of Kutch.
There was a long stretch of desert road raised slightly above white sands spreading out on either side. We saw people walking on the smooth sparkling sand and decided we wanted to, too. While my friends cautiously tried to find the best way to get their feet on the sand, I, like a reckless idiot, charged ahead and jumped straight down…not into the expected sandy bed but into a disgusting slimy marsh. How was I to know that the shiny white surface was concealing an ugly stinky swamp?
I died from embarrassment while my classmates, safe and dry on the road above, laughed hysterically. I was up to my knees in the greenish-brown muck and would possibly have sunk even lower (literally and figuratively) had my friends not brought their laughter under control and pulled me up. My poor shoes, sadly, were not as lucky and got lost in the depths of the sucking mud ocean.
The most important lesson I learned that day (aside from embarrassment is a potent killer) was to never get into something without first understanding what it really is.
Study tours are meant to train our architectural eye, get a feel of the place and its culture and later translate it into the design. But they do so much more than that. They teach us to enjoy every moment, and strengthen the bonds of friendship. Each town we have visited has offered a different flavour of the eclectic mix that is India. Each building inspires and liberates, each place teaches and reveals something different.
Architecture college taught me building construction, and design, and services and everything else in the curriculum. But it gave me a lot more than just academic education. It gave me a way of life, lifelong friends; it taught me teamwork, to never shy away from taking efforts, and that the best enjoyment can only come after the longest, hardest day.