Long back when I was doing my undergrad course in Tiruchirapalli I faced a dilemma during my practical examination. A few of my catholic friends suggested that we pray for success in our examination by reciting Our Lady’s Prayer “Hail Mary full of Grace …..” 9 times, for 9 consecutive hours. After each recital we had to make a wish. This kind of prayer was called hourly Novena. We all readily agreed and on the said day we assembled at a friend’s room and prayed very sincerely. The theory exams went off well and we had to answer our practical exams before dispersing. Our Lab boy Chinnamuthu was given the task of collecting plants from the neighborhood for the exam. He offered to give us a duplicate set of around 40 plants for a charge of Rs. 2/- per head. My friends found nothing wrong in this. After all it was up to the examiner to decide on the plants that would be given for the exam. Of the forty plants hardly 4 or five would be given. It was just a kind of revision and did not amount to cheating. I opposed the idea and refused to shell out my share of money and said that I would not even have a look at the plants. A walk around the campus was sufficient to familiarize us with plants that were in their flowering phases and that were enough, I said. After having prayed for divine intervention it was not proper to rely on a lab boy for help. We had a big argument and finally my friends called me a nut case and left.
On the day before the practical exam Chinnamuthu did bring in the plants and all except me went and had a look. My good friend Maria Stella tried to convince me that it was not wrong to have a look – so what if I had not paid my two rupees. I did not give in. A few other friends started dropping hints and I requested them not to do so. The practical exam went off well and we were to disperse the next day. It was a sad evening for all six of us who had been very close for the last 4 years. Stella in particular was known to be very outspoken was a favorite. We got our warden’s permission to sleep in one room but none of us actually slept. My friends tried to convince me that getting a duplicate set of plants was not cheating and I stood by my stand that paying for knowledge about the plants that had been collected for the examination was not correct. It indicated that we neither had faith in our own capability nor in the deity we prayed to. I admonished Stella for ever agreeing to pay the lab boy.
“Were it legal our teachers would have called us to the lab and asked us to have a look at the plants that had been collected. It is supposed to be a secret and it was wrong of Chinnamuthu to earn money by giving us a duplicate set illegally”. I said.
“Were you not familiar with the plants that were actually given?” Stella argued. It was just a kind of revision.
Be that as it may, that night was a memorable one. We laughed and cried at the same time knowing that our world would never be the same again. We disagreed on specific issues but enjoyed our disagreements on a few issues as much as agreement on several others. Of the six friends I only met Stella once before my marriage. Another friend Prasanna wrote a few letters and we later lost touch. Vinolia and Jaya were equally dear but somehow we did not remain in touch. Angammal was the only one who returned to the same college to do her Masters.
Years later I happened to meet a gentleman who had retired as DEO from Tiruchirapalli. He was visiting relatives in Jamshedpur. I enquired after Stella’s dad Mr. Maria Susai whose promotion as DEO was due. He informed me that Mr. Maria Susai had died of heart attack before being promoted. He had no information about his family. He was rather surprised that I was friendly with Stella because he knew Mr. Maria Susai to be anti Hindu, anti Brahmin.
“He would never have approved of his daughter’s friendship with you”.
It did not matter to me. Till date I cherish her friendship – a friendship that knew no compartmentalization in the name of religion or community. I have nothing but fond memories of my friends of my college days. We did not have the internet or mobile phones to connect us. Memories alone persist and I wish them well from the core of my heart.