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Of Rooftops and Blues Musicians

This article was written by Mihir Shukla (Batch of 2013) and was part of unpublished articles from the Quirk archives. He can be contacted at mihirvshukla@gmail.com. The featured image on top was clicked by Mrinalini Shinde (Batch of 2015).

So we sat down one day, and decided to create infinity. It wasn’t too hard at first; the stifling drone of the collective, which somehow forces sides and the strait-jacketing of creativity, was probably leading us to seriously question our purpose here. So we went to our roofs, to find a measure of solace from the quagmire.

Some define it as a sort of culture, some look at it as form of deviance, some just choose to ignore it – ultimately though, most agree that at some point or the other they have trudged up three floors to see a clear Bangalore sky in its vastness and murky red hues, and have found a drop of calm in the madness that is Law School.

At the risk of romanticising an empty plot on top of a building, this writer has found that the seeds of some of the most audacious ideas have germinated on these terraces. Be they the rumblings of anarchy, the creation of arguments that would thunder and resonate halfway across the world, an understanding of the nuances of running a rock-show or a debate, the creation of institutions, or simply, an effort to make this place a little more bearable and somehow counter the apathy that afflicts the best of us.

So, why roofs? Why can’t we just go to the shady bar at the end of the street and seek absolution in the arms of the ancient monk and distilled spirits? The answer, to my mind, is simple – roofs are quiet places, where you can ruminate without losing yourself in the process. Although the ambivalence towards the fringe –who seek an alternative expression of understanding their consciousness – still exists, there still remains an acceptance of the quiet smoke and the occasional raucous noise that enlivens our existence and makes us remember a little bit of our purpose. Though, frankly, it is also the place where many have found the answer, forgotten it, found it again, and woken up the following morning having no idea how they got there. For many others, it has served as a constant reminder of interesting times.

My tryst with this location, like many others before me, began in the very first year of college. In a new city, and the need to retain my sanity from the different freedoms and new processes being hurled at us, the roof eventually became something akin to sanctuary. You could crib about college with new people (most of whom you would eventually form strong bonds with, and who would also walk beside you through your darkest), exchange experiences, and eventually, end up growing in the process.

This story however, is about blues musicians on the roofs, and the magic created therein. I think, at the end of the day, it was the music that led a few of us there. The guitars, the jamming sessions, and the singing in the collective – while not exactly spiritual – was something pure that transcended the mundane everyday existence. Contrary to perception, it gave us a reason to believe that despite some of the flawed systems that govern us, it is still possible to survive the gyre- without losing our soul in the process.

Many of the old gods have left though, and the circles of territory that were once carved out with the self-appointed watchdogs are now blurring- and there exists an increasing disquietude about the direction our free spaces are heading, because the unwritten compact of the roof – namely, to leave it alone – is being breached.

The schism between the student community and the regulators is nothing new. Usually, it is merely a harmless cat-and-mouse game played out at the college level. However, now the erstwhile middle ground of the roof no longer has the same kind of sanctuary it once afforded. The darker days seem to be back once more; the concern this time however, is that with the transition towards newer batches, some of the core principles that made us whole are being buried and lost.

It’s not that bad yet: We still have considerable access to our roofs, we can still unwind on these areas, and find a measure of peace. The new ‘old school’ is a tolerated lot – and we still create the blue flames of infinity that lead to the path to clarity. But, while the freedoms still exist, it is an uneasy peace that reigns, and the balance is certainly tilting.

In my opinion, one of the things that define an institution is the sense of collective memory – of creation, and how we got there. College is not an easy place at the best of times; it moulds you, creates you, and wrecks you- to ultimately make you understand. It is my belief that a space to express yourself is as essential an element of that particular process of understanding, in order for you to be at peace with yourself. Once they take the roof away – and more importantly, we let them – I have a very strong feeling that we are lost beyond redemption.

The writer would like to thank Rohan Ray for his help in editing the piece and fixing some of the more glaring bits of incorrect grammar.

Published in From the Archives

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