Even as the South West monsoon rages across South India, thousands of students pour into Manipal to start a new academic year. They bring with them their hopes and ambitions, dreams and fears, and cast them into the personality-forge that is Manipal. Shy becomes quietly confident, being loud and boisterous turns into being masterful at conversations. In Manipal, we’re all given roles to play, and these roles keep shifting as our personality evolves, be it due to your relationships with the sheer diversity of people you come across, your successes and your failures, or maybe even the inspiring stories of students achieving the impossible just two hostel room doors away from you.
In a world steeped in tradition and views which are more often than not discriminating towards different communities, Manipal is like a magic mirror, giving us a tantalizing window into a utopia. Where origins don’t matter, where different cultures don’t just survive alongside each other, but thrive and live; The Malayali community that brightens Manipal up when it celebrates Onam, the Gujarati community that pumps the air with its lively beats and Dandiya dancing, or the Kannadiga community that gives us the colorful and elaborate processions in nearby Udupi.
I don’t think Manipal is a location. Sure, you can find it on a map and on listings both online and off. But in summers and in winters, Manipal disperses. It spreads throughout the world, to Assam and Gujarat, to Nigeria and Serbia. It gathers the best of each place, and immortalizes it in its stories, in the time and rain-worn footpaths that have borne billions of footsteps, belonging to bleary-eyed students trudging grudgingly to their 8 o’ clock classes. We find these stories everywhere, just waiting to be heard, to be told.
It tells the story of a hardy bunch of students that struggled and fought, and ended up being one of India’s leading 3D printer companies. We hear about the hardworking and quiet student who is now leading the world’s biggest tech company. The charismatic chef who became world renowned. And the countless people who have found their way in life after exposure to a culture of cultures, and a language of tolerance and acceptance.
This view of Manipal as a town identified by its people brings into mind the incomprehensible number of miles in total its inhabitants have to travel to reach it. The vast swathes of land they cut through India by train, the unending stretches of oceans and rivers they fly over, or the undulating hills and mountains they climb over as they travel by road. How many stories do they pass on their way here? The lone lady standing on the shores of an unbroken lake; four teenagers lobbing a volleyball in an overgrown plot of land with apartments looming on either side; the father and his little daughter who play on the roof with wide smiles on their faces, the daughter because she’s having fun, and the father as he looks at the smile on his little one’s face.
Traveling by train is like cutting open a hundred donuts and seeing what tasty filling is inside each. The industrial yards, smoky skyline and the towering buildings of the cities and towns pale in their utilitarian beauty to the rural stretch of green that follows your train, broken once in a while by a frothing brown river speeding across the landscape they help nourish. You can’t help but wonder as you cross state borders: How can two areas, just a few short minutes from each other differ so greatly in every way? The people look different, you don’t understand what they say, the food is new to you, and the land, the stark difference and beauty of it stuns you. While your state is green with its rice fields and coconut groves, this one is green with its thick forests, the never ending rains, and an abundant water supply. The houses are different, their roofs sloped, the buses have a different color adorning their overworked metal frames and the omnipresent auto is unrecognizable in a new skin.
But we also see the similarities, the mobile towers we all share placed illegally on houses without concern for its inhabitants, the mobile phones we hold aloft and see the world through, and even the satellite dishes all pointing unwavering to a point in the sky, where a bus-sized, gravity-defying feat of engineering hangs 36,000 kilometers above our heads, beaming down invisible waves to half the world, carrying the words of people rejecting science and preaching hate because ‘we’re all so different from each other’.
We live and learn in one of the most diverse places in India, where the people not only share a town but are brought together to interact with each other. Make the most of your time here and soak up all the cultures, practices, beliefs and ideas you come across with an open mind while making sure to cherry pick only the ones you want to follow. Learn a new language, visit somewhere new, explore new friendships, and most importantly, stay on top of your academics, they’re your ticket to a great life and a stress-free stay in Manipal.
-Vishnu Deva for MTTN