A Mirror called Manipal

Sitting with couple of B school friends at a fast food outlet in Delhi, I watched, mildly bemused, being introduced by a friend, to someone else and as introductions invariably are, this one was a pretty boring too, till Manipal found mention. It drew an immediate reaction, unwarranted by any and all social protocols, proof enough of the fact that someone was now looking at me with a set of new eyes. Which made me realize it wasn’t just that I spent the last couple of years studying in MIT Manipal; it wasn’t also that Manipal gave me a new lease of life; it is much more than that. Manipal has become ingrained in me, so much so, that that there can never be another introduction, which doesn’t have the M word in it.

Say Manipal and everyone has an opinion. Everybody has something to say about the place. Some might go on about its cool culture; some might even criticize it as a place that makes no bones of having no “moral culture” and even though I doubt it, but you might even find some, who might even go on to extol its education standards. This isn’t about Manipal’s education system or what Manipal should do to compete with the IITs. Ask me and I would say for a system Manipal is as good as I ever wanted it to be.

When I first heard about Manipal, I was told that it’s a place where rich people send their kids to, a place that is so very fast that people get into literally everything they shouldn’t. I remember someone describing Manipal in six words, “Fast life, Fast bikes, Fast gals”. We used to kid that the only thing South Indian about Manipal was the location. In hindsight location must have been the only thing that was Indian about the place. For a city, nay, town, nay village that had an area smaller than some Delhi localities, the outlook was as global as it can possibly get. Name me one more town of its size that has more ATM machines, CCDs, Baristas, Dominos and other international outlets and I will happily eat my words. When mobile phones were becoming a rage in the country, Manipal was sitting at the top of the mobile density table all over India. And as we later found out bikes were not a mere medium of transportation for us, it was means to greater ends. And until somebody got drunk and hit the chief warden who was happily walking on the pavement and got bikes banned from the campus, Manipal had the maximum bike density in the country.

I learnt long back that it was better to do something and face the consequences later than not to do it and go through life wondering all the time, what if, a mantra that allowed me to dive unremorsefully and unapologetically into the pool of fun and magic in Manipal. So all the while , all around me people were shoving each other in the unforgiving rat race, I merely sat on the side-lines and did what I actually wanted to do and it ranged from going to the library only to check out the paragons of beauty from the other sex, to sitting online for 20 hours a day or sitting on a lighthouse lit beach at 4am , totally wasted, marvelling at the sight of enormously powerful beams of light hitting the breaking waves in psychedelic sweeps, to buying a bike from the money that was earmarked for my tuition fees, to going into hibernation , to finally shedding off the lethargic fat and starting up my own firm.

So what is it about Manipal that is so intoxicating? Is it the unparalleled glamour and glitz, or the breath-taking beauty of the place that appeals to a romantic in everyone? Is it the awesome weather all year round or the abundance of single girls all looking to be hooked? Is it the booze or the drugs or the unorthodox culture or is it all of the above? One word that can sum up the essence of Manipal is “Freedom”, the freedom to be totally you. It’s a place that will make you realize who you really are and then let you bask in that realization. It is about doing everything you ever wanted without caring for any dictates; it is about the new social order where nothing is frowned upon by narrow social or cultural dogmas. It is about the thrill of living an international dream without even having to cross the seas.

It is hard to put a finger on what makes Manipal tick. It simply is one of those places that simply dropped out of the heaven and are unabashedly what they are and makes no bones about it. Sample this, throw around the M word, dopers look at me with respect, rock aficionados look at me with awe and in general guys look at me with envy. Like the famous Manipal video says, “Don’t you wish you were here?