Josna Rege

40. send my roots rain

In 1970s, Education, Stories, United States on April 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm

My freshman college dorm room was in a brand-new building, spacious, luxurious even, offering even first-year students a room to themselves in four-room suites that had their own fully-appointed kitchen. The furniture was new, too, built in heavy, cube-like, Danish-inspired blond-wood designs. My room had plenty of light, and was issued with a single bed, a chest of drawers, a desk—all modular so that they could be configured in a number of different ways—and a wardrobe. What more could a student want? But, perversely, I did want more: I wanted magic.

First I unscrewed and removed the back panel of the rectangular, coffin-shaped wardrobe and heaved it up against the door of my room. Then I filled it with all my long, flowing garments and the fur coat I had just bought in a thrift shop for twenty dollars. Anyone seeking to enter opened the door from the well-lit hallway into a dense thicket of hanging clothes and had to feel their way along in the dark until, disheveled and bemused, they burst through the door into my domain.

Inside, my bed was tucked between the wall and the side of the wardrobe, whose door opened out into the room, further screening off the private corner I had created in the sterile squareness of the place. There, like so many other college students, I had my Indian print bedspread, posters, and poetry adorning the bare walls. I remember two poems in particular, both written in my clumsy attempt at calligraphy; the first, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Fairy Bread,” I must have pinned up in my very first semester in college, looking back nostalgically to A Child’s Garden of Verses:

Come up here, O dusty feet!/Here is fairy bread to eat.

Here in my retiring room,/Children, you may dine

On the golden smell of broom/And the shade of pine;

And when you have eaten well,/Fairy stories hear and tell.

The other I must have posted toward the end of my first year, after discovering the poetry and tormented prayer of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

For—again like so many other students, then and now—I was asking myself what I was doing with my life, how what I was learning was going to guide me through, and whether any of it justified the cost of the private university education that my parents were working so hard to support. I feared that I was both wasting their money and losing the wonder of my childhood without finding anything of greater value to replace it.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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  1. You have always been so thorough in combing through and treasuring your experience. This glimpse is delightful and brings back many of my own memories of those years at the dawning of adulthood.

    • Thank you, Ann. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit to one’s callow teenage sentimentality; and even more embarrassing to realize how little one has really changed after all that time.

  2. Josna,

    Your tendency for soul-searching, then and now, bears fruit: these wonderful stories!

  3. Eve used to come and bake in our little kitchenette. She made granola, the recipe was from the original Whole Earth Catalog. Do you remember it? (The catalogue and the granola.) I remember you knew more hymns and Christmas songs than anyone else. I think it was from all that time up in Darjeeling in convent schools. I remember the furniture, it was light blond, from Design Research, very Scandanavian and blocky. And I had forgotten how we had to transcend into the wardrobe to enter your room. Very Narnia-esque. Were you and Andrew working with Dave Godine at that time? I can’t remember. I still have the wonderful Walt Whitman book that he published that you gave me.

    I had no earthly idea what I was doing that first year in College. Totally and completely clueless.

  4. I do remember the catalog, but have just a wisp of a memory of the granola. What I remember more was the Russian kasha she made, ingeniously flavored with a touch of marmite. She stole my heart with that winning combination.
    Funny that you mention all the hymns from Darjeeling. Nikhil has been in Kathmandu where one of my old classmates took great care of him, and on the phone last night he mentioned that my classmate also still occasionally sings from our legendary school hymnal when other fellow-alums visit. When I told Andrew his retort was, “Yes, but does he remember the hymn numbers?” (He’s always teased me for remembering my favorites by their number in the book.)
    Funny you should mention Godine, too. Just today we received a postcard inviting us to a big reunion he’s planning in Brookline in June.
    I was equally clueless (and remained so for longer, I fear). I’m amazed by the way college students today seem to know how it all works and how to work it. But I suppose many of our peers did, too.

    • Well, I obviously didn’t eat that Kasha if it had a touch of Marmite. I don’t even remember the Kasha, isn’t funny how selective memory can be. And yes, tell Andrew that I always got a kick about how you remembered the Hymns by number! The Godine Book was Specimen Days. You know, I spend a fair amount of time coaching people on my team on how to be less clueless and “how to work it,” but I sometimes really wonder what the point is of that. Go grow herbs, teach, create art, music, attack poverty and ignorance, develop better mass transit systems, but learn “how to work it?” Sigh.

      • I agree that all those other activities are honorable, but knowing “how to work it” has its place too. I suppose it might also make a difference what is being worked and to what ends, but maybe not. Maybe a certain set of skills and habits of mind helps people negotiate the world, without which they will always be spoken for and acted upon by others who are more clued in and can do it more effectively.
        By the way, have you ever had kasha varnishkas at one of those Ukrainian eating places near you? That is where Andrew’s Dad was born and grew up.

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