When one writes about St. Stephen’s college these days, one has to do so with extreme caution lest one treads deep into controversial waters without even intending to. One after another, laudably contrived controversies have been wrought upon the college and the people associated with it. Countless articles have been written accusing the college of harbouring elitism and promulgating Christian ethics. As a present junior member of the college, it is hard for one to not articulate one’s views given the circumstances. This article, however, is not a defence of the Stephanian identity. It is a celebration of its ethos; of being Stephanian.
So, what is being Stephanian? And what is not? I wish to go about answering the latter question first. Our alumni, once junior members of College, sometimes make ridiculous statements. These are often in jest – after all, the Stephanian sense of humour is well known. To many, they come across as being immersed in the greatest heights of elitism, demeaning the identity of fellow colleges and their students, but that is not being Stephanian. The informed reader will understand that an allusion is being made to Mr. Shankar Aiyar and his unsolicited argument with Mr. Maken. The uninformed reader will, when they read this news piece. One does not discount Mr. Shankar’s achievements in his line of work while accrediting his Alma mater for most of his success, but it is the manner of such endorsement which is not always well received. Being Stephanian means much more than possessing an allegedly better vocabulary than most others, or having a pretty stamp on your CV. Some people are only Stephanian in the narrowest sense of the term— having completed their education from the prestigious institute. But that is not what being Stephanian is all about. It is much more than that.
“Not to lose the blues”. Photo by Allen Leom Lepcha.
The college’s motto ‘Ad Dei gloriam’ (Latin for ‘to the glory of God’) is not merely a frontispiece for the Christian ethos of the institution. It is an encapsulation of everything that the college stands for, believes in and tries to inculcate in its students. And what the college stands for is self-transcendence. How exactly does one transcend oneself? By being compassionate to fellow human beings, to the flowering trees beside the chapel, to the many dogs to whom the college is home, to the souls and songs of the less privileged who work in the college, to the pigeons and the squirrels who run around indulged in their own antics, like every other one of us, yearning for love. When one sees a certain junior member (can’t name him for obvious reasons) in college walking with a group of visually challenged members, all of their faces serene and beautiful, talking to them and laughing with them, then one knows what it means to be Stephanian. Not the greatest of the DebSoc debaters can convince me that Mr. Aiyar is a worthier Stephanian than this person. While a lot of people spend their three years in college building impressive C.Vs and securing their careers, some people take time to appreciate the little things that give joy only to those who look for them.
The college chapel at night. Photo by Sachu Sanil Chemmalakuzhy (Batch of 2015).
Things like the heart warming excitement and innocence of the new litter of puppies growing up by the Science Dhabha, the moonlit foliage of the Ashoka trees and the holy silence in the chapel lawns at midnight. It does not matter how much money you make after graduating from college or how many years you occupy a cabinet office in the parliament of the nation. All that matters is that you smile and make others smile along the way.