It’s late in the evening and I am in the middle of an extremely busy road walking with a fellow MITian. There’s constant honking everywhere, part of the road is taken up by construction work, there are vehicles parked randomly and pedestrians have to make way through it all by pushing, halting and tip-toeing. It was our last semester when I was still basking in the leisure and calmness of our small town and my friend on the other hand had to sacrifice all that to intern at a company in Bangalore.

Two individuals, out with the same purpose (meeting each other) go through a completely different experience when the locations are changed. As is often the case, you realize the worth of something only when you are not having it. That particular moment was one of the instants where the lovely, eclectic but composed environment that the town of Manipal provides were missed.

If you didn’t appreciate the uniqueness of Manipal when you first arrived, you will certainly do so when you move out from the place. It is situated far away from all the hustle-bustle of the big cities. But, as it happens to be home to one of the biggest private universities in the country, Manipal is equipped with all the amenities that we young folks ask for today.  You don’t have to travel miles to enjoy a pizza. You can have the privilege to be few minutes late and still reach your destination on time. And there’s no fight for a parking space.

For a person living in a metropolitan, this is what heaven looks like.

And yes, Manipal is heaven in every metaphorical sense. You are surrounded by lush green forests which look even more beautiful during the monsoons. A range of mountains seen behind the tallest of buildings. And the greet by stunningly clear skies gets accentuated by a touch of orange by the sun during evenings. Once you have lived through this, even reading the first paragraph again would spoil your mood.

Yet, these are not the stuff that you would miss from the place the most. It’s the people around, the foundation for any town. It’s a place with thriving young population which are spared from the watchful eyes of a conventional society, giving a huge sense of freedom. Even the older adults feel younger being around. And since the youth population come from some of the most premium institutes of the country, the quality of people here are far better and diverse than what you would find near your home.

Privileged they might be, but every individual here is not short of ambitions and the drive to achieve it. True, this exists in every college but the people I met here seem to be informed and confident about the path they have chosen for themselves. The “exposure”, as they say, is critical for you to truly comprehend where your interest actually lies. This blog itself, for instance, is a product of that environment.

As you read this, I have already moved to a metropolitan, leading the Manipal After-life. In hindsight, I am glad that I chose MIT and spent my 4 years here. This post-Manipal version of me is more confident, less introverted, open to meeting new people and living in new places. Also, having survived through the heat of that town, I can even see myself comfortable being in the middle of a desert. Be it heat or self-morale, Manipal gives it all in abundance.

You may run out of time, but you won’t run out of people to interact with when you are in this town. Your first year in the college and the hostels will fetch you folks who’d be the closest and stay with you forever. Then we come in the second year from whereon you are meeting 60-odd people on a daily basis for the next 3 years. We have clubs, fest teams which lets you interact with a whole bunch of new people from various branches and batches – and the more time you spend with them, deeper the bonds you will make there. Then there are people you just meet randomly on social media or during events through mutual friends and you have that connect. If the events are at the university-level, you may even make friends from other colleges.

This gamut of social beings met through a variety of channels is what defines Manipal for me. It’s very rare that you will find yourself lonely in a place like Manipal. When you retire from a long day at work and yearn for the conversations that were once an integral part of your life, that’s when it hits you hard.

Gone are the days when laughter and talks were as much a routine as breathing.

Gone are the days when you would wait for the classes to end, just so you can rush to do your club/fest work.

Gone are the days when you would go through the cab share posts and look forward to meeting new people.

Gone are the days when the entire group used to have heated discussions on making the weekend plans.

Gone are the days when the mess food tasted better with your companions.

Gone are the days when surprise birthday plans were made.

Yes, it is important that we move on from this phase and keep cherishing these memories. But deep down, you do wish you could have it all back. Not the student life, the beautiful scenery or its hangout places. But the people, the sense of belonging and togetherness.