On the world map, there is this little tiny speck of dot about the size of a micron in the central part of North America named Rolla. The place is in obscurity, not only to people outside the United States but also to people within. Any trip outside the state of Missouri, and you can see the people straining their ears to come to grips with the township of Raala (as it is pronounced). But, Indians that we are, we find that extension of the aaa to be a little mesmerizing and more often than not, our tongue ends up rolling into a Rollaa. The local community here would give you a silent glare for murdering the pronunciation.
The graduate school here at Rolla is quite a famous school in Missouri, and the Indian population just fills up. Yes, but just two streets from the department to the apartment. University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), now rechristened to Missouri School of Science and Technology is the best of the lot in Missouri for the engineering program. Every year, one can see the international students filling up the area in the hope of getting that degree that could make the difference. If someone comes and asks anyone in the campus as to which is the common hangout for the school kids, you can hear a spontaneous answer "Oh! We have 1300 and 101 West". If you are wondering what that is, that is the hub of the desis (that is how the Indians call themselves in a foreign land). There are about 20 apartments in each of the two apartments and they are totally packed with the desi junta (people). The most important piece of advice to any desi who is coming to Rolla is that atleast for the first semester, the best place to live is 1300. This is where you get to know all the people in Rolla. In short, 1300 is the most happening place in Rolla. Be it regarding studies or worldly matters (in short gossip), this is the best place to kickstart your stay in Rolla. 101 West is supposed to be a paradise compared to 1300, but for the past two years, we have never felt the need to move to the poor man's paradise. 1300, #7 has sent the right vibes to the occupants of this house and there was never a need to shift to another abode. People say that 1300 does not offer the right privacy to the tenants, but then who really cares! 101 W is based on a duplex structure with two rooms at the top and a hall and kitchen on the ground floor. People somehow give this a first preference when house hunting. Coming to the real point, both of them are desi hubs. The other desi hubs are 1301 and 1706. Though 1301 is right opposite 1300, the feel of the place is totally different compared to 1300. It lacks the so called aura of 1300 for whatever reasons nobody can decipher. 1706 is not my favourite hangout joint. The place is very serene and quite, which is not at all desi like. The place has got an eerie touch which prevents me from going there often!
Pic: 1300 - In good and bad times
Pic: 1301 - Right opposite 1300
Pic: 101 West in Winter
Pic: The eerie 1706
Talking about the Indian community here is the high point of Rolla. It is a closely knit group where almost every Indian knows every other Indian. There are about 300 Indians here and it is very easy for me to identify every one of them and get into a quick conversation. The entire Indian community is concentrated in 1300, 1301, 101 and 1706 as I pointed out before. So, it is quite apparent what the hangouts are. On a real boring day, you just have to cross the street and go to one of the other places and all of a sudden, the day is transformed to a rather interesting one. Nobody can imagine using just two streets in Rolla for two years, but that's how Rolla life is. Department to apartment and apartment to department in weird hours is the essence of student life here. It is safe to call up a person at 2 AM in the morning because you know that he would be awake for sure, but change that to 11 AM in the morning, and you can hear your cell phone ringing all the way long without any trace of response. That's the way it is here. Most of them (rather us) are nocturnal creatures. Even if you are not one, you are transformed to one! I forgot to mention one of the important places in Rolla. 1508 was the place where atleast eight people lived for a year. This was the most happening place, as the erstwhile President, vice-president and important executive members of the India Association lived here. At any instant, you can find more than ten people having lunch or dinner at this place. The famous party culture in Rolla started with this house. Large scale parties were a norm in Spring and Summer 2006, as you could see about 150 people clogging the apartment for every party. Almost the whole desi crowd of Rolla was invited to these parties. It was just another way of socializing not that we did not have any.
Pic: On the way to the ECE Dept.
UMR-ECE Department, well, that's where I lived (literally) for two years. It is the most happening department in Rolla and the desi junta here is abundant (understatement!). If you have to know people in Rolla, you have one of the two choices - either you live in 1300 or you belong to the EE department. If you belong to both of the categories, then you almost end up knowing the entire desi community in Rolla. All the plans are made or broken in EE - be it planning for any event or making the presentations for Diwali. 109 is the buzzword in EE for panning and execution. Ask the students out here - on the amount of research that goes on in this room! The EE corridor is another great place to meet up with people. SWBC (South West Bell Center), Havener Center, Rec Center are some of the other frequently visited places. Cricket behind Schuman lake is another important highlight of Rolla.
Pic: Havener Center
Pic: Fooseball in Havener
The Indian groceries are generally purchased from St. Louis. To go to STL is a pain since as students one cannot afford the luxury of a car. Ride request mails fly thick and fast on the list serve, and many a time it ends up irking a few people. Other junk mails too land up on the list serve - one being the famous Me and my shadow. As a result of this mail, my roommate learnt a new word in the English language - predicament for your information is a difficult situation in simple English screamed the mail from the good samaritan (Can you guess the protagonists? I meant the spammer and the teacher?). The general grocery is purchased from Walmart with the aid of one of the local cabs. Walmart people make a lot of business here thanks to the desi junta here. We end up buying in cartloads. It is easy to handpick a few food joints here - El Maguey(my personal favourite Mexican joint here in Rolla. Always my first preference to dine outside), Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, Mandarin Gardens are some of the few.
The India Association here organizes a lot of activities throughout the year starting from Holi and ending in Diwali. Every member of the IA takes active part in these events and it helps everyone to feel at home away from home.
Pic: Diwali Nite 2006 - The biggest event on campus
Pic: ISC Day 2006 Collage
Pic: Garbha Nite 2006
All in all, Rolla is a very closely knit family with familiar faces all around. It is very easy to strike a conversation in any form. It is very easy to find a helping hand for any activity that you plan. Planning for parties was never a problem as almost invariably the work would be multi-tasked in multiple houses. It is tough to move away from a place like Rolla which is always at the center of action.
Pic: Farewell collage 2006
It is almost impossible to leave a place where you have spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year with friends. Friends become an important part of your life and the bonding takes you to a point where the pangs of separation is too tough to handle. But then, life has to move on and invariably you have to do it no matter how hard it is. The feeling of moving out of Rolla is slowing beginning to sink in.