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At an American University at last

I looked at the long road.  It was flanked by trees behind which were huge buildings. What was that big building at the end of the road? I stared at it. There seemed to be a fountain too.   A huge squirrel darted up a tree and I turned to look at it. With its bushy tail held aloft it looked down at us. Out came my mobile and I pointed the camera at it. It ran up, I refocused the camera. It got the better of me. It ran up again. I smiled and looked down.  It was a little after eight and we were at Southern Methodist University [SMU] and I was chasing squirrels. At last I was at an American University. Having heard so much about the vibrant atmosphere I had wanted to study in it. I had badly wanted to do my Masters at one of them. I had wished twice. The first time as a young graduate, I had not backed myself. On the second family commitments held me back. And today here I was a visitor to one of them. 

                                                       SMU entrance

It was such a lucky coincidence.  From the time this trip had been planned I had promised to meet a Cousin's Son studying here. Would he come see me or would I go see him had been the debate. It was resolved the day two of my colleagues who had travelled to Dallas before me had showed interest in seeing a University. I had company and we could go see him at SMU. I had been so excited. I would finally see an American University. That was all I could think of when I left India. It had become a pilgrim's dream.  So, the first weekend of my trip after the early morning hustle and bustle we had arrived at SMU. The pilgrim had arrived before the student and I turned towards the gate to see if he had arrived. Nope.  The University was empty. A girl in shorts jogged past us. A man was walking a dog.  Not wanting to go far from the gate we walked to the closest building. It was the Cox School of Business. I whipped out my camera. I wanted to capture the old world columned building for posterity.  The phone had gone kaput. I tried switching it on. No, it wouldn't turn on.  A memory less trip loomed large. The future was bleak without my camera. I panicked. It was a new phone what could be wrong?  Forget fiddling with its capabilities, I hadn’t even explored it. "Help me" I begged handing the phone to my colleague, a veteran with mobiles.  Within minutes he had turned it on. "Whenever this happens keep pressing the power button a couple of times until it turns on"   he suggested as he returned it nonchalantly. I hugged it. My camera and I were reunited.  

After a few minutes of frenzied picture taking we walked towards the main building. The man and the dog were playing near the clean blue fountain. And our student hurried towards us apologetic at having kept us waiting. You can take the Student out of the University but not the University out of the Student :)  "Can you take a picture of the two of us?" I handed my mobile to my colleague. A mother was waiting to see her son.  I immediately posted the pictures on the WhatsApp group. Here is a son safe and sound. I had kept my promise. 

                Main Building

The main building was grander with rounded columns like the  Parthenon. A series of steps lead to the main entrance. Flowers and lawns added a profusion of color everywhere. How our Schools grow on us I thought as the student showed us around the University. Pride was mixed with affection for us too. The library, the Basketball ground, the stadium, the classrooms, the labs,  we got a tour of it all.  We delivered lectures at the podium in a classroom, took pictures at the amphitheatre, and peeped into a classroom where an exam was being conducted.  We walked away silently and a little guilty about having trespassed. Strangers peeping into an exam hall would be unthinkable in India.  "This is the innovation lab" the student said as we stood peering through the glassed door. This is where a student can try his hands at anything he dreams of.  This is the differentiator I thought between India and US. How many Universities in India nurture this curiosity?  How many Universities in India provide the kind of infrastructure for all fields including sports that we saw here? The buildings were grand   with wide roads lined with trees and had vast empty spaces. Take your pick and run with your dream the infrastructure said. 


"Why a statue of horses?" I asked as we stood in front of the Mustangs.  The student nodded “ No idea”. We would learn why they were honoured in Texas at the Texas University the next weekend. We crossed the dormitories, the Ford Stadium with the Doak Walkerstatue close by   and walked out to the main road.  We were on a tight schedule and had to reach the Perot museum soon. The student was a disappointed. He wanted to show us so much more.

                                                                  Doak Walker

The Giants of Africa walked right up to us and the pink Flamingos danced before us. As the wildebeest walked on the horizon a program on National Geographic floated before me.  We were at the Wild Africa show at the Perot Museum.  We had just stopped for a Muffin and Banana breakfast at the Cafeteria before this and it was to catch this show that we had hurried from SMU.  We should watch the Extreme Weather if we have time we thought as we walked out mesmerized by the 3D movie. 

                                                         3D Movies that day

We could spend the whole day here I thought as we checked out the exhibits. The fossils, the life size animals, the lesson on Early man, the Shale gas extraction, the Earthquake simulation, the huge Dinosaurs towering over everyone, phew it was ooh and aah moments the whole time.  The touchy-feely part of the exhibits kept the children engrossed.  They ran around turning knobs and peering through peep holes. Forget the children I had stood mouth agape and craning my neck at the huge Dinosaurs one in the center of the hall and another flying above.  They were huge!  The children wandered around clueless. The very young went too close and tried to feel them. The adults were spooked and silent. At length, I walked out and found myself at the entrance of the Journey through the Solar system exhibit. A vehicle was cruising over an empty planet. Those are real images I thought as I edged toward the giant screens. The show looped in five minutes and I stood watching hypnotized as real images gleaned from space travels took me on a journey through the Solar system . The final picture was of the Mars Rover scouting the red planet. It looked lonely in the bleak planet but I was awestruck. 

                                                   Journey through the Solar System

Why was this floor dimly lit I thought as we walked through the Mayan exhibits? A boy rose as he finished the game with quaint symbols. Was it a monthly horoscope? What do the symbols mean? I stared.   The brightly embroidered clothes and beads gleamed in the amber light. The centrepiece was a piece of rock with carvings.  Slowly we walked out. 

                                                        Mayan Sculpture

Lunch was a hurried affair in the cafeteria and we hopped into a cab to the Reunion Tower. We were so excited. The tower loomed high before us and was part of the Hyatt Regency. We walked in.   A quick stop at the Ticket counter and we were in a lift zooming to the top. The Observation deck is on the 60th floor the escort explained excitedly.  The lift came to a stop and we walked into the deck. It was circular with glass walls all around.  A ring of horizontal Touch screens  lit up  the landmark as we placed a finger on it.  People were crowding the deck. Slowly we made our way to it.  Telescopes were mounted at a height and people were peering through them.  I peered through it when my turn came and saw the sky.  I pointed it down and suddenly some mud colored buildings crowded the view. I tweaked the knobs and again saw the sky, a second later I saw some trees. A small child was jumping excitedly beside me I moved away. Two more children joined it. One child mounted the stand while another twiddled the knobs and they shrieked in excitement. They were doing a better job.  I walked around and clicked a few pictures.  I tried my hand at another Telescope and was getting it right when another child wanted this Telescope. I gave it up and took some more pictures. It is when I see those pictures now that I realize how beautiful the view from the Telescope would be if I had got it right.  The cars look like toys on the roads. The intricate pattern of flyovers with different kinds of bridges was beautiful. The huge buildings looked minuscule from this height. Did the children see these?  Little wonder they were excited. The place was small and we were done in half an hour. If we knew that it took so less time and offered so less we a could have stayed at the Perot museum longer we thought regretfully.  It had not delivered on the hype. It had a revolving restaurant and the tower looked beautiful with colored lights at night. But we were not hanging around until nightfall to see them. 

                                                          View of the layered Flyovers

It had been a long day and we lingered in the lobby of Hyatt Regency on our way out looking for water. Suddenly a bevy of young girls in white bridal dresses trooped out into the corridor and walked towards a closed room. We stood aside to let them pass.  A shy girl had covered her bare shoulders with a shawl, another had gathered her dress knee high. Perhaps they were bridesmaids and wearing this dress for the first time. But a few girls walked proudly carrying their dress with panache.  Altogether they looked like butterflies. We stood watching as some adults in formal dresses followed them.  How do you get so any girls as bridesmaids? Were they from a school?  I kept searching for the bride as we stood outside waiting for the cab. Swanky cars crowded the portico and well dressed and coiffured ladies got in and out of them. Our cab arrived and we walked to it. 


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At an American University at last


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