Curved plastic shielding six – or when the sky is clear, twenty – odd people chattering away about three doors down, pandit ravi shankar, or the wavelength of x-ray for diffraction of the micro-crystal, or particle physics with equal ease. All of them clustered around the black cement table that couldn’t hold twenty cups without seeming crowded, out for a break during lab time, for a birthday, for a tea, for a breather and a freshener before diving right back into whatever they came from.
Sharing tea, swapping stories about work (or life, which might almost be the same thing for this lot), and friendly and malicious gossip about friends, acquaintances, absolute strangers, and mrs. sharma’s daughters. Absolute strangers, of course, who didn’t stay strangers for long in a closed campus with limited privacy, since five years – at the least – in one place made sure you got to know people whom you may otherwise never – or only – have talked about.
Most tables occupied by a person sitting alone and contemplating who-knows what, or two people engaged in quiet, if sometimes vigorous conversation. And more rarely, when three or four gather, managing to pull off a controlled, if not dignified appearance despite loud disputes that can be heard clear across the place.
The chipped cups, the black tea “lemon beda”, and soothing yellow lighting where atlas could shrug. And someone else would pick up the burden, just for the curiosity of it.