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   Chapter 1 The college and hostel

Episodes That Pervade My Heart By Sundaram Characters: 24490

Updated: 2021-01-09 05:08


It was the first day in the college and first day in the hostel too. The college is very big and fascinating. This is a private engineering college. Of course, there were only boys and it was very long afterwards many an institution switched over to co-education in engineering although the contemporary medical colleges are offering co-education. This college where I enrolled is situated in the heart of the city and the city being the district headquarters. The geography of this location is very humid and near the western ghat of India. In the adjoining area there are schools and a ladies college of arts and science. The engineering institutions normally start at 8.30 am in the morning and wind up at 4.30 pm leaving a break for lunch at 12.30 – 1.30 pm. The college has a canteen and it offers lunch at subsidized rates. The hostellers would go to their mess in the hostel and return back just in time. This rather served to eliminate the monotonous sessions. 'Hey you, are you new to the college?''Well, yes sir.''What's your name and where do you come from?' 'I'm Gopal and I hail from Satyamangalam''Hereafter you're bloody Gopal, is that ok? And you must call yourself that way whoever asks for your name. If any mishap I'll see that you run out the institution.'As the bell rang the bigger boy vanished and I headed for the college from the hostel premises. I had well been warned by other people that there would be ragging by senior students, mostly around the hostel as the college, though is taken care of by professors and lecturers, it couldn't be ruled out there wouldn't be ragging. I hurriedly ascended the steps leading to the second floor and the class was already in session. The lecturer at the podium glimpsed a look and remained stoic. 'Sir, I'm sorry I was interrupted by a senior and was delayed.''Do you mean this college shouldn't have seniors at all?''Not that Sir. He ragged me en route ….''But you look unruffled. Now I'll tell you how you would look if you're really ragged.''Now what's your name?'Remembering the senior's order, I said: 'I'm bloody Gopal'The staff at the dais turned violent and cried: 'Do you take me for a fool? Now kneel down and close your eyes with both of your hands.'I knelt on the floor near the entrance door to the class and closed my eyes as directed. Suddenly there was laughter from other boys and I opened my eyes only to see someone else on the dais. The staff said: 'Was there any senior guy here before I came?' I just realized the show enacted by a senior and stood silent. 'Well boys now, and the one standing there rush to your seat and we'll see what survey is.'The afternoon session wound up lazily as the different lecturers were their own in delivering their subjects. It's said it would be almost a week before the students got used to the teaching in the college as only a few students emerged from English medium schools. Maybe it was the reason that English was taught for one year in those days of the five-year course of engineering. And it was not a semester and it was the academic year. Somehow the day wound up. It's night time and we had just returned to the hostel. The hostel for the first-year students is at the far end of the hostel premises. The north portion being the entrance and the south is the first year area. To reach the first-year area one must walk nearly six hundred meters through the cluster of senior student blocks four in number and built with three storeys. It may be the reason that the new boys or rather the first-year ones are kept away from the presence of seniors to avoid ragging on the newcomers. But then the new boys have to dine with the seniors. The messes are located only underneath the senior student blocks. That way some seniors have the opportunity to grab some additional juicy food from the junior sitting next. Such things are very common and the newcomers would rather sacrifice their food than getting under filthy treatment. The passage of two weeks was really horrible as the ragging was in session and that went uninterrupted by the authorities. Maybe they thought only then the new boys would become brave to face life later on in life. Most of the seniors were friendly except for a few boys who by birth are arrogant. They suffered at the hands of their seniors particularly because of their pertinence and that they wanted to replay on their juniors. Those days all over India freak incidences were reported about the ragging and the university has laid strict rules for the offenders but the act went unfettered as the affected ones are seldom prepared to reveal the identity of the culprit unless there is a fatal case. One must wonder to hear of fatal cases and it is true and that happened due to the mad frenzy of the senior boys who ordered the newcomers to jump from the second floor and so on. During our times one boy was asked to touch an electric iron. Usually, the juniors would act as though they were up to anything and suddenly avoid compliance. But one ill-fated boy touched an electric iron because the indicator light was not glowing and the iron was in short circuit. Then what happened would be to anybody's guess. Leaving a few extremities the ragging is normally a comedy. I was standing one day at the entrance to the college which is hardly a hundred feet from the exit of the hostel premises. We have to cross a National Highway before we reach the college from the hostel. The parents like the nearness of the hostel as they thought their wards would have an easy approach for many an educational institution located a bit far away from the hostels. It was the tea break between 9.40 am and 10 am. Quite unaware I was sidetracked by a senior. At that time many a group of girls were heading towards their college which is an art and science college and that is near ours on the east. 'Hey, junior don't waste time, rush and hand this flower to that girl in green saree and say, I love you.'I blindly followed and ran after the girl and confronted her. She looked bewildered. I said to her handing the flower, 'Sister I'm sorry. Look up there that guy directed me to do this.'She made a smile and received the flower and walked off. Till today I never knew if she had known that guy or that I was innocent and she wanted to compliment me! After a couple of weeks, the hostel and college scenario changed altogether. Especially after the day, the seniors gave a toast to the juniors. It was ceremoniously conducted by the seniors uniquely laying down their seniority if they are second years or fourth years or fifth and final years. One would wonder if it were these boys who took the juniors to that level of irritation and harassment. The days passed by and I became one with others in pursuing the studies. It was very difficult to catch up with the lessons if we cut the class or absented for valid reasons. The junior hostel is devoid of certain comforts for they serve night milk at times of examinations. The first-year block usually remains closed after 9 pm. There is a security guard at the entrance behind the locked door and he would open it only at 5 am in the morning. During the early days, the hostel was a nightmare. The two rows of rooms facing each other with a pathway in between have a common tiled roof. The walls are only eight feet high and practically from one room to another, the access could be had by jumping over the dwarf wall separating each room. Some heroes used to cross to their friends' rooms by jumping over a series of walls of adjoining rooms. Once when I was asleep, at around 2.30 am, one figure trampled on my feet and I woke up suddenly with panic. 'Hey, brother I'm sorry for a slight mishap. I'm in room no: 10 and heading to room no: 8' I was in room no: 9. In the dim light of lamp posts outside the rooms and in the pathway, I could figure out John. 'It's okay John. Thank god you haven't landed on my crotch.''I won't for we're well trained in this art. Oh, you're innocent. Do one thing. If you're okay I'll take you to a night show next time.''What on earth, do you say?''It's simple. You know room no: 1 and it has no doors. It is the reading room where you could see magazines spread on a couple of tables.' 'Yeah I know and it's on the far west and there is a big and high iron door protecting our hostel.''It may protect the hostel but not us who'd sneak out as usual by stepping on the rails and jumping to the village road on the other side of the door in the north-south direction.''At the time of night is it not risky to go out and what if we get caught?''That seldom happens for we take the warden on a free ticket and because of him the guard at the far end of the east would pretend to be in sleep or in actual sleep he only knows.'Those days there were about half a dozen touring talkies situated in and around the hostel premises and they flourished only because of the students who made it a habit to go for night shows. Before I passed on to the second year I went to as many as twenty film shows. I was not a movie fan prior to entry into the engineering college. But then it went with the routine of the first-year boys. There is a tea shop on the other side of the gate. On return from the movies, the boys flock to the shop for fresh bakes of cakes, buns, samosas and tea. This eatery serves as a booster to boys for they became fresh and started reading right after entry into the hostel till the stroke of 6 am. If we slept through and woke up after 6.30 am certainly we needed to skip the bath as the dozen bathrooms and latrines would be crowded and entry would be on queue. Then what, one would rush to mess and on to the college that starts at 8.30 am sharp. If we plugged in one subject even we would be sent out and we could be back for the second year only after passing and only in the next academic year. Thanks to semester systems and the schedule of examinations these days for the students can appear for the failed subject at the earliest opportunity. The life in first-year block was memorable. For a strength of 120 students, it was all a rush for anything and everything and that developed into the early bird culture. The hostel though is crowded is neatly maintained. I would never forget the piece of message invariably written on the inner wall of the bathrooms or latrines:Please leave me as you'd like to see me again. This message got some idiotic boys to the right track who otherwise wouldn't flush the toilet and things like that. The boys would usually sit outside their rooms and read for the examinations as the verandah is well lit and spacious. On one such occasion one of my roommates, we are four in all rooms, was reading an obscene magazine. The college principal happened to pass by our room on his casual visit to the old hostel for the first year hostel is called that way only. The principal noticed the boy inside the room and he caught the boy unawares. The principal snatched the book from him and saw what it was. 'So you desire to have extra knowledge. Okay, better you reserve that instinct to the second year when you'll get new block and with only one roommate you may have more time and privacy.'He patted on the back of the boy and went away with a smile murmuring…. boys are boys. This principal was so practical and moved with boys in a quite decent way and the students had no grouse at all. The hostel made us learn many a thing and it is a reminder of what is offensive and what is acceptable. In the second year, we changed to B block and it is opposite to block A. This is how blocks C and D were positioned and the space between them in the ground floor serves as lounge and washrooms as from the washroom one could enter right into mess B or A, likewise C or D. Normally the boys would sit in order filling one row fully and then switch to the next if the previous row is full and they wouldn't sit at random. If at all someone is ignoring this order he corrects himself as others would cast a look of aversion. Likewise, if one eats up early and wants to quit, he would politely say 'excuse me' and quit. In the old hostel life we learnt to get up early in the morning to be punctual or else one mus

t skip the bath and sometimes the mess even so as to be at the classroom at the right time. Similarly, hostellers seldom wasted food. If anyone didn't favor a particular food, he would simply cover his hands on the plate and the server would pass to the next seat. Those days the mess was a divine place. It served food under a dividing system which meant the bill of cost for the entire mess was shared equally by the members dining in the particular mess plus management charges. And one would not frown for it is taken care of by members elected from the hostellers every year. The elected members would look into the purchase of groceries and other essentials. They would take into account the pay of servers and cooks and other contingent expenditure. The management takes care of everything else with their staff and fleet of vehicles. The elected members merely audit and make a balance sheet and the mess bill of every hosteller is unique and one and the same. If at all there is any variation, it would be attributable to his absence or visitors. There would be an extra cost for non-vegetarian food for which D and C messes are earmarked. In total, the mess management is carried out on the no loss or no gain principle. The menu in the mess for that matter in all the messes attached to block A to D follows the same. It is really a delicacy to dine in the hostel for the menu differs each day to last the seven days in a week. Morning and evening they serve Tiffin. The tiffin contains sumptuous food though rationed. Each tiffin has either three idlis with three oothappams or three puris with a cup of uppuma or three dosas and a serving of pongal. The side dishes range from masal, sambar and chuttini. The breakfast ends up with a serving of a cup of coffee or tea as per the choice. There would be a minor change in the dinner for once out of seven days. They would serve variety rice and invariably all dinners would end up with a soft drink like lemon juice, badam gheer or rose milk. Of course, they offer coffee or tea at the evening from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm and the dinner would start at 8 pm and close at 9.30 pm. The lunch on all days would be rice, sambar, rasam and butter milk and a good serving of porial, pickles and applam. Once in a week especially on Sundays, breakfast would be four bread pieces with butter and jam and two Bombay toasts. Like breakfast they would serve vegetable ghee rice for lunch on Sundays and biriyani for non-vegetarian persons. The non-vegetarian food in mess C or D is merely a plate of chicken or mutton curry or a piece of fried fish. Otherwise the food items are same as in Mess A or B. It must be mentioned that on the day of death anniversary of the founder of the college there would be special breakfast and special lunch in all the four messes. The items range from ghee roast, sweets, ice-creams and a beeda made out of betel leaves. At the entrance to each mess they would keep an image of the founder whom we reverently look up and thank for the sweet and drinks. This kind of feasting prevails on occasions of festivals and those who remain in the hostel not bothering to go home could enjoy the special foods and sweets. Once during the festival of Dewali we stayed back at the hostel and they offered even crackers! Another feature associated with this particular college and hostel is playing of light music at the hostel every evening from 5 pm to 7 pm all through the week. In addition to this they use to screen a feature film in Tamil or English or Hindi once in a month on a Sunday evening between 7 pm to 9 pm. On the days of film shows the messes would be open till 10 pm. This institution is famous for its library both in the college and hostel. They say no other college had such a vast collection of technical books and magazines in south India in those days. There used to be well trained librarians both at the college and hostel. The librarian at the college is handling tuition to a good number of boys at lunch break in mathematics. This is because he has a fascination towards mathematics and that he acquired great skills in the subject by constantly updating his knowledge. This was possible for him as he devoted most of the time he sat at the library towards reading the different and new books on mathematics! His knowledge is so profound that even the professors in the mathematics department would seek his clarification at times of dispute.

All these may sound fabulous to the listeners but it is all fact and fact only. Those who studied in this institution are well settled all over the world and they would cry in happiness acknowledging the good old days. This system became non-existent as days passed by as many capitalists who run colleges and the hostels would never let anyone sneak into their activities. This explains why a single management runs many colleges under different names. With mushrooming of engineering colleges and polytechnic colleges, it's all a game of business and people never bother to serve the mankind to get uplift in the field of technical education. May be such days are never to come again and the alumni of the particular college assemble once in a few years and enact the days they spent and enjoyed right at the institution and hostel. They pay and arrange with the management to have the same breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole day. On the pent house of C Block in the hostel there used to be a clinic with a doctor and a male nurse. The students who had any illness reported here for treatment and medication. The staff at this clinic would attend only on the evening sessions from 5 pm to 9 pm. The staff or doctor would never attend on Sundays. The college and hostel serve as places for reformation of the boys who otherwise are not trustworthy in a minority of them. There were a few occasions where they caught hold of unscrupulous boys who cut the afternoon class and stole valuable things like wrist watch, gold ring or money purse. In their rage the room-mates beat the blacksheep and caused their exit from the college and hostel. In another case of severe ragging one innocent village boy ran across the running train and committed suicide. Poor boy he never even left a suicide note and that the perpetrator escaped with impunity. While talking of innocent and timid people one must know that there are people of obverse nature too. Time alone can make a man of them. The five year period in the engineering college seemed to last forever and was very lengthy. Especially when we moved from first year to subsequent years, we became seniors and had no fear of anyone. The seniors unlike the first years have freedom to move outside the campus on Sundays but required to report to the hostel before 10 pm. After 10 pm we are required to make an entry at the entrance to the hostel in the register maintained by the security. Here we make entries like, date, name, year and branch and time of return. These entries resemble like, 11th Jul, 1968, Gopal, III year, 11 pm. This apart every evening we could go out and return before 8 pm lest we should make a late entry. If late entries are more than three times in a week, we would be fined and warned to vacate the hostel. Unmindful of regulations, one would be concerned when making the entry like II or III or IV to V in the register for that has a fancy that one is moving closer to the final year. The senior boys would take an evening stroll usually towards the east on the highway for there is a temple and also the ladies college within two hundred meters from the hostel. Boys get dressed in good costumes for this evening stride for there would be quite a few girls trotting around the temple and the day scholars readying themselves to catch the bus to go home. Some girls would go to their hostel after worship at the temple. Their hostel located just behind their college. Unlike these days no girl or boy would be seen engaged in conversations or having a time out at the nearby restaurant or a stationery shop. If the boys went up to the ladies college and returned they would feel great and boast to their friends as if some particular girls cast regular looks at them. Some innocent boys would return straight from the temple to the hostel, mess and room to study for the next day classes. In the days of such gallant strolls I never failed to see some girls exchange looks with our boys. Probably they derived moral satisfaction that some boys did feel attraction towards them. There used to be discussions. 'Suppose I want to marry that girl in green half saree, would she consent? 'You've got the maths test tomorrow; is it time for such discussions.'Then the boys marched off. Such scenes were not uncommon. There were instances like some girl, may be a day scholar strayed away and her parents came searching for her and that she was found near her college talking to a neatly dressed boy. That marked the end of her college study. In another instant a boy and girl went absconding and both of their names were removed from their respective colleges. The case was almost forgotten when the boy reappeared on the college premises. It's gathered that the boy married the girl and with the consent of her parents he came back to continue his studies. Of course, the girl discontinued her studies and it was a routine affair those days with the girls. Unless a girl got good marks and her parents were willing she was not to pursue her studies and in a way the girls welcomed this kind of custom. There were problems in finding a good match for them if the girls graduated or obtained post graduate degree. OMG we've come a long way! The engineering course lasted for five years those days. Only from the third year the students chose their specialization and studied to complete their course in the final year. One must accept that the students who passed out at the end of the course were competent enough to tackle any issue or take any job and fit into the situation. These days it has become a constant wail that jobs are scarce from seekers and the employers report that the candidates are sans the job requirement. Thanks to the semester systems followed these days. The semester system advocates study of only the requisite field rather than giving an outline of the engineering subject or the arts and science topic. This is where I got reminded of an event. The college had arranged for a technical conference and one eminent professor from West Germany was the chief guest. While delivering his address he said he was rather confused about students saying they were in the civil branch or mechanical or electrical. He further explained it was not in vogue in their country. The engineering students who passed out were in a position to take up any job not necessarily civil, mechanical or electrical. The reason for the demand for electrical jobs, or civil jobs or no scope for mechanical and the concern of job seekers all are evident now. I remember some boys were reluctant to take civil branch as there was no demand for civil engineers in the government sectors. This trend spread wider in the latter days and computer science and information technology took over the reins. Every entrant in the engineering college aspires to become a computer specialist or an information technocrat. Exploiting this situation many engineering colleges came into existence. It is not generosity to make more engineers but it is avariciousness to amass wealth. But then where there not demand for medical colleges or arts and science colleges? With the same tempo, the medical colleges functioned. Leaving a half a dozen government colleges of engineering or medicine, it was all private engineering and medical colleges that ruled the roost. They obtain permission for new colleges from the central and state governments on the plea that there are not adequate colleges commensurate with the population. This all leads to a situation unless a candidate is really competent he is not to find a job. Thanks to this stalemate, there are a mushrooming of job trainers and career builders. But then the opportunists have found a way out to make their living superior in the guise of helping the unfortunate.

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