As the lone technical imbecile in a family choked solid with engineers for three generations running, the pressure was on me to try my luck at the great annual marathon for the Illustrious Avtar Services. I was thus despatched to the hallowed institution. Situated on what we continued to call the Imperial Avenue, the ‘Santon ka Kalij’- as it was described to me by a veteran-was very impressive with its red brick columns and stately lawns. To my eyes at atleast, accustomed as they were to the crushing crowds of Calcutta.
I was eager to make an impression upon the august inmates. Spotting a room with a few lounging figures, I walked in with an outstretched arm and cheery ‘hi’. My beaming smile froze on my lips and I felt as if I had walked into a block of ice. A nerve-wrecking half an hour later I was a wiser man.
I learnt that I was a nameless entity called ‘fresher’. The lounging dignitaries were ‘seniors’. I was to address them only as ‘Sir’, never sit in their exalted presence, speak only when spoken to that too without using abbreviations or slang. My time was at their disposal and their wish was my command.
The hostel was called ‘Rez’, the room attendant ‘GYP’ and the canteen ‘Cafe’ which I could not enter except when accompanied by a ‘senior’. I had to do odd jobs for these seniors at odd hours and entertain them at all hours. All this was to go on for two months or an intro, whichever was earlier. These rites of passage had been devised to make ‘men out of boys’ and had the sanction of hoary tradition.
In the process, I grew up. The feeling induced by early success in school that ‘I am a cat’ was reasonably watered down. The last vestiges of self-consciousness, shyness or prudery was brutally extinguished. Chips on shoulders were knocked off, rough edges ground smooth and language altered beyond recognition.
The room was a ‘pad’, the bed a ‘sack’ and sleeping was ‘crashing’. K’Nag and K’Bag were Kamala Nagar and Karol Bagh to the uninitiated. C’Sec, CP and GK were easier to follow. A ‘fag’ was a cigarette or a man of different persuasions-depending on use.’Zap the chaps’ was not a battle cry by captain Spock-but a request for passing the Chapattis.
I also learnt not to be finicky about food-by a harsh if simple lesson. On the first occasion that I pushed a barely nibbled at plate, I was made to finish it, express appreciation and ask for more.
In due course I metamorphosed into an omniscient, omnipotent and ominous ‘senior’ myself. I had ‘expanded my horizons’ and opened ‘doors to perception’ I learnt the import of the old saying, ‘St.Stephens’ was stoned to death and the tradition goes on.’
Huxley, Keruac, Castanedo, Casey & Ginsberg were our Gurus. We hotly argued Allinde’s mistakes and Giap’s strategy, Neruda’s poetry and Fassbinder’s films, neoexistential philosophy and post-Freudian psychoanalysis over endless cups of coffee and charms at the Univ. Coffeehouse. We hitchhiked on trucks, or rode borrowed mo’bikes.
We read indiscriminately and argued incessantly. We attended Costa Garvas and Ilmaz Gune festivals, lectures by J.Krishnamurthy and Mahesh Yogi, theatre workshops by Markus Murch and lec-dems by Amjad Ali and Sonal Mansingh. And, through an exhilarating and tortuous series of true loves, sheer lusts and beautiful relationships, we grew up.
The years rolled by and left us beached naked in the cruel world outside the campus cocoon. We were freshers once again-in the real world, this time. It was ragging time all over again-the ‘seniors’ this time were sombre men in sober suits. We learnt the new ropes and yet another new language of corporate strategies, group motivations and prisoners dilemmas, and the prize this time round was ‘filthy lucre’ and graduation to yuppiedom. One thing I learnt through all this-growing up is a continuous process.