College, Chapter 11 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright© Soumya Mukherjee
‘It’s an IAS-making machine old boy. Put your son in at one end and our pops an IAS at the other.’ Or so Boy’s father’s colleague, an old boy, had advised him about the Alma Mater.
As the lone technical imbecile in a family choked solid with engineers for three generations running, the pressure was on Boy to try his luck at the great annual marathon for the Illustrious Avtar Services. He was thus despatched to the hallowed institution. Situated on what continues to be called the Imperial Avenue, the ‘Santon ka Kalij’- as it was described to him by a veteran-was very impressive with its red brick columns and stately lawns.; To his eyes at at least,, accustomed as they were to the crushing crowds of Calcutta.
Boy was eager to make an impression upon the august inmates. Spotting a room with a few lounging figures, he walked in with an outstretched arm and cheery ‘hi’. His beaming smile froze on my lips and he felt as if he had walked into a block of ice. A nerve-wrecking half an hour later Boy was a wiser man
.He learnt that he was a nameless entity called ‘fresher’. The lounging dignitaries were ‘seniors’. Boy 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. His time was at their disposal and their wish was his command.
The hostel was called ‘Rez’, the room attendant ‘GYP’ and the canteen ‘Cafe’ which Boy could not enter except when accompanied by a ‘senior’. He 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, Boy 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 were 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.
Boy also learnt not to be finicky about food-by a harsh if simple lesson. On the first occasion that he pushed a barely nibbled at plate, Boy was made to finish it, express appreciation and ask for more.
In due course Boy metamorphosed into an omniscient, omnipotent and ominous ‘senior’ himself. Boy had ‘expanded his horizons’ and opened ‘doors to perception’ He learnt the import of the old saying, ‘St.Stephens’ was stoned to death and the tradition goes on.’
Huxley, Keruac, Castanedo, Casey & Ginsberg were his Gurus. Boy 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. He hitchhiked on trucks, or rode borrowed mo’bikes.
Boy read indiscriminately and argued incessantly. He 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, Boy grew up.
The years rolled by and left him beached naked in the cruel world outside the campus cocoon. Boy was a fresher 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. Boy 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 Boy learnt through all this;-growing up is a continuous process.
These memories drift out of a fog, for, as a wise man put it, “If you were in Delhi University in the 80s and remember it, you weren’t there”
Boy was very much there, and remembers little. But how it all started is vivid in his mind. Hang on, that’s in chapter 12