During the dinner I bumped into a few of my old friends from my school days. I’d been out of touch with some of them. I felt a relief after seeing them because otherwise it was not quite an easy task to start conversation with someone totally new. Gradually more and more people started joining us at the table and we all got introduced to each other only to that extent which allows carrying on useless conversations. After the dinner the President of the Hall, called ‘Hall P’, called all the freshers to assemble in the common room. Needless to say, everyone knew that was the summon for the first session of ragging. Like everyone else I’d also heard a lot about the ragging in engineering colleges. There was indeed some apprehension about it. With so many formalities to complete the day passed so fast that I never got a chance to think about ragging. When all the freshers were called after the dinner my heart kept pounding. The Hall P was a very unimpressive short and lean guy with a baby face, which we couldn’t figure out if it was clean shaven or totally devoid of any hair for ever. He was wearing a pair of very untidy crumbled shorts, a type which even the rag pickers on the road would detest to wear. He was accompanied by a group of people, some of whom resembled bouncers at strip joints and some other looked like WWF wrestlers. None of the seniors looked like students. I seriously started to have confusion whether they really were students or just some wagon breakers from the nearby railway yards. Anyway, I don’t think I’d any option than to accept them as our seniors, on whose whims lay our fate for the next one month. The Hall P started his speech with the choicest of Hindi abuses, some of which I can never utter in my life. That was the first time I came to know that mothers and sisters are so much integral parts of abuses. The summary of the speech was that for the next few weeks we should abide by each and everything that our respected seniors would ask us to do. At the end of the speech we’re asked to take an oath, raising our hands in the “Hail Hitler” pose. There’s no doubt that the oath had all the ingredients of erotic Sanskrit literature sans the gracious part. I hadn’t heard anything more gross and vulgar till then. At the end of the oath we’re reminded of the basic doctrines to be followed during the entire ragging, or orientation period like wearing full sleeve shirts tucked formally into pants, no jeans and snickers and chappals, addressing all seniors as ‘Sir’ and many other. Being the first day we’re allowed to disperse early at around one in the morning. Inside my room I kept on thinking whether I took so much pain to clear the IIT entrance just for this - the orientation.
The next day was a Sunday. The seniors had the entire day at their disposal to manifest all their frustrations and ingenuities on us. I never had any idea that people could be so vicious and sadistic. The worst experience was to just sit in front of one of the final year students in his room and do nothing while he continued to do all his normal work without even considering the existence of some alien people in his room. I never knew that keeping quiet could be so tiring. I was totally drained by lunch time. After a fast meal I took my cycle, called bike, and started riding aimlessly on the roads of IIT amidst the scorching heat of July. After sometime I reached the Hijli Detention Camp and spent enough time strolling in front of the closed Nehru Museum. Never ever in my life did I find the outside of a museum so interesting!! I investigated every nook and corner of the Detention Camp, the gallows, the cells, the administrative office etc. I read the history of the Detention Camp engraved on a wall. When there was almost nothing remaining for further exploration I took my bike and reached the Hijli railway station. The station appeared to have come out directly from the sets of a Sherlock Holmes movie. Time seemed to have ceased to move forward. The old faded bricks and tiles of the lone platform, the high ceilings mounted on rusted iron frames, the broken glass lamp shades, the few iron benches scattered across the platform, the few broken wagons of goods train shunted little away from the station, the hand operated signal at the end of the platform, station master sitting idle in his office and the loneliness of the surroundings had created a perfect ambience of a place lost in time. It was such a refreshing atmosphere for me after the half day long orientation. I sat on one of the iron benches which was not that much unstable. I stretched my head backwards and leaned against the back rest of the bench. I was gazing at the slate colored late afternoon sky hanging over me. Not a single cloud, neither a bird. The sky looked so dull and calm and lifeless. I couldn’t make out if everyday the sky looked the same at that point of the day or it was something special for that day. I’d never gazed at sky in Calcutta at around half past four. In a short while I got bored of sky gazing. I sat upright on the bench and looked around the platform.
Back home, I was treated with special vengeance because of my absence for the greater part of the day. I was asked to do all sort of things in different states of undress which finally culminated into “chaddi football”, which is surely the most lethal game after bull fighting. All freshers, numbering fifty, wearing just the underpants, were assembled in the field between the ‘B’ and ‘C’ wings of the hostel. Divided into two teams the game involved scoring a point each time anyone pulled down the underwear of someone from the opponent team. At the end of the game the field was filled with just torn underwear. Class commenced from the next day. Most part of the day passed in registration, allotment of sections and lots of running around in between.
Few months had passed by. The orientation period was over and the last day of it saw the juniors giving CG, changing the Center of Gravity of the room by totally disorienting each and every thing in the room, to almost all the seniors. There was a fresher’s nite, where some of the freshers were made to dress like girls. By virtue of already knowing most of the girls in my batch I got the task of procuring the girls’ dresses. The more unlucky ones were given the job of buying condoms, which had to be inflated and used to create the vital statistics of a female body on a man’s figure. The Hall P turned out to be really very decent guy, very much in contrast to the first appearance. The classes had started in full swing. Even the mid-sem, short for mid-term semester exams, was over. I’d already made plenty of new friends. I’d started enjoying the IIT life. Every thing seemed to be so nice - the hectic classes starting from eight in the morning; the rigorous labs, where we’re made to work like people in jail convicted with rigorous imprisonment; the regular assignments, most of which demanded night-outs; the bland food in the mess; the inter hostel sports and cultural events; riding ten kilometers on bike on undulating terrains to go for movies in the night shows; the NCC classes, where we’re made to run in the hot afternoon Sun; the Friday movie shows at the Netaji Auditorium, where a non-existent ‘Tarapada’ was always asked to repeat sensuous scenes of movies and mysteriously the person operating the projector, though having some other name than Tarapada, would always oblige; the occasional going to Calcutta to meet my parents; and each and every other nondescript insignificant event.