Back in my first year of engineering college, we had to undergo that all-important rite of passage called ragging. During those days, college authorities around the country had started cracking down on ragging inside college campuses. However, our campus was more or less immune from such distracting external influences. Raggers could carry on in peace as long as they ensured that the frachas (fresher + bacha) didn't end up in a hospital or mental institution.
There were certain rituals associated with being a first year student. Till we were made 'free', we had to be in a seniors-enforced dress code outside our hostels. Whenever we came across a senior on campus, we had to follow the ritual of wishing him/her. We were never to look directly into the face of a senior – we had to follow the 3rd button rule (the only place we could look was the 3rd button of our shirt). Whenever we were asked something, we had to first apologize for having to subject him to our foolish answers, then give an introduction (an 'intro' typically runs to about 3-4 minutes and includes such details as your name, branch, tech baap's name, room baap's name, 'score', 'history' etc.) and only then proceed to give him/her an answer. [Score is the number of slaps that you have received on that day; history is the number of slaps you were lucky to get since you set foot on campus]. During all this, one had to be extra careful to always mention full names, always address seniors as 'sir'/'madam', never speak without being spoken to and never give your opinion on anything, even if asked for it (we were supposed to say, "As you wish, sir"). The consequence of not showing such basic courtesy towards a senior was an increase in one's score.
Apart from these rituals, we had the real ragging. One of the unwritten rules of ragging was that only seniors from your state would rag you. So I was spared the ragging from psychopath Gulti and Rajasthani seniors. As long as I kept them happy with the 3rd button look and 'Excuse me, sir. Good morning, sir', they didn't bother me. Luckily for us Mallus, the seniors from Kerala were a more enlightened lot and had a sense of humour. While our Gulti batch mates were doing the Jugnu dance* in the next room, we were subjected to much lesser tortures - like controlling our laughter, for instance. People who failed to do so were punished with a 50-page assignment. You could even say that looking back I find the whole experience very funny. Some ragging events stand out and whenever I and my batch mates get together these are the incidents that we invariably end up remembering and laughing about.
Cricket in Warangal station and the soapbox mobile phone
On our first vacation after joining college, we were coming back home in Kerala Express. Unfortunately for us, our seniors also happened to be going home in the same train. Needless to say, we were subjected to a lot of ragging on our journey home. Imagine playing cricket in a crowded railway station platform. Now imagine playing cricket in a crowded railway station platform without a bat or ball! I looked like a total fool as I ran in to bowl full throttle (after polishing the shiny side of the imaginary cricket ball in my hand, of course) and was apparently hit for a six with a non-existent bat by Puli as Dino kept up a running ball-by-ball commentary.
As if that wasn't humiliating enough, I had to constantly keep getting status update on how late the train was running by calling up the station master of the next station. And all I had to make the phone call was a soap box. Making phone calls with soap boxes is not easy. Our seniors were not happy with me sitting in my seat and making the phone calls as they felt that the phone wouldn't remain in range if I remained stationary (The train is moving, remember? So as to nullify the effect of the motion of the train, I had to walk in the opposite direction! Our seniors had the concept of relative velocities right). So I had to walk up and down the compartment talking loudly to imaginary people through my soap box throughout the length of the journey spanning the better part of 2 days.
50 ways to 'Do it yourself'
Remeber those dreaded 50 page assignments I wrote about? Well, those sometimes came as other variants. One of the most interesting of those was making a list of 50 ways to masturbate. If you think making that list is easy, try making one yourself! We raced to number 10 or 12, but from there on it was an uphill struggle. The difficulty in coming up with a new one went up exponentially as the number increased. We practically did a survey of all the guys in our hostel to come up with the list.
It all started when one of our seniors asked Dino what movies he saw while he was home during the vacation. Dino replied that he saw Thandavam, but didn't like it because it didn't have a half decent story. The senior wasn't someone to let such opportunities pass. So he gave us the task of rewriting the script of Thandavam. Our only brief was that it had to include Shakeela, everything else could be tinkered around with. 2 sleepless nights later, we had in our hands a script as voluminous as the siren herself, which included scenes of thunderstorms and wet saris. I'm pretty sure it would have made for a better movie than Thandavam.
In writing that script, I wrote and rewrote more pages in Malayalam than I had done in my entire life till then. That soft-porn script gave me the confidence to read the works of the masters of Malayalam literature which I'd never attempted till then (even though my Malayalam reading-writing ability was decent).
Have you seen the Moods condoms ad that used to be shown in the late '80s and early '90s on good old Doordarshan? It features a man who wants to buy condoms, but is too embarrassed to ask for it at the chemist's. So he stammers and stutters his way through his shopping list without being able to convey what he wants to buy. Then an ultra cool hypersexual male walks in, slams his hand on the counter and says, "Moods please". The shopkeeper looks at the man with respect in his eyes and gives him his packet of Moods condoms.
Our most memorable ragging happened along these lines. We were supposed to buy condoms, but not in any way that we wanted to do it - we had to act out the whole commercial at the shop. One of the seniors would be at the counter buying some inconsequential thing to ensure that the whole thing was enacted in exactly the same way as directed.
At the counter, after the "Moods please" got over, the shopkeeper looked at us disinterestedly and asked, "Which type?"
Dino and I looked at each other in a moment of panic. How the hell were we supposed to know which 'type'? We thought condoms just came in one-size-fits all standard packs of the same thing.
"Normal type," squeaked Dino, all the confidence of the 'Moods please' now a distant memory.
The shopkeeper understood our plight and with a smile explained, "Dotted, ribbed, flavoured...?"
We again looked at each other, barely managing to hide our surprise. We knew what each other was thinking – "Flavoured? WTF"
5 minutes later, we had a bag full of condoms – one pack of each type.
*Jugnu dance: All of the frachas were put in a room and asked to strip. All their clothes were put in a box and shuffled. The lights of the room were switched off and the naked frachas were given a minute to find their clothes from the box and dress. They were told of horrible things that would happen to them if they failed to find their clothes and dress in time when the lights were switched on. However, the lights would be switched on well before the stipulated minute was over. The resultant sight was a very entertaining one for the seniors. The frachas, in their desperate attempt to dress up whichever way they could in the dark, would end up looking like clowns. Fights are known to have broken out between frachas in their struggle for any piece of clothing that they could lay their hands on – invariably laying their hand on somebody else's piece of clothing.
**After reading this article about Henry Hoover being violated, imagine my surprise when I came across a song called 'Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy' by Glen Hansard from the soundtrack of Once! Now you know the reason behind the title of this post.