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Fresh Life Choose

by Ezbee
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Ok! We start with an apology. We are sorry at our corny attempt to rhyme the title with Fresh Lime Juice. We will not fake typos, we will not claim speech impairment due to a cold. But let us also claim that there is a reason behind the title. (aren’t we all reasonable at Fundamatics?) The only thing common to every single student and alumnus of IITB is that they all come in fresh. At different times, they’ve been called freshy, fresher and freshman. And another body of homo-sapiens referred to as “seniors” are known to act fresh with these freshies, some going far enough to try and devour them like a glass of fresh lime juice.

Acting fresh is an art that has morphed over the years. Started off as a moderately permissible-to the point of being almost legit-act. Is now a strict no-no, punishable offence. Strictly by accident and most certainly not by design, this issue of Fundamatics features quite a few “then” and “now” scenarios. The ragging rage in the 70s and 80s has been covered elaborately in H4’s Madhouse book and we reproduce a few stories (juicier than fresh lime juice) here with permission from the authors. We also feature two “selfie” stories.The first one is by current day Sahil Vaidya Thakkar who would definitely have escaped ragging in the 70s/80s due to his superior knowledge of some “coloured” films and their stars. The other selfie story is by Devang Thakkar who along with his friends land into a soup of their own making.

For those who are still despairing at our outrageous title, let us tell you that we are running personal accounts of a fresh life we all choose.

Hey Freshy!
  (Excerpted from Madhouse)

Among the many myths that prevailed about IIT, the biggest were about the intensity of ragging a fresher was subjected to. This induced a lot of anxiety in parents, and it took a lot of convincing to tell them that far from being fierce, ragging in IIT was actually fun. To start with, there was no physical ragging. Every freshy was told in no uncertain terms that he did not have to submit to physical ragging, and that if it ever got out of hand, he should report it to the hostel council immediately. It helped that there were some antiragging crusaders like Gautam Barua (currently Director, IIT Guwahati) and Abhiram Ranade (currently Head of Dept, CSE, IITBombay) who kept an eye on things and did not allow anything to get out of hand.

The way I see it, ragging was actually an aid to acclimation and assimilation. It helped build bonds among hostel inmates in the fastest possible manner. It also served to detoxify a fresher of ideas of his own greatness. Understandably, a new entrant into IIT came with the preconceived notion that he was God’s gift to mankind. After all, he had surely excelled in school, he was one of just two thousand chosen from among 150,000 applicants, and during the party his proud father would have thrown to celebrate his son’s entry into IIT, many guests would have convinced Mr. Fresh that he was the answer to India’s technological problems, if not the entire world’s. Someone had to tell him that he was at best mediocre in this pool of the most brilliant minds from all over the country. Cutting down an arrogant proud being by a few notches and instilling confidence and survival instincts into a shy introverted one were the purported objectives of ragging exercises. Barring a few deviations, ragging usually did meet with its self-declared objectives. This form of ragging was, in a way, legitimized by events like freshies night and Pagal Gymkhana.

It would be no exaggeration to say that ragging changed many lives forever for better or worse, mainly better. The most visible change was that names were altered forever. Many nicknames, originally designed to last the length of an IIT sojourn, have stuck permanently. Kenneth Stuart Robertson’s name was found to be too pseudo and was changed first to Pandurang Dagduram Gaitondeson and it went through some natural transformations from Gaitonde to settle finally at G. Any email G signs as Kenneth today is instantly met with a puzzled response of “who is Kenneth?”

Then there’s a totally unknown Jayant Sheth, which is the real name of a very well known Ghatkopar. On his arrival at IIT his heavily Gujju accented English induced the question “hey freshy! Are you from vernacular?” His reply, “no Sir! I am from Ghatkopar” explains his name.

Ragging was of both a personal and of a general nature, and was usually conducted in our small dingy rooms measuring a pathetic six feet by eight feet. There was a two foot deep niche on one side that held a writing table and another two foot deep niche near the door in which was a cupboard. The cupboard hung on the wall with a two foot space at the top with the ostensible purpose of storing suitcases but was the home of pigeons who roosted there. A two foot space at the bottom of the cupboard was designed to store footwear but was home to some educational reading and viewing material. The upstairs pigeon home was called Kashmir and the downstairs shoe space was called Kanyakumari. An erring freshy was often made to travel to Kashmir from where he derived a bird’s eye view of the proceedings and when the punishment was stronger, he got a rat’s eye view from Kanyakumari.

When the seniors saw the new crop of freshies every year, they asked each other, “So this is the cream of the crop? These are the best minds of the country? We can beat them with half our brains tied behind our backs — can’t we? “ It was a subtext of ragging, seniors proving to themselves that they were smarter.

Some nuggets encountered by all and remembered by some were as follows:

~ This was generally used on anyone who came from an elite school, fancied himself as witty and was a potential member of the “pseud” gang.

“Hey freshy! Are you good with riddles?” “Yes Sir! I am.” “So tell us, what is black and white and red all over?”

“Sir! That is very easy. It is a newspaper,” he replies with a triumphant smile. “You ^&$@#! You think we’d ask you kindergarten riddles? Anyway, how is a newspaper red all over?” Slow-on-the-uptake freshy smiles triumphantly again.”Sir! Newspaper is read all over. Read as in R-E-A-D” “You %^&$@#ing son of a ^&%$@#, I said red, R-E-D. Why do you assume I said R-E-A-D?” “Come on Sir! How can anything be black and white and also red?” “If I tell you, will you stop speaking in English for a whole day and if anyone asks you your name, you will say your name is Dick?” Freshy reluctantly agrees. So he is told, “It’s a blushing zebra, you idiot.”

~ This one was reserved for those who claimed good all-India ranks and fancied themselves good at science.

“Hey freshy! Do you know what ’g’ is?” “Yes Sir! It is acceleration due to gravity and is 9.8 meters per second squared.” “No one asked you the value of g. In fact, I am asking you how you would measure g with an electron microscope.” “It is not possible Sir. How can a microscope measure gravity?” “Bastard! How did a &^%@#$# like you get admitted to IIT? Want to know how it is done?” “Yes Sir! I still think it can’t be done.” “I’ll tell you. You take an electron microscope to the terrace of a building and throw it down while measuring the time of fall with a stop watch.” “Oh OK. That is funny Sir. But we will need to know the height of the building in order to calculate g.” “Oboy. What a smartass. Just get a U tube manometer and measure the height of the building.” “Sir. How can you measure the height with a U-tube manometer?” “Freshy, you are dumb and I don’t know how you cracked the JEE (Joint Entrance Exam). Just tie a string to the manometer, lower it from the terrace and when it lands on the ground, cut the string and measure its length.”

Understandably, these exchanges did deflate a few oversized egos.

It was 1982 when I met a very scared freshy, Dhananjay Patankar. I was surprised by his terror, because he had arrived at IITB from the Bhosala Military School. The worst ragging in IITB should have been like Montessori lessons for him. But the fact was, this Dhanajay, who, by the way, had a military school-defying cherubic face, was really very very scared.

Within a few days, however, this cherubic Dhananjay was walking around looking way too cheerful for a UG (Undergraduate) freshy. As I had expected, he was now relishing the ragging. As a senior PG (Post Graduate) who seemed to have some rapport with the UGs, I soon gained Dhananjay’s confidence. I asked him about his initial reaction to ragging. He laughed happily and told me, “I thought that all this talk about taking my ass was for real just like at my earlier school!”

– Abhay Patil, ’81-‘83

It is just as well that some H4 residents were temporary, and not really H4ites at all. In the summer of 82, all the laggards in IIT were doing a summer course. They would tell their parents at home that they were doing an extra course during the summer vacation instead of holidaying like their less serious friends. Parents would be impressed and boast to other parents about the prodigy that their son was. Technically, these folks were right. They were doing an extra course. It was only a technicality that it was a repeat course. There were guys in all hostels but were few in number and everyone there knew their fellow summerians. Some hostels also played host to students from other IITs who came to Mumbai to do practical training courses. There was a Surd from IIT Kharagpur who came to IIT B to do such a course and stayed at H4. Technically he was a Surd only in technicality because he had cut his hair short and was known as a cut-surd like others of his ilk. The fact that he stayed in H4 was also a technicality since he spent more time absconding from H4 than not. He had to abscond because he was a glib talker who effortlessly took small loans of ten rupees from various guys and defaulted majorly in paying back.For instance, he would come knocking on your door and ask if you had ten rupees to spare for a few minutes. His cab was waiting outside and he had to pay up ten quickly and he would later go to his room in far off NWSF (North Wing Second Floor) and get the money and pay back. At least that’s what he told his unsuspecting prey. Those who believed him paid and waited endlessly for the Surd to travel to and from NWSF, only to find later that the Surd was nowhere in H4. That was because he would shift to H5 and do his number there and disappear to some other hostel. Eventually, when circumstances forced him to return to H4, he would pay back a part of the money to a few of the guys and create a false impression that his huge consignment of money that his dad had sent him and which was lying locked in the bank was now clearing up since the error in transfer code was resolved.

One day, Surd, with a woman, came to H4 in a cab. He went to his room with the woman while the cab waited. Within five minutes, surd and woman came back and drove away. Late at night, Surd returned in the same cab and went to his room. After waiting for more than twenty minutes, the cabbie raised a ruckus and finally, the security guard took him to G Sec Shenoy’s room and woke him up. The cabbie said the surd had hired the cab at Colaba, driven to H4 with the woman, driven back to Colaba where he dropped her off, and then returned to IIT. The total fare was Rs. 180 and the Surd had bolted. He was nowhere to be found.

The next day, one of the taxi unions called IIT and told the authorities that they would stop plying cabs within IIT unless someone paid up. After two days, the surd turned up, unfazed by whatever he had precipitated earlier. Warden Ram Mohan Rao and Shenoy had a meeting with him in the warden’s office. Surd was very cool. According to him, he picked up a girl in Colaba and brought her to H4 but the girl didn’t like the room without an air-conditioner. So he agreed to drop her back in Colaba and when he returned to IIT, he realized he had no money. So he decided to give the cabbie the slip. He reached this point when Shenoy exploded. “Look here Mr. Singh! I talked to the cab driver at length. You have not given him a slip of any sort. If you had, we would have paid him and taken the money from you later.” Anyway, Surd told the warden that he could take whatever action he wanted. He said that the Police Commissioner Rajadhyaksha’s son was his friend and that he would get out of trouble even if the warden put him into it. Warden spent a harrowing week trying to locate someone with a connection to the Commissioner so that he could pre-empt Surd’s manoeuvres. Finally, warden realized that the Commissioner was Ribeiro and not Rajadhyaksha. By this time, the surd had fled Mumbai.

And, more importantly, had left H4 for good.

Freshies were very young, and so freshy facial hair was sparse at best. This was a good area for adding insult to injury. Senior asks freshy, “do you like Hitler?” And the freshy does some quick thinking and answers ”yes”, trying some reverse logic. The senior then gives freshy a scathing lecture on the most despicable man in the history of the world and further informs him, “you are going to pay for this for a long time.” Freshy is taken to the bathroom to shave off the sides of his moustache to leave behind the famous Nazi look. He is told, “you will go to classes and labs looking like this for the whole month”. Now the senior turns to the second freshy who has been lurking, attempting to remain unseen. “And you, do you like Hitler?” The shaken freshy blurts out “no” with a sinking feeling that this answer is not going to help either.

Sure enough — he is asked to shave off the middle of the moustache leaving the sides intact.

So for the next few weeks, these two could not decide whether it was less humiliating going to classes together or separately.

Walking into a classroom of over a hundred freshies generally offered this hilarious sight. Some guys with half their moustache shaved off, say the left half. Some with their right half shaved off. And of course, there was a set of Hitler and anti-Hitler moustaches too. Sometimes there were attempts at shaving in an S shape, but given that freshies had just started sprouting facial hair and were not yet adept at shaving, this look was mostly unsuccessful.

From this crazy mix of funny faces, it was easy to identify which hostel a freshy belonged to. Each hostel’s seniors sent freshies to classrooms with their hostel’s particular shave pattern, which was decided by the seniors’ popular vote. In 1977, H6 guys had their left sides shaved off while H4 guys were Hitlers or anti-Hitlers. And to their horror, two bearded freshies, Christopher Fernandes and Edgar Dias were made to shave off half of each other’s beards.

Among these freshy victims falling left and right, there was one Chopra. Someone thought the most appropriate assignment for that smartie was to send him to the Ladies’ Hostel to beg, borrow or steal an undergarment from them. Chopra laid on considerable drama, but, he did turn up with an item.

– Ashvin (Ghoda) Sanghvi, ’76-‘81

Days and weeks went by, everyone moved on to other freshies and other pranks. One day, one of the girls said to me, “you should stop it now, and let the poor guy be.” I looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Every day this poor kid is at our hostel, with a new story on how you are making his life hell.” “What poor kid?” I asked her. And she said, “Chopra, who else? Did you guys not send him for an undergarment?” “Yes,” I said sheepishly, “but we have not ragged him since then, in fact we were wondering what became of him.”

So, while we thought our little prank was so clever, our Chopra had been milking the situation for weeks on end, bringing out motherly instincts in the girls by making up tales of tremendous atrocities by seniors.

We realized we had met much more than our match. He was out of our league — he was in a higher one.

–Ghoda

It was a week or two after our Freshies night, the freshies were now part of us and we were glad we had some fun recruits. Our thoughts had moved on to other things. Panda and I went to get a sandwich at the canteen to find that they had closed for the day. We decided to go to the neighbouring hostel to see if we could find something there.

Hostel 5 was famous for its rock star musicians. Our friend Mogre in H5 was quite a drummer. So it was not a surprise that the place was rocking and reverberating as we walked down the path towards the lounge. But as we get closer, we saw that it was a special occasion. There was a crowd of guys around the tables, clapping with the beat and having a great time. It was dark, with a few coloured spot lights pointing to the table tops. And this is where Panda and I took a step back. There was actually a good looking chick, made up pretty well, doing a very sexy dance on the tables. The high heels were kicking up, showing a flash of thigh and she seemed happy with the cat calls and hoots as she suggestively pulled the blouse over her bare shoulder.

We were disoriented. Can this be true? Could this hostel be more fun than ours? How did they even pull this off? Now the girl dancer on the table turned toward us. My jaw dropped. The girl doing this sexy jig was no other than Shona. Same curly hair, same smile, same flashing teeth, same eyes. Shona was in my class and over time I had got to know her pretty well. She was no starched pants — but this? How could this be happening? As I collected my jaw from the floor, I saw that Panda was as perplexed as I was. The girl was waving a scarf. And as the boys egged her on, she straddled the scarf with its corners in her hands, moving her body and the scarf with the beat. The crowd was wild. This is where I got my final confirmation. This was the same scarf Shona wore the previous Mood Indigo, the cultural festival. I was definitely rattled.

And then I noticed a whole similarly dressed line-up waiting their turn to be humiliated. And I realized — this was their freshy night and the “girl” was Shona’s kid brother in her borrowed clothes.

– Ghoda

For those who have forgotten Rupen Anklekar, he was a poor unfortunate soul who was ragged right through his stay at IIT, at least up until when I saw him last in ‘82.

Like a few others, there was something about him that made him vulnerable to ragging. He always spoke in the present continuous tense — “I am not knowing” instead of “I don’t know”.

Pinakin Patel had got hold of a hideous, scary monster mask. One night, he went from room to room and momentarily freaked people out. The initially scared victim then joined him to go to the next door and scare someone else, and there was a lot of laughter after the initial scare. By the time Pinakin got to Anklekar’s room, there was a sizeable crowd of ex-victims accompanying him, wanting to see how Anklekar would react. When Anklekar opened his door to Pinakin’s knock and saw the monster, he jumped a few feet in the air and shouted “hoo-hoo-hoo” loud enough to be heard in H5, and then he ran out of his room and started howling in the footer (football) field between south and central wings. For a while, it appeared that Anklekar had lost it and turned insane.

All this happened around 10pm, but there were enough hostelites enraged by Anklekar’s insane howling who woke up Warden Lakkad and insisted he come to the hostel and pull up the miscreants. Warden Lakkad wanted to see the offensive mask in order to understand why this was such a big deal. The mask was declared as missing.

I said to Warden Lakkad, ”sir, the mask is missing, but if you call Ashwin Hattangadi (Hats), you’ll understand what the mask looks like.” Hats was sore with me for an entire week after that. He even stopped bumming fags from me. Almost 30 years later, I am making it up to Hats by referring to our grand project as H4 HATS.

– Bakul

Ragging freshies was something all of us sometimes did – just as we sometimes took baths, had breakfast, went for lectures and spent hours faating (talking about nothing important, aka cacking) in the corridors. After a number of years of this regular ritual, the urge to do it waned considerably. One evening I came across a bunch of 2nd year guys whose enthusiasm for their new-found power was still alive. They had themselves a freshy victim, I think his name was Poddar. I watched as they tried out the routines played on them the previous year — describe your girlfriend’s assets, be a cuckoo clock, compare the measurement of your penis praying to God vs. Zeenat Aman, and so on. This guy Poddar perhaps — stood there stony faced, hands folded across chest, eyes firmly directed at ground. He did not respond to anything. He didn’t utter a word or move a muscle, no expression altered his face —not embarrassment, rage, disgust, nothing. Classical detachment, the personification of Leibniz’s Monad. Almost a half hour of persistent effort yielded naught. It was interesting to watch the faces of his tormentors change from excited to outraged to puzzled to outraged to dejected to outraged to bored to outraged and finally to defeated and reconciled to their failure. If the freshy had even smiled his raggers would have thought their job done. This was a truly Gandhian counter to ragging, more effective than any subterfuge I had seen generations of freshies use over the years.

And then there was Chitnis. I remember this non-incident because it ended my enthusiasm for ragging freshies once and for all. One evening, Blondie Mittal and I were sitting in the corridor by the stairs in NWSF (North Wing Second Floor). There was a gloomy, listless rain falling. This meant no volleyball, no boating, no cricket and nothing exciting to do. Mittal spotted Chitnis, then freshy, and thought, here is one way of making our time interesting. Chitnis looked like a fawn in the headlights. The usual ragging routine followed. Chitnis answered everything, responded to every probing question, every ribald joke about him, each lewd comment about his girlfriends. But his every answer was mundane and monochromatic. About the only thing that livened up the moment was a Beatles song he sang, and that was vaguely interesting not because he sang it well, simply because it was a Beatles song. The event couldn’t have been better designed to bore even Mittal to death, not an easy thing to do. If we were gloomy before we ragged Chitnis, we were ready to jump off the ledge from the second floor after.

–Satkya

An interesting ragging incident involved one Sonawane who would have graduated in ’83. I say “would have” for a reason. Sonawane was a sneaky guy who kept away from the hostel during his entire first year in order to avoid getting ragged. But in his second year, he became a new-born lion who not only stayed in the hostel, he would actually rag folks from the ‘84 batch.

During a Pagal Gymkhana in the hostel the few C’84 (graduating Class of ’84)folks that we had regaled us with some fun and games by playing three-legged and five-legged race and hop-jump-squish in the mud and stuff like that. I also remember that Subodh Mhaisalkar was the star performer on that day. Sonawane was very much present and was enjoying himself seeing his juniors suffer in a way that he was smart enough to avoid. Toward the end of the event, some signals were exchanged. Nobody is sure what exactly went down, but I know that Sood was one of the guys who gave a signal to the C84 guys. Quick as a flash, all these freshies suddenly converged upon Sonawane. Sonawane, at first too stunned to react, recovered fast enough and sprinted like his life depended on running away fast enough. He did precisely that. He ran out of the hostel and kept running. The freshies gave up the chase near the gymkhana but Sonawane continued running till he was out of the main gate.

During dinnertime that same evening, Warden Lakkad came to the hostel with the Deputy Diro to inquire about the ‘Sonawane episode’. This was already classified as an episode and had a senior level delegation out on a fact finding mission. Deputy Diro asked me, “who was responsible?” I tried telling him that the freshies chased Sonawane because they were told to do so by the seniors and were certainly not responsible, and, before I could explain further, junta began to run down Sonawane vociferously. To our pleasant surprise, Lakkad too opined that it was better that people like Sonawane don’t come back and spoil the atmosphere. So that was Sonawane, who would have graduated in ’83. He did not ever return, that day when he left the gate, he ran away into permanent oblivion.

– Bakul

The inter-hostel drama competition was a good time to add some extra-curricular drama to the lives of the hostelites. We were staging the play ‘The Bet’. One of the props required for the play was a door. Memon, Giri, and company thought it would be a bright idea to borrow the Convo door for this purpose. The main door and other doors at the architecturally aesthetic Convocation Hall were heavy duty doors carved in solid wood and very impressive looking. They also thought it would be a good idea to assign this project to the freshies under their guidance. Sandeep Bhise, Kicks, Duddy, Kripalani, and a few others were the chosen ones for this important mission. These chosen ones expressed their concern about what would happen to them if they were caught. Their guides informed them that they would be kicked out of the institute. But ever the logical minds of IIT, they also pointed out that if unable to perform this simple task, they were not fit to be there anyway.

For the next ten days, the freshies practiced unscrewing and screwing doors. They had a plan. Duties were assigned: Duddy would turn off the Convo lights. The practiced unscrewers would unscrew. Others would stand watch, and raise the alarm in case of danger.

The day arrived. Memon led the would-be borrowers of the Convo door to the hall. He instructed the guards to yell “Run You Bastards” in case there was need to do so. He instructed that the bastards, on hearing the alarm, should then run in different directions, and stay away for a couple of hours.

As soon as Duddy turned off the lights, they all heard the call, “Run You Bastards!” Run they did, all the way to Powai Lake. After their return two hours later, and for the rest of the two years that Memon and Giri had left at IIT, the gang were the objects of derision. They were the useless ones who could not carry out a simple mission. Two years later when Memon was leaving the institute on his graduation, he explained to the suitably vilified and much insulted group that not only was it not possible to remove the Convo door without getting caught, it was not possible to remove the door at all.

– told by Sandeep Bhise, ’72-’77 to Pradeep (Blondie) Mittal, ’72-‘7

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