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Innovation in Cheating

by Noseybee
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Necessity is the mother of invention. Apply this cliche to the lives of impoverished hostel inmates of IITB, and you will see why so many IITB students started early with innovation and enterprise. Back then, 50 paise was pricier than a bushel of onions today. Hence, little wonder that early inventors started devising contraptions that would help them make phone calls and connect to the outside world. They also used technology to coat movie passes with wax that could erase a tick mark. They fashioned a raft ala Kon Tiki out of rejected tin cans from the mess to do what? Sail across the Vihar lake. of all things.

Examples of innovation practiced in hostels, both legal and illegal….and for that matter, quasi-legal are many and we invite you to furnish us with more such anecdotes. In this edition of Hos-tales, we have started here with some excerpts of accounts of innovation that were published in H4’s Madhouse book. We would also like to mention here, an anecdote which tells us why some alumni did NOT take up entrepreneurship. Vijay Desai from C81 recollects with horror, the day when there was power outage at his H4. Then canteen secretary Chetan Shah panicked that the ice cream in the deep freezer would melt into nothingness. That’s when, the budding entrepreneur in him decided to play “speculation” and he offered to sell the entire ice cream stock at 25% to whoever was bold and optimistic enough to predict that the power would be restored within minutes. Vijay Desai used to dream big in those days. He saw an opportunity to clear his canteen and mess outstanding with the money he would make as a proud owner of the ice cream stock that would be his as soon as power would be restored. Outage continued till the melting point of the ice cream and the end result of this saga is that Chetan Shah is a successful entrepreneur today while Vijay Desai never ever ventured there. 

Moral of the above story: If anyone can come up with innovative ideas to make money for the hostel from a power outage, it can only be an IITBian.

Noseybee

Image Courtsey H4 IITB (Hostel 4), IIT Bombay, Mumbai, INDIA PhotoBlog available at http://hostel4.blogspot.in/

Image Courtsey H4 IITB (Hostel 4), IIT Bombay, Mumbai, INDIA PhotoBlog available at http://hostel4.blogspot.in/

H4 Madhouse Snippets

H4 was easily the wackiest hostel. We had Bhise on a raft, Arun Kaul going to lectures on horseback and actually ‘parking’ the horse in the cycle shed by the library, Coover and Bhingri making hand gliders (one each) crash effortlessly into the hill behind H4. To top it all, we once saw Batty travelling around all day with two bicycles. He cycled on one and wheeled the other one along by holding the handle. After watching him do it five times in one day, an exasperated Fish asked him,”What is your ambition in life?” Before Batty could react, Birjoo Mehta answered on his behalf, “his ambition is to own a four-wheeler.”

Inventiveness in IIT, it goes without saying, was widespread. Take Rane. There is a gadget used to extract old nails (or perhaps teeth), bend wires, and so on. Of course it can also be used for some more interesting applications such as pinching female bottoms but that has its attendant risks. I am referring to the humble pliers. So there was Rane (Boss’s bosom buddy, I must add). His one passion in life – I’ll illustrate with a hypothetical example – give him a pondy and give him a pair of pliers and he would use the former to lovingly wipe and clean the latter. Every waking moment of his life he spent furiously thinking of ways to make the pliers multi-purpose. Perhaps he even did that in his dreams while sleeping, but I wouldn’t know about that since I never slept with him. So one day he realized that using Pliers can be hazardous (no, not because he tried one of the interesting applications mentioned above). For example, he learned that you could get electrocuted if you used it to bend a wire that was live and carrying a current. Why anyone would be stupid enough to do that was not a question entertained by our intrepid inventor. What if somebody was? So he hit upon the idea of creating a pair of pliers that would have an ‘integrated’ tester. Of course ‘integrated’ is a modern management mantra that you cannot learn without paying a million bucks to Wharton or Sloan’s School. Fortunately for Rane this mantra wasn’t invented then. So he saved the million bucks, simply called it the Rane Tester-plier and started making plans to set up a factory with the million bucks that he had saved. For the rest of the semester and the next one that began after summer, he didn’t stop talking about his tester-plier (or plier-tester depending on whether your political inclination was to the left or to the right). So Doody made a jingle about the world famous Rane Pliers – sung to the tune of a famous ad jungle ‘Ranipal Ranipal Ranipal’. It goes,

Rane Pliers, Rane Pliers, Rane Pliers

Is it a tester– no, no, no!

Is it a plier – no, no, no!

It’s a tester-plier, plier-tester, tester-plier

Rane Pliers, Rane Pliers, Rane Pliers

Some of our inventions were certainly illegitimate children of Mother Necessity, like the wax pass, or the devices produced because of the necessity to make phone calls in spite of dire poverty. But some were the result of our ever-restless brains, and a real desire to create.

 Every time anybody saw Rane in the corridor or in the mess, they would break out into this jingle. Loudly. Every time someone from H4 bumped into Rane in the library or in the department or in the Ac Office in MB, they would go – “Hey! Rane pliers, Rane Pliers…”. Friday evening while watching the movie in Convo, every time the hero smooched the heroine some group of H4 guys would start singing “Rane Pliers, Rane Pliers…”. This was the theme song for that semester all over the campus. I even saw some guys from H5 singing “Rane Pliers, Rane pliers” when they saw Rane walk past H5 gate towards the Gymkhana. It was a special favourite of Saheb Patil (not to be confused with Boss Patil) who was known to even sing it in his weekly bath.

– Satkya

Some of this inventiveness was sometimes visible in other areas as well.

Bingri’s (Sanjay Bhingardevi) hang glider, Kaivan’s geodesic domes for low cost housing, KT’s “KT-ism”, featuring a convoluted arrangement of pipes and ingenious mixing contraptions to get hot water in the bathroom in shower format (as opposed to using a bucket), which was a big hit and enjoyed by all in the wing, the Boat Club dudes figuring out solutions to rid Powai lake of the dreadful water hyacinth (aka “vile weed”), Milind Sohoni and gang’s enviro attempts to re-green the hill by H4, which kept getting set on fire by the territorial hooch lobby, Sharookh / KRD’s electrical circuitry (with built-in AI) to operate appliances (and simultaneously shut unneeded ones) in the room from the bed with a single flick of a switch, and the same Sharookh’s masterful crafting of an electric guitar using wood from a bed, the list is long.

After a few weeks the raft was ready and was christened SS H4Whore. Bhise, in a cap and undies – he didn’t want to risk his clothes getting wet in case the raft sank – and a bunch of guys from H4 took the raft to Vihar lake. A makeshift oar was hastily fashioned out of a piece of wood – everybody had forgotten we would need one to steer the raft.

Back to those old decrepit phones. You dialled a number, when the called party said hello, you dropped a 50p coin in the slot for the phone call to continue. 50p was a princely sum, a luxury for most of us non-princes.

In the early days of H4 – the ’62 to ’67 era – everyone operated the phone with a crooked wire without putting in any coins. For the convenience of all the inmates, the wire contraption was permanently kept next to the phone itself. The inmates from this time report that the telephone department finally removed the phone from such an unprofitable location. They did put it back, thankfully, at some later time. The inventors of the wire contraption had long graduated, and the wire contraption itself disappeared with the phone, but poverty was still the norm when we came along, and so was the ingenuity of the new inmates.

Image Courtsey, Punctuations

Image Courtsey, Punctuations:A Photographic Journey Through the IIT Bombay Campus

We devised a contraption we called a tickler by drilling a hole in the coin, and tying a string to it. We lowered the tickler into the coin slot for the call, and yanked it out once the call was done. The general average tickler user got his economics to work at 1p per call. Some of the more enterprising amongst us rented out a tickler at 10p per call.

The even more inventive who moreover had the time to read up on the mechanism of a public phone devised a method less cumbersome than drilling a hole through a coin. They used a computer punch card folded in half to make it slightly rigid. They pried the front and side panels of the phone box apart by a millimetre and brought the card down on the wire which would have moved down under the luxurious weight of the 50p coin.

Guys from Kolhapur and Sangli used a method which they swore worked well in their Kolhapur and Sangli. They simply brought the earpiece to their mouth, shouted through it, and quickly moved the earpiece back to their ear to listen to counter shouting. Nobody understood the logic but empirical evidence suggests that it worked quite well, given the number of shouting goons seen with the earpiece of a phone at their mouth.

I still remember the day when an official in a khakhi uniform came to the hostel on his cycle carrying a big bag. He was from the telephone department and the big bag was to carry back the millions of 50p coins he hoped would come trickling down from the phone as soon as he opened it with an official key. His confidence at striking gold stemmed from the fact that the phone meter records showed H4 guys as champion callers. Overcome by curiosity, all of us gathered around Mr. Khakhi as he pulled a funny looking key from his pocket and deftly opened and slid out the coin tray while using his palm to obstruct the valuable coins from flowing out like lava. Nothing flowed out. He looked down, and looked again, and his jaw dropped. He turned his gaze to the assembled and amused onlookers and then stared in disbelief at the coin tray. Amid all the laughter that ensued, I waded my way through the crowd and got a quick peek at the tray. Right in the centre of the tray lay a solitary 50p coin basking in the glory of its coinly solitude. It was surrounded by matchsticks, broken strings, crumpled computer cards, rubber bands, clips, pins and an assortment of wires made of steel, copper, plastic, and a wad of chewed chewing gum.

– Bakul

~

IIT showed us four movies in a month with four Fridays and five in some months. The monthly pass came at a princely Rs. 2, which was sheer highway robbery as far as some scientific minds were concerned. If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, IIT was her maternity ward. The necessity of spreading this Rs. 2 expense over ten people led to an invention called ‘coat the pass with wax’. Once the pass was ticked with a pen, or so thought the usher who actually ticked on wax, the successful entrant into the Convo (convocation hall where the movies were screened) rubbed the tick away and slipped the pass out through a grill for the second man to attempt entry. In IIT guys asked each other for the usual match, lighter, cigarette of course. But sometimes they asked if anyone had a candle to spare. If you carried a candle in your pocket, you were respected as an individual with foresight.

Some of our inventions were certainly illegitimate children of Mother Necessity, like the wax pass, or the devices produced because of the necessity to make phone calls in spite of dire poverty. But some were the result of our ever-restless brains, and a real desire to create.

Sandeep Bhise had this urge to follow in the footsteps of these famous seafarers Columbus and Vasco da Gama, and circumnavigate the globe. But for starters he set a more modest goal: cross Vihar lake on a vessel made by his very own hands.

Many a night and drawing paper was consumed making ever more sophisticated designs of all manners of craft which would float on water. It was soon realized that acquiring the raw materials needed to convert these designs into reality would wipe out Bhise’s net worth (at that time) several times over. But the intrepid adventurer in his heart found a way. He befriended the then Mess Secy and collected all the empty kerosene cans that were lying around the kitchen. There were about twenty. The next few days were spent gathering the construction materials – wires to tie the cans, beeswax to plug their openings to make them water proof, and so on.

After a few weeks the raft was ready and was christened SS H4Whore. Bhise, in a cap and undies – he didn’t want to risk his clothes getting wet in case the raft sank – and a bunch of guys from H4 took the raft to Vihar lake. A makeshift oar was hastily fashioned out of a piece of wood – everybody had forgotten we would need one to steer the raft.

Bhise mounted the H4Whore and off he went, surrounded by the bunch of guys swimming alongside. Wonder of wonders, the raft did not sink, and Bhise actually made it to the opposite end of the lake. The entourage made it too, in spite of the crocodiles of Vihar.

Satkya

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