Artwork by Prof. Arun Inamdar
I am Bankim Biswas and what I write is a lot of bunkum and wishwash. I write about “then” and “now” scenarios. I am from the “then” generation. Mercifully so. Else, I would have been known as @bunkum_h4bee. Yes, I’m a gujju but the title is not my gujju accent. It’s about some tales from hostels. Tales that live on forever. Evergreen stories from a black & white era.
Back then, and even now, a hostel was/is not just a building with wings, rooms, mess, bogs and a gaali-competition-friendly construction vis-a-viz. neighbouring hostels. Back then, a hostel was a composite experience. Now, it’s an “ecosystem”. In the late 70s…the era when I started hostelling, we were at the cusp of a major technological revolution. Calculators-calcies as we called them, had invaded planet earth. Log tables were soon to become non-booklets and get back to being tables sculpted from logs of sheesham. Tata sliderule. You slid out of existence before we could learn you. Calcies became a way of life. And the later day versions even came with trigonometric functions where you could figure out the cosine value of angles in both degrees and radians. Now, why you would want to calculate the 5th root of factorial 6 was not a question to be asked. Someone asked us in a test and our calcy knew the answer. And some imaginative minds typed out 14 on a calcy, turned it upside down to flash a “hi” in LCD display. And this inventiveness went further. 0.7734 to upside-down read as hell.o. Nifty tricks from imaginative minds that had progressed from inventing contraptions to fool the public phone into believing that you had inserted a 50p coin into a slot. (Yes, some of us have seen and even used a 50p coin. And, also the gizmo that passed off as a phone.
Era was still black and white, but streaks of colour had started creeping in here and there (as evidenced in some “literature” of a particular genre. After all, the birds were colourful, as were the bees and hence, their story could be told best in colour). In the glorious youtubelessness and mobilelessness and zoomlessness of “then”, the hostel lounge was the solitary social networking site. All Prakashes were Pakyas and Satishes were Satkyas. Before the latter day world corrupted them to @Paks432 and @Sat_kya, we would round them up, drag them to the lounge and open ourselves up to a wonderful world of pure unadulterated fun. We tapped our feet to music belted out from a community turn-table. We all waited for our turn. Velchya had to listen to Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath while waiting his turn to imbibe some soulful Teertha Vithala from Bhimsen Joshi in 33 rpm. And Jack therefore knew about Bhimsen while he waited to hear about Eric Clapton shooting the sheriff in the same 33 rpm and a similar shellac disk (remember a dog looking into a loudspeaker with HMV emblazoned on the shellac?). We loved the way the music sounded because we did not know that we were going to invent surround sound that would bass the sounds of silence some 2 inches away from our earlobe in a format that would come to be known as MP3.
Wednesday nights were the ultimate. We all trooped into the lounge at 9.30 pm to watch something called Chayageet. On a black and white TV set manufactured at ECIL Hyderabad. On a solitary channel known as Doordarshan. Such was the power of technology back then. You could actually see a black & white Randhir Kapoor dancing with a black & white Jaya Bhaduri in a black & white IIT campus, running around black & white trees while singing “Jaane Jaa”. Yes, it was also sung in black & white. There was no surround sound that made the song run around the trees, but it was OK. Chayageet was a compulsory tradition that had to be adhered to. Even the “mugoos” were hooked onto Chayageet. They carried their Kreyzigs into the lounge to brush up on Fourier series equations during the ad breaks. Yes, we did get to see Dev Anand bash up Pran in Eastmancolour during the Friday evening Convo movie routine, but it was not as much fun as Chayageet.
Whether you wanted to make a poster for the hostel play, or write a script for an EP (then)/PAF (now), or prepare for an inter hostel quiz, or plan the next hike, or even invent gaalis for the next spat with H3, the lounge was the place. Incidentally, gaali giving was a cathartic exercise to de-stress yourself from a KCM test. Gaali was delivered to no one in particular. You just pointed your mouth to a hostel or a wing or to the electrical mains during a power outage and showed some familiarity with others’ mothers and sisters. Unlike the present day personal jibes that go under a tag called “trolling”. The lounge was also an adda for trying out “matka” shots on the carom board or inventing cheating conventions for a game of bridge. There was nothing beyond the lounge. Not even the universe. With limited options available back then, the lounge was the place which helped build relationships, bonhomie and camaraderie. This bonhomie continued to the eventual workplace where hostel lounge friends became colleagues and business partners in later life. And here, comes the irony.
At our workplace, we participated in building technologies which allowed a person to watch Shammi Kapoor crooning out “Badan pe sitaare lapete hue” in colour and on a smartphone. Which confined the Gennext guys to their rooms, even if they had to share a 6X8 cubbyhole with another. Slowly, but steadily, we were ambling into a different type of a revolution. A cultural revolution. The lounge helped us acquire some skills. And we were unwittingly using these skills to de-lounge the next generation. Sound could now be manipulated by fixing bitrates and equalizer controls. Poster making skills had now moved to some mouse clicks on Photoshop. Gaalis had yielded to trolls and software developed to digitally enhance Mughal-e-azam from B&W to RGB colour was now being used to convert roses and daffodils into B&W “classics”. The lounge lingo was changing at a furious pace. “You Bugger” was making way for “Hey Dude”. Instructions written in chalk on blackboards was being replaced by visual simulation on laptop screens. Yoga classes run by a Russian yoga guru Menashy in the convo foyer had lost out to a DIY routing guided by Jane Fonda and her aerobics classes. And horror of horrors! The calcies met with a sudden dinosaur like extinction. Tata Casio and battery cells. Recharging was a new world order.
Fortunately, the de-lounging did not change the notion that a hostel is more than a building. People still created their own stories, albeit in colour. The quality of mess food improved drastically, but folks still retained the art of cribbing away endlessly.
With the newer 1500 room monsters pretending to be hostels, the de-lounging also came with some de-winging, but thanks to WhatsApp groups, people cohabit in virtual wings. And we hear that the new Project Evergreen is going to wing things back to then. After all, a hostel was the crucible where we were formed. What we became eventually has its origins in that brief, yet most impactful phase of our lives. And that’s what makes our memories and connection evergreen.