The first memory has to be of the first entry into the hostel in blinding rain. Since I had not yet studied engineering, I knew how to fix a bulb but it wouldn’t work.
As I headed to the office, I ran into a person who looked like he could be the hostel electrician. He turned out to be a senior student and instant retribution followed – ragging. After that, I went to the office to get the light fixed and respectfully addressed a very well attired gent who I was sure would be the Warden. He turned out to be the mess manager whom the Students’ Council had the pleasure of sacking a year later for corruption. The very same evening, I ran into a tall, very handsome, blue-eyed person strutting along the corridor. I just could not figure out what a European in his late 20s was doing in H6 in a smart uniform. Bahadur turned out to be a watchman who owed his looks to some adventurous Englishman. It did not take long to realise that looks are superficial and don’t matter.
I used to think that nobody could be a worse cook than my neighbour till I came to IIT. I later found out that cooks in other hostels were as bad or worse. Since I cribbed a lot about the lousy food, I soon found myself responsible for the mess menu. That tenure was short-lived. I still can’t figure out why people don’t like potatoes for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. I guess good intentions don’t matter.
That humiliating start was more than made up by all else that made my time in H6, the best years of my life. It was the friendliest place on earth. The same cooks who made lousy food also took special care to keep food aside for some of us when we got back long after the mess closed. So their ability to cook did not matter, relationships did.
I also remember how I got routed in the election for hostel Social Secretary. My friends put up many posters with the usual cliche lines. But that did not matter. After that, I never ever put up posters or shook hands to ask for votes. But I won every election in my life after that — at IIM A and elsewhere. Some magic that H6 probably did. So, electioneering did not matter.
I slept every night in my room (113) in the last wing and there were lovely friends, sober and studious. I spent the rest of my time on the 1st floor of the front wing. What was interesting there was not just that we could keep track of parents bringing snacks for their poor sons who were barely surviving on hostel food, but it was real-life exposure to living in a commune. In the washroom, there were four toothbrushes, a couple of cakes of soap, a toothpaste and two or three bath towels. They belonged to no one in particular and were used by all wing mates barring one or two who found the practice abhorrent. What fantastic friendship emerged! It was the happiest set of folks that I have ever met. They remain very close friends to this day. Most of them turned out to be better at bridge than studies at IIT but became far more successful in their professional life than most others who spent all their hours with books. So, grades at IIT don’t matter. (Since it mattered to my parents, I ended up in the top five).
I also remember that H6 was one hostel with a car owned by students. A group of seniors pooled in a grand sum of Rs five hundred and bought a 1930s jalopy. It worked on some days. On the other days, they worked. Under the car, sorting out things that needed to be fixed. Obviously, they were taking practical lessons instead of attending lectures. I guess they took turns attending lectures. All of them turned out to be outstanding successes in life. I guess, a hundred percent attendance and theory did not matter much back then.
I peeped into the hostel a few weeks ago. I quickly erased what I saw and went back to the lasting memories of a well-kept Hostel 6, properly painted, lovely green manicured lawns between the hostel wings, flowering plants, etc. I also missed the public phone in the corridor. That phone rang every night at 9.45 pm and remained occupied by me for an hour. That was my girlfriend’s call. She later became my wife but passed away a couple of years ago. Each time, my wife and I visited H6, there was a gleam in our eyes when we spied that public coin-operated phone. Alas, neither she nor the phone remains. God took her away and the Telephone company took the payphone away because they hardly ever found coins in it despite heavy usage. Now students have cell phones, so it does not matter.
Did I or did I not share six memories? At the age of 73, numbers really don’t matter.