Who doesn’t like an unexpected holiday being declared, especially students pleasantly surprised when a snow day or a rainy day is suddenly announced at a school or a college?
In India, there seems to always be a holiday around the corner, be it a central holiday, a state holiday or a bank holiday. But the number of holidays observed by IIT Bombay was just not enough for an incorrigible group of H9 pranksters in the late 80’s, so they went ahead and declared one!
After lunch on a lazy Thursday at H9, a group of compulsive pranksters was engaged in one of those interminable, intense cack sessions that can veer from the most mundane matters to solving all of the world’s toughest issues. When a guy noted that the next day (Friday) was a state and bank holiday (Shivaji Jayanti, if I remember correctly) but not at IITB, the others started grumbling about how a pan India institution should really be observing every state holiday of every state in the nation! In particular, they concurred that it was insensitive of the IITB authorities to not declare at least the next day, which marked a historic event, a holiday. The irony could not be missed. None of these complaining loafers would likely have gone to class the next day anyway, or any given day for that matter. Yet, the group mulled over this weighty subject for a while until someone jumped up from his creaky lounge chair and said that we must take a stand. It was our duty as stellar citizens to wrong the right. The blunder of not declaring such a historic day a holiday needed to be rectified. Friday needed to become an institute holiday.
The amazing part about hostel life was that, the more outlandish an idea, the quicker people jumped onboard. There was nary a thought on potential consequences (ah, the freedom of youth). The group swiftly went into detailed, military-style planning mode, with all kinds of what-if scenarios getting hashed out (no, no hash was involved despite the wild conversation). The holiday announcement had to look official, so it had to come from the registrar. Almost instantaneously, someone ran up to the notice board and pulled out a random old notice from the registrar. This would serve as our template. The holiday notice had to be typed and reproduced on grainy paper. It most definitely needed to contain a few typos; no official notice could possibly be error-free, someone reasoned. It had to be posted on notice boards all around campus, though our focus was naturally on H9. All of this had to be done inconspicuously before people returned to the mess at dinner time that evening. Since every hostel has its doubting Toms, such skeptics in H9 either had to be let in on the prank or engaged in conversation about the holiday when they would walk in. Freshies, especially Bombayites, would be the main targets. A couple of the pranksters would hang around the notice board, especially when freshies ambled in, and discuss how nice it was to get a long weekend and that they would be taking off for home shortly, with a month’s worth of dirty laundry, no doubt. It was an elaborately planned hoax.
A notice was hurriedly written up by the wordsmiths. It apologized for the late notice, and went on to declare Friday an institute holiday. Our overzealous writers threw in a patriotic bit about the importance of recognizing and celebrating historic days. A couple of us sped away on a mobike to Y-Point to get the notice typed and several copies made on grainy, official looking paper. Our resident calligrapher (he always insisted we show him some respect by calling him a master forger), was anointed by us as the registrar for his impressive signature skills. The gang then zoomed around campus to post the registrar’s notice – on notice boards in the Main Building, some Departments, a few hostels. And, of course, at multiple locations in H9. We wouldn’t want our dear hostel mates to miss out on a holiday, would we?
Our primary spot was the notice board in the H9 mess, right next to the other, real registrar’s notice that we had earlier used as a template. Such was our confidence in our knockoff or maybe the sheer arrogance of youth, but it made the holiday notice look more convincing.
We had anticipated that there would be some doubting Thomases who, in spite of our best efforts to make the registrar’s notice look very authentic, would be skeptical of its late timing. They would try to call and confirm it with the registrar (who would be at home by then). A couple of pranksters were tasked with calling the registrar in advance several times with the same inquiry. As expected, the registrar concluded that these were prank calls. He was furious after a few calls, and took his phone off the hook – exactly as designed! Still to ensure there would be no calls attempted by doubting Thomases, a prank caller just hung around in the hostel phone booth, feigning that he was talking to his girlfriend. Needless to say, he didn’t have one, but girlfriend conversations were understood to be particularly protracted.
All pieces in place as dinner time rolled in, we just watched in glee as the chaos unfolded. Whenever the targets, i.e. oblivious hostel mates, approached the H9 notice board, or were drawn to it by our designated conversationalists intently discussing a notice on the board, our conversationalists would go into overdrive, praising the good decision by the authorities to recognize such a historic occasion. Special attention was paid to the more pliable freshies who were still green behind the ears. A few Bombayites decided to head home that night itself, while some folks looked forward to simply sleeping in on Friday morning. A few folks seemed to crack the con, and had to be taken into confidence. I don’t remember if any mango milk shakes were offered for them to play along. With the rest of the unwitting folks, we were having fun adding fuel to the conversations. We bid goodbyes to some locals who took off for home that night. When Friday morning dawned, it was probably the only time that that whole group of pranksters attended the 8:30 am lectures, a decoy of some sorts, and definitely the only time they attended a lecture on a “holiday”. Hope no one missed a quiz on that holiday!
Consequences, you ask? Well, that’s a tale for another Friday.