Home 2022 The Great Indian Rope Trick

The Great Indian Rope Trick

by Nilesh Jain
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Artwork by Prof. Arun Inamdar

For most of us, the four years that we spent at IIT Bombay as undergraduates, though a small fraction of our total age, are arguably among the best years of our lives.

For most of us, it is the time of many firsts – first time living away from home, first time living among peers of our own age who are not our siblings or cousins, first time living alongside people from all over India and overseas, and other firsts.

The strongest memories from IIT come from our time in our hostels. Though each hostel had over 200 students, it was the wings (rooms on one floor on one side of a central staircase) which were the binding unit – like a home away from home. H5 had 18 wings – and each wing had its own culture and peculiarities. Intra-hostel events brought inter-wing rivalries to the fore, but all of these were forgotten during inter-hostel events.

Wings also invariably brought together students from different years, thus acting as the passing of the baton of stories and folklore. During my first year in 1985, the oldest student in our wing had started in IIT back in 1979 and by the time I left in 1989, the last set of students I lived with would have left IIT in 1992.

As wingmates, we indulged in a lot of the usual activities – eating meals together, cack sessions late into the night, hanging out in each other’s rooms, playing cricket in the corridor, etc. But there was one thing – one prank – that we came to be known for – The Great Indian Rope Trick.

Like any hostelite in the 1980s, we usually did not lock our door when we went for a shower or for a meal (or even for classes!). Imagine our great surprise when we returned to our room, but found that we could not get in. It was not locked from outside. The window next to the door was shut. And there was no one in the room. But the room was latched from inside! How did that happen?

Rooms in H5 were paired with a dividing wall going up about 2/3 of the way to the ceiling. However, no one had climbed over the dividing wall to latch the room from inside.

The window in the back of the room had bars. So no one could have climbed through the window (our rooms were on the 1st floor) to latch the room from inside.

So how was the room latched from inside? The answer was the Great Indian Rope Trick. The door was opened from outside. A long rope or string was put around the handle of the latch. The door was closed from the outside with both ends of the string available. The string was pulled to slide the latch shut, and then the string was pulled out. Voila! The door had been latched from the inside.

For some time after this prank was started, everyone started locking their room from the outside, even if they were just going down to the toilet!

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