The Engineering College hostel had its own distinct identity.
Very often it looked like a ghostly galleon dry-docked in No-Man’s Land.
It was displaced and disjointed from the main habitat and populace by a beaten, mud track of almost a Kilometre. It was a track not oft trodden by most mortals.The forlorn mud track ran parallel to the National Highway 34 bisected by a canal which had no bridges and culverts across the hostel.
On the other side of the mud-track was barren land interspersed with trees, swamps, overgrown bushes and an abundance of stray dogs. This area thus was a haven for criminals, Illegal activities and hooch brewing.
The interests of these people were largely mutually exclusive to the interests of the hostellers and therefore the ecosystem ensured peaceful coexistence.
While the mud track was much avoided by civilians and locals the students never had an iota of fear while traversing this path, which they had to do daily to reach the hostel. There never had been any incident where a student had had any misfortune along this track.
At night this track looked like a ghostly ribbon of moonlight with patches of shadows of overgrown trees.
At the end of this track was the main gate of the hostel. A four-storey structure with rooms alongside each other creating in each floor a long corridor from one end to the other. Apart from the staircase and wash-room area, this corridor was lined by a half wall on one side and the rooms on the other side. It was thus like a large balcony stretching from one end to the other.The ends of the corridor in hostel parlance were typically called the wings.
There was such a corridor on each floor with wings at each end.
Each wing in each floor had wooden beds laid out where the “adda”(a gathering of people for casual discussions and chit chat ) would take place. It was here that students sat and smoked, drank, fought, debated and discussed topics ranging from the good looking daughter of the professor to nuclear science to every other topic under the sun. The wings were thus like the clubhouse of the hostel.
The corridor was, therefore, a place of hectic activity.It was here that the students often played cricket, badminton, football. Many a drunken brawl and fights took place on these corridors.It was here that students also practised running. Many health freaks also did their exercises on these corridors.
Very often you could see a drunk and tipsy student come out of the room and stutter and stumble along the corridor sometimes alone and sometimes cheered on by other students. At this corridor, many a time would be set up a temporary stage for skits and dramas and the audience would sit along the stairs with their beer bottles, cigarettes, grass etc and enjoy the skit.
The long straight expanse of the wing also allowed abuses and slangs to travel easily from one end to the another propagating the theory of sound waves.
These corridors were also used as dance floors with music blaring from the rooms and students dancing more in mayhem than in rhythm….
These corridors thus had many stories to tell. If only they could speak and yell, if only we could sleep on the corridor with our ears to the floor the corridors and its wings would unfold stories of decades.
This is about one such story.
It was a normal day.
However, there was excitement in the air since morning as a long drinking session was planned in the evening. While alcohol was commonly consumed at the hostel, parties of this type when the entire hostel was involved were few and far in between.
Such events happened when almost 80% of the drinking students agreed to participate and contribute.The teetotalers were in demand on such days as on their square shoulders lay the responsibility of managing a drunk gang.Also being students all ran on shoestring budgets and it was a common practice to mix the various varieties of drinks in one or more buckets and the so-called bartender of the day would then serve from these buckets into cups, glasses, earthen vessels, pots and/or any type of drinking container students could lay their hands to.
No money was called for as contribution but every student was told to bring a bottle of his choice of drink of a particular quantity. The bucket thus carried a medley of brands and liquors creating a huge secular melting pot.
The party started at around 9.00 PM. The bucket with the heady mixture was planted on the bed at the wing. Two bartenders including me were to serve the magic potion and students had already started lining up with their mugs, glasses, pots and containers of various shapes and sizes. The corridor was jam-packed as students collected their drinks and lined up all along the corridor. Once everyone had been served a peg the bell was sounded and was followed by a large chorus of cheers and the party was on its way.
With the progress of the clock deeper into the night the party gradually graduated to the next level when scattered conversations now gave way to a bit of dancing and singing and as the dancing picked up more and more students started joining in. The singing was out of tune and dancing was out of rhythm but none cared. The non-drinkers were getting busy as steady steps gave way to unsteadiness, the singing became a cacophony and once a while a loud chorus pierced the otherwise silent night. People faltering in their steps were being propped up against walls or were being seated on staircases but often fighting free to claim that they were not drunk.
Time kept ticking and everyone was oblivious to it. The party had crossed the midnight threshold as it was 1 AM. By that time quite a few had to be carried away to their rooms as they were drunk. Some of them who put up the drunken man’s fight were taken to the washroom and dunked ( this was a common word in the hostel for the therapy which meant pouring a bucket of cold water over a drunken guy to bring him back to his senses ) and towelled and sent to their rooms.
As the crowd thinned the group got more closeted.
Antakshri was started. A great game being played by a drunken group added a wonderful twist to the game. Lyrics were either forgotten or made up, rules were forgotten and reminded, the process and sequence were lost and reorganized.A few more students gradually fell off and went to sleep on the corridor itself.
At around 5 AM with the hint of break of dawn, somebody suggested cricket on the corridor. The idea was immediately lapped up and a group of around 25 still left on the corridor cheered and agreed. Search for a bat proved futile so it was suggested that a T – Square be used as a bat. My room was near to where I was. I rushed in, grabbed my T Square and came out and amidst cheers befitting an opening batsman took to the so-called crease at the end of the corridor. While I stood, took my stance, stared bleary eyes at the bowler’s end and winked and winked again to get my vision clear, focused to keep myself steady, the umpire lifted his hands in the air and walked down to me.
Drunken fielders had lined up on either side of the corridor. The umpire called and told me that since a ball could not be found an empty beer bottle was being used as the ball and the umpire felt that it was his duty to inform me. I nodded my head, looked confident and told the umpire to go back and give me a middle stump guard. I was expecting the beer bottle to skid through on the cemented pitch and a middle stump guard would allow me to deflect it on to the leg side.
I saw the bowler running in, the beer bottle glistening in his hand from the first rays of the sun, I opened my eyes wide and focused. The bowler’s arms went up in the air and the ball was delivered. I looked at a delivery short of good length, went on the back foot, lifted my bat, heard the sharp swish of something racing across my right cheeks and ears followed by a loud bang and a shattering sound. I felt some fragments hitting me.
I was in a stupor. I remember the students rushing towards me, shaken out of their drunken reverie, lifting me and carrying me to the room and laying me on the bed. They were touching various parts of my body and asking me if I was hurt. I was dazed but felt I was in one piece and said so. Someone shouted he is fine and it’s okay and so on.
The beer bottle had skidded across the floor and shattered with a bang against the corridor end wall. Splinters of glass flying off in different directions dawning in the realization as to how foolish and dangerous the idea was. Anyone and most of all me could have been gravely injured.
I heard guys shouting at the guy who had given the idea of using the beer bottle as a ball and the guy defending back saying if his idea was foolish why had the others accepted it. A truce was reached with the realization that all were drunk and high and the mental faculties were not at their best when the decision was made.
Everybody slowly left to their rooms. I moved on the bed into what I thought was a comfortable sleeping position. My head was heavy and I was feeling dizzy. The drink or the cricket which was to blame I knew not. I folded my hands in prayer to thank the almighty and perhaps succumbed to slumber in that position.
I was taken to the police station and the policemen were all drinking beer from the bottle and laughing at me sarcastically, I was in the courtroom and the judge held out a beer bottle as evidence and asked me if this was the one and before I could reply he said cheers and started drinking, I was in front of the Principal of the college and before I could say anything he had slapped me hard making me wake up with a start.I looked at my wrist watch beside the pillow. It was 11.30 AM.
I got down from the bed, walked out of the room, into the corridor which was littered with empty bottles of various kinds, reached the staircase. My eyes were riveted at the Notice Board at the landing of the staircase which said:
NO STUDENT OF THIS HOSTEL IS ALLOWED TO PLAY CRICKET ON THE CORRIDORS WITH BOTTLES OF ANY KIND.
THOSE WHO ARE STILL NOT IN THEIR SENSES AND UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND THIS DIKTAT MAY GET IN TOUCH WITH THOSE WHO ARE.