Epilogue : Growing Up
A second trail of thought was meanwhile creeping up and out of dormancy. As the prime wave of emotions settled down, this trail emerged, and immediately took me back decades to the days when I, like today’s Tish, ventured out to meet my own life. …..
Part – 1 : The Landing
Time – an evening in July, or may be August, way back in 1990 Place – in one of the rooms, somewhere in Hostel-16, in the erstwhile BE College
I really had no idea what was going on around. I was in a state of dizziness – the mind succumbing to unrecognizable instructions and the body just instinctively obeying them. The faces around me were obscure and I was in a domain completely unknown and unfamiliar. The initial resistance and the motivation in questioning my own self as to why I should be following these bloody instructions had vaporized already; my alter ego prompted in my ears that Boy, better do what is being told.
So I did. And kept on doing.
I was standing there in the middle of the crowd, stripped off my clothes except the last straw. Around me there were some others in similar attire and state. We were being asked to sing. The song had strange words, mostly bland and funny slangs and the tune copied from a typical কীর্তন. We had to sing it aloud, with emotion, hands held up and dancing like a কীর্তনিয়া.
Initially I had started with the usual hesitance and still-continuing disbelief, but hastily progressed into catching up with the chorus as the others also joined in. From around the corners, those obscure faces were splitting into uncontrollable laughter and mayhem. Like most of the other মুরগীs, I was not in a position or mood to appreciate the nuances of this performance. One or two courageous souls did, but immediately they were instructed, “দেওয়ালে হাসি মুছে আয়”.
A brief flashback – same day, some time ago
My feet were still shaking and my entire body pulsating with the after-effect of a prolonged round of squats.
The faces that had gathered around me earlier had questioned, “খেলাধুলো করিস, না শুধু গাঁতাস?” The Q&A session was being carried out in another room (not the one I had entered earlier with my belongings), one with three beds put in. I was told to start a round of push-ups and squats. In between the demonstration the faces left, but one of them nonchalantly remarked prior to departing that I must not stop till someone appears and asks me to stop. So I went on doing squats in that lonely room and was about to fall flat when the door was kicked open and a lanky guy made an entry. He had a lighted cigarette in one corner of his lips, hairs ruffled, and raising a finger he blasted, “এই ****, কি হচ্ছে এটা?”
This sudden entry and the blast had resulted in my movements being halted midway and my heart nearly coming out of my mouth. However, there was something in the voice of the stranger, a faint yet distint note of assurance. I looked up from my midway position and saw the face with very, very bright eyes peering on me. He was expecting an answer, I presumed, so I replied that I was doing squats. A series of the choicest Bengali slang vocabulary was flung at me again, and he commanded that I stop and get up.
While I was up and trying to stabilize myself, the guy was looking at me with a certain sense of disbelief. He was thin and swaying as if he might tumble, his eyelids were as if forcefully pulled open – in all he appeared to have kept himself awake with quite some struggle. After initial scrutiny, he asked a couple of questions to ascertain who I was and what I was doing in his room. I had to inform him that I did not know that this was his abode, and was about to explain to him in further details as to what I was doing there, but he disdainfully turned towards the door and remarked, “কেটে পড়”. Saying so, with a couple of quick steps he exited and disappeared round the corner, leaving the door ajar.
I was to learn later on that I was talking to ‘C’, 3rd year Mining, a senior resident of the same H-16 where I was put up, whose love for the language of English and increasing insomnia prompted him to stay awake at nights and walk down the balcony reciting verses from Shakespeare.
Anyhow, as he disappeared, I had two choices. Either follow his advice, i.e. sneak out and try to find my own room, or stay put and wait for someone to come and announce the next item in the course of the day – sorry evening. In between the devil and the deep blue sea I chose the latter. In other words, I came out of the room with stealthy steps into the long balcony cum corridor and looked left and right to ascertain my coordinates.
It had grown quite dark. The dimly lit balcony ran across till the end of the building on either side, with doors punctuating the continuity of the adjacent wall at intervals. No one was seen in the balcony, but from behind some of these doors came out cacophonous hullaballoos signifying the wildest of celebrations. I did not realize which floor I was in, probably third or fourth, but remembered that when I had entered the building I was escorted straightaway to room no 212 which was in the first floor just beside the staircase. So I had to get down a couple of stairs to reach what would be a safer place to take shelter; and where supposedly lay my jeans, my t-shirt, my shoes, my suitcase and my bedding – all scattered over the floor and on the iron cot which was to be my resting place for the next few years.
I approached the staircase with uncertainty. My hopes of making this great escape, however, were soon put to rest – पिक्चर अभी बाकी है. One of the doors suddenly flung open and the stifled noises of celebration from within burst out with full volume and vigour. Someone had thrown himself out of the room, completely out of control apparently with a fit of laughter. Trying to collect himself, he approached the toilet, which was just beside the staircase, still laughing uncontrollably. Then he spotted me sneaking in the darkness. He didn’t say Eureka, but I still think that is just what he felt that moment. He had got hold of one more মুরগী.
“আরে পালাচ্ছিস কোথায়, আয় আয় এদিকে আয় -”, he almost dragged me and pushed me from behind into the same room from which he just came out. I was momentarily blank and completely baffled to find at least twenty or so people inside. The air was heavy with smoke, the dim light appearing even dimmer due to the haze, the noise deafening. In the middle were some more creatures like me standing in a huddle.
No one quite noticed me at the beginning, though. After the initial shock subsided, I could look around to get a more complete feel of the situation. Some real fun was going on in the room, it seemed. The source of the mirth and laughter was right at the center. An unfortunate soul, stout and stocky, was demonstrating his weight-lifting skills but with a match-stick.
So there he was, all of himself fitted tightly into a red P3 jangia, squatting on the floor. Slowly he picked up the match-stick just like a seasoned lifter, his face distorted with the utmost efforts and strain, lips tightened up and all muscles flexed, and raised it above his head, and in the process raised himself up slowly, with trembling feet, till he stood firm and hands held up, success and sweat draining out from his exhausted face and body.
This superlative performance had resulted in a condition of chaos across the room. Most of the guys were tumbling over each other, guffawing. Some of the poor ssouls like me were also trying desperately to hide faint glimpses of smile. One inquisitive guy was touching and trying to feel the muscles as our lifter stood still in the same pose.
Then, as the laughter subsided, someone noticed that there was a new entrant in the room. One by one, all eyes were fixed on me.
Flashback sequence ends – return to song and dance scene
The ordeal would have continued throughout the night. However, midway into the song and dance sequence, the door was flung open once again, all of a sudden. A guy rushed in, and with a tone of alarm shouted, “সুপার আসছে, মুরগীগুলোকে ভাগা, জলদি”. Almost everyone who were thus far enjoying the show sprang up to their feet, and all of a sudden the entire mood and ambiance changed. We (the মুরগীs) were told to disappear ASAP, i.e. to rush back to our rooms, get dressed and stay put there till further notice. It took me a few seconds to realize what this meant, but after that there was no wasting time. I scampered towards the door.
Now if a mob of forty tries to get out all at a time through a 6’ x 3’ door, no one actually gets out. Eventually the first one who could flush out was actually catalyzed by a solid kick at his backside from behind. Likewise the second. After a few exits when some empty space seemed to have been created around the door, I sensed it was time to sneak out. I put my backside in the queue, and was successfully ejected out of the room into the dimly lit corridor and straight in front of the staircase.
Without much thinking, I took the stairs. Due to whatever it was, the break seemed God-sent. Luckily enough, after a few seconds I found myself all in one piece in front of R212. The door was open and I could see no one in. My jeans et all were still lying as I left them when we parted. No signs of any further intrusion. The deafening noises of celebration and laughter had screeched to a halt and a sudden dull silence had engulfed the corridor. Stealthily I crept in and closed the door behind.
As I got into my jeans and t-shirt and sat down on the iron cot which I had earlier decided to own, my senses started to return. I could feel my heartbeats pounding and my feet trembling vigorously. Slowly lying down to rest my back on the cot, I looked up towards the ceiling fan which seemed to be rotating on its own since eternity. My eyes went around to have a more detailed view of the surroundings. There were three more cots laid out, side by side, two to my left and one to my right. On the one adjacent to my left was a steel trunk and a rolled-up bedding. But the owner of the trunk and bedding could not be seen around. Rest two cots seemed still unoccupied. May be the occupants were still somewhere in the building? Or yet to arrive?
Breaking the monotony of the dull silence, a squeaking noise came from beneath my cot. And then again. As the chilling sensation down the spine traveled through the body till the tail bone, I realized that someone was under my cot. Instinctively jumping out and over to the adjacent cot, I tried to look underneath mine and find out the source of the noise.
A figure squeezed itself out from beneath. In between stretching himself upwards and shrugging off the dust from his greyish t-shirt and jeans, he was throwing suspicious glances towards me, perhaps uncertain as to which side I was in. I noticed that the guy was singularly handsome and had a sort of air around him, which we normally termed as কেত. Ultimately when he was sure that I could be rated as harmless, he introduced himself.
Alokes Guha (Civil) and I were to be room-mates for two subsequent years in H-16, and then later wing-mates in Sengupta Hall for another two years. Quite a cool sophy bloke who woke up every day at 5 am in the morning and opened the windows for fresh air, and in the process removed the blankets from the other sleeping souls in the room for whom 5 am was midnight. Alokes rocketed to fame shortly after his arrival in H-16 when he renamed his alma mater South Point as দক্ষিণ ফুটকি. More of him later.
As I watched him dust himself off, I could not resist asking the question, what was he doing under my cot? “প্রেগন্যান্ট মশা ধরছিলাম”, came the answer. A bit poignant, I thought. Did the guy lose his mind? Not unusual, given the way things were happening that evening. As if reading my mind, he elaborated further. Some unknown face had assigned him to this task a couple of hours earlier, to get under the cots and to find each and every mosquito which was about to be blessed with a baby mosquito. Although the task seemed daunting, he had no choice but to accept the mission. The good part of it was that in the process he remained unseen and undiscovered by the rest of the faces, so he could peacefully continue with his mission meanwhile.
As we were going through this most interesting conversation, the door was pushed open, with caution. Another character appeared in the frame. Lean and thin, he was still in his undies but was carrying all his belongings by himself. Bedding and suitcase in his two hands, a shirt and a pair of trousers flung over his shoulders, snickers still on. I remembered seeing this guy in the fourth floor dance session. He was performing with great poise and passion.
It seemed the guy was hijacked straightaway immediately as he landed into H-16, he did not seem to have had a chance to put his things in the designated room. He looked around cautiously before he came in. Finding the two of us already occupying two cots, he moved around to the other side of the room near the balcony, kept his things on the cot placed alongside the wall, and thereby took possession. He was to be the third inhabitant of this blasted room, as I presumed. The guy, now seeming assured that the zone was safe, spread himself on the cot quite leisurely, and threw a question towards us, “ফার্স্ট ইয়ার তো? কোন ডিপার্টমেন্ট?”
Debal Kar (Mining), the dude from Shantipur was to be the third occupant of R212. Debal was a gifted guy. He could do amazing hand sketches, could play left wing for the hostel football team, and was to become a handy left-arm spinner for the College cricket team in the days to come.
The room was sort of jutting out of the main building. This offered a good view of the corridor on the right from where my bed was. Meanwhile, as we were introducing ourselves and cooling down, I could see from the window a few figures moving around in the corridor. I remembered that someone had mentioned about the Super coming over. Almost instantaneously, there was a knock on the door, followed by another. Before one of us could get up and attend, the door was pushed open.
My eyes fell first on the score of guys accompanying the gentleman who entered the room. These guys looked more senior to the other ones who were so far engaging us into the multifaceted activities. Obviously they were third, or may be fourth year students. I could recall meeting one of them in the welcome booth which was set up in front of the main gate of the college as we entered earlier in the day. They were flaunting reassuring smiles.
The gentleman looked to be in mid-thirties, clearly he could not have been a student. Who else, then, a professor? The answer was provided by one of the senior guys, “ইনি আমাদের হোস্টেল সুপারিন্টেনডেন্ট” aka সুপার. So probably this then was the anti-ragging committee which was doing the rounds in the hostel, and because of which the celebrations had to come to a halt, although temporarily I presumed. A few words of pleasantry, and then the team departed. They had many such visits to do, of course.
As the team was departing, with the crowd which in between had gathered in front of the door also getting dispersed, a figure quietly sneaked into the room unnoticed. He stood by watchfully at one side of the door till the crowd disappeared, and then very cautiously shut the door. He had his belongings with him, he had put them down on the floor to free his hands. Now that the coast was clear, he picked them up and landed them on the only unoccupied berth left in the room. He was to be our fourth partner in arms.
Suman Banerjee (Metallurgy) from Bardhaman was one of the nicest guys I came across in those four years in BEC. Initially he was a bit sceptic about his room-mates, but soon we established a nice rapport which would last throughout the tenure of our stay in the college. Suman was also a good footballer. He used to play right wing, complementing Debal, and was a permanent member of our hostel football team.
Sometime later, around mid-night.
We were lying on our beds, exhausted. Although it appeared that the long day was at last over, we could not be sure. The apprehension was not allowing the mind to unwind and the body to doze off. Something just might come up round the corner again, the door might again be flung open and new faces might re-enter with fresh agenda.
For me, and for all four of us, it was the first day spent out of home in such a drastically different environment. I hardly realized that this was to be the beginning of one of the most memorable journeys in my life; and I would soon start enjoying every single moment spent amidst this madness.
We were trying to sleep with the lights on, as instructed, and the door unbolted. It was more of lying awake. Earlier, we had been escorted to the Dining Hall, and the session therein had been another challenging one. We were asked to eat backwards, i.e. reverse the sequence of the meal. If you can imagine how it would be starting with the desert and ending with the soup, then you might understand what I am talking about. I was so hungry that I did not care much, just concentrated on filling in the tank. Eventually, after everything was over, we were allowed to retire in our own rooms, supposedly at the end of the show.
Just when I think I had dozed off into some kind of a slumber, the door was flung open. We jumped up on our beds as a group of three or four guys marched in. “উঠে পড় মুরগিরা, সকাল হয়ে গেছে”. I glanced at my watch, it was only midnight. However, a sense of helplessness and giving-in had crept into me by then. Comprehending that there is no use wasting time, I followed the call. And so did the others.