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 পড়ো মুরগিরা, সকাল হয়ে গেছে”. I glanced at my watch, it was only midnight. It was time for some action, again, I realized. However, a sense of helplessness and giving-in had crept into me unnoticed. Comprehending that there is no use wasting time, I followed the call. And so did the others.
Time – next morning, around 6:30
Place – H-16, Room 212, the 1st Floor Bathroom and the Corridoor
I had woken up quite early. In fact after the late night fiasco I had only a couple of hours of sleep. However, when the mind is super active, sleep hardly bothers. And it was to be the first day in college, so we had to get up early enough anyhow.
I was trying to recapitulate the entire chain of events in the evening and night before. If that was just the beginning, then the thought of what might await us in the next couple of weeks was actually quite daunting. But again, my Guardian Angel was telling me that I needed to go through the motions without much thinking, just do what you are told to do.
Alokes entered the room, all bathed and washed, wrapped in a towel. He seemed to be quite an early bird. He was not in the room when I woke up, must have been doing the rounds of the bathroom. Now thinking about the bathroom, I instinctively felt a pressure down below, and realized Mother Nature had been calling.
In an unfamiliar domain, the bathroom is always a major challenge. I did not have much chance to explore the venue in the evening before. Therefore I inquisitively looked up at Alokes, to ask how things are out there. As if reading my mind, he came out with words of cautious advice, and prompted me to rush before the scene gets too crowded. I hastily got up, collected my things (toothebrush et al) and scampered through the corridor to reach there, but still I found that I was not alone.
As I entered, on my right were a couple of wash-basins, probably installed some light-years ago. Some folks (দাদাs) were lazily brushing their teeth on and around them. With my entry, their eyes turned towards me and mischief sparkled unanimously.
I had observed, meanwhile, that the loos at least had doors to cover them up, but the showers were all open and inviting. One of the দাদাs pointed out towards a closed door. Someone was obviously inside depositing his legacy of the day before. I was asked, very politely, to plant a solid kick on the door.
The mischievous eyes coupled with sinister smiles continued to observe me as I, with utmost trepidation, obeyed the command. Fortunately, the kick was not so solid and the door bolted from inside held firm, so there were no changes to the visual landscape. However, a barrage of the choicest Bengali slang addressed to the culprit and his forefathers was fired right through the door. And before I could recover from this attack, the damn door opened and the insider came out with war-cry written all over him, hurling a mugful of water straight at my face.
The offended soul, definitely a second or third year bloke, probably did not expect to see a fresher doing this. It was, by any standard, too bold an act which could even be dreamt of by a fresher. So his looks and aggression mellowed down a bit when he saw my pathetic self standing there half-drenched and completely panic-stricken. His head turned to the left towards the wash-basins, where the sounds of muffled laughter persisting till then had culminated into a wild guffaw. He proceeded towards the group with clenching teeth, but by then the latter had started to disperse hastily and scatter out through the corridor, in pursuit of proper shelter. Nonetheless, he went after them, leaving me pardoned for the time being.
Well, what had to be done had to be done, even if sky falls apart. Mother Nature had been calling loud and clear by then, so I went on ahead with the plan and completed the rounds of the loo, wash-basin and the shower. By the time I was dressing up, Alokes was ready. Debal was awake but still lying on the cot. Suman was in the bathroom, and would come in any minute now unless he met with some unexpected twist in the story. Suman and I were both Metallurgy, and we had decided to go together to the class.
However, I was by then feeling some strange rumbling noises from within. I realized that these noises came from the stomach, probably because it was empty and the previous night’s mis-adventure in the dining room did not do much to fulfil the demands of the space. However, the dining hall would be functional only for lunch and dinner, so where to get some food from?
The answer came, not blowing with the wind, but knocking at the door. As we looked up, a stocky yet short middle-aged individual in a worn-out bush shirt and a pair of trousers stood there. His real name, as we came to know much later, was সত্য রঞ্জন something, but to the H-16 junta he was known as স্যাটি. With a blank face and even more blank voice, he asked – “কিছু খাবেন নাকি?”
“আরে খাবো খাবো” – before anyone could respond, Debal had sprung up on his bed with eyes gleaming. We seconded.
স্যাটি was one of the employees who would serve food in the dining hall, but he also ran his small side-business (same as what most of these employees did), which was a makeshift canteen on the first floor of H-16. He could provide us with morning breakfast and afternoon snacks. He also used to keep cigerettes, one could get a stick or two just by calling out and there was no need to rush to the shops outside the college gate. All these would go into his খাতা, and at the end of the month we were expected to pay off the debts.
We started the day off with বাটার টোস্ট and মামলেট accompanied of course with a glass of গরম চা. Not bad, eh? The first feel of independence was sinking in. But still, one had to survive this dreaded ‘ragging period’. And it was just the beginning of Day One.
Our dress code for the first day in college (or, for that matter, till Freshers’ Welcome), as explained the night before by the দাদাs, was to be formal. Which implied I had to put on full sleeve shirts, buttoned right upto the throat, sleeves full on. No jeans, only formal trousers allowed. No slippers.
Never ever after in B E College, throughout these four years, did I (or anyone I can remember) wear anything else but হাওয়াই চপ্পল. And mostly it was coupled with t-shirt and jeans. A few exceptions do exist – during our grand viva and during the rounds of the campus interviews we were again forced to be dressed properly. That’s another story.
So all dressed up, the first year students started off from H-16 all queued up in a row, hands raised up to the sky. While we walked the narrow strip of road in সাহেবপাড়া (the cluster of hostels located on the eastern side of the college campus) crossing H-16, 15 and 14, one could hear thunderous chanting of “মুরগী, মুরগী” emanating from the corridors of the second, third and fourth floors of these hostels. As we turned the corner towards left, the hostels were left behind and the noise was starting to drop down a bit. Then another right, and we were now approaching the college main building. It seemed that no one was watching us now, so I cautiously lowered my hands. So were doing the others.
The walk was to culminate at the First Lobby, the main entry gate of the college building, which had, in the years bygone and years to come, been testimony to many a noteworthy anecdote, surviving the test of time. It was almost eight-o-clock, and we had to find our classroom quickly. I kept on following Suman, he was a diligent guy who quickly found out where we need to go. Soon we were climbing up the stairs to reach the first floor and enter the big room, which was like a mini-auditorium and already appearing quite populated.
With me just settling into a row on the third tier, an elderly gentleman strode in. He had the tag of a professor written all over himself, reinforced with a pair of thik black-framed specs. This was Professor A Ghosh, and he was going to teach us Engineering Mechanics. The first flair of how interesting engineering can be came from this class of EM. The diagrams, the superb boardwork and the crystal-clear explanations from Prof Ghosh had me captivated. It was an encouraging start to the journey, but like all good things it came to an end quickly. The next few classes were on maths, sociology, bla bla bla… went more or less over the head.
I had noticed a few other blokes from H-16 in the class as well. There was Tapas Kumar Bandyopadhyay, who looked like a typical ভালো মানুষ, and he eventually came out as a gem of a person, the one always wearing an innocent smile. There was Rajib Datta, whom I remembered to have seen in the previous night’s dance session, performing with suave moves and subtle grace. I met another bloke and he immediately impressed me with a look of resolution and no-nonsense; this was Mantu Patra, also from H-16. However, I had also seen Debal in the class, and soon realized thereafter that this was a class jointly conducted with the Mining guys. I remembered to have seen a tall, shy bloke in the first floor corridor of H-16, he was also here. Amitava Bhattacharya (to be nicknamed ফুটো in the days to come) did not speak much, except when spoken to. And then there was also this frail and timid boy, who had been administered with an overdose of ‘Valium-5’ (actually chalk dust) mixed with water in the evening before, and was told that he would never again wake up once sleep befell his weary eyes. Probably the boy did not sleep at all out of fear, or he had almost a nervous breakdown – but he had earned the nickname of ভ্যালি since his heroic deed of sustenance had surfaced and spread all across.
All this was okay, but the real hot spot was in the first row. Within this crowd of boys, there was one lady sitting right there, looking neither right nor left, appearing quite perturbed – as one could understand – with all these pair of eyes consciously or unconsciously staring at her. The buzz across the classroom conveyed the message that she was the only lady in this batch of Metallurgy (Mining guys were anyhow not expecting anything), and a couple of curious souls could be seen trying to set up a conversation with her already. Nevertheless, caution was the name of the game, and therefore when the session broke for lunch I was seen scampering back towards the hostel, quite eager to escape any intermediate intervention by any দাদা which might prove troublesome. আপনি বাঁচলে বাপের নাম.
Time – same day evening, around 7:30
Place – H-16, Room 212
I was feeling very tired by now, and was on my bed staring at the ceiling. Countless things happened in the day so far, but none dis-satisfactory, honestly speaking.
Lunchtime had been a bit of a challenge, in the dining hall. Surrounded by second and third year blokes, a few Q&A sessions had to be borne with, but did not cause much damage. The food was quite basic with ভাত, ডাল, তরকারি and মাছের ঝোল, but enough to fill up the space.
The afternoon classes were so-so. A few blokes in the class did appear quite interesting. Most of the Metallurgy people seemed to be from মুচিপাড়া (the cluster of hostels on the western side of the campus). One of them who had caught attention very early was Kallol Bhattacharya. He looked like a copybook পড়ুয়া, exuding a saintly halo. Another one, moving around and greeting everybody with a dashing smile, was Diptiman Banerjee. Then there was Sujit Chowdhury who sported a Salman Khan-like hairstyle and a very positive body-language. And of course, the lady. Whenever her name was roll-called, rest of the eyes in the class would turn towards her. It was clear that Barnali Ghosh would receive a lot of attention from her classmates, be it welcomed or unwanted.
I had been back in the hostel early afternoon, probably around four. স্যাটি was rearranging his stuff in the canteen as I walked up the stairs. “শিঙাড়া আছে, খাবেন নাকি?” Well, all along my humble life I have never refused a শিঙাড়া. So a couple of them with চা sailed smoothly into my interiors and I was starting to enjoy now.
By then all four of us were back in the room. Through the window the first floor corridor was visible, and I could see now quite some commotion out there. All the দাদাs were back too, and probably the next round – taking over from last night where they left us – would start. A couple of them marched into our room, with a glass of tea in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other. They settled themselves on our cots quite comfortably.
I was expecting some trouble, but these blokes seemed to be in a relaxed mood. A few pleasantries about how the day went and so on, with some more serious enquiries such as “ক্লাসে কটা মেয়ে আছে?”, and finally “প্রেম-ট্রেম করিস নাকি?” – a nice tête-à-tête was in the making. The sense of bonhomie would have extended beyond that, had the discussion not been interrupted by another bloke who came barging in, wearing a pair of shorts and a faded jersey with a football in hand. “ফার্স্ট ইয়ার, চলো এবার খেলা হবে, হাফপ্যান্ট পরে লর্ডস-এ এসো।” We were being summoned to demonstrate our soccer skills. We sprang up to embrace this welcome opportunity to stay away from being grilled – quite to the disappointment of the interviewers – and within a couple of minutes sneaked out of the room and scurried down the stairs to proceed towards The Lords.
Just where the narrow strip of road adjoining the hostels in সাহেবপাড়া concluded, there lay the outstretched expanse of green turf, with a stately two-storied gallery flanking the perimeter. This was The Lords, the pride of সাহেবপাড়া. I had seen it basking in the morning sun when we strode to the college, but could not pay much attention. Now that we had reached the grounds, I could not but feel pleasantly surprised, realizing how big it was and grasping the grandeur associated with it. There were many folks out there, probably from different hostels, already setting up their individual areas for play. Screening through the crowd, I could locate the known faces from H-16 on the right side of the ground. Our area was already demarcated, the folks were all assembled. Hastily, the four of us sprinted towards the centerstage.
The game was between the first-years and the rest. The idea probably was to do a screening on how many of us could pass the litmus and be eligible for the hostel football team. Anyhow, the first year team looked too submissive, with shoulders down and hardly making any eye-contact with the counterparts. We started off with Debal playing left wing, Suman playing right wing and Alokes as a center forward. I was positioned as a sweeper back, with Amitava, Biplab Mahapatra (Civil) and Bivas Chatterjee (Mining) guarding the mid-field.
It started off pretty one-sided, as expected. Within a few minutes we were down by a goal. I had tried to defend, but one of the third year blokes (<…..>, the famous খিস্তি expert) warned me, “ল্যাং মারলে ঠ্যাং ভেঙে দেব” – after which I was more than happy to let him run through and score past our goalie. However, after that initial setback, we started to rearrange ourselves and things were changing. The midfield had started to function, and short passes were now being exchanged between the trio of Amitava, Biplab and Bivas. The occasional long balls forwarded to the left or right wings were picked up, and the wingers were now creating some trouble for the opponent defence. Finally, picking up from one such long pass, Suman started a dashing sprint down the right. About to be tackled and brought down by a couple of defenders, he released a perfect cross just in time which came floating down into the penalty zone. Debal had followed up the ball with a nice run down the left, he received the ball and gently pushed it towards the empty zone which was unmarked. Alokes, coming in down the center, smashed it with full force and there was no stopping it. We had scored.
The game went on for some more time, and the first-years could hardly hide their excitement now. The match, which was to be more of a friendly ball-kicking, had become quite competitive. With neither team now ready to let go an inch of ground, the game eventually ended one-one, but honours went to the freshers.
As we were gathering our breath lying down on the field, one of the opponent players came up to us. I remembered him from the evening before, he was the one who caught me in front of the bathroom and had pushed me into the room with the song and dance going on. He had a friendly smile now, as he gestured to us, “চল এবার ফার্স্ট গেট, তোদের খাওয়াতে হবে, দারুন খেলেছিস”. <…..>, aka <…>, second year Architecture, sounded convincing.
Opposite to the First Gate with the quintessential nameplate displaying “Bengal Engineering College” and the wall beside the gate with “1856” imprinted on it, stood some shops, or rather joints, which had become synonymous with the College itself. <…> took a couple of us straight into one such den. It was named “বসন্ত কেবিন” for the common folk, but for the college people it was simply known as “তরুণদা’র দোকান”. It was not so spacious, yet we managed to get hold of a table. I observed that the other tables were mostly occupied by pairs. This, then, seemed to be the romantic hot-spot of the campus. My curiosity of course had to be restrained, it was too early for me to indulge into glances here and there given the situation, but the pairs did not seem to care much. Nevertheless, we concentrated on fulfilling of the purpose of our visit and <…> ordered মোগলাই পরোটা for all of us.
Thus went our day so far, and now I was back in my room after our short trip to First Gate. Alokes had disappeared somewhere and I did not see him after I had been back. Just as I wondered where he might be, he came in along with another short, stout and robust character. This guy was wearing a remarkable moustache striking out in all directions, just like the whiskers of a full-grown cat, and a pair of round spectacles. Alokes introduced him as Santanu Kar, his classmate from South Point. Shortly he would earn the nick-name of হুলো, and he would soon become familiar with the Civil blokes as a fun-and-food-loving bloke.
Santanu was setting up an interesting conversation, about his experiences with the ragging and all. He had put up in the fourth floor along with some more first year Civil blokes. In the evening before, he was caught by the infamous third year guys and had a torrid session. I was engrossed in his stories, till I heard a খিক খিক হাসি coming from Alokes. He had a queer way of laughing which was actually quite infectious. However, our discussions and laughter were all in a subdued manner, not meant to draw unwanted attention as to what was so funny going on here. This was the first taste of genuine ভাট, and this remained the lifeline of my existence in B E College since then. However, we did attract a visitor. A guy, about six feet tall with equally daunting diameter resembling a right circular cylinder, had entered our room. He asked, with a polite smile, “কিছু খোরাক হচ্ছে নাকি”? Going by the look of him, he would be a first-year bloke. However, his body-language signified that he was not so naive like us in this unfamiliar domain. Anupam Chakraborty, as he introduced himself, asked us to call him হোজো, a name bequeathed on him by superior forces due to his resemblance with the character found in ম্যানড্রেক comics. Without much ado, he settled himself on the fifth cot in the room – which was till then empty – and in fact lay down leisurely as if to bask in the essence of the ongoing ভাট.