Literature & Fiction | 51 Chapters
Neel and Ram were more excited than ever to finally be in the medical college. However, they soon realized things weren’t as they had imagined. Nothing was like the previous 18 years of their existence, be it the food, language, climate, or the crowd. They were misfits. Enduring the ordeal of ragging was one of the many challenges they would face amidst exciting moments of a romantic flair(s).Will they be able to survive the cultural shock away....
Today, years after all those adventurous days, I am thinking what next? It makes me laugh that even a decade ago I was asking the samequestion to myself, ‘What Next?’ Now, when I have successfully achieved that ‘Next’, here comes another, ‘What Next?’ Does life really move on or is it just we who move to different tangents with growing age? Do we really change, or do we merely dance to the tunes of the ever-changing priorities and circumstances in our lives?
These questions are complicated, however, there was a time when life was not at all complicated. It was simple, uncomplicated, and pure fun. It was our days at hostel.
The Red Diary
It was a beautiful sunset over here in London. I was sitting on one of those rickety benches in Roe Green Park with a piece of paper given to me by one of the Asst Professors, Surgery during the last visit to my college. It had an address of a surgical instruments manufacturer back here in HanWell, UK from where she wanted me to collect a few samples of retractors and parcel them to India.
The piece of paper reminded me of the incident that how I looked at Dr. Jyoti in bewilderment when she babbled,
“A red diary, lockable one. Does it ring any bell to you?”
I was baffled while she had a smirk on her face. After a pause, she sort of muffled the statement which was scribbled on the front page of the diary, with a chuckle.
“Ink your heart out, from the girl who almost fell in love with you.”
Oh My God, I was suddenly heedful as if a thunderbolt had struck me right there in the Surgery Dept. She was talking about my priceless possession, the only documented evidence of all the ‘deeds’ or rather I must call it ‘misdeeds’ of mine and my idiotic friends. It seems she, along with a group of a few students found a locked red diary while cleaning the warden’s office. There was no name on it but call it the usual curiosity of a lady what made her break the lock and read a few chapters from the diary.
I was aghast. I guess she had sensed my discomfort. She again reassured me that it was destroyed before anyone could lay their hands on it. At the time she didn’t realize she had averted catastrophic events because information can be dangerous especially in the hands of juniors about their seniors who made their lives miserable.
“Thank you MAM’… for protecting our little left-over dignity.” I completed the sentence in my mind.
I saw that piece of paper again and smiled thinking about all the entries I had made in the diary over the years starting with ragging itself and how a couple of misfits survived that phase.
I closed my eyes and the memories were still so vivid in my mind of that evening when Yoshita handed me this lockable diary at Outseri Lake as a parting gift. Both of us were sad, but there was no remorse in our eyes. We knew by all probability that this might be the last time we were close enough to feel each other’s heartbeats, however there was no bitterness in our hearts. We were just happy to hold onto each other for whatever little time was left at our disposal.
I gleamed recalling how the poor ‘scooty’ couldn’t match up with the ferocity of our kiss and almost lost its balance. How nervouscited I felt when we lied down right next to the lake completely lost in each other. I guess we were determined that nothing was going to come in between us that night. The lake appeared turquoise in the mild moon light and it was calm unlike our minds. Her beautiful eyes were moist when she barely managed to utter these words.
“I don’t fit in here, Neel. You see, I am a misfit. I just don’t see myself surviving this. Tonight, I will tell my dad.”
“I will miss you Yosh.”
I said it with a tremulous smile after all her lovely company was the only respite from the gloomy days of ragging.
“You know how I feel about you, don’t…”
She cut me short with a passionate kiss. Words dried up in my throat somewhere because my mind was engulfed with the awesome feeling of her lips over mine and her hands over my back. I embraced her tightly and kissed her back with the same warmth and love. We lost track of time, place, and whatever we had been discussing. The only thing that mattered was how badly we didn’t want to let each other go.
The soil beneath us was soft and the layer of green grass felt alluring whenever it brushed against the bare portions of our skin. She looked at me with the same affection in her eyes but she wasn’t kissing me, rather she kept looking at me as if she was trying to find some answers which were probably not there in my eyes. She unbuttoned my shirt, placed a gentle kiss and pinned her chin down over my chest and kept looking at me with the same quest in her eyes. I smiled and put my arms around her. Maybe she wanted to hear my heartbeat as she buried herself into me while I kept playing with her velvety hair.
She crawled up to my lips and we started kissing again. My hand slipped all over her bare skin. My lips felt every inch of her body and she crumbled under my weight as I moved over her. We held onto each other for quite some time, longing to remain frozen in that moment. There was absolute silence barring our loudly beating hearts.
It felt beautiful holding her when she murmured something.
“Why does loving you feel so wrong right now, Neel?”
I looked at her again, but was lost for words. All I could manage to do was hug her and she hugged me back like never before, like it was the end of the world, our world.
The story takes place in Puducherry when it was still known as Pondicherry and train services were not as frequent as they are today. I took a bus to Pondy and soon was lost in the breath-taking beauty of the East Coast Road running adjacent to the Bay of Bengal. It was dawn and the sky was becoming red over the horizon. The reflectors on the newly built ECR Road were glittering like tuning bulbs. It was the beginning of a new day, a new chapter, or rather a new life. I was deeply engrossed in my own thoughts. How would the college be, the classmates, the culture, and above all, the most feared thing, ragging be? Where would I fit in this puzzle? I couldn’t help but recall the conversation with Dr. Papa just before I set off on this life changing journey all alone.
“You are going to be a part of a professional college so the most important thing that you should remember is to do well in your first exam because that is the image you will carry with yourself till your final year.”
“Beta, would you be joining the hostel?”
“Beta, hostel is a place where you get to meet all types of people. Now, who you choose as your confidant or as your friend would define you, and your habits too will very much depend on that very choice. Mingle with everyone and remember not to talk bad about anyone in front of others. Do not typecast any person even though his habits may not be according to your taste. There will be times when you might feel isolated just because you don’t fit into their habits or ideas of having fun. Even if you feel isolated remain st
“Yes, I will not let you down, but I am worried about ragging.”
“Yes, about ragging, don’t be afraid of it, all of us have gone through it. Haan, agar paani sar se upar chala jaye toh just remember that seniors are equally scared of juniors. Other than that, you are smart enough to figure your way out.”
“Figure my way out.” I murmured this sentence so many times in my head.
The Ten Commandments
I would rather not get into the details of how I managed my way to college without knowing the local language which is Tamil.
After managing to reach the campus, the excitement was gradually getting eroded. I was expecting a full and lively campus with many classmates and seniors but there was hardly anyone to be found barring a curious face looking at me from the canteen.
We greeted each other and instantly connected. He was Ram, my classmate, and another Hindi speaking fellow like me. After lunch we left our luggage at the canteen and headed towards the administrative block. The Registrar dropped the bomb on us that the commencement of the course was delayed by a few days, however, we can take our place at the hostel. A support staff person was sent along with us to show us our rooms in the hostel in Zone B, the residential zone. He also introduced us to Durairaj, our cook.
Durai was kind enough to offer us evening snacks. He sat along with us while sipping tea. I was amazed to hear him speak, his English was too good for a cook. He spoke about how we must address the seniors as ‘Sir’ all the time. He told us about a few super seniors who are attending classes and wards in Zone C, which is the hospital wing of the college. I wanted to go to our room and settle down when Durai warned us not to spread our luggage as we don’t have permission from any senior yet.
“Why would we need their permission to settle down?” Ram shot back.
“You guys will find out eventually. Hey, I am getting late. I need to prepare dinner.”
“What time is dinner?” I asked.
“Any time after seven, but do not have dinner until you are asked to by your seniors.” He warned us as he left, and we headed towards our newly assigned rooms.
“What is this permission ka funda yaar?” Ram said looking at me.
“Mujhe kya pata bhai? I am in the same boat as you. Chhodh na Ram, tell me something about yourself.”
“I am from Lucknow.”
“Aha, ‘City of Nawab’ Mr. Ram. By the way, I am from Bhagalpur,” I said beamingly.
“Ohh, ‘City of Wisdom’, Vikramshila, or should I say, ‘City of Silk’.” Ram was grinning.
“Sab angrezi ka khela hai yahan toh? It seems like we have to converse in English 24/7,” I wondered.
“No offence yaar par yahan toh sala cook bhi angrezi mein batiyata hai bhaiya. That’s terrifying. How will we fit in Neel?” Ram was worried.
“Arey, gradually we will settle in man, aur dekha jaye toh in a way it’s good, isn’t it? It will improve our conversation skills,” I reasoned.
“Bas toh baat pakki, abhi se hum bhi bas angrezi mein hi bakloli karengey.”
“Look, our grammar is good, so it won’t be a total disaster to begin with. Anyway, come here and taste this.”
“English Mr. Ram, English.”
“Oh, so what is it Mr. Neel?”
“It’s called Thekwa, my mother’s specialty.”
“What is it called in English, Thekwa?”
“I don’t know that, bas thekwa hai, and mind you, it is officially a trademark dish of Bihar.”
“Accha toh ‘Litti-Chokha aur Sattu’ ka kya?” Ram mocked me, and I pushed him affectionately.
“Salty snacks?” I was curious.
“Namkeen bhai namkeen, you see hereafter all English.”
We laughed our hearts out and gladly shared our family backgrounds. We wondered how to spend a few days until the college begins. We were contemplating our options when a gentle knock on the door interrupted our brain storming session. There stood a sportsman like figure. He introduced himself as Rajesh and asked us to step out as our Hostel Warden, Dr. Pillai, had come to visit us.
Along with Dr. Pillai there were a few other seniors, precisely six in number, and during our conversation we caught a few names like Sukesh, Azhar and Bhagat. Dr. Pillai seemed to be a nice hearted person who can just lift your sprits in seconds. He enquired about our well beings and directed all the seniors to take care of us. Once Dr. Pillai left, the seniors got busy preparing for their ward exams. The first interaction with the seniors went so smoothly that it gave us the much-needed courage.
The next day we decided to explore the campus since there was nothing to do. It was super-hot and we soon gave up on the idea of roaming around the campus and happily got back to the room. In the evening, Durai as usual scared the hell out of us. He started narrating the horrifying tale of how our immediate seniors got tortured by their seniors. He also explained that since this is the final year batch they are not too bothered about us, as they are busy with their never-ending ward exams. Maybe it was the effect of Durai’s tale that we sneaked into our room with our quota of evening snacks before any senior came back and decided that it’s better not to cross their path.
We were enjoying our evening snacks in the room, when we heard a loud cry for our names outside the hostel. Ram wondered about the pitch of the voice, while I was sensing the bitterness in it. Unknown to what has caused this commotion, we stepped out of the room like a newlywed bride; scared, puzzled, and confused. What followed later on was totally unexpected, at least after yesterday’s warm welcome. There were all six of them standing in an order as if to the ranks of an army battalion, staring at us. Their aprons over their right shoulders looked like guns hanging from a policeman’s shoulder. The way their stethoscope was wrapped around their neck reminded me of Lord Shiva. In short, I had this weird feeling that something is wrong.
“Do we have to teach you two the basic manners?”
A voice with a slight hint of a temperament followed another senior asking, “Who the hell do you think you guys are?”
Ram opened his mouth to answer back, but sensing we were in some kind of trouble, I cut him short with a firm and loud, “SORRY SIR.”
Someone argued in our favour that we are new and unknown to the rules. Therefore, it was settled amongst themselves that we would be trained by the hostel secretary. For a second, I felt we were in the NDA rather a medical school. There you go, from that precise moment, our training was started.
All of us gathered inside the mess. It was a big hall, half of it was of converted into the kitchen area and the other half the dining area. There was a blackboard with a raised platform at the end of the dining area. The seniors were all seated and the holy procedure of making us familiar with the so called ‘hostel rules’ began. Ram had to make sure no mosquitoes were around to disturb the proceedings. I guess it was a reward for his attempt to answer back earlier. I was given the task of holding the banner against the blackboard which was captioned as
‘The Ten Commandments of The Hostel’
The Dress Code
Skin hugging shorts without any pockets (any colour) and a full sleeved white shirt with all the buttons buttoned.
No junior is allowed to wear any undergarments at any given point of time or under any circumstances while in the hostel.
All the vital and essential reproductive organs, making them my witnesses, I, ______, registration number________, hereby declare myself in the service of all the seniors. I will follow all the rules by my heart. What I may see or hear in the course of this phase of ‘interaction’ I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about. I will never complain against any senior to any concerned authority. I will follow all the instructions and punishments if imposed by any senior. I hereby declare my seniors as my guardian angels.
“Every junior has to wear a red tie and black underwear while taking the oath. The left hand should be placed on your bum while the right one should be on the head. Any senior is entitled to check on the dress code at any given point of time. If any junior is found to be violating any of the rules or not following the dress code, he would be prosecuted accordingly.” Rajesh Sir elaborated the procedure and warned us at the same time.
By this time, I was smiling considering it a joke, while Ram was sniggering standing behind the seniors. Sensing our mood, one of the seniors got pissed off and we were awarded our first punishment, a simple kneel-down for a difficult ten minutes. Guess what, the kneel-down part wasn’t proving as painful in comparison to the continuous barb of the seniors about how we ought to respect our seniors and take their wishes as commands, and if we fail to do so then how severe the punishment will be.
The next few days we remained content to ourselves and to the temporary room assigned to us, repenting the moment we decided to stay in the hostel till the session started. Everyday’s torture included regular newspaper service to the rooms, bed tea, and cleaning their motor bikes. The worst was when we got punished because we went out of the hostel without any senior’s permission. When Ram argued why we needed permission to go to the temple, they made him keep the cap of a pen in between his jaw in a way that his mouth was str
It was the day before the session was supposed to commence, and we thought this is the end of our torture because tomorrow our batch mates would join us, so the focus would shift from us to them. What we had forgotten was that tomorrow another thirty seniors will also return from their holidays and for them we would be as raw as any other.
Oh my God, the once deserted campus was full of life. There were so many students and we couldn’t distinguish between senior and junior. I held Ram back and we decided it’s better to be inside the administrative building which included the library, dean’s chamber, and our first-year classroom. We finished all the necessary documentation and were introduced to another batch mate by the registrar as our hostel inmate. He was a Tamil guy with a lean figure. He introduced himself as ‘Karthikeyan Murguvelu Pandiyan’. Instantly, we decided to get a short form for his name and we settled for ‘Karu’.
All of us headed towards the classroom and settled down there. Gradually it filled up with so many other students, predominantly locals. We estimated the class strength to be fifty. Everybody seemed to be busy amongst themselves. We discussed about the GOI seats. It seems there was supposed to be five of us, so we were contemplating who the other two might be. We got the news that a few of the locals from a different part of Pondicherry too would be joining the hostel and that lifted our spirits. We rushed to the mess.
The mess was empty barring us when two other junior hostel mates, Rajat and Sameer, walked in. Both were from the same place and were lucky enough to have their parents around to see them get settled in the hostel. We were still wondering when the other two GOI guys would join us. By this time their parents were talking to Rajesh Sir and a few other seniors from Yanam, the place common to so many other inmates over here. I was sure they would get favourable treatment when Sukesh Sir entered the mess.
He said, “Don’t worry, this hostel is in a true sense cosmopolitan in nature, you have seniors from Goa, Andaman, Tamil Nadu, AP,
We laughed while he continued, “Be prepared for getting auctioned.”
‘Auctioned’? Did I hear it right? We exchanged puzzled looks and he just walked away with a smile on his face.
By dusk Ram and I told the others about the hostel rules, seniors, and the oath. It was hilarious, when a tiny senior with the most irritating voice screamed for us.
Karu, Rajat, and Sam all looked at us for answers. We, too, had no idea about any of these new seniors. That tiny creature yelled at us for not greeting him with good evening.
“Bloody manner less buggers.”
We decided it’s better to be sensible, calm, and united no matter what. All of us entered the mess. The stage was all set; the seniors were seated directly opposite the blackboard in the mess. We stood on the small, raised platform in front of the blackboard facing them. All five of us were standing with our heads looking down at our toenails against twenty-five of them. It was silent, no chaos, unlike what we heard before we entered the mess. It was as if they were honouring us by keeping quiet or evaluating us by staring at us. We were asked to introduce ourselves. Sam, with his heavy glasses, started in a mild tone when he was sarcastically reminded that he was not a groom. After the introduction, I was asked to read the rules out aloud.
“Any questions rookies?” one of the seniors asked.
Now it was time to take the oath in a group while screaming our names out loudly. But none of us were wearing black underwear with a red tie. They discussed amongst themselves and we were told to read the rules once again and take them seriously and to be ready for the oath and auction by tomorrow at eight pm sharp. That tiny senior demonstrated the college salute and directed us to salute them every time we cross their path without fail. The common task was to figure out all their names.
“Assembly dismissed”, and with this, we were allowed to have dinner amidst so many questions about our background, family, education, and hobbies. The best part of this exercise was that it helped us get to know each other better. The mood was getting lighter when we were told that by tomorrow all the seniors will get back and that marks the start of the ritual. We wondered about the red tie, black underwear, auction, and above all, how to find out their names.
The following morning, we slept as if there were no rules in place. No one bothered nor said anything to us. In college, practically it was our first session together. Wow man, there were so many girls around, however my heart was sinking. Almost everyone was talking in a language which seemed alien to me and at times in English. One thing was clear, either you become a pundit in English or learn Tamil. Coming from Hindi medium, both tasks seemed almost impossible. Ram and I were like two misfits over here. Rajat, Sam, and Karu were all busy interacting and we sat on the front bench wondering where the hell have we come. Lost in our thoughts, Ram elbowed me drawing my attention towards a pair of eyes constantly checking us out, or was it me.
She was undoubtedly beautiful, elegant, and she appeared nothing less than gorgeous in the simplest of clothes. One thing what I had learnt from others’ experiences was that never ever dig any meaning out of gestures or expressions thrown at you by any girl. Just wait till she speaks plainly whatever she wants to say, but never go ahead and start speculating.
Almost the entire session was consumed by introducing ourselves to professors and each other. We decided to skip lunch and all of us stayed inside the classroom as suggested by Mr. Librarian. I swear, he was more paranoid than us that we might get ragged.
Post lunch it’s always practical lectures, but we were asked to remain in the class as our class teacher Dr. Murthy was going to interact with us. We were
It was Shanti, a very friendly and lovely person. By now, we were familiar with a few of our batch mates. I asked Shanti about the city and where to shop around. She suggested to tag along with the day-scholars in the evening and they would help us out. She introduced us to that very girl with the beautiful eyes, Yoshita, as Shanti’s house was in the opposite direction from the city market.
‘Yoshita’, the name resonated in my mind as I looked at her eyes. My goodness, she had looks to die for. I couldn’t help but murmur mrignayni. No words were exchanged, just a warm hand shake with a smile.
She started talking to Rajat and Sam, giving them directions to the shopping place. I stood there listening to them when Ram spoke to me in Hindi under the assumption that no one would understand.
“Bhai aur kitna taadega. Despo lag raha hai.”
I pulled Ram to the corner of the class and said,
“Chup kar re, kuch bhi, woh un dono se baatein kar rahee hai aur tu meri le raha hai. Waisey bhi, she is not my type.”
“What do you mean not your type? You bloody gotta show some interest in a girl for her to talk to you. You see, girls need attention mere bhai.”
“Tere ko bada pata hai about girls and their behaviour. How many times has your heart been broken dost?” I teased Ram.
“Not mine, it’s just I have seen too many of my friends crying over broken relationships.”
We laughed out loud and that seemed to drag their attention towards our presence. She turned towards Ram and said sarcastically,
“Did you crack a joke… share it with us as well.”
We fell silent and she continued explaining the directions to them, but no one seemed to understand the exact location of the shop. So, she volunteered herself to take us around the city. Everything was set when Ram asked,
“Will it be appropriate to go to the town without asking any senior?”
Before anyone could answer he said, “Well, it’s better if Rajat and Sam go with Yoshita because they would have an excuse that they didn’t know about this ‘permission’ stuff.”
I wondered since when Ram started following the hostel rules so religiously but he was looking at Yoshita’s face as if trying to read something. So, it was decided that Rajat and Sam would go for shopping and the rest of us will try and find out the names of the seniors. Almost everybody boarded the college bus and Karu left for the library to get the college magazines as suggested by me.