Once a Nehruite — always a Nehruite. This is etched on one of the walls of Nehru Hall. Even though I was from Kharagpur town, I chose to stay on the campus and was allotted the Nehru Hall of Residence.
What a wonderful 4 years I spent there. Having secured an All India rank of 281 in JEE, I was on top of the world. My parents, my friends and well-wishers were all feeling very proud of me. I was basking in this adulation and was eagerly looking forward to entering the hallowed portals of IIT Kharagpur. However, my bubble was to be burst very soon.
I was hoping to receive a hero’s welcome at Nehru Hall when I reached there with my baggage, instead, I was welcomed by a pack of wolves pouncing on every fresher who was coming along. I was alien to the concept of ragging — no one in my family went to college before, let alone IIT, so nobody prepared me up for ragging. I was completely unprepared and this was obvious from my reaction to the seniors. I appeared like an arrogant, ignorant, disrespectful disobedient fresher — because of my “attitude”. And some seniors even feared, I would get the local gundas and bash them up, so they avoided taking panga.
I got a whiff of this and soon I also started pretending as if Rambabu the local Gunda was my cousin — it was fun and empowering to have this feeling. Anyways after the orientation, the seniors found out that I was not such a bad guy and a lot of them became good friends, Kejri (yes that’s what I used to call our current honourable chief minister of Delhi) was my senior by one year in Nehru Hall. He was among the few gentle souls — always smiling and full of wisecracks with his inimitable laughter and characteristic voice.
In the subsequent years — I was a senior and was entitled to have some fun with freshers, but no — I was among the microscopic minority who did not believe in ragging and who never indulged in it. However, during the one month orientation period as per the standard (unwritten) practice — freshers ended up knocking on my room door. I always welcomed them and spent time talking and trying to know them. And one of them was Sundar Pichai — yes the Sundar Pichai — CEO of Google and Alphabet. My memory is failing — but I think we used to call him Sundi! Little did I know that I was talking to the future CEO of Google — by the way Google was not yet founded back then (1989)!
Now my day begins at 5:30 am and ends at 10:30 pm. But back then it appeared like there was no beginning or end of the day. The Hall was active round the clock — no dearth of food and entertainment, what with Jabbar’s open throughout the night serving Maggie, bread omelette and other modest but delicious dishes and the common room buzzing with music, TT and carroms. There were many occasions when we ended up spending the whole night in one of the wing mates’ rooms just doing Bhat (slang for Adda baazi)! Or if it was mid sem or end sem exam times — we would spend the whole night doing magga (slang for studies). And then rush for classes in the morning. On those days it was really tough to stay awake during the classes and had to run to the institute canteen for numerous cups of tea to get the dose of caffeine.
There was a certain pattern we followed during weekdays, I was regular to the classes during the weekdays but evenings were full of fun there were so many options for extracurricular activities- athletics, hockey, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics you name it. I tried my hand at almost everything.
After trying everything, I settled for gymnastics. I was the gymnastics champ and won many medals for the hall and also for the institute in the Inter IIT sports meets.
For some reason — the evenings of Kharagpur are unforgettable. I spent several evenings just sitting on the wall and gazing at the setting sun. It is an out of the world experience.
Friday evenings was movie time at the Netaji Theatre — I went along with my wingmates, it was so much fun. One of the things I still remember was calling out Tarapodo — a phantom name, I never met him and I don’t think anyone ever met him but everybody seems to know that if anything goes wrong in the theatre they should chant Tarapodo.
Weekends were always looked forward to. Most of the time I would spend the weekends doing nothing. The best part was the post-lunch siesta and then a walk to the nearby tea stall for tea and snacks with my close buddies — Uday and Baggie.
I also had the luxury of going home whenever I wanted to eat home food and very often some of my hallmates would tag along to enjoy home-cooked food and get recharged with some much needed maternal love and attention from my mom and grandma — both of whom are no more now.
There was nothing great about the regular mess food, but there was something about the special days when special dinner was served. While folks used to whine about the regular mess food, they used to queue up almost an hour before dinner time on special days. And not only that- some of us used to invite over guests!
There was healthy rivalry amongst the three Halls in the area — Patel, Azad, Nehru — often referred to as PAN area. Often in the middle of the night, we used to end up having a Khisti ( Bengali for abuses) competition with Patel Hall — for some reason we used to refer to the Patel hall as Basti (a lowly slum — no hard feelings Patelians!)
I was the Hall Council member for some time and during my tenure made several changes including revamping the Hall gym equipment — purchased new weight training equipment.
All the things I learnt, the experiences I shared and the memories I made of the good ol’ days stayed on with me even after graduation.
- Mohan Silaparasetty | 1990 | Nehru Hall