The oldest image from REC campus that has stayed with me all these years, is a peculiar one. Accompanied by my father, I walked into the ground floor of the hostel building and through an open door we could see an obese young man. He was clad in his boxer briefs and he cast us an angry glare as we walked past his room. All around him we could glimpse the chaos of carefree bachelor life, manifested as strewn laundry, crumpled cigarette butts and abandoned magazines (probably Debonair as I was to learn soon). A tape recorder was playing loudly, its acoustics filling the room with a melodious song from the year?s Bollywood blockbuster. The year was 1987 and the song was ?Papa Kehte Hain? from Amir Khan?s debut movie Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The menacing image of the semi naked, obese youngster in the disorderly hostel room should have struck me as a powerful portent. Days of agony and torment awaited the first year students during which ferocious seniors would subject those hapless souls to unmentionable acts of cruelty, all permitted under the practice of ragging, a hallmark of higher institutions of learning in our parts of the world. But in my mind, the mismatching background score of the Bollywood song lent comic relief to the scene, diffusing all tension. The fleeting image of the scantily clad, hirsute teen ager staring angrily at us, accompanied by a ballad about parental expectations from their offspring, struck me as an omen sent by the random forces that control our destiny to signal that I was entering a theater of the absurd and nothing that I was to experience in the coming days was to be taken at face value.
This early omen and the divine guidance which I conjured out of it set the tone for my engineering education and 4 years and many packets of cigarettes and many pints of rum later, I exited the hallowed halls of Calicut REC stamped as an Electronics engineer by the University. Here it is worth mentioning that if the efforts of me and my ilk were successful, the aforementioned exit from the halls would have been delayed by another 6 months to a year. For those whose memory has been clouded by the intervening decades, I am referring to the efforts of a group of students who were looking forward to university examinations with as much enthusiasm as N Srinivasan would have been harboring for a Supreme Court hearing and hence were always trying to get the dreaded examinations postponed. This group mostly comprised of students with Dravidian roots from the Southern parts of the country and the efforts of these noble souls were opposed by an equally fervent bunch whose avowed objective was to finish the examinations on time and go back to their home and hearth. The ?on Time? evangelists had in their ranks passionate youth from the Northern parts of India and the sheer thought of spending another 6 months in the wilderness of interior north Kerala away from their native lands, made the Aryan blood pulsing in their veins boil over.
As a matter of fact boiling of blood, both Aryan and Dravidian, was a fairly regular occurrence. The marauding hormones of the adolescent years ensured that easy fodder and fuel were available to feed these periodic episodes of petty violence. Often these feuds were conducted with the rival factions aligned along regional lines (just as Sardar Patel envisioned while he arrived at the state divisions in free India). To break the monotony of the inter-state rivalries, the participants often devised imaginative zonal mega events (North vs South) as well as skirmishes within a state community (albeit not at the same scale and visibility as the inter-zonal or inter-state affairs). Lending further complexity to this modern day tournament reminiscent of King Arthur and his valorous knights, were the inter-discipline conflicts in which regional differences were temporarily forgotten to forge alliances whose sole objective was to outwit the departmental opponents, thus enhancing the glory of one?s chosen vocation. The Mechanicals vs Electricals was one such rivalry whose origins can be traced back to the cradles of civilization and one which is bound to stay alive till the day our good lord appears in the sky again to settle things once for all.
As the reader is probably aware, we as a country suffer from skewed sex ratio.? My more erudite friends have been informing me that there are about 980 women for every 1000 men in the nation. My hunch is that, on our REC campus, the ratio was probably 100 girls for every 900 sexually charged boys. The overflowing testosterone levels, the subconscious awareness of intense male rivalry and shackles of the conventional societal norms sent the boys into a dizzying vortex of attention grabbing antics. Branches with relatively larger sprinkling of female presence were much envied by male bastions like Mechanical Engineering department. Incidentally the boys from Mechanical used to demonstrate strong territorial marking behaviors by inscribing ?Royal Mechs? wherever they go. No wonder, primordial instincts were aroused in all departments and the blessed branches zealously tried to guard their womenfolk against the lures and raids of the stags from Mechanical stables. Most of the native Malayali students had come from small towns and rural hinterlands and in the game of courtship they were left far behind by their more adroit peers from North Indian towns. Probably the stereotype of the stiff upper lipped, macho Mallu male had cast its shadow on their self-images and they openly ridiculed the devoted, organized and systematic flirting of the North Indian boys while secretly longing for the company and trust of the fairer sex. As the years progressed, though the Malayali boys could not match the efficacy and scale of the dating contingents that the North Indian boys organized on a daily basis to Happy Valley and Ladies Hostels, the bolder and more romantically inclined ones among them ran independent sorties with varying degrees of success. The successful ones enjoyed significant elevation in their social standing while the failures made the concerned individuals targets of considerable amount of lampoonery. It will be worth getting the ladies? perspective in these matters of the heart to make this narrative more balanced.
The interactions with popular culture for the Malayali student population came in the form of frequent visits to the city cinemas to watch the latest Mammooty ? Mohanlal starrers and the ritualistic Friday night visits to the local Kattangal Dhanya Talkies. The migrant student population had to bear with the Hindi fare available on the DD channels in hostel common rooms and the occasional Bollywood block-buster releases in the city. Print media consumption in boy?s hostels were mostly pandering to the baser instincts and books and magazines with graphic content, as expected, proved to be much popular than the prose versions. The surreptitious film festivals organized by budding entrepreneurs in the wee hours were rousing successes and the paying public was grateful for the enlightenment and excitement provided by these underground art festivals.
The majority stoically accepted the classes and examinations as a necessary evil from which there was no escape route. Thanks to the University system which guaranteed 2 months of study leave before every semester examination, even students who were absolutely clueless about the proceedings in the lectures, could still take a fair shot at the exams. These 2 months were spent in frantic and panic stricken efforts to tame the monstrous and strange topics. Indian masters like Kurumi, BL Teraja etc with their simplified and ?easy to consume capsule? mode of instruction were much appreciated by these students thirsting for academic succor in that critical period. Many from our generation have openly expressed their revulsion at the current practice in deemed university institutions of conducting semester examinations with little or no study leave. This writer emphatically condemns this vile attempt to rig the academic systems in favor of studious and systematic students. I can only lament the absence of fair play which is increasingly characteristic of the world that we live in!
Though we graduated in the year 1991, the economic liberalization wagon had just started it first slumbering moves (aided by hefty pushes from the IMF) and it was yet to show its impact in terms of job creations and growth. IT Services companies who consume most of the graduating population from reputed engineering colleges today were just germinating as an idea in the minds of their visionary promoters. As a result only a fraction of the graduating class could land jobs through campus interviews and the rest of us went on our own into the big, bad world looking for opportunities to earn a livelihood. Some of us made calculated moves and some of us let the tides of destiny take us to the next port as we drifted in the ocean of life.
Now 25 years later, we are definitely much heavier and flabbier and hopefully we have copious amounts of wisdom, wealth and happiness to show for all those alterations to the physical form. Life has come a full circle and now we find ourselves as parents of children who are on the cusp of embarking on similar journeys. We have had our fill of joy and sorrows, the ride irrespective of what lays ahead has been a jolly good one and I am thankful for that.