COMING SOON! In The Whirlpools of the Koel River - by Virinchi B Srinivasan

- By Virinchi B Srinivasan

What is it? A novel that offers glimpses into personalities and encounters - based on true stories from college life.

About? A group of friends visiting their alma mater after twenty-five years have to confront their tumultuous and often violent past, which will help them learn life lessons, all over again.

When? COMING SOON to a store near you!! On Amazon, Google, and in Paperback...

Sashi and his friends head back to their alma mater in Koelpura, Odisha, after nearly twenty-five years, to attend the golden jubilee celebrations of their college.

Whom do they meet there? How do the three days they spend in college help them relive the tumultuous times of the nineties and reconnect them with their lost friends (and foes)? How do they deal with their past karma?

“In the Whirlpools of the Koel River” offers episodic glimpses into the lives of students in the campus of Rashtriya Engineering College (REC), Koelpura, through the stories of Sashi and his friends, and their encounters with personalities and events.

Early Days @ RECR - By Ratnadeep Bhattacharjee (Bhattu)

After 18 years of being mostly at home with my parents I was eager to leave Shillong and start a new chapter of my life - one with way more freedom. The 3 months, leading up to joining REC, were spent arguing with my parents on what I should do with my life. 

I really wanted to study Physics but my mother would have none of it. “Na baba na, nobody gets a job with an MSc. these days, she said”. Reluctantly I decided to sign up for engineering.    

Stuffing everything I needed in a 24 inch VIP suitcase, a rolled up bed and a thousand Rupees I left home. Coming along with me was another student, who was going to join the Metallurgy program at REC Rourkela.

Meghalaya, the state I came from, contributed only 3 students to the REC system due to its smaller population - one each of Computer Science, Metallurgy, and Electrical Engineering. About the only research I had done on Rourkela was which trains to take to get there. After a lot of push from my mother I found out at least one other person who would be my batchmate. I had no idea who my seniors were either.

We hopped on to the train (Kamrup Express) and in the same compartment found our third buddy from Meghalaya - he was joining the Electrical department, had long hair and liked dancing. We reached Rourkela on Saturday and after some back and forth between the halls and the registrar’s office was finally assigned room 16 in Hall 1.

There are few things you should know about Room 16.

There was going to be no seniors in that room. It was on the way to the mess - which means hall residents frequented that area 3 times a day. It was right next to the mess manager’s room where students came asking for food at random hours and where mess secretary’s came to pick up their bribe money (to buy that new cycle or tape recorder). 
Up until then I believed that looking straight at people while talking was basic human nature. Within 15 minutes that belief was shattered. The “third button” rule was explained to me by a second year student raring to go with his new found seniority. 

Then came the second specimen. “Kyo be, shave kab karega?”, he asked. To which I promptly took out my shaver and shaved off my sparse beard. “Aur yeh mucche, tera baap kaatke deyga kya?”. I shaved off my moustache very reluctantly, and had a strange feeling of emptiness that only lasted till the next second year guy showed up. It’s been 25 years since then and I have not had a moustache. 

It was close to lunch time and another senior showed up with a wide grin. 
“Do you know your state and branch senior?”. 
“I don’t know him sir”, I replied quietly. 
“It’s not him dammit, it’s her. And when you meet her you will tell her nice things about me. See, I did not rag you. Did I?” 
Now there was a person who I could go to lunch with - the quid pro quo would at least protect me from getting beaten up by other second years.

My other roommates showed up that afternoon, Hota and Sunil. Both wonderful people. Having 2 other folks on the same boat felt good. That evening and the next day was spent on a bunch of orientation activities that I do not remember at all.

Classes started on Monday which meant we were out early in the morning, back in the hostel for a quick shower and lunch, followed by the afternoon session. Since we did not have any seniors in our room, other batchmates slowly started visiting us to take a breath, and discuss their best and worst ragging experiences. Those were the very early days of bonding as batchmates. We learnt about the seniors to be avoided at all costs, those who were good natured and those who had the clout to protect us from other seniors.

This also prompted second year students to visit our room and rag a whole bunch of freshers at the same time. We attracted random seniors with all kinds of fetishes, every other day. One of them made us kiss all the girls pictures in a magazine that was lying in our room. Thank God it was India Today and not Femina. All magazines went under the mattress after that. These ragging sessions would last beyond midnight at times. 

On one such night we had a fresher in our room after dinner. In came a senior. Having seen a new bakra in the room, he looked at this fresher right in the eye.
“Where are you from?”
“Andhra Pradesh, sir”
“Where in Andhra?”
“I am from Rajahmundry district, sir!”
“Tell me one thing Rajamundry is famous for!”
“Jaya Prada is from my district, sir.”
The moment that came out of his tongue I knew this night was going to be long, really long. Indeed it was. We spent the next few hours discussing every aspect of Jaya Prada, her films, her look, her body, every inch of it.
The following weekend we were taken outside the campus to visit the town of Rourkela - Sector 2 and Sector 5, as far as I remember. I met some new batchmates from Hall 3. Started chatting with one of them, he was from Civil Engineering. 

“I am from North”, he said.
“I am from North East”, I said.
“You know, North naa? Its north of UP. “
“Acha acha”, I remarked. 
I had learnt something new, the definition of North - and a precursor of things to come in later years - the various ways in which students identified themselves.

We went back to the hostel looking down at our third buttons. This continued till the freshers social when we were formally welcomed by live music and all. Although the third button restriction was over things were still tense between freshers and second year students. The real bonding was going to happen during the trip back home for the Puja holidays.   

Thus ended the first 2 months of my life at REC Rourkela. There were many days when I hated myself for signing up to study engineering, on other days I really enjoyed meeting someone new from a far off state. Eventually the bitterness of ragging gave way to a sense of belonging and freedom. More importantly, learning how to cope with so much freedom. 

LH - My Beloved Castle! (By Sunanda Mishra)


I walked through the gates as my dad stood aside;
It’s the Ladies Hostel Bhai! How could a man step inside?

The gate was so low, leaving me to wonder:
was it designed for dwarfs or was it to slow down an intruder?
I stepped over the iron bar and held my neck down;
lest I stumble and fall like a circus clown.

It looked like a jail, though I was no criminal,
It was only for four years yaar; why get sentimental?

The hostel Supri wasn’t bad; just an obedient man,
who followed his wife’s every command.

The kind of questions she asked, even a mother would never;
But it didn’t matter, in the very first year;
All we cared was whom to fear, and whom to revere.

It didn’t take long for our outdoor interests to be curbed,
a new form of bird watching, around us, had developed.
The popular ones of LH mingled outside the gate;
While we, the simple ones, drank tea and were made to wait.

Sitting on the steps of LH in our nightee,
we ogled at the visitors and the visitee.
Pilamane…., I tell you it’s no laughing matter.
I was not the only one who’s not sought after.


We breezed into the freedom of second year;
LH still the exotic destination, was what we hear.
A father visited his daughter, one burning summer day;
He wanted to come in, but Hostel rules were at play.

We rebelled – what the hell! We are no fresher!
Han han! We can take care of this matter!
We commanded our junior to bring her father inside,
And any problems, we said, we’ll handle in our stride.

Why didn’t we think of this approach before?
Will this be the beginning of a riotous uproar?
We could bring down the gate or maybe a window rail;
Through which, not air could pass; it was worse than Tihar jail.

We ushered the uncle into our rooms, and parted with a grin;
Aarta Bhai, the guard and the caretaker, panicked and rushed in.
Na na Apa, Semiti Kari Habani
We ignored him and savored the moment,
There was so much hope and yet so much to lament.

Aame Kahaku Darinu, we said aloud;
For, a father must be treated with respect, and not be looked as a lout.

In a matter of minutes, the Supri came over;
Asking for an explanation, for such a blatant takeover.
The junior said, Sir! You must consider! After all, it’s my father.
The Supri was clear,
And sans any rage, he kept his composure;
With all of us as his witness, he showed no regret;
As he uttered these words, which none of us will ever forget:

“Sie sina tamara Bapa, sie kana samastankara Bapa?”
(He is your father. But is he everyone’s father?)

We stared at each other in utter fright,
Thinking in our mind, Did we just hear that right?
How could we agree, to such a thought?
Even at nineteen, we knew what was right and what was not.


Third year brought out,
all the fun and some clout.
A few were drafted into positions of power,
others called the shots, from the shadowy cover.

We got a new Supri and this time it was a “her”.
We kept our fingers crossed for someone better.
She talked sweet and put flower in her hair;
Our hopes arose; we said, “Finally things will be fair”.

We thought to ourselves, she will understand,
Girls are also humans, and should not have to withstand.
These suffocating rules and restrictive hours,
which don’t apply to boys, shouldn’t just be ours.

Gadhha Pilla!
LH is still LH! Not your uncle’s villa.

The new Supri was no different from the one before,
and treated us like street urchins, furthermore.
Complaints about food fell into deaf ears;
The front gate still remained closed for visitors.

Freshers that year, were a pack of daring girls,
they followed few rules and dared to break the shackles.
We looked like angels in front of the newbees;
They broke the curfew, letting in the fresh morning breeze.

We fought less and less for our LH rights,
because what we wanted, was right in our sights.
All that mattered were our friends and their friendships,
within those jail walls, we were prepared for all hardships.


We were, now, like the cream floating atop,
Life was casual, like a cozy flip-flop.
Khaali Maja! Ooo Hooo!
As desperate boyfriends delivered letters and flowers,
the gang gathered around, discussing into the wee hours.

We spent countless time on Linda Goodman’s “Sun Signs”,
matching each of our friends with possible valentines.
Even the day scholars had, by then joined in,
after all the real party was, about to begin.

We spent nights-outs, singing songs of Jagjit,
life had become a sweet ghazal, us fully lost in it.

Hai Bhagwan! My grades had again slipped!
My dad got miffed and asked me for my transcript.
“In second semester, you were the topper.
What happened to you this year?”
I promised to pick up pace,
But found the going tough, as life was such a haze.

Our hostel woes didn’t get any better,
we left the juniors to deal with the matter.
We bunked classes, ignoring the profs advice,
we were constantly hanging out, with tea in our hands and dreams in our eyes.

We worried, from time to time, about our future jobs,
But more important was laughing with friends, and our daily hobnobs.
Chhodo Na Yaar! Something will pan out eventually, we rationalized;
The last few months at LH had become the most precious, we realized.

We valiantly held on to those sweet memories,
Spending long nights on the rooftop, sharing many intimate stories.

It’s not graduation but an adulthood transition,
we weren’t ready to embrace the full impact of this notion.

Would we survive without each other?
Was this really over? How we wished there was a year or another.
It’s like sand slipping through our fist;
as the inexorable time passed, bit by bit.

Aah! We sighed and wished it wouldn’t end in pain,
though we knew it was a wish in vain.

Oh LH! Our beloved castle!
What wouldn’t we give to stay there again, just for a little?
The bonds that we made at LH are here to stay;
The memories through the silver years, will help start a golden day.

A Second Coming - Guest Blog by Sunita (Jolly) Dash

1989 to 1993. Many of my batch mates call it the golden years of their life. Makes me wonder if my experience was as golden. As I rewind and recollect my REC days, many of my memories were certainly not very glittery.

I grew up spending most of my time with my brother and his friends and was a Tomboy at heart. I refused to have long hair, quit music lessons within a week, competed with boys to climb trees faster, and stayed outside for hours playing marbles. These were some of my ways of letting the world know that I was no less than any boy! I was strong and fiercely independent behind the demure nature and the so-called pretty face. But REC did not see this side of me.

As a child, I loved outdoors and tried my luck at all sports I could.  In school, I had a good stint as a track and field athlete and always dreamed of pursuing sports.  Back then, sports could only be an extracurricular activity, not a career choice.  Coming from a middle-class family with four siblings, the priority was always for safe choices and landing a sure shot job.

Medicine and Engineering were binary choices in all career discussions. Under the directive of my dad and his close advisors, I shifted focus to compete in the Joint Engineering Entrance (JEE) exam. An athlete’s competitive spirit in me kicked in. I managed to secure a decent rank of 52 amongst a large pool of qualified candidates. I knew the rank would secure me a seat in one of the premier engineering institutes.

The day before counselling, I boarded an overnight train with my dad and arrived at the famous AV Hall of REC, Rourkela. Sitting next to my dad, I glanced around.  I saw a bunch of nervous teens close to their dads and guardians, waiting for their turn to be called up to the dais to make their branch selections. The atmosphere was very tense, with the candidates sitting nervously in their seats waiting to be called up.

I also noticed something unusual. There was a sizable crowd that was gathering outside the AV hall.  Guys clad in t-shirt, jeans, and chappals, were standing outside, glancing around, and acting cool. Some of them were staring directly at me and the other gals and pointing at us to their friends, as if we were shiny objects. Suddenly, I felt naked in front of their piercing gazes.  There was this unsettling feeling in my stomach. My instinct told me to run away.  My strong, independent self said everything will be alright.

As my turn came to make my “instant” branch choice, I choose Electrical Engineering in Rourkela over some more relevant branches at other REC’s outside Odisha. Staying within Odisha meant closer to home as well as living amongst supposedly, friendly and my kinda people.
Boy, was I wrong! What an emotional roller coaster ride the next four years were!
In a college where girls were completely outnumbered by boys (twenty girls to three hundred boys), I knew going in, it would be an interesting dynamic. Across all four batches, the numbers were similar. Girls got the treatment that typical rare species get:
  • Boys could gaze at girls for hours without blinking.  Some took it to the next level and stared with their mouths wide open.
  • Some took the help of physical objects such as chalks to grab the girls’ attention while improving their marksmanship.
  • Some used their freedom of expression to catcall on the girls and use foul language.  Passing loose comments on girls was their birth right. They did it so commonly and so often that the girls became numb to it.
  • Senior boys could show up at the Ladies Hostel (LH) gate as a “visitor” and first year gals had to oblige them. The interactions were like a matrimonial screening process.

It was this hostile environment that perhaps led me to never let my guard down.  The more I tried to keep to myself, the more attention I got. A slew of visitors came to meet me at LH. I was regularly stopped in campus by senior boys and asked about my hobbies, my family, my interests, and what I liked in guys.  As a teenager (and a Tomboy at that), I didn’t know how to handle all this attention. For right or wrong, I formed this impression that all the boys were out to get me, rather than be my friend. And that’s it. I created this wall between me and the boys. I became this person that I truly was not. I went into a shell. I came across as quiet and aloof.

Only a few of my girl friends knew the real me: as a fun-loving, friendly girl who loved to have fun.
Many boys, on the other hand, tried hard to strike up a conversation, or become a friend without much success. Some others, did some pretty awful things. My bike was stolen and was broken into small pieces and thrown into the woods. Books and lab notes borrowed from me were returned with profane language written all over it, about me and my girl friends, linking me with college professors, and so on. College notice boards were “hacked” to put fake notices that I was spending late nights with Palestinian boys. I don’t know why they did it. I probably don’t want to know.

The four years at college marked many such incidents and made me this person who, unfortunately, doubted all including some genuine friendships. I never attempted to connect with most guys. Though I should mention, there were a handful who helped me get through this emotional roller coaster.

I wish I had known how to ride the attention wave and had enjoyed my golden days in college, more than I managed to. But, those experiences made me a stronger person that understood how to deal with the real world, at a very young age.

When the more mature and experienced me – a mother of two teenage boys – looks back, I see a completely different picture. I see a bunch of teenage boys that were put in a closed, alien environment, while still coping with physical and psychological changes in an interesting phase of their lives. Perhaps, many did not know how to channel their energies. Anyway, social norms, back then, did not allow for boys and girls to have a healthy, friendly relationship. Any boy trying to connect with a girl was perceived as having ulterior motives!

In the process, I – I am sure this happened to other girls – missed out the beauty and focused on the beastly characteristics of guys.

Fast-forward twenty five years, to the Reunion in December 2018. I see an opportunity to know my fellow batch mates a little better, connect with them a little further, take the friendships a little farther. I am looking forward to spending time and rekindling the famed REC spirit and writing the next chapter of my REC experiences. I am confident this story will have a happier ending.

Printers, Targets, and a Scooter

"Come here!" commanded the Seth (as all North Indians were called in Madras) and walked briskly towards the cash counter.
By the look of it, he was, perhaps, the proprietor of the jewelry shop.

I was jubilant. Is he taking me to the head of his IT department? While coming in, I had noticed a sign that read "EDP" in the nearabouts of the entrance. I may be close to clinching my first deal with this wretched company, I thought to myself!

The last three months on my maiden job had been ridden with disappointments. I had reluctantly joined "Fifth Dimension Technologies" as a sales executive, at the urging of my brother-in-law. The money wasn't great. The salary of 1,500 rupees a month barely helped meet ends.

My job was to sell printers, computers, and networking equipment to pawn brokers, jewellery shops, and family-owned fancy stores in Madras. These were the early nineties. Very few big companies bought computers, let alone small establishments. To make matters worse, there were a hundred resellers vying for the same clientele.

My boss, Chacko, was the sales manager for Madras, and a driven guy in his thirties. He had one good look at me, on my first day at work, and had me shadow one of his "senior" sales executives - Muthu Kumaran, an all of nineteen-years of age, high-school graduate, who was part-timing to get his bachelor's degree in commerce.
After four years in one of the "top 10 engineering colleges in India", it was left to Muthu to chisel the chip off my shoulder and bring me back to reality; and he did it with elan!

I didn't want this gig. I was not cut out for sales, I had concluded. Not that I was cut out for anything.

But, I had decided, even while in college, that I wanted to pursue a career in computer programming. Unfortunately, this was not the millennial India that we know of now. In the early nineties, there weren't too many companies offering programming jobs, and none at all for Metallurgical engineers.

While the matter of being unemployed did nag me on occasion, I was, in general, unflustered about my situation, and decided to wait it out till someone brought the programming job to my doorstep.

One day, a couple months after my return from college, someone did arrive at my doorstep. It was my brother-in-law. In what seemed like a well-rehearsed "shock and awe" move, he accosted me with the entire extended family, like the climax of a Sooraj Barjatya movie. He gave me a dressing-down for whiling away time and for showing "no aim and focus".

He didn't stop with that. He gave me a job offer that I couldn't refuse.

After the guilt-trip that he had taken me on, I decided to give the sales executive gig at "Fifth..." a shot. It gave me some pocket change. Plus, the job could be a happy compromise to stay close to a career in computers, I had thought, smiling cleverly to myself.

My brother-in-law gifted me his old Bajaj Chetak scooter (a two-wheeler was a prerequisite for this job).

"Be careful, it is a very good vehicle" he said. I wasn't so sure. It guzzled petrol and oil like it were eight months pregnant, weighed over a ton, and constantly veered to the left, near-missing many a curb and pedestrian.

This was three months ago.

For twelve weeks or more, I rode the Chetak far and wide, exploring corners and crevices of Madras that I never knew existed, trying to peddle a frigging TVSE dot-matrix printer, to someone that would care to buy.

At the end of every week, when the sales execs submitted their weekly status, Muthu, my sales "buddy", reported spectacular results while I returned empty-handed. He sold printers and computers like it were sundal / murukku in Marina beach, and consummated new prospects with his left hand.

"Super da! This is how you do it" Chacko high-fived him, glancing disparagingly at me. I took the blows on my chin with admirable equanimity.

Now, three months after I had been on the job and made a thousand cold-calls without opening my khata, I finally, may have had my moment of reckoning!

The Seth walked towards the cash counter...

Just when I thought he was taking me to meet his EDP guy, he took a slight detour and went straight to the front door. He walked out with me, stood at the doorstep, and pointed upwards to a sign at the entrance, right under the Goddess Lakshmi insignia that read, "Sales reps not allowed".

"You can't read?" he asked.

The Seth went back into the store to attend to his business, leaving me at the doorstep with feelings of embarrassment and shock. I walked down Thambu Chetty Street in Parry's corner, my morale low, shoulders drooping, eyes looking into the distance, with Ilayaraja's BGM, playing situationally in my mind, to accentuate my pathetic mood.

I put down my papers the next day.

"I don't think this is the job I was looking for, sir. This is not why I studied engineering," I told  Jayaraman, one of the partners in the firm, asked me the reason. That was, perhaps, the first (and the last) time I felt any semblance of pride for the engineering degree that I had acquired.

"I know. Probably not your sweet spot. But I am glad you at least tried. Good luck!" he said and wished me well.

It would be months before I landed a stable job, but my first job did two things for me: taught me to ride a Bajaj Chetak and brought me back to the ground.

So, what was your first job like? How long did you stick around?

COMING SOON! In The Whirlpools of the Koel River - by Virinchi B Srinivasan

"IN THE WHIRLPOOLS OF THE KOEL RIVER" - By Virinchi B Srinivasan What is it? A novel that offers glimpses into personalit...