The Mother of All Hangouts - Back Post!

"Mystery for first years,
Tashan for second years,
Relaxation for third years,
Realization for final years."
                                          - Shashank Venkat Raman, NITR Alumni

I recently saw this lovely YouTube video of REC (now NIT) Rourkela's tryst with the famed "Back Post".

What can you say about Back Post that has not already been said in words and moving pictures?

If AV Hall was a letdown (initially), Back Post was the mother of all letdowns. Now, the manner in which the seniors had built it up to be the Elysian Fields of the college afterlife, even a modern-day Super Mall would have been a sore disappointment. In our fertile imagination, we had dreamed of a place full of exquisite possibilities - foods and wines, seventy-two virgins, sixty-four arts, nonstop entertainment and relaxation.

In reality, it was all of four kutcha bunk shops and a set of moth-eaten wooden benches, that passed off as seats. That's it. So what was the big deal? What sends the alumni, till this date, into a state of frenzy, and makes them horripilate at the very mention of those two words?

Well, the chai and alu chop at Panda babu's was, arguably, the best in town; Mahesh ji with his Maggi noodles and lucrative borrowing schemes and Gupta ji with his delectable home-cooked (but stingily served) food, helped us survive through four years of pathetic mess food.

And then there were the shops that sold Handia (country liquor), laundry services, groceries, and other accouterments.

But were these reasons enough to make Back Post the King of all hangout places?

Hell, YES!

You can't measure the importance of Back Post by taking it literally, for it was more than just the sum of its parts. It was a living, breathing, world of it's own, where the lives and livelihoods of people with different psycho-social underpinnings collided, rather gracefully.

It was the adda where people licked their wounds after a tough day at office; where love affairs, strategies for elections, and preparations for vacations, pungas, and campus interviews, were designed and consummated. It was where the very mission of REC - to bring peoples from all over India together - was realized, perhaps, more than at college itself.

Maybe that's why the alumni think back to it, so fondly. Back Post was akin to the attractive courtesan that we had our secret rendezvous with - some torrid affairs and others more platonic ones - while we cheated on the straight-jacket spouse, that the college had become. The library, classrooms, and labs didn't stand a chance, against her vivacity and compassion.

Watch this beautiful video (courtesy: Mahesh Nagwan), relive your Back Post days, and share your experiences on Back Post or whatever was your best hangout at college.

All Things Aural and Visual

It was clearly over-hyped. Krishnaveni theater, the tent kottai in my native Tiruvannamalai looked less rundown.

Seriously? This is what these buggers had been keeping us away from for six months?

The significance of the occasion, itself, was not lost on us. Lifting of the moratorium on the entertainment hot spots of the college was an important milestone in the lives of freshmen. It had started with us being allowed into the back rows of the Common Room to view "U" certified TV programs. Then into the Table Tennis room. And now the AV Hall...

"Next would be Back Post" my senior, Chandru, had told me, building a feverish expectation.

The "Audio Visual Hall" (aka AV Hall) was no mystery to us as we had attended numerous drab events and ceremonies there. But I had hoped that, by night, it would somehow transmogrify, like Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah, into a posh and leathered entity, with lights, popcorn, weighing machine, cotton candy, and the whole shebang - like an expansive mofussil theater.

None of that happened. The hall looked the same - the uncomfortable plastic seats; the poor view; the bad acoustics; all of it stayed. Except that there was a large seventy-mm screen hanging precariously from the top, towards the front of the AV Hall.

The bustle in the hall, however, was discernible. The second-, third- and final years came in prepared; clad in pyjamas, lungis, and shorts; equipped with pillows, cigarettes, and snacks in hand; and waited for the movie to start with bated breath.

My Maddu seniors took me to the front-most left hand corner of the hall. Every state and gang had their own little corner, you know.

The movie began to applause and catcalls like it were a Rajnikant Diwali release. It was, in fact, a dubbed, Malayalam, educational porn movie, called "Pehli Raat"! Within the first few reels, as the "hero" of the movie started one of his "lessons" (on you-know-what), the entire crowd went into a frenzy, stood up on the chairs, and rained the screen with slippers.

What the...?! Is this actually happening? I had thought.

Then, one of the final years came up to the front of the screen and beckoned to the projector operator to stop the proceedings. The movie was stopped and the scene was repeated - thrice - to thunderous applause and slippers. The two-hour movie took us nearly three-and-a-half hours to complete. It was surreal.

"Welcome to the AV Hall!" Shankar patted my back, seeing my bemused expression.

This was just the beginning. Every Friday, from then on, the AV Hall screened a few brilliant, some horrible, and mostly mediocre Hindi, Odia, and English movies. The quality of the movies depended on (inverse proportion to) the scale of kickbacks the elected AV Hall Secretary took from the distributor and (on direct proportion to) how rarely there were strikes in Communist Calcutta (from where we got our movie prints).

Against these daunting odds, the AV Hall provided, arguably, some of the happiest moments registered in the memories of most Rengcolians.

The hall had rows of low-hanging fans against which the seventy-mm screen dangled clumsily. All the movies were screened with a constant ensemble - the images of six ceiling fans – that needed to be subtracted from individual memory. The screen was further compromised by students who threw slippers at it for scenes they enjoyed… and for those they reviled.

“Hot” scenes were screened twice, and sometimes thrice, failing which a battery of slippers showered upon the screen disfiguring the image and making the screen swing violently hither and thither.

Sentimental scenes, mawkish dialogs, and AK Hangal - that left entire theaters moist-eyed in mainland India - were treated to slippers of disdain.

Slippers spoke at the AV Hall!

Several years later, when I would catch a movie with one of my classmates, Ajit, in a plush multiplex, he would scoff at the slide, “Enjoy a quiet movie-going experience”, before the start of the movie; “How do you remain quiet while watching a movie? Then, that would be a silent movie”, Vijay quipped, in his characteristic style.

"Sshhhh...." someone shushed us from behind.

"Chappal kidhar hai be?" Ajit asked threateningly. As the old cliche goes, you can take a Rengcolian out of AV Hall, but you can't take AV Hall out of a Rengcolian.

So, what were your AV Hall experiences in college? What were the most memorable movies that you watched during college?

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