While we were busy at Back Post...

With all of the haps and mishaps in and around the REC campus, it was easy to lose sight of the goings-on around the world.

These were the rambunctious nineties, you know. There were just so many twists and turns to the tale, bedecked by a litany of explosive events and emotions, and enacted by awfully colorful personalities, that I wouldn't know where to begin!

Just some years ago, Indira Gandhi, the Great Indian tinpot democrat, was tragically shot down by her bodyguards - in what some would characterize, as her karma catching up with her. Those were dark days. There were no TV programs for thirteen days...can you imagine?
Through much of the eighties and nineties, India struggled to find a national leader of Indira's stature - the prime ministerial baton passed eight tenuous hands in less than ten years, presenting a nonstop political spectacle. Alleged farmers, failed pilots, superannuated bureaucrats, economists, anarchists, septuagenarian career politicians; all tried their hand at the wheel
- and some even slept on it - pushing us further backward.

1991 and 1992, will take the cake for being the worst years of the nineties, all-around.

In mid-1991, India was embroiled in a "balance-of-payments" crisis - an obscurantist way of saying, "we were totally screwed"! Our foreign exchange reserves had touched rock bottom, allowing us barely three weeks of imports.

It must have been insulting. We, apparently, had to air-dash two hundred plus metric tonnes of gold as guarantee to European banks, so that they could lend us money.

Rajiv Gandhi had just been assassinated by Sri Lankan militants that led to further political instability for years.

His bosom buddy and Bofors bedfellow, Amitabh Bachchan, wasn't faring any better. His movies were tanking, he was neck-deep in the Bofors bribery scandal, Rekha had married someone else, and did I mention, his movies were tanking?

Small solace for Bachchan (or was it?) that, Rajnikant, his southern comrade, the dark-n-flamboyant-conductor-turned-sambhar-superstar (as magazines in India characterized anyone from the South; throw in some regionalism and xenophobia, sprinkle it with upper-class culinary contempt, and bake and ferment it into six hyphenated words that will elicit a few laughs from Greater Kailash and Cuffe Parade; if I had made it big, I would have been called the "'Ayyayyoo'-Idli-hogging-South-Madras-engineer" or something like that)...where is my sentence?! Let me start all over. Rajnikant was rising to the zenith of stardom, essentially remaking all of Bachchan's yesteryear hits.

In the fickle world of sports, the pathetic nineties had just started. The honeymoon from the World Cup and Benson & Hedges WCC victories of the eighties was decisively over, right after that last-ball six from Dawood Ibrahim's future sambandhi.

The Indian cricket team changed captains as frequently as the country changed prime ministers - Kapil Dev, Srikanth, Vengsarkar, Shastri, Azhar...all came and went; often facing unceremonious exits. The Aussies, the Pakis, the Lankans, and the BCCI tormented the players and a billion other countrymen.

The less said about other sports the better. We blanked the medal tally for the third time in a row at the 1992 summer Olympics, precipitating a national crisis and a billion lamentations on print that destroyed half of Finland's forests.

Indian litterateurs weren't having a great a time on the field, either.The Ayatollah of Iran had issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for the undecipherable "Satanic Verses", forcing him into hiding till he materialized in Mylapore one fine day, and married Padma Lakshmi (Idly-podi-hot-Malibu-based-Iyer-model).

The Bombay blasts and the ensuing riots, Advani's rath yatra and the rise of the right wing, the Babri masjid demolition, the Harshad Mehta scam, and the other events, kept us all on the edge of our seats. And this was just the first few years in the 90's!

By the time, we graduated from college in 1993, there was not much to look forward to. The nation was in a political cauldron, our finances were weak, the job scene was bleak, scams were breaking out at the frequency of soora thengais in a Madras temple...

Well...not everything was bad, though.

1991, also, marked the year when things started to turn around - most will say for the better. Two reluctant leaders from the Congress party, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, took the reins of governance and paved the way for economic recovery through bold measures and shrewd political moves. The India that we knew would change for the foreseeable future. Coca cola, Dominos pizza, satellite TV, junk food, and call centers, captured our imagination and put us on the path of hyper-growth (especially, of our waistlines).

In early-2017, India's foreign exchange reserves, which caused us much angst in the nineties, stood at a healthy three hundred and sixty billion dollars, rising from an abysmal six hundred million in 1991 - a five-hundred fold increase, since that fateful day when we pawned our belongings to the Bank of England, that led to Winston Churchill rolling in his grave - or the opposite of that - wagging his finger, saying "I told you so!").

In sports, Sachin Tendulkar, had debuted as a chubby, curly-haired, sixteen-year old, and would capture the imagination of a country, desperate for heroes, for the next quarter century. "I have seen God. He bats at number four for India" Aussie great, Matthew Hayden, would wax eloquent on the Little Master.

During the college years, we lived through a uni-channel, monochrome, Doordarshan situation. All that changed within a couple of years, when the cable boom brought the world to our living rooms. The rest as they say is "Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi".

So, what do you remember about the happenings during college? Events? Politics? Leaders? Sporting heroes? Movies?

Developing Bonds and How?! (Guest writer, Rituparna Maji)

hitch-hike verb. Travel by getting free lifts in passing vehicles.

Yes, I hitch-hiked. And that is how I have landed up here, in Puttindies’ (lovingly referred to as Puttu, henceforth) blog. All this, for the sheer thrill of experiencing the unknown, called ‘blogging’.

Now the key questions to be answered are:
1.     What do I write? The way Puttu rattles off anecdotes from close to three decades ago in such great detail; I am quite convinced that I am suffering from Alzheimer's. I don’t even need a doctor to certify it.
One option to counter this problem is to ‘make up’ a story, but then I have never done a sales role all my life to go down that path either!

2.     How do I write? Besides my Alzheimer's issue, I am incapacitated by capability issues. Having been jotting Minutes of Meeting, and slamming accountability in the form of  ‘By whom’ and ‘By when’ in a tabular format for twenty years, bullet point summaries is all I can muster. How on earth does one narrate?

Yet, my ever inflated ego eggs me, refusing to crumple into a lump of shame for not being able to conjure up a thousand odd words. I also see an opportunity cost here – what if Puttu goes on to win the Booker Prize someday? Wouldn’t I miss out on ‘Reference Power’?

Fast forward. I have gulped down a zillion cups of coffee in a desperate attempt to recollect stuff from 25 years ago. I finally settled down to write (in a bulleted, Minutes of Meeting format, of course) about what I reminisce most (read, remember most) about my REC days.

SUBJECT: Developing bonds and how?
DATE: From some day in August 1989 to any day after May 1993.
ATTENDEES: Girls and boys of the Class of 1993.


Bonding within the Ladies’ Hostel (LH)

It is said that camaraderie forms best in the face of adversities. There was no dearth of adversities in LH – the ones that remained etched in my memory are as listed below:
a.    All the nutrition our bodies needed was expected to be extracted from one single source. It was called potato. That was all there was in every meal

b.    Daal was consistently made at near zero specific gravity. Technically, we didn’t need to drink water post our meal because the daal would’ve provided it already

c.    As if expending all that energy to wash ones clothes wasn’t enough, clothes lines to dry them were few and totally deprived of sunlight. Outcome: Wet and semi dry laundry piled up resulting in an unbearable stench. Rains made it worse!

d.    Gates closed even before the sun would set properly. We were PoW (Prisoners of Warden) on a daily basis. It wasn’t without reason that our batch pioneered a fashion show (the first ever in REC) inside LH and ramp walked to Queen’s ‘I want to break free’. It was a runaway hit! (I vividly remember wearing one of those steel chains, meant to secure our luggage in trains, as a ‘contemporary’ neck-piece)

e.    Load sheddings turned on the spot light on the singers. During exam times, it meant studying in candle light. Power back-up was unheard of

f.    Lack of a landline phone inside LH meant walking to the campus guest house to receive weekly calls from parents at a preordained time. We mastered the art of speaking what our parents wanted to hear in no time

We were all in it together. The bonds that developed showed up at midnight birthday parties, in the form of gifts – sugar coated friendship quotes stuck awkwardly on a plastic stand. That was all we could afford to buy those days.

Bonding outside the hostel with the boys:

a)    At culverts just outside the LH
This was the busiest place in the entire campus during LH visiting hours. So much that the frequent lack of space for the couples to sit led to the introduction of strolls. It would’ve made tremendous financial sense for Keshtu to have opened a mobile shack just for the LH visiting hours.
The visits to LH happened for a multitude of reasons as listed below:
1.    To woo the girl of choice into making a long-term commitment - this category had the highest % footfall per capita at all times of the year,
2.    To borrow money out of goodwill - this category spiked in the second half of each month and peaked in its last week,
3.    To borrow notes for photocopying in order to make up for the classes bunked in the entire semester – this category logically peaked just a few days prior to the exams,
4.    To check the general health and well-being of the:
o   juniors by their respective ‘State Seniors’ (as if it was their moral responsibility), and
o   sisters by their respective self-declared ‘rakhi brothers’
Category 4 (both sub-categories included) sometimes converted into Category 1 over a period of time.

At this juncture, I would like to highlight the never published ‘Popularity Index’ (PI) metric. PI of each LH inmate was a rough mental estimate of the number of visitors she received in a week. A higher level metric for PI was the number of times a girl’s cycle/moped’s tyre was deliberately punctured by the boys - in a desperate attempt to form bonds out of coercion.

A special mention needs to be made of the final year visitors during my time.

They were boys who never visited LH, even once, till it was almost time for them to leave college for good; those who remained content throwing chalks at girls in the corridors instead (factoid: had we collected all those chalks thrown at us for years, we would’ve eradicated illiteracy in the whole of Odisha).

I guess realization dawned on these boys that being a ‘LH virgin’ may become a source of mockery for the rest of their lives. This led to a spike in visitors to LH in the last few months of college. Suddenly, the culverts buzzed with added energy, thanks to an accelerated pace of bonding – there were even meals exchanged here during this time!

b)    During train journeys
Train journeys always meant traveling in unreserved compartments. It was either premature closure of college due to strikes (which was often) or sheer laziness that prevented us from buying tickets in advance. This inadvertently meant:
a.     sharing a berth with a minimum of 3-4 other folks often resulting in 1.5 sqft of seating space per head,
b.     chatting away all through the night totally free from the bondage of LH visiting hours (where was the place to sleep anyways?), and
c.     the physical proximity to the girls due to extreme shortage of space being classified as legal and acceptable.

Evidently, train journeys aligned all the stars for bonds to develop, with the depth of the bonds proportional to the length of the journeys traversed.

In trains like Bokaro-Alleppey express, where all one got to eat was bread and cucumber at the stations till the train joined the respectable Howrah-Madras route, there was also bonding through something as simple as sharing of bread! It wasn’t without reason that whenever the train stopped indefinitely at a random station in the middle of
nowhere (which happened often), the boys ran to stock up, often depleting the entire stock of bread and cucumber at that station in a matter of minutes.

c)    During Spring Fests
While the train journey formed bonds state-wise, Spring Fest formed bonds across batches and talents. From asking that most sought after senior to play the guitar for ones singing competition, to spending hours perfecting the dance moves with one's partner for the dance competition, there was nothing that got scrutinized with raised eyebrows. Song dedications during this time also let many cats out of the bag - by way of bringing unknown bonds to the fore.

a)    So which of the aforementioned ‘Hows’ applied to you?
b)    Do you have more bullet points to add on?
c)     How many of them want to make you hide under the table?
d)     How many of them still make you smile?
e)    Before I sign off, please be upfront to tell me ‘this post felt as dry and structured as an Annual Report minus the numbers’ (if that was the case) in the form of feedback. At least that will make me think twice before I go hitch-hiking again, and mess up yet another Booker prize worthy friend’s blog.

My Train Tales - Chapter Uno (By Rachna Rajesh...aka Emoji Queen)

Sir / madam,
I beg to state my grouse...it's deep; it's poignant; and it touches this raw nerve.

Puttindies has been eulogising his days at REC, Rourkela. He talks about encounters with seniors; merry shoe flinging tales of AV hall; exotic hangouts like Back Post,  gourmet snacks from Keshtu, etc etc.

This is where I shall introduce myself and my clan, the female illuminati classmates of Puttindies.

We were extant right there, in the same sphere of influence!!
But, did we get to drink aqueous tea out of Keshtu's tumblers cleaned in a dirty vessel of slop?

Did we get to savour singada babu snacks from tattered, grimy, old card board boxes?

Did we get to fling our sandals on the AV hall screen and get to take away different ones of our choice?

No sir / madam (here, the very discerning folks may notice my gender neutrality).

We were the poor country cousins...the fair gender victimised by unfair patriarchy.

I am worked up now and  will stage a walkout here, on behalf of my clan.

On second thoughts, I am back as I couldn't find anywhere to go and there are mosquitoes outside. Let me settle down a while  and relate an anecdote from our unsung, yet profound lives.

The scene is of our embarking on a train journey to Bangalore for the second year summer training. There were four of us - Balram, Nikester, Phani and I (names changed to respect privacy ), from chemical.

Balram's dad -  a professor in REC - had kindly arranged our summer training in KSDL, Bangalore.

My dad, in railways, had got our train reservations done. And there we were collected, the four of us, at the railway station on the D Day.

Students from outside Rourkela, might be familiar with the railway platform scene when the summer holidays started for REC. We weren't . I may have forgotten to mention above - we were day scholars. We were stupefied at the scene of something akin to a mass exodus happening . The students had turned up in droves .. some to go home for vacations, some for training , some to see others off and yet some more  to just hang around and be in the thick of action..

As the infamous Bokaro Madras express chugged in, we were swamped and pushed back  by the students, hurtling themselves into the coaches.Even as we teetered on our feet, we could see our coach getting  filled up in no time.

This is where my mom swooped into action . You may not know much about my mom, and it's imperative that I give you a quick preamble. She was a lecturer in the woman's college of Rourkela , had a stentorian and commanding voice and was used to taking charge of students.

In a matter of minutes, she ordered us into the bogie and got the coolies to lug our huge suitcases in. She directed us to locate our reserved berths, bellowing ," check your tickets , check your tickets , check your tickets , check your tickets". We were four - did I mention?

And while all this was taking place, the hitherto spirited REC boys in the coach seem to lose their swag, huddling and pushing back against each other, bemused and non plussed at the phenomena unfolding ..

By and by , a third year boy gathered his wits and came forward with a winning smile.
" Arre Aunty , please don't worry about the girls , they are our responsibility, hum haina " he said.

Mom looked at him sternly, his smile wavered, then steely resolve won and the smile became emphatic. Satisfied, mom nodded and said ," Beta, pehli baar akele travel kar rahe hain bachche, dhyaan rakhna, kisi station pe utar na jaayen".

The third year boy gave us a fatherly glance (will be referred to as 'Father' hence), nodded reassuringly, and gently tried ushering mom out, saying, "Aunty seeti baj gayi hai, aap utar jaayiye ". Finally mom acquiesced, gave us a tight hug and got off wagging her finger imperiously at us, " you have four reserved berths".

The train pulled off, and there we were - the four of us, rooted to our initial spot with our suitcases, out of our depths in the milieu, waiting politely for our reserved berths to materialise .

As we stood there, we became aware of the gazes...some brooding; some contemplative; some measuring...

The boys ranged around us in various positions of rest and unrest like an endless sea of inmates. Some of them seemed pretty settled already , as they lounged alone or piled up against  each other. Some were perched on the upper berths with their legs dangling . Yet others languished in seat corners against windowpanes .
Before we could get unnerved further, the Father got into swift action.

There was a flurry of activity as he directed his coterie and our luggage was secured in vacant spots under the berths .Two middle berths were vacated generously. The Father gave us a once-over with a kindly eye, then directed Balram and Nikester to one berth, and Phani and me to the other.

The fearless insurgent in me  woke up and mumbled, " But ..but.. we have four reserved berths..". The Father gave an indulgent bark of laughter , patted my head and said , "Silly .."

Without much ado, we meekly climbed onto our respective berths. We took time to settle down and soon figured out that even to turn in sleep , the other had to turn in tandem to accomplish that manoeuvre.

They say difficulty builds character. We woke up with so much character the next day that we were amazed at having been so characterless in the past.

This is where I'll end the deeply moving episode and go and have a cup of coffee.

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