Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hostel Day

If you wanted to see an IITian letting loose, you could do worse than turn up on Hostel Day. This was an annual event with ceremony, repast, entertainment, and late-night partying. Just stags, of course. Hinds lowered their hair on their own hostel day at Sarayu.

The evening would kick off with a needless speech by the hostel warden, typically a professor who lived in that row of faculty homes, across the way from the hostel line. I can't imagine what he possibly could have to say that was worth delaying the celebrations to follow. Yet we did. Various prizes would be handed out to winners of intra-hostel sporting events, contested over the year. These were intensely absurd contests where stopping a ball with a hockey stick rather than your blundering foot was a mark of prodigious skill. Notwithstanding, we all watched and applauded heartily for our jocks. Dinner would soon follow. 

If you ate at the hostel mess every day, you would have come to the irrepressible conclusion that the hostel cooks had to be holding back a tad. All this bottled talent spilled over to the hostel day feast. Thick scaly chappatis made way for crisp puffy pooris. The tomato soup flaunted croutons. The kurma gloated in cauliflower and carrots. Potato chips made their annual appearance, like cicadas in spring.

The piece de resistance was the special fried rice. On this day the grains stood apart, proud and shiny, like soldiers at a parade. Raisins and cashews ceased to be mere quantum possibilities. There were two non-veg offerings today, mutton and chicken, gleaming in dark grease. A noodle dish lent oriental mystique. The custard classic, an eternal favorite, looked extra bright yellow and shiny. You would have to cut through a solid inch at the top to free the fruit languishing below. Even the big round steel plates shone a bit more than usual.

There was zing in the air and it alighted on everything it touched.

The feast was put away with smacking lips and approving nods. Even skeletons like me dipped into second and third servings since there wouldn't be a tomorrow.

A hostel day was nothing if it didn't put up a decent Hotel Day Movie. This followed dinner and was always screened in the open quadrangle below. Picking the right flick was always a pre-hostel day tussle that had to be negotiated. An irrationally exuberant SocSec (Social Secretary) like Anil Nair might have plumped for something art house—like Kurosawa or Fellini—ignoring at his own peril time-tested staples like Bond or Indian Jones. Thankfully, he would be put in place and persuaded to see the light before the big day.

The movie was simply the prelude to the real event of the day—the booze party. Liquor would get set up towards the end of the movie when the long-departed hostel warden was in the middle of his second REM sleep cycle. There would be two stations, set up separately. Fruit punch and rum punch. One for wimps. One for studs. Steel towers of inverted and stacked mess tumblers stood by each station, patiently awaiting patrons.  

In hostel matters, you always had to deal with a few puritans who begrudged any celebration money going towards any kind of booze. They would rather have had an extra pasty gulab jamun smear their prudish palates. A farcical hearing was more than what these folks deserved and this was part of the pre-event negotiation. As GenSec (General Secretary), I was obliged to put forth a strategy that would stretch the available budget for the liquor—and keep it flowing.

One of the mess workers was my man and he put it together like this. 

He would start up the stud station with a rum punch that pulled in a bottle or two of exquisite Old Monk rum, the best money could buy. Around ten or eleven pm, he would replace this with cheap Naga rum that took things down a minimum of three notches. By this time, most folks couldn't tell the difference. Once we passed midnight, he would start topping things up with ultra-cheap arrack previously procured from Tarams and stashed in my room. This stuff was so vile that it called for rebalancing the whole brew equation. Two or more packets of rasna would go into the mix in an attempt to blunt everything down with sugar. A few revelers might have taken pause at this tactical shift, but there was never a dearth of takers.

Late into the night the punches from the two stations would get all mixed up. By now the wimps would be hitting the rum punch and the studs would be hitting the floor. Those still standing would move into the terrace above the common room to greet the last remaining Old Monk, saved for this precise occasion. Stragglers from other hostels would join in and the sweet smell of pot would waft through the warm night breeze. Queen, The Who, Marley... would rend the night.

The hostel would be fast asleep at nine the next morning. Food spills, strewn plates, and scores of cigarette butts marked evidence of a tremendous night gone by.

The new day would blur in the fog of recovery.


  1. And then there were those with extra-studly livers who wouldn't find the punch strong enough and make a quick excursion to Downing street, bum a b.d. off some unsuspecting Tarams dude to prepare for several drags following a quick shot of the real, unadulterated thing. Interestingly, according to wikipedia, Arrack is a term used for local "moonshine" in the middle-east and other South Asian countries as well.

  2. Good! Your studly exploits must have blurred out memories of corny skits and Cassata ice cream ? Or did you Narmada folks skip those altogether.

  3. The two punch stations were giant oil barrels or laundry drums. With a volunteer bartender who lasted for about 10 minutes before wandering off to other pastimes.

  4. Anuj, your note had me in splits! Imagine how bad something must be that you'd choose a beedi to wash over it! And Daraius, did you mean s-k-i-t-s? Were you guys running an art factory over at Ganga?

  5. Excuse me on the straggler part, I was always an invited guest for Saras Hostel Day! Ganga was always the sports-shop. Now don't get us started on "who won the Shroeter?"

  6. Hi Vijay. I'm Varun, a 2010 graduate of IIT Madras. I really enjoy this blog; the posts are amazingly well-written and they give me an intense feeling of having done nothing worth talking about during my stay :) . It's great fun to read all these anecdotes from your time and compare them with our time, whenever possible.

    Hostel nights (as they are now referred to) have seen a few changes - The food is by a caterer from outside; Each hostel has a theme associated with the night which they try hard to stick to; The speeches are still a formality and there are also skits and other performances; The movie is now replaced with a tradition called wing video where every wing makes an approximately 10 min long video about all the final years in the wing; The booze is not procured for the hostel as a whole but is procured by final year students for all their friends and for the juniors and people try and outdo each other in hospitality. The core things remain pretty much the same.

    It's sad to note that hostel nights have now come under the admin's scanner and some hostels have severe restrictions this year onwards.

    Looking forward to some more great posts.

  7. Thanks for your comments, Varun. It's sad when authorities (many in my generation I'm sure), steeped in their own rectitude, feel the need to straighten youngsters out from the excursions of youth. We ourselves tried to fight such incursions tooth-and-nail.

  8. hostels are the same everywhere! almost word to word holds true to my college... this is one of those things that i am not sure whether i should be proud or ashamed...