My mother was unable to hide her tears in spite of her best efforts as we were waiting for my father who had gone to fetch a rickshaw to carry me to the railway station. It was the first time since my arrival on this earth I was going away from the comforts of my home to stay in a hostel to pursue my graduation. Not that I was not apprehensive. But I was trying hard to conceal my feelings just to provide emotional stability to my parents. My parents had just one consolation that two of my other classmates were also going with me to stay at the same place. My father advised the three of us to stay in the same room in the hostel and be with one another all the time. Although he was not so sentimental I could notice a tiny drop of tear welling up in my father’s eyes when the train started moving from the platform.
The next day all three of us got down at Rourkela. My friend Ravi’s uncle had come to receive us on the platform. He took all of us to his house in Sector 4 which was barely two kilometers away from our dream destination: the Regional Engineering College(REC), Rourkela. We were supposed to report in Hostel No.1 (the fresher’s hostel) by 4 PM. After lunch Ravi’s Uncle took us to the Hostel and we were busy getting ourselves registered. On our request all three of us were accommodated in Room No.51 in the second/top floor of the hostel. We occupied our beds with a lot of enthusiasm with the dream of becoming engineers after four years flashing repeatedly in our mind’s eye. Little did we know at that moment that several nightmarish experiences were awaiting us.
Ragging. I had heard this word from several people and I knew that it was being practised in technical colleges. But I had no idea exactly how people rag or get ragged. I am talking about 1980 when ragging was in full force in almost all technical colleges in India. And following the death of few students in IITs and else where finally ragging was banned in this country and laws to prevent the same was enacted. But when we reached REC (now NIT, Rourkela) the first lesson that was taught to us by the seniors was that we were now branded RENGCOLLEANS and we must learn to behave properly to keep that brand image intact. We were told to speak only in English and in no other language. Some of my friends who were not very fluent in English and mixed up with Odia or Hindi were badly beaten up. The second lesson was to utter obscenities in every sentence that we spoke. It took us a lot of time and innumerable slaps to mouth “mothers .... and sisters....” and other naked slangs. Then we were taught to learn by heart and recite in chorus the Rengcollian song/anthem which was nothing but a song composed of most dirty vulgar words. We were asked to smoke/drink and do other inhuman things like pissing on each other f***ing each others’ *** and so many other things which are difficult to describe. Those who obliged were spared and those who refused to do such acts were beaten up black and blue. Since I belonged to the second category I had to tolerate a lot of physical torture. Once they beat me so much that I literally saw stars coming out of my eyes and became unconscious. My body was so swollen that it was very painful to wear my shirt for several days. I was weeping all the time. I was pining for my mother’s lap to get some comfort. I was feeling like calling my father and asking him to take me out of the place. I am sure had my parents seen me in that condition I would have never become an engineer. But coming from a lower middle class background and thinking of the precarious financial condition in which my family was at that time I simply had no other choice but to tolerate everything silently. I was just praying to God to save my life. My only consolation was that I was not alone undergoing such treatment and most of the freshers were going through the same ordeal. My father used to tell me often, “nothing is permanent in this word and time heals all wounds”. I remembered these words of wisdom and waited for the divine justice to trickle down.
This torturous trail continued for almost one month and finally one night several seniors raided our hostel and dragged us to their hostel. We ran completely naked and they played several pranks on us like making us enact several vulgar scenes. After about one hour of torture which they termed as “Mass Ragging(MR)” they threw a grand party and made us comfortable. All this was happening in front of several onlookers including mess boys. Then finally after we ate our fill they announced that from that moment onwards we were accepted as registered Rengcolleans and there would be no further ragging. They shook hands with us and hugged us. Finally the ordeal came to an end.
The following day we were not forced to go to the classes in a line and nobody stopped us anywhere to ask a vulgar question. Nobody slapped us for not wearing a shoe. The fear of ragging was gone and probably we had started preparing ourselves to welcome freshers the next year on similar footing.
The pangs of leaving the comforts of my home was never felt again. This months long ordeal had made me much stronger mentally. I was no longer afraid of anything or anybody. I had developed myself as a bold individual who could call a spade a spade. Now in retrospect I realise that had there been no ragging I would perhaps have remained a naive, homesick, fearful and extremely submissive person that I used to be. But the only negative aspect of ragging was the physical torture that was inflicted on us and the use of extreme vulgarism. I had never divulged this chapter of my life to my family so far. This will be a surprise to all my family members when they read this entry.
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