“If you thought the IIT stood for technology, think again. It stands for ‘Tickles’, and you are likely to fall down laughing at the ticklish situations into which the students of IITB’s Hostel 4 got themselves. These are equally adept at retelling these incredible escapades in a wonderfully droll style. It’s assuring to know that so many of our current leaders from politics to polyester, from software to hardhat industries, are so human and have a such a sense of humor. This is a book you can keep re-reading.”
“Candid, incendiary and provocative, always with the undertone of humor which oscillates between imbecilic to irreverent, indecent to subtle. Set in the days when there were no TVs, mobiles, Ipads and computers. Engaging, captivating and superbly crafted form sharp memory and intellect honed not only at IIT but years of experience in the real world. Each story will induce nostalgia laced with strong emotional stirrings certainly for IITans and probably for most reader who experienced hostel life.”
“Anybody who has live in a hostel has a story to tell; if you have lived together for five, you have a book to write! Some of the stories here are so outrageous I wondered if they were true! And don’t forget the people in this book are hovering around the half century mark in life!! Compare these stories with yours!!”
“This book brought back fond memories of my seven- year stay in Hostel 4. I’ve had the good fortune of actually witnessing many of these hilarious anecdotes. I laughed at most of the references to me, and one made me cry. I have always felt that some of the high points in my administration are a direct result of valuable lessons learnt during my stint as Mess Secretary several friends, most of whom are people of eminence today.”
About the Author
Urmilla Deshpande lived in Bombay in the 1980s, when most of, this book took place, and has close connections with IITans herself. This is her first book as editor. Urmilla now lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Her published work includes A Pack of lies (2009, WestlandfTranquebar) and Kashmir Blues (2010, Westland/ Tranquebar). She is now working on Slither: Carnal Prose by Urmilla Deshpande (WestlandfTranquebar). It is a collection of short fiction, and will be available in 2011.
Bakul Desai is a Hyderabad-based businessman who graduated from lIT Bombay in 1982. He is currently on the Board of Directors of lIT Bombay Alumni Association. He lives in Hyderabad with his wife, daughter and colourful memories of his days in lIT where he lived for five years in a black-and-white era.
I know it's a cliche, but I'm going to say it, because it's true: My five years at III were the best five of my life. We were between fifteen and seventeen when we started at III, and when we left, still raw, we were barely over twenty. These were our formative years. We were incubated in the furnace of IIT and shaped in the crucible of H4. Away from the protected and sheltered homes of our parents, thrown into a company of formidable peers and left to fend for ourselves in a high pressure environment, we grew up within our new family. With them we learnt to smoke without coughing on the same day we learnt about induction motors. With them we shared rooms, meals, bidis, beers, Playboys, lecture notes, and even girlfriends.
Ours was a quiet and self-contained world without internet or mobile phones. TV was a single black and white channel, grey in its minimal fare. We had no personal music players, either walkman or iPod, we trudged instead to the lounge where we played LPs on our communal turn table. We listened to whatever was available, and not necessarily of our choosing. We collaborated on projects, hand drew and hand painted everything, those of us lacking artistic talent were the organizational part of the team. We went on group hikes and treks, produced plays, played sports, invented entertainment from gaali spats to anti-chess.
Ironically, we were all learning technologies, the lack of which resulted in this bonhomie in the first place. For many of us, our nearest and closest friends are from those privileged times where we co-existed in a happy equilibrium despite our different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Time and professional commitments have flung us far across the globe, yet we remain united and bonded by virtue of our growing up together in a mutually beneficial cocoon.
From thirty years ago I knew Jiten Apte, three years my junior and famous for his demonic laughter which could awaken the sleepiest residents in neighboring H5. Jiten and I re-connected at IIT's formation day on 10th March, 2009. He told me he was in touch with Deepak Patil aka Boss. Anyone in H4 between 1972 and 1985 knew Boss. He is an H4 legend. Tall, bearded and with straight long hair that hung on his shoulders, Boss dominated all the fun proceedings at HA. Except for veteran mess worker Ramchandra More and hostel dog Black, no one else was as well known to. ten batches of students as Boss. Jiten put me back in touch with him. I wrote him an email, and cc-ed five mutual friends. Boss replied, and added five more to the list. Everyone wrote back adding more of us H4ites to this list. Within a week, almost a hundred emails were exchanged with more than a hundred recipients added to our list. This led me to comment, This has become a Madhouse. Let's set up a yahoo group.'
Hilarious anecdotes from the past were exchanged. We all felt that these priceless memories should become a book. The nature of the book was not spelled out. It was still notional. It could as well have been a yearbook for our private circulation. Sandeep Shah, aka Sandhya, was in India on business, and he and various Madhouse members visited H4 to take some photographs for this book. Among the photos were mess workers from our times. Most of us have risen to positions of excellence and achievement in our professions in these last thirty years. But the mess workers, now old and frail were still doing what they were doing all those years ago.
Waiting tables for batch after batch of students who left to pursue their careers. It was a heart-rending moment for all of us, and led to the formation of HATS—Hostel Alumni Team Stewardship, started originally by H7 alumni. Nostalgic and tearful alumni set up an endowment to look after mess workers' interests and address infrastructure needs of the hostel. HATS was launched with great fanfare in December 2009. The book idea was put on the backburner temporarily, but revived during this same December reunion.
1983 graduates Ashish Khosla, Sanjiv Sood, and Arun Jethmalani met in Delhi and they talked about, among other things, Urmilla Deshpande, Ashish's wife. Her first book, A Pack of Lies (Westland/Tranquebar) had just been published. Her second, Kashmir Blues (Westland/Tranquebar) was in the works, and a collection of short fiction. We asked, and Ashish assured us that Umi would be glad to help with our book.
I spoke to Umi in late March 2010. As Ashish's wife, Umi was both an insider as well as not she read some of our stories when she found Ashish chortling away at them. After reading a few more anecdotes I sent her, Umi was clear about one thing. Fictionalizing the anecdotes would take away from their charm. All our anecdotes were special and priceless because they were true stories. The audacity of Arun Kaul riding horseback to lectures and tethering the beast in a cycle shed would be construed as a fictional account in the novel form. Umi strongly advocated that we leave the stories in precisely the form they occurred—a collection of anecdotes narrated by different people in different voices.
This idea found favour with most Madhouse members. Umi also reported to us that to her amazement and delight, her publishers were not only interested, but had agreed to deliver on our impossible deadline—December 2010—to coincide with Ill's annual alumni day. If that is, we submitted our manuscript by the end of June. This sounded like a daunting task at first, but the looming deadline induced all Madhouse members, even the silent ones, to write their memories in earnest, which finally led us to a new problem. We now had two hundred thousand words—twice what we needed for the book. Many folks worked hard at different tasks—compiling stories, arranging them by topic, providing Umi with background information wherever required. Many stories were authenticated, and in the event of any minor conflicting versions, the least common denominator has been used. Where possible, we sought permission from people named in the stories. Many of them whom today are successful politicians, entrepreneurs, heads of companies, scientists, professors, spiritual gurus, ace mountaineers, even yoga instructors, laughed about unflattering or damning references from thirty years ago and even supplemented our stories with their own outlandish accounts. In just a few cases, we have substituted real names with fictitious ones though the stories are very real and true.
These stories cover a timeline of less than ten years out of ITT Bombay's chequered history which is more than fifty years old. Accounts cover just a few hundred individual out of more than thirty-five thousand people believed to have graduated from IITB. The incidents narrated formed a small part of an IITan's life—the time spent in the hostel and time devoted to having fun as a release from the high-pressure academic sessions. References to indulgence in smoking, drinking, reading pornography or about experimenting with birds and bees should in no way take away the reality that an average student pursued his academics diligently achieved all he is today.
Lastly, there was a debate about how much of our pre to allow into the book. The verdict was unanimous. This is collection of true stories, and like all true stories, the about this facet should also be left un-tampered with.
The proceeds from this effort go to the HATS fund.
When my husband Ashish Khosla, once an inmate of Hostel 4 himself told me a tale about one of his hostelmates going to lectures on a horse, I was not impressed. Though he is not given to flights of fancy, I thought he was perhaps making a lot of a single incident. Then he showed me the photograph. It had that unmistakable stamp of the early '80s in style and substance, and there was the white horse, and its rider, on their way to a lecture on organic chemistry. I realised that it was not a one-time event. I also commented then that the photo would make a wonderful book cover.
One thing led to another, and in March of 2010 I was given the privilege and frustrations of editing this book.
I have known IITans intimately through my life—father, step¬father, husband, boyfriends and many good friends. I made several more friends during the creation of this book. None of what I read and heard explains these guys, though. I still cannot tell whether they chose this gruelling and most prestigious of educational institutions because of the way they were, or they became that way because of those five years they spent at IIT.
In spite of censorship (some language, and some entire incidents were left out due to sheer indecency) it is quite clear that these boys—and they were boys then—indulged in very questionable behaviour. There was substance abuse, and it wasn't the substances that were abused. There was people abuse—in fact abusing each other in picturesque and imaginative ways was a normal pastime. There was delinquency and there were criminal acts. Instincts of various nether levels were indulged endlessly and continuously. This book has chronicled many instances. It is my feeling that these memories are stronger than mundane ones of lectures attended or disciplines learned or even engineering degrees earned. In any case, these were more interesting to both listeners and narrators, and now, will no doubt entertain readers.
There is something that I must make clear to the readers of this book. In spite of all the unsavoury behaviour, I must point out that these same rowdy and rude young men are now captains of industry, science and technology, some are prominent in the political and social arenas, and most are productive members of society. I say this as a reminder, because while reading about their early lives in their own words, a reader might, understandably too, forget this fact.
It is my feeling that in safe and tranquil IIT Bombay, these young men felt free to experiment physically and intellectually. They had all made it into IIT—not an easy task. All they had to do now was make it through the next five years, and life after that could only be, if not easy, then certainly secure. They were far from the rules and conditioning of their homes, thrown together with some like and some utterly unlike themselves. They had unbound and yet protected freedom that allowed them to find themselves. And they looked hard, and pushed themselves and their mates over and under and any which way they could beyond familiar and familial boundaries.
I think such investigations, which might be thought of as foolhardy at best and immoral at worst, informed their morality. These men left IIT with a degree, and also with a self-made morality. Like the degree, that morality, though not conferred, resulted from a process. It involved hypothesis, argument, experimentation, and conclusion. It is perhaps more personal, and more solid than the societal rules and regulations that pass as moral code. regulations that pass as moral code.
As a project this one was interesting to me in another way. Here was a large number of stories coming to me as they were-remembered. One or two or three of the guys are good writers, and I had no trouble with their pieces (other than chopping down some unnecessarily verbose bits, or changing the sequence of the narration to make it more appealing to a reader, moving the twist to the end, emphasizing foreshadowing, deepening suspense). But some of these guys are not writers. They simply put down in words their memory and feeling about an incident with a few relevant and irrelevant details, and sent it off. These are the ones who taught me something about writing. On the first read-through I would think, this story has meat. I then retold the story, in my own 'better' words. And every time I did that, I found that the whole feeling and content changed. I learned firsthand something I had struggled to understand for a long time—something I knew to be true in theory, but didn't understand until this project: that style and content are inseparable. That by adjusting Raj Load's piece to make it 'better', I was in fact losing the voice of Raj Load, of course, but also his perspective. And it was his perspective, in his words, which was the content of the piece—not the sequence of events. I promised myself then that I would not change all these pieces to fit an acceptable grammatical or linguistic correctness, especially not a correctness that exists only in texts and classrooms. This was storytelling at its best—the kind of campfire tales that are myth and legend, spoken to the listener from the heart. I knew I must not be overzealous in my editing, or I would make the stories nothing more than a homogenous list of rude and crude incidents in the lives of teenage boys from a certain hostel. I wanted to retain the patina of nostalgia and affectionate remembrance of amazing times. I hope I achieved this.
Without the hard work and dedication of a few people, this project would not have succeeded, let alone got off the ground:
Bakul Desai. Calling him 'contributing editor' just does not cover all he has done. His memory is sharper than most, and though there might be gaps in his memory just the same as anyone else's, we saw no evidence of this. Not too many disagreed with Bakul's elephantine recall, and I suspect that those who did simply preferred the offending anecdote forgotten. The sheer volume of what he wrote makes up a large part of this book, but without his acerbic yet affectionate way of looking at the world and his dear friends and hostelmates, his writing would not have been worth reading. He egged us all on, held the team together, suffered my daily abuse and his team's frustrations, and took on writing, editing, and even marketing to bring his beloved project to life.
Deepak Patil—Boss—whom I came to love for his sweet encouragement, gentle reassurances, and for those amazing word documents which he compiled from thousands of emails between the inmates of H4.
Rohan Menezes, who was put in charge of artwork and photos, .who tramped around Mumbai and contrived to get us the photographs and art in the book.
My beloved book committee, who read several drafts, made heartfelt suggestions that I ignored, who encouraged and goaded as the need arose, and above all, did not allow revisionism: Jiten Apte, Hemendra Godbole, Arun Gupta, Ashvin Iyengar, Satish Joshi, Raj Load, Vikram Modak, Ashvin Sanghvi, Sanjiv Sood.
And most of all, all the inmates of Hostel4, some of whom begged and pleaded with me to not call them 'inmates' because of the connotations associated with other institutions of indoctrination and discipline. Their wonderful memories and writing, but more, those five years of their lives which they have opened up to us readers, have made this book what it is. Thank you to you all for sharing them with us.
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