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Saisuresh Sivaswamy |
August 27, 2003 12:01 IST
I still recall that scene vividly as if it happened just yesterday.
I was stepping into the Madras Christian College for the first time in my life, a wisp of a teenager seeking admission in the steely company of my mother, when a most unusual sight greeted me.
Right at the gate to the sprawling campus in suburban Chennai, on a tree branch perched a youngster, by the look of him normal in all respect. But he was cawing, rather awkwardly, unmindful of the numerous parents and students going past.
Further ahead, as we made it to the hallway, another unusual sight met us. A youngster, looking normal in all other respects, sat on his haunches like a dog, and was barking at the crowd.
Thus began my initiation into the world of ragging.
MCC-ites will recall with nostalgia, glee, a dash of embarrassment -- but very very rarely with revulsion -- many such tales of ragging. Both when they were subject to a practice that most of India today seems to have decided is negative, and the time they put their own juniors through the paces.
It was all done in the spirit of fun, and the underlying purpose was familiarisation. At the end of it all, walls between the juniors and seniors became non-existent, and friendships were formed that lasted the entire academic year and beyond. MCC was known for many things, but its ragging custom was unique to Chennai's colleges.
The first week of the academic year was devoted to ragging, with seniors pulling newbies into the cafeteria. My own ragging happened there, and there is a sturdy tree outside that I can never forget, for it was the first recipient of my amorous advances.
As part of my ragging my seniors told me to make love to a tree -- which, most concurred, was a far easier thing to do than propose marriage to the senior girls that was the choice. Emerging relatively unscathed from hugging and smooching the tree, my next task was to play cricket in the cafeteria's approach road.
Sounds simple? Try playing it by yourself, where you are the bowler who goes to the top of the runup, run down and bowl, run to the other end of the wicket and bat, run to the boundary region as the fielder to collect the ball and throw it in, run back to behind the imaginary wickets to play the wicketkeeper, run to the other end to become the umpire giving the batsman out, go back to the other end and start walking back to the pavilion…
After this ordeal when the seniors offered to treat me for lunch (food and tea were always paid for by the seniors during ragging), I thought it was in sympathy for my plight. But when I was asked to eat a square meal, I knew my day had yet to end.
A square meal is not what the rest of India yearns for, and is exactly what it says. You eat the meal in a square manner -- that is, you raise the spoon towards your mouth in a square manner, and put it back similarly. And take care not to smile during this; I did, and was asked to cut the smile, literally again.
Which meant standing on the chair in the crowded cafeteria, imitating a pair of scissors with my fingers to cut the smile from my lips, and pretending to shove it up my backside. And shouting 'oh sugam' [oh, pleasure!] for the entire cafeteria to hear.
The finale was tea -- drunk hot, from the side of the glass furthest from you. Try doing it, without spilling. If you did, you will have to repeat the whole thing.
Rules of ragging had it if you are ragged by one gang of seniors the others don't rag you. And everyone goes back as friends.
If you thought I had it tough, spare a thought for some of the others from my batch. One was asked to cover his face with a handkerchief like a bandit and hold up a bus with a pen. Another was asked to beg in a train compartment. Yet another measured the distance from the classroom to the cafeteria, with a pencil. One student was given an ordinary analgesic but told it was an 'upper', and he actually got high!
All of us who underwent the ragging enjoyed it, and as was the custom looked forward to doing unto others the next year when we became seniors.
Alas, that was not to be. An ordinance had just been promulgated banning ragging, and my college was determined to root out this phenomenon. Violators were even threatened with rustication for an entire semester, but we were in no mood to listen. And the authorities came down heavily.
Most of my friends were either suspended or, in a couple of cases, rusticated. I was part of the few who faced the inquiry committee, which went around spying on students, gathering incriminating evidence, but was let off because none of my juniors testified against me.
The difference came in our final year. When the first year students got in, there was no ragging -- and MCC slowly got to being just another college. We didn't get to know the new students or them us -- and when we passed out the juniors did not give us a farewell since they didn't know us. That was not how we sent out our seniors who we had gotten to know in the days of our ragging.
Sure, ragging is bad when taken to extremes like in the news reports one reads about. Luckily that was not what MCC was known for -- after all, we referred to ourselves as the 'masters of MCC' -- but the college authorities couldn't care less. Ragging was an evil, and it had to be rooted out.
But ask any student from the heyday of MCC's ragging era, and most, if not all, would plumb for it any day!
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh