Monday, March 10, 2008

Ravings of a fresher

How shall I begin? Shall I say that I came to the faculty full of pleasant anticipation?Was I apprehensive? Well maybe just a little bit. But I was sure of being able to take everyone's breath away; I mean I, who was surely much more desirable and delectable than any senior girl. Come on, I can just imagine all the raggers falling under my spell and how exciting, seductive and fun filled the rag was going to be. I couldn't wait.

What I remember most and will continue to remember of the many things that happened during those unforgettable three months is our first en masse encounter with the senior batch. The first of its kind that I witnessed having missed the real first encounter which took place during the intensive English course. So while others of my batch had some idea of what to expect I was unprepared for what followed and all the more thrown and shell-shocked afterwards.

What followed folks was this. The seniors (lovely, delightful people) poured in a line(or was it two lines? I forget) into the hall where we were seated waiting for them. Their young, innocent cute faces screwed up into such blood chilling, dead serious expressions of hostility that none of us dared to look around throughout the whole session (Although some of us were longing to take a second look at those faces with their sheer beauty and cuteness)Looking back at the incident now it occurs to me that such hostility and threat simply could not have been there. It was just that we could project what we liked on to those unsmiling countenances and while I being so paranoid and insecure read sheer hostility it's possible that some of my batch mates read brotherly concern or some such thing. Let it be understood that I am talking about male countenances here. The female ones being none of my concern. Both my wrists were full of bangles that day. Bangles being a banned item, I was desperately trying to cover them up with the umbrella that I was holding. (I am bats about umbrellas. I am forever holding them) Visions were passing meanwhile through my mind of being told to get up in front of the whole crowd and take the bangles off, me refusing and the bangles being torn off my hands by force. My imagination showed signs of going on to more alarming episodes whereupon I told it to shut the hell up. Meanwhile one senior was addressing the gathering.

We know don't we, that the course proper was starting from next Monday? We must be punctual in attending lectures and if for some reason we were late we should use the back entrance to enter and sometimes it would be wise not to enter at all. About the library, the canteen and the common room we must know that no one was forbidding us to go to those places, but no one would guarantee our returning in one piece either if we chose to be so daring. We were told weren't we at a previous meeting about how to dress?

While he thus went murderously on, other seniors kept screaming at some of us for smiling, for not keeping eyes firmly glued to the ground, for not keeping legs and feet in the proper position. I was sure that before long one or several of them would scream at me for wearing bangles. But none of them did. To this day I wonder why. Maybe they were afraid of me? (Ha Ha great joke what?That's what you'd like about me. My great sense of humour)They even made our batch rep (who is a saint) and repee (who is an angel and by the way 'repee' is French for female batch representative in case you were wondering) stand up and count loudly the junior heads that were present. It turned out that some juniors were missing, so they screamed some more at the rep, repee and us in general. Meanwhile I the heroine (calm down I don't mean as in heroic) expected the axe to fall on my beautiful neck (Ha Ha another joke to cheer you lovely people up) any moment. I was mentally making myself into a tight ball, having made up my mind not to give up the bangles no matter what. Once more visions came crowding in. Visions of me dying a heroic death never relinquishing a single bangle.

After it was all over and we got a chance to talk, my friend told me that she nearly got a heart attack fearing for me and my bangles, whereupon I smiled(beautifully? heroically?) and called her silly for being afraid. However all of us agreed that the seniors were one horrible species indeed.

Our university life started in earnest the following Monday. There were lectures from morning to noon. Lectures, where we with mounting panic at transparencies being removed before we were through with them scribbled away furiously. Sometimes when we came out of the lecture hall, we would find the seniors outside, standing in two lines waiting to go in. We passed between those two lines feeling ourselves under sharp scrutiny. This scrutiny reminded each of us of different scenarios depending on which way our fancies ran. It may have reminded some of us of newly recruited soldiers being inspected by superior officers or of a herd of sheep being looked over greedily by the Big Bad Wolf (A pack of Big Bad Wolves) or if your fancies ran a bit on the kinky side (like mine) of ladies of some sultan's harem parading in front of him hoping to be chosen for the night.

Poets say that the smell of love is the same as that of spring. The flowers and the dried leaves littering the ground, the rain water soaking through them to make the ground damp. All contributing to that heady spring smell which is supposed to make your heart yearn, ache and come alive. Wouldn't it be a laugh if the combined stink of body fluid and formalin had the same effect on a person's heart? You'd say that person's heart was very odd wouldn't you? Well maybe my heart is somewhat odd.

In case you are wondering what the above paragraph was all about, let me tell you of that memorable day, when we for the first time in our lives (so short, innocent and pure) walked into the dissecting rooms where the seniors and the cadavers (Don't get me wrong folks I am not implying the slightest similarity) were waiting for us. We walked with hesitant, faltering steps. My steps even more hesitant and faltering than the others, because I your heroine just happened to be wearing denim jeans and a kurta top that day.

I saw that every senior was looking at me. I tried telling myself that one should be glad to have so many people (males) looking at one. It would have been quite O.K too, thrilling in fact if not for this sick, paralytic, weak-kneed feeling I was getting. Still I tried to blot out everything else and concentrate on what we had to do, which was cutting the skin of the pectoral region. It was at this point that a polite senior with a murderous pair of eyes came and asked to have a word with me. But before he could begin not so polite seniors with equally murderous pairs of eyes kept coming our way. I never found out why they came (O.K. O.K I know the obvious explanation) because our polite senior sent them all away, saying that he would deal with everything himself. Since I was also wearing gloves he dealt with them first.

Did I know why gloves were banned during the rag season? "No" Because handling the cadaver with bare hands would revolt-proof us against all the unpleasantries of human sickness that we'd encounter in the wards, the wounds filled with pus, the smell of decaying flesh on living humans, the vomit, the blood and etc. Did I know what pus was? I told Mr. Wise Guy that I knew, but that was not enough Mr. Wise Guy wanted to make sure. "What is pus?" he asks.

If this had been the 18th century and I had been a man I would have challenged Mr. Wise Guy to a duel for taking that smug, patronising attitude with me. Being just a girl however, I found myself actually telling Mr. Wise Guy that pus was a yellowish fluid discharged from wounds.

Next he dealt with my denim. Did I know why denims and slacks were taboo for girls during term time? Had I seen senior girls wearing denims? I was in the medical faculty wasn't I? So I should dress in a fitting manner. Did I know that house officers (another explanation here. Gee thanks) who rushed to the hospital at odd hours in emergencies were denied entry by the hospital security guards who thought they weren't doctors because they weren't dressed properly? Now did I see the importance of dressing properly? Did I believe in dignity? Did I want to get more than a normal dose of the rag? Did I think I will be able to concentrate on my studies if I am always hunted? Did I know that the reason they hadn't broken me in two by now was because I was a girl? (Thank God I'll tear my Women's Lib membership card to pieces). Did I also know that professor so and so said last year that if he saw anyone in a denim at a lecture of his, he (the offender) would be kicked out as far and fast as was possible? Now what was I planning to do?

What I planned was to ask someone in authority, a student counselor for example, if there really was a ban on certain dresses. Now dear readers, your heroine is all set to go and see this student counselor. She somehow screws up the courage needed and marches into the student counselor's room. Is that surprise she sees on his face? Maybe she is being rather rash? The heroine hesitates but goes on anyway because now it is too late to turn back. "Sir, is there a ban on casual dress within the faculty during term time?" He is very kind and helpful and puts your heroine at ease. No there was no ban as such. Certainly in going to the hospitals especially in the morning it was the norm to dress formally. But in attending lectures he didn't think such formality was needed. No certainly nobody could kick people out for wearing denims. This was a democratic country after all. However it may be wise to lie a bit low, during the first few weeks at least.

I walk out of the student counselor's room a very happy person intending to wear denims practically every day. On the way however I meet our repee. I know do I not that she is my friend and I can come to her whenever I need help?But quite a number of seniors were asking her about my denim. I know don't I that short dresses, denims, slacks were banned during the rag? It may not be wise to offend the seniors because they can give the whole batch a tough time, maybe even postpone the freshers' night.

"Oh but would they make the whole batch suffer because of me?"

Yes they might for they were monitoring the whole batch and one stray maybe counted as a minus point for the whole lot. I hasten to assure her that I would not wear denims again while the rag lasted. The repee who is a real nice gal becomes apologetic. She hoped I wasn't upset with her, over this matter and I do know don't I that she wasn't ordering me or anything like that?

"No, no I am not upset, think no more of it" I say to her.

During the weeks that followed I kept hearing heartwarming, encouraging bits of news from my friends. One friend told me to be careful since the seniors were talking about me. I asked him "what exactly were they saying?" But he my friend refused to elaborate. Maybe what was being said was so unspeakable that he simply couldn't elaborate. There were bleak desolate days too when the seniors didn't so much as glance in my direction, days that practically broke my heart. And glorious days when I got so much attention from the lovely seniors that I felt like dancing for sheer joy. On one such lovely day when I happened to be wearing a frock which according to them was more fit for a party, a pack of lovely, adorable (such is my besotted state that I can keep on adding adjectives forever, but I must restrain myself) seniors bore down on me and asked if it was to land a boy from the faculty that I dressed like that. They then proceeded to tell the others of my body group that it was a good thing my wearing gloves because that way I couldn't contaminate them and the cadaver.

Meanwhile most of my batch mates were getting quite thick with the seniors. They kept rabbiting on about what fun the rag was and how absolutely adorable the seniors were. They were enjoying each other. There was mutual liking. I kept wishing for the same kind of feeling, wished for it with the same desperate hopeless longing of someone suffering from unrequited love. But it never worked out the same way for me.

The first term just flew by. One moment we were walking rather timidly into the dissecting rooms for the first time and the next we found the spot test only a week away. It was around this time that the seniors called another meeting. This time we were a lot less scared and felt free to look around. Once again I studied their expressions when they came into the hall. They were as unsmiling as ever, but somehow almost lacking in blood chilling potential. They used the same rude set of words, but we felt much less ill will. They had come to talk about the rugger match, the cricket match and the netball match between the senior and junior batches that would be held as was the tradition.

By the way they heard that our batch rep had been talking about a Freshers' Night! Which Freshers' Night was this? Maybe our batch rep was planning a Freshers' Night of his own? The proper Freshers' Night was as yet undecided on. They may even decide not to give it after all. The junior batch would have to answer to the super seniors about any screw up in the organisation of the matches. If the super seniors were offended they could make the 'rag' we so far got look like a picnic.

At the matches we made contact with our super seniors for the first time. They were lovely too and much less murderous. How did the heroine fare with them? Not too badly that is if you blot out certain memories. I suppose one must develop the knack of spotting silver lines in dark clouds in cases like mine.

After the matches the seniors left us pretty much alone. Sometimes we were even allowed the liberty of sitting down in dissecting rooms in their presence. Something had definitely changed. It was as though the matches marked the end of a phase, a rather jolly, exciting and thrilling phase. Studying started in dead earnestness after this, the signature and the spot only days away. The compulsion to shoot up from one's seat at the approach of a senior gradually abated. The juniors and the seniors became quite chummy together. During this time the seniors came to address us about the long awaited freshers' night, but ended up screaming at us instead having discovered that some juniors were absent from the gathering. So a second meeting had to be called at which we were threatened with chronic rag if we dared to absent ourselves from the freshers' night.

The term drew to a close. We had the signature and then the spot test. The first term ended and the vacation started on the day of the spot. I felt nostalgic, regretful and relieved all at the same time on that last day. But there was the Freshers' Night to look forward to the Freshers' Day in our case where we would again see those lovely, delightful people who were our seniors, where we would officially be welcomed to their lovely, delightful bosoms and where hopefully we would become bosom pals with them.

The End