Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gladiators in the Arena

Pointless post, propagating violence, bad language and boorish behaviour. Only JU students, past and present, may be able to relate.

My alma-mater had three faculties - Arts, Science and Engineering.
Arts had beautiful girls (is there any other kind?), effeminate boys and the collective sighing of the frustrated Engineering guys (again, is there any other kind?) ensured a constant storm blew across the faculty.
Science was bit of an unknown quantity - of which I wouldn't even have aware of if my good friends Anirban & Sujata had not been students.
Engineering was the hotbed (pun not intended) of activity, being the home base of a few thousand technically-inclined, hormonally-charged, muscular people. Most of them were totally unable to comprehend how girls fell for wimps who recited Pablo Neruda and had no time for macho men who thought nothing of hammering a cast iron flange for three hours straight.

Our professors came from an even sterner stock and considered AC offices to be a sure sign of pansy occupants. Anybody who has not installed a cooling tower in peak summer at a Jamnagar construction site is obviously not fit to live, they thought. As I write these lines, I get a feeling that people must be wondering if Engineers are a modern version of Spartans.
For those of you who have, let me hasten to add that this is completely inaccurate. Only Mechanical Engineers fall in that haloed category.

For these modern-day Spartans to flex their sporting muscles, there was an aptly named tournament called Arena.
For outsiders, it was a cricket tournament. For the Electronics department, it was a time to hide. For Chemical, it was time to show off that they had the maximum girls in the department. For Electrical, it was time to show off that they had really good cricketers. And for Mechanical, it was a time to pulverise the rest of the Engineering faculty into dust, swallow them with a gulp of Thums Up and pee it out in the centre of the pitch.
And in the four years I was there, Mechanical Engineering never lost a match in Arena.
Before anybody tries to protest at what seems like an exaggeration, let me add that we never let anybody finish a match we had the remotest chance of losing.

Mechanical and Electrical were the two largest departments on campus - with about 100 students in each year, making it about 400 in all. Apart from the obvious advantage of having the largest talent pools, Mechanical had an advantage over Electrical and everyone else.
We had the most skewed gender ratio in the entire University. At any point during my four years of college, there were never more than four women in our department - and that included the two librarians!
So, when it came to a scrape or a shout, Mechanical males swamped the Electrical by about 3:2. And in terms of expletive-shouting males, we swamped them about 10:1 because any Electrical boy nurturing even the slightest hopes of having a girlfriend in the department would die before uttering anything that questions somebody else's parentage.

So, every single Arena followed a predictable path for Mechanical.

First Match
: vs Electronics. Mech scores 150 odd in 20 overs, which was quite monumental in those pre-T20 days. Bundles out Elec for 70 in about 15 overs. Match watched by about 350 Mechs and 20 (including the team) Electronics junta. Mech thoroughly demotivated by this unequal match.

Second Match: vs Metallurgy (or some other insignificant department). Mech batting mainstay attends class. Champion pacer drops out for reasons unknown. Umpire from Metallurgy. Match attended by 20 Mechs. Metallurgy squeezes through. Team captain known for his stupendously bad cricket and stupendously good luck at tosses blames lack of support and blatant cheating by umpire. Organising committee forced to take note of the latter. Department takes note of the former.

Third Match
: Must win vs Physical Education. (This was the department which turns avid sportsmen of Bengal into certified Physical Education teachers - and they were known for their exceptionally good sporting skills and terribly bad tempers.) Phy Ed bats first and scores 120 odd and complains of a few dodgy LBW decisions. Mech needs to score the runs in 15 overs to qualify on run rate. Star batsman starts off explosively with Mech reaching 90 odd in 10 overs. Phy Ed complains of nasty barracking by Mech supporters (of approx 500, including sympathetic neutrals). Mini collapse of Mech leads to 110/5 in 14 overs. Phy Ed long-on fielder makes obscene gesture at crowd and is pelted with pebbles. Fisticuffs breaks out. Match awarded to Mech on Duckworth-Lewis.

Semi-Final: vs Chemical. Match attended by 700 Mechanical sympathisers, including him (must-read description of Mech prowess). Great attendance from Chemical as well, nearly 250 (which is about their entire department). Rumours of Chem's tearaway fast bowler chucking in last match. Mech audience vows to replace cricket ball with similarly shaped parts of the bowler's anatomy. Vow lustily communicated to Chem audience, which depletes to 200 almost immediately. Mech bats first and Chem pacer called for chucking thrice in very first over. Whispers of partisan umpiring from Chem side, lost in full-throated Mech cheering. Pacer loses rhythm and is soundly thrashed. Mech scores 140 odd in 20 overs. Chem audience now reduced to about 75. Chem starts to bat. Loses one wicket and 15 members of the audience every 10 minutes. Match ends with Mech procession around entire campus, with slogans clearly explaining how Chem (and other departments) have certain orifices in their body that are larger than they should be.

Final: vs Electrical. As much a battle of equals as it could have possibly got. Mech audience of 700, slightly daunted by 3 sports quota players in Electrical team. But not apparently as banners, whistles, masks, bamboo sticks with vests as pennants cover the entire arena. Electrical makes steady start as no attention is paid to cricket. Verbal duels (soon to be part of University folklore) take centre-stage. Silently, Electrical compiles a competent 120 odd. Match declared as a cakewalk by Mech supporters. Mech star batsman again starts explosively as cheering reaches crescendo. At 70 in 7 overs, he falls to a close stumping decision. Deathly silence as Electrical seems too scared to cheer. As Mech considers brushing it off, Third Year student (who just came down from the second floor of the Mech building) claims to have seen the bat grounded. Murmurs of discontent starts. Mech loses second wicket. Out bowled but bowler's arm angle clearly doubtful. Very soon it is 90/6 and it is discovered that the organising committee Secretary is from Electrical. Mech decides to protest against this partisan behaviour. Millions of Mechanical supporters swamp the ground, uproot stumps and almost succeed in rolling back the matting wicket. Indeed, 'Mat gutiye shesh kor' is still used by JU Mech alumni as a call to end farcical situations. Intervention of Dean ensures half-hearted resumption. At the fall of the 7th wicket, Mech captain throws up his hands and claims continuation of rampant cheating. Mech supporters swarm field, slap umpires, apologise to Electrical players, roll back the matting wicket and take out procession to celebrate unbeaten record. Electrical handed trophy in secret, behind the toilets.

After the infamous 1996 World Cup semi-final at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta was ashamed at the spectator behaviour. JU students were only surprised that there were so many Mechanical alumni at the stadium that day...

Postscript: I wish I could reproduce some of the slogans. But I am told, all my cousins (even the sub-18 ones) read this blog nowadays.
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