Yes, we’ve been away. No No, quite literally. When we heard that NIT Trichy’s annual cultural fest Festember was starting on the 18th of September, we jumped at the idea. The veterans who have traveled far and wide to cul-fests assured us it would be good fun. Besides it would be a nice break after all the hard work (cough!).
So the run-up to the trip went without incident (Discounting the initial shock we encountered when The Parents agreed without as much as a whimper-incredible!). I glazed over the internal tests, hopped my way through assignments and was generally hopping mad half an hour before I was to leave since there were at least twenty things that needed tending to. Ah, the joys of the last minute.
The train journey was enjoyable. The eight of us behaved like typical college kids. We kicked up enough noise to wake people up and give us grim warnings, we poked fun at everybody else on the train, played dumb charades and were generally college-y.
Personally, I’d looked forward to the trip because I was traveling with two of my best friends. We capitalized on the journey completely and stayed up through the night and talked away. We were, however, regularly interrupted by a certain gentleman (also from a college somewhere else in Karnataka) who was traveling back home to Trichy. He seemed to have a lot of questions for my pretty friend. Yes, so you get the picture. The ladies in our compartment were nice enough to tolerate our giggling through the wee hours.
The good people at NITT had arranged for a bus to ferry all the out-station participants from the train-station to campus, which is a good half hour ride away. Cups of coffee providing some respite, we walked from the (recently revamped, very beautiful at twilight) Trichy station to the college bus. A friend pointed at the bloke walking in after us and whispered under his breath deferentially "It’s him". The point of interest was a bespectacled fellow I have never seen before, not especially spectacular looking, I noticed, but who seemed to have a permanent expression of being miffed with something. He duly went to the back of the bus and snoozed away, without a care in the world, as if.
I learned later that this gentleman is a legend in cul-fest circles who routinely travels around the country and "belts" quizzes and was, hence, naturally being received with reverence. So when I said back then that fests were serious business, you know what I meant.
The reception desk at NITT was rather deserted, save a few groups of college kids who looked much less tired than us. It isn’t everyday that you are made to wait at 6 A.M in an alien city in the name of registration for a fest, we thought; and so, looked around excitedly and were generally gung-ho( In hindsight, its foolish how we make ‘first times’ matter so much.)
While the folk at the desk worked the details out, we despite our sleepy, tired selves took in the first scenes of the campus. One word, it is HUGE. A volunteer pleasantly showed us to the girl’s hostel, called Opal, which was an agonizing kilometer away from the main building. She explained that we could call for the in-house auto rickshaws which would drop us off anywhere within campus for Rs. 20.
Day 1 was an overload of literary events and word games. The people at NITT take their Scrabble and What’s The Good Word really seriously we see. Also, this absolute fun game called Pixie, a bit like Pictionary where a team of three people are split into two and sent to different rooms to draw clues out on sheets of paper and then guess from each other’s clues. My friends, for example, drew a moose to represent Sarah Palin (who I failed to guess). Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was represented with drawing a towel. We, however, did not have the talent to draw things like Verbal Diarrhea, if I remember it right. A friend was mad because I mistook her depiction of Indira Gandhi for that nasty woman from 101 Dalmatians. We all make mistakes, we do.
Word games are fun, but when you haven’t slept for 36 hours, it can’t matter that much if a word doesn’t fit in the SOWPODS scheme of things. In the words of a tired, weary and wise fest-goer, "Who gives a flying….er…duck, anyway!"
The Lone Wolf quiz held the same day was interesting. The prelims were quite nice, full with folk from NITT cracking inside jokes from the back (?) of the audi, and troubling the quizmasters plenty. All in good humour of course.
One another reason good fests are worth traveling hundreds of kilometers for are the workshops they hold. The first of the workshops we attended at Festember was on Cryptic Crosswords. Crossword solving is a hit with NITTians I heard, what with The Hindu Crossword setting the standard and all. So this workshop was by NITT students who explained the basics and finer details of solving crosswords. After a so-so prelims outing, and the niggling lack of sleep, most of us found more amusing things to laugh at. It was fitting that a Crosswords workshop set the stage for some hilariously brilliant punning across the board. How I wish I could type those here.
Like any quiz, the answers round to the prelims was full of incredulous hi-fives and grim Oh-No-I-Knew-it-but-didn’t-pen-it’s! I have to say that the best thing about quizzes at NITs and IITs, particularly IITM, is their having the final rounds of literary events, and I talk of quizzes especially, at night. Yes! The quizzes start at 11.00 PM and onwards and carry on till the early morning hours. So we settled in the auditorium for the finals of the quiz while inane jokes ran on the side track, and discussing legendary quizzers of yore.
One thing most people discover on entering these domains is the sense of fraternity that quizzers, debaters, etc over colleges, and even cities share. Quizzing has its ‘household names’ so to say as also formidable rivalries; It has its inside jokes. And it has its traditions and rituals. Little wonder then that people who pass out of college yearn for that same sense of identity later in life that quizzing/debating/acting etc gave to them in college. Many stories do the rounds about the wisecracks at each quiz and the unbelievable ‘cracking’ of fundae(these are generally cheered with Slow-Motion clapping); about how boring quizzes would make finalists sleep-on stage! How these ‘gods’ of quizzing would ‘belt’ fundae while casually sipping from funny smelling Cola pet bottles.
The one at Festember would have been our first late-night quiz, but sadly, it was not to be. You see NITT has a 9 PM curfew for the girls’ hostel and not surprisingly, NO curfew for the Boys’ hostel. Would we please leave and return to the hostel, so that the quiz could go on without them being rapped for ‘breaking rules’, we were asked bluntly. We went back, fuming and remarking aloud about this being the 21st century, long after Suffragette and whatever happened to equality and suchlike. The girls at the hostel sounded harried with the way things were too. We concluded that this is one of those cases where nobody is to blame. After all, educational institutes are not democratic and somebody else makes the rules.