12/21/2010 ~ Madhouse Musings – Deccan Chronicle review


Madhouse musings

Edited by Urmilla Deshpande
Westland Limited
Rs 295, pp. 335

Is it a flying saucer, is it a time-traveller, is it a Martian…? No. It’s an IITian. Much has been written about IIT and the exotic species that goes by the name of the IITian, most of it by GenNow authors who have been graduates of an institution that counts inarguably, as one of the most prestigious in the country. Weaving fiction around existing facts, this band of youthful writers have covered almost every aspect of contemporary campus happenings ranging from ragging woes, angst, insecurities, food, culture shock to budding and doomed romances — the entire gamut of emotions in short. Giving a unique and unconventional angle to the much written IIT story now arrives, Madhouse: True Stories of the Inmates of Hostel 4, IIT-B, a book that, unlike its predecessors, unabashedly goes into rewind mode. Composed entirely of snippets and reminiscences put together by past students of IIT-B and covering a timeline of 10 years, Madhouse is an uninterrupted trip in sheer goofiness.

In the heartwarmingly sincere introduction, editor Urmilla Deshpande (closely associated with many IITians in real life) ruefully confesses that all initial attempts at polishing (and censoring!) the text interfered with the spirit of the book to such an extent that she was forced to set free the stories, allowing them to blossom in their own way. The result is a rip-roaring account of the madcap capers that distinguished the inmates of Hostel 4 between the early 70s and 80s and it is difficult to believe that this bunch of goofballs now head the nation’s vital spheres.

Thus, guided by the pens of contributing editor Bakul Desai, his hostel mates Fish, Dabba, Ghoda, Piggy and others, we learn about the boy who rode to organic chemistry class on a horse (even tethered it in the company of bicycles in the parking shed), the student who got aroused by cats, the Parsi bawa who took a bus ride dressed merely in skimpy bathing trunks (of a blinding red colour!) and the great escape from hospital with the inebriated patient being carried piggy-back.

The Mumbai reader, in particular, will find this book a delightful read as he stumbles over familiar landmarks like the Powai and Vihar lakes, the Devi Padmavati and Hanuman temples just outside IIT and Navrang studios… a long way off from an age when Powai came to be defined by the snazzy Hiranandani colony. The characters of Madhouse are straight out of the pages of a Wodehouse classic and the crazy escapades of the inmates related in quick succession by various ex-students makes for a deliciously entertaining read.

The actual story, however, lies hidden between the lines. For Madhouse is not merely about the boy who kept travelling for hours only to arrive at Chinchpokli repeatedly or the inmate who killed, roasted and fed five pigeons to his hostel mates (one pigeon having had the audacity to crap on his head). It is about a bygone era, the loss of innocence, the passing of an age where human bonding was spontaneous and came above gizmos and gadgets and where life flowed unhindered by digital clutter. An age of black and white television with just Doordarshan supplying entertainment and information, a sole phone on the hostel premises to connect one with the outside world, an age of camaraderie, practical jokes and clean fun.

For the young reader, Madhouse might involve a spot of time travel into the past, for those who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Kankana Basu is the author of Vinegar Sunday and Cappuccino Dusk