The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Oct 31, 2010

E Block

A few years ago, I wandered over to the Indian Institute of Science. It had been quite a while since my previous visit, and one thing struck me at once: E-block, the hostel that I had been allotted when I first joined the place, was now painted an absolutely disgusting brown,  reminiscent of toilet water. I could only hope that the interiors were in much better condition, in an inverse relation to the exterior. Twenty years ago, the exterior was vaguely welcoming; the inside was, frankly, dire.

As incoming M.Engg. students, we were the lowest of the heap. Research students got rooms to themselves. We had to share with a fellow Masters type. My room-mate was a particularly enthusiastic interior decorator. Unhappy with the distemper on the walls, he said we should stick brown paper on the walls. You know, the shiny sort that we used to wrap notebooks in primary school. We did this so well that our neighbours came around to admire our handiwork. Indeed, our room looked very fetching. And once I put up my poster of Rachel Reuben (wasn't that one hot woman? I think so), I was all set for my first year of engineering.

The room was spacious enough for two wooden tables, two wooden chairs, two wooden beds. I think there was an almirah as well. Or at least there were shelves built into a wall. There was a window with a view to an untended garden. There was a ceiling fan with multiple speed settings; at the highest speed, the wind generated probably came in at Force 10.

In a couple of days, the wind from the fan blew away the wall-paper. As the paper pulled off the wall, chunks of whitewash came with it. We pushed the paper back on, using thumbtacks to hold it fast. The fan then began to yank the pieces of cement from the wall. We spent our evenings studying and ducking flying thumb-tacks. Scarcely days after our decorated room had been the cynosure of all eyes, it began to look like something out of a horror film. Large gouges on the walls. Violently flapping paper. Guests cowering under the bed to avoid being blown out of the window.

But the greatest shock was the state of E-Block's bathrooms and toilets. Although cleaners washed the facilities frequently, the filth generated by a hundred uncouth men was difficult to shift. When one resident fell ill (of a urinary tract infection, as it turned out) and was admitted to the clinic, we wondered if it was because of the dirty conditions in the bathrooms. 'Unlikely,' said the examining doctor,' Unless he is in a habit of rubbing himself against the surfaces.'

We couldn't put that sort of behaviour past some of the people who inhabited E Block.

People would turn up in hostel drunk and puke in the bathrooms. One worthy even managed to seat himself on a urinal and take a dump and fall asleep on it. Another woke up in the middle of the night - for some reason on the floor of my room - and pissed into my shoes. The cleaners were a decidedly harried lot that day.

Some subhumans often left the toilets unflushed after use, the stench slowly spreading across the  two floors of the block. Pie dogs ran in and out of the hostel, as some idiot or the other fed them, after which they'd proceed to relieve themselves right by our door. 

When it rained, the floors became so slippery that walking on them was akin to ice skating. Inevitably some drain or plumbing would fail in quick order. There'd be no water for showers, so we'd have to hike to the nearby hostels. The facilities in the A, B, C, D blocks were the closest; two rows of toilets and showers for each pair of letters, situated midway between the blocks. So we called them (A + B) / 2 and (C + D) / 2. More senior students lived here in their palatial single rooms, but they weren't noticeably cleaner than the denizens of E Block.

Mosquitoes were a constant menace. Too cheap to buy the electric pad that heated the little mosquito-repellent tablets, we'd instead put the tablet on the incandescent bulb of a table-lamp. The sudden shock of the ensuing aroma would drive the little critters wild, and we'd spend a few minutes bashing them into the nearest surface. Artwork Jackson Pollock would be proud of sprouted on the walls.

One morning, I woke up with bumps all over my skin, feeling extremely itchy at that. Inspection of the bed revealed nothing untoward. Wondering what I had suddenly become allergic to, I spent the rest of the day scratching.

A friend was quick to point out the cause of the itch. 'Bed bugs!' he said happily. 'Wooden bed? There's probably civilisations of them living in it.'

'How do I get rid of them?' I said, suddenly panicked.

'You don't,' he chuckled. 'Ask the estate chaps to replace your bed.'

The Estate chaps didn't oblige. A quick call to my dad elicited a suggestion - try pouring hot water all over the bed, he said. I did, but still unconvinced, I sprayed a strong insecticide as well. It was strong enough to drop lizards off the wall, and even Rachel Reuben wilted under it.

That appeared to do the trick, and I remained bed bug-free for the rest of my stay in E-block.

Basakovich, though, had remained oblivious of the bed-bug plague throughout his four years of life in that hostel. When I mentioned to him that he might be assailed nightly by blood-suckers, he said they never bothered him. 

'What do you mean?' I said. 'Don't they bite you? Don't you wake up feeling all itchy?'

'Now that you mention it,' he said, 'I think I've occasionally felt a tickling.'

I looked at him incredulously.

'What?' he said. 'I thought that was the hair on my chest growing.'


Zahra said...

Whooaaaa.....extremely graphic :P Congrats on staying long enough to get your degree (shudder!)

The last line was a winner!! :D

Fëanor said...

I felt I had to unburden myself when, a few nights ago, I woke up in a fright thinking I was back in E-Block. Heh. To be fair, the other blocks in IISc were wa-a-ay better. And other than that hostel, pretty much everything else about the campus was lovely.

Arjun said...

Nice one! Made interesting reading!

km said...

We spent our evenings studying and ducking flying thumb-tacks.

Much tea was atomized and sprayed over the keyboard. Outstanding post.

Fëanor said...

Arjun, KM: glad you enjoyed it. Meanwhile I wake every night screaming...

Guru said...

the toilets in our College were no better. I remember pouring buckets into toilets hoping to get rid of the stench. I also recall the horror on Innocents face when he chanced on a lady using our toilets - no it was not her using the mens facilities that got him, but the shock of that gentle creature delivering the foulest of a heap, all wrapped up in pink tissues and perhaps un-flushed as there was no water!!!!!!!!

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