Life at REC

REC in 1985

Just 10 hostels for only 350-400 students, movie screening in EEE-auditorium every week, good mess food, NITT or more appropriately RECT was quite different in the 70s and 80s. This cover story explores the typical life and landscape of REC, as it was then known in the earlier period of its existence.

Agate, Diamond, Pearl, Lapis, Sapphire, Topaz, Emerald, Ruby, Coral and Opal: there were 9+1 hostels. Before the Opal hostel was built, girls were allotted what are now the staff quarters. The first years’ accommodation was done in a similar way as of now, 4 per room randomly chosen but 2nd year onwards, when people were allowed to choose their roommates, the hostels started to get divided. Each year got 2 hostels, so one hostel was for the North Indians and the other for South Indians and even otherwise it was internally divided between same branch people stacked together – “groupism” was common. However, the interaction between students, inter-branch and across the years as well was much more than what it is today and there was strong inter-batch bonding.

Topaz marked the boundary since there was nothing behind it but a jungle and people dared not venture near it. Opal was even more cut-off much to the dismay of the guys. Even the temple couldn’t be used as a meeting point as the girls were shy to go out much. A marked increase in footfall was witnessed during the festival and exam time only. Originally it was a Ganesh temple. But the number of regular devotees increased significantly after the construction of Opal hostel!

RECT was one of the first RECs to begin their functioning in a permanent building. The present MME cum Mechanical building was one of the first buildings of REC, with the principal’s room in the first floor while the ground floor hosted classes and labs. The Oom-Room was the first computer lab and students were only allowed to just peep in, no using! The oldest department was the Mechanical Engineering department. The favourite hangout of nerds, the library, which was subsequently the IIM-T building, was one of the best of its time. The power consumption of RECT was more than the power consumption of the entire Thanjavur city. Yes now we envy!

One more thing to envy was the weekly screening of movies in EEE-auditorium. Back then, it had wooden benches and used movie projectors with film reel and carbon arc lamps. Television was first brought to hostels in 1984 and the north and south fought over ‘Chitrahaar’ and ‘Oliyum Oliyum’.

Each hostel was provided with a table tennis table so that at least there was some mode of recreation besides banter. Back then the sports complex did not have facilities that would encourage a sports enthusiast to come all the way but cricket was always enough to draw the students. Agate common ground was filled every evening by the first years playing cricket, the only place they could play without being disturbed by the seniors. Floodlights were provided as the matches extended till midnight. But some things never change! The Shopping Centre was the favourite hangout for students, the juice shop attracting crowds every evening. There was also the Vasantham canteen, the only in-campus eating joint. There were a couple of dhabas just outside then too and students swore by the lip-smacking egg veech parotta to indulge their taste buds even at midnight.

‘Sea-kings’ was the most frequented place for yummy ice-creams apart from Gujarati-Bhavan which offered unlimited phulkas for just Rs. 9! Going out, there was the BHEL shopping complex frequented by the students much more than it is now, since it was the closest shop where they could buy anything and everything. Eating out in good restaurants still called for the long bus ride to Chatram and CBS. However, mess food was really good and there were even mess feasts (O-mess has it even now!) The students could buy anything from the shopping complex and the prices were reduced from the mess bill. The principal used to check the mess bills every night and if it was significantly lower he enquired if the food was not good enough. South Indian veg and non-veg, North Indian veg and non-veg, the messes were all separate. They were totally student-controlled. The students knew the cooks and trained them often.

Communication with the outside world was quite limited. There were coin-box phones. The students used to write the phone numbers in a chit and put it in the drop box and trunk calls could be made later. The North Indians found it more difficult as they had to go all the way to BHEL to speak to their families. The December winter break used to be just 2 weeks long, so students preferred staying with their South Indian friends or simply went for sight-seeing.

Senior-junior interactions basically involved the students having to move around in khaki uniform when called by seniors and their work involved doing chores like washing clothes and doing their assignments and there was no state-wise divide. Guards for boys’ hotels were employed only in the 90s so seniors could freely pick up the ‘innocent’ fresher suitable for their work. Seniors were known to sneak into first year hostels and take juniors away and derive pleasure out of making them sing, dance and do unusual poses and at times ragging was even ‘physical’. The professors did not exactly prohibit such activities and the principal too was very much aware of the senior-junior interaction.

A fresh RECTian had a tough time during the ‘senior-junior’ interaction, which eventually became a fun memory. Even though the R word was prevalent, the other R, Respect for the seniors never faded.

From the memories of one such junior:

Independence Day:

The first year kid froze. From head to toe he was clad in khaki and not a fold shifted in the material as he stood rock solid. The reason for his immobility was enough to see. Seniors were walking towards him. They looked at him and smiled. He resolutely looked down at the ground. Once, he was foolish enough to look a senior back in the eye and smile. His correctional lesson had been swift and painful. He wouldn’t be making such a mistake again.

The senior was out of his sight now. He resumed walking to his department. He was late. But it was easier dealing with an irate professor than an angry senior. At least the professor didn’t hit you, or make you write his papers, or make you clean his room, or make you get him food from outside. Trying hard not to think about last weekend, he hurriedly muttered an apology and entered the class. He seated himself beside the Pelu as the Palestinian national was called. The boy was pale-faced and sporting a bandaged arm. The first year couldn’t help it – he smiled despite himself. The Pelu’s misfortune was of his own making. He had bravely but ultimately stupidly tried to confront a senior. He had thought himself intimidating, with his PLO affiliations and revolutionary talk. The seniors had invited him to their hostel and convinced after a serious debate that he was not intimidating at all. His ear and numerous bruises were souvenirs of the profound arguments the seniors had made. He winced as he adjusted himself next to the first year.

The first year was lost in thought. He hardly paid attention as the professor finished his lecture and monotonously ploughed through the attendance sheet. He barely managed to lift himself out of his reverie to answer when his name was called. He was thinking about Independence Day: nothing to do with India. He would be free from August 15th. The date set for FTR. The famed Final Touch of his ordeal. He didn’t know the details but he was certain that it would be memorable. He had heard whispers about the ritual when he was cleaning his immediate seniors’ rooms. Even they talked about it with reverence; something about climbing into an empty tank in the middle of the night.

But he did know one thing for sure. With Independence Day, he would be accepted as one of the gang by the seniors and they would be his mentors, guides for the rest of his college stay and friends for the rest of his life. It was his light at the end of the tunnel.


Origin of Archi

The Architecture Department of NIT Trichy started in 1981. There were just 10 students in the first batch and the department had only 2 rooms in the present Mechanical Annexe department, one for the faculty and the other a classroom. Classes happened on a shift basis and the architecture students shared the engineering drawing rooms with other departments. Later, the department was shifted to ECE annexe with better facilities.

Architecture department had a significant role in bringing the first girls to campus. The second batch of architecture admitted two girls, changing forever the dynamics of the campus. Review, which is constructive criticism of their daily work, were harsh back then. Sheets were torn to pieces, reviews continued even if the student broke down. Individual attention was given to each student as the number was less. Back in the 1980s, there was no ARCHcult; instead a technical symposium was arranged. The faculty was restricted to 3 or 4 visiting professors who took time off their careers to teach. Architecture department owned the best books on the subject and the students used to ‘decorate’ their rooms with colourful pictures from their books.

NASA (National Architecture Students Association) conventions and preparation for the same were intense. Documentations done by the students were taken by different organisations. Students were also taken abroad for the same. Although placements were very dismal then, being one of the only two architectural colleges in Tamil Nadu (the other one being School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai), students were on great demand. Higher education and job opportunities were easy, for the brand name REC sufficed everywhere.

Architecture students had a large role to play in the Festember of the 1980s. As it was the only cultural festival during that time, they used to spend sleepless nights beautifying the campus. Their art skills were showcased to the outside world through Art Village. New ideas were born every year and Architecture students were part and parcel of art events like collage, wall painting, sculpturing and sketching.


Girls’ Life Then:

Girls in RECT those days lived a different life compared to their life now. Luxury, security, food, hostel and boys – all were top class. Though they had nothing to do other than studying, they enjoyed whatever they did. When REC was an all-boys college, anyone could identify a RECTian just by looking at him. Unshaven beard, torn jeans, long hair etc. defined them. In fact, their original identity would be revealed only during placements when they would be asked to shave and wear formal attire. Once the admission of girls began, the guys metamorphosed into neatly groomed attractive prospects. The patronage for the temple near Opal increased. Girls had more freedom as the roll call was at 9:30 PM during the weekdays and 10:30 PM on the weekends. Occasionally the girls in the Architecture department were allowed to stay till 2 AM for NASA work.

Although some girls headed home for Festember, others would stay and help in organising and enjoy the PR-Nites. Active participation in dance competitions was also recorded. College was not strict with dress code but most of the ladies preferred wearing the good old chudidhars and half-sarees (which is rarely seen now). The campus was safe and had an effective security force in place. There were absolutely no instances of outsiders harassing the girls. All the girls shared a single hostel irrespective of the year. Initially their hostel was an extension of the staff quarters near the temple. Subsequently, girls were admitted for post-graduate programmes too and the requirement of a hostel precipitated. Thus the famous Opal was built. Telephones were introduced in the late 90s for the girls in Opal A which is still in the same place, only unused now. Till then, inland letter and telegrams were the norm.

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