Illumination, or more popularly, illu, is supposed to be the most exciting celebration for a festival in the institute. The basic idea behind it is to light up the new moon night with thousands of earthen lamps, spread across a huge vertical mat suspended from bamboo supports, depicting scenes from the Hindu mythology outlined by their flames. The halls have a huge budget for it, and they start preparing well in advance, because it’s a sort of competition. The whole process is a great way to increase bonding with fellow hall mates, get to know the seniors, how things are done and managed in the hall, and other interesting stuff.
But there’s a catch. Almost all the work required to prepare the illu is menial and tiring. And the workhorses are the entire first and second year population. This work is supposed to be voluntary, but in practice, it clearly isn’t. The general secretaries (gsec for short), do the managing work, along with forcefully dragging all the students to the ground to complete what they call ‘duty’. At first, it was all fun, we used to enjoy it; everyone was together, doing all sorts of things, from making lamp loops from wires to holstering the mat onto the bamboo to placing in all the lamps. With time, the ‘duty’ hours became longer, the work seemed more and more redundant and repetitive, and it wasn’t exactly voluntary anymore. The hall council tried to give us good reasons that if we work hard and with dedication, we might win the competition, and they were right, but the whole division of labor and timing of work hours could’ve been better in my opinion.
Most of us found ways to avoid working till five in the morning, and many were skilled escapists. I tried my best too and avoided it to some extent. Here’s an incident that I’m not going to forget in my entire illu history. It was a Saturday evening. Diwali was only a week away, and the illu ‘duty’ was in more than full swing. I was chilling in my room, and the ‘duty’ callers (gsecs) could come at any time now. We had devised this seemingly new tactic of hiding ourselves in our rooms and then locking the room from outside. I heard them coming from the end of the corridor, and hid in my room, and told my friend in a room besides mine, who was sick, to lock it from outside and give me the keys. The gsecs were banging the doors and coming towards my room, trying to flush out whoever was inside. They got to my door and banged it violently, hoping that I’d come out with fear. But I knew that if I made a sound, I’d give away my position. So I stayed put, and waited for them to go. Then one of them started peeling away the mosquito net on the window beside the door, to yank open the window and look inside with a torch. Now coincidentally, earlier in that very same evening, I had tied the window handles from inside with a rope, and the reason for doing that was very stupid – the rope was just lying around, and I had nothing better to do. Little did I know that that stupid move would be so immensely helpful. I was super relieved when I realized that they can’t open the window. I waited a bit more, and just when I thought they’d left, my phone rang, and it rang so loud in that silence it sounded like a concert speaker. I fiddled through my stuff and quickly grabbed it and saw that the number was that of my sick friend. In the lowest possible volume, I said, “Hello?”. “Where are you?”, said the voice on the other side, which, I immediately recognized, was not that of my friend, but that of one of the gsecs. At this moment I was thinking they might not have listened to him that he was sick and forcefully took him to the ground and the gsec was calling from there. “I am in some other hall”, I lied. He then told me to return to the hall to do my ‘duty’. I was left with no choice but to agree. Fifteen minutes later, I told my friend to open my room. I asked him where he was when the gsec had called, and he told me that the gsec was standing right outside my door. I was completely blown away. Somehow the sound of my phone ringing hadn’t reached him, and he was convinced with the fact that I was in some other hall. I went to the ground and met him, and he sent me back, saying he didn’t have any work for me. Again, baffled. So that was me, during illu, desperately trying to avoid it. There’s another tiny incident of daringness, which earned me the unofficial title of ‘aggressive avoid-er’ among the council members, but I guess I’ll leave it for some other day.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the actual effort that was being put in the preparation went in vain. Our hall’s illu was one hell of a show, and although it didn’t win a position (due to some inexplicable political reasons), it was a great success, as it was the unofficial winner among viewers’ and critics’ discussions.