It was only a month into our first semester of engineering, at the peak of the collective ‘Seniors must be obeyed at all costs’ spell cast on us. The spell would dissipate in a few weeks and it would surely be attempted on subsequent newbies in newer batches, it would never ever have as much power on us greenhorns as it had then. We believed.
In this environment, Dubious (all names including this changed for privacy purposes) and me found ourselves roaming the campus at 02:00 AM, roughly hewn heavy wooden sticks in hand. We were part of a battalion, a few dozen strong, entrusted with the protection of our engineering college from possible attack by the enemy.
The enemy in this case were Kurukshetra University (KU) students. This was all part of an endless cycle of insults and avenge-of-insults that KU and engineering college students were engaged in, possibly just because they needed something to do in this semi-agrarian town in Haryana.
With soldiers like Dubious, a short dreamy literature fanatic and me, a skin and bones contraption wearing telescopes for glasses, the future of this battalion if it chose to engage in any kind of physical battle was bleak. As it happened and as indeed happened on many a night, the KU chose to sleep off their insult while we patrolled the perimeters. Dubious and me weren’t above looking relieved at this turn of events.
The obvious lack of action in combination with the ache in our arms was leading us back towards our hostel and peace. We nearly made it when Jhamelaa from the leading dozen announced “This Popat has been showing off too much in class. Isn’t it time someone put him in his place?”
Just like that, the KU threat was gone but a visceral hatred for Popat replaced it. The mob had turned. Now Popat, a batchmate I barely knew from a different branch, must be sought and taught.
What this Popat had done was something I had no idea of, yet it was truly astonishing how the focus had shifted on what was a cool October night. The mob had already swarmed towards Popat’s ground floor room before logic could step in.
Luckily for Popat and the extremely confused me, a baritone voiced negotiator friend of his managed to send us all back to where we should have in the first place, our rooms and our beds. The immediate unavailability of Popat, who had wisely decided to make a speedy exit towards safer climes before his lesson teachers showed up, also helped.
Whenever I read of mob mentality, I always go back to that night in Kurukshetra. I remember how Dubious, until then as much a passive participant as me, declared “Yes, Popat must be taught a lesson!” and merged into the crowd at Popat’s door. The very night air, it had seemed to me then, carried the perverse ability to turn thinking off and frenzy on.