Room Improvements…

The CET Men’s Hostel (or CET MH) was designed to accommodate 240 inmates. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the hostel has 240 rooms (single occupancy) in addition to the TV room, library, store, office, warden’s room, gym, etc. During those early days, each room had a wooden cot, a wooden table, chair, a laundry basket, a coat hanger, and two cupboards—a very lavish setup for a single room.

Because of the increase in the number students seeking admission in the hostel, allocation of single rooms was stopped. So when we joined the hostel, the policy was to give a room for 4 students during the first 4 semesters while the prefinal and final year students got double rooms. Since the number of students increased and arms and legs of the existing furniture were used to break the arms and legs of the inmates during friendly clashes and fights, new furniture had to be purchased. The new furniture included sparkling new metal cots, tables and chairs. Naturally the seniors grabbed the new furniture and got rid of their old, bug infested wooden furniture. So the juniors for whom the new furniture were bought had to satisfy with the old wooden furniture discarded by the seniors.

The metal beds, tables and chairs were proud processions and were the envy of those who couldn’t lay hands on them. Every year, when the final year students leave the hostel after finishing the course, they will have to hand over the key to the hostel security in-charge (a retired sergeant) after he ensures that all the furniture are intact and in place. Our gang occupied 8 adjoining rooms (4 on each side of the corridor) and most of our furniture was wooden.

We decided to get rid of the wooden furniture and get the metal furniture. But that was easier said than done. First, all the final year students would not leave the hostel in a single day. So even though one room was empty, there will be inmates in the next rooms. Also the seniors stayed in different blocks and on different floors, which was a problem as there also were inmates in the neighboring rooms.

Our plan was simple; break into the rooms vacated by the final year students and get the metal furniture and then replace what we have taken with a wooden equivalent. But we needed to know which rooms had all metal furniture. We wanted the target rooms to be near to our rooms as transporting the wooden items from our rooms to the rooms from which we were taking the new furniture and then transporting the new furniture to our rooms without being seen was a task whose difficulty increased as the targets became more and more distant. First we approached our senior friends who were leaving and asked them to put all the new furniture in one room to reduce the number of rooms that we have to break-in. We also got the spare key from them so we could open the rooms after the hand over the key to the sergeant. But a quick inventory of the identified items revealed that we knew only about the whereabouts of half of what we needed. So we prepared a list of the rooms that were vacated in the order of risk, proximity, number of occupied neighboring rooms, etc.

Then one night we conducted an investigation of the promising rooms by entering the rooms through the ventilators. A group of 6 people went around 2AM, the smallest and thinnest among us (Jose) was lifted on to the shoulders of the tallest and fittest (Bipin), by two others so he could see the inside using a flashlight while the remaining team members stood watch for any intruders. The inventory of each room was taken quickly and was written along with the room numbers and when we have found enough plus a few more, we returned to our rooms for detailed planning of the operation.

The modus operandi we agreed on after several hours of deliberations was as follows: We would first try the rooms to which we have keys. We would first disrupt the power to each wing we were targeting by removing the fuse. We would then lock all the rooms that were occupied from outside to give us enough time to make a clean get away in case of trouble. Then we will open the rooms and transport the new furniture to our rooms. Then as the last step we will return our old furniture to the rooms from where we have taken the furniture. This task was scheduled as the last step as we could abort the mission in case of trouble as long as there are no identifying marks on the wooden furniture. We took an inventory of all the furniture we had. Some of us had metal beds, tables and chairs. We inspected our wooden furniture and made a list detailing the extent of damage. This list was used to rank the items that were to be exchanged first—items that suffered severe damages would be the first ones to leave our rooms. We had even chalked out contingency plans as which route to take while returning and rooms of our close friends on different floors and blocks where we could take shelter if the mission had to be aborted. We decided we would start the operation at 2.30AM and end each day’s efforts by around 4.00AM. We estimated about 8-9 outings to complete the transfer.

The first day, at precisely 2.30AM all of wearing dark colored shirts/tees and pants/jeans set out to the rooms to which we had keys. But when we reached the rooms, to our utter astonishment and shock, we found the rooms locked with brand-new, heavy-duty Godrej 8-lever padlocks. It was the security in-charge, who, after getting the keys from the occupants and checking for the furniture, had done this cruelty, throwing a monkey wrench into our well-laid plans. Since we had the keys to these rooms and were confident of opening them without any trouble we didn’t carry any tools with us. So the only alternative left to us was abort the mission. So we came back to our rooms and pondered our next move. We were determined to get the furniture so we revised and improvised our plans. We made a list of tools that we would need for a forcible entry. Since the locks were new, cracking them open was ruled out. We decided to attack the nearly 25-year old latches. We got all the equipment and consumables that we needed—spanners, screwdrivers, hacksaw blades, wrenches, oil, turpentine, rust remover, grease, nuts and bolts, chisels, hammers, crowbars, emergency lamps, flashlights and so on.

On day two, armed with enough equipment to rob a small bank, we proceeded to our target location at precisely 2.30AM. We pulled the fuse, latched from outside all the rooms that had occupants and started to work. Two members of our team were hoisted and they got inside the room after pulling apart the two iron rods of the ventilator. Their mission was to help the team who were trying to dislodge the latch from the door. Four men were posted at different strategic locations as sentries to warn us about any approaching inmate who could jeopardize our operation. The first latch was very stubborn and the nuts refused to give way, even after applying generous quantities of rust remover. So we decided to cut the bolts using the hacksaw blade. To dislodge each latch we need to cut four bolts. So we decided to cut two from the inside and two from the outside as it will save time. To reduce the sound of the sawing, grease was applied to the bolts. Using the crowbar, the latch was lifted to gain access to the bolts and soon we were sawing away. It took almost 25 minutes and 3 – 4 shifts to complete the operation on the first latch. Since we could use only the hacksaw blades and not the hacksaw, the hands got tired easily. Once the latch was cut, we opened the door and transported 2 cots, 2 tables and 2 chairs from that room to our rooms and replaced it with the most dilapidated furniture chosen carefully from our stock. We then locked the room with the fresh nuts and bolts we had taken with us. We applied a little grease to latch and rubbed the area around the latch with a grease covered cloth so the blade marks will not be visible. The grease gave the latch its old dirty look. We locked the rooms because an open room would look suspicious and if the sergeant came inspecting our mission would be in trouble. The second day was an unqualified success.

The next day we improvised our toolkit by fitting handles similar to screwdrivers to the hacksaw blades. We went to the mechanical workshop and made these handles using pieces of iron pipes. We drilled holes in the pipe to secure the end of the hacksaw blades. We also welded the face of the handles leaving just enough gap for the hacksaw blade to enter. This made replacing the worn hacksaw blades easy as the only thing we have to do is remove the holding pin in the handle, remove the worn out blade, insert the new one and put the pin back.

That night we were able to open 3 rooms. We could pry open the latches, as the entire block was unoccupied and we could afford making some noise without waking others. We safely transported 6 cots, 6 tables and 6 chairs to our rooms. But the operation ran into trouble while we were shifting the wooden furniture back. When we were the halfway across the corridor, to our horror we saw a group of inmates coming back probably after the seeing the movie. So we improvised, we put the cots on the corridor and sat on it and started chatting as if we were sitting on the beachfront. Luckily, it was a group of drunken inmates and they didn’t even notice us. Once the coast was clear we completed our job. But we decided that moving the wooden furniture back was not worth the risk. So we made a deal with our juniors. We would give them the wooden furniture that we had to transport back. Since many of them shared tables and sat on cots (due to lack of chairs), they welcomed our offer. It was a win-win situation. We got rid of the old furniture and they got the furniture they badly needed. They were sworn to secrecy.

On the fourth night the disaster struck. We were as usual breaking into another room. When the operation was halfway through, someone from the adjacent room tried to open the door, probably to go to the loo. He found the door locked from outside and the power disrupted. He started shouting and slowly other occupants of the floor began to wake up. Two of our operatives were inside the room. We had planned for such an emergency. As soon as somebody entered the room through the ventilator, the first thing he would have to do was to put the cot near the ventilator and then place the chair over the cot. This would make a quick get away possible in case trouble. So we got our men from inside and ran like hell.

Within a few minutes the entire block was awake. Somebody restored the electricity and soon the story of attempted robbery spread like bushfire. We also joined the crowd. There were several robbery theories about the offered by different experts. Many wanted to call the police. Since Jose left one slipper while making the get-away, some felt that bringing a police dog would help in finding the people responsible.

Soon the excitement died down and things went back to normal. We were unable to get the metal furniture to furnish all our rooms as we managed only 8 sets. But we abandoned the operation as the inmates were on high alert and we didn’t want to push our luck any further. But we managed to get metal cots, tables and chairs for all of us when we moved to C-top during our final year, with a lot of hard work and considerable help from our seniors. How we got the most coveted rooms in the hostel (C-top outer wing) and how we managed the furniture is another story.


  1. -poison- said,

    January 14, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    🙂 the mh rooms are mostly 2 guys in a room these days. there is a great LAN there. could claim to be one of the biggest i think. all the rooms with pc’s are connected. its real easy for data sharing.the primary problem these days haunting the mh is the scarcity of water. we have been having water strikes ever since i have joined the college. and that was one great caper that you have decsribed here sir!

  2. James Bright said,

    January 14, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Very interesting story, Alexis.
    When we look back into our hostel years, we may wonder about those adventurous things we did..!
    Nice read.

  3. silverine said,

    January 15, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    ha ha ha you were a mischievous lot. Hope lots of CET’ians are reading this. I gave the link to a couple of cousins studying there and they were like amazed at your capers. And even more amazed at your blog 🙂

    This was so think you sat so late at night and carried out the operation ‘metal-furniture’ LOL

    It’s a miracle you didn’t land in the cop station ( we would have had another interesting post on that if you did).

  4. Alexis Leon said,

    January 15, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    -poison-: Nice to know that all the rooms are double rooms. And LAN in the hostel is great. We too had water shortages and we also used to organize water strikes 🙂

    James: Very true. But it was fun, wasn’t it?

    Silverine: Operation ‘metal-furniture’. I like the name. We chose that particular time, because that is the only time when most of the people will be sleeping. Yes, it is a miracle that we never got into any trouble with the authorities 😉

  5. James Bright said,

    January 15, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Yes, it was very fun and we will never be able to forget all those things…!

  6. safarial said,

    January 16, 2006 at 11:03 am

    glad you dropped by. as long as you dont try to state the obvious in fancy jargon, students will read it. for me its more a of someone trying to impress the fact that he knows a lot more jargon than i do, rather than actually telling what is necessary.

    and if you can come up with examples to aid understanding that are different from the ones that are already there, like the good old banking system and a grocery store types, it will be different. and humor is a big factor. for instance reading knuth’s books are always a joy than reading a book by say balaguruswamy or ritchie. simply because it is a lot more fun.

    hey, and really nice blog!

  7. Alexis Leon said,

    January 16, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Safarial: Thanks. I will try to keep all these things in mind while writing. I am an average guy and not a CS major. I have an industrial engg. background. So I never try to impress the CS students or use jargon until absolutely necessary. Also, I don’t write on anything that I can’t understand 🙂 But I will be extra careful from now onwards 😉

  8. Geo said,

    January 17, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Ha ha ha ha

    Great read!

    Those 3.5 years gave me enough memories to last for two life times… :_))