Wisdom of Drunken Crowds

One of the very few occasions during the year when almost all the inmates of the CET men’s hostel will be totally drunk is the day when the final year students treat their juniors. All inmates irrespective of the batch and branch will attend the party and will drink to their hearts content. There is nothing fancy about the treat. The dinner will be as usual at the hostel mess. After dinner all the inmates will assemble in the corridor that connects A and C blocks where the party is usually held.

There will a few tables with large bowls containing mango pickle, a few glasses and water. Then there will be hundreds of bottles of XXX Rum (procured from the Pangode military camp). Anybody who wants a drink can go to the table, take a glass pour the drink and can have it neat or diluted with water. The liquor will be flowing and after sometime nobody would waste their time diluting the drink and will be having it neat and straight. So in about 60–90 minutes, the hostel will be full of drunkards.

The usual practice is that after finishing the last bottle, every one will head out of the hostel and will go to the college ground or the college itself and will sing, dance, fight, and do all sort of crazy things that can be expected from a group of drunkards.

Sometimes someone will suggest some crazy idea like climbing on top of the planetarium and everyone will scramble up the walls only to fall down. I have seen that in a drunken crowd the voice of the sober and saner minds will not be heeded. The craziest and most dangerous ideas will get the maximum support and will be immediately acted on.

In my 20 or more years of association with drunkards and drunken crowds, I have formulated several theories about the working of drunken crowds—crowd psychology. I was planning to write a book on that topic. After a lot of research and much deliberation, I finally found a suitable title for the book—The Wisdom of Crowds. But a guy named James Surowiecki beat me to it and has already published a book by the same name. It is about an uninteresting topic—wisdom of the masses. The author argues that under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.

So now I have changed the title of my book to The Wisdom of Drunken Crowds where I argue that under all circumstances the drunken crowds are remarkably crazy and dangerous and are likely to indulge in dangerous, risky, and stupid activities and they will always ignore the advice of the most sober and sanest people in them. To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, I explore problems involving consumption (we’re all trying to drink as much as possible), cognition (we’re all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). My rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, climbing walls, having motorcycle races in the middle of the night with the headlamps switched off, playing basketball, naked driving, doing ‘item’ numbers, having fencing matches with hockey sticks instead of broadswords, controlling violent drunkards, and so on. I have been paid a huge advance (the amount will remain undisclosed) from a publisher (who will remain anonymous). Do watch out for the book at Amazon and other bookstores.

Now coming back to our story, my first final year students’ treat was when I was in the 5th semester. As usual all the drunkards trooped out of the hostel by around 11PM. When we reached the indoor stadium, somebody had a brain wave. Why not play basketball? The indoor stadium or indoor basketball court was initially designed as our college auditorium. Once the building was completed, there was one big problem with the building that practically rendered it useless as an auditorium—echo. Thanks to the expertise of the architects and civil engineers who designed and built it, every word spoken in the auditorium were echoed and reechoed.

The architects who designed it and the civil engineers who built it—the cream de’ la cream of designers and builders—goofed it up. They tried several things to fix the problem like lining the walls with mats, cork, thermocol, and so on, but nothing worked. So the building was turned into an indoor basketball court where the echo during the matches will give the special effects needed to inspire and motivate the players! For example, one clap or shout will be echoed throughout the court. Think of hundreds of students clapping and shouting and their voices echoing and reechoing. It is a wonderful experience.

Now coming back to the story, someone said it would be a nice idea to play basketball. In fact, it was a very bad idea. A group of drunkards with their Rum filled stomachs and wobbly legs playing basketball was designed for disaster. How can people who cannot even walk in a straight line play basketball—dribbling, running, dodging and scoring? But as I told earlier, the voices of the sober individuals will be ignored.

Soon the basketball court was opened and somebody went and fetched a basketball. Everybody got inside and while the players and referees stayed inside the court the spectators sat on the floor cheering and singing. But the players had other ideas. Once the teams were formed and play was about to start one smart aleck had another brain wave—why not play rugby instead? Actually that was a good suggestion. The players were better suited to play rugby than basketball. After all rugby is a ‘game for ruffians, played by drunkards..er…. gentlemen.’

So the ball was placed on the ground in the center of the field and the players joined the ruck. For the uninitiated, a ruck is formed when the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team are on their feet and in physical contact, closing around the ball between them. All of us had seen this in several movies. Soon the members of the two teams were standing in a crouched position facing one another on either side of the centerline waiting for the referee’s whistle. What everybody forgot was the rugby players are well protected—with armors, helmets, pads, and so on and they were in top physical condition and not drunk.

The whistle was blown and all we could hear was skulls cracking on skulls and in no time about 80% of the players were on the ground groaning, with oranges and apples starting to grow on their heads. But this did not interrupt the play in any way. The player who got the ball started running around the field being chased by the remaining members from both teams. In the chase, he forgot to score the goal, but kept on running until he collapsed on the field. Then somebody else took the ball and the same scene was repeated. Within five minutes of the start of the play, almost all the players were lying on the floor with various injuries. Finally the sober members of the crowd had to carry the players to the hostel and to their respective rooms. But it was fun while it lasted. The next day many of the rugby stars had to wear caps to hide the bumps on their heads.

The next time when we got a treat from our seniors, I was in the 7th semester. Everything—the time, venue and brand—was the same as on the previous occasion. After the party we headed for the college. A few members of our gang had a secret agenda on that day—to take our college bus for a ride. Those who hatched the plan were drinking in moderation while we were downing the pegs with abandon. I was surprised to see those alcoholics stopping with a few pegs and got suspicious. But before my brain could assimilate the facts and reach a logical conclusion, my mind, body, soul, and spirit was completely taken over by the spirit from the distilleries of Vijay Mallya.

We reached the college and the usual singing and dancing started. One of my friends, Mr. G, was a bus owner with more than 6 buses. He was the main accomplice in the plan but the real brain behind the plan was Mr. RK. Now I must tell you something about RK. He is a person who could drive any vehicle. He had a very simple, but effective philosophy about vehicles and driving. According to his theory almost all the vehicles have an accelerator, a brake, a clutch and a gear. You start the engine, put the vehicle in gear, release the clutch, push on the accelerator and the vehicle will start moving. The more pressure you apply on the accelerator pedal, the faster the vehicle will move. If you want to go left, turn left; if you want to go right, turn right; if you want to go straight, keep the steering steady. When you want to stop, take the foot from the accelerator and press down on the brake and simultaneously engage the clutch. The size of the vehicle is not an issue as long as you get the fundamentals right! He used a variant of the same theory for two-wheelers with equal success. So he could drive any vehicle from a scooter to a lorry, but never managed to master one.

He needed Mr. G’s assistance for hotwiring the bus. He needed us to push-start it. The diesel engine is a compression ignition engine and could be started by pushing it. You turn the ignition on (in this case, hotwire it), put it in gear with the clutch depressed, gain speed, and pop the clutch to start the engine. This had to be done because the bus had to be started without the battery powered starter. So about 15-20 of us started pushing the bus, while RK and G were inside the bus ready to start it as soon as the bus gained enough momentum. The bus was parked just outside the porch in front of the college. By the time we reached the Mech’s corner, the bus had enough speed and was successfully started. Then all of us jumped inside, all the lights were switched on and RK took the bus right down the Mechanical department, then turned right and went to the hostel passing the college canteen, hydraulics lab, hydraulics machine lab, machine shop, SM lab, and so on. At the hostel we halted for a few minutes and returned to the college via the basketball court, planetarium route. The route we took is shown in the figure (see the white line).

The sight of college bus plying between college and hostel was met with enthusiasm and cheer. Soon everybody wanted a ride. So, that night we must have made at least 10 trips from the college to the hostel. Many a drunkard wanted to take the bus to Sreekaryam for having food, but due to some of the sensible people in the group the plan was abandoned. Luckily, the wisdom of the drunken crowd didn’t work. If it had worked many of us would not have graduated as dismissal from the college was certain.

After the last trip, we parked the bus inside the porch and most of us fell asleep in the bus. The next day by around 7AM somebody woke us up and we went back to the hostel. When our bus driver, Sisupalan, came to take the bus he was surprised to see the bus that was parked outside the porch resting nicely inside the porch with fuel tank half empty.

Now, thinking back, it was a huge risk we took that day, anything would have happened, lives could have been lost and all of us could have got dismissed. But that was one hell of a ride!!!!


  1. James Bright said,

    April 19, 2006 at 1:55 am

    Simply GREAT.
    I would love to see that book coming out!

  2. thanu said,

    April 19, 2006 at 4:02 am

    I love reading ur CET posts. My husband is a CETian so I usually end up going home and asking him about it.

    His response everytime “I didn’t do any of those”

    And I nod my head like I believe him. I have heard enuf stories of his Mech’s corner.

  3. Sarah said,

    April 19, 2006 at 6:25 am

    when I look back and remember the thing I have done..I often wonder, how did i ever get the courage to do all tht? My college days were full of fun

  4. silverine said,

    April 19, 2006 at 7:50 am

    “But that was one hell of a ride!!!!”
    I second that !!!!

    Your analysis of crowd behaviour was so good. Especially the college crowd. And more so the mallu college crowd. Not that the rest of the countrymen are any sober when they are drunk, but the mallu spirit does reach sublime heights when imbibed with the right/wrong “spirit”.
    This rugby game account was howlarious!!! And so cute. This looks like guys having some “harmless” fun. O.k I am talking in riddles now 8-|

    Boys will be boys I guess. You CET reminisenses are heartwarming and hilarious at the same time and you get the feeling that you guys were just a bunch of naughty fellows 🙂

  5. Anand K said,

    April 19, 2006 at 8:22 am

    Boss, I didn’t know you were a CETian! It’s such a plesant surprise!

    Ahhhh………. drunken CETians. They are a cut above the rest of the humanity. There’s this “Vaall Day” system now, where on an anointed red letter day, the MH is open to ALL the drunks of the CET world…… booze till you see Pink Elephants and antiperistalitically egest oesophagal/stomach food particles-hence the name “Vaall”.

    And the “Indoor Stadim” that would put Imhoteph, Luteynes and Pei to shame? Ahhh…. coming up in my 2nd Folio of the CET chronicles. I can’t even dare to imagine what would happen if a horde of *drunken* CETians would defile that sacrosanct structure!

    But the bus ride takes the cake! Maaannnn…. who are these RK and G dudeshwars you were talking about?! I wish to seek kaivalyajnana at their holy feets! BTW, were you with CET legends like Valtube, Speed and Screw by any chance? Valtube, our own Van Wilder was around when I entered CET as a runny nosed, knicker-clad, Mickey Mouse lunchbox wielding, plastic water-bottle suspended on my neck S1S2 fresher.

    PS: The Map is a bit dated, but it does looks evil! Lavv the color scheme!

  6. Ashik said,

    April 19, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Dude , You seniors Rock OK ? None from our batch or later ever did things like these. We did some pretty crazy things , but this is by far the best of the stores I have ever heard

  7. Dhanush said,

    April 19, 2006 at 9:38 am

    “Everything—the time, venue and brand—was the same as” – There is soemthing that bonds every Malayali with a XXX rum, and I still don’t know what it is. I too was baptised with that on the C Hostel Terrace of GEC Trichur. And as I moved out of Kerala, XXX became an “ayyitham” as many friends didnt have a clue what it was. So I was forced to confine to Mr Mallya’s other products.

    The Rugby episode was really hilarous, while the bus ride took me down to the college days where we hostellites jumped into the bus with coupons borrowed from day-schies to go out.

    I am waiting for The Wisdom of Drunken Crowds 🙂

  8. Alexis Leon said,

    April 19, 2006 at 10:38 am

    James: Thank you. I was just joking about the book.

    thanu: If he was in Mech’s corner, then he is not as innocent as sounds 😉

    Sarah: That is why college days are the best days—full of fun 🙂

    silverine: Thank you.
    >>the mallu spirit do reach sublime heights when imbibed with the right/wrong “spirit”. Very nicely put.
    Yes, we were naughty and we had fun.

    Anand: CEO of Cyberdene Corporation, welcome to my blog. We had a drama based on the ‘Vaall’—Tippu Sultante Vaall. At that time the TV serial ‘The Sword of Tippu Sultan’ was very popular.

    I am looking forward to your post on the Indoor stadium. Yes it definitely will put Imhoteph, Lutyens and Pei to shame.

    RK is now settled in US and G is in merchant navy. I didn’t think I was with the CET legends you have mentioned. I graduated in 1989. So if they were around when you joined CET, they must be my juniors. Yes, I know the map is dated. I removed the new structures from the map to make it as it was in 1989.

    Ashik: In those days we practically had the college to ourselves. The security guards were afraid to come out of their room (below the main staircase). Once a bunch of drunken students chased a security guard around the college. He had to lock his room to escape from them. Then we used to scare them wearing masks seen in horror movies. So the security guards usually will get completely drunk and go to sleep in their room.

    Dhanush: Yes, XXX Rum is great. One advantage of Rum is that you won’t get a hangover. I was just kidding about the wisdom of drunken crowds.

  9. Jithu said,

    April 19, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Those were the best days of my life!! right. 🙂

  10. Ashik said,

    April 19, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Shew .. thats real cool . ..and you belong way back in the ‘ancient and glorious time’ of CET..hehe.

    P . S: CEO of Cyberdene Corporation is my immediate senior.

  11. chackochan said,

    April 19, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    reminds me of friend who brought a bottle of whisky to school..yeah we were in 9th std. ..but he didnt opened it as nobody had the guts to try it … but his courage to bring a bottle of whisky to school…i can never forget that… 😀

  12. alit said,

    April 19, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Cool one… a nice read i must say. this sure did evoke countless memories!
    Wondering who would be the targeted readers for your book… drunkards themselves ?-;)
    Btw, you havent picked anyones name except that of Sisupalan… I guess you took a calculated risk, not expecting Mr Sisupalan to chance up on this… eh -;))

  13. Alexis Leon said,

    April 19, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    jithu: Right. Long time no see 🙂

    Ashik: Yes, ‘ancient and glorious time’ of CET.

    Chackochan: Bottle of whisky to school. OMG. We had our first beer when we were in the 10th standard. It was during our all India tour. Was fun.

    Alit: Thank you Ali. About the book, just kidding. I have not given the names, but I have posted the photograph 😉

  14. LALITHA said,

    April 19, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Its because you took that hell of a ride that you have these memories to write about. I think it was worth it even though it seems really risky now. Looking forward to reading the book when it comes out. love reading your posts

  15. Ajay said,

    April 20, 2006 at 12:14 am

    U guys had an amazing time. Wow What a freaked out crowd.
    haha Alchohol. It can do amazing things man !!! 🙂

  16. Ajay said,

    April 20, 2006 at 12:15 am

    i dont know why the additional h
    mayb i am drunk 😉

  17. Geo said,

    April 20, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Those were the best days of my life too

  18. Alexis Leon said,

    April 20, 2006 at 10:14 am

    Lalitha: True. I was just joking about the book. I just finished the book before I write the post. So, I thought it would be fun to use it in the post and hence the mention about the book 🙂

    Ajay: Yes we had a great time. May be you need to get drunk 😉

    Geo: True. How is life in your part of the world?

  19. Suji said,

    April 20, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    Great post as usual. Really miss my carefree school and college days.

  20. Suji said,

    April 20, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    I forgot to menttion….I really think you should write books other than tech books. You will be a great success. 🙂

  21. anu said,

    April 20, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    great post.. u were celebrating it..

  22. venus said,

    April 20, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    Basketball by drunkards, and Rugby by bentlemen!! 🙂
    Your analysis about the crowd behavior is quite interesting and true. It depends on why the crowd is, if the crowd is in a company, working in a team, they are the smartest, but when drunk, as you have pointed out, have no sanity.

    Looking forward to your book on Amazon soon 🙂

  23. Jo said,

    April 21, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    Hehe… I can recall a lot of crazy things I did and its always fun!!! 😀 Not when we do, but to think about it afterwards. 🙂

  24. flyaway mind said,

    April 24, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    seems like u guys had a kidilam times at college…hostel life was the best times of my life too.i never knew drunken crowd were this imaginative ‘n daredevils

    ” the wisdom of drunken crowds” – that was quite creative :-))

  25. pophabhi said,

    April 24, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    Alexis – Too Good! I delayed this read as I wanted to read it fully in one go.

    Rugby incident was really too hilarious! Your way of writing has been really entertaining, and the effort you put to make the incident feel like a well documented part of history is appreciable!

    It really was a hell of a ride. Beautiful!

  26. -poison- said,

    May 2, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    u guys rocked!