A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

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Indian Campus Fiction and its Linguistic Gymnastics

Richa Chilana

This paper is an attempt to look at speech patterns, as seen in Indian Campus Fiction set in technical, management and liberal arts colleges and to question the homogenous categorization of ‘Indian Campus Fiction’ for the plethora of novels set in Indian campuses. The last few decades have seen a phenomenal rise in the number of campus novels and the emergence of new writers has also given rise to new publishing houses. Rupa, with Chetan Bhagat writing for it, might not need more writers in the same genre, but Srishti and others are creating opportunities for these new storytellers. Kaushik Bose, the publishing manager of Srishti says that they publish two books every month and their authors are from across the country, metros as well as small towns (Banerjee, 2010).

According to Eble (1989) the language used by college students is a highly expressive, oral and informal form of language that has a distinct subculture. As seen in these campus novels, this lingo performs another function, in addition to those outlined by Eble. It homogenizes its crowd, levelling out diversities and differences. Tushar Raheja’s Anything For You Ma’am talks of the cohesiveness of the IIT fraternity. One gets the sense that it is closed, self contained and gendered space whose members look at each other as ‘long lost brothers’ (Raheja, 2006, p.186).

The cohesiveness which Raheja sees in the IIT fraternity, is also seen amongst MIJites in Mediocre But Arrogant:

When you meet an MIJ-ite for the first time, you relate with the person the moment you realize that he or she shares the same language, laughs at the same jokes and possibly shares the same worldview as you. There is a nice German word for worldview-Weltanschauung. (Bhaduri, 2005, pp. 41-42).

It is the language they speak that brings all of them together barring their differences. It acts as a great leveler whichallows them to think of a commonness which is above and beyond their regional, linguistic and cultural differences. This novel is set in Management Institute of Jamshedpur and takes us through Abbey’s journey from Delhi University to MIJ. In one of their lectures on Organizational Behavior, Father Hathaway explains how a group is created and the importance of language as a code to distinguish between ‘insiders and pretenders’. He says that, ‘Jargon and phrases and nicknames all serve to create a bond within a group but at the same time, could work to alienate some’ (Bhaduri, 2005, p. 41). Each and every institute has its own folklore which, as Father Hathaway, rightly points out is a double edged sword. It creates solidarity within a group and it is predicated on the politics of exclusion. The MIJ-ites are ‘bar coded’ as the original building where MIJ was started off was later converted into a bar. So according to the Boys’ Hostel folklore, every MIJ-ite was a ‘confirmed boozer’. The protagonist is a FL, a freeloader or a parasite. He hung on to those who worked hard because he was unused to hard work, courtesy, his three years in DU. The antiestablishment crowd, hated the ACP(after class participation) which is seen as maska maroin.(p. 36). The three D’s are banned from the boys’ hostel, drinks, drugs and dames.

A university is often seen as a space which allows an individual to explore, to develop and to sustain his/her individuality. These campus novels on the other hand often speak of the IITness, IIMness, DUness and JNUness that students imbibe from these spaces. Towards the end of the novel, Something of a Mocktale, Soma Das shows how JNU had standardized their thought process when Kaya, Ragini and Shubhra play a game, they realize that their responses were the same:

JNU definitely soaks in your lifestyle, your worldview, your attitude and into you so much that after a 15 minutes chat session, there is no way that one JNUite cannot recognize another anywhere in the world even if their conversation had no mention of their background. (Das, 2007, p. 200).

Although all these books proudly adorn the shelves reserved for Indian Campus novels in bookstore chains, their proximity on the bookshelves cannot homogenize this diverse and myriad set of novels. There is a paucity of novels set in liberal arts colleges like DU and JNU and those that exist are not considered as remarkable as those set in IITs and IIMs. Amitabha Bagchi, in Above Average, addresses this difference between what C.P. Snow called  ‘Two Cultures’(1956). He talks of the different worlds which the protagonist, Arindam Chatterjee and his love interest in the novel, Aparna inhabit. Arindam or Rindu, as he is called in the novel felt that there was a whole universe within him which Aparna could not travel to. He realized that his three years in IIT had made him a stranger to the city-‘I could speak its language, but it was not the language I spoke most often’ (Bagchi, 2007, p.231). Aparna’s language was a parody of the way ‘Hindi speaking people spoke English’ and was absolutely different from IIT lingo. At IIT, their ‘linguistic gymnastics’ emerged from caricaturing fake Anglicization and Punjabi crudeness.The IITians had a repository of ‘hand me down lingo’ of unknown origin in time. IIT slang was full of ‘in-jokes and engineering references’ and was full of the smell of ‘male sexual frustration’. Aparna’s lingo, comprising of words like ML (Marxist-Leninist) and ‘junta’ baffled and charmed him. While Aparna’s language has fluidity, there is a sense of sanctity associated with the IIT lingo. Even after being in Delhi for fifteen years, for Arindam the world and language of IIT and that of the outside city are strictly demarcated. The influence of city is reflected in phrases of Arindam and his friends from Mayur Vihar, ‘Total maal item’, ‘pataoed’, and these are juxtaposed against IIT lingo of ‘JLT’(Just Like that), ‘compguy’ and ‘backlogger’. The term ‘compguy’ is attributed in the novel to Loda Kumar who became famous because of the one-liner he uttered at the time of the ragging period, ‘It’s not fair to rag us ‘compguys’, asserting the superiority of that stream.

Undergraduate speech borrows from both the slang of the larger culture and a subcultural vocabulary of college slang, out of which some are shared as part of the ‘national collegiate subculture’, while some are relegated to more ‘provincial, regional and institutional subcultures (Hummon, 1994, p. 76). Universities like DU and JNU borrow more from the ‘national collegiate subculture’ as against the IITs and the management institutes which are more ‘provincial’.

In Five Point Someone (Bhagat, 2004), when Hari is unable to answer a question, the Professor calls him a ‘commerce student’ which is the worst insult possible. As compared to the seriousness, sincerity and competition in technical universities, others are seen as frivolous and most of the novels set in IITs and IIMs are marked by a condescending approach to liberal arts colleges. Bhaduri, in Mediocre But Arrogant, talks of how unprepared he was for the rigour of MIJ, because of his three golden years in the Delhi University:

Most of us in DU were not really sure what we wanted to do in life, professionally speaking. We attended rallies and meetings where we debated the need to make laissez-faire the dominant approach to government. What we had been trying to do, I realized in retrospect, was to recreate the insouciance of campus life for the rest of the world. Take away ambition and the need for action from my part of the earth and what you have left of life as I experienced it in my three years at Delhi University.(Bhaduri, 2005, p. 19)

Life in DU was unhurried. The first three months were for ‘ragging or getting ragged’, the next three months for Cultural Festivals and the last three for buying books and studying for exams. In DU, Abbey’s language was that of a ‘typical Delhiwallah’, participating in Cultural Festivals primarily for PYTs (pretty young things) and protecting them college lives of liberal arts colleges which makes it even more difficult to talk about ‘Indian Campus Novels’.

While Delhiwallahs abbreviate words, the JNU junta comes up with new interpretations of words; Kaya’s centre CSODR is not Centre for Study of Obstacles in the Development of Regions, but ‘Centre for Suppression, Oppression, Depression and Repression’ (Das, 2007, p.2). The comprehensibility of the DU and JNU slang is a sufficient indicator of the permeability of these campuses. There is the maa go club of the Bengali girls whose ‘mini Bengal’ dominated the ‘mini India’, girls are given ‘TRP ratings’ by boys and rated on the oomphometer. Ganga Dhaba (GD) in Das’ world is the ‘Page 3’ of JNU. The dhaba exhales frustrated air and inhales fresh air from the city outside, ‘Therefore, we prefer to meet in the horizon where the outer world meets the inner world to celebrate our knowledge and to console our poverty’ (Das,2007, p.50). This description of Ganga Dhaba, is concomitant of the interfacial location of DU and JNU, located neither inside nor outside, but somewhere in between.

Thus, the idea of being infused with an IITness, MIJness and JNUness runs across most of these campus novels, but an analysis of college lingo reveals the sacrosanct, niche like, self contained existence of technical and management institutes and the relatively porous, permeable lives of DU and JNU. IITs and IIMs refuse to open their gates to the outside world, choosing to remain contained within their hallowed walls. The interfacial location of DU and JNU is conspicuous by its absence with regard to other universities.from luchchas. Some of these novels end up trivializing the This containment produces differences between these technical institutes and other porous campuses as indicated by Bagchi, a difference which reflects in the fiction coming out of these campuses.


Bagchi, Amitabha. (2007). Above average. New Delhi: Harper Collins.

Banerjee, Poulomi. (2010, February 14). The word of love-On Valentine’s Day, a look at the romantic novel set on the campus. The Telegraph.

Bhaduri, Abhijit. (2005). Mediocre but arrogant. New Delhi:Indialog.

Bhagat, Chetan. (2004). Five point someone. New Delhi:Rupa.

Das, Soma. (2007). Sumthing of a mocktale. New Delhi:Srishti.

Eble, Connie C. (1989). College slang 101. Georgetown,CT: Spectacle Lane Press.

Hummon, David M. (1994). College slang revisited:Language, culture and undergraduate life. The Journal of Higher Education. 65.1 (1994): 75-98. JSTOR. Web. 30 April 2010.

Raheja, Tushar. (2006). Anything for You Ma’am. New Delhi: Srishti.

Snow, C.P. (1956, October 6). Two cultures. New Statesman

Richa Chilana

Richa Chilana is Assistant Professor at Maitreyi College, University of Delhi and a PhD scholar at Centre for English Studies, JNU, Delhi.