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GANGS of Chennai!

A look at campus gang wars...

G FOR gang wars.

All incidents and characters in this story are entirely true. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or admitted in hospitals, hence, is only too obvious.

Don't get mad. Get even.

Actually, you might as well get mad too while you're at it. College gang wars don't break out often. But when they do, all hell breaks loose. Stones fly, bones are broken, buses hit and then, the whole process happens all over again in the name of revenge. Again and again, till someone calls a truce.

"Things are more peaceful these days. In the late Eighties and Nineties, the Loyola College-Pachaiyappa's rivalry often led to violence. It even inspired a movie - remember `Kadhal Desam'," a peace-loving Loyolite says. "These days, we have friends in almost all colleges. So there's not much rivalry between colleges as such, but yes there are gang-wars. However, the street fights usually happen between gangs of students from assorted colleges. It's not like Loyola versus New College or Nandanam Arts College boys anymore, every gang has students from different colleges," he adds.

Usually, the fist-fights start when one student takes on another from another gang. In most cases, it's because one guy made a pass at a girl studying in the other's "area". The territories are clearly defined. Any boy from a rival gang spotted trespassing into another's territory is closely observed and monitored. At the slightest excuse, he gets a friendly warning. If the boy beats a retreat quietly, then the war is put off temporarily. But when the lone boy tries to be brave and speaks out in a loud tone, tempers flare as sound decibels go up (Sample: "Oy!", "Ai"). First, a heated exchange of words. Then, the boys step up the `abuse quotient'. Finally, depending on pure guts and strength of opposition, the boy who's cornered, sneaks out, swearing revenge and a blood bath follows.

Another trend is that some boys these days, hire goondas. "The rich boys are chicken. So they just pay for goondas and get some poor fellows hit. Just because they study in government colleges does not mean they are indecent. In fact, the government college boys are the first to forgive and let go," a government college student insists.

Such violence leads to a lot of unwanted pleasantness that takes months or sometimes years to heal. "There is always a lull after a fight," the student adds. That's the period when the groups usually make amends.

And for those of you who think the girls' colleges do little beside braid their hair and have handkerchief embroidering competitions in their spare time - here's some news. They fight too - and do it with élan. At a certain women's college (whose name we shall hold back so the girls can keep pretending to be delicately nurtured young ladies when they head out of their college gates) a war is declared once every year. And it's no laughing matter.

The war of the hostels begins with an announcement at dinner warning the freshers about the violence and mayhem that are to follow. While the freshers gather in their room quaking and chewing their fingernails nervously, the 2nd and 3rd year students plan strategy.

The college camps are divided into two camps, with two hostels on one side and two on the other. Then, the girls prepare themselves for war. Off go the diamond earrings and butterfly clips, only to be replaced by, well, mud. "First we cover our hands in oil - usually coconut since that's what a lot of the girls here use for their hair. That's so we won't be captured, since `The Hostel Fight' is actually a tug of war. Then, we cover our hands in mud so we get a good grip of `the enemy', giggles one girl who says she proudly bore bruises on her arms for a week after their last fight.

Finally the two groups come together and the tug of war begins amid shrieks, screams and yells. "Each side buries a flag and the war is supposed to end when one side finds it, however that never happens so we set a time and then count hostages," adds another.

Hostages? If we capture spies or drag someone across the dividing line, she's ours. We then carry her, kicking and yelling, to a room earmarked for `hostages' and lock her in with the rest.

One hour later, everyone's sweaty, grimy and exhausted with broken fingernails, bruised arms and big happy smiles. "It's an insane tradition we know, but we've been doing it for years. We get to yell our heads off and even quietly sneak in some kicking, scratching and pinching," says another lady warrior. So who was it who said that girls should be seen and not heard?


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