Theka to Infirmary: Unpacking the Magic of the Moments
By Siddharth Dasgupta (UG24)
Everyone’s got one dark campus day they’d willingly erase from their memory. For many, it was a certain Friday morning. Best case scenario: a walk to the tuck shop for ORS. Worst case: finding the right emojis for your ‘what happened?’ text to the group chat, figuring out why your gut has been turned upside down, washing the puke off your clothes, and praying you don’t run into the authorities.
The worst-kept secret of any educational institution on a Thursday night goes best with cranberry juice or coke. The epicentre of this secret for Ashoka lies not within its campus, but 100 meters away from it. The theka facing the campus gates is a tiny shop with metal bars, modest at first glance but a powerhouse of student fuel upon closer inspection. This underbelly of Ashokan student life has its own underbelly too—spiked alcohol.
With the anti-alcohol regulations of an educational institution and on-ground knowledge of the rampant drinking culture of Ashoka, alcohol–or spiked alcohol–cannot exist peacefully by itself. I want to unpack it (and with it, the Ashokan drinking culture) in relation to its antithesis, Ashokan administration.
‘Ethanol’, ‘spirits’, ‘soap’: these are simply a fraction of the words that have floated around in conversations trying to figure out what exactly constitutes the ‘spike’ in the spiked alcohol. Regardless of the constituents, the effects are mostly standard–mental confusion, memory loss, nausea and vomiting, breathing problems, etc. The issue with the symptoms of spiked alcohol is that it overlaps greatly with symptoms of excessive drinking or drinking on an empty stomach. So how does one know if the alcohol was spiked?
Jane Doe (Ug24) suspects her bottle of green apple flavored Magic Moments vodka was spiked. She describes the experience and symptoms as nauseating and feeling stuffy, and recalls spending the night hunched over a bucket. Like many others, she too is unsure of whether her alcohol was spiked or if she just reacted badly to normal alcohol, but is more inclined to believe the former owing to the fact that she had taken just one shot and puked multiple times.
The theka is known for selling smaller flavoured bottles of vodka unsealed. This itself could be the first red flag. Though, recognising unsealed bottles as a red flag was not a luxury students during the monsoon semester last year could afford. Monsoon 2021 witnessed the mass quarantine of Ashokans, no entry, no exit. If there’s one thing the cohorts holed in proved during that semester, it was that no procedural restrictions could even deign to make a dent in the robust phenomenon that is Ashokan drinking culture.
So the ingenious minds of Ashoka got to work and discovered the magic of tetra packs. With a little help from the outside, alcohol flowed into seemingly innocent tetra packs and heisted within the red brick walls of Ashoka. One shortcoming was that alcohol being smuggled in tetra packs made distinguishing between counterfeits and legitimate alcohol practically impossible. It was a shot in the dark, to take a risk or stay sober.
John Doe recalls this tetra packaged alcohol induced poisoning. He confirms that this alcohol caused ‘dizziness, nausea, undue vomiting’ and describes the experience as ‘not the normal sort of drunk but a different, out of control sensation’. He remembers going to the infirmary at around 11:45 with his friends, where he simply said he was unwell.
Doe suspects that the nurse knew alcohol was involved but did not ask any questions on that front. The infirmary provided medicines for the stomach and for a headache after a line of simple medical questioning. He remembers the infirmary experience as an interaction with no judgment or hiccups and suggests students check not only the seal but also the alcohol quantity in the bottle and says that if the liquid does not match up to the quantity mentioned on the bottle, there’s a chance it has been spiked.
Well known alcohol brands are unpacked, diluted with ethanol (substituting the natural fermentation process), repackaged and sold as counterfeits of the original. These bottles of spiked alcohol are a means to widen profit margins, but often lead to poisoning, infection and in extreme circumstances, death. While I have interviewed students and gathered their experience with spiked alcohol, there is no primary data on the long term risks posed.
Alcohol is a tricky avenue considering consumption on campus premises is forbidden for everyone and that consumption and purchase are forbidden for most of the cohorts in Haryana. While the infirmary has dealt with the aftermath of illicit alcohol consumption with discretion (and is the suggested pit stop for alcohol poisoning), there are a lot more whats and hows that could shape the experience. Perhaps the safest course of action going forward (in terms of prioritizing administrative and biological immunity) is being mindful of bottle seals, initial reactions to every bottle and the quantity of alcohol in each bottle.
But credit is also due where it is. Like I mentioned, drinking is one of the worst kept secrets of any institution and Ashoka is no exception. Despite official regulations forbidding alcohol consumption, the alcohol-induced infirmary experiences have been positive. Perhaps this eye shutting in the presence of alcohol consumption isn’t innocence or administrative indolence or a loose leash. I’d like to take it as proactive intuitiveness on the infirmary’s part. It is evident that the other route (being reported to admin) would result in refusal to visit the infirmary if needed. The infirmary seems to have come face to face with one sure reality–there is no truly banning alcohol consumption, there is simply limiting safe routes to deal with the side effects of alcohol consumption (reporting patients suffering from alcohol poisoning to the admin). It boils down to practicality vs bureaucratic idealities. The infirmary’s willingness to prioritize student well-being over bureaucratic complexities by maintaining a gap in communication between them and the admin is not just worth noting but also is worthy of commendation.
However, I would also like to note that the infirmary has its own fair share of complaints too. The infirmary is known to operate over capacity, especially on Thursdays. Perhaps, this understaffing is a reminder that the dissonance between the infirmary and the administration in terms of communicating substance use on campus comes with its own limitations.