As I write this, the clock is closing in on 2:00 am in the sleepy town of Pilani, Rajasthan. And yet most of the students at BITS Pilani are awake. If you go out on a stroll, you’ll notice that the air blows a little chilly now.

You don’t complain, it doesn’t matter that the winter is drawing near and in a little over a month, you’ll have to step out of your room almost frostbitten to write exams. It doesn’t matter because you know that if it doesn’t get chilly at night, the 4 am coffee at M-Lawns during the OASIS Day 1 night out wouldn’t be as soothing. And that matters more than anything else.

OASIS inaug is less than 48 hours away, the Prez has declared a holiday tomorrow and your test has been postponed. BITS is probably the only institution in the world where the president of the student’s union can declare a legitimate holiday.

You knew this test would be postponed every since you first saw the schedule. Why do they even schedule tests on the day before OASIS? Of course, even if the test had not been postponed, it’s not like you’d have been studying. If there’s anything better than OASIS, it’s the couple of days before OASIS!

You walk towards the clock tower, a crackling sound reaches your ears. Sometimes you hear a hammer striking iron and flashes of bright light shine through the thick hedges. These sights and sounds aren’t new for you, this has been going on for days. From flat ground, to a slight mound, to a mesh of MS-rods and GI-wire, to many layers of smelly newspapers, to coats of paint, to the semi-incomplete structure that stands in the middle of the lawn.

Art n’ Dee junta surrounds it and a couple of guys are bent over the welding machine. More flashes and you avert your eyes. There’s some activity near the FD2 entrance as well. You walk in, almost stepping on the large sheets spread out on the floor. Three girls are painting one of the corners; one other girl is guiding them.

They wouldn’t normally be here thanks to the night curfew at BITS but they have late perm today. A bunch of boys and girls are sitting on the stairs putting lachha. A GL from another department walks up hesitantly, looking for two bottles of red paint. You smile to yourself wondering why his coord has decided to punish him like this. Two days before the OASIS inaug, it would take at least a core with contis to get paint off Art n’ Dee. As expected, he gets shooed away.

You follow him up the stairs to the loud blare of music. Chairs and tables have been pushed to the back of the class in most of the rooms. Dance Clubbers practice their complicated steps in 2204 and a small group of students is watching them through the doors and windows.

In another classroom not far away, the Mime Club adds the final touches to its performance. The lights are on in most of the other classrooms as well, each inhabited by a different department or club. Stories of previous OASIS’ are recounted again and again.

Your first OASIS is your best OASIS, every volunteer has heard that at least a million times. Their expectations couldn’t higher. Thankfully, OASIS is the only event that can actually meet those expectations. Surpass them. Like it has for the past 40-odd years.

You walk to SUB now, that other hub of pre-OASIS activity. The stretch of road between ANC and SUB has witnessed many fights for leftover sams over the past few days. Club heads are lobbying with the Gen Sec for extra budgets, just to get a dozen more sams, an extra flask of coffee, a couple more fried maggis.

The dilapidated Students Union Block smells a little, there’s maida and newspaper everywhere. The eerie lighting further adds to the ambience. For the past month, many BITSians have spent the better part of their days here. Within a week SUB would be forgotten, doors locked and hardly ever opened again this sem. Memories of OASIS locked in, shut off till they can be retrieved fresh again next year.

It’s close to 2:30 am now and the departments are wrapping up for the day. The vols have been dispatched to ANC in advance to reserve seats for their department. It’s a test and also practice for the inaug where seat reservation is a skill that comes in very handy.

Within a few minutes, every chair at ANC is occupied. Night perm ends soon and everyone involved with OASIS in any way is at SUB now. Some DoSAs are around as well, you don’t get to see girls at ANC at 3 am everyday. The last batch of fried maggis is poured out in the plates.

The vols have been sent forward again, another round of practice for the inaug. A core notices that his department vols have been jostled aside and steps in to help. After 3 years of fried maggi every night, the ANC staff knows him well. He gets a few extra plates and walks back with his department vols. They wink and a few “tat macchas” follow.

Two years later, the vols would help out their vols in the same way. Twenty years later, all of them would still remember this incident. They call it a ‘pre-OASIS bond.’ They don’t teach about it in Mech Sol.

The clock strikes 3 and just like that, the day is over. The girls rush back to their hostels, waves and waves of cycles head to MB. The warden’s fast asleep by now but the chowki has his notebook ready. No worries, there are psenti-semites in the group, they know how to handle him.

Back at ANC, the boys stick around for a little more time, vocabulary that had been carefully restricted till a few minutes ago is now bared free. The ANC staff has to drag them out as they lock the gates, some of the boys would now go watch a movie. Others would retire to their rooms and perhaps that is what you do as well. After all, you don’t plan to sleep when the event starts.

Tomorrow is another day. And then, there’s OASIS!

For the record, my last OASIS as an on-campus student was in 2003. I did visit Pilani for a couple of days during OASIS 2006. I know things have changed since then, ANC has Nescafe stalls and I guess SAC is the new SUB. They probably don’t gather in FD-2 anymore. But that is how I remember it, that is how I imagine it, that is how I hope it still is.