College Chronicles

This was an article I was asked to write for my alma mater’s annual magazine, and since I haven’t heard back from them for months, it has most probably been rejected and can be safely put up on my blog without any copyright issues... 😛

I was 18 years old when I stepped into VIT for the first time, nearly eight years ago.

I was, as usual, late that first rainy morning in September 2009, as was the only other girl I knew then. We both hurried into college together, reached the entrance, where, as if to mark my entry, I proceeded to step into a puddle of water and slipped and fell, landing on my back and looking up at Vaidehi hopefully, waiting for her to give me a hand which never came. As she most penitently explained later, I was slightly heavier than her, and afraid of the gravitational force I was apparently exuding, she decided to just stand there and look at me instead.

Having brushed off the crumbs of this initial embarrassment, I plunged headlong into college life with great gusto, or as much gusto as could be expected from a girl with enormous eyes and a tapering rat-tail plait. Looking back now, most of those four years seem to have passed by in a blur of lectures, movies, good-looking guys, the cultural council, fests, a number of re-evaluated KTs, and a sense of carefree happiness in general, although there were a few incidents that marked epochs of sorts in our college memories, which I elucidate in no particular order below.

It so happened that one morning the lights went out in the entire college, and most fortunately we had practicals scheduled for the next two hours, so we were technically free till after lunch. Since quite a large number of (normally invisible) people had turned up for their practicals, we decided to make the best use of this MSEB-given gift of time and took the next bus to Cinemax Sion to watch (wait for it) Aarakshan (if you remember this movie, I’m judging you..and if you liked it..well..). So there we were, all bright and ready, when the class representative (CR) received a phone call from the Principal ordering us back to college immediately. Apparently, our fond hope that the disappearance of the only Electronics class in the college would go unnoticed in the dark had been too optimistic. The CR, however, was wilier than we gave him credit for. “I’m afraid we cannot come back now, Madam”, he informed the Principal politely, “we have just booked tickets for 35 people that cannot be cancelled” and cut the phone without further ado.

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The movie group.. 🙂 (Sorry Aman.. 😛 )

Then there was the day everyone decided to do a mass bunk from a communications lecture, and even the first-benchers surprisingly agreed to this plan. Predictably, no word of this reached the professor, who strolled into the classroom only to find it empty. Being a bit of a sport, he sat there and waited patiently for about 10 minutes, hoping that it was just a collective excursion to the washroom and not a mass bunk, and was just about to give up and go when in walked V (a guy from our class). V, who had no idea about the mass bunk, had most unfortunately misplaced his friends and come up to the classroom looking for them, where the professor caught him. “Where,” demanded the irate professor, “is the rest of the class?” Bewildered, V protested that he did not know, he had only come up to search for his friends, and could he please go now, since there was obviously no one to teach? “Oh, but there is,” said the professor with a grim smile “you’ll do well enough, don’t worry”, whereupon poor V was made to sit on the first bench for an entire hour while the professor sincerely eulogized about wavelet and Fast Fourier transforms to a lone and captive audience. V has been known to be allergic to communications lectures ever since.

My viva-voci were consistently terrible experiences. I could never manage to study more than two chapters for any viva, and since the external examiners could always be relied upon to ask questions from every other chapter except for those two, I was always at a loss for words. This incident happened in the very last semester during an electronics viva; I had wriggled through the attendance requirements of this subject with the barest minimum. The subject professor stared at me rather blankly as I and a friend entered the room. “Are you sure”, demanded the professor, “that you were in my class?” This was enough to set the external examiner off about the merits and demerits of the attendance system of Mumbai University, and he began to look upon me in a markedly jaundiced manner. An exhausting half-hour of questions later (exhausting for the external, repeating “Sir, I don’t know this” every few minutes surprisingly did not affect me in any way). “All right”, the external conceded, exasperated, “I’ll ask you one last question and then you can leave. Explain the read operation of ROM”. From the very foggy recesses of my not-very-full brain rose a diagram and a somewhat crude explanation of something associated with ROM, so I closed my eyes and began to spew forth enlightening electronic prose immediately, as if in a trance, which ended rather abruptly when my friend elbowed me in the ribs. I shook myself awake and found the examiner and the professor staring at me with a mixture of incredulity and awe, while my friend was looking horrified. “Are you sure? You’re absolutely sure of this answer?” asked the examiner again, staring at me as if fearful of the answer. “Yes sir”, I replied proudly, “I’m very sure; current flows through an open switch”, whereupon the subject professor nearly burst into tears and abused me roundly for having wasted four years, FOUR YEARS, of my time and his, and also a bit of my father’s money, while the external was still looking as if someone had hit him on the head with a copy of Boylestad-Nashelsky. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had managed to turn the whole engineering world on its head in a fraction of a second (in case you don’t know what is wrong with that answer, I would advise you to shift to B.A. or B.Com, there is still time), and by that time the mental processes of the external examiner had shut down, unable to sustain this assault, so we were, not very politely, asked to leave the room. Three months later, I began my Master’s degree in Electronics from another MU college (I fared pretty well in that subject in theory later, although you don’t believe me now, do you?). I was sitting on the first bench waiting for the Head of Department’s address, when, to my abject horror, in strolled that very external examiner; turns out he was the HoD there. I then spent a very pleasant and informative two years in that college, as you will have understood, and now can safely state that if nothing else, I have finally learned that current flows through a closed switch.

P.S. If anyone from ETRX 2013 remembers other interesting stuff, please write in.. 🙂 Also, if someone from EXTC 2013 is reading this, could you tell me a bit more about the toothpaste biscuit incident outside the cafe? 😛

Love and Lies

Last month (September 7) was the seventh anniversary of my first day in engineering. The moment I started college, I decided that I would have an epic romance on which movies would be made later, and of which paeans would be sung by the KJo loving public. So I went about trying out some of the methods shown in Bollywood and soaps to fall in love. I’m afraid none of them worked very well, but who knows, someday you also might feel romantic enough (did I say desperate? Why you’re assuming?) to give these a try, so here goes.

Method 1: Attend a wedding (preferably relative’s, so you can catch the eye of a same-caste person and thus get your parents’ blessings without having to run away and Khap) or any ceremony, really, where you carry a brass plate full of rose petals and go running along with it (gracefully, remember, nobody likes to see elephants trumpeting along in sarees). Don’t stop this one-man marathon till you bump into a handsome fellow and send the plate flying (do not forget to throw the plate in the air, otherwise whole thing is spoilt), fall into said fellow’s arms, and then have eye-lock while the rose petals fall on you both. Yes, romance, thrill, love, over! Next scene: your wedding.

‘Why are you crying?’ ‘Your hair is longer than mine’

So, at my cousin’s wedding, I wore a saree, applied some makeup, and, brass plate in hand, eyes over shoulder, started running. A few seconds later, I bumped into someone, and feeling rather pleased, fell into their arms, sent the plate flying, and turned to face the co-star of my grand romance. To my abject horror, it was Chummi Aunty. Before she could do much more than look disgusted and glower at me, however, the brass plate returned into orbit and fell on Chummi Aunty’s head, showering her with rose petals in the process, although she simply refused to look on this bright side when I visited her in the hospital later.

Moral: This method is useless.

Method 2: Wear salwar-kameez or chudidar, along with dupatta. Make sure the dupatta is at least as pretty as you, because that is the star of the show. Now walk gracefully within eye-lock distance of handsome man and let the dupatta flutter like a flag behind you (what do you mean ‘I don’t have table fan to make it flutter?’ That is not my problem). So, make the dupatta flutter so much that it goes and gets stuck on his shirt button or watch (what do you mean ‘how?’ You are not fit for romance at all) and have deep eye-lock while he tries to free your dupatta. Preferably it should not be freed at all, you can drop the dupatta with an anguished look at him and come running away. Then he will come and find you and marry you with the help of the dupatta, or give it to his girlfriend to wipe her nose.

I’ll just wipe my hands and give it back, promise.

I decided to try this out on traditional day in college, and carefully wore a long dupatta and let it flutter behind me as much as possible. Unfortunately, I hadn’t worn it for ten minutes when the breeze died down suddenly and took the wind out of my dupatta sails, and that piece of silly cloth promptly fell into a patch of wet mud. You can still see the college gardener using a blue diaphanous cloth with golden border to wipe his hands.

Moral. This method is also useless.

Method 3: Get stuck in washing machine. Eh, what? No, of course it’s not a joke, where’s your sense of romance? This actually happened in one Hindi serial. All you have to do is climb into a gigantic washing machine and shut the door, then sit and pray that the handsome man will somehow know (by ehsaas) that you went to an LG showroom and climbed into a washing machine thinking it was a bathtub, and will come running to rescue you and carry you out while having eye-lock all the time (what ‘How did he know where to come?’ This is all internal love GPS, you practical donkey).

‘Darling..’ ‘Yes?’ ‘This is not what I meant when I told you to wash my clothes’

So I went to this electronics showroom and tried to get into a nice big machine. Imagine my shock when a shop-assistant told me I couldn’t go inside. “But I have to go inside, how will I get rescued otherwise?” I asked him. But no, he wouldn’t unbend. Really, I’m going to complain to Arnab Loveswami about this, this is sexism, chauvinism, cupidism, I want to know, how I’m going to conduct any romance if people keep shooing me away from washing machines?

Moral: This method is useless, unless you have an industrial grade washing machine. If you really have, please call me also.

Method 4: Hang clothes out to dry on terrace or balcony clothesline and have Romeo-Juliet balcony scene. For this, handsome fellow has to be standing below on the road, so you can have nice eye-lock while hanging or taking clothes off from the line (remember Alaipayuthey scene? Like that only). Remember, you have to do this every day until love is established, otherwise fellow might fall in love with your sister (or whoever else goes to the terrace) by mistake.

Yes moon of my eyes, I’ve talked to the servant maid, we’re putting up the clothesline tomorrow.

So off I went to the terrace of my building, having haggled for the keys with the watchman, who was surprisingly reluctant to part with them and kept giving me deeply suspicious glances. Imagine my happiness when I espied a prey good-looking fellow standing on the road looking up and smiling back at me. Yes! I had finally found love! Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm, I leaned over a bit too far, and ended up pushing the bucket full of wet clothes onto said fellow. Draped in a dripping orange saree and one of my father’s trousers, the fellow glared at me and gnashed his teeth rather violently. That was the last time I saw him, and also the last time my mother let me go anywhere with a bucketful of wet clothes.

Moral: Always do bird-watching after you’ve hung the clothes to dry.

As you can see, none of my forays into the land of hearts and flowers ended well, and I’m still as single as I was when I was 18. But don’t let that deter you, dear reader, from trying out these pearls of wisdom in your own life. So I wish you luck, and please write back if you are successful.

P.S. If you have tried these methods and failed, don’t worry, by now your mummy has understood that you want to fall in love and is in the process of fixing you up with Pammi aunty’s brother’s son.

Shopping Shenanigans

The other day, I went shopping to the nearest mall. As a rule, I’m not very fond of shopping, especially for clothes. I’m not saying this just to sound swag, I really do dislike it. The thing is, if you want to go shopping, either you should have a good figure, or you should be wealthy enough to buy clothes that hide your defects. If you have both, obviously you belong to a class of people I hate on principle, and if you have neither, welcome to the club.

So there I was, looking for something that had the dimensions of a circus tent but didn’t look like one, when the chatter around me started to increase, and in less than 30 minutes, the place had filled up completely with women of all sizes and shapes, almost like a local train ladies compartment, only with clothes racks instead of seats. I looked at my brother, bewildered at this sudden influx of girls, and he pointed to a label on a nearby rack. It was a Sale Day, and some clothes had 70% off (this was actually 70% off, not the crafty increased-by-70%-then-discounted). I started to sweat (yes, literally also, because it was very crowded). Usually I buy clothes only twice a year, and a few here and there in between, and always make sure there is no sale anywhere within 2 km of me. Because a Sale is The Apocalypse. If you grab one top, 10 other women will grab at it simultaneously on principle. They might or might not go through with the purchase, but they will do it anyway, because why are there 3 girls fighting for that top? Let me also get in the fray, never mind that I weigh 20 kilos and you can probably put two of me into this XXL sized top. Just like IIT, only you are fighting for clothes instead of a seat in premier Indian institutions. Sales are the only time IIT-JEE seems easier.

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The happiness that comes from stealing cheap clothes off women uglier than you

Anyway, I decided to fight it out; I would not budge without at least 5 good tops, whatever happened. So I snatched whatever piece of cloth looked big and not-ugly enough and proceeded to the trial rooms. There was a queue there, and I couldn’t see, let alone find, the end of it. I followed the long winding line of ladies and ended up at the entrance to the shop, where it intersected with the line for baggage deposit and terminated in absolute chaos. I slid in at random between a harassed looking boyfriend who was trying not to look at the pretty girl in front of him and a 55 year old father who was obviously just starting to realise there were only two sofas in the whole of the shop and that his arthritis would be putting in a special appearance soon. It then took me 45 minutes to reach near the head of the queue, where, as it turned out, a fight was just about to begin.

Girl1 (call her G1) was glowering angrily at Girl2 (G2), while the latter was also giving the former the dragon-eye. Apparently, G1 had tried to shove her way into one of the dressing rooms before G2, and that very legitimate heir of the room had managed to shove her back, with the result that, like in the story of the cats and the monkey, an entirely unrelated outsider had managed to inherit the throne trial room and was even now whistling cheerfully from within, while G1 and G2 glared at each other in barely controlled fury and muttered dark curses under their breaths. The twin volcanoes erupted when the former occupant of the room opened the door and strolled out and away to finally-I’ve-decided-what-to-buy heaven, apparently oblivious to the damage she had caused to two blood pressures. Predictably, G1 and G2 scrambled to get in first again, but G1 was not going to be easily outwitted this time around. She promptly burst into tears and G2 drew back in shock, not having expected this daily soap behaviour. Snuffling into her I ❤ NY handkerchief, G1 blubbed, “See, actually, I’m getting married next month, so it’s just so much pressure, you know..” and dissolved into sobs again. G2, hearing this, was just beginning to look slightly sympathetic, when there was a big crash and we all turned around. A young man had collided with one of the racks and was now lying on the floor draped in three pink nighties and a purple duck patterned pyjama, looking up at G1 in shock bordering on terror. “What?! Next month?! Are we getting married next month, G1? But I had no idea…” G1 had by now stopped howling and was furiously trying to gesture to the young man (obviously her boyfriend, let’s call him B1), and G2, having gotten hang of the situation, began to look furious again, her face steadily turning a rich crimson. B1, on the ground, was still blabbing, “…unless you are getting married to someone else, in which case you’ve been cheating on me”, and suddenly stopped, looking very sad. G1 had had enough, “Shut up! No one is marrying anyone, understand? Get up, get up!” she hissed; B1, absolutely befuddled, decided to revert to the one thing he knew best, “Okay then, I’m really hungry..could we go to KFC?” This was the last straw. G1, losing control completely, threw all the clothes she was holding onto B1 (who was, incidentally, still prostrate), glared at G2, burst into actual tears this time, and stomped off. G2, half furious that she had nearly fallen for G1’s sob story, and half happy that the room was finally hers, picked up the clothes and boyfriend G1 had discarded, sashayed off to the changing room and thence to KFC. Everyone in the queue returned to their phones, disappointed that the entertainment had lasted for all of 5 minutes.

So, four hours of cat-fights (when push comes to shove, I can be very violent; that is one thing everyone learns from the 8.32 am CST local), three hours of unsuccessfully trying to evoke a Priyanka Chopra from the mirror reflection, and about an hour of reflection on hedonistic existentialism later, I was finally standing in front of the cash counter with seven of my conquests in hand, having got through the Third World War successfully, or so I thought, until the cashier reached out her hand for my clothes. Smiling politely, she fed something into those blasted digital calculators and, still smiling politely, named a price nearly thrice my own estimate. I stared at her, hoping I had heard wrong, but it was not to be. The thing is, she explained, still with that silly grin on her face, out of the stuff I had selected, three were 70% off only if bought with a set of three from the same brand, another three were only 70% of the price (i.e. 30% discount), and the only one left was a 50% off without any frills, which, in effect, meant that I had wasted five whole hours and bought one top. One. ONE.

I burst into internal tears, bought that one top, and stumbled out of the shop, mortally wounded. WWIII had had its say. So the moral of the story is, don’t leave your boyfriends and clothes lying around, and don’t ever trust a sale, ever.

P.S. I did go early the next morning (Sunday, sale was still on) and bought a huge amount of stuff before G3, G4,….,G100 could even get started on their Sunday brunch.

Mayhem in the Home

So my mother took herself off to Chennai to visit her mother for a few days, plunging the rest of us (i.e. myself, brother and father) at home into deep despondency (mostly because none of us are great cooks, and also because all of us are slaves to our palates). For ten days, we somehow managed with salt-less khichdi (courtesy father), weird-tasting sambhar (courtesy yours truly) and bread toast with Hershey’s syrup and crushed Oreo sprinkled on top (my brother is a big fan of Masterchef Australia). The trouble began when my mother came back.

Having finished with Yashraj-style reunions (this was partly due to the relief of not having to eat burnt rasam day after day), my brother and I formed an orderly queue towards the bag with all the Chennai snacks in it (if pouncing on stuff from either side and banging our heads in the process can be called an orderly queue) and forgot ourselves for the next hour in the joys of thattai, seedai and Tirunelveli halwa (from l-r below).

images9565817495_554f33c838_zTirunelveli-Halwa-2

Then my mother came back from her bath and stepped into the kitchen. There came the sound of steel tiffins being opened and closed, containers being inspected, frying pans being overturned and placed back, and then there emerged a roar. I froze. My mother charged out of the kitchen with three steel dabbas in her hands, looking rather furious, and I couldn’t help sidling unobtrusively to the door.

“What the hell”, she shook the dabbas under my nose, “on earth is this?” There was a green mold-covered something that might have been a leftover chapatti a week ago (ok no judging me please, haven’t you ever done anything like this? On second thoughts, don’t answer that), a blackish looking something that might have been the poha from 4 days ago and another something I couldn’t recognize at all. I crept a bit further in the direction of the door and promptly stumbled over my father, who had obviously had the same brainwave and was muttering something about walks. My mother eyed him frostily, and he came back resignedly into the house, mumbling about heart patients and how weak they generally are. This card never fails to arouse my mother’s sympathy and concern, however unfairly it may be used, so she calmed down a bit and turned to glare at me. This time, though, I had my answer ready, “I went to college every day and came back only at night”, I wailed, “He was the one cooking and cleaning everything” and pointed at him rather melodramatically. My father blustered and blubbed a bit, but he needn’t have bothered with any explanation.

Both of us had forgotten a key player in the drama. My brother, who was, perhaps, taking revenge on us for all the nonsense he had been forced to eat for ten whole days, at once screamed, “Liars liars pants on fires” (No, he’s not very mature, and also, no, not very grammatical either), “She went to college only once, and dad was strong enough to wrestle with me daily”, and poured into her ears sob stories of how he had been force-fed watery rice and tasteless vegetables (which, I assure you, was an exaggeration; the rice was only watery twice, once when it was overcooked, and once when I tried to multitask (yes, me also Masterchef fan) and poured water into the rice instead of the dal (on that note, remind me never to trust my brother again, he seemed to believe me when I told him that it was Spanish rice with caliente agua)).

Anyway, the upshot of it all was that my mother gave us a good long lecture on the management of houses and kitchens, and asked me how I thought I was going to manage a household by myself after marriage, if my standards were so abysmal, and what my husband and mother-in-law would have to say about my upbringing if I cooked daily such burnt rice and watery rasam. Nose in the air, I replied, “You can just tell them I’m a career girl and don’t care for such petty chores”, which was, on second thought, possibly the worst thing to say to a mathematician who had given up her job to take care of a fragile husband and frail daughter (though nobody who has seen me anytime recently will believe that I have ever been anywhere near frail in my life). “What, then”, she asked rather acidly, “will you eat if both you and your husband don’t cook?” This, I must confess, had me stumped, and I bit back all sorts of feminist rants about cooking, because there are times when it is more about your stomach than about your gender.

Since she seemed to have calmed down quite a bit after this tirade, my father and I started inching towards the bedroom door again (this time to beat up my brother, who had mysteriously gone missing after denouncing us), but in our fear, we had failed to notice that my mother had opened the refrigerator and was rifling through its contents while haranguing us. “What”, she frowned, “is this?” and held up something which looked eerily like the unsuccessful mushroom tomato sabzi I had cooked 3 days ago, except that it had a purple layer on it (on an aside, this is my mother’s favourite colour, but possibly it does not quite matter in this case). “Toilet, I wanna go toilet”, I screamed and fled the scene (this, though obviously not a very mature scheme, was a very wise one, since my father promptly copied it).

So the moral of the story is, when the cat is away, the mice will play, provided they don’t have to cook, and when the cat comes back, will still be safe, since mice don’t have traitorous brothers.

P.S. This is a true story, and is only slightly exaggerated (I’m not really that bad a cook, although you don’t believe me now, do you?)

P.P.S. Please forgive my erratic posting schedule, dear readers (and also fellow writers whose posts I haven’t read and commented on for some time); this is in major part due to certain career decisions I took that have come back to bite me in the..er..neverwhere, so life is not all that it should be, but I’m trying to soldier on, please bear with me.. 🙂

Sibling Stories

My brother was born when I was 10 years old, one sunny afternoon in April. Apparently, it was quite the event. All of my mother’s friends, both my grandmothers, and a few other ladies convened in the waiting room of the local clinic and created such a cackling ruckus that the doctor barged out of the delivery room and shooed them all out. Little did any of us know; this was just the beginning.

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