3.20.2009

A Leaf Outta Life (LOL) - 01

"WHATTHAFUCK!", I exclaimed in horror.
"Yup.. it's true", said Gautam. "It reached most people around here.. Navaneeth, Sruthi, Praveen, Athulya, Balu.. everyone's got it."
He was right.. One by one, the survivors trooped in, shuffling under the weight of bags which carried mostly nothing. All with wan faces in which lingered the phantom of devastation.
The marklist of the recent test-series, with the marks of all the members of the class, had been mailed home, straight to their parents. A few of us had still not received it, so the only possibility was that exactly the following afternoon, our mailboxes would have a brown envelope, labelled "Parent-Teachers Association; College of Engineering, Trivandrum".

Not a very pleasing way to start off a warm Friday morning. The question remained: How to bail ourselves out? Gautam had stepped out; he now entered the class with a smug expression, under which shone a sinister grin. "Got it all planned... Have told bro to stow it away as soon as the damn mailbox feels it".
Easy. For him. I got the pest of a sister at home, who, unlike the fellow-conspirator-cum-comrade-for-life attitude of a two-or-three-year-younger brother, would do all that was possible in her power to bring shame and downfall or get me courtmartialled by all the folks at home. That, I may safely assert, when seen in the light of her ten-year old brain fuming under the recently stirred kiddy envy at my showing off my driving skills whenever and wherever possible nowadays, is an entirely unpleasant situation.
In short, the possibilty of getting the letter safely out of sight by an accomplice at home, while I fretted and waited anxiously at college, was Zilch. Zero. Don't even imagine it.

Home...just fifteen kilometres away. I had woken up to my alarm sounding for the fourth time, after being piteously killed (snoozed) thrice. "May u begin this day with a smile on ur face, and with happiness in ur soul to embrace.. Gud mng :)", sang the sms from a newly found friend of mine :D
The daily chores: Starting up the computer.. resuming all the torrent downloads checking mail quick bath charge the mobile-phone shave get dressed wolf down hot breakfast run up and downstairs stuff the wallet ID card phone into pocket.. and walk to the bus stop. This time, I had the violin with me. My ten year old beauty of a golden instrument.. the one which, I fondly remember, had earned me a standing ovation two years back, from a very special audience ;) As is usual with any accessory, I forgot it in the bus when I got off, only to be reminded of it in a casual remark by a friend, on which I had dashed back and slung it back over my left shoulder. Nothing very out of the ordinary.

Back in class... Statistical mechanics. The whole topic hung thick like a grey cloud, about which I knew nothing. After the initial futility at trying to grasp the stuff, I gave up and reverted my mind to the mark-list. Creating good but impractical theories I gave up. My hands reached down under the desk, till I felt the texture of synthetic cloth. I groped for a moment.. and unzipped.
The bag opened. I took out the book I had been reading: Salman Rushdie - Midnights Children. My head at the critical angle between looking-up and looking-down, I resumed reading.. with the applications of Bose-Einstein Statistics floating about the class.

"The frankness of the urchin girl, the honesty of latrine cleaners, made Ayooba sick; he told her she had a soul composed of pig-droppings, and a tongue caked with excrement also; and in the throes of his jealousy he devised the prank of the jump-leads, the trick of the electrified urinal. The location appealed to him; it had a certain poetic justice."

"You.. what does this g-i term signify? Yes, I mean YOU". I jumped and dropped the book into the bag between my legs. Looking up, I saw our Physics sir's stern gaze, his eyes fixed (I heaved a sigh) on one of the most picked-on guys in the last bench. I was happily reminded, for the umpteenth time, of the innumerable merits of being a front-bencher.

Fermi-Dirac characteristics... bosons. 'Can't feel, huh?' Ayooba sneered to Farooq and Shaheed, 'Just wait on: I'll make him jump for sure.' My outer ears picking up Quantum Physics and the inner one glued to the book, my brain was working hard to filter the rage of English streaming in.
And as if in compensation, the second hour was free.

Feeling slightly sleepy, I lay with my head on the desk and the book on my lap.. resumed reading. Farooq yelps, 'Grab your ears and pray for pity, he's brought us to this drowned place and run off, it's all your fault, you Ayooba, that trick with the jump-leads and this is his revenge!' The book was into me, gripping my soul and refusing to give my tired eyes the luxury of reprise. As a result, I drifted in and out of reality, and in and out of sleep.. oblivious of the two guys playing cricket in the class, oblivious of a professor who saw them and walked inside and started scolding, rebuking, advising and finally walking out.
Maths hour. This time, I paid attention. Thank God, for by twelve o'clock I had learnt something about Eigen vectors.

Lunch time. After contemplating for a few moments on whether to get out from the left side or the right side of the bench, I jumped out straight across my desk. (Sometimes in life you really take useless decisions). Straight to the cooler -cum- wash basin -cum- place to see some really pretty chicks come to hygenise their hands before having lunch. There must have been something jinxed in my timing since, at the exact moment I (and my pals), were greeted by the sight of some of the most lovely looking faces in the whole college. I don't know if I have mentioned it before, but the very presence of a beautiful face pumps a lot of feel-good-factor in the air :) We washed our hands, loitered about a bit and returned to class feeling as a light as a bird ;)
A bit of 'puttu' from Abhi, some soya-meat from Gautam, and lotsa curd from my ol' bottle.. my dosas doused in spicy sambhar went down a satisfied digestive tract. A visit to our Physics lab was in the offing for a while, and after a long wait our Optics professor found the right time to take us on a visit to the tiny lab. A Sodium-light lamp glowed menacingly in the distance... a Michelson's interferometer sat beside it. We were awed by the sensitivity of the instrument, which showed changes even on a small pat on the table. The next half an hour went in about ten of us engaging in admiration of the precise and delicate optical instruments invented by man.

Friday meant two hours off in the afternoon. Around one, finding all the computers in the CCF occupied, I joined Abhi, Gautam, Vishnu and a couple of others on a largely aimless walk, which somehow ended up at the Indoor basketball court. And after a long gap of more than a year, I played... a lot. About forty five minutes later about ten exhausted, sweating guys dripped down the road, and trickled into the 'civil-canteen'. Gulping down lemonade we warmed up the already hot room. There wasn't much time left... and our Civil Engg. hour was about to start. Gautam decided to call it a day, picked up his bag and left. If only I had known what he had in mind...

'That's it,' the buddha says. 'Saleem: that was it.' Damn, wrong page. Hardly twenty people in the class... easy visibility. No choice. I closed the Rushdie, kept it under the table and took up an almost-sleeping-but-not-exactly-appearing-to-be. Drifting in and out of consciousness, my ears grabbed a lot of stuff about paints.. base, vehicle, thinners... My phone buzzed a couple of times signifying the time when a host of messages: News, one-liners, quotes.. troop in from Google sms channels. Qualities of a good paint.. drying time.. distempers... moisture absorption. After some time the professor marked our attendance and made his exit.

A free hour at last... I mean, 'again' :) I thankfully waited until the horde of students had left the class. Walking over to under where the working fan was blowing warm afternoon air down, I placed my bag as a pillow and resumed reading, the book on my chest. The lone figure of Marco was busy completing his workshop record a couple of desks away.
He sat cross-legged amid the wailing storm of his companions' fear, forcing himself to remember; but no, it would not come. And at last the buddha, hurling spittoon against earthen floor, exclaimed to stone-deaf ears: 'It's not - NOT - FAIR!'
Solitary, under the breeze of afternoon fan blowing warm tropical air down over my sweaty self, I was feeling happy :) The feeling continued as a cutlet, a vada followed by a glass of piping hot chaaya went down my tract in the canteen.

Evening.. after the buses are gone and the silence of a dignified educational institution returns to the college air, the quick notes of a violin, in harmony with the melodious chords of a grand piano accompanied a couple of voices... Medley. Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil floated in the music-rich fabric of air that clothed us, till it was time for us to leave. We walked out of the main hall, past the lovely whispering crackling acacia trees, down to the main gate, and flagged down a crowded city bus. Violin between legs, phone in one hand and the other hand tightly gripping the overhead handrail for fear of being accused of harassment (I was standing amidst a crowd of chattering women ;) the bus rumbled on to the next stop where a bunch of familiar-but-only-familiar faces board. One of them is the lady with the beautiful eyes.

The reduction of ragging to near-nil has one major problem: You never get to know your elder-most seniors very well... Take our case for instance.. if only we had been forced to confront, propose to (etc.) senior girls, I for instance would have referred to the lady I mentioned previously by her name. But the sad fact is I don't know her name! Hence referral names take various forms such as: The shortest one, the sweet-voiced one, or in this case, the "aankhen teri.. kitni haseen" lady with beautiful eyes!

Srikanth and I were in the bus together and we finally got places to rest our tired bums. The rest of the journey was typical. A medley of topics... PIC microcontrollers, the Raga Jog, the lady-with-beautiful-eyes (I tried to logically prove she would alight at PMG, but later she proved me wrong and alighted with us, at East Fort). As we walk away ('we' as in Srikanth and I ;) Gautam sends me an overjoyed message saying "Lotsa chicks everywhere... don't know where to look :)" meaning he's at _____ Institute of Technology for Women, and he's at their tech-fest. I dash off a txt msg saying: "let my fire of envy burn you into hormonal neutrality, thou fiend!" and laugh over all our silly boyish infatuations and the gaping-at-the-fairer-lot business... and finally reach home.

The final good thing.. the completing significant bit.. the stuff that comes around, completing something in the story is: No letter reached my mailbox! Thank God!!

3.06.2009

And you sir..?

There's this quiet little temple near my house... built to typical Kerala architecture: A closed Sanctum, surrounded by a walk forms the central portion. At various places along this you find other deities, most often under the shade of a huge banyan tree. Typical.
Then you have the lovely 'grove' in which a small path leads to a tiny pond, surrounded by small leafy trees, in the midst of which stands a Krishna, complete with his wooden bansuri, and a little calf grazing near his feet. Tiny little bells hang above the idol, which tinkle by themselves as the breeze filters through the trees after rustling their leaves, and the morning sun-rays illuminate the smoke wisps emanating from the sandalwood incense sticks placed nearby. As if to complete the serenity, a soft, devotional song in the soothing Sahana raaga or a mellifluous Yaman Kalyani floats in from afar..

This evening I felt the urge to spend a few minutes at the place and took off. After making some customary salutations I sat down to enjoy the evening breeze under one of the huge banyan trees which adorn the temple. A few people were sitting on the stone platform surrounding the old, wizened tree. One side of it, however, was a figure. An old man with an unkempt grey beard, a shabby, randomly buttoned green shirt, and a dirty white dhoti. He was sitting crosslegged, eyes staring into the distance. No one was on this side of the platform. Having given it a thought, I went and sat a few feet away from him. A few questions popped up in my mind... was this guy a tramp? Is he okay in his head? (this is one thing all we Indians think on seeing a haggardly dressed figure in a decent place).

Out of a few furtive side glances I saw that he was tapping his fingers to the music. My doubts started vanishing.. I wondered what he would be thinking of this young man sitting next to him. I feared he might have put me into the category of people who dismissed him as 'just another tramp'.. and something told me he was not what he seemed to be.
A couple of minutes later, I turned my wrist to look at the time.. but my watch had died the previous night and so I slid my hands into my pocket and had a look at the mobile phone's screen. 18:32.

Then he spoke. A quiet voice: "Samayam entha.. aarara aayo?" ("The time.. is it six thirty now?")
I looked at him, surprised for a fraction of a second, and replied in the affirmative.. "ah.. aarara aayi". He smiled.

I was right.

A few seconds later, he spoke again, in Malayalam. "You shouldn't get used to wearing these glasses... try moving about without them... do some exercises, ones that stimulate the nerves and the blood vessels of the eye"
I nodded, "Yes.. but my glasses' power is very high"
"You should have thought of that before... this has become a sort of a compulsive accessory for students nowadays.. and is promoted by certain medical companies too... forcing the community away from regaining good eyesight, and to become dependent on spectacles."

He asked me what I did, and I told him I was an engineering student. Where, he queried. "Trivandrum Engineering College.. at Kulathoor", I replied.
"Oh", he raised his eyebrows, "the government college?" he asked. I nodded.
After asking me which branch I was in, he asked me if I knew a certain Mr. M, in the Civil Dept. I told him that I didn't know him personally, but that I have heard of the professor.
Ente aniyante mona, he said. ("He's my brother's son")

He then went on to say where he had been working (I forgot), that he lives in Sreekariyam(12 kms from here), and also mentioned the names of some other lecturers in my college and how he knew them.
Every statement he made, was uttered from a completely normal, educated mind. I asked him his name and got an answer. He then asked me about the opportunities for higher studies in my field, told me how his sister moved to a good research post in the US after a brief stint at TIFR, Bombay, and made a remark about how nice an atmosphere my college has. All except about himself.
It was getting dark. I made a gesture as if to rise, and said "Well okay then.. see you again sometime". He nodded.

I made my way out of the temple, and walked back home. Just another day... and I had met a new friend. I wanted to ask him a lot of questions.. "Why are you dressed like a shabby tramp? Or have you fallen upon bad times? How do you come here all the way from your house? Why don't you give a thought to your appearance?"

I thought he would take the conversation to that direction when he spoke, but he preferred not to.

I respected his dignity.