Tuesday, March 25, 2003

At last I am a certified bachelor.

No, I don’t mean that I have found the girl of my dreams and am out to prove that I am marriage-worthy, nor do I mean that the government has started handing out certificates proving that people are indeed bachelors (similar to the ‘certificate of joblessness’ that we all received before the campus interviews, to prevent people getting two jobs, while others didn’t have one!).

What I mean is that I went over to my University yesterday and received my degree certificate proclaiming that I was a Bachelor of Electronics and Tele-Communication Engineering from Jadavpur University.

I didn’t expect to get the certificate in one attempt (one attempt to collect it from the examination office that is). We are here speaking of Jadavpur University, famous for its enviable abilities of making any ten-minute official work take one week at the least. When I started out in the morning, I told my parents, I should get the certificate by friday. I had to because I am going back to Bangalore next week.

I reached the JU administrative (Aurobindo Bhavan) at around twelve thirty. Without any prior experience of collecting degree certificates, I was at a loss about whom to approach about it. But I quickly made up my mind and entered the outer office of the Assistant Controller of Examinations. A friendly clerk asked my what the hell I was doing there. I told him. He gently informed me that I had come to the wrong place, and I should take a form from ‘that’ counter (he pointed it out to me), pay the fees, and take with some ‘madam’ (I didn’t get the name) in the examinations office.

So I walked over to the counter. There was a small queue of about nine, ten guys and girls, collecting the exam forms. (Ya, we had to fill u forms and pay some fees to be eligible to sit for the exams.) The old man sitting at the counter slowly dealt with each person, elaborately studying the fee-books that they had to present, laboriously picking up the forms, putting n number of stamps here and there, before handing out the forms. My turn came in about half an hour, and the person in the counter gave me a white form and told me to hurry to the cash counters before they were closed.

I glanced at my watch. It was fifteen minutes past one. The counter closed at two. I quickly made my way to stand in the cash queue behind thirty odd students, who conscientiously did their pre-exam duty much ahead of the semester exams. We usually did it in the last week, when the queues consisted of about a couple of hundred students, and we ‘had to’ bunk a couple of lectures to be eligible to write the exams, answering questions on the same topics that were discussed in the classes we had to bunk! Anyway, when I was nearing the counter, in another fifteen minutes time that is, the cashier declared that the counter was closed for newcomers. He quickly collected all the forms from those who were already in the queue, did the necessary paper work, called out names one by one, and gave away the receipts. When my turn came, he suddenly decided that I was getting away too easily, and conjured up a new form for me to fill. Ultimately I was the last person to be served in that counter yesterday, and at two o’clock I jubilantly emerged from the counters holding a half-filled form and a receipt.

I made my way towards the examination office incredulously, finding it rather hard to believe that I had finished all the paper work already, it was only two! I couldn’t find madam X at her seats, and asked the person sitting at the next table what I should do. At this point of time, a large procession of JU staff members came marching down the corridor carrying red flags and chanting slogans. Suddenly I started feeling rather nostalgic. What was JU, I thought, without all these slogans and protests and hunger strikes! Madam X’s friend, who had been looking at the form for the whole length of time while these protestants were protesting against god knows what! As they made their way back to from where they were coming, this guy informed me that madam X was among those in the procession, and can be expected back at her seat sometime in the afternoon. However, he informed me that I needed to go to the Muster Roll section and get a signature verifying that I indeed lived where I claimed to, first.

The KMR section is on the second floor of a different building. As I made my way to this new destination, I saw that several of those protestants had spread out mattresses on the corridor and were sitting down, chatting with each other. I came to know that they were demanding pay hike.

The doors of the KMR section were closed when I came there. I peered in through a window and spotted a white haired old man sitting nearby, eating rice and vegetables from a tiffin-carrier. I showed him my form and asked him what I should do about it. He told me that it was mid-day break, and I would have to come back after three.

When I came back at three, after having met my professors and juniors, and having told each and every one of them individually, why I had cut my hair so short (hair-cuts are too costly in Bangalore to indulge in very often, specially compared to Calcutta!) I found that the KMR section was empty. Or at least it appeared empty in the first glance. Looking carefully for the second time, I perceived a young man sitting in a corner and reading the newspaper. I approached him, and expressed my desire to get the signature in the form. He looked at me over his thin reading glasses and told me, nothing doing, no one was around, and he was not going to go through the record books and verify my address. He asked me to come back at six. I meekly told him that I had a rather busy schedule (when you come home for one week, you will be lucky if you get even one relatives-free hour that you can enjoy with your family or alone.) He looked me over once and then said, “Come tomorrow”. I lied that I was going back to Bangalore today. Grumbling, he stood up, elaborately folded the newspaper, and ambled towards a desk which had a lot of fat registers, muttering to himself all the time “Why do these blokes need the certificates!” and so on. After half an hours diligent digging, he ultimately unearthed the desired book from under a huge pile, and opened it. He took a look at the address recorded, and comparing it with that on the form, declared, “You have given the wrong address!” It took me another half an hour to convince him that I did actually live where I said, and someone must have made a mistake in recording it in his books. Ultimately he put his signature on the piece of paper, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I came back to the exams office. Madam X was still not there. The guy at the next table took the form, and told me, “Now go and get a signature from your HOD, that you are indeed from the Dept you claim to be from.” Now, why he couldn’t have told me earlier, I do not know, but I again trudged back to my Department building to find that the professor was not in his office. “He has come I the morning, but I do not know where he is right now.” The guy sitting outside told me. I made another round of the building, not to find him anywhere. Everyone I met seemed to have seen him sometime in the morning, somewhere or other, but no one knew where he was now. Ultimately, I cornered the great man sneaking into a lift, no doubt with an intention to elude me, so that I again had to come next day.

I had to wait only another half an hour before Madam X emerged from a ‘meeting’ with the controller of examinations regarding some lost files, before I could approach her with a filled form demanding that I be given my degree certificates. She asked me to sign at some ten or twelve different places agreeing to all kinds of things regarding my birth, education, upbringing and what not. Then she opened a steel wardrobe and ultimately handed me the coveted treasure.

I came home triumphantly, gloating about my victories of the day…after all I was now a certified bachelor.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

(Part V)
I do not know, how I got out of the situation with shattered nerves but no
shattered bones. Looking back, I now realise, there were two things that saved
me. Firstly, I was probably doing much over forty at that instant (fear lends
wings, and I was going down the slope). Secondly, the triangular shape of
the auto when you look from the top left enough space to scrape through even
when its front wheels had come upto the bus.

There has of course been some small unimportant incidents like the time I
crashed into a wall because I didn't turn right where the road did, or the time
when I wanted to avoid the potholes on the way, and chose to hit the fence
instead, but these are minor incidents, and too many to recall, or relate.

I haven't rode only bicycles all my life, I have taken my turns at other peoples
motorbikes and cars as well. Maybe I can write about those experiences some
other day.
(Part IV)
Day before yesterday, I was about half an hour late for office. I always am
half an hour late for office. Day before yesterday was no different. I had just
taken my cycle out of the basement garage and started on the way to the office.
Now the lane on which our house is is not too wide. Cars and bikes are often
parked on one side of the road, leaving very little space. On this particular
morning, as I was cycling merrily down the lane, I saw this big school bus
parked up front, uploading or downloading a few school kids. There was just
sufficient space for an auto or a bicycle to pass the bus, but definitely not
enough for both. I took the right lane (the narrow space available to the right
side of the bus or rather the wrong side of the bus) and charted my flight plan
overtaking the stationary bus. Nothing great to it, overtaking a bus which is
stationary is no big deal to cycling stalwarts like me. At this juncture I
noticed the auto rickshaw coming from the other side. As I said, the space
available in the road was not enough for the both of us. It was a matter of
either I existed or he did...and in case of a crash, its anyone's guess, whose
existance one could safely place bets on!

No sweat, I said to myself, and speeded up. I could cross the bus before the
auto came close enough. Now this particular auto driver seemed to have some kind
of macho streak in him. I don't know whether he was an avid fan of Street Hawk,
or modelled himself in the lines of the Knight Rider, but he chose this
particular moment to put his three wheeled beast into the fourth gear and surge
forward with a malicious grin on his face. I paniced. I was already abreast the
big bus, and there was no stopping now. I was moving at about 40 kilometers per
hour, speeds that cycles should never attain, and I had to pass the bus and
swerve left in the split second, before the auto came up. I calmly took in the
situation (of course I am kidding) and gathered that there was still a chance
that I could make my way out of the fix in one piece. The bus driver, who was
looking disdainfully out of his window, read my mind. He took it upon himself to
decide that things were not interesting enough, and started his bus. The small
gap between the auto and the bus started closing in further...
(Part III)
A week after this, I was again rushing down a lane, which meets the Wind Tunnel
Road in a 'T-joint'. The lane was sloping, and I was thoroughly enjoying the
downhill ride, and it was only when I had come up to the main road that I
noticed that I was not the only person who liked to speed. Unfortunately, the
other guy was on a bike. Now, this guy was in no mood to slow down even though
we were straight on a collision course, and I figured out that I should probably
take evasive action for I would be the one to be worse of after the hit.

Some people may be able to cycle at top speed, swerve at a moment's notice, and
still be in perfect control, going exactly where they want to. I am not one of
them. I was cycling at top speed, and I swerved, but found out at once that I
was no longer in control. I could barely stay upright and let the cycle go where
it wanted to, which it did. The cycle missed the speeding bike, crossed the Wind
Tunnel road, straight across, and hit a scooter. (I was on the cycle all this
while!) The scooter was actually parked by the side of the road when I hit it. I
came to a dead halt still upright, all the momentum being transferred to the
scooter. It fell on its side, and the seat came off! A man emerged from a shop
nearby. Looking at the expression on his face, I could deduce easily that he was
the owner of the 'fallen' scooter! He wordlessly picked up his scooter, glared
at me, put the seat back on, sat on it and rode away! He didn't swear even once!
I was thrilled to come in contact with such a man (or rather his scooter).

I don't know which of the two incidents is responsible, but they left my cycle
unscarred except for the fact that the front wheel was now an ellipse instead of
a circle. The major and minor axes are almost too close to be identified
visually, but I can feel the effect from the gentle up and down swaying when I
roll down the slopes without pedalling.
(Part II)
With such cycling backgrounds, I started cycling on Bangalore roads, including
the famous Airport Road. As expected, the short cycle trips from home to office
and office to the tennis courts were full of adventure and 'put the heart in the
mouth' misses. (That is, I could barely manage to miss the busses and trucks!!)
The first 'accident' occurred within a month. I was racing down Airport Road on
my not-meant-to-be-a-racing bicycle, and I was totally overcome by the feeling of
air blowing thru' your hair (the actual effect happens only in bikes, but you
can get a trailor on your bicycle as well!), and being in a state of ecstasy, I
didn't see the traffic light up front turn red, and the bus ahead of me stop.
Now Bangalore busses are a mean lot. They are not so plentiful as Calcutta
busses, or Delhi busses, but whatever they lack in number, they make up in their
meanness. In this case however, the bus driver didnt do anything wrong. He just
pulled up short as soon as the light turned red. Now, I am always a little slow
with the brakes - I don't like pressing brakes while cycling, its a simple waste
of all the energy that you put into speeding up - and I banged into the bus
square on.

OK, when I say banged INTO, I should probably elaborate. The rear end of the bus
was just as high as my front wheel. The cycle hit the bus straight and the front
wheel got stuck under the bus!!! I tried heaving it out, but to no avail. To
make matters worse, a bike pulled up beside me. A girl was sitting behind the
helmet-ed, leather jacket-ed guy. She looked at me with a bored expression and
the what-a-silly-guy-trying-to-pull-the-cycle-out-when-he-can-just-tilt-it-to-
free-it look on her face. She was chewing a bubble gum or something, and kept
staring at my clumsy efforts to pull my cycle free! I became conscious of the
gaze, and started tugging harder, with no results. Ultimately, the traffic light
came to my rescue, and the bus pulled off, leaving my cycle behind, with me
sitting on it, unscarred!
The house that I stay in (well, I don't feel like calling it my home as yet) is
about a kilometer away from my office, and I cycle to office everyday. The cycle
was the first thing that I bought after coming to Bangalore, when I discovered
that my office was about a kilometer away from the house.

I couldn't think of buying a bike instead. Number one, the cost. I had made up
my mind, not to take any more money from my parents, now that I was working.
More importantly, my mother would have had a heart attack, had she heard that I
was going to buy a bike! And I was still an obidient son, fresh from college!

So I bought a cycle within a couple of weeks of coming to Bangalore. I was not
an expert cyclist (I still am not). My cousins in Kalyani (a small town in West
Bengal) dreaded the idea of allowing me to ride their bicycles. They couldn't
say an outright NO when I asked for the cycle, but they made it a point, never
to be within a mile of me with a cycle!

My parents had bought me a cycle when I was in class eight.It was a parallel bar
affair, and the idea was that my younger sister and I will share it (take turns
in riding). And since we were never allowed outside the gates of our building,
there was never hot contention to aquire the rights to ride on any particular
day. My cycling career while in school comprised of going up and down the stony
road in front of our building and within its walls, chequered with innumerable
falls, a constantly bruised pair of knees and the delight of the local pharmacy
giving anti-tetanus injections.
I tried posting a big story, but blogger seems to crib. So I shall post in in multiple parts.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

India are playing Pakistan today in the World Cup.
Of course, India will win.
A few days back, I read the comments of my friend Sumeet from his blog. He voiced his opinion against all these fans making such a big deal out of India's loss to Australia. And Sumeet is right. People have sent out n number of hate mails and sms-es when india perform badly, but now that they have literally steamrolled over England and Zimbabwe, I have not yet received any forward or sms praising the performance!
Ironically just as I started to type this out, I received an sms from a friend in Calcutta, linking Sehwag's bad form with any absence of sms from his mother! Bad form they say. Apart from Tendulkar, he is the only one who has consistently been getting the starts. Its true he has not yet converted those to big scores, but India still has 6 matches to play, and someone will have to score in those! I am sure, Sehwag will end the tournament among teh highest run-getters.
Ya, I said 6 matches left.
Its obvious how, isn't it?