Life in Deadlines – Part I

“Hi!” [Insert: High pitched squeal, like you’ve been on Red Bull for a week now. Wave vigorously like there’s a jet about to crash on the runway.]

“Heeeey!” [Insert: A protracted Hey, ending in a raucous whisper. Quicken your pace like you haven’t seen each other since you were separated at birth. You had class a couple hours back. But hey, BFF s can’t stay a minute without each other.]

Followed by the high five – the USP of a b-school. Used over a wide range of situations – from making an intelligent remark behind someone else’s back (and boy, this can make or break you as a force to reckon with in life), to between shots at the late night party – it is basically a handy tool to separate yourself from the passé crowd. Over the years, over blatant misuse of the same – it has lost its magical charm; legend has it that a wonderfully timed high five can give one the ability to spot Father P among the flower gardens of our B-school. (The Fuhrer and glorified gardener of our Alma mater.) I am also guilty of high-fiving in those two years, over the sick jokes that I have had a tendency to crack. In hindsight, the story of the ping-pong ball is not to be narrated when most of the wing-mates (including myself) are under the influence of alcohol. Historically such victims have been found to become increasingly hostile and/or inquisitive to the point of becoming self-destructive, when exposed to the story without necessary precautions. Take for instance, Babula – who is generally a docile creature with excellent taste in women and a mostly positive opinion of life, was known to have challenged the outcome of the story for a full thirty minutes, until his faculties finally gave in. He would not wake up for the next twelve hours.

As human beings – we have a tendency to have engaging conversations over newer perspectives in life, while constantly looking for answers to quench our insatiable thirst for knowledge and acceptance. Timing, it is said, is the most important thing in comedy. Or in sex. Depending on whether you want to end up laughing or crying at the end of it. (That was good, I agree.) Unfortunately, our greed for knowledge has would often lead some of our more accomplished peers over the stipulated ninety minutes of the lecture, drawing the wrath of a hungry, sleep deprived class. It was also ironic, that more often than not – these outcasts would also be the first ones to be hounded for lecture notes and extra classes prior to our tests. One of them turned out to be one of my closest friends in college – whose quest for knowledge led him to attend lecture hours beyond the reaches of a mere mortal. He also ended up shelling out an extra forty three grand. To the world, he was the despicable fellow being who questioned beyond our limited understanding – for the roll numbers from 347 to 352, he was the gentle giant – who loved classic literature, folk songs of Bengal and was overwhelmingly in touch with his profound emotional side.

Bengali parents are notorious for disbursing complimentary advice ranging from academics to your first night after marriage. Since I had already shattered their dreams of seeing me as a doctor – I could not help but relent when they implored me to attain mastery in Finance. Thus, with a head full of misplaced aspirations, I set foot in the Accounting class. Things began going downhill from there very fast. As a pure bred engineer who had learnt to earn his bread by working from three feet under the mud, the cash flows and the balance sheets turned out to be formidable adversaries for me. I could not fathom how money flew from the right to the left or vice versa – and before I had had time to absorb such intricacies – our professor had already moved on to goodwill. The final nail in the coffin was hammered in when a pesky commerce graduate from the back of the class asked about depreciation and amortisation. By then, I had realised that I had again been duped by my parents. The commerce graduate turned out to be one of the sharpest lads in class – and an absolute cracker when exposed to a few rounds of whiskey and Bhojpuri music. He also turned out to be one of those few people that I ever respected from b-school.

Our campus was located in a quaint little town on the outskirts of a major city in Odisha. The way to the campus was over a modest semi-metallic road that was clearly not used to this sudden influx of traffic – often throwing the intruders into disarray with a clever potpourri of potholes and humps. To its utter displeasure, the unperturbed travellers trudged along, across the vast green expanses of rice and corn fields. We got lost twice in the corn fields – which led my father to famously comment, “Does this campus really exist?” I wasn’t particularly unhappy – I was mostly amused when we finally came across the massive tarpaulin covered gates of the campus. The towering, half painted buildings stood out ominously against the dark grey skies – as the first showers of Odisha gently caressed our faces.

When the dust had settled after the war over rooms and registrations – my old wing mate from undergrad and I would sit down by the open window and take stock of the predicament we had landed ourselves into. In the process, we opened our windows to the calming monsoon breeze and an unlikely adversary that we did not expect. This was the beginning of the long standing war that we waged against the wild flies of the picturesque town. [You can still find their carcasses on the window sill of room number eight in Block A.] They were everywhere – inside our rooms, on our faces, inside our canteen and inside the dal that we had already begun to despise. My delight in receiving a couple of eggs instead of one during lunch hours (a big leap from skewered whites and yolks stuck like dead faces in a marsh) turned into dismay quickly as I realised they were lifeless entities floating around aimlessly in an equally dilute fluid.

Most of my evenings were spent catching up with Sampriti over Skype as we began to adapt to long periods in life away from each other (which, unfortunately, carries over into present day.) We passed the first test of character as b-school students with flying colours, when we discovered a theka (a small store that serves bottles of happiness) within days of setting foot in the campus. As members of the wing, we came to the necessary conclusion that if we found it difficult to break the ice, we must drown it. Thus came the bottles of monk and the rolls of happiness. Soon we realised that 1500 ml of pure, unadulterated Monk was a tad too much for eight people. What started out as an excellent bonding activity, soon turned disastrous – as all that had been ingested, were violently sprayed across walls, basins, rest rooms and individual rooms. I have distinct memories of the night and the perpetrators, but out of love and respect for them (and since we should let bygones be bygones, especially if you yourself are guilty of a crime of equal proportions) I shall refrain from going into further details like names and said locations.

Some of my evenings were also spent attending meetings that were more important than the lectures conducted by the professors during the day. These meetings, conducted by our seniors, taught us discretion and honed our skills of observation, as we mastered the skill of texting while looking up and routinely read font size four from a distance of over several hundred feet. The speeches were peppered with threats of social exclusion, and they echoed in the dark and ominous halls; as such, it closely resembled a meeting of the city’s finest drug dealers and their henchmen – and their grand plot to take over the university.

In hindsight, coaching classes over-do it when they try and emphasize the importance of networking among one’s peers. As such, the initial few days in a b-school would tend to be extremely chaotic. Some of us were born leaders, they would take the initiative to go ahead and shake the other’s hands – despite the visible discomfiture in his or her eyes. Some of us, like me, would follow suit – and halfway down the exercise, would realise the futility of the same and meekly return to our quarters. And then of course, there were the likes of Shounak, who wouldn’t really give two cents about meeting anyone for that matter, who’d spend his days immersed in music and football. Groups would form in an instant, where faithful members would swear allegiance over blood. You couldn’t blame them – we were all part of a machinery that compelled us to extract the maximum out of a system in the limited time that we had – and we believed that only if we were together, in a mostly hostile environment, we could survive and thrive.

Unfortunately, the nature of human relationships is to search for familiarity, for stability – and groups that were engendered out of a crisis, to survive in a crisis – are rendered irrelevant once the crisis subsides. Today these groups, barring a few rare ones, are not to be found anywhere. Those unlikely, seemingly low return friendships that were borne out of the drunk discussions on football, love, philosophy and women and those naked and vulnerable discussions of our lives and our ambitions – are the ones that survived. Unfortunately, because I tend to enjoy my status quo and I am blinded by all that glitters, it took me a year to discover the people that I have come to value among the finest in my life, today – which included one of the finest class representatives that the university had ever seen.

(contd.)

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