The Hitchhiker’s Guide to India

Because sometimes, Wikipedia just isn’t enough…

DisclaimerAll characters and events described in this post… even those based on real people… are entirely fictional. This post also contains badly written sarcasm and dry humour, and due to its content it should not be taken seriously by anyone. (Oh my god, you killed Kenny!)

Aadhar – Possibly India’s biggest black hole. The incumbent UPA government has spent an estimated 38 billion rupees on the project but the BJP national general secretary Ananth Kumar has stated that the project will be scrapped if the NDA is voted into power in the ongoing general elections. What a waste of money! But India is not alone in this respect. To quote Bill Bryson, on the Superconducting Supercollider from his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything: ‘In perhaps the finest example in history of pouring money into a hole in the ground, (US) Congress spent $2 billion on the project, then cancelled it in 1993 after 22 kilometers of tunnel had been dug. So Texas now boasts of the most expensive hole in the universe.‘ Now that’s literally pouring money into a black hole!

Alphonso Mangoes – What India sells to the US in exchange for Harley-Davidson’s. Who’s the Fat Boy now, huh?

Arnab Goswami – The lone crusader in this country against corruption. Has been given the moniker, ‘Supreme Court‘. Since he’s the guardian of the Indian constitution.

Arvind Kejriwal – Youth icon. Brought Nehru caps back into fashion. And has somehow got everyone talking about 69. Or maybe it was 49? He got himself inked during a recent election campaign, probably to gain the support of the urban youth. The press hasn’t been able to get a proper snap of the tattoo yet, though.

Bata – Every Indian’s favourite ‘indigenous’ footwear brand. Too bad that it’s an MNC headquartered in Switzerland.

Breaking News – The name by which stale news is sold in India. Just like rotten fish in markets is always sold as ‘fresh fish’.

Cricket – Insect belonging to the family, Grillidae. Virulent pest. Causes the loss of thousands of man-hours across the country. Particularly nasty swarms have been observed to attack every four years. Scientists are still perplexed. Laymen have made a religion out of it.

Curry – What Indians eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Known to cause Delhi Belly among foreigners.

Indian National Congress – Political party turned organized crime syndicate. Specializes in large-scale financial scams. Headed by Indo-Italian mafiosi.

Left – The direction in which all political parties turn to, when they’re short of a majority in Parliament.

Mulayam Singh Yadav – India’s greatest satirist. Nobody in the country seems to realize the satire behind his recent comments on rape incidents. Genius is often misunderstood. Bleh.

Narendra Modi – Political leader. Apparently a Faecist or some sort of shit like that. Hailed as the next Hitler by many. Even has his own version of the SS: the RSS.

Olay – Makes you seven years younger, apparently. I wouldn’t touch the thing myself. It’d make me twelve again. What if puberty isn’t as kind the second time around? (Parental Advisory: Keep out of the reach of young children. Unless of course, you want to get rid of them.)

Pakistan – India’s estranged sibling. Separated shortly after birth. Sibling rivalry is pretty intense. Pakistan is also proof that grass is literally greener on the other side.

Politicians – People who can choose not to answer uncomfortable questions on national TV by saying, ‘I thought I was going to be interviewed, not interrogated.’ They have been unanimously barred from participating on Kaun Banega Crorepati because they have an unfair advantage in the Fastest Finger First round. They’re so used to pointing fingers at other people, you see.

Rajesh Koothrapalli – Stereotypical Indian guy. Smart, shy, weird. Can’t talk to women unless drunk yet married to a former Miss India. The power of arranged marriages never fails to astound me!

Raj Thackeray – Maharashtrian separatist leader. Pushing for nationhood of Maharashtra. Halfway there. Residents of UP and Bihar already need visas and work permits to enter Maharashtra.

Rakhi Sawant – Indian traditional culture revivalist. She is said to be in favor of doing away with matrimonial websites and newspaper classifieds, and returning to traditional Indian swayamwars. (Swayamwar, in ancient India, was a practice of choosing a husband, from among a list of suitors, by a girl of marriageable age.) Even did a reality to promote the same called Rakhi ka Swayamwar. Recently rumours have been going around that she has been approached by the BJP, following her announcement as an independent candidate in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. ‘Rakhi is the very embodiment of traditional Indian culture and would be a huge asset to our national committee,’ according to a BJP worker, who prefers to stay anonymous.

RTI Act – What made the Congress realize that Shakespeare is still relevant: ‘……which, being taught, return to plague th’ inventor: this even-handed justice commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips.’ If it wasn’t for the RTI Act, none of the UPA’s scams would have come out. Oh, the irony…

Third Front – Third wheel in the love-hate relationship between the Congress and the BJP.

Western Culture – The source of all of India’s problems. It just is. Now don’t argue, or the Sri Ram Sene will come and beat you up.

A Rhyme Worth A Dime?

I’ve always been amazed at how people manage to write poetry, especially poetry that rhymes. And I’ve tried too. A million times. But somehow, my rhymes just don’t work. And here are a couple that are just that. Hollow, artificial, meaningless, contrived, altogether worthless. No life in them, basically…

Every night at nine
Recklessly do I pine
For a chance with thee to dine.
In exchange, what would I not give:
Only all that can be called mine.
And thus, gallantly did I strive
To write nine
Of these completely shallow lines.
‘Tis not for my pleasure, but thine.

Her name was Rose.
Her sweet smile framed by a snub nose,
She was the very personification of sucrose.
Of that she was to me, an overdose.
Now she’s gone. To where, no one knows.
I find myself staring at my toes
Whenever I’m feeling too morose.

Now that you’ve seen my pathetic attempts at rhyming, take a look at what Eminem can do:

Then I got up and ran to the janitor’s storage booth
Kicked the door hinge loose and ripped out the four inch screws
Grabbed some sharp objects, brooms, and foreign tools
“This is for every time you took my orange juice,
or stole my seat in the lunchroom and drank my chocolate milk.

And to wind up today’s post, here’s a joke that I came up with today:

What does a Malayali mother call her son, who happens to be a budding artist?
Monet *Ba dum tss* (A rudimentary knowledge of Malayalam is essential to get this joke.)

How I Became My Parents

I used to cringe inwardly whenever relatives said, ‘He looks exactly like Susan‘ or ‘He’s got Philip’s smile.‘ But I increasingly find myself feeling good, when I hear stuff like that. I love my parents for giving me a wonderful childhood. Even though their decisions might not have been very easy to digest then, it’s all good in hindsight. Actually, I feel sorry for my younger sister because I had my parents all to myself for six years and that too, when they were a whole lot younger and cooler. *snortThey even used to wear jeans!!

I remember how Papa used to take me on long walks in the evenings. This was when we lived in Bombay and I must have been around five years old. We’d walk from our house in Military Road to this place called Picnic Spot. I loved those walks. Papa would point out all the trees on the way to me and tell me their scientific names. All of them sounded like ‘Randomus planticus‘ to me. And even though I never picked up any botany during those walks, I think it’s those evening walks that instilled in me, a love for nature. Sometimes we’d also carry a glass jar and collect earthworms from the roadside. We’d take them back home and put them in this huge plastic tub, in which we composted vegetable waste. All this was inherently fascinating to me, not to mention fun. And the best part was once we reached Picnic Spot, we’d have a snack: Piknik for me and vada pav for Papa.

And I have Mama to thank for my love of primetime news and debates. Dinner-time at home always means news time. And changing the channel was completely out of the question. So I’ve been been watching news channels for as long as I can remember. Heck! I can still remember a time when Rajdeep Sardesai and Prannoy Roy had jet black hair. They even worked in the same channel then. It was also a glorious time, an era when Arnab Goswami didn’t ask any questions whatsoever on behalf of the nation. And even if he did, nobody bothered telecasting his views then. *Dramatic background music*  Tonight on the Newshour, the nation demands answers. And Mr. Derplal Kumar, the citizens of our country won’t be taking no for an answer this time!

It was Papa who got me interested in quizzing. During dinner, he’d suddenly ask, ‘Whose cap did Appu vote for, huh?’ And I’d just stare at him in disbelief. And then he’d laugh and repeat. Much slower, this time. ‘What’s the capital of Upper Volta?‘ I’d pass, with a shrug. And he’d triumphantly say with a smirk, ‘Ouagadougou‘. And I used to think, ‘Look, I might be young but I’m not dumb enough to believe that Ouagawhatever is an actual place. Let alone the capital of Upper Volta. And what country is named like that anyway? None that I’ve ever heard of!‘ And I’d rush to verify in my trusty Manorama Yearbook. And Papa would add, ‘Check under Burkina Faso. They have changed the name of the country.‘ And he was right. There was such a country. And one with such a capital. I realized then, that the world is a strange place.

Papa and Mama also got me to take to reading. I can still remember that we had this bookmark stuck on our computer-room door that said, ‘Wear the old coat and buy the new book.‘ That was a thought which I found absolutely fascinating and over time, I realized that’s how things worked at home too. Papa used to go to Bombay once in a while and when he came back to Trivandrum, he’d bring a cardboard box full of second-hand books that he’d bought from the roadside in Bombay. It was a magical feeling, opening the box. And my fingers would tremble with anticipation. Every single time.

And believe it or not, it was my parents who got me listening to the Beatles too. Rather indirectly though. I must have been around eleven and I was rummaging through their music cassette collection. I vaguely remember something about hearing Boulevard of Broken Dreams on TV and being desperate for more English music. Up until then, all that I’d ever listened to was Bollywood film music. Remember Himesh Reshammiya, anyone? But all I could find at home were Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi tapes. So you can imagine how surprised I was to find this tape: ‘Twenty Greatest Hits of The Beatles‘. I’d listen to that tape on my mom’s Walkman every night, snuggled under the bedsheet, until I fell asleep. And I read up like crazy about the Beatles online. By the end of it, I was impressed. That my parents actually listened to the Beatles. Until one fine day…

Me: Papa, what’s your favorite Beatles song?
Papa: I haven’t heard any of their songs actually. Why?
Me: What about that cassette then?
Papa: Must be your mother’s.
Me: Mama, is this yours?
Mama: Yes, but I’ve never really listened to it. Someone gave it to me.
Papa: Yeah, who’d listen to them anyway? Moollan piller.

Maybe my parents weren’t that cool after all.

But I’ve turned into them and it’s absolutely shocking when realization finally dawns. Like when I tell my sister, ‘I didn’t have an mp3 player when I was your age. Why do you need one anyway?‘ And then I hear the echoes in my head, ‘When I was your age, we didn’t have cable TV and computers. We used to go out and play all day.’ But I guess it’s inevitable. Your parents play a huge role in determining who you end up becoming, and more often than not, you turn into them. Whether you like it or not.

Oh and by the way, turns out that Mohammad Rafi was one cool dude!! If you don’t believe me, check this song out: The She I Love

And seems like nobody has noticed that the title of this post is inspired from ‘How I Met Your Mother’. And in case you’re wondering, I hate the show. Too sickly sweet, it is. Gives me diabetes. And induces nausea.

My First Vote

It’s election season in India and damn, everyone seems excited. My Facebook news feed is chock-full of status updates and photos of ink-stained fingers. And atleast in my case, it’s not the one you put up when you don’t give a fuck. Although, for the record, I did hold out my right middle finger out rather hopefully for inking, but the guy at the booth insisted on staining my left index finger instead. What a shame! It would have been fun to have had a family picture, like that of the Bachchan’s after voting.

The Bachchan’s flipping everyone off… Very discretely…

Voting was an awfully simple procedure. Armed with our voter ID cards, my parents and I walked the half kilometer or so to the polling booth. In the queue, there was a guy named Varghese two places in front of me and another Varghese two places behind me. Now what are the odds of that happening? After waiting in the queue for ten minutes or so, during which time I also tried to calculate the odds of ending up between two Vargheses, it was my turn to vote. But somehow, the sight of the EVM scared me. At first glance, none of the party symbols were ones I could recognize. Seriously, for heaven’s sake, which sane candidate would opt to use a biohazard symbol? As my eyes darted across the EVM, I saw a symbol that I recognized: the BJP lotus. In the relief of actually seeing a symbol that I recognized, I almost made the mistake of voting for the BJP. To think that I almost played a part in possibly bringing a neo-Nazi to power as India’s Prime Minister!! And for all the Moditards who are thinking of going ballistic in the comments section of this post. Go ahead! I don’t give a rat’s ass for your arguments that Gujarat has advanced under Modi. So did Nazi Germany under Hitler. So go stick that argument up your you-know-whats.

Taking a deep breath, I finally zeroed in on my choice for Trivandrum MP: Shashi Tharoor. Yes, the Congress candidate. I’d rather be robbed than butchered in a state-sponsored riot. Thank you very much! As I pressed the button, the EVM made a loud beep. It was over. My vote had been registered. I had just played my part in one of the largest democratic exercises in the world. Leaving the booth, I felt strangely powerful and couldn’t but help smiling to myself like an idiot. And I’m not kidding but my left index finger actually felt a little heavier on the walk back home.

I also think it’s ironic that my ink stain ended up looking like a cross. (I’m an atheist.) Maybe this is God’s way of speaking to me. Feeling blessed. Haha!

Once I got back home, I googled indelible ink and did some reading on it. I’ve always found it pretty cool. When I was younger, I used to wonder why ‘inedible’ ink was so important for elections. It was all over the papers. INEDIBLE INK. Maybe it was to discourage people from sucking their fingers. But then again, wasn’t ink supposed to be inedible generally? I kept these thoughts to myself though, consoling myself that the intricacies of democracy were beyond the thinking capacity of a ten year old.

Of Bygone Board and Entrance Exams

Deck your tables with books of JEE
Fa la la la la, la la la la
‘Tis the season to be dreary
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Yes, it’s that time of the year again: when hours of JEE preparation (or the utter lack of it) will be put to the ultimate test. It’s you versus pretty much every other sixteen year old kid in India. Not to mention the repeaters. You better be scared because as Latha ma’am from my TIME coaching class used to keep reminding us, ‘You’re competing against students in Hyderabad, who spend all day in coaching classes and don’t even go to school.‘ Imagine how sad their lives must be. I can say with a clear conscience that I didn’t trouble them at all, JEE rank-wise. Let’s just say I felt sorry for them. Haha.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted.
(Or rather, everything your parents made you think you wanted)
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

I remember how depressed I felt, around this time last year. I had made a total mess of my ISC board exams. My first paper had been Maths and I screwed up big time. Maths has and always been my weakest subject. It’s not that I don’t understand the subject. I do. But somehow, the sight of a Maths question paper makes me sick. I don’t know how I ended up like this. I used to be the kid who used to get full marks for Maths. But somewhere along the line, my parents’ jibes, (whenever I scored a little less than usual for Maths) got to me.
Anyway, the 28th of February, 2013, saw me struggling to complete my Maths paper on time. The voice in my head that constantly kept saying, ‘Dude, don’t screw up!‘ wasn’t helping at all. I knew I had screwed up but it was only after I got home that evening that I realized how much. The sheer magnitude of my screw-up drove me to tears. I’d made a few mistakes and those were going to cost me ten marks. On top of that, I hadn’t even attempted the required number of questions. Of the five ten-mark questions I was supposed to answer from Part B, I’d attempted only four. *Poof* Another ten marks gone. So twenty marks down the drain. Just like that.

And then it hit me. Eighty marks for Maths in my boards would screw up my PCM average like crazy. I could almost visualize my AIR in free-fall. On the phone that night with one of my friends, Nina, I sobbed my heart out. I cried like a bloody baby. But somehow, Nina helped me make it through that evening. She convinced me that I could still make up and maybe even score a 90% overall. I cracked one of the lamest jokes ever that night:

‘Hey Nina, I think I can still get a job at an MNC like Infosys, even after all this.’
‘Uh…. How, Nik?’
‘Infosys will need drivers and peons, na?’

After that conversation with Nina, I was unstoppable. I was a man with a mission. This time the maths was much easier. To score 90% overall, I needed 450/500. And now that I’d dropped twenty marks in my Maths paper alone, it meant that I could afford to lose only thirty marks over the next four subjects (English, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science). It was simple enough in theory but facing each subsequent exam required a gargantuan effort. Through it all, I was helped along by a few close friends, who put up with my constant whining and boosted my confidence. And somehow listening to the song, ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script motivated me to face the boards.

And I managed to do exactly as I’d planned. I scored 452/500. And managed an overall of 90.1%. It was nothing great but I felt effing proud of myself.

A few weeks later, I also managed to screw up my JEE Main paper. But if it hadn’t been for the confidence hit I’d taken after the ISC boards, I might have been able to do a whole lot better. And in case you’re wondering, I scored a measly 114/360. But my JEE Main score meant that I had qualified for the JEE Advanced. Albeit, by the skin of my teeth. (The cut-off was 113.) But that didn’t mean much anyway, since I had never really harboured any realistic hopes of getting into an IIT.

The JEE Advanced was a joke. I barely knew anything. In twenty minutes or so, I’d attempted all the questions I could work out. For all the remaining questions, I just marked the B option. It was a carefully weighed out gamble, which I’ll explain in a bit. The afternoon session of the JEE Advanced was pretty much the same as the morning session. Rinse and repeat.

Supposing that out of every four questions, the answer to one of them was B. I’d get +4 for that question. And 3×-1=-3 as negatives. But that still meant +1 on the whole. And you know what they say about the JEE, every mark counts.

The best part was when the JEE Advanced marks came out. I had scored 106, which was almost as much as my JEE Main score. Keep in mind that the JEE Advanced is a much tougher paper. If I’d been given a different question set with more B’s as correct answers, I might have scored 130 odd marks and waltzed my way into a bloody IIT. But sadly, life is a bitch!

The entrance exam that finally saved saved my ass was the Kerala engineering entrance exam. The thing about the Kerala entrance is that the questions are really easy. It’s more of a time trial than anything else. It’s how many questions that you can successfully attempt in three hours that matters. It doesn’t require a through knowledge of the concepts. I scored 256 for Paper I (Physics & Chemistry) & 188 for Paper II (Maths) for a combined score of 444 out of 960 altogether, which was an acceptable score. Combine that with my normalized PCM average of 86.66 (before normalization, it was 88.66) and you get a KEAM rank of 2996. Armed with that rank and sheer dumb luck, I scraped through and joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. It’s pretty much the best engineering college in Kerala. Apart from NIT Calicut. And life here is pretty damn good.

So my advice to all the kids writing your boards and entrances is to not lose hope because you messed up your boards or one entrance exam. Luck plays a huge factor in all these things and since all of you will be writing multiple entrance exams, you’re bound to get lucky with atleast one. And it’s not that I’m just saying this to make you feel better. I can assure you because I’ve been there, done that. And who knows, maybe you could get a job at Google. After all, they need drivers too… But no amount of luck is ever going to make up for lack of preparation so it’s best to hit the books now lest you spend the rest of your life trying to live down the regret of not having studied when you could have.

Sorry, Nina, for not having stayed in touch over the past few months. I know I’ve been a jerk but it’s mainly because I thought that it was best not to disturb you while your models and boards were going on. And I still can’t thank you enough for everything…

Despite the massive screw ups, I’m glad that I made it to a decent college. But I’ve disappointed my parents along the way. They thought I’d make it to a better college, an NIT maybe. And they’ve channeled that disappointment into making my sister (who’s in ninth now) study harder. It’s like she has to make up for my mistakes too. At times, she complains, ‘Eda thendi, if you’d scored ten more marks for your Maths exam, I wouldn’t have to go through all this.‘ And I realize that she’s right but my parents don’t really listen to me when I tell them to take it easy on her. I’m completely helpless and it’s hard to live down the guilt of having increased the burden of expectation on my sister.

Just realized. That it was exactly one year ago that I wrote my JEE Main.

Barely A Fresher Anymore

It’s been almost a year since I joined CET and it’s depressing knowing that one-fourth of my college life is already over. It seems like it was only yesterday that I joined CET. I can still remember the feeling of anticipation on my first day on campus. It was a completely new, yet strangely familiar feeling. It was like my first day at school all over again: wondering what my classroom would look like, whether my classmates would be fun, whether the professors would be nice. Over the past year, I’ve managed to figure out the answers to all those questions and many more.

The first few weeks were spent exploring the campus and finding my way around the college. It’s funny to think how scared I used to feel when I encountered seniors in the college bus or in the canteen. But thankfully, all that has changed. The senior-junior divide has been completely erased and it’s sickening to know that the present fourth years won’t be around next year.

The start of the year also saw special meetings and orientation programs for freshers organized by the Innovation Center, ISTE, IEEE, NSS, Debate Society, RoboCET, and so on. More than the time spent in actual classes, it is the time that I spent in these clubs that I cherish the most. The past few months have been a flurry of activity: with Disha (fresher’s inter-department fest), Sargam (inter-year fest), and department nights all providing hours of fun and joy.

Somehow in the midst of all this, we had to find time to do some actual studying. After two years of entrance preparation and cramming, the last thing you want to do in college is studying. But as engineering students, study we must, and we valiantly battled our way through assignment submissions, hours of workshops and engineering graphics, and series exams.

It’s funny to think that in a few months, I’ll be in my sophomore year and will be called ‘chettan’ by the next batch of freshers. And that I will be able to give them a few nuggets of wisdom: that it’s okay to just bunk class and chat with friends in Pancharakaad.  And that the joy of finally getting your workshop records certified is quite unlike any other. And that nothing is as satisfying as saying that you study at CET, when someone asks, ‘Mone, ethu engineering collegilaa padikunne?‘, on seeing the mini-drafter sticking out of your college bag.

As they say on campus, ‘CET verre levelaanu‘. And I’m proud to be a CETian.

This article was originally written for the college alumni newsletter.