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.

Campus Politics

When I joined this college (College of Engineering, Trivandrum) last year, my parents had one word of advice for me: ‘Don’t get involved in college politics.‘ I had every intention of obeying them. But when I was a child, they’d also taught me to speak out when I saw anything that went against my sense of truth. And it is because of this, that I am forced to speak out now. Initially I had no inclination to either party, except a slight soft corner for the ‘A’ because my dad had been a sympathizer during his college days. But after seeing all that has happened over the past month or so, I am no longer politically neutral.  The ‘A’ here has lost my trust.

At the start of this month, ‘A’ went on a strike demanding an election. Maybe they had their point (I disagree though) but their means were totally wrong. They barged into to our class and asked us to leave if we were in solidarity with their cause. But I left only because I was intimidated by them. I am sure there are plenty of others like me in that regard. But as the strikes and demonstrations went on (by both the ‘A’ & ‘B’), I decided that I wouldn’t leave class unless I truly felt like supporting their cause. The next time they came, most of my classmates and I refused to leave. It was something that we should have done a long time ago.

Once ‘A’ saw that elections were out of the question, their talk switched to some sort of ‘truth bomb’. But somehow that fizzled out without a trace. I have also been reading about some physical fights between both parties. I don’t think violence has any place on campus and both parties should refrain from the same, atleast from now on.

After Monday’s incident and now that Disha is in jeopardy, how is it that the ‘A’ have positioned themselves as the guardians of Disha and all first years? Aren’t they the ones who were hell-bent on conducting elections at the cost of Disha? Now stop and think for yourselves. Don’t read the posts and propaganda being spread. Who benefits the most if Disha is canceled? Once you have the answer to that question, you’ll know who is at fault here.

Which sane fresher would say that the majority of our seniors especially the college union members haven’t helped us? Would anyone with a heart say that the union is shedding crocodile tears at Disha being disrupted? Aren’t you alienating the very seniors who have showered so much love and affection on us? I won’t let the hard work and sincerity of my seniors be put to question. Not when I know better.

‘X’ was mistreated. I can say that much from what I have read from his post on Facebook and the accounts of the incident given by ‘Y’ & ‘Z’. But when the very people whom he lists as his alibis come out with a contradicting story of what happened, it goes to show that he has twisted the truth. And I have no sympathy for those who do so for political gain. Why twist the truth? Have the courage and conviction to stand up for it.

I am siding with the college union here. For me to stay neutral and unbiased in the light of recent events would be a sin. It would be a blot on my conscience. And I won’t have that. I know which side is engaging in political optimism and do downright hypocrisy and I will speak against it.

Being neutral is not saintly. Especially when you know better. To quote Dante, ‘The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

A and B are the CET campus-based units of political parties. X, Y & Z are students at CET. Names are irrelevant now.

This article was originally posted in my college’s Facebook group on January 30, 2014, after Disha (the freshers’ inter-department cultural fest) was postponed indefinitely due to numerous incidents of violence on campus. In the end, Disha was rescheduled to February 21, 2014, and was a huge success. All credit goes to our seniors, especially to the college union.

My first day at CET

My first day at college was a huge letdown, to say the least. By the way, I study at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum (CET).

I was told that given my personality, I’d get ragged by pretty much everyone on campus. So I was prepared for the worst. I’d even taken a spare change of clothes, just in case I got beaten up really really badly. I wasn’t. But now I wish I was. It would have been way more entertaining to have been beaten up to a pulp than to have to spend three hours listening to the Principal and Dean (no offence to either of them) yapping on and on about how great the college  was and about how we were the ‘cream’ (Given a choice, I’d prefer to be referred to as the crème de la crème) of students in Kerala. I’m seriously confused now. What about the students who didn’t make it to CET? By the same analogy, what are they? They’re just milk? Or curd? Well, you get my drift… One of the professors even went on to claim (in a moment of truly outstanding dizziness) that CET was the best engineering college in the country! Seems like he hasn’t heard of the IITs, IIITs, NITs, BITS or pretty much any decent engineering college outside Kerala.

But then again, everyone was given FREE tea and biscuits at the end of the three hours so maybe it wasn’t that bad… I mean seriously, who doesn’t like free tea?