Someone I looked up to in college when asked ‘How do you become a man?’ replied this to me: “You first make a choice. Then you own up the outcome of the choice. You are a man.”
Year 1 - Time can shrink and expand, at will:
The 1st year curriculum of my engineering college was a mockery in itself. The University curriculum required everyone in the 1st and 2nd semester to study the common subjects across different branches. So while I was in the computer science branch I had to study and clear the exams for Electronics, Mechanical, Civil, and Electrical engineering core subjects. While that was still bearable, the biggest hurdle was the Civil engineering subject: Engineering drawing using manual Drafter device. Think about the irony, while the real Software engineers were using Computer programming and Civil engineers were using CAD software to do their office work, I a computer science undergraduate student was learning how to draw Civil drawings using dated manual devices. The power higher than myself had its own way of poking fun at life.
After the laborious task of pretending to show attentiveness during the class, we were required to do Drawings of weird cone and box shapes as a home assignment on 20-inch large Drawing sheets. Needless to say, I wouldn’t do those assignments. Let’s take things into perspective for a moment. I was an 18 something kid who had come out of the protective shell of his parents and home for the first time. I had never seen alcohol and never used a swear word in my life, and suddenly I was allowed to indulge in any unwarranted activity of my liking without taking permission. I could sleep at 3am and watch movies all day with equally miserable friends, without being judged. Now that you have a little insight into this kid’s brain, can you tell what would justify giving all that freedom of time away to do some silly Civil engineering drawing on a 20-inch sheet of paper, when you are in college to actually study Computer science?
I remember this one time my roommate and I had an argument in our leisure time, about who had got more physical strength. To conclude matters we both settled for whoever could throw the Discus farthest, wins. This seemed like a fair contest. Now, all we needed was a discus to throw and an impartial judge to witness this event. Everything was sorted except the fact that this was 10pm in the night and we were in the 1st year boys’ hostel. Nobody would set his foot outside the hostel after sundown, afraid of ragging. But where there is a will, there is a way. A mutual friend who was the chief strategist of our gang devised a plan and 10 of my friends reported sick that night. Now here’s the thing, if one reported sick, the food got served to one’s hostel room from the mess kitchen. This also meant that after the food got eaten the plates could be used as the Discus to throw into the outfield. That was a brilliant plan; so we huddled on the hostel terrace at 12 o clock midnight, with a bunch of spectators rooting for me or my adversary. Out went 1 Mess plate after the other into the outfield. I threw those plates with full force as if my life depended on it. Well, I don’t remember who won that crazy competition, but it was totally worth it.
The 1st year was about to come to an end in a matter of months. I have this stinging observation, all good things get over faster than you can savor them. The Civil Engineering-Drawing subject I mentioned earlier had a massive credit point for the home assignments, which obviously I didn’t do. I procrastinated for an entire semester, probably saving my precious energy for the last minute marathon. This was the night before the external Viva day and I had completed only 5 drawing sheets. Meh! The minimum requirement was 15 drawing sheets to appear in the Viva, else a certain failure was looming at my head. It took students 1 whole semester to complete 15 Drawing sheets, so it was beyond impossible for me to get it done in a night. In desperation, I went to our gang’s chief strategist, who gave a wonderful idea. We identified 3 of my close friends in the girls’ hostel who were the toppers in the class, which also meant they had already prepared for the viva and the semester exams, 2 months in advance. I had to cajole them, bribe them, and emotionally urge them to help. And it worked, they agreed to divide the drawing assignment among the four of us. This was agreed at 5pm on the previous day of the viva. And there I was, the next day at 11am in the Viva hall, with the 15 Drawing sheets in my hand.
Lucky bastard! I was convinced, time could shrink and expand, at will.
Year 2 - When going gets tough, fallback on the team:
You know what happens to a monkey when you keep him in the cage for 365 days, and suddenly leave him free? The monkey goes mad and doesn’t know what to do next. While we were in the 1st year, we were always in the omnipresent fear of predators (read lip-smacking, ragging hungry seniors). We had developed this extra sense to smell the perimeter for danger once we stepped out of our territory(read 1st-year boys’ hostel). But unfortunately, as soon as we reached the 2nd year of college, the predators became our friends. There was no fear, no imminent survival threats. And this was bad because we became monkeys with absolute freedom.
Once a friend who happened to be a university topper came up to me and demanded access to alcohol and smoke. While I was no emissary or junkie who arranged such stuff, but then I could do anything for a friend. I knew a source who could arrange for that. Mind you, drinking on the campus was a punishable offense, so my source and I had to smuggle this friend out of college campus to the place where such clandestine activities occurred flagrantly. Since this friend of mine had a University topper reputation to maintain, we went there after midnight. My source and I were the Devil’s chef for the night, and after a couple of hours, this friend was sloshed and unable to stand on his feet. The 2 of us almost dragged him half a kilometer in the darkness of the night. The secret entrance we took to get inside the campus was near the girl’s hostel. There happened to be a small rock half-buried in the ground concealing the secret entrance to the campus. My friend, the university topper who was half dead until this point, suddenly woke up and started shouting in excitement. He seemed to have the knowledge of some buried gold underneath that rock. Before we could take cognizance of the situation, he started digging the soil around the rock and kept shouting along in a tipsy demeanor at 2am. For the love of our lives, my source and I left that creature there to dig his grave and ran back to the safety of our hostel rooms. The next day to my relief I found out that my friend had made it back to the hostel without drawing unwanted attention, thanks to the Mess cook who helped him. However, the relief didn’t last long when we realized that a certain night-owl-girl from the Girl’s hostel watched everything that unfolded the previous night. My friend’s good reputation in college was lost forever.
As college life was progressing my anxiety being in a Tier-3 Engineering college was increasing. There wouldn’t be any campus placements for us in the final year, and the college faculty were teaching us manners and discipline, more than real engineering. In the thick of this introspection, my friend from Indore city visited my campus. He informed me about this application policy where I could apply for any better college in Indore and get an inter-college transfer. The catch was I would need to pay the entire 2nd-year tuition fee in my current college. This was a god-sent opportunity that I couldn’t refuse. Since my father was already down with his housing loan, approaching him for money was not an option. I gave up on this plan woefully to let this idea die its natural death in my mind. When there were just 2 days left for the application’s last date, I shared this with a friend of mine at the hostel. Within no time, he had formed a team of about 15 friends, who went about collecting money to fund my application. In 2 days, I had the money in my account, and the application form was submitted successfully.
My friends owned me that day, forever. The outcome of this event was not cardinal for my college life, but I learned an important lesson: when going gets tough, fallback to your dear ones; they will move mountains for you.
Year 3 - You adapt:
College days were progressing fast. We were already in the middle of the 3rd year with talks of placement abuzz on the campus. But before that, we had the hottest teacher assigned to teach us a subject. The subject was so unimportant that I don’t remember its name even today. Or maybe that entire classroom had a collective crush on this teacher and everything else was out of focus. I was a less sociable and outgoing person during that time. Being shy in nature, my reflective personality clashed with the more gregarious ones. But all of that shyness apart, when Teachers’ day arrived, my friend and I decided to sing a song in the classroom with the lyrics of the song having hints of my affection for the teacher. It was an act of spontaneity to impress our beloved teacher. Only later everyone told us how untuned and pitiful the performance was, but boy, did we care! One may get nothing in return, but the impulsive in-the-moment acts leave lasting memories to cherish.
Big phones, 2G internet, and laptops had entered the Indian market and I could see these kids from OBC categories studying on government aid suddenly bringing the most expensive gadgets to the hostel. What a jeering mockery of the government’s caste-based quota and funding scheme! Nevertheless, we indulged in the long nights of LAN based gaming sessions and downloading hundreds of pirated Hollywood movies from the Internet. A mind without a purpose gets a dozen reasons to get busy. Right?
In the 6th semester, the minor projects were announced. I was lucky to have my good friend pair up with me on this project. Why lucky? I was a theoretical person, into Algorithms and computer science theory, whereas he being more into practical stuff building websites for fun. It took us 2 months to build the site and we hosted it on an online domain for the fun of it. Needless to say, my friend did all the coding and I complimented him by merely creating the documentation and demo artifacts for the final submission and demo day. When we went to the viva, we both were excited since our project was undoubtedly good, unanimously agreed upon by 5 of our miserable friends. When we came out of the viva though, I was embarrassed and my friend was completely dejected. What transpired in the viva room went something like this: the visiting faculty asked questions that my friend could not satisfactorily answer since his communication skills were not that good. Then I started speaking, and the external got impressed. In the end, he praised me for the project code and asked my friend to focus on the ‘real work’ rather than just learning the theory.
Sometimes the world cares for the presentation, so you adapt.
Year 4 - Replaceable things cost money, but the good things are for free:
In the semester break before the final year started, I decided to stay in Indore city for my Java technical training, while a few friends of mine chose to go to their hometowns to be with their parents. The distance from my hotel to the training center was 5 kilometers which I would nonchalantly cover by foot to save money. In fact, the entire month-long stay in the city and the training fees were funded by our gang’s chief strategist’s idea: squatter in the boys’ hostel without paying the lodging fee for a semester. This entire scheme worked with the grand planning and co-operation of my squad. I would happily live in the hostel with my colluding friends, only to disappear in the thick of nights when my dutiful allies signaled the hostel warden’s unannounced inspection. Circling back, the money saved from this 6-month long escapade was too dear to me to be spent on an auto-rickshaw. I remember while strolling on the footpath, I would examine every single motorcycle through the moving traffic with a yearning in the eyes. At that moment if somebody would ask me what was my biggest wish in life, I would simply say: I want to own a bike. What a naive!
Days progressed fast and weed had entered the boys’ hostel in the final year. My gang had taken a stab at it and decided to leave the boys’ hostel to rent a flat in the nearby town and become day-scholars. I was already touted as a good computer science student, after bagging Oracle’s offer in the off-campus placements. Nobody was interested in the college classes and the professors were our friends now. Of course, they were our friends, they graduated from the same college just 2 years ago. Speak of the beauty of the Tier-3 Engineering college in India. Bunking classes had become a regular phenomenon since final year students were exempt from the attendance penalty.
To savor what was left, my Computer science group planned for a 3 days trip to the nearby tourist spots in Madhya Pradesh, one of the few in the past 3.5 years. As the college days were closing in on us, there was this imperative desire to make the most out of it. The 3 days spent with friends on the shoe-string-budget were memorable to speak the least. The incessant tea breaks on the road trip and the endless lampooning of each other for no reason were the highlights of the day. The nights got expended in economic hotels chaffing around till the cracking of the dawn. Every hill we trekked together in those 3 days, we pledged to meet each year after college. I knew deep down these were shallow promises made in the high of adrenaline rush. On one hand, the 4 years spent with friends seemed far too deep than the depth from the hilltop we stood on, and on the other hand, the reality of life was lurking from the corner to bust our myths of solidarity and freedom of time. I reckoned all these people would not be meeting me after the college gets over and 90% of them would even forget my birthday after 2 years. But while it lasted I wanted to savor all of it. The friends would be replaced and the newfound work would fill the time, but the memories college and friends gave would last.
Before life moves on, stop to relish the moment!