How was your first trip to college?

It was the longest telegram that I have ever seen.

The news that it carried, however, was underwhelming. BITS, Pilani offered me a degree in science - not engineering - and gave me till end of July to register, failing which, the seat would be forfeited; the telegram warned me.

I threw the telegram to the ground for dramatic effect.

"Ishwara! Why are you torturing our family?" my mom exclaimed, looking skywards. We were a pretty filmy family.

I was not sure if Ishwara had anything to do with the contents of the telegram. The professors that had gone on a strike for higher wages, refusing to evaluate the IIT entrance papers, perhaps did. The ripple effect of their actions was felt on admissions to every college in India that year.

"So, is there a chance that there will be a second list?" my mom asked, with hope. I shook my head.

"Why don't you just go in person and see if you can sort this out?" Ramana mama, my maternal uncle, suggested. "There is nothing you cannot sort out in person. Plus, the registrar seems to be a Tamilian. Maybe he will help" he added, glancing at the name of a Mr Gopalan on the telegram.

Not a bad idea, I had thought. Maybe I could go in person and explain, to Mr Gopalan, my passion for engineering, show him the "engineering line" on my palm, chant a verse of Thiruppugazh, and get the mechanical engineering seat that I, so desperately wanted.

As I was leaving, Chechu mama, my mom's cousin,  came by to our home.

"Yennada, where are you going?" he asked. Chechu mama was the quintessential comedian of the extended family. He was, for sure, searching for fodder for his joke of the day.

Chechu mama's once sharp wit had now blunted with age, and due to repetition. But the family didn't care; they wanted him to be funny.

"Pilani" I said. He puckered up his face, his forehead folded up in creases, intersecting with the lines of the vibhuti pattai that he had smeared on his forehead, as he rummaged through his brain for the repartee. He found it.

"Everybody is going to Pazhani" he remarked, referring to the temple town in Tamil Nadu, "you are going to Pilani aa? Be careful, lest they tonsure your head, like they do in Pazhani. Anyway, see if you get panchamritham, when you come back" he guffawed.

My mom was enraged, "this useless Chechu mama...him and his Iyer dry wit" she scolded him, after he left.

I went on a forty hour trip to New Delhi, crossing the Vindhyas for the first time in my life. It was quite an enjoyable train journey from what I remember. I even managed to strike up a conversation or two in English and broken Hindi. See, these chapati-eaters are not all that bad as you said, Ramana mama, I thought to myself.

The fervent anticipation of the meeting with the registrar of admissions was, of course, nagging me in the back of my mind. I rehearsed my two-minute pitch to him, several times, adroitly mixing the engineering passion with the right Tamil intonation.

I took a further four-hour bus trip through Haryana and Rajasthan to alight at a small village bus stop, and was spellbound by the spectacular campus that Birla had stood up in the middle of nowhere.

The purpose of my visit, itself, proved anti-climactic. Mr Gopalan met me for a minute, cut my pitch off midway, and said curtly "this is all you are going to get. Either register now for the M.Sc. or go back home."

"Must be a Malayali" my uncle surmised, when I would relate my experience with Mr Gopalan to him.

I wandered around the campus, aimlessly, for the entire day, thinking thoughts, fantasizing about hostels and classrooms, eating sparsely, and even visiting the campus temple.

Then, I caught a bus to Delhi, right on time to make the trip back to Madras, and then to Trichy to attend my REC counseling. The rest, as they (mostly my mom and my sister) say, is engineering history.

So, how was your first trip to whichever college you went to? Was it your final destination or did you take a couple of hops before you landed where you did?




Friends, if you are trying to comment on the blog, copy (CTRL+C, I meant) your comments before publishing / logging in...just in case the comments vanish without a trace. Anonymous commenting is an option now, but it is still not working on certain devices. Sorry!

36 comments:

  1. This was good, but you need to write about your first visit to Rkl too!

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    1. Sita beat me to commenting first!!! Nooooooooo!!!!

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    2. Oh, that is another story...the visit to RKL...but I had become more travel savvy by then

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  2. So, you quit BITS Pilani over SC vs. Engineering degree debate. I can totally see it, when most of workforce hiring is degree based. No one cares if one has skill sets or aptitude for it or not.

    Being the youngest, my fate was sealed to be an engineer to add variety to career options all my siblings had already chosen - banker, Doctor, lecturer, merchant navy officer. Once Family declared "Beti engineer banegi" , there was no stopping at science or architecture degrees. First attempt at Odisha JEE, secured some low low rank and was left with choices of pursuing engg dream in a remote place or choose Architecture in College of engg and Tech(CET), a fairly new school opened in Bhubaneswar. Dad announced, maybe I can stay home and prepare for next year and decision was made in split of a second . I took admission in Bachelor in Architecture program. Happily whiled away one year in various architectural and structural design classes, freehand sketches . Being part of a new college with Architecture being a fairly new offering, most faculty members were young eligible bachelors. Staff was more into match making than teaching ,landed with two proposals from two of the faculties out of 6-7 subjects I was taught in one year. Completely disgusted, I turned my focus back to JEE and somehow managed to land in REC, RKL and rest is history!

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    1. So Jolly, your first college was Architecture kam, Chemistry jyaada....
      Now tell us about your chemistry ..I mean electricity ... in REC.

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    2. Architecture, bachelors, alliances, and heartbreaks! what a recipe for a novel!

      Very interesting story Sunita!

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  3. Wow @ Sunita Dash. Marriage proposals from lecturers!! So, breaking hearts has been your hobby from an early age :))

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  4. My first trip to REC was tiring. It was a long train ride and the cold was something I wasn't used to. I was hungry and crying incessantly from an ear infection.... Oh wait! you don't really care about when I first came to REC as a 3 month old, do you? :)

    My first time entering the college as a student was when I went for counselling. My dad took me to AV hall, and I sat in the familiar place, with an unfamiliar nervousness. My dad left me and walked off until it was my turn. He showed up then, we went up the stage, they said "Chemical in REC" , I said ok. Done.

    I then went back to my seat , while Dad walked off again. It was then that a tall, handsome senior walked up to me intimidatingly. (He might not have been all that tall or handsome. I can't really remember what he looked like, so he must have been ordinary looking) . He asked me what branch I got into. He had a evil grin when I told him. He asked me my name and where I was from.
    "Rourkela.... Oh, you will be a Day Scholar.. Where in Rourkela do you live? "
    "Mmmm , REC Campus"
    "REC Campus? Where in the Campus? "
    "A-Block"
    "Does you father work here? " (I wondered why his voice seemed to drop a little... maybe he has a sore throat and all that loud questioning started to hurt his throat)
    "Yes, He does" I said.
    He asked for details and I told him.
    Then he smiled a sweet, non-evil smile and said "Congratulations on getting into Chemical. I am in the second year. Please let me know if you ever need any help with anything." He then got up and walked out of the AV Hall. I was thinking he never told me his name. How can I find him if I really did need help!
    That was my first trip to REC , and my first and last brush with ragging!

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    1. Oh you must tell us more about the ear infection on your first trip to REC .. and the handsome senior who came and gave you antibiotics .. u must .. I insist ..
      Puttu .. you insist too please ..

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    2. Did he give antibiotics now? You seem to know more than Sita:)

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  5. @Sita, so you had an eye for handsome dudes I can see. Who else did you find handsome in REC? Plzz to share:))

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    1. She found you handsome too .. till she heard from me your refusal to part with your cal-c ...
      Why ya yuvar like that ???

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    2. Hmmm! So you got back at me. Hitting below the belt.

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    3. Arre...you don't know the cal-c story?? It has been etched in the annals of chemical history of Raurkela

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  6. That was a brilliantly hilarious narration of a disappointing setback, Brags :))))))))
    As for my first trip to REC , it was on a Bajaj scooter , as a pillion with my dad ..
    I was crisply turned out in an ironed top and skirt and entered the AV hall with dad .. a grave intellectual look on my face ..A few steps in to the hall .. and a swarm of seniors descended on me from nowhere ! And whisked me away to another part of the overwhelmingly huge hall without so much as a by-your-leave to my dad .. Well that was the last I saw of dad for the next couple of hours ..
    I went along with the gang fearlessly , smiling engagingly .. and the first thing I heard was -- STOP GRINNING .. LOOK DOWN ..
    I was so startled that I looked at the growling guy with eyes popping out ..
    His voice dropped down and took on a menacing and chilling note -- I said look down . This time I understood and acted with alacrity (have often practiced that tone and used it with my kid when he was smaller )..
    That's how it went on for sometime till another group descended and staked their claim on this newbie,. I remember losing my shehenshah like aura as it melted and gathered at my feet in a pool !
    I also remember another senior coming by and rescuing me with kindly eyes and taking me yet to another part of AV hall .. He was very comforting and at the end of it all , telling me with a kind voice -- no more half dresses from now , ok ?
    Phew .. I don't remember much about the actual counselling excepting that the person before me in line got the last chemical seat .. I have this faint memory it was Niketan .. and I took metallurgy!

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    1. Oh they were ragging you inside the counseling hall?! Wow! That is amazing...but again anything can happen inside the AV hall, you know!

      Yeah...you should stop that grinning...best for you.

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  7. "smiling engagingly". I can imagine that. You had that perpetual smile on your face (reminds me of Arun Govil except that you also used to flash your teeth). Well, it didn't cut any ice with the Seniors:))
    All the same- well written. I can sense some Wodehousean humour in your piece.

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  8. CHAPTER - 1

    I was very familiar with Rourkela ever since I was a kid. Not because my G.K was above average - which, by the way, happened to be slightly above average-but the fact that I had a maternal Uncle who was employed with the Steel Authority of India Ltd and was posted in Rourkela. In fact, as was the norm those days in PSUs and Government Undertakings, he started his career there and at the time I joined REC, he was a couple of years shy of ending his ‘glorious’ career in the same establishment. Don’t get me wrong. No, he did not retire as the General Manager (Works) or something like that. I believe he rose from Assistant Foreman to the level of, say, Foreman in about 35 years. It was considered an achievement those days.

    Now you know why I chose Rourkela of all places-not that I had anything personal against Silchar, Durgapur, Jamshedpur or Kurukshetra-which were the only other choices available. Nor did I regret my choice when I embarked on the long 32-hour journey from Chennai to Rourkela in September-1989, especially when the Bokaro Steel City Express slowly meandered its way through the lush green hilly terrain of Orissa. If nothing else, this eastern state I was visiting for the first time in my life was breathtakingly beautiful. Any self-doubt that I might have nurtured until then vanished the moment the train crossed the Andhra Pradesh border.

    It was drizzling and the earthy smell coming in through the train windows was so refreshing. I was travelling with my father who was a government servant (working with the MES). The MES (Military Engineer Services) is a civilian wing of the Defence Ministry responsible for putting in place and maintaining the military infrastructure. Although my father had many military bosses during his career, he did not wield any military powers himself. However, it was always handy to spread word that my father was in the military as it helped ward off unpleasant and anti-social elements. Later, in college, I would use this weapon with reasonable success against some of the more gullible seniors.
    (To be continued)

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    1. What??? You are writing chapters now?? You are going to bring this server down. The comments section don't have the ability to take multiple chapters:-))!!

      Yeah...I remember you using the military card that you used even with us.

      Lush green...earthy smell...wow...you are describing it like in a Barathi Raja movie!! Good good.

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    2. Krishna, You are so right about Orissa. It is really beautiful. The train rides through those forests and hills , climbing to the top of the beautiful hills in Rourkela, wading through Koel Nadi in the summer.... climbing trees ...... I miss Rourkela! :(

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    3. Sita, I can perfectly understand how you must be missing Rourkela. I spent a part of my childhood in Mt. Abu. When I visited the place again along with my family after 25 years, it was such a blissful experience! The small house where we used to live was still intact. I visited my Alma mater (St.Joseph's School), spent time on boat rides in Nakki lake, visited the Brahmakumaris ashram, the famous Dilwaara temples and other landmarks. It was surreal and there was a sense of Deja vu. I felt rejuvenated.
      I'm sure you would have visited Rourkela again along with your family. I would be really surprised if you haven't.

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    4. Mt Abu? Wow! Did you go to Sitanagar as well? (I know only thanks to QSQT :-)!!) I can only imagine the beauty of it

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  9. and I am looking forward to your next chapter Krishna

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  10. Yeah, I'm building up the suspense:))

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  11. Hmmm....silence here. I like silence. I have always embraced it with open arms. But I'm not publishing the second chapter unless I get a minimum of five comments on my post, Puttu & Sita's comments excluded. BTW, thanx @Sita for your initiative:))

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    1. Arree...why do I sense that you are quickly taking over this blog?! You are writing chapters...you are expecting minimum five comments...You are rotating the chair and slowly changing this into "Krishna group of blogs" from "Puttindies group of blogs" like in Baazigar! Dangerous fallow!

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  12. CHAPTER-2

    As darkness descended, I was attracted by a spectacular display of dancing lights outside the window. I had read about “jugnu” or fireflies but this was the first time I was seeing them. There were scores of them moving around randomly, but there appeared to be a pattern, a certain harmony in their motion.

    We struck up a conversation with a person who, to our surprise, had just passed out of REC and was going back to college to complete some formalities. He was from Tamil Nadu and told us he was a Chemical Engineer. I forget his name but he appeared to be a friendly and decent chap. He did not utter one word about the ragging menace that I would have to face later. My father being the genial and conversational type that he was, spent close to a couple of hours talking to him. During this conversation, the senior also touched upon themes like the subjects in the curriculum, future prospects in the chemical engineering field etc. He stopped short of sympathizing with me for having been awarded Civil Engineering.
    This, and the impression I got, after talking to him, of Chemical Engineering being a branch with ‘decent’ chaps, could have subconsciously influenced my decision later during the year to opt for Chemical.
    The train reached Rourkela around 3:00 early morning, late by a couple of hours. In later years, I would come to realize that one had to consider oneself blessed if the train managed to reach around this time. Delays of up to 6 to 8 hours were the norm. The Senior took leave of us after wishing me good luck. We decided to wait till dawn, partly because it would be easier to find our way and, in part, because we did not want to disturb the relative by barging in at an unearthly hour.

    Eventually, we reached my uncle’s place in Sector-7. The customary exchange of pleasantries followed. My maternal grandparents happened to be there as they were visiting their son for a few days. My grandfather was especially very happy to know I was joining REC. Of his five children and seventeen grandchildren, I was going to be the first engineer that too in a Government college. Wow! It couldn’t have gotten bigger than that.
    My grandfather was a retired electrical engineer of yore. Extremely thorough and systematic in everything he did, he had built up a formidable reputation at work. He was the “go to” person to handle challenging problems. Unfortunately, he could not rise to high positions as he was a Diploma holder and did not have an engineering degree. Lesser individuals became his bosses on the basis of an engineering degree alone and this must have rankled him no end. He, therefore, used to egg and prod me and my brother at every available opportunity to acquire an engineering degree.

    When I completed my schooling in 1988, I missed getting admission in REC by a whisker. My father then enrolled me for a course in A.M.I.E which was considered, at least on paper, equivalent to B.E but in reality was a much poorer cousin. My grandpa was upset with this decision and urged my father to get me admitted in any private engineering college by paying a donation and also offered to partly fund it. My father did try that but found the donation amount (then ranging from Rs 30,000 to 50,000/- flat) unaffordable and he did not feel good about getting any financial assistance from his father-in-law. So, A.M.I.E it was for me along with a B.Sc (Math) by correspondence. In the meantime, I appeared again for an “improvement” exam in the XII Standard Math paper, bettered my previous performance and managed to get through the REC counselling in 1989.

    (Will be continued if Puttu does't mind. Not sure anybody else is even reading this stuff! )

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    1. I am... I am... Puttu called us Kam akals, but we are the ones keeping his Blog going... so write on. It is very interesting.

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    2. Yeah, that's true. We are the only ones preparing the tea, serving it to a few customers and also drinking the rest. LOL :))
      But, thanks @Sitae for the encouragement.

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    3. Lovely narration of your story, Krishna! Awaiting the next chapter, when you set your right foot into the college campus!

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    4. Arre...Sita! Just because I am now an obscure blogger, you can't make fun of my limited readership (of two). Just wait till this becomes a hit like "kolaveri" -- it is about that time!

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  13. CHAPTER-3

    My grandpa was so happy he immediately sent Rs 5000/- (a decent amount those days) to my father to, at least, cover some of my expenses. I remember we had to pay around Rs 95/- p.m as tuition fees, so in a way, my grandpa actually funded my entire college education and my father had to only take care of the food bill and other expenses. Even so, it was not easy for a man who was earning around Rs 3000/- p.m salary. The very next year i.e. in 1990, my brother entered I.I.T-Kharagpur and my father had to fund both of our education plus that of my sister who was in school. I remember he had to take a loan on his Provident Fund. Once again, my grandfather offered some succor by providing some monetary assistance to fund my brother as well. I am hoping that after reading this piece, people will empathize with me and forgive me if I appeared to be stingy during college days including a certain lady who claims I did not offer to lend her my calculator!:))

    Well, to cut a long story short, father and son had breakfast with the relatives and set out to complete the joining formalities. Sector-7 was far removed from the city centre and auto rickshaws were not readily available unless they were returning after dropping somebody off. That provided an opportunity for my first trip on the local minivan. These minivans-garishly coloured in multiple hues and belting out Hindi & Oriya songs loudly to the point where even a stone-deaf person would start tapping his feet to the beats- were a common sight on the roads of Rourkela and were the primary means of transportation for the locals. Later, I would use the minivan umpteen number of times while visiting my uncle’s place.

    As we stopped at Sector-2, for the minivan was travelling further down to Rourkela and we had to take a detour to go to REC, we found an auto rickshaw stand with 3-4 autos. The auto drivers vied with one another to catch our attention and we moved closer, I noticed for the first time something strikingly common with all the autowallahs- their teeth. They were all uniformly stained red-the kind of red that comes from chewing on paan or betel leaves in combination with areca nut and lime. A couple of auto drivers were actually still chewing on it and in an effort to avoid any spillage, had contorted their faces to give them a simian look, and were gesticulating in sign language. In fact, I later found this same feature in a majority of the local populace including-hold your breath- some of the REC faculty. To be honest here, my uncle and to a lesser extent my aunt, having lived in Rourkela for more than 30 years had also embraced this practice and exhibited different shades of red teeth.
    Eventually, we managed to strike a deal with one of the drivers and were soon on our way to the prestigious Regional Engineering College.

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  14. Though the train was meant to travel only from point A (Alleppey) to point B (Bokaro), it covered all the alphabets in between across the whole of South India. I and my parents boarded at V for Vizag. My mother sat sullen all through the journey. She still couldn't get over the fact that I opted out of the premium Chemical engg seat in Andhra Univ, which was just a few kms from our home in Vizag, for this long winding journey to join REC, Rkl. My father on the other hand sat contented. He was the one who had prevailed upon my mother saying 'one's life is incomplete without leading a hostel life'!

    Alas, that hostel life turned out to be a mirage. Post completing the joining formalities, we were told that the ladies hostel had no vancancies at that point in time. We were aghast. We began to panic when a certain elderly Mr. Dey, holding a humble clerical job and living within the campus, decided to take me in as his paying guest. Of course, every meal had to be had in the ladies hostel, which meant getting food packed in a tiffin carrier if the meal time fell outside of the LH gate closing time.

    The room was barely 10'X6' in size, with just about enough space to stand. I was shocked. My room back in Vizag was almost three times that size. And wait! I saw a second bed squeezed in there. Yes, I was supposed to SHARE the rat hole with another Bengali rat from Tripura.

    The rats thankfully bonded almost instantaneously. It was thanks to either our language or our inconsolable grief of seeing our parents go earlier that day. We held each other and stabilised the intense pain we felt within. Together, we found the strength to face all the cats in the world (well, in the campus to begin with)!

    And thus began my journey in REC, Rkl. It goes without saying that the one year spent in that rat hole taught me a lifetime of humility and gratitude.

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    1. This is a fun story :-)!! "Bengali rat from Tripura!". Lolz :-))! That was Soma? But bonding with rats??

      But you made a great point. Rat holes teach humility. Amen to that!

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