Saturday, November 26, 2011

Picking up the RAIT attitude

I watched the bollywood hit movie 3 Idiots (again) recently. The movie is about life in the Engineering campus. Being an engineer myself, I ended up relating a lot to the movie and some of its scenes. It inspired the writer in me to start typing a few memories from that life and in the process try and relive the nostalgia.

I passed H.S.C with flying colors (or so I thought) ... but soon enough I realized that my colors weren't flying high enough to land me into the top colleges of Bombay. So I took a tour of New Bombay (or Navi Mumbai as it is called now) the adjacent city to short list alternatives. A look at the vast RAIT campus (the D.Y.Patil campus) in Nerul and I was sold. Soon enough I'd secured admission into this college through the centralized admission system and here I was staring at the notice board in the college trying to figure out how my next four years were going to be. The college for First Year Engineering (F.E as we would be known for the rest of the year) hadn't started yet. I was there just to pay the fees.

Naive and idiotic as I was, I had traveled there all alone. After I was done with the formalities, I was looking for the canteen so that I could have a beverage to quench my thirst. RAIT then was notorious for "ragging" but I did not know that.
As I was wandering about clueless on the ground floor looking for canteen, I saw a friendly looking person with a book in hand. I figured it was good to ask for directions (rookie mistake no 1... never ask a senior for directions on day one). I think the book was really a decoy so that the spotter could trap gullible juniors like me.

This senior politely asked me if I was an FE. I did not understand the significance of this word yet. He even politely explained to me the meaning and then I said yes. Then instead of guiding me to the canteen (thankfully he did not - I learned later that canteen = hell for FEs) he took me to his classroom.

There I was in an FE's nightmare (if not hell). A classroom comprising of about 20 odd Second year (SE) boys spending their free lecture. I was the source of their entertainment. Now the whole infamy of the word ragging dawned upon me. The next one hour was spent with various connotations of the F*** word and S** words being hurled at me. If I thought something was a joke and opened my mouth to smile I was to flush my smile (can't describe the meaning .. but it sort of equates to flushing after shit in the potty). One of the early scenes of the movie 3 idiots shows a bunch of juniors being "ragged" by a bunch of seniors with a customary salute ("Jahapanah tussi great ... tofah kabool karo"). I was also taught a similar (less vulgar) salute (aka RAIT salute). Towards the end of the hour a few girls entered the classroom. I was thanking God for getting me out of this nightmare ... but I was wrong. The Nightmare just got worse for this shy guy (yours truely) cause I used to be a shy guy in front of girls. There was this bold female standing before me. One of the SEs behind me dared me to propose to her. As I was standing tongue tied in front of this female, she instantly pointed to huge Macho guy (for those who know me as a lean guy now, I was a bag of bones then weighing just about 50 Kgs). She mentioned that he was her boyfriend and if I dared say anything he would beat the crap out of me.
The next few moments seemed like an eternity and I was nearly sweating trying to figure out what to say. Finally the SEs decided to pity the nice guy in me. One senior walked with me out of the campus (lest some other SE catches me again).

The long 1.5 hr journey back home was a thought provoking one. I was feeling humiliated and questioning my decision to enter this college. Then I  thought,what the hell .. all they did was challenge me to open my mouth and hurled a few abusive words for being silent and shy. The one hour was an eye opener to the challenges of the real world. I was no longer in my neighborhood - the protected kid of protective parents. For my life hereon I would always be on my own in the world. Yes, the parents and well wishers would be there if I needed their help. However I would have to shape my life hereon. There dawned the my first lesson of Engineering - "Be Shameless" (which also loosely translated to be bold, give up your inhibitions etc).

A few days later I returned for the beginning of the first semester. I saw whole army of rats (read as FE). We had strength in numbers. But at the first sight of a cat (reads as SEs and any other seniors), the rats would disperse and hide in their rat holes (FE classroom). There my "be shameless" attitude became my boon. Thanks to my previous brush with seniors I was no longer afraid to hangout outside the classroom. The rest of the FEs were always hiding inside the classroom till evening and then run home. The very seniors who had been a part of my nightmare were now quite chatty with me (to be precise they wanted to sell their FE text books to the new batch). Among my batch mates, I was seen as a bold (aah .. a new meaning of shameless) FE as I would talk to the seniors.

I was even responsible for introducing a few FEs to SEs willing to sell books without first ragging the junior. I even learned (albiet not at my own expense) why the canteen was treated like an FEs hell. I ventured into canteen at lunch time. The canteen was inside the basement, with dull lighting. It seemed like dark dungeon. The smoke and steam from kitchen made it look like the dungeon's furnace. The place was certainly a little more than warm. There was a whole bunch of seniors (like an army of cats) busy with their stuff ...smoking, writing journals, discussing sports, discussing college politics, discussing their subjects, banging benches and also having food. Any single FE caught there would then serve as a source of entertainment for seniors for rest of the day. If one group had to leave the canteen, the FE would simply be passed around to the next group and so on. In that sense, for an FE, the canteen was really hell. Thankfully my previous acquaintances (nightmare) with some of the seniors meant that they
were now quite friendly with me. So if any unknown senior would serve thoughts of messing with me, these friendly guys would come to my rescue.

Over the next month I had metamorphosed, from a shy guy who cared about a lot of things people said to or about him, to somebody who didn't give a damn about things people said about him. I learned to "be myself" and be proud about being that self. This next month was also the month where most FEs dreaded the seniors. All of us in FE did not have our names ... we just had one collective name "FE". If a senior shouted across the floor "Aye FE" it meant run for your life. Of course my early brush with seniors meant that I was unafraid of the seniors or ragging. Towards the end of the month, was the grand FE nite - party thrown by the seniors to all FEs. It was the informal welcome from all seniors to juniors and and end of the period of dreading the seniors. From now on no senior would attempt to trouble this batch of juniors. This was kicked off by some seniors doing the RAIT salute in front of juniors.

Of course the word ragging took a new meaning for us for the next four years. We learned (as Viru Sahasrabuddhe from 3 idiots would say) that "life is a race". Every one in the college would be there ragging us (so to speak). There were the boring lectures where some bad lecturers threatened us into attending lectures with "attendance norms". There were the lab assistants who would make faces at us as they handed out old and crappy lab equipment for the practicals as if they were handing out their life savings. Then there were the term work Submissions at end of each sem, where each of bold and dauntless students were reduced to mowing like cows in the hope that our Term work would be accepted and we would be cleared without the ignominy of KT (aka Allowed to Keep Terms - which I'll explain in my next RAIT blog). That one hour of ragging was nothing compared to the torture that the college staff would put us through over the next four years. To say the least, the very seniors whom we avoided for the first month, were to become our saviors over the next couple of years. They would provide us tips and tricks (besides books, journals and notes) to help tide through the term work submissions and exams.

Its has been more than a decade since my FE status.Almost a decade now since I left my college, I don't remember much of what was taught in my curriculum...The extra curricular stuff though (including that little one hour nightmare) did prepare me for my life thereafter and so far. Alongside the "be shameless" and "be myself", I learned several small lessons over the next fours years that I collectively call the "RAIT attitude" (pronounced Right attitude).

Attention around ragging by both college and law enforcement has increased and they are rather strict. In most colleges FE students need not hide like rats. But I ask, has the ragging really stopped.... I mean the students may have stopped ragging their fellow students. The real ragging by the system and enforcers continues in the name of exams, term work and syllabus. The emphasis is still on theory and mugging than on creativity, innovation and learning.
Signing off this one - hoping that future RAIT students learn a little more than just the RAIT attitude.

PS : For a more funnier account of Joys of being and FE click this link from another fellow RAITian who writes the blog named Dirtscapes
I also thank him for inspiring this blog and in general indirectly influencing my writing style.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Watch out Monginis

In a departure from my usual ramblings, today I am attempting to write a report. Before I begin, I should thank (or curse) two of my regular blog fans for literally forcing me in to writing this one..

Last week I was happened to visit a community fun fair where one of my blog fans (aka Narad) and his better half (more importantly the better half) had invited me.... It was a rare public appearance by your truly in capacity as a famous blogger. So what if my fan list is smaller than the number of fingers on my hand - one of my articles was published recently in Mumbai DNA's print edition. I think that qualifies me as famous (wonder what DNA was thinking when they published me ... but who cares .. I am in the newspaper)...

Now that I have been my boastful self for a paragraph, it is time to shift focus to Mrs Narad's culinary treats. The inside story is that Narad was often found sneaking into bakeries to gorge some Muffins.. That sparked Mrs. Narad into considering an expansion of her then limited Culinary skills to add muffins to the list. Months later, I found myself as an observant (read greedy) bystander at her cake and muffin stall in the fun fair.

After spending time attempting to ogle around in the crowd, I realized that there was nothing much other than food to spark my interest. At dusk bucket loads of muffins arrived with Mrs Narad, her family and my other blog fan (Mitra - who was hired as photographer). At first look, I was a little overwhelmed by sheer number of bakery products (both in number and variety). Not to mention, I was also skeptical about the possibility of a sell out. For a change my skepticism would have sweet rewards. I mean if Mrs. Narad failed to sell the muffins, I as a friend would have to step in to help avoid wastage. (In essence I was hoping for a free take out order).

Apparently a whole weekend of hard work had gone into preparatory work and now was the time for the acid test ... or should I say taste bud test. The first few minutes went by hoping for customers to show up... Having a few friendly customers drop by helped. A few of muffins left the store and soon enough caught the eye of the kids. Mrs. Narad seemed to know how to make the package attractive to the customers that matter. So not only were they baked well to taste and texture, they were neatly boxed up and appropriate creamy and colorful toppings added to catch the eye of any wandering kids. Soon enough we saw a crowd of kids around the store. All busy staring and choosing what the wanted to eat. So kids who had now developed a craving for muffins were seen coming back to give in to their temptations.

The interesting thing about having a kid fan base is that they have an amazing power of influence Of course with their power of influence they were back with their parents which meant that customer base had now doubled itself. In all the frenzy that followed, I noticed one 6 yr old who kept coming to the stall despite repeated attempts of grandpa, to advertise that muffins aren't quite healthy. (sure Grandpa so much sugar ... so many extra calories). But the bundle of energy that they are, kids don't really need bother about the guilt that we grown ups have after consuming those calories. Persistence payed off, and grandpa caved in to her demands after 3 attempts to draw her attention elsewhere.

That gesture said several things to me ... For one, Narad & co had figure how to woo their customers. More importantly, it meant that my free take out was not going to be there. I quickly turned around to the customer side of the stall and paid for a banana muffin (yes ... the cheapskate me had to pay ), lest they run out of the good stuff before I get a good bite. Sure enough the muffin was worth every penny.Thus Narad & co was the first stall to wind up for the day .. alas they were sold out !!!. I would like add a little futuristic prediction here. In years to come if and when Mrs. Narad gets tired of her software career & economics permitting, baking certainly seems to be an tasty venture. Only time will tell if I am right, till then Watch out Monginis..

If you are still reading this its probably a few hundred words already and I know a picture is apparently worth a thousand words. So here are the links to the photo blog from Mitra
Mesmerizing Muffin Madness -I.
Mesmerizing Muffin Madness -II