Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ten Years I am Living Next Door - Part 2

Second Round at The Game

There were three logical entrances to the Engineering Faculty. One was near the station - people who came in train or the ones who would return from 'that' shanty after buying funny things to smoke would enter from here. "8B" entrance - named after, like many other things, a state-run bus terminus opposite - that would take one in next to the slightly deserted Electrical building. Then there was the "middle" entrance - leading straight to the Main Library building and thus, used only during Sanskriti, TechFair or to go out to eat "Jhaal Muri" from the vendor just outside the gate. His Jhaal Muri had best of the breed stuff, but clearly, like most Bengalis, he severely lacked any business sense judging by his location.

Compare him to Rajinder, the phuchkawallah near Dakshinapon, and you will understand why. Rajinder is Calcutta's 3rd richest phuchkawallah. The guy who seats opposite to Hindustan Sweets in New Alipore is the Laxmi Mittal of the phuchkawallahs. I once saw (ok, heard! But from very reliable source) Sourav Ganguly rushing there with two commandos just the evening before his departure to World Cup in South Africa. The third entrance would also be used by folks who lived in Salt Lake. They would eat a thoNga of Jhaal Muri (Rs 4/-), catch the S-19 (that too would only brake in the least popular bus stands) and refuse to pay the regal fare of Rs 2.20/- to Salt Lake.

No one from Salt Lake ever paid full fare to any of the buses. They would shout, grease, protest, threaten, network and sometimes even plead lack of preparation for the day's exam to avoid paying fare. It not only worked, Salt Lake buses were - and are, till date - the best maintained and most punctually running buses in the entire city. The actual rate from Jadavpur to Salt Lake that our students used to pay "cash" to the conductor was about Rs 1, unless there is a class test or interview on the day. In the later cases, our folks would just refuse to talk to the conductor, be engulfed in photocopied class notes and could even shout at him if he comes and asks for the ticket twice. Folklore was, some of those bus conductors and drivers - who would get a hefty commission too - purchased land next to the New Alipore phuchkawalla.

The fourth entrance to the faculty was as revered as the fourth estate. It was the 'arts' gate'. No one would take that route within five days after a haircut. Otherwise, it was a long walk - but very pleasant, if one could time the entrance to the breaks in the first building. We detested the guys who were always there in front of that building - usually with a rundown guitar hidden behind thick pale of Charminar smoke - the same way Sreesanth detests Andrew Symonds these days.

No matter which entrance you choose to come in to Engineering Faculty, the big green ground will welcome you as the strategic center of the hexagonal shaped faculty. Mechanical Engineering real estates defined two arms of the shape! Electrical another - albeit much shorter; two smaller - but heavier in terms of score - departments Electronics and Comp Sc would define another; another arm was Chemical slightly pushed to the side by a "Staff Canteen" and a mysteriously named KMR building. The last arm would have Nathuda's canteen trying to balance between the SFI-dominated Science Club and blink-and-you-could-miss and very cutesy Metallurgy dept. Nathuda was a portly middle-aged man who never said a thing to anyone that did not have a cash word in it.

-How are you Nathuda?
- Good. But Pepsi is
dos taka. Be careful with the bottle if you are taking it out.

Nathuda's wife - boudi - was rather friendly, and just as much squint as it requires for teenagers to not be 'too cool' with her. In mid-90s, probably to curb on smoking, Reserve Bank of India was not printing any more 2 rupee bills. Gresham's law postulates how bad money drives good money out of circulation. What he missed was - bad money drives *everything* out. The poor Rs 2 bills mandated we were never lending money to our friends; not paying for anyone else's Thums Up even after his sincerest promise to pay back; we were even trying to buy full beer bottles with a stack of Rs 2. "Black Label" was Rs. 36. Still, the bad currency was probably good business for the waiters at Olypub since every patron was desperate to get rid of it. However, I remember once I left the elderly one with a few Rs 2 bills that even the populace at the nearby Park Street old cemetery would not accept anymore!

So, once someone was paying for the famous G-4 (burger named so in the canteen) with a couple of Rs 2/ notes. Boudi grudged, and gave the bills back saying -

- Eta cholbe na. (This is no good)

Our man, sorry I cannot name him at such a public forum, shot back -

- Boudi, Nathuda chole gelo aar ei du takar note cholbe na!?

This is as untranslatable as Kapil Dev's English- in his pre-Rapidex days, or the lyrics of "Coffee Houser Sei Adda ta aaj aar nei" - so I am not even trying!

Even though we had a somewhat nicely maintained green field, it was mostly enjoyed by satellite groups to gossip and watch other satellite groups sitting nearby. On the side farthest from Mechanical building one could even see some callows to have the audacity to sit with their 'girl friends'. But when the Auction Bridge mania engulfed us - me particularly - in the 2nd year, even those rarities were given a pass by. Like a true Bengali does with any sport, I turned a blind eye to the Skills and Stamina components and just focussed on the "strategy" bit. To a Bengali- any game, including outdoor ones, is always won by just strategy. Stamina, particularly, - like someone running around the entire field to score a goal - is highly looked down upon as a stupid imbecile element. Hey, he can always produce on nifty bicycle kick to score a goal, why waste energy running?

Thus, a few months ago when East Bengal arranged a benefit match for Parimal Dey (Jangla) footballers recounted his great days by regaling how Jangla-da used to recite Rabindranath just before the Santosh Trophy matches. No one mentioned a word about his training schedules - assuming he had one. However, Subhash Bhowmick mentioned how once Jangla-da replaced someone just a couple of minutes before the final whistle and produced a stunning equalizer against Iran's top club. The very fact that he had not originally taken the field for some stupid ego reason -feigning injury- was conveniently forgotten. We Bengalis do not necessarily look at a sport bi-focally - thus Gopal Bose has remained the opener Bombay lobby could not have afforded to let in lest Gavaskar had to carry drinks. Snehasis Ganguly had always had much more talent than his younger brother. Pele apparently touched Chuni Goswami's feet. Ambar Roy drank scotch for the entire night and then went out to score a century against Bombay. Krishanu Dey spent entire weekend eating luchis, and yet could produce a pass that would ashame a sudden lighting on an empty sky. To a Bengali, success is not as important as almost-success. Even better is a romantic failure that has a touch of art and absolutely no physical attribute to the cause. When I read Pankaj Roy's "Khelte Khelte" first time - I was convinced every West Indian fast bowler thinks first thing in the morning whether he will be Roy's breakfast that day. It was not the time he spent at crease that would be highlighted, it was always that shot that earned a pat. We were designed to live for a moment of glory, not necessarily followed a wild fest of stupid success.

To develop bridge "strategy", I was running to British Council Library and finished at least 6 books on bridge. Very soon I was dispensing free advice to anyone who cared and started analyzing the world series matches that Harsh Bhogle could only dream of! Even after flunking the Engineering Mechanics - I, the second part of the subject was royally ignored. No one - in our group - even talked about the other papers.

When I failed to get into big Cricket teams earlier in school despite my weird - and confusing - bowling action where both hands rotate at the same time, I decided to become a left-hander batsman. Strategy again! How come a left-hander -- good or bad -- be kept outside the team! A left-right combo means - in a Bengali context - the opponent fielders have to switch places more! They would huff and puff after the 3rd ball. Even though my average dropped to lower single-digits, I garnered enough eyeballs. Once, one of my proudest moments on field, I managed to hook some bad delivery for a four. The guy who stood first in Higher Secondary in our batch, clapped and shouted "Good Shot". Getting recognized by the topper was always good, even in strictly non-academic matters.

I like Twenty20 cricket a lot these days. One of the common perceptions is Twenty20 requires much more fitness and agility -- and youth-- than the longer versions of the game. In JU, we proved 'Law of Diminishing Returns' by inventing 5-a-side cricket, that requires no physical stamina whatsoever! This was always played inside a basketball court, with most regular rules applied. Except, if the ball goes outside without a drop within the court - batsman gets out. Ohh, there were no runs if it goes behind -- Nathuda's utensils and dishes were lying nearby, waiting to get washed. Mechanical was undoubtedly the Campus' best 5-a-side team.

But we had two disadvantages.

1. We were like South Africa. There were too many talents around - and we always barfed at the tournament finals ostensibly to "Phy Ed" -- muscular people who were in some annual vocational training to qualify for PT teachers in middle-schools. These people hated to lose in any game, and once they physically beat some of us up after losing a particular mainline Cricket match, we were quite happy to concede a little match here and there to them.

2. I usually captained the side. In one Final I remember, we had to score just about 8 runs or so in last over. A cinch of a task within a basketball court. I looked into the Phy Ed bowler whom I could not see anything behind. I was at my defensive best and was rather looking toward watching "Muhafiz" that weekend with friends. We lost!

Oh! 5-a-side also had a 12 run shot. One had to hit the basket to get 12. To the best of my knowledge, only one member from our team could ever score that feat in the entire campus.

One of our major strengths was Diptakirti as our official umpire. I have never seen a more vile, dishonest, corrupt and blatant subversion of power than his umpiring in those five-a-side games.

Once Avik Roy, our Class Rep and an enormously responsible folk, took me aside and wanted to know why I did not show same level of passion (I clearly remember that word since "passion", to me, was something that's aroused after watching "Lake Consequence" late night at Star TV) in studies or something more useful than the stupid 5-a-side cricket. Again, to a Bengali nothing can be a bigger complement than "You could have done this. Only if you wanted!"

I was so proud that day. It's better to flunk by not studying than to admit you studied your ass hard, and did so! We all tried to be wilder the next day. Because everyone else has a story to tell - if one had no mentionable repartee or exchange with a teacher to recount, one could have seriously been depressed. But in reality, teachers enjoy tremendous power. More so since no one attended most of the classes and there was a significant percentage of total score calculated just from class attendance! This peer pressure made the uninterrupted flow of ridiculous "Viva" stories from Engineering students possible. Viva is mostly one-to-one situation and no one outside the room has a way to know what went on inside. So it's easy to be hero when you come out. People will believe anything from you that they think put the teacher in a tight spot. Thus, every year several Viva legends are born in every Engineering college. Ours was no exception.

Next - The Teachers


Dipta Chaudhuri said...


Greatbong said...

To second Dipta, beee-bhotsho !!!

Yes I had heard that Nathuda story also---good to see it now digitally immortalized. And I cannot agree with you more about the typically Bangali rationalization : "He could have been the very best, but he didn't cause he was way too cool for achievement".

Looking forward to Part 3....and more.