Times of Twilight

It’s horrifying what a university education does to you.

Last night, I was watching The X-Factor on NDTV 24×7. The topic of discussion in the first segment was, well, yes, the CAT leak scandal. NDTV had invited Bakul Dholakia, the IIM-A director, and Murli Manohar Joshi, the minister of the ridiculously-named human resource development ministry. The aam junta was represented by two people who had given the CAT- some bloke whose name I forget, and Sakshi Sharda.

I had last seen Sakshi Sharda a little over four years ago, when she had represented Vasant Valley School at MSVV’s biology symposium, LifeBeat. Back in 1999, she had been one of the fixed stars in my firmament of hot women.

So much so, that one of the reasons I’m so unenthusiastic about college is that the DOSA (Dean of Student Affairs), HB Sharda, just didn’t live up to my expectations of what a Sharda should be. On registration day, I found out that he was a gent named Sharda. Exposed until then to a very high standard in Shardas, I expected a graceful and distinguished professor, who possessed an inherent nobility. Two days later, I discovered that he was a pompous, puffed-up, and portly popinjay. I never really recovered from the disappointment. Had I know back then that Patiala possessed a Canal, I would have unreservedly leapt into it, seeking to end it all in a watery grave. Well, I wouldn’t. But I was looking for an opportunity to use that phrase.

Which is why I felt like weeping when I saw Sakshi Sharda last night. Far from being the vibrant damsel of years past, she looked like a toad beneath the harrow. Her eyes looked like dark pits. Add a couple of pendulums, and you would be wondering why she was on a news channel, rather than in an Edgar Allen Poe short story. Her face was sallow and drawn, as if she had been through some terrible experience. And though giving a CAT in all seriousness only to find out that you’ve got to do it again is disappointing, it’s not that bad.

Which is why I repeat my starting line. It’s horrible what a university education does to you. Or if not a university education, the passage of time at any rate. Not only has it stolen my own boyish good loooks (though, I confess, the depredations I have suffered are in no small part also due to my orthodontist and the constant company of sardars), but Sakshi Sharda’s too (though her good looks, of course, were not boyish). Nobody is safe.

Anyway. I’m returning to Patiala now, so this is probably it for this spurt of writing.

CATatonic

Forgive me for the rather pathetic (and, I have to admit, geeky) pun in the title. But six months of preparing for the CAT does permit one to play with one’s vocabulary.

Okay, the pun is still unforgivable.

If you’ve been following the Indian news today, you’ll know what happened. The CAT (Common Admission Test for Indian MBA programs) paper was leaked. Of course, this was not actually revealed until some time after the paper had actually started. So this is what happened.

Monday to Saturday: Bihari crooks sell the CAT paper and answer key at 200 to 400 Kilorupees.

Sunday, 10:30 am: the CAT procedure starts.

Sunday, 11:00 am: the CBI nabs the Bihari crooks. At this time, everyone giving the paper (which includes me) has opened the seal and started marking answers on the response sheet.

Sunday, 1 pm: The CAT ends, people walk out of the exam centres, and find out that the paper was leaked, and has thus been cancelled.

Whooopsie.

The feeling you get when you hear news like that is the same feeling you get when you set an alarm, wake up early, and set off for the eight am tutorial only to find that the instructor hasn’t turned up. Magnified several thousand times. In the immortal words of sPas- is this bugging? I mean, this is the second time in my life I’ve ever taken anything so seriously, and it goes fruit shaped.

But then, surprise is the nature of the universe.

As of now, there is every indication that there will be another CAT in a couple of months. Hoo boy, there goes what little was left of my winter vacations. On the other hand, I haven’t prepared for more than half a year just to get discouraged now. I will give the CAT again, and when I do it the next time, I will pull my quant score up too, by Mars and Juno! So there.

Some other thoughts follow. This is not a terribly well structured Fillet, I’m afraid.

I went and met Bhaiyya after lunch. Bhaiyya had been watching SET Max rather than the news channels, so I redirected him to Aaj tak. He was pretty amused, especially at the news segment with the bellyaching guys from Meerut and Bikaner. He found himself unable to sympathise with them, feeling that they should rather be delighted. They got a free mock CAT in an ultra-realistic environment, and that, too, one set by IIM profs.

Bhaiyya always manages to see the bright side of things. It’s wonderful.

Bhaiyya was also tickled pink at the thought of everyone who had coughed up muchos moolah for the CAT paper having sunk their investment with no return. I must confess, I hadn’t though of that aspect of the affair before, and I too was tickled pink.

Another thought that pops up is that the security level at MODEM, the computer symposium held at my old school MSVV is far superior to the security level at the IIMs. At MODEM, the programming papers would be sealed in brown evelopes, unseen by all except the people who’d set the questions, the Computer Club President, and the guy who stapled the sheets (who was always handpicked and trustworthy). This, when MODEM runs more on faith, dumb luck, and caffeine than anything else, while the IIMs are probably ISO 9000 organisations.

Another point to be noted is that the whole trouble started with Biharis. Time to quote a passage from William Dalrymple’s The Age of Kali, a book I had read less than a week ago:

In a very real sense, Bihar may be a kind of Heart of Darkness, pumping violence and corruption, pulse after pulse, out in to the rest of the subcontinent…. So serious and infectious is the Bihar disease that it is now throwing in to question the whole notion of an Indian economic miracle. The question is whether the prosperity of the south and west of the country can outweigh the moral decay which is spreading out from Bihar and the east.

While I am opposed to violence, there must be exceptions to every rule. And if the Assamese wish to kill any Biharis they come across in the future, I will not stick my oar in. Indeed, I might cluck approvingly. And if this is vigilante violence, what of it? So is Daredevil a vigilante. And there are action figures of him.

Of course, a more non violent way would be to simply grant Bihar independence from India, and then erect a fence around it. Later, we could do the same to Uttar Pradesh.

For the nonce, though, I’m going to study for CAT 2003 Mk II.

Solid Italian Engineering

It so happens that my masi’s driver, who also doubles up as deliveryman for the thermal vest firm she runs with my mum, has run off to his village to settle a property dispute. Property disputes being what they are, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jagdish, the aforementioned driver has been declared dead. At any rate, he’s been gone long past his return date. So, today auditions were held for a replacement driver.

Anyway, this guy came over today to test for the position. He turned out to be an even worse driver than me (though, with constant practice over the past five months, I have improved a lot).

He got into the very new Palio, turned it on, and drove it straight up the drive into the very new aluminium door and window frame of the house.

Here’s the interesting thing, though. While the aluminium frame collapsed inwards and now looks like something lining the floor of a tunnel to Zion, the Palio is unaffected. Unscratched, even. The bumper absorbed the entire impact, and came out looking like new. Jeeves could take lessons in absorbing shocks from that car.

Two things have come out of this incident.

The first is that I have newfound respect for Italian automotive engineering. True, the Palio takes a couple of years to go from zero to sixty, and true, it can’t turn properly. But as far as crashing into things and emerging unscathed is concerned, it stands alone.

The consequence of this is that now, on the rare occasions when the Palio is able to get up to sixty, I don’t need to slow down, halt or turn for cows. I can charge straight into them, and send them flying over the moon, without inflicting any injury to the Palio. Of course, I shall continue to sedulously avoid mowing down pedestrians, innocent or guilty.

The second thing that comes out of this incident is that I have written to Vikram, and asked him how I can get in touch with Ram Avtar, that prince among chauffeurs. Ram Avtar left Vikram’s service earlier this year, as he didn’t want to move out of West Delhi. My masi lives in Rajinder Nagar, so that is not really a problem. If all goes well, Ram Avtar may become the newest person on the payroll of The Banyan Tree.

All in all, things look pretty good.

Revolutionary

Don’t believe what the reviews say. The Matrix Revolutions is fantastic.

I saw it this Saturday, which is a week later than my brother, and much much later than my cousin BG who saw the premiere show, but I saw it in style. Balcony tickets at Priya. A wide screen and Dolby sound. The way Matrix Revolutions should be watched.

True, it doesn’t match up to the original, but then, what could? On the other hand, it leaves Reloaded gasping in the dust. The action sequences and music are every bit as good as in the original Matrix, and so the CGI effects are superior. Matrix Revolutions is every bit as kickass as the Real Star Wars Trilogy.

Story? Story’s awesome too. It’s nice and accessible if you’re a layman. If you’re a CS person who’s finished a course on Theory of Computation, than it’s even better. Determinism and nondeterminism, baby. That’s the key. If you’ve done NFAs and DFAs, then the story isn’t just nice, it’s wow. You’ll leave the theatre understanding why everything happened, but not exactly how it happened. It’ll take you a couple of days (and maybe a couple more viewings) to understand that. And if you’ve got a book on the general principles of chaos (I recommend Does God Play Dice, by Ian Stewart), you’ll be just fine. That’s what happened to me, anyway.

Next, I’m going to watch Kill Bill. Live action anime. Yeah!

Soundtracks

After a long time, I writing. I have not been particularly lazy about it, it just that there not much to write about these days. My life has been reduced to a set of countdowns- five days to Baldy’s birthday, eighteen days to the CAT, forty-five to the end of tfhe semester, soon and so forth. You get the idea. And right now I really in no mood to sit for an hour and compose my magnumopuses on relatives, rudeness, and rotational motion, so theyl have to wait until I am more fine of fettle and fleet of thought.

But here something to chew on in the meantime.

I read Asterix and Obelix All at Sea yesterday. And after reading that, I read The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Banerjee Divakurani.

I liked The Mistress of Spices. The concept is delightful- a witchwoman who casts spells using spices to help the Indian expatriates in Oakland, California. And underneath that, the theme is more of responsibility and the lmits of power- something like Reaper Man or Soul Music by Terry Pratchett. Oom berejoom, it was good.

In fact, it was so good that while I was reading it a soundtrack set itself up and started playing in my head.

If you ask what I mean by this, here’s the answer. While I was reading The Mistress of Spices, songs came into the back of my head and remained there. They played over and over and rather than distracting me from the book, complemented it story and mood. This sort of thing doesn happen very often- only with some books that are especially good.

The first book this ever happened with was Requiem for a Wren, by Nevil Shute. I read it on the Inter-City Express from Delhi to Patiala almost exactly three years ago, and it left me breathless. Metallica Unforgiven played through my head, drowning out the sound of the train, the coffee- and soup- vendors, and the burly Punjabi women who somehow cuss with far more enthusiasm then the menfolk. And towards the ending- which is bittersweet rather than happy- my mental DJ switched the track to Dire Straits’ Wild Theme.

Now, out of the readership that hasn’t actually tapped it forehead significantly and muttered about my ever-rising looniness, I can foresee two reactions. Half, of which Juventas and Asim would be the best examples, will click their tongues approvingly and will make a mental note to themselves to pick Requiem for a Wren up as soon as they get the opportunity. The other half, led by Manasvini, will shake their heads in despair at the kind of music my subconscious considers suitable and wish they had lorgnettes to flash at me.

I would like to point out that I can really help my subconscious. It doesn’t just have a mind of its own, it is a mind by its own. It decides that Metallica goes well with Nevil Shute and I raise no objections. It plays Metallica again when I’m reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Bleeding Me, in this case) and I headbang along. When I reading Don Quixote, it puts U2’s Sweetest Thing on the stereo and I smile wistfully. And last night when it put on Bring Me to Life by Evanescence as I was reading about Tilo unleashing the power of Red Chillis on San Francisco, I was delighted.

In short, I am not responsible for what my subconscious plays. It plays something, and I like it.

And sometimes, of course, it doesn’t play anything. Either when the book is so ordinary as to leave it uninspired, or, at the other extreme, when I reading Terry Pratchett and PG Wodehouse.

The genius of Nevil Shute is that he can write a book that affects you so strongly that the only way to recognise your feelings is to put them into song. The genius of Pratchett and Wodehouse, on the other hand, is that they can write a book that is so wonderful and delightful and absorbing that your subconscious is never given the opportunity to turn on its stereo. It’s there along with the conscious racing to catch up as they both chase the story. Occasionally they pause so that they can make me roll on the floor laughing, but there no time for music.

And that is that. Tinkerty-tonk.