‘The Second Last Bencher’ was an attempt to document the special times of final year students during their stay at IIT Madras. We are deeply grateful to the editors, Kanwalijeet Singh and Aluka Abhinav Ram, for giving us permission to reproduce an e-copy of The Second Last Bencher. We publish a few stories from the book to give you a flavour of what is in store for you.
1. The Diary of a Humble TA
Invigilation is an indispensable part of every TA’s life, an exhilarating as well as excruciating experience. After five years of overdose of invigilation, this is my ode to the love-hate relationship that I have shared with it. I must, however, specify that this is my subjective take on the topic and is in no way a representation of the experiences of the entire TA community.
What has invigilation taught me in these five years?
It has taught me that I am the oppressor who gets up later than the students writing the exam but yet ends up getting a Vada and coffee for doing nothing but walking up and down the aisles and handing over papers.
That I must transform into a monster like figure the moment I step into a classroom because if I don’t, I will be reprimanded for being too lenient and cool.
That when one is invigilating, it is not unusual, if, even a student’s fart or hiccup sounds like they are saying ‘Ma’am’ and you tend to rush off in their direction to answer their query.
That you should never forget your wrist watch when going for invigilation, because, you are bound to be asked the time by someone within the first 30 minutes. And once you answer the first query, it is like a domino effect. At a rate of one person every 30 seconds, each and every of the 60 students in the hall will keep asking you the time. Although some do it because of panic attacks, for others, it is mere entertainment after they are done making their precious contributions to the answer sheet.
That invigilation is a very ego-satisfying exercise. Firstly, the fact that a 6 feet 2 inch undergrad calls the 5 feet 2 inch you ‘Ma’am’ can really boost one’s ego. But more importantly, it provides immense opportunities to boss around people with threats such as ‘I can confiscate your phone, you know’, ‘I can cancel your paper, you know’, ‘Hey, Blue shirt! No talking there!’, ‘Who the hell do you think you are fooling, huh?’
That after spending 4 years in the Insti, students tend to associate themselves more with their roll numbers rather than their names and very often end up signing with their roll numbers instead of their names.
That boys have a very weak bladder as compared to girls. I don’t remember rushing to the washroom during any of my exam duties in the past 5 years. Neither have I seen a male TA or Prof. do the same. But our male students, like primary school kids, will constantly ask for a washroom break every 30 minutes. Perhaps it’s a ritual to bring good luck! I wonder how inspiring the ambience of the Gents’ washrooms must be to lure them out of the exam halls so often.
That even a final year student can get traumatized on hearing the two dreadful phrases ‘NEGATIVE MARKING’ and ‘TIME UP’ (which also reminds me how effectively the system has perpetuated fear).
That a room freshener is an invigilator’s best friend. I sincerely appreciate the dedication of the students to study till the last moment and their concern for the reducing levels of water on our planet and hence, their indifference to taking a bath before the examination. My advice to all new TAs is to keep a freshener handy if you want to stay awake and conscious for the 3 hours of the examination.
That no matter how hard you try to convince them against it they will not stop looking at you with eyes full of hope that somewhere in those 4 pockets of your jeans lies the key to the question paper – the end of their misery.
It has taught me to hold my breath and count till 10 to fight the urge to snap back with revulsion at the innumerable stupid questions asked. Instances of such situations can be found below.
That if you are a TA of the fairer sex, the frequency with which you will encounter questions such as the above is 5 times higher.
That students never ‘copy’ from each other; they simply ‘help’ each other out. Although they may sound as the same thing (read: malpractices) to a TA, these are two very distinct words in the dictionary of a student.
It has taught me how to deal with various kinds of crisis – mistakes in papers, misplaced identity cards, malpractices, man handling (true!), threats, panic attacks, tears, sleepy heads and clowns.
And yet people ask me what’s there to observe while invigilating……… is it not a mindless activity?
Well I disagree… there is a lot more to this very amusing journey through which students evolve into scholars.
2. M-Seal N Feel
You don’t know who we are. Nevertheless, listen to our story. It’s one of those things you never tell anyone that you did, but secretly feel proud about, and, years later, with a chuckle, tell your grandkids.
There is always too much to do and too little time. In this busy life, we all look forward to having some fun, at least most of the time. This one time, the idea of our fun came at the cost of the liberty of the Ganga hostel staff. We locked their hostel office and placed the key conveniently near the water dispenser and fled from there. We are to this date unaware of the results and repercussions of our little mischief.
However, these things are too sweet to relish once and then forget about. Nearly six months after this incident, around 2 o’ clock at night, we thought of what we had done and how hilarious it had been. As they say – when people sleep, the devil within awakes. We wanted to do something on a larger scale, something that people would talk about for some time. Extrapolating on our previous, less exciting plan, we decided to lock the hostel offices of *all* the hostels. The cheapest lock in Gurunath costs around 30 rupees. For a total of 17 hostels – we had to part with 510 bucks, equivalent to a buffet at Barbecue nation. But then Gurunath locks aren’t exactly known for their quality. It is common knowledge that they can be picked open with a hairpin or the like, and we wanted to make it a bit more challenging for everyone. So we decided to insert M-Seal (a common plumbing sealant) into the locks which would harden fast and prevent picking. Then came the time for execution. The six of us divided ourselves into 3 teams of 2 each and assigned ourselves hostels. The biggest challenge were the security cameras mounted at the entrance of every hostel. But once we decide on something, even the universe conspires to help us achieve it. Praying for the Force to be with us, we managed to get hooded T-shirts and enter every hostel with our faces hidden. At around 4 am in the morning, we had successfully managed to cover 8 hostels and around 4-5 hostel rooms. It was neither boredom nor fear that had stopped us; we had run out of M-Seal!
At 9 am the next morning, we woke up to the sound of the hostel office staff trying to hammer the lock open. Of course, there was a Facebook post by someone about what we did, with an endless stream of comments and ‘like’s. We had done it.
When you think back about the days of your youth, it is incidents like these that come to your mind, for that rush of adrenaline and that (kind of adorable) recklessness will never come back to you again.
3. The Mahout
Past midnight in CCD, after a particularly gruelling day, the ‘star-gazer’ and his faithful accomplices start tripping on the MA students.
Soon the conversation shifts to a post in ‘Faking News IITM’, “Freshie caught trying to ride blackbuck to class” which reported that the incident occurred just a week after a student from the HS department was found trying to ride one of the elephants in GC to class.
This strikes a chord of inspiration within the ‘star-gazer’ and he proudly proclaims to his amused friends, lethargic waiters and disinterested couples at CCD there that night, he will climb to the top of one of the two insurmountable beasts at the heart of the IITM jungle.
The apprehensions of his well-wishing accomplices are brushed aside and when it is established that his intention is serious and his resolve unshakeable, his loyal comrades agree to abet him in his mighty endeavour.
It is quite late and the area around GC is deserted, save for a couple of sleeping canines. The co-ordinates of the only possible living obstacle to the task, the Administration Block Security Guard, are ascertained and one of the friends strategically locates him on the other side, ready to create a distraction in case the guard wakes up.
The other two stand by to watch the courageous ‘star-gazer’ attempt his herculean mission. Brimming with the athletic confidence only hours at the gym can bring, the ‘star-gazer’ stands by the north facing tuskers side and jumps throwing his hands over the elephant’s back. He cannot get a grip and disgracefully slides back down. He tries again, twice, with the same result.
Undaunted, he tries using his feet, but the convex body of the mammoth is smooth and without a grip, the unsuccessful antics only serve to entertain the two who stood by watching.
The ‘star-gazer’ plans something more adventurous. He steps back twenty feet and runs towards the stone statue hoping to leap over the elephant’s back.
The physical characteristics of an elephant’s side are best summed up in the poem ‘The Wise Men and the Elephant’
“The first approached the elephant
And happening to fall
Upon its broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl
This wonder of an elephant
Is very like a wall.”
That is a real elephant. A stone replica is like a stone wall. And the valiant ‘star-gazer’, sprinting at nearly thirty kmph crashes into it!
There is stunned silence. The ‘star gazer’ is catatonic. The incredulity of what just happened shocks the other two friends into speechlessness. The third who was watching from a distance comes running in.
Then, they start laughing. The psychological trauma exposes a personality of the star gazer, hitherto hidden from all who knew him as the Hypochondriac.
The still stunned star gazer mumbles that he may have broken his hand. A friend, a son of two doctors, diagnoses it, quite correctly, as not a fracture. But on the star gazer’s insistence, he is accompanied to the institute hospital by three, now hysterically laughing, hostel-mates.
The security guard initially suspects the trio are drunk, but upon being showing a small bruise that has developed on the star gazer’s elbow, reluctantly lets them in.
The sleeping attendant is rather rudely woken up to examine the elbow. The star gazer, very unconvincingly, tells the guy that he hit his elbow against something. Upon receiving a stare, he changes his story twice. He tells him first that he walked into a wall. Later, he says he was running when his elbow hit a pillar. All through, his once loyal friends snigger at his discomfort. The attendant, very seriously, tells the star gazer he should apply some coconut oil on the bruise and goes back to sleep.
The star gazer, his pride lost somewhere near the familiar landmark at the centre of a fine campus, limps back to his room to sleep in the hostel where the sun never sets.