The Last Bencher

The objective of ‘The Last Bencher’ was to immortalize the institute experiences of final year students into a book which would remain as a token of memory of their celebrated lives at IIT Madras. We are deeply grateful to the editor-in-chief, Surbhi Maheshwari, for giving us permission to reproduce an e-copy of The Last Bencher. We publish a few hand-picked stories from the book here.

 

1. The Sneaky Four

 

It is a story involving five of us; I, Bardar along with RPM, Bcube, Susti and Nikhil.

It is the General Body Meeting (GBM) of our hostel, Mandak and RPM, the social secretary presenting the budget for the year comes up with an idea to promote wing interaction. He proposes to have “The Dare Knight”, an inter-wing competition. The only clue is that it is on the same lines as roadies. That’s impossible here, we think. Nevertheless, we give him a chance to prove his mettle.

As a result of increased dose of vagrancy, I wander one day, into RPM’s room. And as always, he is busy with his fingers on fire, typing away sweet messages to all the femme-fatale in his contact list. After some time I get the comp all to myself. I generally browse through some folders and chance upon a file named “Dare-Knight”. My mind comes to a screeching halt and then involuntarily I have a devious smile. I don’t trust anyone except one person who is very close. That’s me again. I mail the file to myself and walk out of the room struggling to display the most normal behaviour.

One day before the event, I go to Bcube. He is a person to go to for short-cuts to success. And this definitely is going to be our short cut to be the Dare Knights. After showing the list of the tasks going to be assigned, we decide, we would do the tasks a day before and store the element of surprise for others. There are three tasks at hand.

The first task is to get a photograph of a teammate hanging from the rope in front of the gym. We are all athletic enough and finish the job as quickly as possible. To RG others we then wind the rope to the rod and cement our position further as the Dare Knights. The second task is a photograph of a team-mate sitting on one of the elephants of the Gajendra Circle. Those uncomplaining mammoths witness our courage. The lone security guard sitting near the Ad block doesn’t keep watch in the night and we discover this. We then have in our hand the photograph of one of us mahouting the elephants. Almost commanding them to move.

The third task is a lot more fishy. We are to obtain a photograph of a team mate diving from the highest platform in the swimming pool. Since we knights have decided to do the feat in the night there are difficulties. The swimming pool is closed at night. And even if we sneak in, the sleeping guard could wake up due to the splash of water.

We divide our roles for this mission. I would be the photographer and Bcube the jumper. Susti would keep watch if someone is coming from the back side of the pool from where we slip in. And Nikhil has the tough job of distracting the security guard at the time of the splash. As soon as he hears the splash he has to talk loudly on his mobile and there is nothing like a fight — either real or virtual on a phone — that doesn’t distract attention of the security guys. They are trained to watch out for fights. Also Nikhil has to inform us on our mobiles if the guard comes inside.

We are ready. We take our assigned positions. I hold Bcube’s T-shirt and shoes. I am ready with the camera now. And Bcube jumps off from the top platform into the swimming pool and I click. There’s a big sound of the splash and I disappear to the backside where Susti was. The guard hears the splash and Nikhil jumps into action. He starts shouting on the mobile to gain the guard’s attention. He is successful in it. Good job. Poor Bcube comes after some time and asks us where we had disappeared. Then we look for the photo in the camera and realize that only the splash is visible! Oh S***! We realize digital cameras need some time to focus after you click. We decide we have to go for another one but this time the guard will definitely come inside. We call Nikhil and tell him to continue walking the talk, in front of the guard.

The second attempt. We are nervous. We take our positions. Bcube jumps off. And I click even before he jumps. There is the sound of splash. It unsettles the guard again from his sleep. We run towards the backside of the pool. Nikhil shouts even more on his mobile this time, but the guard stands up and looks at the swimming pool door. He takes two steps forward, peeps in the swimming pool area and sits down. Peace. We look at the picture and Bcube is standing on the top diving board. We decide we have to do it yet another time. Now, this is risky. This time the guard would definitely come inside and catch us. But we have come too far and there is no backing down now.

The third attempt. This time Bcube jumps off and I finally get the picture. There is the splash sound and Nikhil shouts at the top of his voice but the guard opens the door and runs inside to see who is there. We run towards the backside from where we had come. We see the guard coming towards us with a torch but we slip outside through the opening and run towards the stadium. After few minutes Nikhil joins us and we tell each other that it was one hell of an experience.

Finally, the ceremonious day arrives without much pomp. We know, we have a surprise for everyone. As the event starts, we collect the list of tasks from the common room from RPM. We go through the list and… and… Oh no! We don’t find the swimming pool task in the list!

 

About the characters: The main characters were residents of Mandak. Having been wing-mates for four years, they were indeed a close group of friends.

 

2. The Applauded Jump

 

Insti may be well known for a lot of things, and rightly so, but a culturally progressive attitude is not one of them. Super computers yes, sophisticated biomedical technology yes, but wholeheartedly embracing the values of the 21st century? No. One of the diktats that arise out of this approach is that no men are allowed into the ladies’ hostel, Sharav, under no circumstances. There could be a couple of asphyxiated, trembling, death rattling girls in there, but if you happen to be male, you can’t put as much as a toe in.

This is a fact the overwhelmingly large population of menfolk in Insti have come to accept, but there always will be a couple of daredevils here and there, with enough resources and the sheer guts to subvert the law.

Two such sterling men were Cheetah and Accepted. It was Saarang 2010 and our protagonists were standing in front of Sharav along with Aag, Again, Lokhda and Aditi. The general chit chat and the hey-you-remembers left Cheetah and Accepted bored within a few minutes. They looked around and instantly spotted Sharav. It was Saarang and adventure was in the air. In a moment’s inspiration Cheetah and Accepted decided that, come what may, they were going to get inside Sharav.

Running their eyes across the building, they began looking for strategic entry and exit points in the building. For it was a mission that had to be planned meticulously. If they made a mistake and they were caught, they would be in front of the Dean before they could say Sharavati.

It was the night Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy were performing at the OAT and there was a considerable crowd in front of Sharav. For some reason, Accepted and Cheetah thought they could blend in with the crowd and walk in to Sharav without the security guard noticing. After their brief and lightning quick sojourn inside, they planned to jump down from a balcony on the first floor on to the road and run for it.

Tidying up and tying up a few loose ends, the plan was finalised and they submitted it to their friends for approval. Speaking like one friend, they told the dynamic duo that they were crazy. Extolling the virtues of a peaceful life without adrenaline pumped adventure and explaining the obvious risks involved, Aag, Again, Lokhda and Aditi tried to convince them to withdraw, but they could have been talking to a wall for all the result they got. Ignoring the advice of their four friends, the two of them decided to go ahead with the plan.

Accepted and Cheetah walked into Sharav, trying their best to blend in with the crowd and not look suspicious. Of course, that attempt was futile, considering that the rest of the crowd was female. They could have been spotted from the moon. The warden was right in front the hostel and had no difficulty in spotting the two of them. She stopped them and started with the customary interrogation. The two of them tried to slink in by saying they were a part of the hospitality team and that they needed to get in urgently. The warden was not relenting and it seemed the plan would come unstuck without ado. However, the warden’s attention was momentarily distracted and taking advantage of it, the boys ran into Sharav.

For a moment they stood there, like six year olds who had discovered a land where mountains where made of ice cream and rivers were of chocolate. I don’t know if you are familiar with the band of explorers who went in search of El Dorado. Those chaps never found the city of gold, but if they had, their euphoria could scarcely have matched that in Accepted and Cheetah.

They knew time was at a premium and that any moment, the Sharav Warden might pop up and boot them out. They ran along the corridors, drinking in the sights and sounds, capturing every pixel their eyes could take. Short skirts, hot pants and stilettos captured their eyes and hearts. They ran from corridor to corridor, from wing to wing. Meanwhile, the inmates of Sharav were equally stunned to find specimens of the other sex in the hostel.

After a few minutes inside, the boys knew their time was up. Any more time spent inside could jeopardise their bottoms and their careers. They had to get out and get out fast. They ran around first floor, trying to find an exit point into the balcony and out of the hostel. They finally found what they were looking for near the office room. By this time, a horde of girls had come out of their rooms to witness the spectacle. Instant heroes Accepted and Cheetah became, as the female contingent started cheering and hooting. Accepted let himself into the balcony. Stretching his arms, he managed to get a grasp of a lower slab and swung himself down. Just three or four feet separated him from the ground. Taking the risk, he jumped down. Cheetah followed his lead and jumped down. Both landed on the cusp of the road, with minor scratches on the limbs.

Looking around in delight, perhaps expecting fans and admirers to fly in with the bouquets, they saw that the entrance to Sharav was sealed off. Quickly deducting that the Warden must have sent for the security, they realised that sticking around the area any more could be detrimental to their physical health. Taking two long, deep breaths, they ran for their lives, back to their hostel. Now that is Saarang well spent.

 

About the characters: Himanshu “Cheetah” Suryavanshi and Swapnil “Accepted” Kulkarni hailed from Tapti and were students in the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department. Cheetah was a great athlete, hence the name. Accepted was considered to be a pocket dynamo on the football pitch.

 

3. Not His Day!

 

Insti is full of people who put the ass in assignments. They are all of the opinion that life would have been much better without those darned things. Unfortunately, that is the way things work and one has got to make the most of it. Of course, one seldom expects the junta in Insti to take it lying down. The devious, incredulous and scheming minds of Insti are constantly formulating plans to jump over or crawl under the obstacle called assignments. The oldest trick in the book is to find an unsuspecting fresher and convince him to undertake a joint operation. And by joint, I mean together.

It so happened that the hockey-playing, metal-music following, Manchester United-supporting current fourth year IPS had a major dent in his happiness, courtesy a troublesome assignment. Scoffing disdainfully at the idea of actually attempting to have a crack at it, he sent for a first year who looked, talked and walked like a nine pointer. Handing over the assignment sheet with the ebullience of a newspaper boy on the street, IPS went back to his hockey-playing, metal-music following, Manchester United-supporting ways, having banished thoughts on the assignment from his mind.

The Sun set and rose, bringing a glorious new day to the earth and the freshie to IPS’ room. The young chap informed his senior that he had completed the assignment and had even submitted it, but had forgotten in the excitement to write a name on the top right corner. Aye, there is the rub. Acknowledging the fact that there was, by a liberal estimate, close to fifty seconds for his next class to start, IPS banished the fresher, grabbed a pair of pants and a key to a tube lock and sped to the hostel entrance. Jumping on the first cycle whose lock matched his key he flew like a Schumacher to class.

In the class, the professor was distributing the corrected assignment papers. He dryly informed the class that there were a few bastard papers floating around and people were welcome to claim them. IPS slyly slinked up to the stack of papers and started looking around for the best paper available. Minutes later, he found a paper which had a perfect record. He wrote his name on it and submitted it to the professor.

Time passed and the professor chanced upon the paper IPS had submitted. He called out our protagonist.

“Is this your paper”, he asked.

“Yes Sir. That is mine”, IPS replied.

“Is this your handwriting?”

“Yes sir.”

“This is not your handwriting and this not your paper”, said the professor obstinately.

“I am sure it is, Sir”, cementing a nomination for the great delusion award for unshakable self belief.

“This is my solution sheet.”

Battered and bruised, looking very much like the wreck of the Hesperus, IPS rode back to his hostel on the cycle whose lock had matched his key.

For all you greenhorns out there, one thing you would be well advised to do when on a stolen cycle is not to flash it in front of authority. Moving swiftly on two wheels and thinking a million unprintable thoughts on the freshie and the professor, IPS forgot the one golden rule of travelling on a stolen bicycle. He sped straight into the waiting arms of Tapti’s blue clad sentinel.

“Whose cycle is this?”, thundered the guard.

“It is my cycle.”

“No it is not your cycle.”

“Yes it is”, said IPS, so obstinate that the mules of the world were given a run for their money.

“This is my cycle! I have been looking for it all morning.”

Stripped of his cycle and a significant chunk of dignity, IPS trudged back to his room, like Napolean trudging back from Moscow.

 

About the protagonist: V.V Achuth aka IPS was a Dual Degree student in the Electrical Engineering Department. A self-made hockey player, he was a key component of the institute team. A certified death metal fanatic, IPS was known to compose his own songs and render them, much to the discomfort of his wing mates.

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