Sunday, October 28, 2007

When God Came To IIT Madras - Part One

This is a short story that I had to concoct as part of the course Creative Writing. In the exam, I had to condense it grossly in order to respect the word limit. Here, I present to you the full version - in two parts. Below is the first part. I encourage all those who have read my exam version to read this one as well as there is so much more detail that I had to cut out.


“You’re kidding me, right?” asked Sumesh, smiling disbelievingly. “God came in your dream and told you that he’s going to be in IIT today?”

It was a rainy day on the first week of August. We were just coming out of Himalaya, the great dining facility for resident students at IIT Madras.

“First,” I said, indignant, “it was not a dream. It was like a dream, but it was real. I could have sworn that I heard His voice right inside my head – I was lying on my bed, eyes open, staring at the ceiling and He spoke to me. He said that He’d pay a visit to IIT today and what’s more, He also told me that if I identified Him before midnight, He’d grant me a wish.”

As I was saying this, Sumesh started laughing. “Stop, stop. That’s enough. You make the boy who was next to me on my train look much more sensible. He had been reading some horror stories lately and thought the ticket collector was Count Dracula in disguise, just because he wore a black suit with a red tie and had rather prominent front teeth!”

Looking from the point of view of Sumesh, I thought that it did sound rather silly, saying it like that. Sumesh was in a good mood, he had just arrived that morning from Delhi. I had moved into hostel last night. I live in Madras, so I had my dad drop me on his way to a business meeting. Sumesh is my best friend, a brilliant guy, always lively and jovial. It was good to see him again after three long months of vacation. We were both entering our final year in IIT.

Unconsciously, I followed Sumesh to where we had parked our cycles and we started driving towards the academic zone. Had God arrived yet? Where was He? I did not tell Sumesh, or rather, he did not let me tell him, that God had also given me a clue to help me feel His presence – He had told me that when He was around, I would obtain whatever I needed during the day, provided that it was absolutely essential to have it.

“So, what do you think CC has in store for us today?”

My train of thoughts was broken and I responded, swerving to avoid a large puddle. “Not much, I guess. It’s the first class and as usual, he’d give an introduction to the subject and present the syllabus and text books. I’m really looking forward to PR.”

Using short forms everywhere, shamelessly, is the order of the day in IIT. Professors with rather long names would find their names shortened to their initials and the course names would be abbreviated to some convenient acronym.

It was only five minutes to eight when we slowed down to park our cycles near the entrance to the Computer Sciences Block – five more minutes until class started. Not surprisingly, there was an array of shining new bicycles parked neatly across the pavement adjoining the wall. I smiled to myself – after all, when I was in my first year, I too used to come fifteen minutes before the start of class, park my new Ultima EX neatly amidst the other cycles and gracefully ascend the staircase to find my classroom.

We went upstairs, only to find a group of first years huddling together outside classroom CS-34, which was locked. Our classroom, CS-36 was locked too. The office assistant was hurrying up the stairs, a great bunch of keys in his hand. He strode straight to CS-34 and proceeded to unlock the door.

Meanwhile, many of our classmates had arrived too. I hardly noticed all this, however. On a sudden impulse, I was keenly observing every student of the first-year group. None of them, however, was looking back at me. They seemed nervous of our presence, and pretended not to notice us at all.

“Do you see Him?” asked Sumesh. The mocking tone of his voice did not go unnoticed by me. I felt I should respond, so I said, “I am trying. The first-years are new – many would have arrived just today. Maybe He is one of them.”

“Now this is just getting stupid,” Sumesh replied, smiling, as the office assistant unlocked CS-36 and we got in, along with the others. “You cannot go around looking into the faces of every person who is new here! There’s got to be so many people - first-years, new faculty, new staff and lots of visitors. Let’s sit here.” He pointed to a couple of seats right under the fan and we sat down.

“And even if you do manage to do that,” he continued, “how would you know who God is?”

I told him about God’s clue that I would have whatever I was in dire need of when He was around. Before Sumesh could respond, CC walked in with the attendance register, the smile on his face greeting us all on the first day of class. Behind him, several more of our classmates could be seen hurrying to get inside. It was five minutes past eight. The semester had begun.

*

It was nearing noon and I was getting along classes with no more arguments on this issue. However, I could not help staring a bit at the two new faculty members and one visiting faculty member of our department. I was just coming out of CS-24 after my FLA class, when Sumesh joined me at the stairs. It was time to head back to Himalaya for lunch. As we came down, we realized that it was getting very dark. It seemed like it was six in the evening. We took the chance and drove out onto the road. No sooner had we reached the first corner than I felt a few drops on my arms. Hoping that it was only a drizzle, we started to cycle faster.

“Oh no, I’ve forgotten my umbrella in my room. I hope this doesn’t get worse”, I said. Sumesh had already whipped out his umbrella from his bag and was now holding it up using his left hand, while he continued to drive with his right. Then it happened – it was as if all the bathroom-showers in campus were turned on together over our heads – an enormous downpour. Sumesh held the umbrella closer to his head. His pants were already getting wet.

But, wonder of wonders, I did not feel any dampness on me at all. By then, I should have got soaking wet, my clothes sticking to my skin, embarrassingly exposing my upper body through the thin shirt that I chose to wear that morning. It was as if there was a tight but invisible plastic wrapper around my body – water just fell on it and trickled down, but did not penetrate it. Anyone looking at me would have to observe very keenly indeed to notice that I was actually not getting wet. Of course, this meant that God was somewhere in my vicinity. I started looking hastily all around me. But it was impossible to discover anything in the mess that surrounded me – dozens of students, most of them first-years, squinting through the dense sheet of rain, hurrying along to have lunch, complete strangers under umbrellas, forced to the extreme sides of the road by the mob of cycling students and the intra-campus bus, squeezing its way through the sea of cycles. Cursing, I looked at Sumesh, and tried to make him notice the fact that I was doing better than him without an umbrella.

“Hey, look at me a second!” I shouted against the noise the rain and the bus were making. But Sumesh did not hear me. He was busy trying to maneuver his cycle and at the same time, avoid getting wet to the maximum extent possible. It was only when we had reached Himalaya and safely entered the building that he even looked at me again. The instant I stepped inside, I felt a weight lift, as if that invisible plastic cover had been removed.

“How come you’re not wet at all?” asked Sumesh, completely stumped. I just raised my eyebrows and smiled at him, as if to say, “I told you!”

It was ten whole minutes before Sumesh could talk. He was gaping at me all the way to the front of the queue, almost forgot to take his chappatis, poured rasam into sambhar and topped it all by slopping a whole glass of buttermilk over himself on our way to find seats in the hall. I had finished breaking my chappatis into smaller pieces and was just pouring sambhar over them (I like to do that so they become softer and tastier, once soaked for a minute in sambhar) when Sumesh returned to take his seat opposite me, the front of his shirt completely wet. I felt rather sorry for him.

“So, it’s real? God is somewhere here?” he whispered so softly, digging into his chappatis, that I had to strain to hear him over the din made by the caterers who casually kept slamming plates, tumblers and other utensils on top of each other.

“Yes, and you are going to help me find him before midnight.”

*

Sumesh recovered from the shock sooner than I expected him to, after all that he had done in the dining hall. So did the weather. By the time we had finished eating, there was more sunlight outside and we could even see bits of blue here and there.

Absentmindedly, I took out my cell phone to check for missed calls and messages, as it was in silent mode since morning. There were three missed calls from Sumesh. When I asked him about them, he said that he had tried to reach me so that we could go together to lunch after the last morning class, but he found me at the stairs anyway. Just as we were leaving Himalaya, a large notice caught my eye.


EXTRA MURAL LECTURE


The extra-mural committee of IIT Madras is proud to invite you to the first lecture of this semester, “A Brief History of Life”. The speaker is the renowned evolutionist, Mr. Ramamurthy, who is currently a professor of Life Sciences at Jabalpur Institute of Technology.


Date: 2nd August 2007


Time: 7:30 pm


Venue: Central Lecture Theater (CLT)


The rest of the notice consisted of a brief history of (the speaker’s) life, which was not in the least interesting. Who would want to know that he had read Darwin’s theories at the age of twelve?

“We must go there tonight.” Sumesh looked at me with a meaningful look in his eyes as he said this. I understood, and thought there was a good chance that he was right. The title of the lecture was a clear indication – who else can give a more accurate description of the history of Life than God Himself, the creator? And besides, it would only be too easy for God to take Ramamurthy’s form to deliver the lecture and later modify the real Ramamurthy’s memory accordingly.

The afternoon was completely free for both of us, and I retired to my room to get some sleep. Sumesh said he’d go to his room too and start arranging stuff as he had had no time in the morning for that.

I woke up at five, after a disturbed sleep. I had dreamt of God mocking me, challenging me to identify Him before midnight. As I switched off the alarm and put my phone back to normal mode, I found that there were three more missed calls from Sumesh. Wondering why he’d tried to reach me three times, I called back, but the call wouldn’t connect. I freshened up and went over to his room to call him for coffee. His room was locked. I asked Maddy and Shocky, his wing-mates, about him and they told me that they had not seen him at all the whole day.

Confused, I started walking towards Gurunath, the famous coffee shop closest to the boys’ hostels. Just as I entered, I saw Sumesh at the stall, sipping on some cold coffee. I made a beeline for him, cutting across the general evening crowd of various students – mostly first-years wearing their workshop dress complaining about the amount of painstaking work assigned to them in their respective workshop divisions. Other senior students, who would think you’ve gone crazy if you asked them for a reason for their presence at the coffee shop were also present, clapping each other on their backs, laughing, joking, making merry.

“I did want to go back to my room”, Sumesh started explaining, even before I could ask him anything, “but I suddenly remembered that I had to attend my project meeting with my guide this afternoon. You know him – he would’ve gladly screwed up my grades if I hadn’t attended today’s meeting. It was an important one. After that, there was a nice guest-lecture in our department. That’s what I tried to call you for, but you wouldn’t answer!”

He waited by the stall patiently while I struggled to get my usual evening coffee from the stall attendant, who generally seems to pretend that we don’t exist. We occupied a table that a few people had just vacated. We were silent for a while, our eyes feeding on the general commotion around us.

“It’s hopeless, isn’t it?” I asked, after sometime, not looking at Sumesh. A rather beautiful girl bending over her fallen hand-bag had caught my eye.

“Well, yeah. I don’t see how you are going to identify God, even with the getting-whatever-you-want thingy. He might be around, but how do you know which person around you is He?”

“You’re right. My only hope is that lecture tonight.”

We parted, as Sumesh had some project-work to do and I thought I’d get started on some homework. He promised to meet me outside CLT a few minutes before the scheduled start of the lecture.


To Be Continued...
Click here to read the rest of the story!

5 comments:

An avid fan said...

When is the rest of the story coming?

kurma said...

Right now, I am kinda busy with my GRE Subject Test round the corner. I'll try to post the second part by next week (Diwali time)

Krishnaraj said...

The whole idea is stud da... Seriously!! The story takes off as swiftly..

Usually, indian plots will have two acts, one leading to another. jus like our movies, at the intermission, there will be strong notch at the breaking point.. the idea of EML is good and innovative but kind of not as strong as in movies :D

anyways, great work man.. as a whole.. you'll go on to write the bestseller some day... :) All the best...

kurma said...

Ah, it was to be one full story with no intermission! But fate had it that I had not yet completed the latter half in detail (I had already submitted the abridged version for my quiz in that course) and so I posted upto what I had done...

Still, you are right - if this were to be made into a short film, the EML is a bad place to break for intermission!

Mayda said...

Well written article.