Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Curious Case of the Two Syllabi

No matter what your major, you had to get through some common subjects. Electrical engineering was one of them and it was dished out over two courses. This was a minefield for minimalists like me because you couldn’t solely rely on a strong basic science foundation established before IIT, to see you through. So all bets were off. Everything in here was brand spanking new: transistors, diodes, junctions, PNP, bandgaps, doping... This was way down the river from Ohm’s law and Kirchhoff’s laws, which is as far as I had ridden the boat.

For some singularly clever reason, I had decided to build on this natural disadvantage by not attending any of the classes. Not one! I’d even skipped all the intermediate tests. What was I thinking?

Came the night before the final exam and I had to make the call: Do I even show up for the exam, or take it on the chin and write the whole thing off as a bad memory? Truant as I was, this was as extreme as things had gotten. So I walk down a few rooms from mine and seek counsel from STS.

Now STS was remarkably unique in many ways, and I’ll start with some of the least of them. He was the only guy on campus with a full-grown beard and one of maybe two, with a real girlfriend. Seventy nine percent of all the calls that rang the hostel phone were intended for him; one hundred percent of them were from the girlfriend. Both would gladly have improved upon these numbers, had the phone not been dangling off the hook for roughly forty three percent of the time. STS washed clothes more immaculately than the hostel dhobi. Sadly, they were always his own. When Madras was hit by water shortage, he paced his room for months in a blue funk.

He was also extremely smart and methodical and had both the talent and patience to succinctly explain Lagrangian mechanics to a slightly dim orangutan.

You can see for yourself now why I hit him up for advice. I ask him frankly if it was even worth the exercise to try out the exam. He assures me that it was quite easy actually. That you just needed to get a few principles down and smartly focus on the problem-oriented topics where we’d likely be tested. I get so convinced so fast that I rope in Annie. Annie is a whole story by himself that I’ll have to save for separate narration, perhaps a few. Suffice to say that he had also missed all the classes, but suffering none of the turmoil I did, was listening to Dire Straits in Suku’s room. I convince Annie that we can jointly make it through this one.

STS coaches us gingerly for a few hours, peeling back his explanations to address shocking gaps. He even leaves us with his notes when he's done. Astonishingly, his newest students start to brim with confidence.

The next morning finds us sharp and ready at the Electrical Sciences department waiting for the exam to start. I look at the first page and see several questions that I can hunt down. This is good. The answerable list actually starts to grow as I run my eyes down. What a lovely turn of events! Just as I am about to tuck in my grin and get started, I notice some odd notes at the top of the exam paper. It goes something like this:

Electrical Sciences II – Final Exam
All A and B Batch students must answer questions 1-12 in Section I and all C and D Batch students must answer questions 13-24 in Section II.

What the heck was that about?

According to this ordinance, as a D-batcher I’m supposed to answer 13-24. I turn the page to get there.

I may as well have been looking at an exam in clinical nephrology. A left hook from Muhammad Ali would have felt like a caress right now. Recovering, I put my hand up and hail the professor.

“Sir, I am a D batch student. Can I just do the questions for the A batch students”?
“Sir, I prepared well for the other syllabus – the one for the A and B batches. I don’t know any of the questions in this one. Please let me take the other one… I am actually well prepared for it.”

He looks at me like a dog breeder who’s just stumbled upon a pink hairless breed. “What’s your name? How come I’ve never seen you in the class?”

My train just got derailed. I get up, hand over a blank paper, and leave the classroom. It’s barely been ten minutes into the exam. My mind is in a tizzy. I try and reassure myself. You gave it your best shot under the circumstances.

I stumble out and just stare at a notice board to calm things down a bit. Totally irrelevant stuff. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another person down the corridor. He’s reading another notice board, far down. It’s Annie! He’d been in another classroom. And he had played out the same movie, with an equally unforgiving instructor.

We trudge back to the hostel. Now we'd have to face Sheikh. Our comrade-in-arms, he had derided our approach the previous night even as he turned in early. Now we'd gifted him a good laugh to go with his good sleep.

I just hope that they have good egg curry for lunch.

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