Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Post Graduation Life

I completed my MA programme at Loyola College, Madras. The MA programme wasn’t very different from the BA programme. Our class was smaller. The standard of the students was far better than that of my BA classmates. Most often we didn’t have class after lunch.

After three years of BA, I was longing to work probably as a teacher. But I knew I had to finish my post graduation if I wanted to teach higher classes and if possible in a college. I didn’t want to rely on my dad who had retired. Fortunately I got a part time job in the evening and this helped me finance my studies. BA itself was torturously long. I was getting fed up of classes and the thought of sitting for two more years made me feel frustrated. Also the dismal thought looming over me was the fact that English Literature wasn’t going to give me a job with a lot of money. All this worried me. I wished I could have chosen as many papers as I wanted a term and finish the courses faster and walk out with a degree. I honestly felt I could have finished my BA in two years and MA in one year. My frustrations can be seen in the two poems I wrote during my MA.

Written in Sep 1990

I sit, cursing and furious, resigned

To my fate, chosen by me, or assigned

By society, by human respect, by fear?

Thoughts of many more years of classes sear

Through my body like prolonged agony.

All these hours of warming our asses

As boredom, frustration and confusion masses

Into one dark grey cloud that obscures

Time to come; the course of our lives leer

A leap into nowhere.

A fool am I taking life seriously

Money, men and matter and ever dreamily

Conjuring up my future in wild fancies

That fade and melt away with ease

Leaving me in a void to face my classes.

My Crucifixion (March 1990)

Jesus Christ was crucified once,

Two thousand years ago – it

All lasted about a few hours.

I get crucified a thousand times;

A crucifixion with a difference.

No wooden cross, no nails,

No gushing hot blood, no soldiers,

no wounds on the flesh,

no crown of thorns,

no weeping women

nor the mocking crowd, no thieves

on either side for company.

Yet so great a resemblance to his

Crucified to a wooden chair by nails

Of rules and regulations and fine

The mockery of learned professors;

The heat and dullness inflicting

The body with pain

Blood boiling, sweating all over

Not just two for company but

All around many more like me

Crucified, transfixed to chairs

Restlessly shifting yet pinned tight.

My sin and our sin

Earning a degree,

Becoming someone in society,

Joining the great greedy rat race,

Rushing and jostling - and for all this

A thousand crucifixions.

The professors were no different. Most of them used the lecture method and didn’t welcome new interpretation or ideas during the lecture, especially those which contradicted their opinion. I got into trouble with one of them for expressing my disagreement with what he said. Mr S was a very funny man. He talked and walked like a lady. Many students used to imitate the way he walked. Mr S retorted angrily to my comment. Many told me that he was revengeful and he might fail me. I was quite apprehensive as the last thing I wanted on earth was delay in completing the course. Luckily nothing of that sort happened.

It was during my MA that I got interested in linguistics, especially the language theories. The credit goes to Dr Michael Vivian Joseph. He’s probably the best college teacher I’ve ever had because of two reasons. His teaching methodology was very interesting and he treated students as his equals. He was eccentric though. He could be seen walking deep in thought. You could pass him and greet him  with no response from him.

He would introduce a topic, ask our opinion, give more information and then give us xeroxed sheets for us to read at home with a couple of questions to think about and answer in the next class.

In the next class, he would ask us to give answers for these questions. They weren’t direct questions about the contents of the sheets. They were thought provoking questions asking us to state our views regarding a particular theory, make comparison between one theory and another and our response to the theories. He would jot down our views, give counter arguments, agree and disagree. Sometimes we would feel that the way he went about teaching was haphazard and confusing. But finally all the pieces of information and discussion would fall into place. There was certainly “method in his madness”. Here again, though I enjoyed the classes thoroughly, many of the students weren’t up to the mark. They were accustomed to spoon feeding. He saw my interest in linguistics and gave me the book Language and Thought written by Lev Vygotsky, the Russian linguist. I presented a paper using this book titled “Interrelationship between language, thought and consciousness”. I think I still have the paper with his remarks written in pencil on the margin. He had taken the trouble of going through every single line and writing his remarks. I chose him to be my guide to do the end of the course dissertation. Though he didn’t have much time he was a patient guide and a friend. The last I heard of him was that he was teaching in a university in South Africa.

The lecturer who conducted the viva along with my guide was Mr D. I don’t think he ever understood what I’d written in the dissertation which had to do with looking at Joseph Conrad’s novels Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness from the psycho-mystical perspective. Why I mention Mr D here is due to a particular physical oddity which he possessed that intrigued me. One is not supposed to make fun of the physical features of a person. Pardon me for being so rude but I couldn't get it out of my mind. The oddity was that he lacked a bottom. What I mean is that he had the flattest buttocks I have ever seen in my life. In fact I wondered whether he had one and if sitting was a pain for him in the absence of the cushioning effect. The bottom is a very important though not a significant part of human anatomy that adds subtle beauty to the body and soul of a human being especially the female race. There’s ample evidence in today’s bollywood, hollywood, kollywood and tollywood dance numbers as well as western pop music videos where shaking that part of the human anatomy and zooming in on that area is an integral part of any dance. The older classical and folk dance forms revel equally in this. I’m reminded of the belly dance and the samba. So again I wondered whether Mr D had ever danced and would ever be able to dance. To dance without a bottom is highly unimaginable. The poor man always wore a belt. There wasn’t a bottom to hold his trousers up!

One day, one of my classmates, Rajasekhar, decided that our class should exercise its creative mind and proposed we make a class notice board type magazine. He had his friend Senthil giving him his eager support. We chipped in with our bit. Here’s a poem composed after tragedy struck this whole process.

Elegy on the Death of a Notice board (Sep 1991)

The roly-poly of our class conceived

As he sat on his throne one morning

A bright and brilliant idea of a class notice board

Flashing across his head – a bolt from the blue

And then it grew in his womby head

Limbs, head, trunk, shoulders and chest.

Soon did he deliver the baby – a premature one?

His plump mate promptly acting the mid-wife

They had a tough time pressing and cursing

Gave it a name and wrote its history

Everyone viewed it with curiosity.

The lecturers they smiled and deemed it fair

They smiled and grinned, proud of the robust child

The next day only four patches were left

Signs of the promising notice board sweet

The boss they said did not like a creative child

Deeming it inappropriate and adding to the rubbish.

Oh, when will creativecide be stopped!

To end my ramblings on college life I need to talk about my friends. While doing my BA my best friend was Joe. He was poor in English and I tried to help him. He was grateful to me for that. He belonged to the fisher folk from Rameshwaram. I’ve never seen a courageous fellow like him. He was also a good swimmer. It was a regular habit for both of us to have a bottle of beer after the semester exams, eat egg kothu paratha and go for a movie. I lost touch with him a few years later. Venkateswaran was another friend of mine. I really appreciate the hard work he put in to master English as he wasn’t that good in English when he joined the course. He went on to finish his PG in journalism and mass communication and joined Kalaikatirachagam, Coimbatore as marketing executive. He was sharp enough to learn all the nuances of the workings of a printing press and started one on his own after his marriage. Whenever I came down from Ooty to Coimbatore to attend the BEd contact classes, I used to stay in his room with other bachelors. I used to help him with my short notes in college and he really appreciated that. My short notes were like much sought after panacea for facing the ordeal of exams. I’ve lost touch with him too though I tried hard to contact him using the social networks.

I need to mention two people who were not my college mates but who I became friend with in Madurai.One was Edward Cletus. He is probably the most energetic person I’ve ever known with a knack of organizing things well and getting things done however difficult they were. He had undergone the ‘est’ training of Werner Erhard, the American mystic, in Bangalore. I think that helped to focus on what was there in front of him and get it done. The training is carried on even today by the group called “Landmark”. We got along pretty well and exchanged ideas over pegs of whisky occasionally. Again this is another person, I’ve lost touch with a few years after he moved to Chennai. The other is Susai, a committed social worker who went through a lot of ups and downs in his life. He is at present running a home for orphaned girls and doing commendable work. More about him and the orphanage can be seen at the website I created for his home.

My MA friends consisted of Anand, Romeo and Prem. Anand works in Gandhigram University, Dindigul, Romeo in Chennai and Prem is in the States running his own company. All of them are married. I do stay in touch with them except Prem. One of the things we did as friends and classmates in both BA and MA was go together to the college canteen especially during free periods or when a class was cancelled, put together our money, buy coffee or tea invariably every time and some snacks and talk about everything under the sun – politics, philosophy, films, music, girls and what not. We were unfortunate that the undergraduate programmes in American College were only for boys and in MA there was only one girl in our class. The students who visited the canteen often were the literature students. The science students and the commerce students were busy toiling it out whereas we were the coolest guys on earth except before exams. This made me think about how much we talk over a cup of coffee or tea. A cup which could be drunk in two or three minutes takes ages to finish. Similarly, it also made me think about how a lot of people, including me, spent hours chatting over a glass of whisky or a mug of beer. I wondered what they spoke. This again prompted me to write a poem.

Over a Cup of Tea

Over a cup of tea, 

Or a glass of whisky 
You and me
Make sense and rattle nonsense:
Green-eyed jealousies, lofty ideologies, 
Murky scheming, lousy talk
Music, films, tits and asses
Stuttering into silence
As the cup grows cold and empty
Or the glass runs dry.

A cup of coffee 
Or a peg of brandy
Can make you and me 
Loony with no company
Muttering away unspoken words 
Musing aloud inner discords
Streaming disconnected thought 
Leaving you and me fear fraught
As the cup grows cold and empty
Or the glass runs dry.

Over a cup of coffee or tea
You and me 
Start our vague illusory existence
Waking from the nightmarish swoon
To the delusions of the noon
And as the steaming brown is gulped down
It warms its passage round
Turning cold too soon
Leaving you and me
Lame and lonely.

Finally, I need to say that almost all of what I’ve written is true with a bit of exaggeration. Also, I might have sounded boastful at times. Well, I can’t over the habit common to humans i.e. to be boastful! Do ignore the errors in English that I committed. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

My Under Graduation Mis-adventure

I enrolled for my B.A. in English Literature in the American College, Madurai. You’ve guessed it right. It’s not run by Americans. It’s a pretty old college with a huge wooded campus. Our literature block was an old styled, dusty, run down building just on the left of the main entrance and surrounded by huge trees. I understood why they had assigned such a dilapidated building to us when I met my classmates. However, the post graduation centre was located in a new block with a wonderful departmental library.

My classmates? Almost all of them with the exception of three or four had been rejects i.e. they had applied for other courses and had been rejected due to low marks. So an assorted group of rejects ended up in English Literature or Philosophy. You can imagine the high standard of the class. Just four of us who could speak English and who probably chose English literature freely and willingly. The rest were struggling with the nuances of a foreign tongue that unlike other languages lacked logic in its written and spoken form and its grammar. Now do you see the connection between us and the building that housed the geniuses? However, the whole thing worked to my advantage – I was always the first in the class, attained with neither sweat nor blood.

My teachers? Except for a handful, most of them were average teachers. A few younger ones had no control over the classes. The older ones used the bad old lecture method to teach. Neither the old lecture method nor the modern method of teaching would have worked miracles in my class. The students were smarts beyond redemption.

My fate? I was stiff bored with the lectures. Could I bunk the classes? Our college was an autonomous college which means that though they are under the Madurai Kamaraj University, they made their own syllabus, conducted their own exams, had internal assessment and were strict about attendance. I did bunk my classes. I needed 75% attendance to sit for exams or 60% attendance with fine or penalty to sit for exams. I did exactly that. Those subjects which were unbearable torture, I bunked up to 60%.

Some classes were really boring. I could observe that most of my classmates were lost in deep contemplation. The lectures failed to penetrate their fort-like skulls. Instead they rebound back like an elastic ball. Some would invariably doze off. Looking at the wrist watch was a favourite pass time. I understood Einstein’s relativity theory thoroughly especially time dilation. Time crept like a snail for us unlike for lovers where it hopped like a rabbit.

What about me? Most of the time I dozed off, though I found sitting and sleeping highly inconvenient. My glasses aided me with its glare and gave the idea to the lecturer that I was wide awake and was all rapt attention. Sometimes I scribbled poetry to while away the time or read a book. Here I want to mention an intriguing fact that puzzles me to this day. There was one lecturer, one Mr N, who used to put me to sleep as soon as he started his lecture. He taught us literary criticism and I could always read the texts by myself and understand them. Honestly, I haven’t managed to keep awake for even one of his classes that entire semester though I tried desperately to break the record. His voice was like a lullaby which put me to sleep immediately. I don’t think my mother’s lullabies were as effective and in fact my parents informed me grudgingly that I had troubled them many a night as an infant crying for no obvious reason. Here was Mr N avenging the inconvenience caused to my parents. Interestingly, one my classmates wanted to put me in trouble and told Mr N, “Patrick is sleeping”. Pat came the reply, “Patrick will sleep and score marks. Can you?” My friend went red in the face with embarrassment and I went purple with such adulation. Till date, I believe that I wouldn’t need anesthetics to be operated upon if just Mr N. lectured to me at the operation table.

Read those poems I wrote during those boring moments of inspiration which made the rounds in the class after I completed them and won some applause. But don’t imitate me in class.

Composed while sitting in Class (23 Oct, 1989)

I sit, furiously, acting to be serious

Opposite the professor,

The gap ‘tween us mysterious

On either side my mates seated, each one

In a cosy world of his own fun.

A few look dazed struck by the dooming sound

Distant echoes of nonsense as he propounds.

A few with blank stares like zombie shadows

Their eyes and imagination walking tall.

A few in states of semi-consciousness

Bad dreams, nodding assents of yes.

Others escaping as heroes with their heroines

Into the flickering lights and the dancing shades

Of the woods grey and green,

Flashing smiles on lips and eyes

As chivalrous deeds and close encounters

Get done, undone and done.

All along the professor makes himself a fool

A Shakespearean clown deeming to be a tool

Of great knowledge and understanding

And of serious and great standing.

Sweet sleep invades my glassy eyes

The voice fades, lights dim, eyes close.

My mate’s poke startles me awake

The lullaby is over he says.

Three cheers for autonomy and attendance!

While doing my M.A., I had another professor who put me to sleep as effectivey as Mr N. I don’t know whether he was teaching us an Ode by Shelly or Keats or this was taught by another teacher but I immediately thanked the poet for providing me inspiration and wrote an imitation ode. Here it is:

Ode on Chelliah’s Lullaby (16th Oct 1990)

Can I compare thy melody, issuing effortlessly

from thy big loud all knowing mouth

turning into vapours and waves

never reaching the innermost recesses of the brain,

to the heavenly strains that can calm the storms

of our minds’ miserable turmoil

and induce a serenity so deep as the deepest sea

or to the sweetest melodies of the flute

that can arouse the deepest feelings of the heart,

or to the various myriad music

that with irregular cadence endlessly

erupt at dawn and dusk?

Can they be compared to thy strains

That can enter one ear and come out of another

Without causing a wee bit of disturbance,

That can send us to mystic heights of contemplation,

That can set our imagination running wild

That can send me into sweet deep slumber

Within seconds of hearing thee?

In one of the semesters, we studied the romantics. They were a group of poets that thoroughly influenced me especially Wordsworth and Keats. I enjoyed the poems I had for the course and tried to read more poems and some critical material about them. In fact, I remember I submitted a paper on Wordsworth as a nature mystic. I am a lover of nature myself. I tried a hand at composing some nature poems based on the sights I had seen in my life and from my imagination. Now when I read them they look pretty like kid’s stuff. However, I’d like to publish them here.

A Moon-lit Night (27 Dec, 1989)

T’is midnight as I stand in the open

The town and the adjacent fields

Basking and lolling in the gentle rays

Of the benevolent moon

Everything below in a swoon.

The houses throw deep shadows

The distant monster hills

Seem distinct dark and reposing.

Her soft soothing rays

Lull all to deep slumber.

Her beams on the deep green fields

Make the dew drops glitter and glimmer

Like pearls scattered all over.

She stands high in the sky

Like a lone shepherdess

Silently watching all below

In a penetrating silence

Reflecting the silence of the sky

Disturbed only by the cry of a child

Lone footsteps, a sneeze or snores

A cat or mouse scampering on all fours

Now and then, the baying of dogs.

Her playmates seem

Distant flickering lights

On a pitch dark night.

Like a lonely sad maiden

With some unhappy tearful story

Sits she forlorn

Accepting graciously

My silent company.


The sun has set a million times

And yet so magnificent a sight

To behold it again every time.

A rolling ball of fire descending

The white-blue sky dissolving

In its beams yellow and crimson

Dark clouds their edges burning

Everything mingling and merging

The western horizon turning

A huge pink background

The ocean like burning embers

The boats and birds appearing

As dark shadowy silhouettes.

Slowly and steadily submerging

Into the waters leaving behind

Just a wee glow gleaming

Beyond the horizon

Darkness and stillness

Quietly following behind.

The romantics made me feel that we were moving away from a life in union with nature to a virtualistic and technology driven monotonous life. Wordsworth had felt that they were moving away from a simple life to a complicated life of industry, commerce and business even during his times when the industrial revolution was on. The result was an inspiration to write a long imaginative poem comparing life in the past and now. Read on:

Adams’ Resurrection (Written on 31 Oct, 1989)

Adams stirred, sighed, rubbed his eyes

Mischief twinkled in his waking eyes

And mounted his sly boyish smile.

From eternal sleep he wanted a break

To peep on the dwellers above

Who had shut him under in his rough cell.

Too many mounds he noted, a sad plight

He couldn’t believe his eyes, what a sight!

Tall buildings scraping the sky, hustle and bustle

Deafening noise all about him –

he, a thin milky jinn

Walked up to the road, a steaming sun

That seemed to vapourize his ghost.

Hurriedly he got under a green shade

His visit – he had chosen the wrong time

Not his mistake, he couldn’t guess the clime.

Hurrying legs, indifferent feet

Shuffling aimlessly, massive bodies

Puny figures, ill-fitting dresses,

Odd shapes put together,

A few looking young

With supple limbs and fresh looks.

The faces, by God! gasped Adams,

Faces of all sorts – eerie, murderous,

Blank, sorrowful, angry, gloomy.

Never ending traffic, all at top pace

As though in a rat race -

Who will get to the top

Stampeding those below?

Living as though in a sleep

Without grasping the real and the true

The now – but groping and living

in dreams of tomorrow.

It was not so ghastly as all this

Peace and calm were his.

Love and harmony, delight and joy.

Pleasant were the ever green fields

And the towering shady trees

The birds’ melodious chirping

The diamond dewdrops

And the whispering breeze

The whole of nature and people

Breathing puffs of freshness.

All of this gone and in its place,

Awkward sounds and ugly sights.

Life was a melody with harmony,

But now an order lacking melody

Meaningless, mechanical and menacing.

It had been his mistake – his wrong step

He had slipped from his state of grace.

Adams floated back to his mound

Eternal sleep is better he said

And lay back in his cell.

I need to stop here and talk about one of my classmates called Sundar. He didn’t look like a college going student. Instead, some growth imbalance made him look like a school going grade 8 student. But he was the most mischievous among us. He would swing into the classroom using the door to do so by hanging on to it during the class of Mr D who was bit of an eccentric and had hardly any classroom control. Tiffin boxes would be busily emptied during his class.

The young lecturer Mr E, who taught us ethics was equally bad at controlling the class. In order to control the class, he would put black dots against the name of the students who talked and misbehaved in class. Somebody asked him what he would finally be doing after he put all those dots. Before the teacher could answer, Sundar said that when a student accumulated 10 black points he would be awarded a free pencil. The teacher remarked that though he was short statured, he had a lot of cheek. To that Sunder replied that even Thirukural (the famous two line poems of practical wisdom written by the great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar) was only two feet long meaning the meter of the poems.

Another episode I’d like to narrate is copying. Students sitting around me would try to copy from me during small tests and quizzes which were part of internal assessment. I felt helpless about the situation. I didn’t positively try to help them yet I didn’t prevent them actively from copying. In the semester exams, however there was no chance of copying. One awkward moment was when the test papers were distributed after correction. One of the weak students compared his marks with mine and blurted out quite loud to my embarrassment as well as to the chagrin of the teacher that he scored more marks than me though he had copied from me.

Some things I hated in the college were compulsory PEd classes and the study of a language in the first year. I hated those days we had PEd and was glad when I went to 2nd year. I took Tamil as the language though I hated Tamil. The hatred took root in my childhood and schooldays due to some teachers teaching us. I still remember the 3rd grade Tamil teacher. She used to beat us mercilessly with a ruler even for silly reasons. I used to take imaginary revenge on her by planning her fall due to a banana peel or putting pins on her chairs etc. Then in Grade 6 and 7 we had two Tamil teachers who took to the business of teaching Tamil very seriously, more seriously than the Tamilnadu Chief Minister. Both of them hit us if we couldn’t give answers. One of them had a peculiar way of hitting. He would bend us forward and with open palm bring down his hand on our backs with a force that is used to hammer a nail into a wall. Fortunately, I never had the chance of getting this treatment. But I’ve seen my classmates gasp for breath, the wind being knocked out of them brutally. One or two urinated out of fear. The result was a hatred for the subject and I always barely managed to pass my Tamil exams. I was very very glad when I joined Don Bosco, Tirupattur from Grade 8, the school I enjoyed studying and being in.

After a week of Tamil classes in college, I decided to change to French. The first French class I sat in was all French (Greek) to me. The lecturer taught the entire class in French and here I was with no knowledge of French. Fortunately, I picked up enough French and its grammar due to some similarity with English to pass the exam.

One day I witnessed a scene in the office of the parish priest of a church in Madurai. The priest, the bell ringer, the watchman and two women were reprimanding a small girl for something she had done. I felt that this was material for a poem and quickly wrote a poem.

The Trial

Caught in the act red-handed
Brought in by the bell ringer
To the office quite crowded –
A watchman and two women facing
A priest behind his desk
Stern and serious faced
The charge was raised.
The women and the man gasped
Their false reactions masked
Beneath their feigning features.

She needs spanking declared one
While the other muttered
What a thing for a girl to do!
The watchman argued her act
Would have proved dangerous
The priest offered serious advice
Someone asked her to apologise.
All the while she stood
Puzzled and shamed
Unable to understand the din.

She was just a girl of ten
Her crime: she had climbed
Over the locked church gate
A short cut home to take.