Ever since I was 17, I had this question in my mind - "Should I do it?" After all, being a teenager, I thought it wasn't anything wrong. But unlike many boys of my age then, it was in my mind all the time. Ever since my hormones got excited, I remember wondering about it.
Like any teenager, I turned to my friends, Senthil, Jaicha (short for Jayachandran) and Premkumar, for advice. When I asked them in the Chemistry lab, each one gave me a unique weird look.
"Don't you have sense? Don't disturb me like this when Miss is taking class." Senthil was always one So-Sweet-Sincere-Student?. I thought I should have never asked this guy.
Jaicha said, "Maanga! Don't you have anything else to worry about? I am wondering how much I should collect this evening from R.S. Puram area." Jaicha started following his dad's finances right when he learned his 13x13 multiplication table. I thought he would give me an answer; after all he was a year older than us and he bullied us with that reason.
Premkumar smiled and added, "Even I have thought about that, but let's not talk about it now, I'm watching Swapna Miss." (The Chemistry teacher)
I again asked the same question in Ravi anna's canteen, drinking chai and munching Pups. The latest Rukumani Rukumani song was playing loud in the canteen and everyone seemed to like it. Some new guy called A.R. Raguman (now A.R. Rahman). I thought A.R.R was a kid in front of Maestro Ilayaraja.
"Haven't you guys thought about it? Come on! Let's be honest here."
"Babu, what's the matter with you? We have public exams coming quick, it's time to study. Don't deviate from studies. Don't you listen to this 'Small Saturn' Prem and spoil your studies. Besides, what makes you ask this question anyway? Matter of fact, I have the biggest of all you guys here and I don't think about doing it myself," said Senthil.
I saw 2 points there: "Public Exam" and most importantly "The Biggest." Agreed - Senthil was a little healthy ever since I met him during the 8th Standard entrance exam for Chinmaya Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School.
Jaicha didn't bother to answer; he was solving abstract math with some numbers on his tiny green pocket notebook that he got 3 for Rs. 10 at Raja Street.
I turned to Prem.
"Babu, yes, you should do it. Even I plan to do it sometime soon. Don't you know Amit Gupta did it too! You can tell by seeing him. It should be simble."
"When did he do it?"
"Half yearly exam holidays."
"But, Prem...Amit? is a north Indian; they say a thing like this is so common there. We are south Indians."
"I have made up my mind, I will do it when I go to Cochin this summer. I don't care about what you say."
I sort of believed him; he was one short-little-spoiled-rich-brat. He came to school on his blue Hero Ranger with yellow reflectors in the spokes. His dad made good money in Gulf. I wondered where that Gulf was, maybe I should one day go there to make good money too.
"What's the capital of Gulf?"
They all left without answering my question, since the recess bell rang!
The public exam came and went.
Prem went to Palakkad for B.Sc. Chemistry; ever since he was infatuated with Swapna Miss, I knew he would study Chemistry one day. Senthil went to the local P.S.G. Arts College. He said he wanted to be a schoolteacher one day. Jaicha went to Chennai for B.E.
My exam results gave my Appa a "Shock and Awe" and I felt his "pre-emptive strike" on me was reasonable. Later he "got"me a Management Quota seat in a local engineering college.
I told myself I should have done it in the half yearly exam holidays, like that Gupta, now things are complicated, well maybe I will get a chance in college. After all, in college they call boys as guys! That word sounded cool to me.
Vattamalayapalayam - a remote village near Coimbatore. It had every aspect that a village should have: stray dogs, ugly donkeys, skinny cows, bullock carts, young naked kids with perpetually running noses, topless grandpas smoking Malabar Beedi and so on. People even said that the panchayat gathered underneath the banyan tree often to resolve issues like chicken theft etc. I wondered if these tiled houses had bathrooms and doubted it. On the outskirts of that elegant village stood 3 buildings - "Arul Megu Kathavarayan College of Engineering and Technology." My doubt was cleared when I first went to college on a Monday morning. AMKCET was overwhelming and it felt peculiar to call the lady faculty "Mam" instead of "Miss." The canteen chai was more intimidating than the courses. The students were just unlucky not to get IIT admission; AMKCET must have been their second choice.
Even in college I never stopped thinking about it. From my first year, first day's first class - Engineering Drawing lab, I wondered whether to do it or not.
AMKCET turned out to be fun! I made new friends. We learned about beguiling things, especially in Physical Science and in Electrical Machines lab. My batchmates in the lab sessions were great: Antony, Ahamed, and Anand. I absolutely believed Anand should have gone to IIT. It was because of him that the rest of us completed the lab experiments on time.
But Ahamed always got a little perplexed with Physics.
"Babu, what is that H2 stands for?"
"What H2? Where? Are you talking about Chemistry?"
"No, da! See, when we find the frequency we write that next to the answer right? Like frequency of direct current is 50 H2."
"Oh! That's Hertz - Hz. Unit of frequency."
He seemed a little pleased with my answer. I realized why IIT was so picky.
Antony was a mobile University; one could always get "outside the box" ideas from him. For instance, while focusing the spectroscope on a distant object you could try to see beautiful Beena on the other side of the lab - upside down! It was bad luck that due to my name I lost the golden chance of getting into Beena's batch - if only my dad had named me Buddha instead of Babu. I guessed Beena's parents must have had a love marriage.
I strongly believed Antony would be able to tell me whether I should do it or not, so I asked him once during Electro-Magnetism? class.
"Antony, have you thought about doing it? You know what I mean?"
"Ushhh...not now, I'm writing a poem."
How did I miss a Kabir in Antony so far?
"Here, let me read..."
"Go to Ooty, Marry a beauty, Do your duty, Come with a kutty!" Tamilan
"Who's that Tamilan in the bottom?"
"Oh! That's my pen name, I love Tamil you know."
"This is English."
"Wait..." he said hastily and looked at the poem - "Yes, no?"
I saw my bench mate Srinivas squiggling something on a piece of paper. Srini would surely have an answer to help me decide what to do. For his age Srini was liberal, brilliant and well read. He had a 486 system loaded with Windows 95 and a dial-up connection too. At times I saw Srini as a "Small Socrates,?? a "Naïve Newton," or a "Gullible Galileo."
I decided to ask him in Prof. K.K. Thangaraja's Micro Processor class.
"Sri, do you think it's OK to do it? Do you ever think about doing it?"
"How come you don't realise that I am busy? I don't have patience to listen to your 'should I do it crap' for the Nth time. I am in the middle of finding a major flaw in the 'String Theory.' Besides, I waited until 2:30 AM just to get the dial-up connection and didn't sleep well. So, please, now try to sleep or start writing your chit to Durga."
"String theory? That's simple da! Haven't you read it in 10th standard? You beat the string in a spot and find its frequency, right?"
Srinivas didn't care about what I said. People do that all the time with me. After five minutes I saw him chuck a chit to Sivagami when KKT turned to the blackboard to draw the 8088 architecture. I thought Sivagami must be having a similar interest in String Theory as well.
It was one Thursday evening while gazing at "Pepsi" Uma on Sun TV and eating my mom's crispy dosa with sambar and coconut chutney that it struck my mind - how about asking Durga? After all it's worth knowing a girl's perspective and besides she was a nice friend who never judged people. So, I did. Durga didn't like my question in the first place. I could infer from the "Look-I-Drank-Canteen-Chai" expression she gave.
"Look, Babu, it's your personal guy thing, you can do whatever you want. But if you do it, I shall never ever see your face again."
Did she say, go do it, or don't? I was puzzled.
I changed the topic, "Do you have the B.L. Theraja book with you? I need to study for the arrear. I have that 3rd semester Thermal Engineering to clear." I thought she must know that I was also interested in studies.
"Yes! I do have it. But B.L.T wrote a book only on Electrical Machines."
It was our 6th semester break; I planned to hang around with "M&M" - Manikavasagam & Manivannan. They were both cool friends from Payrur - a small village near Coimbatore. They came to college together on a fluorescent green Yamaha RX 100, with butterfly handlebar and plastic mudguard raised, and with no silencer. M&M's friendship was very well known in the campus. I thought if they ever become enemies when they are old, they will be like Raj Kumar & Dilip Kumar in the movie Saudagar - Manisha Koirala's debut. I wondered how such a wonderful girl could come from Nepal. I thought only Gurkhas lived there.
I guessed M&M must have done it. What I couldn't guess was how to ask them. M&M were busy in Manik's room, troubleshooting an old Funai Video Cassette Player.
"Babu, do you have a L-Spanner on you? I need to get this VCP working at any cost tonight."
"Oh! Forget it, you won't know, that's why I tell people to study Diploma before joining B.E. They don't teach practical stuff in B.E."
"No, I don't have it."
"Let me try with this jump clip, I have twisted it like a tool."
I must have disappeared from their view. For 60 minutes they both struggled with that VCP.
"Yahooo!" they both yelled. (Internet was getting famous by then)
"Did you guys fix it?" I asked meekly.
"Yes! We took the safety pin, which was inside the VCP. That was the problem. See, this is why you should do Diploma, you get hands-on experience." They gave each other a high-five.
I changed my mind; I couldn't get an answer from this Hewlett & Packard. But I wanted to know how that safety pin got inside the VCP. Instead I decided to leave.
"OK guys, I will take off, I will catch you on Monday at college."
"Where are you going? Sit, da! We have Chamiya. Why do you think we were repairing this VCP? Uh?"
On a rainy evening, while coming back from college with Kumar, I stopped my Simran (new black Suzuki Samurai) at Bharat Petroleum.
"You know, Kumar, they call 'petrol' as 'gas' in the US. Satya told me so. He is preparing for TOEFL. These Americans are crazy; can't they see petrol is a liquid?"
Kumar was unusually quiet. I let him break the ice; he did.
"Babu, you have asked whether you should do it or not, to all the students in college, even to our college peon. You didn't bother to ask me."
Kumar! How did I miss asking him? He was my good friend from Chinmaya. We lived in the same Nagar and went to the same College. But he preferred Electronics and Communication Engineering instead of Electrical Engineering major because he didn't like EEE Vijayakumari Mam.
"What do you say? Do you think it's OK to do it?"
"Yeah! Babu, it's your life. You be yourself, don't care about what people think."
"Won't people look at me strangely? They will come to know, right?"
"Well, the only person you need to consider is your girlfriend. Given the fact that you don't have one, I think it's OK to do it. Even in case you are in the delusion of having a girlfriend in the future, you don't have to worry about what she feels."
Kumar always believed in deciding things on his own, he never bothered to consider another person's opinion.
"Do you think my future girl will like it? What if she doesn't? You know how Tamil girls are. Let me think about it."
"There's nothing to think, either you do it or you don't. That's it."
"So...do you plan to do it sometime?"
"Are you coming to Shanmuga Theater? They are screening Sliver; I missed it on Star Movies. There is a shower scene of Sharon Stone."
"I will, but tell me why won't you?"
"Krishnaveni won't like it, da!"
Our final year in college flew very fast. Everyone got serious about the future all of a sudden. Srini prepared for Cornell. Anand got admission in IIT Bombay. Kumar got admission for a Ph.D. in a University in Idaho. Many went to Bangalore. A few "To-be-H4s" dreamed duets with their would-be American software engineer hubbies at Grand Canyon (Courtesy: Jeans).
For the first time, the class had 100% attendance on the last day of college. It was rather an emotional gathering in the cafeteria (no one called it canteen anymore) and no one complained about chai. We all signed each other's autograph books. Virtually everyone wrote these two lines for me:
"Don't forget to send your wedding invitation," and "Are you going to do it?"
Like many I too came to the US for studies; became "Bob" and found America is not like what I saw in KG Cinema - digitally enhanced with Dolby sound. I understood why they called petrol as gas.
It has been 6 years since I graduated from college. I lost touch with all those friends from whom I got autographs; don't know where that autograph book is now. Once during the evening commute after a long day's work, listening to A.R. Rahman in my Camry, I tried to recall the names of all my class friends in attendance order - I couldn't go farther than the first six. Paradoxically, I am in touch with those few from whom I didn't get autographs.
My friends never forget my birthday. It was easy to remember - World AIDS Day. If I ever meet Kofi I would tell him my concerns about World AIDS Day. My friends always wished me on my birthday; this time too. And yes I did ask my usual question to them:
Senthil: "Yeah! Do it if you like, I hear you are preparing for part time MBA; don't get deviated. Jaicha is a big time financier in Chennai, you know? That Lilliput Prem married a rich girl from Cochin. Sala hasn't changed a bit; his wife is a Lecturer in a local college teaching Chemistry!"
Srinivas: "Daye! Are you going to do it at least on your 28th birthday or what? Maybe you should. Now you are in America, well settled with a job and independent. You don't have to think too much. I am on my way to Australia. Make sure you send me the snap after you do it. Chalo, bye!"
Durga: "You should do it. If that's what you want to do. It's OK to try it once before you get married. Anyway I am in Maryland and can't see your face in Sunnyvale. OK, bye, my kid is done with potty."
Having thought enough about it for almost 10 years, it was up to me to do it. On a momentary impulse I finally shaved my moustache on my 28th birthday. I thought I looked like Nayagan Kamalahasan...sorry...Kamal Hassan. I took a picture with my 4 megapixel digital camera with self-timer and sent it from Gmail to my friends. They all replied, "You could have waited for Halloween!"