A blatantly inconsiderate sound pierced through my subconscious mind was relishing a happy, though entirely impossible, incident. The slides, playing somewhere on a little screen in the intricate alleys of the brain, were switched off in a flash and a warm darkness poured in. The sinful sound kept bleating even as the frail images of bliss broke apart behind sleep-sealed eyes; like a glass painting shattering on drop.

I groaned in anger. Eyes still closed, I patted the world around me in circles. My fingers were frantically scanning the scattered area, trying to find the source. A mobile phone (which dropped on impact), a few open case mats, a couple of books and an all-weather notebook later, they finally rested on the small digital clock that had gone off, showing little concern for the joy the night blessed me with. Couple of random hits and the sound stopped. Ah! I buried my face back into the mattress, pulling the pillow over the head, in a desperate bid to go back to the state of ecstasy I was in, only a few unfortunately unidirectional moments ago.

Now sandwiched by the warmth, I began to slowly slip back into the calm wrapping of sleep…

Peep…peep! Peep…peep! Peep…..peep!

Unlike the earlier, this was deafeningly shrill. It hit my ears so hard that the world crumbled like a potato wafer under truck tyres. I cried in semi-conscious frustration and wrapped hands around the pillow, pressing them harder over the head. I rolled on the bed, changed sides, but it still churned my insides. This time the sound seemed to come from the floor below; a piercing mono-phone that drilled a hole through the bed. I extended my arms and probed again, trying to reach the floor. But my fingers only moved through the air, way above the cool stone tiles, collecting wads of mockery that the sound below threw at me.

Moments later, however, the beep stopped suddenly, as if out of absolute pity for its hapless victim. The mobile on the floor fell silent, as it was pre-programmed to. It was my back-up alarm (you can’t afford to have just a single alarm here, you need an army of alarms) that still worked amazingly, even as the phone regularly fell to the floor at an average rate of 0.99 drops per night, slipping from the inclined mumbo-jumbo of brown-covered-spiral-bound torture-texts, bouncing off as a winner every time, infinite scratches on its now-defaced body not withstanding.

By this time, my comatose head was coming back to normalcy and I had started rolling back into the unromantic mundane reality; the unenviable chore of waking up inside the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) to another twenty non-stop hours of classes, meal-skips, quizzes, assignments and semi-night-outs. And this day couldn’t have been worse.

I looked at the clock. 8:55 AM. Hell, No! My heart jumped like a wounded dog and all traces of sleep vaporized in a flash. Less than 300 seconds away from the first lecture! Coming late is not a mistake you would do for this class. Students either came five minutes before time or didn’t come at all. No one dared come late. Ever. Let alone coming, even dreaming about being late is enough to wet one’s pants.

I jerked my length out of the bed while the demure morning glow, softened by the translucent window panes, bathed the grim chaos of fallen notes and books, a restless computer running 24×7, a roof-kissing stack of management books, a coffee mug with a circle of sticky dried coffee on the bottom, a phone fighting for space on the side-table, few pens looking for their caps or playing cap swapping, chairs almost invisible under the pile of stale clothes and a towel, and twisted cables of the computer gathering dust on their shiny lithe bodies hanging down from the black-top table of my new-campus room.

Time wasn’t just running out. It was zooming past like an F-16 fighter plane, its after-thunders drumming my heart. I stumbled on my own slippers as I fumbled for the toothbrush and paste. After ten seconds of an excruciating search operation, I located and pulled out my towel, three percent visible in the pile of clothes. Before I realized, I was running towards the bathroom adorned with all the morning-routine paraphernalia, including an unlikely accompaniment – my wristwatch — to help me fight the losing-but-yet-not-all-lost battle against the 9:00 am deadline. The next 180 seconds were action-packed – like the climax of a bizarre C-grade Bollywood movie in fast-forward. 70 seconds to 9:00 and I was already inside my cargo pants; pants that gave me the least putting on time, so crucial for survival when you wake up frighteningly late on a fateful morning with Prof. RC taking the first lecture.

Slamming the door behind me unlocked, I took five Olympian long jumps to the flight of stairs leading out of the dorm (IIMA short for dormitory). As I took three steps down, my heart choked. It dawned on me that I had left the SFI case mat in the room. The case mat, a brown spiral-bound book of cases meant for classroom discussion, was an absolute survival kit that rendered an array of services in the classroom, including providing a life-saving opportunity to look busy (keep looking at it…just keep looking at it as if the texts are all that is left in your life!) to avoid the professor’s attention. The selected pages of the case mat had been sleepily marked last night with a highlighter in a way that could inspire a thousand guessing games. Guess, which line is highlighted; the one above or the one below? Guess, what’s more…the lines that are highlighted or ones that are not? Well, the somnamography (sorry, I had to invent this word) not withstanding, these highlights could save you some terrible embarrassment in the class, provided you have prayed really hard to get a luxurious 20-30 seconds before a question passes to you. If you didn’t pray hard enough or were thinking of campus girls while praying or are facing a brand new question, then the case mat along with the fluorescent highlights is pretty much useless.

Back to the hammering head and the third-from-top stair. Panting, I rushed back, almost tripping near the door. I flung it open and frantically rummaged through the pile of case mats lying on the bed and the floor. SFI was missing! I felt the nerves in my brain tighten. I was losing my ability to think and act. Heart pounding, I bent down and looked under the bed. Oh good Lord! There it was, finally. Neatly tucked in the crack between bed and the wall. The spiral binding having diameter greater than the thickness of the mat had kept it from falling to the floor. For exactly 4.5 seconds, the suspended SFI case mat, that was neither on the bed nor on the floor, a la Narsimha-Prahlada-Hiranyakashipu, had stopped the supply of oxygen to my blood.

As I came out running from the dorm and climbed up the stairs to the classroom, I saw a couple of classmates scrambling their way towards the CR (classroom in IIMA), a half-consumed banana or an empty coffee cup in hand, sandwich partly stuffed into the mouth, partly sticking out. I ran, trailing fifteen steps behind them as the countdown began. 20 seconds, 19, 18, 17… My hands were now working harder than the feet. I was flying on the last set of stairs, jerking my body up, skipping a couple of stairs below.

9:00:02. Two seconds past the deadline. I squeezed the last puff of breath and kangaroo-jumped into the classroom, screeching to a halt before the stocky rotund guy with oily hair neatly parted to the sides and a check-shirt pulled taut over his hemispherical paunch, could see me. He stood menacingly at the centre of a three-quarter circle arrangement of benches, ‘the well’. As I started the precarious journey towards the allocated seat, he looked at me with a scornful dismissal, probably cursing himself for having to teach such morons like me who enter the classroom a gigantic two seconds late! I quietly slid myself into the seat, breathing a hundred times faster than I did when I won the solitary race (an Arithmetic-race in school) of my short-lived career in sports, a rare feat by my running standards. Of course, to reveal the secret, I won that race primarily because of my arithmetic skills, not running.

A heavy silence had descended on the room. Cold air flowing from the air conditioning vents above mixed with a strained nervousness and settled into the room, depositing itself on the pale faces, turning the room into a cold concentration chamber. Horror sat on the faces. Horror so heavy that it bent the heads. Everyone looked down. I opened the case mat, which until now was clinging to my armpits, and started sifting through the pages, silently, blending myself into the neighbourhood as much as possible. Attracting attention by making a rustling noise was the last thing I could dare do at this moment.

The professor spoke. His sarcasm-filled sharp voice ripped through the silence like a siren in the dead of the night. He thought some of us were missing (in IIMA, the teacher doesn’t take the attendance; the teaching assistant does). He asked us to do a headcount so that he knew how many of us thought his classes were worth a miss; exactly how many dared to think the unthinkable. The count started at the extreme left corner of the innermost ring of benches, closest to the professor’s table. One; the next one looked up; Two. Then the next, and so it continued like a Mexican wave with people looking up before their turn came and immediately looking down after they got themselves a number. Most chose to look busy by turning back and forth the case mat pages or flipping through the notebooks. Yet some others pulled pens out of their pockets and started writing the date, time and the subject on their notebooks — they never usually do this in a class — to keep themselves busy with a plausible reason. I was among the last set of people, drawing lines repeatedly below the topic heading till the paper gave away and tip of the pen crossed over to deface the page below.

One of our batch mates was indeed absent. I didn’t know why. In fact, no one did except for one poor chap who, by some cruel hand of fate, was the dorm mate of the absentee. “Who are his dorm-mates?” blasted Professor RC. With trembling cadaver hands one guy spoke from the dumb audience, “I am, sir”. It seemed as if a mobile on vibration alert has gone off inside his mouth. The next 15 minutes were probably the most tense moment he would ever have in his bachelor life as he tried to defend his dorm mate who hadn’t returned from a weekend sojourn. His tongue often went dry as the rest of the class (rest means only those who didn’t come in the professor’s arc of sight) stole furtive looks at the goat who seemed to wait its turn to turn into kebab.

Time didn’t seem to move in his class. Even if it did, it was like a rickety road-roller moving on you – extremely slow and painful. In a room full of frozen watches and frozen body parts, only the prof moved, marching from one poor victim to another like a modern-day Alexander, taking pleasure in subjecting some of the best minds of India to 70 minutes of absolute helplessness. Unfortunately, by this time, 80 minutes had already passed. With that, also did pass a barrage of demeaning remarks, reprimands, half-baked jokes, self-inflicted laughter, new inventions in torture techniques and yes, some teachings too – though heavily coloured by his own (mis?) interpretations.

I surreptitiously looked at my watch. 10:20 AM. A shot put ball dragged through my caved gut. Having skipped the dinner the previous night and now the breakfast, I was seething in pain and hunger. It was already 10 minutes past the scheduled time. Yet he showed no signs of stopping.

10:30 is the time when the over-enthusiastic and purposely punctual mess boys close down breakfast. Two seconds late and the doors close right on your face. And you lose your righteous claim on the cold cereals that had waited so long for you.

10:25. The hands moved on. 10:26. The ticking of my watch now synchronized itself to the throbbing in my stomach. My food bag, like an untouchable road-side rag-rummaging urchin, was concave, deprived and neglected. It was almost bleeding now. I felt unconscious. Each second grew increasingly painful. Finally the Gods smiled on me when it dawned on the only moving creature in the room (rest were so bloodless that they could kill mosquitos) that it was time he stopped teaching the egocentric, immature and money-worshipping bunch of management wannabes. At 10:28 am the class ended. “Rest of the case, we will discuss tomorrow. Also, come prepared with the next case and the readings” were his musical parting words before the explosive mixture turned away from the collapsed bodies and vanished behind the creak of the collapsible door.

120 seconds and more than 1300 feet to go before I could land up at the mess door. That asks for about 11 feet a second. Certainly not easy. Not impossible either, I thought, almost forgetting my sporting history. Still I ran, leaving everything else behind. I had just one thing to take care of. My ailing stomach – denied its due for the past 21 hours.

When I reached the mess, a huge queue, almost like a long centipede of the Amazonian rain forest, greeted me at the door, blocking the doorway. Through the narrow inverted V’s below the armpits I peeped inside into the semi-dark hall. A black metal plate sat on twin blue fires, on which some ten Uttapams — they looked like multiple moons against a perfectly black sky — slowly tanned their thin circular bodies. Time, like a mischievous kid, pricked and prodded the centipede and the queue increasingly got disoriented. The heads got misaligned as those ahead in the queue repeatedly lifted themselves up to take an impatient peek at the hot plate. Some broke away, unable to take the wait anymore. I calculated, as I always did. There were still twelve ahead of me. Assuming each consumed 1.5 Uttapams on an average (this figure is slightly on the lower side, but I had no other option than be desperately optimistic), at least six needed to leave the queue before I could earn myself an onion-sprinkled, half-cooked delight from the current batch. I considered the probability, basing my calculation on parameters such as the professor for their next class, their running ability, propensity to eat an Uttapam (for example, whether they were from south or north), their body language (such as signs of acute hunger). No. The chance of six or more leaving the queue was fairly low. I looked back. There were only ghosts of emptiness behind me. Again, pitifully, I was the last man standing! (I used ‘again’ because standing last in a queue is one of my congenital malfunctions)

It was now 10:32 A.M. Economics class must already have started. If I waited for my turn, I would miss both – the Uttapam and the class. I decided to decide. Sometimes we need to take hard decisions like this, even if it means keeping yourself grossly underfed and in writhing pain for the next three hours. I guess that is what management is all about. Or at least I understood it that way. Ailing stomachs may not last, but aching man must do. I left the queue leading to the furnace, grabbed two trimmed pieces of bread joined by a thin layer of jam slapped on their inner sides from the breakfast table, and left the hall, running and panting, again, to return to the CR. CR-7 to be precise.

10:36 A.M. I entered the class. The professor was writing something on the green-board. Yes, you read right. The boards in the CRs are green, probably because there is otherwise a serious lack of ‘greenery’ inside the class. Like a cat having sighted a delicious rat, I entered the class in silent steps – calculating the pressure of each – while simultaneously feeling guilty for entering six minutes late. Though the professor is ‘chill’ (the extremely rare and hence highly in-demand teachers who don’t bother you unnecessarily for little mischief such as coming late), adorable and nice, his classes are perfectly soporific, worthy of doctors’ recommendation if you ever had sleeping disorders. Rest assured, your snore can wake up the dead even before the first Power Point slide gets over. His laid-back words, his shallow eyes, his languid gait, his slow movement of hands, his vibrating moustache lining the thin lips, even his Fevicoled hair that hardly moved (even when he came close to the air conditioning vents); everything that he had or did unleashed sleep-monsters who would bang your head on the desk and hold it still until you fell asleep.

He was teaching something on Nehruvian economics, the pre-liberalization India and things like that. Staying in sense through these seventy minutes of anaesthesia is probably the biggest challenge you will ever face. I tried hard. Not that I didn’t want to sleep. But I was among the very few people left in the class by the end of three grueling semesters who didn’t sleep during lectures. To keep that rare reputation (though not quite appreciated in the hallowed campus) intact, I tried not to sleep. I pinched myself, squinted my eyes to read the board and tried to de-crypt the indecipherable lines projected on the white screen pulled from the roof. I imagined turning into a small child and playing with Nehru. Or sitting with Nehru and giving a power-packed lecture to the British to mind their own f**king business and get the hell out of here. I also tried imagining Nehru in his trademark cap taking this class and calling out my name fondly for a question. No bloody thing worked. The lower halves of my eyes had turned into magnets, pulling the lids above into closing down. I fought against an overwhelming feeling of dying. To keep myself busy, I looked around.

It seemed as if the Uttapams were oversized sleep tablets. Sixty percent of the class, in some way or other, slept, dozed off or prepared for similar in-class crimes. The gentleman at the extreme left hand corner of the outermost bench had fallen backward, his head resting peacefully on the backrest and glasses reflecting off miniaturized tube lights of the roof, hiding behind them his eyes (they were closed much before the class started). The lady sitting in front of me had leaned forward, head between both hands, her tresses crossing the width of the table and hanging silkily on the other side. Another gentle-management-man on the front bench was ‘looking’ at the professor, frozen, leaning forward sporadically and going back again with a quick instinctive jerk. Another woman in the extreme right seat in the middle row was wagging like a wall clock pendulum – as if nodding a Yes to everything the professor said. She was the most consistent wagger of them all, her sleep-motions remarkably well-rehearsed and indifferent to professors, subjects or time of the day. However, a few ‘serious’ friends lent their voice to what was primarily a monologue. They asked questions, most of which were answers by themselves. Some repeated in their own language what the professor taught and yet some others asked doubts whose answers they knew themselves. I jotted down whatever I could hear and filled my note with words entirely unconnected to each other. In my half-sleep, complete sentences didn’t register. I copied graphs from the screen unconcerned about what they meant or showed or whether I drew them completely. Notes were important, I thought, no matter how they were taken. As the professor kept on rolling slide after slide, my all-weather notebook filled with half-drawn graphs, with several lines precariously hanging here and there, independent of their axes. The seventy minutes of class-time lumbered past like a sick tortoise.

The third and last period was Finance. I was losing patience and my ability to think.  The ‘fin’ (short for finance) professor, though quite chill otherwise, insisted that we work out each case in detail before coming to his class. Worse, he called people at random to photocopy their notebook solution on the green-board in front of eighty seemingly probing eyes. A scary thing to do, if you didn’t already know that eighty percent of them have least interest in what you write. I took a break and went outside before the lecture started. I drowned my face in the cold drinking water, splashed some on my head and asked myself to feel better. Bear. ‘”Just bear for seventy more minutes”, I told myself. The pain from middle had now spread to the entire anatomy and I wasn’t sure anymore where it hurt. Or if it hurt at all. I was reduced to a blob of numb mass.

When I returned to the class, the professor was already in, though it wasn’t time yet. He was having small talk with students in the front benches. But if you listened closely, you will probably be able to make out that these smart asses were asking seemingly unrelated questions (with plans to mix them all together later to draw inferences) to the professor to figure out if there was a finance quiz that day. From what I later heard, the professor, in some complicated, convoluted way (like exotic options or collateralized debt obligations or credit default swaps) had hinted at ‘no quiz’. Or at least that is the class thought.

The lecture was not exactly eventful except that some were frantically asking for notes from the more regular ones who had put together a ‘solution’ to a previous problem. In the professor’s class, as long as you are armed with a solution — it doesn’t matter how terribly idiosyncratic it is or who originally created it or how many hands it had passed down — there is high chance that your physiological indicators stays within their normal range. To the professor, it didn’t matter whether you have an original solution or a manual photocopy (the quick peek-and-scribble job usually completed during the twenty minutes of recess between classes). While I was out splashing my face with water, some of my more enterprising friends kept themselves busy, doing just this.

By now it was clear that the breakfast had miserably failed to break the fast. The sandwich had probably melted away the instant it was slipped inside. The raging sulfuric acid boiled, threatening to burn everything down. The pain was unbearable once again. As the professor left the class, I hobbled my way towards the dining hall. While I kept moving past the chatting crème-de-la-crème of India’s brains, the dreaded word ‘Quiz’ hit my ears. One said, “I am sure there will be a Fin quiz today. SFI has no quizzes; we had the Quant (Quantitative Techniques) quiz yesterday. Mark (Marketing Management) is in-class always and Eco (Economics, of course!) also doesn’t have a quiz. And we are done with MIS (Management Information Systems). OM (Operation Management) wouldn’t have a quiz until the current module is over. That leaves us with just Fin. We are definitely having a quiz today, man”. What terrific logic! – I thought. But the appreciation quickly gave way to a morbid palpitation. In no time, the creepy bugs of fear had crawled out once again. Another disagreed. “Boss, last year there were only two fin quizzes before the mid-terms. Plus someone said that the Prof hinted at a ‘no quiz’ today. I don’t think there will a quiz”. As his words wafted into my ears, the heart cowering at a corner behind the ribcage was plastered with sandalwood paste. A cool assurance enveloped me. There and then, I took vows to re-believe in God, the almighty who sometimes got upset with ungrateful people like us and slipped into the professors’ minds to induce quizzes. My brand new faith in God threw the final dose of assurance – there can’t be a quiz if I am so pathetically under-prepared. God, we can have the quiz tomorrow and I promise, I promise, I would prepare well. I was reveling in self-inflicted celebration. Couple of friends anxiously sought my take on the possibility of a quiz, probably not to seek an answer but to hear what they desperately wanted to hear. Nevertheless, like an expert, I explained to them why there couldn’t be any quiz today. They seemed more relieved than me and thanked me profusely for saving them. As if I was deciding their quiz-infested fates!

Later, unfortunately, I would realize, with pain scraping my backside, that I really decided their fates that day (and paid for by getting four hard kicks from each).

Normally, during lunchtime, the dining hall is a microcosmic Kumbh Mela with most of the 300-odd first-years door-crashing at the same time. You would usually see multiple queues rubbing and crossing each other, originating from or finishing at — it depends on the way you look at — multiple food stations and the big challenge is to remember and remain in your ‘original’ queue. However, things were different that day. When I reached the place after a brief stop at the stationery store, I found it ominously deserted. The second-years were chatting away idly while watching the newly-installed television sets. I swept my glance. Only five from my batch, the first year fachhas. All alarms went off and bugs were crawling all over me, again. Is there really a quiz today? I came out and I asked a flying batch mate. “Yes, we got a mail from the teaching assistant.” He puffed. “Fin short quiz, 2:30 PM”. That’s it. The damage was going to be absolute! Consummate.

Given my level of preparation, I should have left the place immediately and read whatever little possible within the next one hour to manage a decent grade (those that didn’t have a semicircular component). However, my burnt stomach was crying for food. I heaped the tray with whatever lay on the table and descended on them, unmindful of the noise I was making. Pieces of ice were dropping inside and the fire was cooling down. I slurped to my heart’s content. And the upshot was brutally predictable.

It was a dangerous 1:50 PM by the time I finished lunch. There was no point running back to the dorm. I had already run enough since morning, and I was tired of running. As I started to walk slowly towards the hostel, the sound of slippers changed in Doppler-like effect. The runners threw surprised glances at me. For a change, it felt great. To walk with a kingly gait when the situation demanded retrograde running, like pawns. Upon reaching the room I realized that I wasn’t in the shape to open the fat finance book and sniff out killer formulas from un-highlighted pages. In short surprise quizzes like this, if you haven’t highlighted important formula, you better pray that the quiz is more about the finance minister’s hairstyle than calculating portfolio risk. Till 2:25 however I flipped the pages, pausing at graphs and formulas, pressing my temple hard to make space. There wasn’t much I could do. No solving past quiz papers, no discussing with neighbours, no revisiting the class notes (there weren’t any). Though I still cringed at the thought of appearing for a quiz and prayed that a quiz, if any, always happened ‘tomorrow’, the surprise quizzes offered little surprise to me. Quiz or no quiz, I was increasingly growing tolerant to the uncertainties of the campus life.

The classroom was a collector’s edition of facial expressions. While some tried to gauge the preparedness of others to calculate where they might stand in the relative grading, others looked for similar facial expressions for a silent company. And feel the solace of having grade-neighbours in the cruel war of A-B-Cs. Upon instruction from the teaching assistant, I turned the quiz paper over, exposing the question. I knew ‘beta’ to be the only Greek letter in finance. However, quite cruelly, almost all characters in the paper looked Greek to me. The next harrowing 15 minutes were spent sifting through the drifting formulas in my mind, with letters disintegrated from their expressions and flowing into one another to form a single gigantic formula; the formula of confusion, of mess and of the devastating feeling of not being able to attempt even a single question. I gave up, submitted the virgin sheet and left the room. A severe guilt was ploughing through my mind. Only if I had bothered to read the chapter earlier!

Walking back to my room with heavy steps, I climbed into the bed and dumped myself. I felt tired and battered. My eyes were closing down. I didn’t know for how long I had slept when I woke up to the intermittent beep of a Dbab (the online notice board and messaging system) message on my computer. ‘Ashutosh, let’s go collect our quant quiz papers’, the message said. God! These people had to distribute the papers now? I had probably slept for about 10 minutes. Getting up from the bed was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment. But if I didn’t go to collect the papers, though I would eventually know my grades, how the TAs (teaching assistants) arrived at that grade would always remain a secret!

I lifted myself to the classroom against the wish of every cell in the body. But I wanted to fight for my right. Not necessarily for a better grade, but for dignity. I looked at the paper. Marks had been snuffed out mercilessly. Though my answer was correct, the method was not that straightforward. A C grade. Arguments were futile. I told him I was unhappy and wanted a re-evaluation. He shook his head, indicating that it was not in his hands. So I wrote a crib on the answer sheet and carefully inserted it into the middle of the stack so that my fabulous grade doesn’t become a public figure.

After coming back from there, I needed a sound sleep more than anything else in the world. However, if I didn’t send a meeting request to group mates now, they would have the perfect excuse not to come to the evening case discussion meeting. I opened Dbab and saw two of them online. The moment I sent the appointment, one went offline. Coincidence? Not really! I closed the door, put intercom off its hook and muted the computer. I didn’t want anything to disturb me now. However, sadly, the scorching Ahmedabad sun entered the room through the high window panes and landed with barbarous precision. Worse, the old fan seemed to have square bearings. I folded a towel and covered my eyes. With only the digital clock in functional mode, I tried to sleep. Though I was perpetually sleep-deprived, luckily I didn’t have sleep disorders. I thanked myself for being able to sleep so easily with a jet engine roaring over my head and the sweltering heat making a bakery of my room. It was the only reason I hadn’t died of heart attack yet.

I woke up at 7:00 PM not due to the alarm (it had stopped trying long back) but the body’s clock. Even then, I had overslept by an hour. One more hour of backlog. I sent a reminder for the meeting, and waited. No one would come before 7:15, I knew that. So I started the online file sharer DC++ and checked for new movies. Downloaded some Hollywood rips and kept browsing through the ‘bold’ notice boards (bold letters meant a new post).  I opened my favourite, Perspectives, IIMA’s online photo blog. I marvelled at the stunning photographs. Another one was the Birthday board. Some jaw dropping creative work with Power Point slides for invitations. The best minds at work, I thought. I spent some time with the Marketing club ‘Niche’ that had a few intelligent and humorous ad clips. Then to the Adult Humour board, prevailed by one particular student of the batch.

The first group mate entered the room. It was now 7:20. Over the next 20 minutes, eighty percent of the members dropped in one after the other while the rest of us kept talking about anything but the group work. The real discussion started with we gave up hope on the rest twenty. Most came fully prepared; some only half. Arguments and counter arguments flew and what was supposed to be a short 1 hour meeting threatened to spill over to dinner time. I checked our progress. We had hardly made any. It was for a marketing strategy presentation, where there could be random calls. Everyone had his (there was sadly no ‘her’ in our group) own strategy in mind and was unwilling to experiment with others’. Consensus wasn’t what we were looking at. Perspectives were what mattered. Till 8:45 PM, we were discussing just the first case point with three more remaining. No, it wasn’t going to work out. As always, we divided the questions among ourselves, 0.5 questions per head while I kept the responsibility to merge individual works into a ‘projectable’ presentation.

When the meeting formally ended, it was about 9:00 PM, end of dinner time. If you miss the dinner, your only option was the TANSTAAFL (short for There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, IIMA’s private food plaza located strategically beside the mess and run by the same caterer). The rules of breakfast applied to dinner too. Reach after 9:00 PM and you witness food being dragged away into the kitchen right in front of your eyes, to be later fed to the management dogs and MBA monkeys, preparing to quicken their Darwinian evolution. But dinner one must have, no matter what. It is probably the only high point of the day when you can relax and enjoy the average (though sometimes delicious) meal while watching the overhead TVs playing channels that you can’t change.

Back from the dinner, I looked at the next day’s schedule. Marketing presentation, SFI case readings, analysis and calculations, MIS submission and case preparation for finance. Marketing and WAC submissions in the weekend and the SFI Project review the day after. Top it up with the backlogs that have been piling over the weeks and your packaged honeymoon is ready. I smiled in sheer hopelessness.

Settling down into the chair at 9.45 PM, I tried to prioritize. The first factor was in-class dangers, including the genetic build of the professor; second, the possibility of a quiz or assignment; third, the quantum of affected grade and finally whether the backlog is tolerable (tolerance depends on how good one is in a subject and which other subject would be tested on the same day). SFI by professor RC was by far, quite predictably, the first priority. As I opened the case mat and located the case, I felt terrible looking at the sheer number of pages that had to be crammed before I was ready for the  MBA-eater’s class. I switched off the monitor, flashing comfortably semi-clad beauties as screensaver. I needed at least three hours before I could certify SFI as ‘done’. That makes it 12:45. Assuming I slept at 4:00, I would have around three and half hours to collate the marketing presentation, solve the finance case and spend some time on the SFI project to be submitted day after tomorrow.

It was 3:30 by the time I was done with SFI and the Marketing presentation. My eyes closed down frequently and I kept lurching forward, banging my head on the monitor. All efforts to stay awake, including browsing the Dbab and the internet, fast-forwarding through some Hollywood flicks, visiting some muggus (people who have an almost incurable desire to study, not just for grades but also as a hobby) had failed. Finance for tomorrow was completely left out. In my desperation, I only staggered the highlighter across the texts and felt happy that I was at least ‘preparing’ something.

By 4:30 AM, the lights in the room had grown dimmer. At least it seemed to. Things around me started to circle in a smoky haze and I was awake only in bursts of moments. My vital parts were shutting down. I somehow gathered myself and staggered to the balcony. At a distance, the campus dogs howled at the stoic concrete buildings that shone like capacitors on an illuminated circuit board. The golden street lights added a sepia glow to the monolithic classrooms sitting gigantically across the walkway. A chorus of tempo shouts could be heard somewhere. IIMA was very much awake at this ghostly hour. As I had come to realize, the evening in the campus had just started.

A breeze muscled in. It felt like magic, washing me with a cool peacefulness. For the past several months I had complained about the high-handedness of the professors, the stupidity of the teaching assistants, the extreme study pressure, the unnecessary submissions, the terrible grading system, the unsavoury meals, the facilities, the case readings and many other things. Yet, at this hazy hour of tiredness, all that mattered no more. It’s a place I worshipped. A place I had longed to come to. Since when, I don’t remember. There was pain, but with pain came sweet memories. Of hardly studying and mostly gossiping in the name of discussion. Of watching an entire night vaporize into the fumes of the morning. Of sharing cold Maggi, of running to the pantry in acute hunger only to find it empty, of thirty minutes of morning-routine crammed into three minutes of blur, of running to the quiz without calculator, of ordering pizzas and tearing it apart like cavemen, of group meetings that discussed more on girls than the class, of predicting quizzes and getting it wrong, of getting drenched on a cold birthday night, of kicks from the ones you love and love from the ones you kick, and of faces dipped in cream.

In all this, somewhere I was probably learning to manage friends, arguments and disagreements, frustrations and criticisms, the pressure of expectations, extreme competition, difficult decisions, multi-tasking and prioritizing, the negotiations, and the mad regard for deadlines. And the absolute respect for original work (though we all slipped occasionally) and punctuality down to the seconds. I have done okay so far, I thought.

5:00 AM. Before the final strand of sense snapped and I started my free-fall into the dark abyss of sleep, I felt I was changing for the better, with each 20-hour day; with each non-existent night.

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Peep…peep! Peep…peep!

The same familiar shrillness. I looked at the clock. 8:50 AM. I sleep-smiled. A hell lot of 300 seconds to go before I had to wake up. I pulled the blanket over me and retreated into the “night”. Or whatever was left of it.

 

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