"And now for something out of the syllabus..."About five months, I was "commissioned" (without pay, naturally) by Kapeesh to write an article for the COEP magazine "Abhiyanta" (unimaginatively titled this year as "The COEPian" - what happened to all those deep-sounding sanskrit titles, and shouldn't it be "The PIET's COEPian"?), which I duly turned in. They published it (gratitude is in order to Abhishek for obtaining a copy for me). As a result of which, in the mag, I happen to be sharing space with an invitation to the (inter-caste) marriage of our prized Babcock-Wilcox boiler and a lathe machine, and (much to my horror and indignation) a running footnote paean to a partial set of COEPians studying in the US. An online copy is available here. This one is for all the COEPian bloggers.
They say that education is what is left over when you've forgotten all that you were taught. Normally, I'd salute only the wit in such smart-alec quotations, but in light of having spent life at COEP and now contemplating it from a safe temporal distance the size of an engineering batch, I can see the depth in what some of those old, grizzled and dandruff-ed grey hairs were saying.
For the more I think about it, in the guise of giving us an engineering education, COEP slipped in a lot more. It gave us a right royal lesson in the grand concept of "life", right from the spankings to the plaudits. But before you dismiss this account as a teary-eyed narrative of those "rosy and sunshine filled hours spent under the sweet-smelling coconut tree as we became fine citizens", let me disabuse you of those concerns. First, we don't have any sweet-smelling coconut trees at COEP (even if they were, I doubt if coconut trees could be sweet-smelling). Secondly, the rosiest times were spent at home in the PLs when one set of storms had been roughed and more squalls were expected.
So this account is a little anti-nostalgic, for it tries to take a more balanced look at the real post-learning-amnesiac education referred to at the beginning. For instance, let's invoke the popular memory of the COEPian in the queue. I don't know if autonomy has abolished the long held tradition of the COEPian queues; I hope not. For hours in that one serpentine ("Slytherin" for the modern generation?) mass of collectively increasing infuriation would teach you more lessons about pain, patience, obduracy, chivalry, fairness and fatalistic invocations than a month in a Benedictine monastery run by Pai Mei. For the first two years, I struggled and whined: why, despite the easily obvious optimal methods to apply to the process of collecting fees or marksheets, did we have to stand under the baking sun, growling at each other and whimpering at our inability to prevent those who conveniently discovered long lost pals ahead in the line. Gender wars originated and were resumed every six months, with the feeling that the glass ceiling had suddenly become a pane in an imaginary wall that let the smarter sex creep into the sanctum sanctora however late they showed up while separating us out from the "tatkaal". Only in the second half of my personal production of "My Life at COEP" did the zen-like realisation dawn that this was meant to be the introductory lesson, a one-oh-one into going with the darned flow. Later in life, you couldn't wring the neck of everyone who cuts you off ahead in the traffic, on the corporate ladder, in competition for that lass's affections, so learn to bite into your stiff upper lip, sonny boy. With such low-intensity tutorials did COEP make malleable your mind.
So what other life-threatening and life-altering lessons did the venerable Since-1854-er throw our way? How about the concept of submissions? I'm sure you've heard about Mr. Parkinson (of the Law fame, not the Disease) and how he cleverly figured out about the elasticity of work w.r.t. time. I'm convinced that we should have him over and get him to give us a few commendations. For few places such as us have embodied wholeheartedly the spirit of the elastic nature of work and have actually gone as far as to experiment with extremes by mixing in the eleventh-hour principle. Result: a searing lesson in how to get by, just before the clock hits twelve (or twenty-four). That's pretty much how the whole world seems to operate, so fine training for a bunch of youngsters in being grasshoppers during the summer and slogging away like ants in the winter, and what's more? - surviving till the next folk tale!
Or how about the famous "repeats" of the workshop, more legendary than real, but scary yet. Again, I wonder if the march of modernity and autonomy has filed away (pun intended) the bluntness of the workshop instructors, but once you've gone through that experience, it takes a lot to rattle your steel-forged guts (unless of course, you did better at plastic moulding).
Note that most of these vulcanising processes are placed early in the COEPian experience (further evidence: Applied Mechanics, Engg. Graphics, case rested). On a less sardonic note, look at the Punt Formation, a splendid example of teamwork, hoarse throats (of the PFOs), a general sense of "oh, it was so much better when we did it" renting the air among the alumni, and best of all, the experience is much more pleasant when you've finished it. Inside, it's closest to compulsory military training that our pacifist generation will ever get, with the mosquitoes, the something-masquerading-as-water, the hyacinth and the lack of bug repellant. But you survive that as well and slowly it begins to dawn on you, who is used to topping all that you do, that sometimes survival is good enough.
So what's the point of this little piece then? Well, a grand unified point wasn't quite intended, but perhaps a few little guppy points spring up. One, like a lot of great comedy, there's humour to be found even during the darkest times one may experience at COEP; that these darkest times are often found to be usually piffling little blobs of black paint at best later; and that there's much you'll do there that will give you a store of anecdotes to liven up the party. Probably, a lot like the real thing sometimes called Life.