Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Iyer Studies

“ Dei vishu, how much did u get in your maths exam.” I remember a distant relative of ours asking me. in my school days.

“94 out of 100,Mama, ” I said reluctantly, apprehension gripping me. What would be his reaction, appreciation or sheer rubbishing?

"Only 94!!! (Nods his head as a sign of disapproval). Very poor. Where did u lose the 6 marks? Silly mistakes, huh? In those days we had tables of 25 on our fingertips. One mistake here or there and we used to get a thorough caning. We could perform 3-digit multiplications even before you could gulf down half a glass of water.” (We had no better things to do then.)

As time went by, I developed an immunity to his talks which oozed with gyaan of “good old days”, due to his frequent visits, to an extent that they now sounded much more hilarious each time. Just that it weakened my ability to suppress my smile n booming laughter every time i heard boasts of such hi-fi math prowess. Yes, really high standards are set and there’s no escaping them. 94 out of 100 is pathetic. Not pathetic, it’s despicable. What everyone wants to know is “where you lost the 6 marks?” No one looks at the 94. Surprisingly there were far more torturous subjects in school to contend with than math (the social sciences always ranked top on my hit-list), and so I considered myself really fortunate that maamaa's enquiry ended with math itself.

Yes, that’s a tam-bram aka iyer family . Enter the krishnans and the vekataramans. Enter the tam-bram (TB) boy; innocent and frail looking, oily head, side-parted hair, glasses for the geeky avatar. This dude has to go through a lot, quite literally from the day he is born. A typical TB name should satisfy the following features (in most cases):

. The boy is christened with his grandfather’s name, however archaic it may sound.

Think of the consequences of having such a naming system. A bit on the same lines as ‘King George-IV’, ‘Chandragupta-П’, just to distinguish you from your grandfather.

. The boy’s first name should span a minimum of 10 letters.

. His last name (father’s name) should be equally long.

. Both, the first name and the last names are:

a) Names of Hindu gods

b) Names of Hindu gods’ incarnations (avatars)

c) A combination of a) and b)

The logic behind this is simple. Each time someone calls out your name, he invokes the almighty and in doing so he absolves himself of all sins. And that’s a good thing.
All this sounds really good on paper, but one thinks it really arduous calling out a 10-letter name, especially in the age of instant messaging and scrapping where short-forms rule the roost. So, Balasubramanian is reduced to a Balu, a krishnamoorthy to a kicha and a Venkatachalam to …er…Denk or venky, whichever comes to mouth first.

The big name serves a big pain when you start filling out an application form and you suddenly discover that there aren’t enough boxes to fit in 20-odd characters. That’s when you cant help but wonder why your parents didn’t adhere to the KISS (Keep It Short-n-Sweet) principle.

The young TB boy then has to fulfill all the basic requirements of a TB childhood dutifully. These include learning at least one of the following: Carnatic music (either singing or an instrument or both), Vedas or bhajans, dance (in case of girls, STRICTLY classical; salsa sounds more like a Spanish dish doesnt it?).

Much of school life passes without hassles. The 10th exam and the 12th exams do their bit of image making or breaking, (though there has been some relief in recent times with the advent of additional entrance exams). Figures of 90, 98,99 (anything in the late nineties) are the order of the day. An 85+% in 10th and a 95+% in science in 12th is a must. Rather, these are cut-offs set by the TB hawks (read ‘TB maamaas’). Score more than that and its no big deal, u r a TB, u r expected to do well. Get less than that and get ready to face the music from all quarters. You wont need microphones to detect murmurs at marriages, functions, etc. Murmurs of your supposed poor performance spread like wildfire thanks to a few enterprising ‘maamis’ who would happily do overtime if BBC went on a strike.

"Gosh, did u hear how much Gopalakrishnan’s son got in 12th? Only 88%".

"Lord (a “Aiyyo Raama” or a “Krishna” or plain “Shiva, Shiva”) ,show him the good way. Pump some buddhi into the boy’s empty head.”

“Now they have put him into some XYZ engg college in New Bombay. It has cost them lakhs to get him in.”

By the way, the 95% in 12th is the magical PCM or the PCB total (that you are a TB boy automatically implies that you are a science student hell-bent on transforming the next 4-5 of your life into a slug-fest.). It has to be either engg or medical, anything non-engineering is a cardinal sin. Or wait! Engineering, not in any city college, (not with a new engg college sprouting every day, at every gully) .The whole series of entrance exams that follows the state board exams are an indispensable part of a TB boy’s life. The IIT-JEE, the AIEEE, the BITSAT…. Lo and Behold!!!! We have a whole rat race ahead. As a TB u r expected to make it to any one of the iit/nit/bits campuses.

The iit/nit/bits brand name does you a whole world of wonders, especially in marriages and religious gatherings, especially when you are being introduced to someone.

Mama1: “ namaskaaram mama! This is my son, he is studying in iit/nit X.”

Mama2: (who till now flashed an artificial smile, looks genuinely impressed)

“ Oh iit/nit X, very good, very good. Very prestigious institute. Which field (branch) are you in, paa? Software (comp Sci he meant) or Electronics.??

Grrrrrr… there you go!! Does computer and electronics alone make the world go round??? Where does chemical engg or even metallurgy feature in all this?

Boy (Son of mama1): "no maamaa, I have taken chemical!"

Mama2: (His face now exhibiting a variety of emotions, common one among them being pity) "Oh, chemical engg! You didn’t get computer Science or IT because of low marks?"

(Imagine the boy’s plight had he been doing any ‘non-engineering’ course)

mama2:(Reassures)" But don’t worry (as if the guy was all crying crying). Chemical is also a good course. Good scope abroad.
Infact, My brother’s daughter-in-law’s first cousin’s friend’s neighbour (works out a complex relation which sounds more like a Data interpretation question) also did chemical engg in nit X, he completed his MS in the “states”."

Mama2: (Now that the issue of higher studies has come up, this question is a standard favourite of most mamas. Doesn’t matter if you are in the 1st yr of engg or 1st yr kindergarten)

“So, what do you plan to do after engg, paa?”
Boy: (he has to answer it to the point, as his dad looks at him, smiling, not exactly a comfortable smile) “ I…I.Ah..Haven’t decided yet, maamaa. I just want to finish my engg and think...

(Before he could complete, mama2 cuts him off)

Mama2: (looks horrified) what is this paa? See, you should have some ambition in life! You should have specific goals, like doing a MS or MBA when you are still young (even before you know what M B A stands for). This is the age to study.

If you study hard now, you can enjoy later” (Yawn! How many times have we heard this same clichéd dialogue? Its far more irritating than the recorded message in Hindi “Is route key sabhi line vyasth hain”

Crash!! Izzat ka Falooda !

See, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Here’s a child who’s just started learning how to walk and people expect him to run in the Olympic marathon.

The race doesn’t end with engg itself. The boy is then faced with the “12th std syndrome” again (lots of entrance exams again) in his final year. Most TB boys fill in every application form from GRE to CAT, which is their way of “keeping all options open in the worst-case scenario”.

A B.Tech degree from IIT/NIT and a MBA from IIM or a MS to top it all. 2 years later the boy lands a 14-hour job as an investment banker complete with a six-digit salary or he is a professor, armed with a MS/Ph.D, teaching in a university in the “states”.

Then disaster strikes, the unassuming TB boy’s amma talks of marriage and hands over his photo and a copy of his jaadhagam (kundali) to the same ‘enterprising maamis’ in her quest for a nalla ponnu (good girl, in literal terms), for her son. The same cycle repeats itself and many years later the TB boy(now a maamaa) is still left wondering “Where was the enjoyment after the hard-work?” as one of the maamaas had once said.

Well, That’s how it goes; from long names to institutes of higher learning, it’s all about living up to the standards and a way of life. High ranking, studious,..Whatever you may call it; a TB boy’s life is challenging, unique and a complete standout from the rest!