Friday, December 04, 2009

Ajab CAT ki ghazab kahaani !

Strange things happen! Technology does come up with its share of betrayals especially when it is looked upon as an ever-reliable enabler. At a time when most Bollywood hits bombed at the box-office and a sudden vacuum in T20 cricket, the online CAT'09 served as the perfect blockbuster with some much-needed action. It had all the ingredients which any die-hard fan would normally associate with a 2 n half hr long Bolly film/ T20 match. There was action, drama, thrill, suspense.. ( romance here).. No marks for guessing who the villans & victims were. Whats more, as is the case every year, its cash registers were ringing with the moolah of 2.4 lac young, eager & unassuming students who were in for a surprise! A real rude one! Dawn the 28th of December, disaster struck on the 1st day itself as a supposed virus/bug broke through, rendering all the arrangements ineffective, causing the CAT to flunk its first day. IIMs blamed the virus, students blamed the IIMs and the test-agency,the test ageny blamed the PCs. Whats more, there were concerns of re-tests which contributed to the blood-bath for the next few days.

The 5th day; 2nd of of Nov and the 30 odd cities with 300 something CAT centres geared up for the test which would be spread over the remaining period of days. Mumbai had its share of 5 centres to cater to the student population. Each centre had both morning & evening sessions. The morning sessions begun at 10.30 sharp and most candidates were advised, pretty wisely, to report 2 hrs in advance to their repective centres to complete the set of rituals before the Computer Based test and, most importantly, get accustomed to a PC in front of you for the exam instead of a paper & pen. The feel at the examination centres was just so "not-exam-like". In contrast to the normal paper-pen exam, there were no parents waiting with bated breath outside the exam rooms like husbands outside maternity wards, no herds of students wielding their class notes like AK-47's, no mad frenzy in the air.
The only thing in the air was the stench from the garbage lorry stationed adjacent to the gate of the college which was my exam centre. The man at the entrance stopped me & grunted for my identity. I shoved everything into his hand as if he were a airport security officer. He pretended to understand & read the info (obviosuly printed in english)and then stepped aside to permit me in. A mini-line stood at the stairs and each of us were given our respective floor numbers, classes & PC nos. As I made my way upstairs, there was yet another mini-queue where screening was done "airport-style" minus the X-ray machine & metal detector. The only difference being that our pockets were turned outside-in, all the contents consfiscated & sealed in plastic bags usually reserved for storing perishables.
I then proceeded to the plush, AC-filled room which housed 30 computers. 2 well-dressed dudes, rather over-dressed dudes who donned dark blue aprons were seated in the first row. I failed to understand the logic behind this outrageous dress sense which would have otherwise sounded suitable in a scientific laboratory.
One of them grunted for my paper content and I gave it to him..What was this?? Some kind of a grunt fest or rudeness competition? After the verification, I was summoned to sit in the chair facing the cam connected to the computer and my pic was taken. Finger prints from both hands were taken. Wow! all this sounded straight out of a Holly flick where a bank locker housed a billion dollars with Z-level security to protect it.
The biometrics over, I was given 2 HB pencils,an eraser, a rough sheet,a do's & Donts laminated sheet and directed to my PC where my just-taken photo flashed on the upper-right corner of the screen. "Not bad" i thought as I momentarily gazed at it and mentally gave myself a pat on the back, wondering whether it would easily qualify as one of my best & chic display pictures in orkut or facebook. I instantly shook off the thought reminding myself that it was pretty ridiculous to think of social networking just an hr before the CAT exam. And in any case, even if I demanded the pic for my personal use, Mr. grunt wouldnt so much as hand it over in a flash for anything in the world.
As the minuites ticked by, students/candidates trickled in. Both my "neighbours" has come now. Both were girls (not that i expected girls swarming around in the CAT examination). And it wouldnt have made a difference; the guy-tendency to stare at females seems to evaporate in the face of competition, no matter how much estrogen is present in the hall at the given time. I shared a polite " good luck" smile with each of them and they shared a smile which bordered on "good luck" & "baby, we are so screwed!".
The one on the right wore a orange kurta n jeans and the one on the left was in a magenta salwar. Unlike most mumbai girls who are intrested in appearances of other girls & hell-bent on making style statements, fashion,for these 2 girls, seemed secondary . Both looked like they had been locked up in a room filled with CAT-study material for the past one year. Their lack of interest in the activity around them and their nerdy demeanour made it absoultely clear to me that they would surely crack it & get calls from at least 4 of the 7 IIMs.

35 minutes to go. The entire class, by now, was subjecting itself to "pre-examination mannerisms": visitng the wash-rooms, having a glass of water, some even sharpening their already sharpened pencils, some adjusting their shirts as if it was an interview, some dudes praying silently, some trying hard to remember complex quants formulae and a few like me sitting quietly and studying the desktop. I picked up the "Dos & Dont's" sheet, printed on both sides. As per universal norm, the "Dont's" seem to exceed the "Do's". Our movements would be monitored constantly by cameras to catch cheaters, it read. Now, this was truly Z-class!!

15 minutes from the start..Mr Grunt and his friend went over each computer and logged a big password and ID and came to a page which requested yet another password n ID. Then came a tutorial page which ,it said, would give us the feel of the exam. The tutorial over, we were then directed to the test link which required a good 3 minutes to upload and at 10.00 am sharp the big T20 test for me started.