Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On The Last Bencher

Different people have different times at which they can be guaranteed to be at your service. Some prefer the early morning air and chirping of the birds, while some others are not themselves unless they washed their insides with some fine old port. Some people I know are up to anything once they have wolfed down a couple of calzones, while some can run till noon on a glass of skimmed milk. If you want me for anything, be it scaling Mount Everest stark naked or to deliver a heavily loaded emotional bomb to your better half, call me up in the holidays. The months of December, as well as the summer months of May, June and July find me at my willing best. Throw me a challenge and I jump at it like a restless pug.

Obviously familiar with this fact of life, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras, whose esteemed campus I (dis) grace, sent an e-mail sometime in December, calling forth those interested in signing up for a literary endeavour that was to be the first of its kind. This novel venture aimed to capture the life and times of the batch of students passing out in 2011 in a book. Touted as a book of memories, it sought to preserve in print the exploits of those bidding goodbye to the leafy shades of IIT Madras. It was the holidays, Christmas was around the corner and I was bored. Thus, one fine morning, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras woke up to find in its inbox an e-mail that enthusiastically offered the services of Basil James.

Weeks passed and I completely forgot about the Alumni Association and its book. Things were in the doldrums when an unexpected e-mail sometime in February reminded me of those bored days in December and what I had signed up for. Apparently, the Alumni Association wanted to interview me. Invited to the unfamiliar haunts of the Central Library, I appeared for the interview and forgot all about it in two days. Again, weeks passed and things were in the doldrums. Again, quite unexpectedly an e-mail appeared congratulating me on being a part of the book the AA wanted to put out.

Headed by the cute and inimitable Surbhi Maheshwari, we were a motley crew of almost a dozen. Work was distributed efficiently, and I realised I was a correspondent, in charge of visiting final year students and asking them to think of funny stuff that happened to them while in college. In fact, everyone in the team who was not a final year was a correspondent and the rest were editors of some sort or the other. A few weeks and interactions with students later, I suddenly came to realise that I was made an editor of the book. Of course, within days I soon realised that though being the only non-final year editor on board was pretty uplifting, it had its rough side. A final year editor, when asked by a fellow final year editor to do some work, can always ask the latter to bury his/her head in the toilet as the former wanted to watch movies. However, a second year editor can never do this and hope to hang on to dear life. The pretty straight forward rules of senior-junior interaction meant that I did my work with the belligerence of an Assyrian coming down the hill.

I still got to go out and meet a few seniors and listen to their stories. It was great fun, listening to the pranks some fellows have been upto, especially chaps you would not suspect such behaviour from in the first glance. The people I mostly interviewed were people the final years on board knew, which meant that the people I interviewed were also people pretty well-known across campus. Some of the people had reputations that preceded them and they backed the rumours up with solid stories. Others were resolved to, as Lady Macbeth said, look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t.

Being an editor, I was exposed to a lot of original writing by Insti junta, articles that were written by final year students themselves and not by correspondents. I was, quite frankly, appalled by the standard of English and writing that exists in my college after reading them. Many of those articles would make a first grader look like Lord Tennyson and made me dumber for having read them. Such toxic waste led to much more work, where I virtually re wrote entire articles to give it a semblance of respectability.

After much effort and equally effective amounts of slacking, the book finally came out in the middle of April. It was well designed, the double pronged design team showing us and the world the way it is done. It was quite a good return for a few months’ work and I found myself feeling slightly proud for what I had helped to accomplish. Of course, going through the book, I found a few errors here and there, some in articles I had personally edited. Being a firm follower in the Wodehousian philosophy that one should never apologise in life as the good people do not want one and the bad people are prone to take a mean advantage of them, I shall desist. But I wish I had done a better job and given a bit more attention and spared a few more moments before rushing off to watch the Arsenal defence leak like sponge.

It was pretty great to be a part of The Last Bencher (as the book got christened) and it really taught me much about bringing out a book. Much credit, though grudgingly given (due to my miserly nature more than anything else), is to be accorded to the team of almost a dozen that worked hard to make the book a success. At the risk of this sounding like a cliché vote of thanks speech, let me extend my hand and shake theirs.


  1. Thank you for the mention and the adjectives. :)

    Agreed that being a second year put you in a position where you could not refuse and hence, perhaps you ended up doing more than what would be a fair share of work.

  2. I was kidding for a substantial part of the post. When one is desperate to put out some humour but can't find it, exaggeration is often resorted to :D