Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Namma veetu kalyanam

My sister just got married. Life is never going to be the same for us cousins henceforth. It all started in Feb 2015. I was out chilling with the dudes during a free hour when suddenly +Varshini Raghavan calls and says, "Vishu I'm getting married!" Now when your cousin, who you've grown up with, who you pretty much shared everything with, with who you have infinite stories together, tells you those words, your first reaction is generally not, "Congratulations!" Especially not when it comes out the blue. Your reaction would be, "WHAT?!" And give that reaction I did! We spoke for about an hour, about how it started, what transpired with the folks at home, her roller coaster ride to getting them on board with her decision. I happened to bunk the next hour but who cares? History will speak of how I stood transfixed in one place with my phone to my right ear staring away into nothingness. It will not speak of how I missed taking notes about HLA receptors. But of course, I was happy. I was so happy I didn't know what to do! I was grinning like an idiot at random passersby and I think the emotion was not lost on my cousin because she commented about my joy when I met her in Chennai later that month.

And so she set the ball rolling. A few months down the line we (that's a pretty large we; we're a first circle family of nearly 40) invited the "maapla" (that's groom in Tamil) and his family for an informal meeting at Varsh's place. It was all quite silent. Random formalities were exchanged. People were introduced to each other. It was all too formal (not really my thing). Looking back at that day now, it seems quite funny that that bunch of people got along so well a few months down the line. Anyway, the families did meet one more time in that period but it was all too quaint to mention or elaborate upon.

Fast forward a few months to her engagement to +Varun Prakash in December last year. It was quite a fun affair. We colour coded our costumes, blue for relatives of the bride and green for the groom's. The event didn't really see too much hullabaloo but it was fun. People dressed up in fancy clothes, Varsh got a new accessory on her ring finger, and everybody just started recognising the new faces. By this time, it had been almost a year since I was told about her impending wedlock. You probably assume that I was used to her having a fiancĂ©, her not being my irritating cousin sister (yes I just said cousin sister), her not being available any time of the day anymore to just hang out or go for a drive. But no, I wasn't. She was still the same old Varshini for me, except she had a boyfriend now, and her folks knew and approved of it. That was the state of affairs as I saw it.

Roll forward to June. I'm meandering down a street in Bangalore when suddenly I get a call from Peripa (her dad) asking me to catch the next train back home. He wanted me involved in the discussions for the Sangeet event. Now the Sangeet is an event I haven't actually understood. From what I saw this week, it is just for the women to wear marudhani on their arms and feet, and for everybody to just have a gala time. So anyway, I do catch the next train back home and get to her place. We chit chat and then get down to business. There's singing, dancing and a skit to be put up. And not just random dancing. The bride wanted all of us to dance for about 20 songs, all put together. My first reaction was, "Sure! Okay!" (because wth, it's for the bride) but my mind was screaming, "You're going to dance in front of new faces, with a bunch of people you will have met only for a matter of a few hours at the most?" I'm not a dancer. I'm not even the type of dancer that will transform from violent hip shakes to graceful moves after a few glasses. I'm a BAD DANCER. Dot.

And I guess she knew that. She planned out the playlist, the dancers for each song, gave me the easier ones and chalked out dance practice sessions for the next 2 months. I must've diligently attended only about 50% of these sessions but by the time we were ready for the Sangeet, I was not just on talking terms with Varun's cousins, I was on jovial laughing and philosophical discussions terms with them. The Sangeet was a blast. I forgot every single dance move but that's a different story :P I had a LOT of fun dancing like an idiot, organising the event, running around for this and that and basically just being a part of it.

There is a joy that is derived from being included and it is particularly strong in such cases. It is quite amazing too, that the cousins from both sides of the wedlock got along so well so soon! Later after the wedding another sister and I was commenting upon this very phenomenon. I have seen no other wedding where people who have met each other for no more than a few weeks, sit around in a circle and talk about philosophy, life, girlfriends and play "current pass" at the end of it all! XD

So it was during the Sangeet that it sort of brushed my head. The one emotion that I was hoping I'd never come across but did anyway. Anxiety. It isn't one of those things where you start hyperventilating because you're anxious about your scores from a test. It isn't the anxiousness that follows when you drop your friend at the railway station and hope she gets home safely. This is the anxiety that hits you when you realise shit ain't going to be the same anymore. And this is exactly what hit me. But it was still an under the surface emotion. It had yet to gain enough traction.

The Sangeet was a ball - right from driving all the way to Mylapore to get her surprise cake to impromptu dance steps because pretty much everyone forgot the moves for the songs - I'm pretty sure everyone who attended had fun (Especially with laughing at me wearing pink wings).

And so her wedding came by. The weekend on August 20&21, 2016 was hectic yet fun, tiring yet enjoyable. I'll not go into the details of each ritual and practice. Rather, I'd go into what went through in my head (because blog :P). So this was probably the first wedding that I was a part of, and witnessed, right from start to finish. And for the better part of the process, I took part in the proceedings with involvement, yet no anxiety as mentioned above. It started on August 19, 2016. My uncle +Srinivasan Devanathan decided to get all emotional about how the flock was flying out. That's when it hit me like a train that life was never going to be the same again.

It happened multiple times over the next few days. For instance, when at home, we were discussing meeting up after her marriage for lunch. So I said, "Just the 5 of us should meet for lunch before you leave" and my brother corrected me, "You mean 6 of us?" 6 of us. One new entrant into the close knit group of cousins that I've shared the last 22 years of my life with. You don't just adapt to it overnight. But it's a fine change. It helps that the new entrant and his cousins are fun, sociable and as boisterous a bunch as we are. :)

The marriage came and went sooner than I could blink. The emotional waterfall that should've happened on the outside (like it did for some people who were on stage) when he tied the knot didn't. But inside, it did. A friend of Harini's pointed out that I was tearing up. I don't think I did but maybe I actually did? I don't know. There wasn't a mirror nearby and there is no photographic evidence of the event ever having occurred (phew!)

So when all the activity and excitement had died down, I was left with sore legs, a tired body but a fresh mind. I had gained not just a "maapla" but many new cousins to share the rest of my life with. :)

Happy married life Varshini and Varun! :D

P.S. Photos coming soon

Monday, 11 July 2016

My last year at SASTRA

It started in July 2012. It ended in June 2016. 4 years of my life cooped up in Tirumalaisamudram (quite literally). I really could just lash out at all those things I hate about the place - every instance that made me feel like a Jew in a Nazi gassing chamber, every idiot who made it miserable for me there. But I'd rather not. Not only because I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man, but also because all 4 years of my life there was not, as I've lamented on many an occasion, life in a hellhole. Case in point - nostalgia started kicking in back in July 2015.

So in keeping with tradition (the one I just created for myself), I decided to write such a post. Now when people generally ask a student here at SASTRA, "How's college?" they might start off into a monotone of how hostel is a pain, a certain bald person makes their lives miserable, the food is horrible, they don't let you go home, they don't let you go out, they this, they that. (Phew now that I have abided by the unsaid custom of complaining about the place...) But I generally say, "It's good here". 4 years on, you learn so much from an institution like SASTRA. I learnt people management, I learnt anger management, I learnt to value friendships. Oh and, footnote, I learnt biotechnology sumaar ah.

So my last year here started a little later than it did for the others. I was at IIT doing God only knows what, hence, joined college only in July. When you're a final year at college, it certainly has its perks. It's much like when, at school, you were in 12th grade. You own the place! Hostel rules suddenly vanish into thin air, watchmen don't harangue you when they see the red tag on your ID card, professors are suddenly friendlier (probably also because they've seen the same faces for 3 years now). My 7th semester was by far the best of the 8. I did ABSOLUTELY no work! I mean it. Classes were poker sessions or nap time; lab sessions were used for catching up with friends, heated debates about pointless topics (I remember we were once discussing whether pen caps will stay put in straight hair or curly hair and conducted an experiment to find out which as true), sleeping (They say cats sleep anywhere? You should see students!) and of course, selfies. As the semester progressed, however, everyone was getting busier. People had placements to attend, job interviews to prepare for, exams to study for and write, applications to send. By the end of the semester anyone you met on the corridor had "GRE", "SAP", or "placements" on their lips.

My first wave of nostalgia hit when the juniors from our department hosted a farewell for us. It was all going fine. Random laughter. Random selfies. Random music and dance. Until a friend went up on stage and addressed us. "We were classes of 50. Now you guys will graduate and I'll be left with 9 classmates", she said. That's when I got that sinking feeling. Back in second year when I wrote the "Letter to the freshman" I included the phrase, "home away from home" (I still get royally mocked at when that comes up in conversation) but only when she said that did I realise that leaving this place ain't going to be as easy as walking out the gate. There's a part of you that you leave behind when you move on. I truly understand the depth of that sentence only now.

Just as the semester was coming to a close, the results for the SAP interviews started coming out. All of my friends, save for 3, were leaving. Our classes had ended. No more fighting for the seat under the fan. No more standing outside class and trying to peek in to see whether the person inside was the professor in charge of the previous hour or the current hour. No more running out the left door because you knew the professor entered the class from the right. No more texting with your phone inside the bag. No more walks to CC and then deciding to bunk the next hour at 10.59am. No more poker games in class. And for me, no more JVC classrooms. It might sound like every single status I've seen on Facebook from my batchmates but I really am going to miss this goddamn place. Not because I like everything about it. But because I will miss the memories and the good times associated with the place. We broke for the semester in November.

Only when I came back to college in December did I realise the true gravity of my situation. I was so alone. Bored. An eventful day was when I took the route via the mess to ASK instead of taking the route through the ground. I had nobody to waste time with. Most of my friends were either out of station or too busy. And the ones that were out of station couldn't be reached whenever the hell you felt like it, courtesy time zone difference. You'd be awake and kicking, yet bored to death. Meanwhile they'd be going back home from a tired day at work and getting ready to hit the sack. Minutes wore on into hours and days. I spent more than just the odd evening locked up in my room staring at the ceiling, wondering what to do. Music gave me some solace but there's only so much music you can listen to before the junior next door knocks on yours and says, "Anna, could you please turn the volume down?"

My 8th semester in college was boring, with a capital B. The period between December 2015 and May 2016 let me see more petri plates, autoclave preparation and media preparation than I had seen in my entire life till then. And for a restless person like me, not meeting my friends was really not that easy. Add to the melancholy was the fact that for the better half of my 8th semester I got emails that started, "Dear Mr. Kannan, We get a large number of applications every year and the intake is highly competitive. We are sorry to inform you that we are unable to offer you a place at our institute. We wish you luck in your future endeavours. Thank you."

Things started looking up only towards the end of the semester when everyone was almost done with their work and all of us could sit together at KC and chat about how hectic our schedules were. Project submissions, thesis, presentations, wrap up experiments and the likes - I had no time for musing about my college life then. But here I am now, exactly 2 months after I finished my last exam at college, wondering how I am going to step into the world that's waiting for me. I'm not used to adult responsibilities. I prefer waking up in a messy room and realising I have just 4 minutes to get to class or I'm losing attendance. I like jay walking back to the room and postponing all my assignments to that place called Neverland. I like sitting in a friend's room and counting our money, to find out whether we can afford 2 egg rolls outside college.

But as I sit and type this out, my friends are at work or busy with some other occupation. My schedule has nothing but "German class" written on it. When I joined college I heard a lot of people talking about how the friends I would make at college would remain for life. I now get what they mean and the feeling is bittersweet. Bitter because I won't be able to meet them at the same frequency as it was in college. Sweet because, well, they'll be my friends forever :)

So let me take a moment out to thank each and every single person who has been a part of the SASTRA experience for me - good, bad, whatever. You are a portion of the reason I am who I am today, 4 years on. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Auf Wiedersehen!