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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

... and they keep flowing...

This is going to be a serious post. This does not narrate, barring a couple of exceptions, tales from my flimsy student days. This is corporate stuff, grown-up stuff, and hence demands respect of the minimum order.

Pencils and pens are history for me these days. I have moved on to bigger things. This post, however, will still adhere to the rules of not involving any mush (though my previous post contained the names of five of the most desired women in the history of womankind).

It began with some plastic packets.

In the winter of 1997 some freshly packed computers had arrived at The Department of Statistics, Presidency College, Kolkata, India. Ashim Shankar Nag (whose full name literally translates to The Infinite Snakes of Shiva), our illustrious professor, was in charge. After a few weeks of nothingness, we mustered enough courage to ask him "Sir, won't we get to use these?"

A bemused ASN asked back "do you know how much they cost?", and that was that.

Five years before this incident I had done a course on something mysterious and intriguing called BBC Micro where I could make an A (and even an অ) dance across the screen, performing all sorts of steps. My brief stint with keyboards had ended there. I had always cast suspicious glances at the cohorts of typists at Hazra, and just before Milieu 1997, our annual college fest, I had got something (possibly the schedules) "printed electronically" (don't ask).


We used to be fairly regular with our attendance in those unripe, innocent early college days. The nuances of college life, the lures of the common-room and canteen could not pollute our academic pursuits to a sufficient extent.

We were attending one of those Numerical Analysis classes involving a mysterious troop of Es and Δs. And then, breaking the barriers of the thick walls of the Department of Statistics, came a loud thak. A minute later came another thak. And this went on. A fifty-minute class, so roughly fifty thaks.

Next period. Fifty minutes. Roughly fifty more thaks. And so it went on.

Roughly five thousand thaks later we could not take it any more. We went to our college staff, Arunda, during one of those marathon, excruciatingly slow thak-thak sessions and asked.

"Oh, that. SG (Shankar Ghosh) is typing his PhD theses".


But SG was from another generation. We were members of Gen-X, rampant crusaders willing to take on Y2K by its horns. With a full computer lab at our disposal in Delhi, we simply ripped apart the laws our ancestors had set for us as far as sleeping and waking up early were concerned.

We chatted. We played games (trial versions) and got stuck when they asked for credit card numbers (some other websites did that too) just when things looked rosy. We emailed. We called our parents and friends (poor creatures, they never had any email access, they didn't even know what Telnet was) and had asked them to email us.

My mother had a tough time: If I sit at a computer in Kolkata and type something, how will it go to your computer in Delhi? How will they carry it?

Within a week I had figured out that if I had reached the end of a line while typing I did not need to hit Enter to go to the next line: it did that automatically. Ah, the wonders of a computer!

Soon the mysteries unveiled themselves, one by one. First came the two miraculous Shift keys (who uses the one at the right anyway?), with the knowledge that you need not press the Caps Lock key every time you needed to type a capital letter; then came the minuscule Ctrl keys (once again, the right one is the redundant one), banished to the furthermost corner of the keyboard - equipped with the most amazing combinations - Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v, Ctrl+x, Ctrl+b, Ctrl+i, Ctrl+u; then came the Tab, a formidable key just above the Caps Lock to help toggle from field to field in a form; then came the long, long Space Bar to tick check-boxes; Shift+Delete to become a virtual serial killer; Scroll Lock to confuse unmindful people using Microsoft Excel; the Insert key that I am the only known person to have put to some significant use; the inverted L-shaped huge Enter key which was born to be hit with all the power your finger muscles can muster; and the F11 key to go full screen, which I have never used intentionally till date.

But it still remained incomplete. Single keys or two-key combinations simply weren't cool enough. And then, as Windows 95 expanded its ominous wings to envelop my college days, we got to know of the magical combination that made our experience even more divine: Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

Using Windows 95 had never been as rosy.


As the flaming Delhi gulmohars gave way to the ancient Kolkata banyans, life on the keyboard did not change to a serious extent. Yes, we made serious progress: we had learnt to type our curriculum vitae on Microsoft Word, chat up people who were supposed to be Malaysian teenager girls and even do programming in C (with serious aid from that delightful book, Let Us C).

We appeared in campus interviews. We got jobs. We joined organisations. Our main food group, which had previously changed from wood juice to plastic ends of ball-point pens, now slowly modified into roughly fifteen cups of coffee a day. We also purchased huge, heavy, formidable-looking cellphones (my Nokia 5110 even had an antenna, and looked like a cordless phone). And we found that the keys were arranged the other way. We were never sure exactly why they worked that way, but they did, and we were not left with options.

For the first time, though, keypads could be used on the fly. You could be watching a Sooraj Barjatya movie and you could be texting someone that you were at a funeral (which, if you think about it, is not much of a lie: I have seen the Barjatyas arrange multiple funerals for the industry on screen).

Texting was fun, though: and I'm not talking about "c u l8r" messages here. I mean proper ones that shot up to over 160 characters, and then had to be trimmed down by removing a redundant comma here and replacing wonderful with good there and what not. It was a real-time challenge that took your linguistic abilities by the horn. It often ended up saving a rupee.

It was roughly at this time that I went on a maniacal spree of telling everyone who asked me to send an SMS the fact that an SMS is a service and you cannot send it. You can send a text message; a short message (an SM); but not an SMS.

Along came Ms Rowling with her use of texting (one needed to dial 62442 - MAGIC - to get into the Ministry of Magic), and we were all very happy. I also remember sending very expensive text messages to help Abhijeet Sawant become the first ever Indian Idol, and was sensible enough to stop at that.

By now, with Microsoft Excel dominating my life more and more I got to know of the wonders of technology - Shift+Space Bar, Ctrl+Space Bar and Ctrl+1. Philistines across the world still resorted to using the mouse to operate in Excel, but then, there will always be people who do not save the yolk of a sunny-side-up egg till the very end.

I even researched on the Pause-Break key, could not learn anything and gave up shortly. I did put the Print Screen key to good use, though: they were particularly essential in taking screenshots of Tomb Raider games and posting them to online forums, asking for ways out.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it all, there appeared in market two kinds of inventions that has taken the world of cellphones by storm in the subsequent years: the smartphone with the touchscreen, and the smartphone without the touchscreen.

The latter was easy to manage. It was basically a smaller version of your usual computer keyboard: there was an undulation for every key, and texting became incredibly faster.

The touchscreen thing was a different story, altogether. I cannot, I repeat, cannot use a cellphone with a touchscreen keypad for the following reason:

It simply doesn't work if you intend to type ABHISHEK and end up typing ASXAZBNJFHHJFHJJHIUHJJJ and then have to erase and rewrite it. Touchscreen keypads are, hence,  abominations, and the person behind the idea should be made to watch Neal 'n' Nikki in a loop. On a system where the Fast Forward, Pause, Stop and Close buttons can only be operated with the nose, and one wrong move would automatically imply a Rewind.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

... and on they flowed...

As promised, my earlier post on pencils did not contain cute words like mellifluous or Barfi, or even twilight. I am aware that this has reduced the usual metrosexual appeal that my posts are known to carry, but I typically value honesty and integrity over the raw sensuousness of my posts.

My graduation from pencils to pen was a rather unconventional one. I had changed schools at Class V: I was a student of Julien Day School till Class IV till I switched over to the greatest school that ever was.

There was a catch, though: JDS (as Julien Day School had instructed us to abbreviate: J for justice, D for duty, S for service) had allowed pens from Class IV, whereas the cut-off was Class VI in Patha Bhavan. This meant that in Class V, Patha Bhavan, I had to start afresh with pencils for a year.

This meant that my handwriting in Class V had plunged to depths hitherto unknown to mankind. I clearly remember an incident: there were thirty-three of us, and when the exercise books were returned after the teacher had gone through a Bangla classwork, she had evaluated thirty-two of them. On my book, she just wrote the phrase হাতের লেখা অপাঠ্য (handwriting illegible) - which basically made my handiwork, however superlative in quality, ineligible for assessment.

On either side of Class V, in an illustrious calligraphic career spanning two schools, Artex turned out to be the major apprentice. My first Artex fountain pen was possibly a navy blue one with a cap of the same colour. It had a small metallic ring towards the top of the cap from which dangled a thin, sharp stick to attach the pen to the pocket. It also had a smallish metal nib on which the word ARTEX was written in a small arc.

Along with Artex came Sulekha, my first royal blue ink bottle, and a small dropper. The last two were not supposed to be carried to school every day; they were used to fill the Artex every morning before one left for school.

Using a fountain pen was cool. The best bit was when the nib dried out, making the user eligible to give the pen a couple of solid jerks and preferably dip the nib on the droplets of ink that had accumulated on the back-page of the exercise books. However, we soon found out that this was a perfect excuse to cover the back of the light-cream shirt of the person in front in ink.

By the time I had scraped through the laborious, pencil-strewn Class V to make it to the next step, a new brand called Wing Sung had appeared on the fountain pen market. By this time it wasn't adequate to carry one pen to the school, so I had to convince my parents to get me two Wing Sungs. They saw the two-pen point, but tried to get me buy two Artexes (or should it be Artices?). We bargained, and the compromise we reached to was an obvious one: one of each species.

The grave error I made was about to haunt me for the rest of Class VI: I trusted them to buy the pens. With Wing Sung one cannot go wrong: the same blue body; the same goldenish cap; the same quadrilateralesque nib with Wing written along one edge and Sung along the adjacent one; they also came with inbuilt droppers. All Wing Sungs were twins: they lacked the originality with which every Artex pen was created. In the end, I was glad they did.

The Artex I got (and had to use for some time) was an abomination. It was bright yellow, with a black-tipped cap and a black bottom. B R I G H T   Y E L L O W. I have never seen a fountain pen as yellow as that one. Or one as thick: it was roughly the diameter of a gorilla's thumb.
So off we went to school, five days a week: the ubiquitous Wing Sung, the abysmally hideous yellow Artex and the would-be bespectacled meticulous student. It was a formidable trio, especially if equipped with a Sulekha royal blue dip every morning.

The girth and the colour meant that the Artex had to remain my second-choice pen for some time. Wing Sung was nice. It had a thinner tip than Artex, and despite the awkward grip, it was quite free-flowing. It was the first Chinese product to come to my life and to conquer me for a a significant span of time.

By now the market was infested with more pens. One of these was Wilson (note that it's almost a homonym of Wing Sung), an experiment some classmates had already marked as a failure and had reverted to Wing Sung. One of my smart-arse seniors (I really cannot recall who this was) tried to convince us in our school bus that King Sung, a brand superior to Wing Sung had been launched (King > Wing). When I asked, the shop-owners of Samriddhi (politely) and Grantha Chayan (rudely - rudeness being his USP) told me that King Sung was not a brand.

By now, I decided that I needed some variety: so I gave Chelpark a shot. It was basically the same, cost the same, so it did not matter. I tried Camel. It was surprisingly the same. I tried blue-black for a while just for the sake of it, and then migrated to black.

One of my uncles managed to convince me that black ink resulted in sedimentation occurring at the bottom of the nib: he washed the nib in water to prove this. A few months later I managed to find out that royal blue resulted in the same. So much for taking your elders at face value. Sigh.

Roughly at this point of time I was introduced to something called micro-tip pens, branded by both Linc and Luxor. These used ink, but were a cross-breed between ballpoint pens and fountain pens. You just needed to write and throw them away. They also made your handwriting mysterious and elusive, so all you could use them for was to write in capital letters: which meant they were good only for labelling diagrams.
Gradually these were replaced by hi-tecpoint pens. My uncle (a different one: an artist) told me that these were basically "micro-tip er baba". Indeed, these were more expensive; with a thinner tip; did wonders in the hands of an artist; and reduced the average individual to a vegetable, making him compromise on either speed or handwriting. These Pilot products had to be confined to a project-work usage as well.
By this time I had heard of the expensive brands: Parker, Sheaffer, Mont Blanc and Cross. My father owned (and probably still owns) a Cross. It looked sleek, but was a bit too sleek for my comfort. It was probably a bit too sleek for my father's comfort as well, as I have never seen him actually use it: it had spent a significant part of its lifetime confined inside a Godrej stainless steel almirah, and possibly still continues to do so.

And then, as the 1980s somehow meandered into the 1990s, the Berlin Wall disappeared into oblivion and Sachin Tendulkar made his way to the Indian cricket side, the fountain pens gave way to ball-point ones: they were lighter, smarter, faster and more comfortable to hold (and to write with).

I was too skeptic to adapt to them, so I stuck to Artex and Wing Sung for a while. However, roughly at this time I decided to shift to turquoise as a ink of choice. This soon caused a great furore in my otherwise calm household: my mother, a mathematics teacher, pointed out that I cannot use turquoise. She argued that green came only next to red in terms of being the "teacher's ink". I told her that it was not green: it was turquoise. I even asked her whether she thought peacocks and parrots were of the same colour. The retort was not taken, well, too lightly.

My adolescent revolutionary self was proud: I had managed to win the battle of colours, battling hard against the wannabe matriarch of the family who had attempted to spread apartheid of a different sort. It was a victory of justice.

But then, my revolutionary self gave way to the lure of Reynolds ball-point pens. They were officially called 045 Reynolds Fine Career (which made them sound like revolvers), which was a rather impressive name to start with: the white-and-translucent-blue bodies and the blue plastic covers simply sent out an irresistible urge to give up fountain pens and give in to the dreamy mystique of the kingdom of ball-points.
I could not hold myself back. Reynolds it had to be. Rotomac (likhte likhte love ho jaaye - you fall in love while writing) came and went; Cello Gripper was a flash in the pan; and I even had short flings with Mitsubishi - a curious name for a virtually transparent ball-point pen. There was also a pen with a metre (that showed how many miles one wrote) whose purpose evaded me and whose name continues to remain elusive to my memory. Yet another one with rubber grips (Zebra?). But Reynolds remained.

Reynolds had its disadvantages, though. It was designed for slow, beautiful handwriting, and hence did not serve its purpose in examinations: With the Board Examination at the end of Class X coming up I needed to acquire a pen that was soft, light and fast to make sure I completed the fifty-page history answer sheets in three hours, and also had in a legible handwriting.

And then it happened. It was love at first sight. It had appeared like the Juliets, Lailas, Heers, Sohnis and Shireens (it is to be noted that in the 1980s and 1990s the Heeriyes and the Snodiyes were still known as Heers and Sohnis) came into the thirsty lives of their famous counterparts. Had there been a bathtub at my place I might even have yelled Eureka!, but for I had to hold myself back. My parents did not take yelling at home as nicely as Archimedes' did.

Linc Starline had arrived. The year was 1992. It was an use-and-throw pen. It had a writing length of 5 kilometres. It had a Swiss tip. It had German ink. It was like watching Amul Butter oozing from between two Cream-Cracker biscuits at the pace of Carl Lewis with the grace of Madhuri Dixit.

No, 2012 cannot conjure analogies of that quality.

And the love affair continued. X. XII (+2). Graduation. Master's. And then they sort of vanished from the market: not a swift, mysterious demise; this was more of a gradual, permanent disappearance. They just aren't there any more.

But I need not worry. BIC has arrived to bring the rosier days back to my life yet again. BIC Round Stic Med/Moy (whatever that means) is as perfect a replacement to Linc Starline in my life as Dravid had been to Gavaskar a few decades back. The round smoothness and the easy grip are to die for, and the easy flow is strongly reminiscent of Dairy Milk Silk.
All that is redundant, though. A job involving computers meant I had migrated to another form of writing medium a dozen of years back. But that's another story.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

They flowed...

This is not a story about rivers or the wind, so do not expect this to have cute-sounding words like in it. This is a rather stupid story about a boy man male who was forced into being a literate many, many years ago.

It used to be a wonderful world back then. The children were allowed to roam across their worlds the way they wanted to. The fathers and mothers took care of everything. Even if they didn't, nobody bothered: they watched Doordarshan instead (1980s Doordarshan - especially the Bengali channel - was truly breathtaking: they used to air a programme called Saptahiki where they showed on screen the entire schedule for the coming week, and the anchor actually read everything out in a drone). People read newspapers before they went to work and after they came back. Then they watched Doordarshan again. They ate early and slept early (though not before they had their last dose of Doordarshan).

It was during this period, during this ubiquitous bloom of Doordarshan that I was given my first pencil. I have no recollection of what it looked like (though I'm probably sure that it was a very thin strip of graphite wrapped in soft wood) and probably had something like Nataraj written on it. I loved writing (though my handwriting used to be appalling till very late) and for some reason, once I could exercise some sort of control on my fingers, drawing copies of maps from the Atlas using a tracing paper.

I had relatives. All sorts of them. Even dead ones. Of those that were living, one used to live in the United States. I'm not exactly sure how we were related, but I knew two things: she was two generations behind me, and she was on my mother's side (of course she was on my mother's side: I know some people who can quote their family trees from memory; my mother can probably quote a family forest).

Anyhow, my mother returned from meeting her and announced triumphantly that pishimoni-dida had got something American for me. I wasn't too eager on these foreign lures: moreover, I had sought out America on my globe: the quadrilateral looked larger than the Indian one, but was coloured pink (unlike the gorgeous lemon yellow that India was), so was probably very boring.

It turned out to be a pencil: bashfully yellow, but that wasn't what made it special. It had an eraser at the back. Pink, smooth and almost hemispherical in its existence, the was magical. It meant that I could now write, and when I needed to erase, I did not need to reach out (probably two inches or so) for the white rectangular perfumed alphabet-strewn erasers with green strips on top, but I could simply turn my pencil by a hundred and eighty degrees and scrub.

This turned me into an instant hero. Some people claimed that they had heard of pencils like that, but to produce a pencil like that out of your pocket in a group of kids equipped with sadly handicapped pencils were no match for my newly found glamour.

However, to my dismay I found out that the trailing eraser, though a significant component of my Montessori days of new-found glitz, turned out to be a serious hindrance to the consumption of my main food group during my school hours, which typically comprised of a mixture of saliva and pencil juices.

This had to end. Gnawing through bits of metal-coated rubber (or was it plastic?) wasn't the same. I tried chewing through laterally, but it wasn't as satisfying. So I had to resort to two pencils - one for my glamour quotient, the other for my physical nourishment. As I look back at it, the solution seems to be so Teslaesque that I feel saddened that I at having lost the touch over time.

Then something catastrophic occurred. As cowdung cakes and coals got replaced by LPG all over Kolkata, my mother brought home a box of pencils with erasers dangling shamelessly behind them. They looked exactly the same as their counterparts manufactured two oceans apart: pale yellow with pink erasers. I don't recall whether it was Apsara or Camlin: but whoever decided to bring out those pencils in India will never be forgiven.

Everyone had their own eraser-pencil now. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone. Everyone who could write was now entitled to grab a bunch of those pink-tailed wooden menaces. It was not a novelty any more: it became as commonplace as Lifebuoy soaps and Nirma detergent powder. Had they had their way, they might even have used miniature forms of those pencils in groups of fifty and piled them inside red matchboxes with pictures of black ships or white cats on them. They invaded the schools of Kolkata like indomitable swarms of locusts, and soon they were all over us. My days of glory were gone.

And then came the plastics. Cute little bits of nuisances that made their way to our hands. They, too, like the ones with erasers up their arse, must have originated in the United States: however, pishimoni-dida could not get one for me ahead of the others, and I had to remain content with plastic push-in pencils being showered on me roughly at the same time as my classmates.

These things weren't too bad. It basically had two components: a long, hollow, cylindrical container of plastic, coated in floral or cartoon prints that the manufacturers clearly thought would win over the wannabe baddie boys of our generation; and small, thin, white bits of plastic with pointed shards of graphite inside them, arranged in a neat queue, long enough to leave the front one dangling outside the hollow.

You write, and once the mini-pencil in use gets blunt, you simply take it out and use it to push the queue from behind. It moves forward and ejaculates half of the one in front now. Now we're back to square one. This continues until all the bits are blunted out, which is when you switch to a new set of pencilettes.
Click on the image to get a better view
This pathbreaking invention also put the thousands of sharpener-manufacturers almost completely out of business. Vivid, stark images of Labour Union activities in front of sharpener factories; AK Hangal's face streaming into vision every now and then, referring to steel-sharpener-cut-pencil shavings as faulaad ki aulaad; and then, nightmares involving humongous dumpsters full of rejected sharpeners.

This also meant that we lost our daily stack of (often flower-shaped) pencil shavings - typically shoved down the neck of the guy in front to give him an itchy back all day - but small sacrifices are always required to win big battles. These pencils also deprived me of my daily wooden diet, but then, food tastes change with age.

As we stepped into Class V or thereabouts, the International Pencil Industry brought about another similar wood-free creation. This contained a hollow, filled with some very long, straight, very thin strips of graphite.You press a button at the back-end of the pen, and lo! Out came about five millimetres worth of sharp, writable, soft, grayness, ready for the user to write along.

This had to be sheer magic. Black grey magic.

Then, as the sultry Kolkata springs went past one by one, merging my childhood smoothly into adolescence, the Kolkata stationery market greeted me with "pen-pencils". They functioned exactly like the ball-point pens that seemed so adult: you put a bunch of long graphite needlish sticks inside them (you needed to buy them separately, of course), then with a gentle push from the top, one of the sticks stuck themselves out very slightly. You pushed once more, and it stuck out even more. You kept on pushing, and the needle will fall out eventually, making things all the more fun.

What took the icing, though, was not even the fact that these pencils looked very suave, unlike their floral-printed predecessors: they came with a perfumed eraser behind them. Life had finally turned a full cycle for the lover of the pencil with erasable posteriors.

Then, again, it was realisation time: the pencils were not as good as they seemed. Their slim sharpness were actually a hindrance if you tried to write fast: if you had jutted the ends out by a thousandth of a micron than the supposed cut-off, the edge would snap with a telltale phut; leaving you pressing the eraser violently again for the graphite to emerge again, thereby making you lose crucial seconds in your history test.
Click on the image to get a better view
So their fate was decided: they were to be used only for drawing (by that I mean geometry, geography or science diagrams; not art: art required 2B, 4B... and 2H, 4H... pencils instead of the comfortable HB ones); and for writing the previous generation (by now their caps came equipped with erasers as well) served the purpose better. So I had to go to school equipped with two pencils and two kinds of graphite add-ons, thereby sealing it for both the sharpener and the eraser industry.

And then we migrated to pens: but that's another story.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teacher's Day

Tomorrow is Teacher's Day. For all you know, it may be Teachers' Day as well (grammatically challenged bloggers are often faced with dilemmas like this).

I thought this might be a good occasion to sneak in a quick blog post. I had thought of writing about a couple of my favourite teachers and professors, but since I found this sprawled across The Telegraph today, I thought these legends should be the ones I should write of tonight. Or rather, about one of them.
Click on the image for a bigger and clearer view
My first introduction to Professors Atindra Mohan Goon (not Gun, as the article above suggests), Milan Kumar Gupta and Bhagabat Dasgupta were in Class XI: we were asked to study a algae-coloured book called Basic Statistics, which, despite not containing as many "worked-out examples" as the green and orange ones written by Nani Gopal Das, was probably my first handbook of statistics.

As school uniform gave way to jeans and Azhauruddin to Tendulkar, the trio played a greater role in my life: they had actually co-authored four of the books we had read as undergraduates. Professor Gupta actually taught us in his unmistakably inaudible voice in our second year. Professor Dasgupta we did catch a glimpse or two of.

Professor Goon, however, was a different story altogether. He was the Head of the Statistics Department when I took my first meek steps in the historic college. He taught us Linear Algebra from a book written by - well, Professor Goon himself. I also took private tuition from him in a group of seven - all of them my classmates.

I will be narrating a few incidents here. Do not be misled, dear reader. Of course I have immense respect for him. However, in addition to being a legend, he was also a character of the supreme kind. Let me narrate the incidents.

Some of the incidents might be lost in translation. I will provide the Bangla script and translation wherever possible.

Professor Goon, as we got to know later, had a few "pet" students every year. In ours, he had one favourite student: P, the batch-topper. He also had a couple of targets - A (often referred to as K in Presidency College) and, er, myself.

A was possibly Professor Goon's least favourite students. A (K) was also one of the champion carrom players of the college. On a bright, distracting autumn morning, passion took over moral responsibilities, and A (K) lost track of time.

A (K) did the unpardonable: he ended up being late in entering the great man's class. Professor Goon's reaction was a mixture of scorn and elation (at having a chance to have a bash at his "target").

So he went - "আজকালকার ছ্যাল্যারা, পড়াশোনা করব্যা না, হিন্দু হস্টেলে থাকব্যা , ক্লাস শুরুর আধঘন্টা পর পান চিবোতে চিবোতে ক্লাসে আসব্যা..."
(rough translation: Look at today's kids! They don't bother to study, they live in The Hindu Hostel, they turn up half an hour after the class has commenced, that too with paan in their mouth...)

Things I should mention here:
1. A (K) did not live in The Hindu Hostel. Ever. He lived in South Kolkata, and we took the same metro to college every day.
2. A (K) was not chewing paan either. He seldom did so, and never in class.
3. Professor Goon never found out what A (K) was really guilty of, though. A (K) usually nicked whisky from home in small empty bottles meant to contain homeopathy medicines and consumed them during Professor Goon's class - something that The Legend could never find out.

As I have mentioned before, his other consistent target was me. On one of the days, he finished teaching five minutes before the bell rang.

He now had five minutes to spare. I clearly remember it was the class immediately before the lunch break. He had a choice between having to spend the five minutes somehow and letting us go. He chose the former.

He picked me out. And gave me a verbal bashing on how incompetent a student I have always been, and what a disgrace to the department I am.

Things I should mention here:
1. He had not asked me any question on that day. Any.
2. He had not asked me any question on any previous day either.

This is not my story. Professor Saibal Chatterjee, one of the greatest professors I have had a chance to come across, told us this on a very wet August afternoon when it was absolutely pouring down outside, rain pattering down hard on the ancient windows of the classroom.

SC was in the mood. He was supposed to teach us kurtosis or something equally mysterious, but he ended up teaching us the philosophy of statistics instead. It was supposed to be a double-class, but time somehow seemed to fly: even the hypnotic aroma of the rain-soaked flora adjacent to the Baker's Laboratory could not distract us from SC's class that day.

This is SC's story. He confided this to us just before dismissing the class for the day.

This is about his student days. Yes, Professor Goon had been the ubiquitous Head of Department. SC and his classmates, being fresh out of school, had been taking full advantage of their new-found liberty and had  decided to bunk classes and have a long chat at Indian Coffee House - that place of urban fairy tales that has witnessed a lot of twentieth century dreams and romances blossom or wither or both (not necessarily in that order).

SC's gang was having a lot of fun, it seemed. Until someone filled in Professor Goon with the information. The great man walked out of the Department of Statistics, then out of Presidency College, crossed College Street, made his way up the stairs and located his students.

He walked up to the table; then, with determined hands, he grabbed each student by his ear and led each one out of the door; one by one. With the entire Indian Coffee House as witness.

No one ever dared to bunk a class again. Or had the cheek to visit Indian Coffee House again.

We also took private tuition from Professor Goon. On Wednesday mornings, possibly - at an unearthly hour of seven in the morning or something equivalent.

We were a group of seven (this number had nothing to do with when the classes began). The great man sat at the head of the table. P (mentioned above), our batch-topper, his left. I was late on day one, and hence was made to sit on his right (can you imagine my plight, given Incident Two?).

P had an elder sister. On one of the more idle days Professor Goon ended up chatting with P (with the rest of us listening in).

Professor: দিদি এখন কী করছে? (What does your elder sister do these days?)
P: স্যার, দিদি কাটাকলে পড়ছে। (Sir, she studies at Katakol - the name of the bus-stop where Calcutta University has its Department of Economics at Post-Graduate level)

One could see the dilemma taking shape on the wrinkled face of The Professor. On one hand, he could not let anyone go free after referring to Calcutta University as Katakol (that would be blasphemy of the highest order in his books); on the other hand, he could not get himself to shout at P.

He needed a solution, though. He stared at me. I could see a feasible response stewing in those eyes. Then, after a pause for what seemed like an eternity, Professor Atindra Mohan Goon uttered, eyes fixed on my hapless self:
আজকালকার ছ্যাল্যাদের মনে র‍্যাস্প্যাক্ট নাই। ইউনিভার্সিটি বলত্যা পার‍্যা না। কাটাকল বল্যা।
(today's students do not have any respect; they do not say "University" - they say "Katakol" instead.)

I shudder to think what might have been the reaction had I committed a sacrilege of the same volume.

We went to the tuition at seven, and were supposed to be released by nine. However, once a month, a calling-bell rang at a quarter to nine, and immediately Professor Goon sprung to activity; he usually terminated classes for the day and asked us to leave immediately.

Naturally, this struck to us as mysterious. We had to find out who it was that robbed us of valuable lessons in Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem and similar basic necessities.

On one of those careless mornings The Professor had kept his front door open. And we saw. And we knew.

Each and every window of the huge living room was open. The room was bathed in summer daylight. At one corner of the living room stood a rather meek-looking rice-seller. Rice was spread all across the room. And our Professor, virtually on all fours, was making his way through the ocean of rice, possibly looking for the tiniest speck of gravel.

We should have guessed that. It should have been obvious to us.

The year was 1996. I was not a natural school-bunker, so this was going to be the first time I was about to enter a relatively empty Book Fair - at about two in the afternoon on a weekday. The problem was, a lot of my classmates wanted to go as well.

Professor Goon's temper was (in) famous; and so was his absolute hatred at oddities like bunking classes. Still we braved it. We knocked. We entered.

Sir, can we take the rest of the day off to go to The Book Fair?

A thick volume of what looked like a Biometrika lay very close to his right hand. I hid behind someone. I figured out that though he had aged he probably still had it in him to throw a book across a room.

Instead, he smiled. And nodded.

Never has a Kolkata February been as glorious.