I’m not sure if I’d prepared this as an answer to a potential interview question but if I were asked if there was one part of my life which I’d’ve chosen to live differently, I’d probably pick my four years at IIT Madras. In many respects, it represents some kind of a void in my life. Nothing much of note happened during that. It was during that time that I learnt to put NED. There wasn’t much value added to my life in those four years, either in terms of actual value or even in terms of bullet points. There was not much “growth” in those years.

I did nothing of note in terms of academics (I ended up as class median) and apart from a bit of quizing not much in the lit scene either. I didn’t go out on too many trips, nor did I go out too much. You might be surprised to know that I’ve never in my life watched a movie at a movie hall in Chennai! I went to Besant Nagar beach thrice during my four year stay, and to the Marina Beach once. I played only a peripheral role in organizing Saarang and Shaastra, and that too only in the latter half of my stay there.

On several occasions I’ve asked myself what kept me going through those four years that I consider to be my “dark days”, and the only reasonable answer that I get is “pat”. Pat. Sri Gurunath Patisserie. The coffee shop of IIT. The life and blood of my life at IIT. Perhaps the only thing I really missed about IIT when I moved to IIMB. The venue for much discussion, and fun, and bitchery, and long nights. Open air. Bad chairs. Broken tables. Non-existtent umbrellas. Breeze. Cheap and horrible nescafe. 5 Rupis lemonade. Etecetera.

When bitching about my life at IIT, I usually lay most of the blame on the fact that I was put in a mostly PG hostel. However, one advantage of being in Marnad was that it was right opposite Patisserie, and so it took little effort to go park there. I suppose it was no coincidence that the most prolific Pat-ers (Bhaand, Shamnath and I) were all Narmadites.

It was really simple. All that one had to do when bored was to walk across and go buy yourself a cup of Nescafe for 5 rupis. And park. If you found an interesting gumbal, you would park with them. If not you would park alone, and an interesting enough gumbal would build up around you as time went by. People kept coming and people kept going but the conversation would go on for a while. And some time in the middle, Satcho would materialize and molest Mani, the dog that had been much fattened on the Patisserie leftovers.

It was at the Patisserie that the editors of The Fourth Estate would meet the correspondents and collect ideas for bitchy stories. It was at the Patisserie that plots were hatched to bring down The Fourth Estate and start the rival (shortlived) Total Perspective Vortex. It was at the Patisserie that campus couples announced themselves (though after a while action in this regard moved to “spot” near the girls’ hostel). It was at Patisserie that cheap treats were given and cheap bets were settled.

It was at the Patisserie that I first started making Pertinent Observations, and telling them to people around me. When I didn’t have access to Patisserie any more, I started this blog.

Earlier, when people told me about the crazy things they’d done in their undergrad and all the fun they had, I’d feel bad. I’d feel bad that I’d missed out on something. Now I just ask myself if I’d’ve traded my sessions at the Patisserie for the “fun” things that they’d done. And the answer, usually, is no.

Relationships and IIT

So the basic premise of this post is that being in a romantic relationship is like studying at IIT.

Everyone wants to get into IIT. They do thipparlaaga to try and get in. They join expensive coaching classes. Some of them even move cities. They wait for several years giving multiple attempts. People work extremely hard. Still, success is not guaranteed. There is that luck factor. There is the day’s performance that matters. Some days are important than others. Cracking the JEE is a “discrete” job.

While preparing for JEE, everyone thinks that if they clear the exam, their life is made. They come under the impression that after JEE, life will become smooth. That they won’t need to put any fight for the rest of their lives. That all that matters for their future is their cracking the JEE. And so forth.

It’s only after people come to IIT that they realize that life is not the cakewalk they assumed it to be. It is only after they get there that they realize that life after JEE is quite hard. That it is necessary to work hard. That if they don’t work hard, they will do very badly, and might flunk. It is only when they get to IIT that it hits them. Some learn quickly but others get disillusioned and give up in life. Several people do badly. Some even drop out.

So it’s similar with a romantic relationship. Everyone wants to get into a romantic relationship. Everyone looks only about the “entrance examination”. Everyone believes (before they get in) that life ban jaayegi after they get into a relationship. And getting into a relationship is a “discrete” job. It’s about how you “perform” during those blading sessions. It takes that bit of luck. It takes those set of fateful events to happen together in that precise coincidence.

And it is only when you get into a relationship that you realize how hard it is (provided you haven’t been there before). It is like being in IIT all over again. You know that you will need to work really hard to keep it going (applies to both parties). It is a continuous job, and you need to continuously “perform”. The randomness is much smaller than it is during the “relationship acquisition” phase.  However, you necessarily need to work hard. There is no “stud way out”. Some people give up when they find this out and break up (drop out). Others understand and put in the requisite effort and sustain the relationship. And continue to work hard.

The thing with arranged marriages is that you are typically forced to commit as soon as you’re done with “evaluating” the other person. You don’t get to test the counterparty on their ability to work hard and keep things going. It is like offering someone a job as soon as he has cleared the JEE.

And I wonder if one can draw an analogy between marriage and (academic) tenure.