At the Aditya Birla scholarship function last night, I met an old professor, who happened to remember me. We were exchanging emails today and he happened to ask me about one of my classmates, who passed away last year. In reply to him I went off on a long rant about the incidence of mental illness in institutions such as IIT. Some of what I wrote, I thought, deserved a wider audience, so I’m posting an edited version here. I’ve edited out people’s names to protect their privacy.
Of late I’ve been smelling a lot of Ethyl Mercaptan in the kitchen. Especially in the fridge. I must point out that the architeture of my kitchen is such that the gas cylinder is placed right next to the fridge. But then, there is a thick wall and a door in between, so I fail to understand why the mercaptan smell emanates from the fridge.
I’ve never been good at the business of connecting the regulator to the gas stove. In over fifteen years of gas usage (prior to that we didn’t have gas stove at home – parents worked for the electricity board and hence we had free electricity; so we used electric stove) I’ve somehow managed to avoid any sort of mishaps. Of course for the first half of those fifteen years I wasn’t really allowed close to the cylinder.
Sometimes I go mad, and think I must apply for the Darwin award. Yes, this is connected to what I’ve written in the earlier part of this essay. My normal reaction when I smell Ethyl Mercaptan in the kitchen is to pick up the lighter and strike it. That is my normal way of convincing myself that there is indeed no gas leak, and the smell is due to some internal demons in my head. Of course, if it indeed turns out that there was a gas leak, then I’ll surely get a posthumous Darwin awards, right? (as far as I know I haven’t impregnated anyone, so my genes will become extinct)
The downside of this process is that if I indeed die this way, and thus stake my claim at the Darwin awards, I will be classified as a “stove burst” case and get reported on the page three of all newspapers in the “crime beat” section. The story will be preceded by that of a man dying in a motorcycle accident, and will be succeeded by that of a woman filing a dowry harassment case against her in-laws. The problem with “stove burst” (despite the Darwin award) is that it’s such a womanly way to die. Have you ever read in the paper, either on Page 3 or otherwise, that a man died in a stove-burst?
It’s only women who die in stove bursts. And typically it is very weak women. Women trapped in bad marriages, with in-laws demanding tonnes of dowry. “Stove burst” is a convenient excuse for the woman’s death – it would in most cases be murder or suicide. Stove burst is definitely not a manly way to die. There are several other honourable bursts from which men die. Sher Shah Suri, they say, died when a gun burst in his face (during the siege of Kalinjar in 1545, if my JNU-authored NCERT textbook is to be believed). Tycho Brahe, on the other hand, died when his own bladder burst (he was at a royal dinner and felt it wasn’t done to excuse himself). Those are manly ways to die, not stove bursts. So maybe I should give up on the Darwin award, after all.
While on the topic, I’ve been kicking buckets quite often nowadays. I have lots of buckets at home, like any good Indian should. But unlike most good Indians, I don’t take good care of my buckets and leave them lying around in the pathways. Now that I don’t have any relatives in any electricity board, I try to conserve electricity, and so leave most of the lights off. And hence keep kicking the bucket. Each time I kick a bucket, I just lift it up (it would’ve usually toppled) and keep it to the side, unmindful that there is a very good chance that my next random walk will encounter it. And I kick the bucket again. And again.