Out of the Zoo

We sat in the engineering physics classes at around 8 am in our college campus. The skies opened shyly, the rain pattered and the wind blew away all our predetermined worries and confusions. There was no confusion or worry of any sort. It was a neat little class of 40 people with long wooden benches, eccentric teachers and open windows. Obviously there were the cranky teachers who always shut the door far too soon and we were left stranded out in the open to face the romance of the morning Bangalore clouds, mist and trees. It was an advantage of many sorts to have such teachers. Groups of students who sat at the front and occupied the classrooms twenty minutes prior used to have a smirk with their freshly washed faces when there were a few always who would get locked out of the classroom. The texture of soft sweaters, pullovers and the soft chappals in the morning cold was as intoxicating as a glass of aromatic hot coffee. We always walked to the nearby chaiwala (tea-vendor) with smiles on our faces and tethered insults hurled at ourselves, our teachers, our college, the people around us and finally the Indian education system. It always somehow wound up becoming a debate with everyone wanting an improvement of sorts.

I always enjoyed the Mathematics classes that were held during the first four semesters. The whole excitement of solving a Laplace transform was so satisfying that I would always get lost in the depths of these equations or anomalies. I would wonder how mathematicians in the past had taken the time and effort to come to such flawless derivations and laws. It always struck me that the purest of the sciences was most intriguing as there was significant importance given to fundamentals of any specific topic that we dealt in. The foundations matter the most when we want to master a subject that we like. However there were the usual subjects we studied that had nothing but teachers giving us printed notes written by a student and telling us what questions would likely come in the exams or tests. The four years passed by with majority of our subjects being thrust at us like foreign objects instead of them being presented to us in a kind manner. We knew the equations, but we never knew how we arrived there. We knew where to use the numbers or values in the questions, but never knew what those numbers or figures actually meant. We knew the concepts but when asked to open the bonnet of a car, always stood pondering about the machines and searching for a mechanic nearby. We were studying Mechanical engineering and yes we were passing the exams on paper. But in our  minds we wondered if college was just to freak out on our new found freedom or back up and look at life ‘seriously’ as our elders put it. There were a few students who put in the extra effort and threw in valuable time to read up on few of the fat reference books that dismembered our local nervous system with their words. These students had the dedication but at the cost of being unaware of societal adaptability. They lost out on the small conversations on the streets that build one’s inner self to face whatever is thrown at them. The experiential adventures and conversations was something I valued the most through those four years. Even if none of my friends were around me at times or everyone was present, we had our own spaces, our own talks and our own flavours to those talks. Keen to strike up a conversation with anyone I would ask about the latest movies people watched, be it the bakery person, autowala, chai wala or the security guarding the classrooms. This was the essence of life for me. I sought my solace in these small conversations as I knew each time I would grasp something new about a person and his behavior.

And then came placement season. Placements. That word is so disgusting. Are we objects to be placed on a wooden cupboard for display? Hell no! We are much better than that. We are animals that have to be convinced that “Oh man, we need a job. Our college will find us a company and our parents will be happy”. These thoughts never came into our minds in the first place. They were seeded and groomed by a few personalities in college that gave us the whole picture that “Dude! Job nahi to life nahi. Job illa andre life illa, No job, no life”. I can remember the faces that crept out into the fresh air from hours of waiting in the interview halls and brainstorming themselves with random formulae from random books of random subjects . Sad faces. Happy faces. Over-ecstatic faces. Crying faces. Confused faces. Confident faces. Pretending-to-be-confident faces. On a particular day there was this company which had apparently promised to recruit almost the entire college promising a 90% placement success rate like the toothpaste advertisements blurting 98% germ killing. It was a pleasant morning and a big number of formal clothed nervous students entered the college gates with a file in their hands. Crumpled CVs, ID cards , ID card photocopies, Marks cards and the list goes on. Several rounds of written tests and interviews took place with a massive crowd praying for jobs. The whole day passed by and the results were to be announced in the evening at 7 pm. We all gathered at the entrance to the indoor stadium where the sacred results were to be announced. Me and a friend of mine stood apart from the crowd as we were not part of this placement but few of our friends were. It looked like a huge congregation of sheep from different parts of Bangalore waiting for the shepherd to open the gate of the pen in which they would be ‘placed’. As we entered the hall, I instinctively felt the urge to shout out noises like a goat blaring “Meee—eee—eeee–eeeee” all over the place. My friend followed too and soon, surprisingly, everyone else around us did the same! It was an inexplicable moment where each one shared their realities through the simple sound of a fickle animal and breathed some joy into it. After that I do not remember what happened as it all seemed pathetic and insignificant. But for the sound of the goats, it was worth it.

Just as everyone else , even I was bitten by the job bug and wanted to get a job because I had no clue about what to do after my last semester. There would be no more pointless chai talks or classes to attend. No more tip toeing away from class and no more semesters to look forward to as always. I applied for a job which was out of our campus and its written test was held in a god forsaken desolate area called Bellandur. This place was as far as the nerve endings in a dinosaur’s tail. I passed the test and was called for an interview at an even more dystopian area called Whitefield. I remember entering the office with my sleeveless sweater and finding a bunch of people sitting inside the office fiddling on their revolving chairs. I will hate revolving chairs for the rest of my life. I mugged up the same old answers to the same old interview questions.

Which is your favourite subject in mechanical engineering?

My answer nonetheless: Thermodynamics.

The obvious question that followed was:

What are the three laws of thermodynamics?

I blurted out what I had learnt by heart.

In the  “write about yourself” section I had written “humourous” as a value that I had. The interviewers looked at me and asked me to tell a joke. I told the joke and made fun of the job post they were offering. They didn’t look happy. With straight faces and not even a smile my whole joke collapsed into the dungeons of hell. I walked out confused and then after an hour a lady came in and called out names. These people were so excited when their names were called out and I was so glad my name hadn’t been called out. I wanted to just get out of that place. Unfortunately it turns out; the names that weren’t called out had made it to the next round. I was confused and something felt extremely funny.

They then called me for the next interview with the HR and few more people. They spoke to me about a few things and the usual “Do you really want the job? Are you motivated enough?” And of course I gave them the same stereotypical answers of the Good Samaritan wanting to make “ends” meet.

And whoopah! I had a job on my hand and it felt freakishly good. Inside me there was this greedy sense of cooked up self-esteem which wanted me to go ahead and do it. I was blind but happy.

It started with the morning ritual. I woke up , brushed my teeth and looked around for my glasses for an hour. Took a bath. Filled my tiffin box with some cereal. Cleaned my irritating formal shoes. Finally I checked for gas, keys and the switches for about fifteen minutes. Opening the door , I used to walk shyly past my neighbor’s door. They were a humble and kind family who always smiled and shared a few words. I spoke to them for a few days but then the headphones came into the picture. There were no words. There was just the straight walk to the elevator and pressing the button.

I walked out. My shoes were the same again. Battered and dusty.

Fear of Blank Planet blasted away. Porcupine Tree.

‘Sunlight coming through the haze

No gaps in the blinds

To let it inside

The bed is unmade,

Some music still plays’

As I entered the corporate complex, I made my way to the building. At this point the lead in the song would kick in. I knew it would rush me. I would hurry to the elevator doors. In the elevator, I was deprived of the last few minutes of the song. A few friends would say ‘hi’.

The access card beeped at the door and we stood in a line to wait and sign at the book. This was indeed an enjoyable moment for me. Everyone in their dreamy state of mind. Half awake. Knowing not where to sign and what their sign was. We signed and I took a right and headed into the corridor. The Table Tennis table was at the end of the corridor. It was tempting but I was hungry by now. I kept my bag at the desk, unzipped my bag and took out the tiffin box. Then I made my way straight to the Cafe, on the right side of the corridor.

We had a coffee machine here. It had good milk in it. Hot milk. I knew the routine. Open my tiffin box. Two packets of chocolate drink mix and two packets of sugar. The sugar packets are growing smaller and smaller these days.

I pressed the button on the coffee machine and it groaned. It felt like the coffee machine was waking up too. And then the milk sprayed comically with unpredictable intervals of time. The sound it made was so suggestive that it always drew smiles in all of our dreamy minds. I walked around to find a good place to eat while mixing my cereal. I gobbled it all up in hunger and rushed to the Table Tennis room. We played for a good hour till our formal shirts gave in with sweat marks. Then we went back to our desk. Our world of work was reduced to a chair and a computer in front of us. If anyone got their job at the window, it was like a privilege. I kept wondering about humans. Did we as humans turn around to wipe out animals?  Why did we want to deprive ourself of the sun and the trees? To be placed in cubes of stone?

I sat typing away, using my mouse and copying stuff from one place to another. We had no opportunity to create anything. We were all good minds. But what was the purpose? We never knew the purpose. We knew about getting the work done and the money later. The money had no purpose too. It affected me in many ways. My urge to create started dying down and my thirst to know decreased too. I just wrote my whole account from waking up till ending my day at work. I knew how to do it by muscle memory. I no longer felt like an animal. I felt more and more toxically ‘human’. An animal has an urge to eat, to sleep, to find warmth and enjoy the company of other animals too. So I decided to become an animal. I no longer wanted to be a part of the concrete zoo. My zoo was elsewhere.    

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