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A Face that Launched a Thousand Handshakes

by Bakul Desai
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Some IITians can be romantic. Emotions and poetry pour out of their pens like hot lava, though the flow is governed by equations learned in the Fluid Mechanics lab. A submission to Fundamatics by an alumnus was a nostalgic recount about a poem he had penned for the object of his desire way back in the early seventies. This led to a discussion within the Beehive about whether IITian males used to be that “despo”. This in turn led to the recollection of a story that was printed n “Madhouse: True Stories of the inmates of H4, IITB”, wich is reproduced here with the permission of the authors.

Perhaps it would have been better for us if they had not allowed any sort of vehicle in IIT – we managed to have mishaps even on bicycles. And I suppose, if they had banned all forms of transport, we would have bumped into each other while walking, some professors and some of us were lost in thought and lost track of our surroundings sometimes. But we did have long distances to travel, so some of us did get around on horses, and two wheelers both man powered and gas powered. And so, we did occasionally collide with one another.  But that’s never the whole story in IIT, and a collision is never just a collision.

In HSS 201(second year humanities logics course) we were taught a humanities course on logic which started with the usual:

All Sikhs are Punjabis,

All Punjabis are Indians.

Therefore, all Sikhs are Indians.

Maybe the logician did not know about Canadian Sikhs but that is an irrelevant detail. The ultra-logical IITian applies logic in his own inimitable way.

“It was after all I who had an accident with her and something told me that knocking down Vijjy in IIT was tantamount to committing suicide”.

Vijjy was the reigning queen of IIT. She was pretty, smart and articulate. She was a talented badminton player and a sensational singer, and she was the Soc Sec of H10. Understandably, she set a thousand hearts aflutter, and was stalked by a few hundred suitors at any given time. One evening, Vijjy was cycling up the slope outside the Convo after a gruelling game of badminton. I was mobiking down the same slope after a gruelling beer guzzling session at RK. I saw that she was cycling in zigzags in order to beat the severity of the slope. I was going in a straight line, despite my recent activity. Just near the Convo entrance, Vijjy lost control and meandered straight into my path. My reflexes worked to jam on my brakes fast enough. But my tires were balder than Prof. Kamath’s pate and I slid right into her bike. As I dropped, I saw her fly backwards in slow motion and land on her head. I got up quickly though I had bruised my head and forearm, and saw that she had passed out. I was struggling to get her up on her feet, and scores of guys materialized from nowhere. Odd, I never saw such an enthusiastic mob during my other numerous accidents. They began to fight among themselves about who would hold what while carrying her to the hospi. Her mouth was bleeding and her head appeared to be injured too (I found out later that she had chipped her tooth, and she still carries this reminder with her). I yelled at the “perverts” and managed to get them focused on getting her to the hospi as quickly as they could.

Once there, the lone nurse Patil sister administered first aid as even more guys materialized from nowhere – they were now flocking to the hospi in hordes. Fortunately, someone had the sense to call her friends, and almost everyone from H 10 arrived there. I sat there holding my head and waiting for my turn to get fixed up when Vijjy started mumbling “main kaun hoon? Main kahan hoon?” It was temporary amnesia – very temporary – but long enough to scare me out of my wits. It was after all I who had an accident with her and something told me that knocking down Vijjy in IIT was tantamount to committing suicide. There would be a lynch mob after me, I was sure of that. I must have said something in my panic, because the girls quickly came over and comforted me. They assured me that the tetanus shot Patil sister was about to administer “won’t hurt at all yaar! It’s just like a mosquito bite.” They supervised as Ms.Patil cut my hair, applied ointment to my injured scalp, and bandaged my forearm and foot.

Patil sister said, “see Bakul! All boys are coming and everyone is asking Vijaya how she is but nobody is asking you. Boys are very bad, no?” I concurred silently. She continued, “But I am not like them. I asked you first and I put bandages on you, no?”

Vijjy was taken to Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar – all serious cases beyond the capability of our hospi were diverted there. This made me even more panicky. Fortunately, the mob of angry young men disappeared as soon as Vijjy left, and only a few girls stayed to see that I was properly discharged.

Patil sister said, “see Bakul! All boys are coming and everyone is asking Vijaya how she is but nobody is asking you. Boys are very bad, no?” I concurred silently. She continued, “But I am not like them. I asked you first and I put bandages on you, no?” I mumbled something about her not being a boy, and I got a playful pinch on my cheek and a “you’re a naughty boy!”

Shashank, Vijay and Birjoo came to the hospi on Shashank’s Bullet. I couldn’t kick-start my mauled bike with my injured foot, so they did it for me. News of the accident had reached H4, of course, and I was overjoyed to see a huge reception committee at the entrance when we got there. I felt loved and cared for. I hadn’t even gotten off my mobike when a mob of guys surrounded me. They asked me what she was wearing, how she fell, whether I carried her to the hospi alone, where she was hurt, where she was now, what happened to her cycle, whether I  got to see any privileged sites, and so on and so on. Someone had handed me Vijjy’s case of shuttlecocks at some point, and one of my numerous interlocutors grabbed it and inspected every last shuttle cock. He then gave it back to me and asked if I would be going to Vijjy to return her case and wondered if he could come with me, as my friend.

Vijjy returned from Rajawadi the next day. Her face was bloated and badly bruised. Her Dad came for her, to take her home to Baroda. Before Vijjy left, I went to see her. Manjunath Pai chauffeured me there on his cycle, my aching foot wouldn’t even let me walk without a limp, leave alone start a mobike. Vijjy greeted me with a handshake and said that she was sorry, and that it was her fault, and that she felt bad about putting me through so much agony. This gesture touched me. I quickly agreed that it was her fault and told her not to worry. She was welcome to get knocked down as often as she liked and I wouldn’t feel agonized at all, I said. The girls in her room went into paroxysms of laughter and I realized what I had said. I scurried out quickly while muttering my next blooper, “see you next accident.”

This gesture touched me. I quickly agreed that it was her fault and told her not to worry. She was welcome to get knocked down as often as she liked and I wouldn’t feel agonized at all, I said.

Back at the hostel, there was another mammoth reception committee awaiting me. News had spread that She shook my hand. How? Pai was with me the whole time and had not stopped anywhere to make a call. There were some friends of Vijjy’s from H1 in her room, but they didn’t look like the types who could spread this news beyond their own wing. Anyway, this time, my hand was almost pulled out of my body. Every guy vigorously shook my hand. A few attempted to take that hand toward their face and neck, at which point I reclaimed it in disgust. They thought of a new method. They shook my hand and then applied the molecules of that second-order handshake to their faces, lips, neck and wherever else they thought they needed to. For the first time, I felt I might have been better off in Vijjy’s shoes – her head injury seemed preferable to this mental torture from these logicians. Their logic –

A girl shook hands with Bakul

Bakul shook hands with me.

Therefore, the girl shook hands with me.

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