"The Noble Purpose", or How to Easily File a PhD Application

Regret having to write this. But, better late; than never.

Every return teaches you something. But learn to be careful about filing applications.
It'll save you time if you are a last year's man, and it will also serve a "noble purpose", as I learned on Monday.

I had been to the university PhD cell, armed to the teeth with my proposal and registration form, photocopies and tattered original documents; apprehensive, for I know some masticating mammalian types at the administrative building are worse than reptilians on the hunt.

The guy sits brooding over my proposal for pukka ten minutes, and tells: "Shouldn't there be a hyphen?"
"Where?" I wonder. He points his finger to the title. "There."
A minor altercation follows.
— Naah, that's fine.
— There should be one. I know how things run at the Faculty Council, kid. I'm doing my job. Add your hyphen.
— No, it's OK. It's not needed.
— I insist, there should be one. You've come here for a noble purpose. You shouldn't be making these mishtakes."
Yes. No. See, this is an adjective, and that is a noun. No hyphens are needed to link these two (I remember Wren and Martin. Who?)
But there should be one.

I speak in true guilt: "Listen Mister, I have a post-graduate degree in English and have been working in English newspapers. I know..."
"Ok, ok,"
he relents, and picks up the next bunch. I am ready for that as well.
— "Why aren't these attested?"
I point to my signature. "There. Since these are copies of my salary sheets, and since my employers won't give me a certificate of some kind for giving them peace, tranquility and what-ye-call-it, these stand attested by me, and by me alone."

He picks up the copy of the appointment letter. "Well, what about this?"
I smile: " That's a letter from the Registrar of this university. And attested by a professor who's on the expert committee of the fellowship programme I'll be pursuing."
He nods: "I understand. Don't shout. I understand it better. Shouldn't you have a "No Objection" letter from the Reich-i-star?"
—" No Objection For WHAT?"
— "That you're getting the fellowship."

Patience, my love! It goes on like this for the next 15 minutes till I am almost convinced I deserve an icecream for seeing my application through the slot on the day itself. But at the next moment, he lands a hard upper-cut: "I see. Hmm, you've got your graduation and post-graduation certificates," he rolls his eyes over the attested sheets, and coughs: "But, ahem, we need proof that you've cleared the higher secondary exams."

Rubbing my chins, I blink: "Er, I have my HS marksh(i)t there, doesn't that suffice? Or since I've been a student here and the university has already checked my 'credentials', my BA or my MA certificates?"
"No," he crosses his hands. "I'm sorry. Next."

It's a knock-out.

As I gather up my wits and papers, I watch the next candidate frantically looking for her marriage-certificate. "This will not do," I overhear. "You have to get two 'No Objection' certificates for the change in your surname: one from the Court, and the other from your husband."

"No Objection for what?"
"For your marriage."

Poor girl, patriarchy spared me that. And in sad flourish, I made the return journey. Went back to my district college day before yesterday, after 1o long years, to fetch my higher secondary "pass (sic) certificate".

Waited for three hours for a durbar with the head clerk there. At 3.30, he yawned and granted me audience for a split second: "Come back after 5th. The admissions are on: and we've got no time."

I am patient, believe me, I'm still very patient...


Houses are crumbling. Houses are crumbling all around. Right next to this first-floor rented apartment in south Kolkata, the sounds overwhelm, confuse.

You wake up hearing the dull thud of hammers falling on brick, lime, and mortar, frozen in time, outside your southern windows ; the intolerable screech of the "mosaic-machine" hits you from the east, time is wet and whirring, the morning sun has already been blotted out, months back.

You slide a glance at the debris— there still remains a wooden toy car, a crumpled calendar with a goddess's face, some unidentifiable pieces of wood and iron. There used to be giant mango, guava, jamrul, and jackfruit trees—their stumps remain; the flowers have died in their beds, of cement and dust consumption.

All in the space of an year...

First hand invigilation

Your purpose is to stay awake. For you function as a verb, dating 1553. Remember kid, your etymology derives from Latin invigilatus, past participle of invigilare, to stay awake; be watchful.

You keep watching from the first-floor balcony.

“Parents and guardians are not to be allowed inside. I REPEAT, YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED INSIDE,” screams a kid, in a black departmental T-shirt, who’s on the edge of his nerves.

A motley crowd of brutish father-figures are jostling and pushing, heaving and screaming, to accompany their girls to the examination-halls. An insignificant number of student volunteers are trying to be patient; a lone fatigued university security guard, past his retirement age, is trying to be invisible; it’s 11 o’clock at Gate No.4.

This year, more than 3, 500 students are competing for entrance to the English department. Around 60 of them will make to the classes in September. “What about the rest?” I wondered aloud as I remembered the day I had been there downstairs, ten years back. Nervous, anxious, drenched by the rains, and overawed by the crowd, the faces, the city and its people. Now there were two research scholars busily arguing the pros and cons of postcolonial “Englishnesses” next to me. No one heard me sigh as I went on to collect the answerscripts, the question papers, the forms with your identities stuck, pinned and stapled on them.

The next two hours simply floated away. I had been assigned to a big hall, but there I found a wonderful senior from our department, a passout of the eighties and now a chief somewhere; one of the few I envy for real. And without realizing it, the examinations were over: perfect, except two cases of mistaken identities in our room; two pairs of candidates with the same name, identical signatures and almost identical faces; five candidates confidently in the wrong room; few additional sheets appended to the answer-scripts surprisingly, but unconsciously, finding the initials of someone on them— someone who could have still been attempting a critical appreciation of a confusing romantic poem having something to do with the caressing of an old Greek statue.

I loitered about in the corridors, I refused to go away. A teacher wearing a green T-shirt, with the words “Mad Hatter” written on them, was seen seething with soft-voiced anger. A number of the examinees’ parents had manhandled him, along with a number of students, and girls, too, as they were controlling the ‘parental crowd’ at the gates.

“Why’ve you come to study English here?” someone will be asking the kids who’ve qualified, the same inane question, this year, the next year, and the year after that.

I looked over from the balcony. Again. I still didn’t have the answer to that question. I guess I'll never have. A fine drizzle caught on, the campus wore a deserted look. I kept myself from falling over the edge; it’s so confusing to be on the inside. It brings back big bad memories...

Secret of Business Management

I don't know what it is elsewhere, but here in old Kolkata, management is the new wave of hysterics, with engineering and the medical profession remaining the perennial favorites. Many kids I know, after coursing through literary studies in their postgraduation, have dug up bank loans, or personal loans from their insecure parents, in order to earn the magic wads which are said to make life happening. People of my age, sigh and heave, with contempt, or with the grief of those too old for further baptisms; but if they're working, they curse their HR personnel, who they say are always up to no good.

Without indulging in controversies, I want to share a story here.
A story about the best management training possible in India.

A story I learnt of kid Mo, swearing the other way round, for making it to a top business-management school in Kolkata, that after two years of competitive examinations, and learning that he had better been a literature teacher after his postgraduation. Here's a slice from his b-school life, and for a change, in a comics-format. No, I didn't start on my project yet....

[Click on the image for a better view]

Sleepy and Marginal

It's 6.30 in the morning, and this means I haven't slept for the whole night. What was I doing? Dear, dear, I was trying to write a 300-word piece for a newsletter, after I stopped writing it at 2 o'clock. Weeding is a difficult task, believe me. Weeding words is comparatively easy, but difficult nevertheless. Then, I wandered off, reading other people's blogs.

Just when I thought I was at the end of the fatigue spectrum, I went through it without noticing. There's the power of words, demonstrated once again.

You'll find yourself galloping like a horse when you find people across the web, typing away in a flurry, across hyper-charged personal spaces and digital ether, just to make you read. Admit it, you're privileged...

Back to bicycles: melancholia, pleasures, and surprises

After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.
—H.G. Wells, The Wheels of Chance

It doesn’t need reiterating, but I got myself a new bicycle on the first of May.
More than a month has passed and the enthusiasm for biking remains, though Kolkata city is hardly the place where you can think of pleasant biking.

Around eight years back, I rode to the university on a rusty black Hercules MTB, muttering to myself about definitive todays and tomorrows as I dissected the city’s heart (dumb voice-over from JU community radio 90.6 FM: Tomorrow the bicycle races. Through the suburbs on summer evenings: but today the struggle. ...)

It got stolen after a year.
Along with my definitives, all dialectical and historical todays and tomorrows, the millenarian dreams that only youth can conjure in its mind.

No regrets. Somewhere, at some new moon, someone else, of the same lost age of innocence and the defiance to unknown complicities, someone definitely younger, is pedaling fast towards those dreams, which I might now call confused, but can never disown their experiences for they taught me much. I have emerged sadder and wiser. Young mind, wherever you are, wish you my realizations without the sadness, solitude and pain it brings when you know your dreams have been played and tampered with.

But the returning to the university seems a difficult task, for the paths, too, have literally changed beyond recognition.

Biking is an attitude, I remember reading somewhere. But in Kolkata, dear, you’ve got serious attitudinal problems when you decide to cycle your way through depending on an eight year old memory.

I lost my way thrice into the mesh of lanes and bylanes that once characterized south Kolkata. Here you took a right turn, and there was a big pond to your left. There you swerved to avoid a bamboo grove, and little fenced spots of green, a garden or two where you could see and smell, at least forcibly imagine the presence of almost all the trees you thought you had lost to a distant childhood in the mofussil.

Nothing remains of them.

The concrete and brick have devoured all, given the unprecedented progress of unplanned urbanization that has swept through the city in recent years. When the heat settled in the melting asphalt and in the shadows of the endless stretch of box-like apartment houses on colony lands, I asked my way through the pointed obscenities that bristled below the late afternoon sky.

I learnt another thing. Apart from some wayward kids, it’s only the poor adult folk who use bicycles in Kolkata. The noxious fumes-spewing motorcycles, the autorickshaws and the nouveau rich red little cars, are status symbols and in an old colonial city, symbols are matters of life and death. These symbol riders take it for granted that traffic rules are to be flouted and anyone on a bicycle is to be ignored, rudely brushed aside, shouted at like a dog, or mangled like a worm. The common logic working in their minds is: “Hey, that was a sod without money or status. Or why would he be pedaling if he could have afforded petrol money?” True, sierras, I got neither money nor status. But even if I had, I would have preferred the bicycle.

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets,” said Christopher Morley. I am none, but I do deserve a better commendation, for I’ve survived some of their works, say Rushdie’s for instance. And no wonder Kolkata city spews a lot of rubbish in the name of literature coz majority of its pot-bellied poets and authors ride cars and autos. Taa-raa-rum-pum-pum-pum!

But inside the campus, things are different. Envious eyes caress your new black bike, friends and canteen boys share your joys, and an unknown undergrad approaches you and shyly asks for a ride. When you see him speeding away, and you happily shout at him, and pretend to give a chase, you realise that life still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of melancholia, pleasures, and surprises it offers.

Press backspace and rethink

it's three thirty in the night and i had few hours of sleep yesterday... happened to read somewhere that blogging has some sort of placebo effect, it soothes your nerves every time you share your grief, solitude, melancholy, incomprehensibility, what you call it, into the vacuities behind the quivering screen...

and so here's me coming back after almost an year to an almost derelict blog that no one reads for sure...

went to the university day before yesterday... cycling like crazy, for if you didn't know, i got myself a brand new bicycle like the type i wanted to have, er, let's say 20 years ago...i felt like a bird, swerving and sweating on the roads and byelanes that have changed beyond recognition, and as i entered the campus, it was like visiting a lonesome beach where the seas and the foam have swept clear a civilisation of sand and memories... for what have we if we're left without our memories... the only faces I could recognise were those of teachers, and some kids who'd been fidgety youngsters in their undergrads, now reincarnated as poker-faced researchers, strangers all....

i adjusted my smiley mask, but felt a little unsure about myself, I always do.... here were three years ahead of me, again, since I got through the scholarship for my phd last month.... three years of absolution and privacy i wanted to have away from the big, bad world, a time to read, a time to be, a time for every purpose... and at a time when i should have 'comfortably' adjusted to being happy, bawling about bosses and tax evasions...

gentle reader, if you really want to know, outside your own shares of problems, unhappinesses and incomprehensibilities, while it rains and drizzles and muddles your thoughts, and the old colonial city tackles two bandhs pretending to protest against fuel price hikes... here's an update in short:

i quitted the 'non-profit' job i was holding to early in september last year, and that after i had parted ways with the two media jobs in close succession ...

now i'm deep-stuck in this old city, fumes, politics and depressions, doing 'nothing', well, I had planned to publish a collection of short stories in Bangla, carefully printed them out and met publishers...they didn't even bother to read... no complaints... Bengali publishing is like this... i had been blogging like crazy under another blogging platform, till i discovered the absurdity of stretching my self-deprecation in a foren language to absurd limits....

but hold on, before you complain....for two years i had also been doodling with a ball point pen on anything from the discards of my newspaper office to yellowing college notebooks of the past...

in a sudden spurt of activity, i go down to esplanade, buy myself a calligraphic pen and think of redoing my work again... as life insists on doing, 'something serious about life'... and then, i don't, for i can't tackle anything... you never step into the same river twice, Heraclitian wisdom dawns... :)

and i'm happy as long as there's the blank sheet spreading before me... a blank, white expanse of infinite moments ... i know the blankness overwhelms, but yet so pleasing... to think all, to consider all, to reconsider, till nothing remains except the expansive momentousnesses... press backspace and rethink...