Category Archives: college life
Balancing the books
I had been battling the auditors these last few days, a real challenge for me, given that my understanding of the subject was, if possible, negative. I could not acquire the highest professional qualification in my field as I could never better the financial management paper. It has been my responsibility to sign the final accounts of the unit I had been heading for more years than I remember, and I merely signed where I was told to, and depended on the professional accountants in my team to decipher what it all meant.
My domestic finances are managed by a professional, who handles my tax, budget, expenses, savings, investments and everything without charging anything, as she is married to me, and manages all aspects of my life as well.
But this was not always the case. This is a story of my early struggles with managing the budget.
I had to manage my own funds for the first time when I left home for the hostel. The first skill we learnt in college was writing home for money. In those days money arrived by money orders. When this arrived, a notice was put up outside the hostel administration office. Expenses were always on credit. The canteen, cigarette shop, chai wala, dhobi, laundry, everyone extended credit. The arrival of the notice brought them all to the door of their debtor, and chaperoned by all, I would claim the money, clear my accounts, and be left with nothing. So I would pick up the pen and start writing home for money afresh. How the money disappeared was a mystery I could never fathom, and the vicious cycle continued.
When I was gainfully employed by the benevolent government, I thought the problem would be solved. Four friends shared a flat for economy, and it was decided that everyone would record whatever they spent, and accounts would be cleared on month end, or whenever everyone was solvent.
Initially this worked fine, but as expenses continued to surpass incomes by a distressing margin, an analysis was done.
Immediately various objections were raised.
“How does auto fare get included in the common expenses?”
“How would I carry back the weekly groceries without a rickshaw?” was the retort.”And the nearest wine shop is miles away”
It was agreed that reasonable costs incurred towards procurement of shared commodities would be part of the common budget.
“When did you get toothpaste?”
“I brought it from home and all you guys were using it, so I added it to the costs “the cleverest roommate explained.
“But it was already half used “someone protested.
“All right, I will add a depreciated amount” this brilliant economist conceded.
Incidentally, this enterprising economist is currently a millionaire merchant banker running his empire from an international financial hub.
“The kitchen and bar expenses are way too high; four of us can’t spend so much”
“It’s all the partying! We have too many guests eating and drinking us to bankruptcy”
“From now on whoever invites a guest pays for him. We will add an extra man day per guest to him” the smart economist decreed.
“Not fair!”protested the popular guy from the fashion industry “You guys hang around flirting with all the girls who come to see me while I slave away in the kitchen! You guys can’t talk to the girls in that case!”
The economist found the solution. Male guests will be debited to the host member, while ladies were common guests and could be entertained from the common fund.
A while later I acquired a life mate; and my roommates moved out to make space for her in our tiny flat.
This time it was truly a common fund and neither of us cared who spent how much on what. However, one aspect continued; we still could not make the funds last till the next salary, and were clueless where the money went.
We therefore decided to keep an account of all that we spend under various headings. At the month end an analysis would show where the cash disappeared.
On auditing the accounts we found the two heads of accounts that were the guilty parties.
One was GN or God Knows. It was the money spent without the slightest recollection as to where it went, or the inexplicable gaps between cash drawn from the bank and pittance left after accounting for all the expenditures we could recollect. This mysterious Bermuda Triangle that swallows up our hard earned moolah continues to plague us to this day and we have agreed that this is one of the mysteries that are too complex for the human intellect to solve.
The other was Experience. Any absurd, unproductive investment or expenditure we made, like buying gadgets that did not work, or trying money saving methods that ended up guzzling our spare change, which we swore that we would not repeat again, we debited to experience.
Over the years we have learnt that experience is a black hole, it will swallow every penny we don’t keep tied down, but give nothing back in return.
We finally decided to give up trying to balance the budget, and follow the national economy in deficit financing. This was made possible by two brilliant inventions, the credit card and the EMI. Now we do not have to live within our income, but earn just enough to cover the interest, as all major economies do.
Thus I have progressed way beyond those stony broke days in the hostel. Now there is no needing spend keeping these short term earnings in mind, but the hope of all possible future earnings. So I continue to live happily ever after in ever mounting cycle of debt, certain of being remembered when I am gone.
The End, Chapter 30, the Final chapter of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo extended
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
BOYS DON’T CRY
This is one maxim that made life difficult for Boy. Long before it was macho and cool for men to be in touch with their emotions and not being afraid to show sensitivity, Boy had the unfortunate predicament of being ahead of times. He cried watching films.
Not all films mind you. He did not cry at Laurel and Hardy films. But Charlie Chaplin was another matter. Action films left him dry eyed. But not if they were action packed patriotic war movies. Ditto, action films to do with martyrs in the freedom struggle. These made Boy cry buckets. As did the first Hindi film he saw, ‘Haathi mere Saathi’. Anand left him cold, but Fiddler on the roof was a three hankie film, even before Boy had daughters of his own and identified with poor Topol.
This was his shameful secret. AND IT HAD TO STAY THIS WAY! If not quite his life, but his reputation and his young manhood depended on it.
Cinema halls being dark, it kept a veil on this Achilles heel and no one suspected that the snivelling could be coming from the irreverent comedian which was Boy’s public persona. Add the fact that his spectacles and frequent colds he pretended to suffer from hid the symptoms of his shame from the casual eye, and Boy was as successful in keeping this alter ego a dark secret as successfully as Dr Jekyll.
Books were another matter. Boy was addicted to the printed word and spent every bit of free time, in public transport and communal spaces as well, stuck in books. He would completely lose all sense of space time continuum when in the throes of this narcotic world, and would often laugh out loud or exclaim audibly. Giggles were frequent. Now, while laughing aloud while reading is tolerated as eccentricity, with mild censure, and even giggling attracted bearable amounts of hazing, snivelling would have spelled a death knell. Boy’s tastes did not run to soppy stuff, and tearjerkers made him laugh, so one would think that there was no danger of disclosure, but no, not quite. You see, what got Boy’s tear ducts running were stories of triumph against odds, the little guy winning, the new kid scoring the winning goal, the 1911 Mohanbgan victory in the IFA shield in a real life Lagaan scenario and similar stories of heroism and success. Boy used camouflage in the form of loud laughter or eye irritation as a cover up.
But you can go only so far in covering up an overactive lachrymal gland. Rumours regarding his manhood began to circulate. It was only the fact that Boy was an enthusiastic sportsperson, had the advantage of a scathing tongue, and a reputation as a scrappy fighter helped him survive those whispers. Not crying in physical pain helped salvage Boy’s name somewhat whenever he was beaten up defending his honour against any slur of emotionalism.
It was years later that Boy could openly cry with his daughters watching Lion King or Chak De India.
One would expect that this albatross around Boy’s neck would come to his rescue one day when he really needed the relief of letting the tears flow and the howls rise to wash away his anguish and unburden his soul when something actually affected him in real life.
But like Karna’s knowledge, the bitch deserted Boy at his moment of trial.
Boy was keeping vigil in the loneliest place in the world, the waiting room outside the ICCU. The one person Boy hero worshipped in childhood, confronted in the arrogance of youth, and grew distant from in the labyrinths of their own lives, the one person who always supported Boy and was there for him without expectations of reciprocity, who’s debt would forever remain unpaid, was inside, hooked up to a ventilator.
Boy was called inside and it was explained that there was nothing further to be done, and he had to take the final decision of flipping the switch. He was given a moment alone with the patient. Boy desperately waited for the welcome release of the warm flood that heals, but nothing came. He was dry eyed and stony faced. Boy went through the motions of bereavement in automation.
On the one occasion that boys can cry, Boy couldn’t.
That day, Boy finally grew up, and became a man.
Age, chapter 27 of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo Extended
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
Act Your Age
How often have you heard this admonition?
Boy have been hearing this all his life.
At first it was called “pakami’ which is acting older than your age. Then it was called “chyablami” which is acting younger than your age. It seems he never got to act his age.
When Boy was young, he would try to act older, and wanted to be considered an adult. This did not happen. But as Boy grew older, he wanted to be considered younger, and this did not happen either.
When you are in your pre teens, a teenager seems all grown up, and a person in the twenties old. Thirties are positively ancient. You club them along with geriatrics. Entering the teens, the same applies, but with the shift of a decade. Preteens seem like infants now. In the twenties this continues, only you club the teens with the younger children as babies. We had a saying then, don’t trust anyone over thirty. You consider yourself to be the in the prime of youth, and are busy trying to change the world, whenever you have time off from chasing girls. You are also desperate to lose your virginity, and add some substance to all the lies you told your friends about your conquests and prodigious feats in this field, half believing the lies your friends are telling you.
Now come the thirties, and you consider yourself the flower of manhood. By now you are married, probably a dad (or mom, but knowing the male experience firsthand I will restrict my story to that. It is quite similar for women from what I hear, except that they mature way faster than us) the anxieties regarding finding a livelihood, a partner and a place in the scheme of things, our little corner of the world, are over. This is when you are most confident and comfortable about your place in life.
Then it is the dreaded forties. All along you thought that these guys were over the hill. Now you are one of them! Children are older, expenses higher, finances tighter, partner less patient, career stagnating, belly beginning to bulge and grey streaks appearing in the thinning hair. You are desperate to feel younger.
Boy handled this dreaded birthday by joining a gym, colouring his hair, and getting a new and younger wardrobe, and changing the model of his car. He took to teaching my daughters outdoor games in which he participated with more enthusiasm than skill.
He also did a short course in rock climbing, rappelling and other such strenuous activities, and became an adventure sports enthusiast. He tried some very foolhardy stunts for a beginner and a middle aged man, but luckily survived without major injury or worse.
The gym phase lasted a month. The hair colour speeded up hair thinning, so was discarded, but led to the grey streaks turning into grey swathes.
His rediscovered love for the outdoors, however, remained, but he tried the stunts with better gear and more precautions.
Despite strenuous efforts he soon became unable to give any competition to his daughters in swimming or badminton and they preferred spending the time with their own age group.
His wife took to gymming and stuck to it, and preferred to spend the time with serious fitness freaks rather than a huffing spouse. So Boy was back to spending the evenings lounging around the pool or the bar, with other middle aged guys getting nostalgic for the good old days.
Finally the 50s came around. Panic struck. The dreaded F word!
Boy reacted by joining his wife’s Yoga class, which lasted a week,; going on a crash diet, lost in a fortnight; quitting smoking, off the wagon in a month; getting skinny jeans and a wardrobe in line with latest teen fashions, which is still in his cupboard. He partied all night dancing to retro numbers much to the embarrassment of his kids, went rafting, climbing and trekking with kids half his age, did a road trip touted as among the most dangerous in the world although he had not driven for four years and had only been a pillion rider on bikes before, returned to herbal methods of expanding consciousness in desperate bids to recapture his youth.
Now his kids tell him to act his age.
Boy is sure that he will be able to reverse time, and the sixties will never happen
Girls, Chapter 21 of Memory, a Novella
Boy developed many passions as he grew up, to top up his addiction to reading, which he had developed early in life. He was keenly interested in Cinema, Music, Theatre, Arts, Travel, and Poetry; and became involved in Social Work, Adventure Sports, Wildlife, Camping, even Martial Arts. He also developed into a keen foodie.
But the one passion that led to all the rest was one that he shared with the entire male heterosexual adolescent population; GIRLS!
It is said that around the time one enters the teens all boys are afflicted with two infestations, but Bong boys are inflicted with three. Whilst everyone finds a dark smudge discolouring their upper lip and the sudden transformation of every female human not closely related by blood suddenly transforming into this mesmeric being, bong kids have the additional burden of poetry bubbling within them. All three are inevitable and equally irresistible. Boy was no exception.
Being a thin dark lanky bespectacled bookworm, Boy’s interest in the fairer species was not reciprocated, and his confidence in making an approach run was near absolute zero, that is, minus 273 degrees. His being in a boy’s school did not help matters.
Then one day, a miracle occurred. Deeply uncomfortable in mixed company as always, Boy reverted to his standard defence mechanism, making wisecracks. He heard some feminine giggles amongst the usual sniggers and was mortified. Nature, with her generosity in providing him with melanin had made it impossible for him to blush, but he was hot under the collar.
This was routine for him. But suddenly, looking up, he noticed that those pretty eyes were not looking at him with derision, but with interest!
He tentatively tried cracking a few more jokes, and was thrilled to notice that the young ladies were not laughing at him, but at his jokes. This transformed him. He became the insufferable class joker. His caustic wit and sarcasm kept him within perilous proximity of a sound thrashing by his more robust classmates, and got him sent out of class regularly by irate teachers.
He also discovered that certain young ladies were more impressed by his vast storehouse of irrelevant trivia, a by-product of his voracious reading. (Reader, remember, that was the pre Google era, where information wasn’t a tap away.) And those certain young ladies also read books and enjoyed talking about them. His life was made.
Boy had a major complex about his unflattering looks, and despite great enthusiasm, his very modest success as an athlete. That is why he tried extra hard to impress with whatever meagre talents he did posses.
He discovered that a striking young lady was a ghazal and thumri aficionado, and pretended to be one too. Though he couldn’t sing, he could at least listen and admire. Soon, he developed a genuine keen interest in this genre.
Similarly, he discovered that Spicmay, the society promoting classical music and arts, was patronised largely by young ladies, and that the jocks steered well clear of it. He promptly joined, and suffered many long evenings with the Dagar brothers droning on, or some Diva dancing, or the caterwauling of some strange instrument until it all began to make sense, and enthral him.
With equally dubious motive he trailed along art galleries staring incomprehensibly at weird squiggles, and slept through a screening of (aesthetes, please don’t die of shock) Fellini’s ‘Eight and a Half’ in the company of intellectual ladies. But it paid rich dividends. Today he loves World Cinema, and collects prints of Indian Masters.
But it was not only wimpy arty stuff that that he got into in his single minded pursuit of beauty. He went trekking with the short haired sporty kinds, and developed a lifelong love of the outdoors. He went to all night Rock concerts with the chain smoking spiky haired beauties, only to become a devotee of Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, and the Man from Tennessee.
His very brief foray into martial arts was not inspired by Bruce Lee like the rest of his generation, but comely young lass who gave coaching. Like all the other ladies of various talents this coach too was oblivious of his passion, but Boy developed an unfounded confidence which helped him face up to roughnecks in his delinquent later youth.
Poetry was the one art which beat him, and still does, though he faked it then and fakes it now, (his tastes and talents were more inclined to limericks) as there is no greater magnet for the soulful lady than poetry. Although in his early teens he did spout heartfelt poetry and wrote them too, quite sincerely, for his then current crush, but thankfully those have long since disappeared. You can blame that on his Bong genes.
As you can see, Boy did not discriminate. As long as she was female, and would tolerate his company, Boy would happily tag along. But unfortunately the reverse wasn’t true. Although these ladies tolerated Boy’s company for the entertainment value for short spells, they soon moved on. But in their wake, they left Boy enriched with new interests and passions.
Did Boy die a bachelor then? No, dear reader, and a little more patience will tell you the How and the Why? It’s just a couple of chapters away.
Written for Nanowrimo Extended smile emoticon
copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
Cops, chapter 20 of Memory, a Novella
The sight of policemen gave Boy the heebie-jeebies. Whether it was some deep rooted phobia of the tools of colonial oppression based on subconscious racial memory, or merely a guilty conscience we cannot say. For laws are myriad and intent for compliance not so robust, leading to occasionally catching the eye of her keepers.
It was during the impecunious student days that Boy travelled the city and even the country using public transport, whenever he couldn’t persuade kindly strangers to offer lifts, but neglected the formality of coughing up the fare. Sometimes the keepers looked askance at these liberties, and ingenuous ruses would keep Boy from their clutches.
The classic was by his friend Boss, who later went on to become a major scourge for lawbreakers himself.
The bus was stopped for spot check just outside the hostel, and Boss was the only one with a pass. So he decided impromptu to jump off and run, with the checkers in hot pursuit. The rest of Boy’s gang slipped quietly into the hostel while the law caught up with Boss.
“Show us your tickets”
“Don’t have any”
“Come to the police station!”
“We can make you!”
“No you can’t, I have a pass”
“Then why did you run?”
“Is running against the law?”
Today, as a consultant, Boss provides similar loopholes to his clients.
On another occasion, the law keepers wanted ID to prove that Boy and his friends had reached the legal age for the activity they proposed. Boss gravely informed them that simple living and Yoga keeps them looking young, for if they had been married off by their parents at an appropriate age, they would have children like these guardians of the law. Helpless with laughter, they let Boy and his cronies proceed.
Those days Boy was also very reluctant to pay the necessary fees to attend shows and exhibitions, and always knew an unguarded back entrance or convenient low wall or break in the fence. Neither did Boy wait for invitations to attend parties, receptions, and weddings hosted by complete strangers. This too led to occasional detection and disagreements, and a host of aliases were handy when providing names and addresses. But the loyal reader has already read of these escapades.
The other occasions for incurring the displeasure of the law had moral right on Boy’s side, or so he believed, as it was for creating disruptions for various dimly understood causes, in the name of student protests. The Police were unusually patient and polite with students, and arrested them merely to let them go a few hours later, dutifully noting down the names, and not expressing any surprise that they were all named after the Prime Minister of the country.
But once things went out of hand, and a group was taken to the lockup overnight, with some talk of fingerprinting the next day. A number of the inmates had interviews to attend in the near future, and many were aspiring civil servants whose carriers would crash-land if weighed down by police records. As they were held in a temporary camp in a school building it was a simple matter to escape through the windows, and many did.
Trouble brewed next day, when post negotiations everyone was being let off, but the head count did not tally. If the same number of students weren’t released, cops could be charged with Habeas Corpus. An ingenious solution was found. Certain students, including Boy and Ron, broke INTO the lockup, with full police cooperation, to make up the numbers originally picked up, and were immediately released to fanfare from the student leaders.
Although student agitations were a friendly match with the cops, post exam high jinks were sometimes frowned upon. On one such spirited occasion, on a whim and a dare, a few of them, including Boy and Ron, decided to climb a statue of a national hero adorning the town square. This attracted a crowd, and soon a uniformed friend with a large stick.
Boy naturally did not heed his injunctions to descend at once, but instead climbed higher to escape the flailing stick. The intrepid law keeper then decided to climb after them forcing Boy to take drastic measures before backup arrived. They accordingly leapt to the ground in different directions and fled for their lives, guessing that the cop can chase only one of them.
Cheered on by the watching crowd they escaped, helped along by the onlookers, always siding with the wrong side of the law.
Boy has since grown up into a law abiding citizen, and some of his friends have become law makers and keepers themselves, and the worst crimes they commit are minor traffic violations.
But even nowadays although a rarity, confrontations do happen.
Getting late for work, Boy once tried speeding through as the lights were changing, and was promptly stopped by a lurking guardian of the law. He tried to plead that they were on the same side, both being government servants on official duty, and after scrutinising his credentials the policeman claimed that Boy was only partly government. Boy pointed out that he had only partly jumped the light.
Impressed by this astute argument, he waved Boy on with a broad grin on his face.
Written for Nanowrimo extended
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee