circa - somewhere in the early 90s. like any above-average i.q son of a middle class man in chennai, i too had to choose between two career paths. a- becoming a doctor, b- engineering. biology was a subject i hated, so it was hobson's choice. with time it metamorphosed into an ambition.
circa 1996. i flunked jee, and the gates to the mecca of engineering were closed for me. in spite of good scores in the 12th exam, I could not get a 'free-seat'* in any of the top engineering colleges in tamil nadu. reason - i was an academic outcast of the tamilnadu education system on two counts. first : the cbse tag, second : i belong to section of population whose ancestors misinterpreted the vedic varna system.
I was left with the ambition and zero admits!
nowhere to go, and the thought of burdening appa's monthly middle-class budget with the expenses of a 'payment seat'** was playing on my mind. i was now desperately trying to figure out options in other states and union territories.
i stumbled upon the entrance exam conducted by P.E.C (pondicherry engineering college). did pretty well in the entrance test. but, quota had another quota to play in my life. this time it was pondicherry resident quota.
in the words of the the admission committee, "congrats! you have a very good score. we can give you only civil as you are a non-resident of pondy."
though i did not desire to be civil-ised***, this chance appeared as the last hay of hope tying me to my ambition. i decided to go for it.
after the decision was made, i was back in chennai with a wee-bit of sense of achievement and loads of happiness.
as part of the prep work to leave for the new world, i went to mount road to shop with my uncle. enroute to a shop near tarapore towers, we ran into a friend of uncle, o.-something. from his looks uncle's friend o (u.f.o) looked educated.
after initial exchange of pleasantries, the two friends got into a banter.
suddenly my uncle decided to do some peela (show-off) by introducing his to-be-engineer marumaan (nephew).
uncle started, "hey! meet karthik."
u.f.o to me, "hello karthik!".
I smiled back.
"you know what! karthik is going for engineering. he has chosen p.e.c. ", declared my uncle.
"chosen? ", i said loudly to myself. i was continuing my smile though.
"oh! pondicherry engineering-a", cried out the excited u.f.o. "super-ba! congrats", he continued. his face lit up like a thousand watts tube. the customary question followed, "what branch?".
"civil!", i said.
the answer pulled the plug on the tube. u.f.o's face shrunk, and he retorted in a derogatory tone, "...seeee-villll-aa...". He made 'civil' sound like the longest word in english.
my smile dried up. as i was groping for an answer, i was hoping that the man-hole behind him would pop out its corporation lid, and consume the anti-civil fellow.
as no such miracle happened, u.f.o continued, "couldn't you at the least get an instrumentation or mechanical seat?"
i do not remember the rest of the conversation. but to this day i have not forgotten the shrunken face, the tone and the pronunciation that was used to echo my branch name!
*free seat - a misnomer to denote an engineering seat that comes at a non-exorbitant amount.
**payment seat- a term used in tamil nadu education system where a seat is acquired by an individual in self-financing engineering college by paying a lump-sum. a little portion goes to the government exchequer, and the rest to the college. this is not the end-all of the fees that the individual pays to the college. the college is given multiple degrees of freedom to demand for more fees, with sky being the limit. i always felt such colleges should be called 'student-financing', and not 'self-financing'.
*** this was not an era where the equation [ engineer = software engineer ] held good. where ? can be computer, electronics, electrical, mechanical, civil, nothing, something, anything, balderdash.