Grad school life was setting in. We were slowly tuning ourselves to course work + TA (teaching assistantship) combination. I was a TA for a VHDL lab class and I did not know crap about VHDL. I'd sit in on the lecture class and get to know what the hell was going on. The professor was someone like Bertie's Aunt Agatha in those wonderful PGW novels. The woman had a robust voice, when she shook my hand her two fingers could break my spine by just twisting my outstreched hand, and she had this nasty habit of ending her classes by saying "I won't be having office hours this week, the TA will clear any doubts you may have". Which sort of put me in a spot because I didn't understand a word that was said in the class.
Most students didn't bother me with questions, they just took the course because it was a required course and they knew it sucked anyway. There might've been a few students, who were misled by the ugly rumor, which claimed that Indian students were intelligent and hardworking. They quickly dismissed those rumors when they saw me walk to class sleepy, unshaven, dishevelled with the 'XL' sticker still sticking to the chest of my hastily put-on new Shirt (I had worn the shirt twice thinking the 'XL' was some sort of a stylish print, until a friend of mine pointed it out - it didn't help matters because the friend was a girl I was trying to impress). Anywho - if the shirt didn't ward off the students, the usual "let me get back to you in email" responses made them understand who they were dealing with.
However, there was one pesky little student who insisted on meeting me during my office hours. This student was determined to make me earn my paystub. So I put office hours at 8:00 AM in the morning or late at nights. Ha! Ha! The evil genuis of the desi mind. That did not, however, deter this student. This person was a Sri Lankan, closely cut hair, spectacles - had the makings of a desi geek. The curious thing was this person was a Sri Lankan Tamil, and insisted on speaking to me in Tamil (and you will all agree that SriLankan Tamil is as good as a foriegn language for a Madras guy). There was a another Graduate Assistant for this course. A person responsible for a tool called 'Mentor Graphics'. He was my room mate and senior and both of us worked for the same Professor/Advisor. Lets call him Mentor Maran. Both of us had to coach the students of this class. The students of my class also met up with Maran to clear their 'Mentor graphics' related doubts.
So it all happened one night in a VHDL lab room - Maran, myself and a few other sex starved desi roommates inhabited it. It was 11 PM and we were, as usual, discussing and bitching about the lack of sex in our lives, the complete lack of any relationship with the female species and the zero probability of this prospect changing any time in the near future. This discussion was usually followed by marathon bitches about the average undergrad american student having too much fun with girl friends, statistical calculations on the probability of an undergrad student who is doing homework with his hot girlfriend - actually getting to his homework etc. You know - the usual over-a-hot-filter-coffee discussion you'd have with your grandmother or any other elderly family member of the house. Grad school, to my shock, in complete contrast to our undergrad life, had no girls.
There was something else I was unprepared for - the desi gang in grad school. We were waiting for another friend to join us. Lets call him 'Suri'. He was the kind of one-in-a-million totally stoned and out-of-whack characters you could ever meet. You could write 6 volumes on him and you wouldn't have scratched the surface of his crazyness. The first time I joined this gang, I was intrigued and mildly shocked by this game called 'SDS' (Situation Development Scenario). This game indicated to me, early on, the kind of decadent life I would be leading for the next two years. 'Suri' held the patent for inventing this game. It involved picking the hottest girl/actress/model Suri had just recently seen. He would then proceed to randomly select one of our friends and ask him how much of bodily organs the randomly selected contestant would give-up to spend a night with that hotgirl/actress/model (One person incidentally was willing to give-up both his legs and an arm after a night with the actress - one Ms Shetty. Another person gave up his IIT degree within seconds of the game starting). Suri would start with the stakes low and would slowly develop the 'situation' by making the list of things to give-up so atrocious that it would be hard for a self-respecting person to give-up anymore. Ofcourse we had no self-respect and the conversation was hypothetical anyway. It made us forget our sad lives. So we played along. This particular night, after 'Suri' arrived, we intended to start our usually every-night 'SDS' (Situation Development Scenario) game. We had planned that Suri would be 'given' the test that day instead of the other way around. Anyway enough of technical babble.
The door knocked, I went and opened it expecting to be Suri - I had a great SDS for him. But it wasn't Suri - it was this Sri Lankan. As my enthusiasm began to dampen, the student quickly said " I came to see Maran". Relieved and thankful, I let the student get to Maran and they began discussing some doubt, the kind which this student had a knack of coming up with. The door knocked again - it was Suri this time. He walked in enthusiastically and was dissapointed to see a student inside. Suri had a crazy habit of talking before thinking. Sometimes we'd wonder if there was a even an iota of human sensibility in him at all. Before, we could control the beast, he said in chaste Tamil " *tha Yaar da ithu...seekram thorathu da" (Filtered Transalation: Who the hell is this. Get rid of this person). Understandable, it was late and we all wanted to go home. The only catch was - the student knew tamil and Suri assumed otherwise. I was embarassed and as I was struggling to divert Suri's attention (not an easy task - once his mind is set on something), Maran came to the rescue. He quickly introduced the student to Suri by saying "machaan he is srilankan tamil. he also knows tamil". While we all curiously waited for Suri to turn embarassed, the student said something none of us will ever forget for the rest of our lives.
She said: I am not a 'he'... I am a 'she'
There was stunned silence in the room. Nobody talked. I mean Nobody. I could almost hear Maran's chest thumping. This was too much for a person of Suri's condition. Suri's circuits got all burnt up at this amazing opportunity to rape Maran of his happiness and couldn't stand this anymore, he excused himself and left the room. The door closed and we could hear him laughing outside. Loudly. Then Maran said something that he would never forget.
He said: oh... I'm sorry. I didn't know that.
She said: You didn't know that...how could you not?
This time it was cruel. Then we couldn't stop giggling. The rest of the gang including me, left the room, closed the door and joined Suri, who by then was lying on the floor drowned in his laughter. I laughed till my stomach hurt. We knew we wouldn't spare Maran for quite sometime.
I have to admit I made the same mistake as Maran. It was..hmmm ...how shall I put it...difficult to distinguish. And thank God! Maran said it first and I did not. While walking back home, Maran in an effort to save his face said " I always thought the voice was too feminish for a boy. I thought it was a boy and his voice was screwed". To which Suri replied - [ Please refer to blog post title ]