Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Cellular Chronicles

On this dark and stormy night, as the rain lashes my window stirring troublesome thoughts, sweet memories and sour endings, I decide to drum my fingers on my beautiful black desktop keyboard, a relic I've neglected in the wake of my smart phone and laptop.

Memories surface. I go back in time, to a time when the digits of my age reverse. I climb the stairs, wearing my chocolate brown uniform. At 5" 3', am towering middle school, little anticipating that that joy is fleeting. I have the usual pre-exam jitters, I enter the exam hall. There is bright sunlight, I sit down in my allotted seat, brushing my long plaits off the desk. I lower my eyes and the time starts.

Possessed by a manic obsession, my pencil zooms across, I see patterns, numbers, questions, theories, solutions, interpolations and magic squares. I hope I have given my best and am the last person to walk out. I put it out of my mind and go back to my class VII B. The results come out. From VII, I am selected. The toppers of VI, VII and VIII will form the junior quiz team of the state-level Jantar Mantar Science Quiz.

There is the puny fair guy from VI and tall dark guy from VIII, I make uneasy conversation. I certainly feel out of place. I look down upon the junior and look up to the senior. I feel somewhere between. Even the uniforms change for us when the student comes to VIII. So the VI belong to a lower order in my head, the VIII the oldest in middle school, are a complete mystery. Here I am, awkward in my overlarge pinafore, a precaution against further gain in height, a futile exercise had I known the outcome.We talk, we make it through the written round with ease. I am advised to read "The Hindu speaks on Scientific Facts".

We compete in the district level competition. Our hitherto unrecognised school name was on a white sheet amidst the best of the best. Names I had read in newspapers. I never say my school name in newspaper. Not that I read much news anyway. This is my first oral quiz. My heart beats. I have become quite good friends with my team mates. The younger one is lively and the older one is serious. The questions are bizarre. None of them were factual. We have to think so much. I answer very few. The senior is just living it. One question was to estimate the area of Madras. He gives us lots of clues which predicably takes us far away from the answer. But we are fast. By the third round we were leading in points. Before I can even smile, my senior says don't, we may go down anytime. We win with 50 points. It's a totally thrilling experience.

Here's the catch. The zonal levels are in Vizhupuram. Darling me who hasn't seen Chennai beyond the roads that lead from school to house and the occassional shopping, cannot be trusted to go in a school van with two guys and a lab assisstant and the school driver and van. So my mother decides to accompany us. A hugely relieved staff force is seen as none of the teachers could be spared to escort us on that day. But the only person who is still not convinced with the plan, the only person who has the power to disrupt it, is not a person I'd like to keep unhappy. My father. He does not like it at all. He can't put leave and he does not want his wife and daugher to travel so far from home. As his nail-biting increases, so does mine. When I was younger, I used to fight, I used to be stubborn. But am wiser now, I know that keeping my mouth shut and a saintly face, sprinkled with smooth obedience and a general tendency to not mess/clean up the mess at home. There is one day to go. My mother has bought enough food for winter, turns out to be what am taking tomorrow. Then the brainwave hits my father. Leaving me and my sister in the care of my grandparents, they take our brand-new Miami Gold car and go to a store. Meanwhile I have no idea what to study. I get a call from school telling me to be there at 5:30 in the morning. Then, it is unveiled.

My first cellular phone.

It's a gadget that all girlkind will describe as a necessary evil. Bought at an EMI of Rs.500, it is the assurance of continuous contact. My father is finally satisfied and he truly and happily wishes me all the best.

The next day the landline keeps ringing. My vice-principal is livid am not there and is 5:15. Thinking that it is not the best time to tell her that my house is ten minutes from school, I listen. Me in my uniform and my mother in a very cute, stately pink saree leave for school amidst fond good-byes fom my family. So the four of us get into the van and the it starts and we have no idea what happens for two hours because we sleep as though we have never slept before. Except my mother who got bored and bothered and woke up a completely non-plussed me pointing to a supposedly-exceptionally-famous temple that I have absolutely no interest learning about. As a last ditch effort, she tries to tell me what if they ask this in the quiz. I sleep before I completely roll my eyes.

My senior is a Christian. The school is a convent and he is simply describing the difference between cathedrals and churches. The only cathedral I knew is what came as "Wonder" in Age of Empires. We wait in a huge auditorium. The junior is coming up with a novel idea to write a big book of bad words so that if we need to swear, we needn't actually say it and throw the book at them instead. Not exactly the pre-quiz atmosphere I had envisioned. I am having a fun time, completely relaxed. I see people poring over books. We just don't play that way. There is a GIGANTIC speech be chief guest. Finally, the quiz is conucted in a tiny classroom. My mother was first looking from the window. When she saw other school teachers trying to help from the window, she didn't want to associate herself with them. I hear the first question. Its on light. Finally, my eyes light up. Light is right up my alley. This is it. Am so totally in my zone. And I get the first question wrong. My mother already teetering indecisively whether to leave or not, leaves. Still, I answer so many questions. Every question, every pass question, am jumping, am full of adrenaline. Math puzzles, light, electricity, astronomy, I leave the quiz master astounded. Actually quiz mistress. And we come first. My disbelieving mother cannot understand any of my incessant high pitched excited squeaks. We are extremely happy.

I make my first call, I call my father and tell him the great news.

That tiny insignificant phone is priceless to me. I bought it on Nov,1, a key to unleash my memories. My parents are happy that all the efforts paid. My teachers are happy. The state-level finals are conducted at Kalpakkam and we are the best team. I carry my phone with my teacher this time. I choose the table named 'Lily' simply because it's Harry Potter's mom's name. I am the only girl. For the first time, I notice that. I notice a serious emptiness in the scientific community, an uncomfortable moment. But then, the uiz begins. It is fast paced. The junior actually stood up and answered, I like to discuss things and I was irritated with him. Anyway, he got the answers right. All three of us are answering equally. Then, the most dreadful round. Each of us are given a packet of pulses and asked to identify. My team-mates were supremely confident they can nail it 'cause they have a girl. And subsequently they are disillusioned when they see am incapable of recognising dal. Zero points. We win with 60 points to 45. I call again.

Its a wondeful moment. To come onto the stage in school and clapped so hard till you blush furiously.

That cell phone took me back, into distant thoughts, VII was a period of change. I changed from a highly feminine frock wearing cute girl into a complete tomboy with a weakness for long hair. My friends said finally because whoever heard of a middle school girl wearing frocks. For many quizzes to come I was the only girl, a situation I gradually came to peace with. I realised I amazed guys who always think condescendingly girls are good for only academic studies. I was taken a bit aback at how many plot to be sweet to a girl so that she'll choose them for projects and they needn't do all he work. They accept me as one of their own, not noticing am actually annoyed with them. My fledgling feminism blooms. There were somethings that never changed. Listening to others and telling stories and thinking. My opinions change but my right to have them never did. My interest in science deepens along with my love for math. Its very rare to like both subjects with equal elan. I think its a perfect marriage, math and physics.

The rain ceases and I wake up.

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