Over the following months, the desire to stand out manifested itself in varied ways and in a number of occasions.
After the initial few involuntary incidents that fuelled our fame, we were actively on the lookout for opportunities to prove our ‘unfit’ to the place. It might not have been evident then, but behaviour such as falling asleep midway of answering a question in class, adlibbing through presentations that we’d not bothered to remember until fifteen minutes before the class, and answering every question on Corporate Finance from a brand equity perspective couldn’t have been motivated by anything other than the urge to be the centre of attraction. By the end of the second term, the rest of the batch too began to realize what to expect of us. Every time a question was directed to any one of us, the whole class would fall silent in anticipation of ‘let’s see what they come up with today.’ We were extremely proud and protective of our new identity, and even if sometimes we weren’t particularly in the mood, it seemed unfair to disappoint our fans by saying something unfunny, like may be the correct answer. In fact, on one occasion, I had been asked a question by Rambo that I inexplicably knew the answer to. I triumphantly blurted it out, only to have the entire class look away, shaking their heads in disappointment. The professors too had more or less sized us up by now, and carefully timed their interaction with us in class to when their lecture needed comic relief. Every question that was thrown our way invariably started with a version of, ’let’s see what they think’ or ‘lets look at it from their perspective.’ It was as if the teaching staff was piggy-backing on our efforts to make their lectures cool and less tedious.
It’s surprising how being rebellious or being branded an underdog came automatically with dollops of righteousness. And it was this that made us so sure about ourselves and prompted us to rationalize away all of our actions as some invaluable service we were providing to everyone around. Someone needed to shake people out of this false sense of decorum and poise, we told ourselves. Someone needed to point out that knowledge and learning were not necessarily confined to text books and exams, and just because we were in an MBA course in one of the most prestigious institutes of the country didn’t mean we had to behave like priests and nuns. Education didn’t need to be formal and boring. If anything, a bit of laughter would aid a more natural form of learning. It was okay to go beyond the confines of ‘proper behaviour’ and think out of the box every once in a while. After all, we were marketers who were supposed to make a living by being thought leaders and trend setters. And anyway, petty things like competition, assignments and grades seemed…err…very petty and unimportant in the grander scheme of things. Besides, we had 4 terms to mug up, ace our assignments, and top our exams to have respectable grades for prospective employers.
And collectively, we almost bought into all of this crap. It was only when we got the opportunity to review our actions alone that an almost inaudible, but unmistakable voice from deep down, would pose a rather disturbing existential question – ‘what the fuck was I thinking?’ In the absence of the constant nonsense of three other morons to muffle it, this voice grew louder, till it uncomfortably pointed out that all of this, after all, was no more than a façade that we were putting up to hide our inhibitions and insecurities. We weren’t totally inept academically, but that was in our tiny little schools, and colleges located in areas that one had to look up on Wikipedia to know they exist. But still, we carried the baggage of dotting parents, proud friends and jealous relatives to deal with back home – the last thing we wanted was to appear to have tried our best, yet failed. The safest route was to appear not to be trying at all, and be that brilliant yet unfortunate guy in the family who ‘could have done so much, if only he could control his idiosyncrasies. All of a sudden, the possibility that I was a ‘wasted talent’ seemed a comfortable idea to live with. It was a bit like leaving the bathroom water running to mask any unpleasant noises from filtering out.
Usha’s powers of self-rationalization hadn’t reached such levels of sophistication. He exhibited a surprising inability to lie to himself, and would have been content with wasting away the first 4 terms buried in books, taking notes and burrowing through the 3 storey library in alphabetical order. But we’d figured very early on that when he was presented with a choice of doing the right thing, or being part of a team, he consistently chose the latter. Unfortunately, for him, we had mastered the art of presenting everything to him in that light. There would be some pretence of a resistance from him initially, but we were almost sure he’d give in sooner or later with the correct amount of nudging and cajoling.
‘I seriously don’t understand your resistance to the idea, Usha? Head gear has been a part of human attire for millions of years now. Granted it doesn’t serve any functional purpose in our country, and especially indoors, but think of it in the context of the statement we’re trying to make!’ K2 would emphatically put forward his case.
‘Besides, if the three of us are doing it, wouldn’t it seem off if you weren’t? We have to at least appear to be a team, even when quite obviously you aren’t…’ I said, in a very understanding tone.
‘No, no, no…I am part of the team, but…’
‘Toh, problem kyaa hai yaar, load kyun le raha hai? Teri itni phat-ti kyun hai?’ Karthik would say, in his characteristic gentle cajoling tone.
‘…but don’t you think we need to be a little subtler considering it’s the final presentation for a 4 credit course…?’
‘…do we have to have these feathers sticking out…?
‘But that is the entire point, isn’t it?’, K2 would say, flinging his arms around Usha’s shoulders in brotherly love, and continuing to walk towards the class. He would then go on to remind Usha that the presentation was about poverty alleviation and how the Public Distribution System was not adequate to meet the requirements of the country. So, what better way to say this then to dress up in the likeness of Robin Hood, the mythical character who pioneered the idea of distribution of wealth more equitably?
In a few moments, standing in front of the class, as we put on our hats, the class would erupt in laughter, and we’d smile at each other satisfied at our quest for perfection, before going on to present the couple of slides that we’d managed to hurriedly put together in the morning.
‘I still think we could have been a little subtler,’ Usha would whisper to me. ‘Are you sure they are not laughing AT us?’
(To be continued)
Photograph Courtesy: © Andres Pinto Sánchez