Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Symposium blues

It was almost a year ago that I was ‘elected’ the Secretary of the Association of Computer Engineers.

The secretary has several duties which include:

a. Make inane speeches nobody listens to at functions no one attends.
b. Bunk classes to make these inane speeches
c. Sign letters granting leave
d. Organize a symposium

Duties a, b and c pose no difficulty to one of my charm and poise. I managed, during the year spent as Secretrary, to add a certain degree of flourish to my signature.

It is duty d that I write of today.

Run-up to a Symposium

Now, organizing a symposium is something you wouldn’t particularly wish to do, but for the wonderful concept called On Duty (OD).

OD is God’s gift to the indolent creature, and allows one the opportunity to while away time playing NFS 7 in the labs, flirting in the canteen and partaking of alcoholic spirits at the neighbourhood wine shop – and to do all this while being marked present in class.

The secretary is the person who signs the OD letters. That’s awesome!

But the secretary is also the person who gets to have unpleasant conversations with the HoD when classes are half empty, the corridors are full of people who are either drunk or trying to neck (or both), and the terrible screech of burning rubber and exploding shotguns rent the air in the lab.

A typical conversation with the HoD went something like this -

HoD: Where is Ponnusamy? And do you know where Singaravelu is?

Me: Sir, that’s a restaurant in Egmore. And I gave my Singaravelu away to a junior last year.

Suddenly, being a perceptive man, I perceived that the HoD was referring to a man named Ponnusamy. Why the HoD expected me to know what any numbers of people named Ponnusamy or Singaravelu were doing was beyond me.

Me: (with an expression of surprise) Well, I’ll be damned if I know, Sir

HoD: Then, why on earth did you grant them Leave on Duty, and have them marked present all day?

Me: (incredulously) Did I?

The HoD handed me a paper bearing my signature.

I scanned through the list of fifty names, and found that Ponnusamy was busy soliciting sponsorships for the symposium, while Singaravelu was working on catering arrangements. I brightly appraised the HoD of the situation, and told him that they had not met the fate that Mary met with when she went across the sands of dee. They would, I told him reassuringly, bring the cattle home.

HoD: No, they have not brought the cattle home, you idiot! I’ll tell you where they are! Singaravelu is in my office, and he has partaken liberally of alcoholic spirits. And as for Ponnusamy, he’s been playing some stupid game in the lab, and is making enough noise to wake the dead!

Me: (blushing prettily) Oh..well… Sir

Funding a symposium

The college I studied in had what is termed in management theory as a flat management structure. In fact, if it were any flatter, it’d be punctured.

Therefore, every decision is taken by the chairman, his wife, or their children (the latter involving themselves when they’re not busy plotting how to copy in the university examinations). Therefore, to receive funds, it was my duty to go meet the chairman – an old man on the wrong side of eighty whose mind was as sharp as a razor...once upon a time.

After waiting the prescribed half-an-hour outside his mansion, a crushed-looking underling ushered us in.

We walked in, wondered whether the chairman required us to walk on four for a minute, and then tried to ask him for a grant to conduct the symposium.

Chairman: Are you Computer Science students?

Us: Yes, Sir

The chairman felt in a voluble mood. He stretched his hands, yawned loudly, instructed a flunky hovering around to massage his feet, and goggled at us.

Chairman: When I went to the Gelf, I saw two peacocks – they were a male husband peacock and the female wife peacock – in the mall. The husband peacock sang loudly, and the wife peacock turned to him and shouted at him for staring at the husband peacock. Tell me how the peacocks work.

I thought of saying something how an evil scientist had probably injected them with a serum, creating a breed of transvestite peacocks who could speak. Or more likely, he was drunk when he met the peacocks and the canaries.

But all I managed, in spite of these thoughts, were a few disjointed words on how evolutionary biology was something I hadn’t given a lot of thought to.

Chairman: They are makanical things, my boy. I will give you money, you make me a peacock like that.

He threw me a glance that seemed to challenge me to refuse his offer – rather like good ol’ Don Vito!

I muttered a few more words about how I would bring him the working models of the peacocks the day after, and then listened to him talk about how Infosys would set up an R&D center on our campus the next week.

Then, one of us, more adventurous than the rest, pushed the grant request paper onto his desk, and asked him to sign it. HE looked at us for a second, blinked, and signed with a smile playing on his visage. He was probably thinking of the talking peacocks which would be waiting at his doorstep in a few days.

The day of the symposium

The day of the symposium is traditionally the day the vice-principal roars. The vice-principal had a reputation of creating last minute hitches if there were none, or adding immeasurably to the hitches already present.

The year I was in charge, I managed to avoid trouble all along till it got to about 12 in the afternoon. It was then that the electricity went out in the auditorium, and there was pandemonium.

I was frantic. The last thing I wanted was a stampede on my hands (or over my head, for that matter). There was some informal event scheduled there – what it constituted I knew not, for I had delegated it to a junior. The chap who’d organized it was close to tears. He told me that the vice-principal, who was mildly displeased by the arm-wrestling competition, blew his top when they tried to hold a beauty pageant on stage. It was then that he literally pulled the plug.

The world reeled about me. Holding a beauty pageant during a technical symposium amounted to sacrilege! And holding a beauty pageant in front of the vice-principal? The less said the better.

I rushed in to meet the vice-principal, ready to crawl on all fours if it were necessary to get the electricity back on.

It was said that music soothes the wild beast. Photographing a savage beast, according to animal psychologists, also calms it down. This worked, as this photo cooled the wild animal in the picture enough to get him to switch the power back on in the auditorium. (faces obviously blurred ;) )

The symposium wound its way to an end, with our honorable vice-chairperson walking in twenty minutes late for the presentation ceremony, yawning as she gave away prizes and after a while, refusing to distribute any more because she had other commitments to take care of. (Read: the arthritis had become a little too painful.)

Like every horror story written by the Brothers Grimm, this too has a moral. The moral reads, very simply, ‘To organize a symposium is to experience terrible agonies in several parts of the anatomy, mainly the posterior’.

Moral #2 is ‘If ever in doubt as to what to do, watch porn’

(Moral #2 is not exactly pertinent to the story, but a good dictum to live your life by in any case)

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