This memoir dates back to the second year of cramming for IITJEE, transporting me to a place colloquially called the Rajdhani. Rajdhani has several things to boast about. The one I shall be alluding to is the bitchy winter.
The 12th standard in the life of your average IIT aspirant is excruciating to say the least. Cram at school, cram at hostel. Have dinner, cram more. Take a shit, cram more. A better idea, of course, would be to wait until morning to perform lavation along with your ablutions, in which case your dailycramming routine gets augmented by an awesome 10 minutes. Khidki Hostel had only a handful who struck to this regime. That handful lived below the top floor.
We, the group of 12thies on the top floor, were known for our warden defying, lock-smashing, CCTV camera shattering ways (lemme assure you, nothing was unprovoked) apart from academics. Every couple of hours of mugging would be accompanied by an act of defiance against the warden, either by creating a pandemonium or abstract art on the walls of the building.
November was the onset of some phenomenon really weird.
Chinka, my roomie, had earlier attended some godforsaken boys’ school in Darjeeling, the same one, he claimed, as in the backdrop of Main hu Naa. He also had with him a true incident to recount of that period, involving Amrita Rao and Zayed Khan. This is what happened.
(Scene:- Both of them huddled within a blanket before a fire, staring at the boo’ful mountains.)
Amrita Rao: The weather is so erotic, no?
Zayed Khan (rumour had it that he was educated in some godforsaken school in Dehradun): Erotic?
Amrita Rao: Ya? No?
Zayed Khan: I think what you mean here is erratic…
Amrita Rao: Ya, ya, that only…
Anyways the annotation regarding Chinka was to illuminate the fact to readers that he was the only one in the hostel with a 6-pack, and he worked out everyday to retain it. Some months earlier had seen the movie Om Shanti Om being released to the unassuming Indians, which had gone on to be a major hit, leaving me flabbergasted. People were talking Punarjanam and Picchle Janam ka Pratishodh all over again. On top of it all, a 40 year old Buzurg mocked the younger generation, preening with all the 6 pack abs in tow.
Maybe the aforementioned, or the need to be the same among ranks, or some delirious thought involving acceleration in the process of getting a girlfriend, but the inmates of the 4th floor started working out, all of them.
6 am in the morning I would witness Rishabh Mota bouncing 2 millimetres up and down on the tip of his toes with his flaccid arms flailing on either side, trying, maybe, to envisage himself skipping in the 4th dimension. It really complicated matters for us, for now he had started shedding copious amounts of sweat, and with his existing habit of not having a bath every week he had started stinking more so than before.
Shukla and Sentiman had similar workout patterns. They both hanged out. They would be seen suspended from the door sill absolutely still, in order to strengthen their fore-arms and shoulders, no different from a Vampire bat.
I took every advantage of a fitness trainer as a roomie. He taught me how to do the calisthenics, then push-ups, crunches, and the others among gym jargon. Soon I could do 60+ crunches unabated.
We begun organising tournaments: ‘The Most Push-ups’, ‘Maximum number of Crunches’ et cetera. It had started affecting our daily study routine. The times of ingestion of food would see the gluttonous wretches wolfing down large amounts of the same food we would cringe from a few days earlier.
Abhishekh Agarwal aka Hillu (nickname arose from the way he kept nodding his head in acquiescence whenever some doubt was being explained to him. It could easily have been ‘Noddy’, but it wasn’t indigenous enough. Another peculiarity he exhibited was the repetition of any word, phrase or sentence 3 times exactly) had been a victim of this pandemic, much earlier than any of us. Daily work out was steadily reducing his character to that of a narcissist. He would saunter up to anyone of us and then, hoisting his shirt above his chest, ask us to ‘feel’ him. Shukla, the un-straight one, would oblige only too heartily.
That fateful day we met after dinner.
He was coming along that corridor, that country bumpkin smile plastered on his face. It was too late to turn back. He saw me and immediately made his way over.
“Hey Biswas, you know what? I am making abs, abs, abs!!”
“Why, that is so wonderful!” I slapped him on his arm jovially.
“Ohh yes. It is very hard. Not my penis, my stomach I mean. Ha Ha ha!!” He looked down at me in anticipation of an acknowledgment of his joke, which I was too stingy to give.
“I heard you were doing crunches too? They told me you did 75 nonstop the other day?”
I gave him a modest, crooked smile. “Well, yeah…78 actua…”
“Hey, you know what? Punch me in the stomach.”
“Trust me. Go on and hit me.”
I did, swinging my fist forth in an extremely good imitation of a right hook.
His smile didn’t falter. And I wasn’t ready for his malice.
And before I knew it I was bent double, wheezing and spluttering. Out of the haze came a train of words, “You aren’t working out hard enough. You should be more determined. Anyways I gotta go. Bye!”
Even the ‘MaCho*’ came out in laboured wisps of air, barely perceptible to my own ears…
As I later found out, the spectacle had been witnessed by everyone in the floor. And just as suddenly it had sparked off, the fitness fever within everyone died down. Nobody did anything other than cramming, barring Shukla who would try to grope Hillu any chance he got.
In retrospect, who cares about abs? I got through JEE. 😀