Of Orals and Disasters

I dug this out from my archives of junior year inanity. This is something I scribbled in the middle of an Applied Electronics lecture that was extraordinarily boring, even by Kelkar’s standards.

It eventually wormed its way into the college magazine, the vociferous objections of the magazine secretary notwithstanding .

T.E. was a time of mulish and wilful disobedience when I didn’t know or care about ‘central ideas’ or ‘thesis statements’ or ‘structure’ or ‘flow’ and didn’t suffer the attendant writer’s block or rather, writer’s paralysis, as I do now. Consequently, this piece is even more pathetic than my other attempts to disgust. I’ve kept the article as it appeared when I first penned it not because I wish to preserve the original flavour (or lack thereof) but because I’m too lazy to edit (or correct) it .

Any derogatory references to the people (dead or alive) and the incidents in this plot are intentional and should be construed as offensive unless specified otherwise. The responsibility for factual or other errors of course, remains my own.

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Of Orals and Disasters

It was a warm and sunny afternoon – the sort of afternoon where you just sit and stare at nothing and feel incredibly philosophical and peaceful- if a bit on the drowsy side. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and everyone else was doing what they were supposed to do. But my mood was somber and my countenance grave. I was about to take the first engineering oral examination of my life.

Mention the world ‘orals’ to a layman and he might start thinking of prescriptions or naughty American presidents. But to an engineer this word brings back visions of sleepless nights, anxiety bordering on hysteria and an acute and painful comprehension of the term ‘tongue-tied’. I’ve seen the memories of these blighted things rankle decades later which is especially incredible in engineers, who are generally known for the gift of selective amnesia.

The subject was ‘Workshop Technology’- one that involved lathes and shapers and an assortment of other weird contraptions. It could have been Greek as far as I was concerned. I entered the room where the oral was supposed to be held with trepidation. The overall setting was one designed to strike terror in the stoutest of hearts. The room was on the ground floor and was about 20 x 40 feet (I learned later it was a vacated drawing hall). The architect evidently belonged to the old school of thought and found these new-fangled concepts of light and airiness repugnant because there was only one window to illuminate and ventilate this dungeon which it didn’t because the drapes were drawn. The lone tube-light in the center of the room did nothing to alleviate the sepulchral ambience. The external examiner was seated in a corner behind two cupboards and the students were milling about the hall, conversing in hushed tones. I noticed incredulously that even in this funereal atmosphere, romance was rearing its untimely head. My colleagues were trying to make an impression on a good looking lab assistant– one of the two women in the room. The other had been left alone, presumably because she looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

One of my partners, I discovered was a guy called ‘Katariya’ who seemed to have used copious amounts of coconut oil to straighten his recalcitrant hair to no effect. I noticed enviously that he was entirely at ease. The tense female was also to be a compatriot. I never did find out her name. “Next!” bellowed a diminutive peon seated in a corner of the room, just as we were beginning to relax. “Come on, that’s us!” whispered Katariya and we marched towards the cupboards, looking I daresay, like lambs being led to a slaughterhouse.

“Come in, Come in, Come in”, said the external who was a kindly looking fellow with a face like a horse. My spirits lifted at the sight of this old gentleman, for in my dreams I had always visualized the examiner as a tall and hefty guy with a wart on his face and a nasty smirk to boot. “Sit down, Sit down, Sit down,” said the horse, who was either addressing us individually or had a tendency to repeat himself. We took our seats on the badly crafted stools which apart from being extremely uncomfortable, looked like they had been designed for midgets. “Roll numbers 21, 22, 23?” queried the amiable equestrian. We responded in the affirmative. “Let’s begin, shall we?” he said. “Yes!” we responded in unison (I and Katariya that is, the girl had apparently been enraptured by a crystal paperweight placed on the desk).

“What are the different types of screwdrivers?” was the first question.

There was a long silence.

‘Well?” said the external. He looked at me. I looked at Katariya. He looked at the girl. She looked at the paperweight.

“There are many types”, said Katariya airily, breaking the ominous silence.

“Such as?” asked the external.

“There’s a small screwdriver…then a big one. Then sometimes you have a slightly bigger one”, said Katariya, oblivious to the consternation he was causing.

“And then an even bigger one, I suppose?” asked the external acidly.

“Exactly” Katariya replied imperturbably.

There was a brief silence while the external digested Katariya’s gems of wisdom.

“What is the principle of operation for a planer?” he asked us.

“What?” said Katariya, who seemed to be enjoying himself.

“What?” said the examiner turning to me.

I was confused. “What?” I asked him.

The external seemed to be rattled. “What? What? What?” he mumbled.

I began to wonder if this was an engineering oral or a literary one. Q1. Make interrogative and so on…

“Did you people study the operation of a lathe?” he finally asked.

‘Sure, why not?” said Katariya.

The external seemed to be baffled by the cryptic reply.

“Why do manufacturing industries use shapers?” he asked me.

“Er, to shape.” I replied promptly.

The external seemed to be struggling against some strong inward emotion.

“Which assembly did you use while performing a threading operation?” he said turning to the girl.

There was a long silence once again. The external’s face was turning a dull shade of purple, I noted with alarm.

“You, WAKE UP!” he barked at the poor gal who came to life with a start and noticed Katariya and I staring at her. She looked at us pleadingly.

I decided to throw caution to the winds.

“SLIDING ASSEMBLY!” I yelled, before she could say anything. “THREADING ASSEMBLY” yelled Katariya, almost simultaneously.

“So,” said the horse with a nasty smile, “Sliding or Threading Assembly?”

“THREADING ASSEMBLY” I said. “SLIDING ASSEMBLY!” said Katariya, synchronizing the answer to perfection.

The horse seemed to be on the verge of apoplexy by now. He jumped up from his chair, bumped his knee against the table and burst into a stream of colorful language.

“Get out you@##***”!!! he screamed hopping on one leg, holding the other with his hand. I noted with a bizarre detachment that he would have made a good dancer.

“OUT!OUT!!OUT!!!’ he added for good measure.

We fled from the room.

It was D-day- the day of the result. “1 oral down”, I thought gloomily as I walked into the registrar’s office to collect my mark-sheet. But by Jove, there IS a God in heaven and miracles DO happen! I got 34 (out of 50) and Katariya got 26.

The girl, I regret to say, got 45.

6 Responses to “Of Orals and Disasters”

  1. Bhisham November 18, 2006 at 11:51 am # Reply

    Awesome use of those GRE words there! 😀

  2. Mukul Hinge November 28, 2006 at 12:21 am # Reply

    And yet, curiously enough, I wasn’t studying for the GRE when I wrote this.

  3. प्रिया December 15, 2006 at 3:49 pm # Reply

    It’s been over for a long time now, but I still have nightmares about engineering orals!!! 🙂 I wonder where these apparently wise professors go when it comes to teaching or conducting practicals? How come they seem to acquire all the knowledge and wisdom in the world only when they get into the role of external examiners? Every PU student can relate to what you have written! 🙂

  4. Mukul Hinge December 18, 2006 at 11:07 pm # Reply

    Thanks… being an examiner brings out the devil in most people. 😉

  5. प्रिया December 19, 2006 at 1:27 pm # Reply

    That explains why we sometimes hallucinated you having those horns (remember the ‘Onida’ ad?) and a devilish grin on your face in class… 😀

  6. a q September 12, 2011 at 4:08 am # Reply

    That was Hilarious ! a true portrayal of engineering orals!

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