I have come to terms with the fact that my incumbency at IIM Bangalore as a research fellow will reach its termination by the time the campus is fully restored to the pre-COVID 19 normalcy. Although working remotely and attending classes through Zoom has its perks, I kind of miss human interaction. Earlier, my dislike for social interactions and anthro-anything is what made me an introvert. Now, without such interactions and just staying in my room for hours and hours together staring at a computer screen seems pointless even though that was the image of the “perfect life” I had in my mind.
As a person in academia, there isn’t much difference between an “online” and “offline” life. The only significant distinction is the classes. With the 5 months and 18 days of IIM-B, I’ve realized that some professors are the paranoid types. They constantly need everyone to have their videos turned on and get a bit edgy if they discover someone has turned off their cameras. Ironically, they are the ones usually with 5000+ citations, stellar track record, expect absolute deference in class, and eschew questions or doubts during their classes with condescending (kind of), equivocal comments. They are also the ones who’ll pose a question to you at the exact same time you turn off the video on Zoom when you want to have a sip of water or take a break to the washroom. It usually goes “XYZ, what do you think would happen to the result if the authors had instead chose this variable instead of that?” So, with a full bladder or a desiccated throat – XYZ would have to answer the question. But thank god, I’ve had like just one or two sessions with such professors.
Anyway, this Friday evening, I was attending Prof. V’s Market Microstructure class. One of my classmates from the PhD cohort was presenting a research paper and as thumb-rule – you make notes, stare at the screen, nod a few times, scrunch your face like you smell a fart and nod at the same time (it supposedly makes you look intrigued, borrowing the sage words of Joe Tribbiani here), and belie to note down something now and then industriously. But Prof. V is one of the coolest professors I’ve come across. He’s nonchalant. Turn off your video for the whole lecture, put out a taciturn demeanor, shun from any sort of research paper discussion – Prof. V will still be nice to you. He’ll motivate you, ask what’s wrong and really try to understand you. So, as a homage to his niceness, I always turn on my video during his classes, genuinely put an effort to stay awake, and look discernibly curious.
A minor digression here.
So what happened that particular day was that I had fried chicken that Friday unlike breakfasts on other days. Not one, not two – 6 pieces of fried chicken and a chicken popcorn burger. My grandmother won a quiz on a radio show and got a Rs. 500 coupon for some fried and grilled chicken shop in Kovaipudur. For some stupid reason as usual, my brother and I thought it’d be a good idea to use that coupon that Friday morning. The owner (I think due to lack of customers) compelled us to order every single piece of chicken he had in his freezer and towards 12pm we had ordered (or he conned us into ordering) every piece of frozen chicken in his restaurant.
Basically when my brother and I went to the shop, with the 500 rupees coupon we said, “Hi, we won this coupon. If this is valid, we would like to eat something.”
After inspecting the gift coupon, looking at his empty restaurant, arms akimbo, he replied, “Yes. Coupon is valid. The whole non-veg menu is available.”
My brother ordered a chicken schezwan shwarma and I wanted a BBQ spicy chicken. He said, “Sorry. No shwarma and no BBQ. But there is fried chicken. I can get you that.”
We had no choice but to agree.
He went off behind a wooden room-partition where I’m guessing the kitchen was and started cooking. I could hear some sizzling, some fire crackling, oven-timer beeping, and some chicken-chopping. After what seemed like ages, the owner came with two plates, 3 pieces of chicken wings on each plate. No sauce. No mayonnaise. Not even the plain vegetable salad that comes with every grilled chicken order. He stood with each of his palm enclosing the other palm, hunched a bit and said, “I’m really sorry but no sauce ma.”
After that he again went behind the wooden partition, then my brother and I thought that perhaps we should leave after finishing these 3 chicken pieces. But surprisingly, the chicken tasted good. Not lip-smacking, finger-licking good but good nevertheless. Eventually, we ordered a burger since we didn’t want look like some misers who came to spend just the Rs. 500 coupon. Eventually, when our burger was served – there was another surprise. With our burgers came another three pieces of chicken wings each! HE WAS CLEANING OUT HIS FREEZER OR WHAT?
And right then, my uncle forwarded a standard Tamil-family-group-WhatsApp-Message that spoke about the raging bird flu transmitted through broiler chickens in Kerala. And there were 4 pieces of chicken right in front of me (including the burger) and 3 other fried chicken wings in my stomach. It was safe to say that I was not having the best time of my life. Not to look bad and not to waste food, I stuffed in the burger and chicken, feeling queasy all the while thinking I’ve somehow caught the bird flu myself. And my brother had his chicken happily without a care in the world. If you write “chicken” on a piece of paper and hand it over to my brother, he’ll eat that as well.
Around 1:30pm that day, we got home. Both of us had online classes at starting at 4pm. And like I said, I had Prof. V’s class. I slept for a while, woke up right on time, had my survival-juice a.k.a coffee and proceeded with my class. About 10 minutes into the class, I could feel my bowel acting up. I could feel my stomach impregnated and thought maybe it’s one of those times when you just take a big fart, the stomach pain goes away eventually. So, I tried that. And halfway, I realized that it’s not just the damn fart. So, I turned off my video and sort of ran, sort of hopped to the bathroom and made a quite loud offering to the porcelain throne. The relief from that excruciating stomach pain felt so liberating that I said out loud “oh thank god.” After performing the later ritual of hygiene – washing hands, wiping hands, all that I got back to my table and turned on the video, which is when I realized that my class had gone silent.
Prof. V asked, “Are you okay, Janani? Is everything okay? Can we move on with the class?”. To answer him, I was about to unmute and realized I was unmuted the whole while. And my Bluetooth earphones had picked up every single thing that happened in the last few minutes!!! I was just sitting there, red-faced, not knowing what to say and like the eloquent orator I never was, I gathered some pluck and replied, “Professor, chicken.” I couldn’t bear the ignominy anymore that I deliberately switched off the WiFi in my room so I that get disconnected from my class automatically. But as fate would have it, my laptop got connected to my mobile hotspot automatically instead which I didn’t realize then. So, simultaneously while battling disgrace and utter humiliation, my bewildered brain was having trust issues, with Zoom. Thankfully, my class comprises of just three other people. But never have I ever missed having offline classes so much. I miss the time when I could’ve just walked out of a class to take a dump without having to worry if I have appropriately muted my call.
*insert sobbing emoji*