Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Curse of the RAs

Well, exam time approaches again. The question arises in your mind, and quite rightly too, what is he, this self-confessed geek/nerd lover doing here, when he should be hard at work cracking PDE's? Elementary, my dear readers. Throw your minds back to my previous posts and recall, if you will, that I happen to be a batchmate of one R. Vairamuthu. Also recall that this paragon of virtue and discipline is renowned, nay, worshipped for his class notes, of which I am now a proud possessor. Tell me now, in light of these recently established facts, need I fear any exam anymore?
Well, let us not tarry long; onto the subject at hand. Examinations are of three types in our college: cycle tests, lab exams and the big one, the semester examinations. There are three cycle tests, held at one month intervals; out of the three the best two performances are taken into account while assigning our grades. Therefore, if we perform well in any two cycles, there's no need to write the third one. Unless, of course, you happen to be R. Vairamuthu.
As for lab exams, they are held a couple of weeks before the semester exams, with a week (on an average) in between the two. The preparation for the lab exams starts early, with the groundwork being laid right from the beginning of the semester. The research assistants (RAs) generally handle the labs, and it is here that absolutely no pains whatsoever are spared. As Churchill put it so eloquently, blood and toil, sweat and tears. RAs in NITT can be broadly classified into two types: the sexually frustrated RA and the nervous youngster RA. There are a few exceptions, notably so in our department. They are young, barely out of college, display no signs of sexual deprivation and teach very well. We respect them; as far as their labs go, we just try and do our best and leave the rest to the next higher authority.
The sexually frustrated type can be of either sex; however, in our college the female sex predominates (I suppose the men find release in pornography). They are characterized by arrogance, extreme irritability and, on the whole, sadism. One more thing: they generally know about as much as I do about their subjects (which, as you might have gathered, is next to nothing. Now, if you hadn't figured out that much, well, do you happen to be related to Bush in any way?).
Coming back to the current topic, what really gets a man's blood boiling about the sexually frustrated type is their lack of knowledge coupled with their I-can't-wait-to-make-you-suffer-because-I'll-never-get-any attitude. It is in handling these absolutely delightful personalities, if we are to have any hopes at all of securing a decent grade, that we need to have degrees in Freudian psychology (I believe Freud or Jung or some such chap said that most psychological problems can be attributed to sex or the lack of it). However, with the wisdom accumulated through years of patient suffering at our disposal (passed on to us by our seniors), we rise to the challenge. Now, at the slightest deviation from perfection, these creatures are upon us in a flash. Unfortunately, the thing about perfection is, no matter how desirable, it is generally not attainable. Therefore, we abandon that approach. So what follows is a grueling period (approximately the first month of the semester) where we cater to their every whim, hang on every word they say and make sure that in every sentence addressed to them there are atleast three sir's/ma'am's. In other words, we give their egos such a fine massage that once our work is done they are susceptible to our every suggestion, almost hypnotically, provided we liberally sprinkle our speech with yessirs and the like.
However, life isn't exactly a bed of roses from this point onwards either. We have to be very careful; at the slightest hint that we are taking advantage of them, all is lost. It is here that the greatest delicacy is required. Our suggestions must be infinitely subtle, we must get it into their head that it was their idea in the first place. This is of vital importance, since if anything happens to go wrong, then we can count on the RA not to spill the beans because he/she is busy trying to save his/her posterior because he/she thinks it is his/her idea in the first place (I counted four his/hers, how many did you get?).
And now for the reward. Once all this khoon-paseena has been bahaofied, we can sit back and watch our efforts fructify. Putty in a carpenter's hands, that's what they begin to bear a striking resemblance to. Extra labs if we've missed a couple, dismissing us before time is up, accepting late submissions and importantly, a little help with the apparatus in the lab exam all become child's play. We generally get favourable results, but there are a few, pastmasters of this sublime art, who achieve spectacular results. A couple of examples:
Sometimes, in response to the charms of these talented few, the RAs even begin to flirt, albeit slightly. She handled the electrical lab; a first rate ogre (or ogress, I guess), if I ever saw one. But after being subjected to a few weeks of the best at the expert hands of this friend of mine, she definitely begin to exhibit characteristics of the fabled Mrs. Robinson. She used to go to his desk, run her fingers seductively on the table, positively simper and ask, in her inimitable Thambi manner, "New notebook,aa?"
And in some cases they become highly dependent on the student in question. For them, class is incomplete without the afore-mentioned student. The following incident illustrates my point. She's doing the roll-call in class and reaches his number. Unfortunately for her, he happens to be absent. This is what follows:
No answer.
Silence.A look of dawning horror upon her face.
"Bismay? Where is Bismay?"
Hysteria begins to set in.
"For God's sake, somebody tell me where Bismay is!", she shrieks. Class is cancelled shortly thereafter.
You see what I mean? That's pretty much it about the sexually frustrated RAs. Let us move on to Type 2, namely the nervous youngster. These are characterized by, well, mainly nervousness and in rare cases, misguided enthusiasm. But this can be attributed to the foolishness of youth, for they learn fairly quickly. And lack of knowledge, but that's a given. They are much more easier to handle than Type 1, as they are intimidated by us, fearful that we may come up with doubts they can't handle (and this happens often). All we need to do is play it easy, keep from asking doubts too often (for this may set them against us), keep up a steady flow of the yessir/yes-ma'ams and we're home free.
So you see, we have to live with the curse of the RAs hanging above our heads throughout our academic life. But with a little deft handling and oodles of patience, this curse can be turned into a real blessing.