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Monday, February 07, 2011


There was a time when a typical Agraharam raised boy (aka me) went through growing pains. Something any boy his age should go through no doubt, but being raised in a very conservative family posed a set of unique challenges.

When we finished 10th standard (sophomore year in high school if those US readers are expecting a translation), the craze among students was to attend IIT coaching classes. The regular curriculum was a challenge in itself, but the majority of the kids seemed to be signing up for online, offline, inline and way out of line coaching classes for Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry for the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Exam.

There were many reputed College professors and independent tutors who specialized in doing this extra curricular coaching with various success rates and unofficial rankings and had waiting lists to join their coaching classes. Rumor had it that at some point the top seeded "Balu Sir" had a wait list that went for four years or that was the joke. By the time you got into his class and got through the IIT JEE, your friends would have graduated from the IIT!

Well, I was fortunate enough to go meet Balu Sir at his house with my grandfather. Still remember it vividly where grandpa took me with him and when we reached the house, got a big "taambalam" (metal plate) out of his bag, placed a bunch of fruits, some other auspicious stuff and asked me to hand it to Balu Sir and do a Namaskaram.

They had a conversation after asking me to leave the room. Next thing I know, I am in! Must have been impressed with my gobi sandana pottu and "abivadhaye" and my puppy dog look and said "why not?" or my grandfather impressed the teacher more than me, which was most likely the reason.

Grandpa knew a thing or two about making teachers happy and between him and Balu Sir, they taught me how to do that for the rest of my life. Years later my sister learned Physics from him and he apparently told his class "Sundararaman your brother, was the example for implicit obedience!".

The easy part was getting into the class. The difficult part was getting to the class. How could a boy who has no bicycle, no bicycling experience (other than riding friends bikes without knowledge of relatives), no experience in going from Mandaiveli to Mambalam by bus alone in late hours go to this class.

"No way!" said grandma.

"Over my dead body.Never!" said Mom.

"How dare you?" said the rest of the family to grandpa..

Look at the local news today "boy on cycle killed by head on collision with truck in purasaiwakkam" said my uncle and it looked like the whole IIT coaching thing would have to be forgotten.

Grandpa did not lose hope. He decided to get me a cycle first. Like those ballroom dancing movies where a star dancer displays a total lack of co-ordination in the early part of the movie only to win the championship in the climax, I started showing rapid progress in my cycling abilities around the street and my family seemed to be genuinely amused by my amazing skill progression. Still, the trip from Mandaiveli to Mambalam was ruled out..

Too many boys dying in bicycle accidents reported in the Hindu newspapers local section! IIT Math coaching classes would have helped me prove that as a percentage of boys riding bikes on truck infested roads, the deaths were miniscule, but considering there was only one of me for the family, any logic attempting to explain it with math would have been useless with the "thaikulam".

In current parlance I was in effect, what would be referred to mockingly as "vayasu payyan", without a moustache!

Literally had to roll on the floor and throw a tantrum to get a plan back in action for attending the class. My grandpa knew how much this meant to me. Did not know what attending an IIT was or anything more about IIT's. Had been to the campus a few times and that was it. Did not know engineering from anything else either. It was peer pressure to show that I could also sit with cyclostyled sheets of questions and do problems from Resnick and Halliday that got me going? But grandpa understood that this was his grandson trying to make a statement!

So he lobbied for me and declared "We always have 12B and 12C. Drops him right outside the cemetary on St. Mary's road and he should be here in no time". Even took me with him to the class location for a dry run on the public bus. We went around the same time as the class was supposed to happen and that is where I caught a lucky break.

The 12B did not show up on time! After waiting and waiting we finally got back home at 10:00PM. The family was worried. How was this "ulagam theriyaadha vayasu payyan" (young and naive boy) to go do this trip by himself ?!

Grandpa, the genius, suggested that I go with a bunch of friends on my bicycle. One chap had to cross our house to go and come back, so it would be convenient for us to go ride together. He vouched for me and backed me till the rest of the family agreed to it. To this day very grateful that he did.

No one knows what is in store for them when they are young. Life takes you places. Experiences open your mind or close your mind to other experiences. One thing leads to another and you get to the present!

A delayed 12B, a friend who had been raised in Liberia as a child agreeing to cycle with me, an entire family of people who had never been on an airplane who agreed that Liberia friend trumps 12B, a long forgotten world from a long time ago...

For the longest time was wondering if this happened only to me.. apparently not! Was at a friends place over the weekend when we found that he had a similar experience with his family. There are other boys who had curfew when it came to going on PTC buses after dark! Almost reached out and hugged him..

Now that makes me feel great, decades after all this happened!


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:43 PM, Blogger Hawkeye wrote...

This comment has been removed by the author.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:47 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...

oxford school opposite JYM Kalyana Mandapam.. open terrace on one side. class room on other.

quite an experience.. I learned to love the smell of those cyclostyled sheets with perfectly drawn arrow marks showing the forces and their normal reactions..


I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:48 PM, Blogger Hawkeye wrote...

didn't balsu teach physics in Sathyamoorthi school. My chitthi's great recommendation got me into his class but after a few weeks i decided to quit on my own. honorable exit. would have gotten thrown out after the first test anyway

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:48 PM, Blogger Hawkeye wrote...

too many typos so reposted comment

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:30 AM, Blogger Lak wrote...

I sort of remember cycling back and forth with you to Balsu's class, but didn't realize that it had been such a big deal!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:28 PM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...


once you started riding on same route things became acceptable for everyone. My grandfather was always very impressed with you and your boldness.


you were in fact the benchmark.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 8:48 AM, Blogger dipali wrote...

What a wonderful episode, and what a stalwart champion your grandfather was!


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