Behind the Scenes: HSF INC 2015

Disclaimer: Behind all the sarcasm in this article, there is genuine affection for Onion, Gandalf, Bora-Bora, Seal Clap, Jagerbomb, Permissions, Budget and Blade without whom I wouldn’t have made it through the past couple of months.

17:30, 8 May: Two hours, many knowing looks exchanged with Bora-Bora, and thousands of dead brain cells later, our first HSF INC Organising Committee meeting (which was just supposed to be a brief, introductory session, by the way), comes to an end.

We exit the academic block pulling our hair out and ranting to Tia. I don’t know if the tears in my eyes are a product of the frustrating one hundred and twenty minutes we’ve had, or laughing so hard at the fate we’ve signed ourselves up for. Jagerbomb has stupid ideas about hop on-hop off buses and light shows at the Red Fort. And everyone is too polite to point out its impracticality. We discuss everything about the competition’s Facebook page, and Seal Clap is enthusiastic enough to chalk out all the lovely, interesting things we can post to get more ‘likes’, and we are just one step away from making a day-wise calendar to plan out things. Gandalf is super-talkative and too excited about an event that is months away. Bora-Bora, like me, is silent throughout. I have my poker face on, but inside, I’m screaming.

It’s going to be a long, long four months till the end of this competition.

17:36, 12 August: Meetings with Blade are always excruciatingly long. I don’t know how he manages it. I had walked in with only one thing to discuss, and even though we had covered that within the first five minutes, I still find myself in the midst of conversation an hour later. It doesn’t feel like we’ve discussed anything substantial. How does he do it? I feel cheated out of my time. And incredibly sleepy. For the next month, long meetings with Blade become a running joke. “Meeting with Blade? See you tomorrow!” At least he has a nice voice.

20:41, 12 August: Permissions and Seal Clap aren’t on campus, so we have them on Skype while the rest of us sit in 301B for one of our first full-team meetings of the semester. Half the meeting is wasted in “Hello? Hellooo? Can you hear me?” My deaf grandmother down South can hear you. Ugh.

21:36, 12 August: Message to Bora-Bora: “Gandalf seems okay.”

21:45, 24 August: We have just recruited a first year as part of the OC. I have mixed feelings about this. This Committee could either become more frustrating or more fun, depending on how efficient and funny he is. He seems weird.

23:00, 24 August: He seems to have some decent suggestions even though he’s just jumped right into it. Has he done this before? Hmm. I wonder how long the initial enthusiasm will sustain.

23:55, 24 August: Our first four hour meeting comes to an end. And that was without Blade around. Imagine!

17:38, 25 August: Unassumingly, I get caught in another meeting. This wasn’t supposed to happen. No, no, no. I was just supposed to come in, show some printing samples and then do my readings in a corner. Why is everyone even here?! I’m trying to focus on Baxi, but intense discussions about desserts can be a little distracting. These people actually like mess halwa. Idiots.

17:43, 25 August: Budget came up with a brilliant cost-cutting plan (albeit, borrowed to an extent). We’re trying to come up with names for the final party and games we could play or traditions we could set. We discover we’re the most boring bunch ever, in the process. Jagerbomb suggests asking the winners to drink straight from their trophy. We all get excited before we realise poisoning is a very real possible outcome. Dammit.

18:40, 25 August: Budget is playing his music like it’s nobody’s business, Onion praises his taste in music and Permissions joins in, singing. What do you know, an OC spot comes with a free Broadway ticket. Yay!

18:46, 25 August: Message to Bora-Bora: “If I could resign, I would.”

 01:00, 27 August: There are only two weeks left to the competition, and I know one of the things I will miss most about it is the 301A terrace. I don’t know what it is about that spot that makes braving even the mosquitoes and hot nights worth it. Perhaps it’s just the feeling of seeing buildings that aren’t campus ones, and being reminded that just a little further away, there is another world out there. I’m sitting on the ledge and downstairs someone is playing Tum Hi Ho on the harmonica. I have readings to finish before class tomorrow, but for now, I am at peace.

18:17, 28 August: Message to Bora-Bora: “I like the first year already.”

12:15, 30 August: I swear the printer guy calls me more often than any boyfriend. I love his eagerness to get the work done, but three calls a day, everyday for two weeks is a little over the top. Ahhh.

15:45, 31 August: We’re deciding the colour of the event invites we’re sending out on Google Calendar. Reasons why HSF meetings go on for three hours…

16:17, 31 August: If my laptop is ever connected to the TV screen, I will never be allowed back into this OC with all the messages I send during meetings. I’m not a terrible person, I swear, just stressed out in life.

22:00, 31 August: Budget and I are having a conversation about what it is we’re really doing here. Why do we spend so much time on things that maybe don’t matter all that much? The attention to detail in the competition is amazing, but is it perhaps worth the opportunity cost of all the time the OC invests in it? It’s about finding sense in all the nonsense, he says. Or something like that. I don’t understand it, yet I still find myself in 301A for eight hours a day, without being coerced to.

21:11, 1 September: Message to Bora-Bora: “I think we need to have a silence hour at all HSF meetings. Where everyone just shuts up and gets the work done.”

11:25, 2 September: I have devised a new strategy to avoid long meetings with Blade. The solution is to drop by at the beginning of tea break, and then rush off for class when the bell rings. I am quite pleased with this method.

17:00, 3 September: Exit meeting with Blade. If I have to make one more change to the competition designs, I will hurt someone.

11:03, 5 September: We have the weekend off, and everyone in the hostel has gone home, but for some strange reason I’m awake before noon and frantically getting dressed. Late, late, late as usual! I really must start waking up on time, I cannot make a habit of being late to every meeting. The feeling of cautiously turning the door handle and almost tiptoeing, hoping no one will notice you’re at least fifteen minutes late. And failing miserably at it and feeling unprofessional.

11:40, 5 September: Turns out I wasn’t late, and sprinted to the academic block like a rabbit for no good reason. This meeting isn’t going to start before 12, and I doubt it’ll end before 12 either. I woke up early (by my standards) on a Saturday. To voluntarily work the entire day, even though I feel sick. This cannot possibly be normal.

13:00, 5 September: This Committee is bloody weird. The Baby Bachelor is an incredibly creepy show that just feels wrong. But, good thing we’re watching back-to-back episodes of it! If I thought I didn’t understand Seal Clap earlier, I have no doubt about that now. Gandalf is cackling away and insisting we watch more episodes. What is so funny about five year olds in dresses in a romantic-themed show, trying to win over a kid in a tuxedo?!

17:00, 5 September: Apparently, not having watched Lord of the Rings is considered blasphemous in this Committee. For the benefit of us three poor, uninitiated souls, we have the first movie playing while we go about our work. Kudos to the college for an amazing sound system! So amazing that after five straight hours of shows or music playing, my head is ready to burst. Perfect.

Seal Clap is taking this session very seriously, like an academic course almost, asking relevant questions and remembering character names. Permissions and Gandalf are only too indulgent, happy to have converted another one. Budget is very aware of the fact that I refuse to drag my eyes away from my laptop screen and watch LOTR, and points it out. Stares all around. My back feels like it might break any minute, and like the sound system in this room, the air conditioning is overly effective. Good thing I have a cold! I hate this Committee.

01:00, 6 September: After more than 12 straight hours together, we trudge back to our rooms for a taste of that sweet elixir called sleep. But, we cannot stay away from each other for too long. Like that overly attached significant other, we must meet again within the next 20 hours. And be in constant touch over Whatsapp and emails meanwhile.

16:30, 7 September: What do you know, Gandalf has pretty good taste in music! I wouldn’t have pegged him for the Simon & Garfunkel type, but I’m not complaining. I have Shut Up & Dance stuck in my head from Jagerbomb playing it the other day. Being musically inept isn’t one thing you can accuse this OC of!

17:00, 8 September: I have been sleeping all day and I still don’t feel any better. My head is throbbing, I have a mini Mount Everest of tissues on my desk, and my throat hurts from coughing so much. “This is not fair,” I tell Tia as I pop pills and sip soup. “I can’t have worked on this for months and be sick the weekend of the competition. It’s not fair.”

21:00, 8 September: I’m occasionally sending files from my room, but my illness has rendered me bed-ridden and incapable of attending today’s meeting. My only real job is to eat, rest sufficiently and watch episodes of my favourite show in bed maybe. Perfect day off, right?

Something feels missing though. I wonder how the meeting is going. Am I actually missing Seal Clap’s cute comments? It feels like maybe Gandalf’s positivity and energy would be more effective than the Crocins I’ve been taking for five days now. I play a song but in my head I can only hear Budget singing it, and Onion following through the lyrics in his terribly off-tune voice. If you’re reading this – please don’t ever sing.

17:00, 9 September: I head to the third floor of the academic block after class and consultations. I wonder what I will do once the competition is over. Where will I go? To my room? With people walking in every ten minutes? To the library? Where I’ll be kicked out at midnight?

23:00, 9 September: Running on an average of three hours of sleep per night this week. The Amul store’s tea sales have sky-rocketed. Just HSF things.

14:00, 10 September: “How’s it going?” Tia enquires cautiously. She knows that is a dangerous question to ask me around this time. I will either collapse speechless out of exhaustion, or launch into a frustrated rant about everything going wrong, my voice rising with every word. “Physically restrain me from doing this again next year,” I tell her, holding her by the shoulders and looking her straight in the eye.

Wait, is that a team approaching us? “Oh, hello! How are you guys liking India?” I smile. It worries me how fast I can switch expressions and pretend, sometimes. Not as quick as Permissions switches accents, though!

Budget walks past us at the Amul store during our lunch break and, subconsciously perhaps, shoots us a look that almost makes me feel like a glutton. Half an hour lunch breaks don’t feel right with barely twenty-four hours to the competition.

18:00, 10 September: Jagerbomb is asleep on the mattress at the end of the room and is snoring. We’re never letting her forget this.

19:30, 10 September: We’re having a mock negotiation session to give the volunteers an idea of how things work. It’s Gandalf and I versus Seal Clap and Bora-Bora. Game face, on! Bora-Bora keeps mixing up names, calling Gandalf by a different name every time he addresses him. He accuses me of lying, I kick him under the table, we’re all in splits, and Budget’s blood pressure is simmering. Such a kill-buzz, as he would say.

21:00, 10 September: I haven’t seen my batch-mates in days. Are they alive? Are they doing okay? I haven’t the slightest clue. I hope they’re alright. I feel so disconnected from everything else, like life is on pause till HSF is over.

21:30, 10 September: Seal Clap walks into the room with Onion, looking traumatised. She’s terribly afraid of lizards. So, of course, he went ahead and cut one up in front of her and threw it away. I’m never using those scissors again. “That’s so unnecessary!” is Permission’s only comment. So British! What is it about these antics and comments that is endearing! I must be going crazy.

03:00, 11 September: Tomorrow is the day. Technically, today. The beginning of the end. Months of phone calls and meetings and emails and printouts will culminate in one big mess of a competition BECAUSE I FEEL VERY UNDERPREPARED I HAVE SO MANY THINGS LEFT TO DO HOW IS THIS EVER GOING TO COME TOGETHER IN TIME AHHHH

11:30, 11 September: I break it to my friends that no, there are not, in fact, any cute participants at this year’s round of the competition. Damn. What is the point of even organising this competition. Maybe we should sneakily include it as a criteria for selection next year.

20:00, 11 September: The inaugural ceremony just finished and the teams are making cautious small-talk over dinner. Jagerbomb has the inside information and gossip on all the teams, somehow! Including that one guy whose nose she totally digs. One of the teams suggested a drinking game – take a shot every time Budget says “Yes?”

I like them already. The next two days are going to be fun.

22:00, 11 September: And so it begins! The first of many dreaded emails we knew we were going to receive. Judges backing out. Call in the back-ups, change the match-ups, switch the judge folders. Permissions will have to print the schedules again. Is it mean to laugh?

08:40, 12 September: “It’s too early for this”, says one of the judges, sleepily rubbing his eyes as I accompany him to the meeting room. I couldn’t agree more.

09:10, 12 September: “Good morning Mr. X, how can I help you?” I sound like a receptionist. Directions to college from a random pocket in Dwarka? I’m not sure I can help you with that! By the time I figure it out on Google Maps and call him back, he’s reached campus. Argh! Inefficiency strikes again.

18:00, 12 September: “When will you be done?” Budget asks me for the millionth time. I know he would’ve done this five times faster, but if anything goes wrong with the scoring, it’s all on me. I hand him an incorrect printout and the look I receive makes me want to dig a hole in the ground, crawl in and never come out. You do not screw up at this stage. Unless you’re me, of course. Oh God, please kill me now. I should never have been born.

19:00, 12 September: I used to mistake Permissions’ calm nature for indifference earlier, but I have never been more thankful for having her around. Budget is hovering and the only thing making me think I can still do this is her being patient and saying we will be done in time. God bless.

20:00, 12 September: If I had to make a list of my top ten nervous cab rides, this one would win hands-down. We’re on our way to the break-night dinner where we announce the results of the preliminary rounds and I’m clutching the bag with the scoresheets with trembling hands, almost. “It’s all fine, right?” Budget asks me with the ‘I’ve trusted you, don’t make me regret it’ look. “Yep”, I squeak and nod. “Not that I mind re-doing the scores if anything’s wrong. I mean, we’re all about transparency, after all”, he adds. I’ve never felt more religious.

01:00, 13 September: Phew. The semi-finalists have been announced, the teams have seen their scoresheets, we had a mini-scare about misunderstood scoresheets (because any day is incomplete without a hitch!), and I’ve had too much chocolate mousse. Everyone is playing antakshari and singing songs in the bus back, but I am too exhausted to do anything but look out the window. This is it. The worst is over, now. I feel like I’ve lived years of stress in just a few nights.

But, we still need to plan out the day tomorrow and go back to the control room and get things in order for the final rounds. Not quite time to shut down, yet.

18:45, 13 September: Is it time for the awards ceremony already? The past two days went by in a blur. We discover we have the sassiest, most cheeky person ever as part of our OC. Blade’s speech has left us all speechless and with our jaws dropping. Bora-Bora and I are focussing on someone else though – our new-found crush, and how unfazed he is by everything. Permissions and Jagerbomb think “sexy” is overdoing it, but nothing can change our minds now.

19:30, 13 September: Cambridge got their trophy, the teams have their certificates and everyone is off for dinner. (Yes, curry again as one of the foreign participants would complain.) We’re clearing out the negotiation rooms, but get distracted by the whiteboard. Bora-Bora is teaching Seal Clap the normative theories of drinking, complete with diagrams and references to Jagerbomb’s theories and the positive and normative schools. We’re fan-girling over our one true love and dotting the i’s over his name with hearts, and throwing around French for some reason. I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard for so long.

23:30, 13 September: It’s all over now. We’re out for one last party. Budget is mistakenly sipping straight from the pitcher, Permissions is waiting for her turn at karaoke, and Bora-Bora and I are making the teams from England judge who has a better English accent. (I still hold mine is better). Seal Clap taught the foreign teams the Indian way of dancing (pat a cow, milk the cow, throw dung at the wall!), and Pickle seems to have made a “special” friend. We’re laughing at anything and everything, singing songs we don’t know the lyrics to, and finding common ground with people from halfway across the globe.

09:02, 14 September: Text message to Budget: “Not doing this again!”

I spend the next five classes sleeping, but all I can dream of are teams missing their flights and post-competition hassles and everything that can still go wrong. Just the HSF hangover, I suppose.

00:19, 15 September: Our last meeting ended a couple of hours ago, and my work is over, but for some reason I’m still in the control room, writing about the past few months instead of chilling in the hostel. Onion is ringing the buzzers annoyingly, Bora-Bora is at the whiteboard again, Gandalf is doing the best impression of Budget being stressed out, Jagerbomb’s screw-ups are providing us entertainment and Permissions is nervously checking her phone for an angry call from Budget, who left for home a while ago declaring he’s never coming back to campus again (he totally is).

I know I’d do it all over again, given the chance.



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