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Life in college

Back in the College, we had this torturous thing called the Physics Lab. We were supposed to do physics “experiments” in the lab and learn from it. But these were not so much experiments as they were “fudge the readings till you get the right answer” exercises, and we were pretty good at it.

The expert at this, of course, was Chitradeep Chetty. He was so good at “reverse calculations” that as soon as we get the experiment, he’d start off with his math, working backwards from the expected answer to figure out exactly what the readings should be. And then, he’d change the reading a little, you know, to make sure the answer didn’t come out exactly right and get the teacher suspicious that he fudged the numbers.

So this one day, Chitradeep and I were lab partners in the physics lab. The experiment is to calculate the speed of sound in air using a tuning fork. We’d all gathered around the lab teacher, who was demonstrating the experiment to us.

Teacher: “…And so, you bang the tuning fork and hold it over this water tube, and a resonating sound will come.”

The teacher held up the tuning fork, but there is no sound. He tried again, but still no sound.

Teacher: “…Well, err…you have to adjust the length of the water column properly and the sound will come. Really, when you do it, it will come.”

Now, it was embarrassing enough for the teacher that his own experiment had flopped, but Chitradeep Chetty, not to loose any opportunity, raises his hand to ask a question.

Chitradeep: “But Sir, what does the sound sound like?”

The teacher looks at him suspiciously, presumably evaluating if this is a genuine question. he looks at Chitradeep’s small-puppy face, and decides that he is in earnest.

Teacher: “The sound will come like this: Woooooooooooooooooooooo“
The entire batch is suppressing it’s laughter.

Chitradeep: “Like how bad boys whistle at girls, sir? Like this: Whoooot Whoooooo Or is it like whistling at AutoRickshaws to make them stop? Like this: TWweeooooooooo?”

The teacher decides he’s had enough of this, and sends us all away to our places. As I’m setting up the experiment, Chitradeep has already started the “back-calculation”, and soon figures out that we need to get the water level to “15.5 cms” to get the proper result. And so, we pre-adjust the level of the water, and start banging the tuning fork, but absolutely no sound. We try and try with all kinds of adjustments, but the bloody resonating sound is just not coming.

After a while, we decide we’ve had enough, and anyway, we have the numbers, and that’s what matters in the end. So, we pretend the experiment is successful, make the relevant entries in the lab record, and tell the teacher we’ve finished.

Usually, that’s the end of the lab, but because of Chitradeep’s brilliant demonstration of his whistling skills earlier, the teacher has been watching us, and now says “Show Me your Experiment“, and walks over to our table.

Chitradeep and I look at each other. Now we’re in trouble. Our experiment is certainly not working, but our lab record claims a very good result. Chitradeep has always been the innovative kind, and he’s not the one to back down from a challenge like this. He invites the teacher to sit down, and stands behind him. He signals for me to just pretend to go along. I have no idea what he’s up to, but follow his lead.

Me: “So, here’s the water column at 15.4 cms, and now I’m going to take this tuning fork over the water column, and we will see the resonance.”

I bang the tuning fork on the pad and bring it up near the water tube. Chitradeep removes the cap from his pen and holds it inverted near his mouth.

Just as I bring the tuning fork on top of it, Chitradeep whistles into the cap, producing a shrill, shrieking “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” sound. The teacher looks rather flambungeled, and looks around to see if we’re fudging something. Chitradeep has put away the cap, and again makes the “innocent small-puppy” face. The teacher doesn’t know what to say. He suspects Chitradeep is up to something, but doesn’t know what to accuse him of.

Me: “…And, taking that reading from the tube, we use the formula for the resonance…”

I shove the lab record into the teachers face, and he looks at all our calculations. He’s trying to find a mistake there so that he can pin us down. But he can’t find any, and so, reluctantly, he lets us go. As we walk out, the teacher gives us the “sooner-or-later-i’m-going-to-get-you” look, but we run away to our freedom!

Chitradeep’s “innocent small-puppy” face has rescued the day once again!

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