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On the Redundancy of Workshop Outfits

In my opinion, of all the pointless, redundant practices we still cling to in these modern and civilised times, the one of wearing workshop outfits for laboratories is the worst, followed closely by the plague of writing record books.

Oh it all starts out well enough, on the day you receive your allotment order telling the world that you have been granted a seat in mechanical engineering, when the usher points you to a corner of the hall where a gent with a measuring tape is busily taking the chest and waist sizes of your compatriots. You innocently enquire as to what this is for, and are told by a beaming parent that it is for the workshop outfit. "Won’t you look so manly," the parent gushes, and since you have just finished twelve years of school where you were told to stand in lines and stop talking, you feel it is about time a bit of manliness set in. 

But then you have to wear the thing to college, and that’s where all your troubles start.

Firstly, it is beastly hot inside it, and that may well have to do with the fact that it seems to be made out of some kind of tent canvas. It is as heavy as a suit of armour, and it becomes damp and adheres to your skin as soon as you walk around in the morning sun for more than a minute. This, in turn, makes you sweaty and irritable, and you snap at your friends, especially the ones who are in Computer Science and don’t have to wear it.

Then it is time for the workshop, and things start to get worse. The workshop is the size of a Boeing hangar, but its sole ventilation is provided by two ancient pedestal fans, which look like they would not be sufficient for a kitchen. Accordingly, you sweat like a pig as you sit and wait for the instructor to arrive, growing tetchier by the minute.

The instructor arrives at last, and, making sure all of you are properly arrayed in your uniforms (“safety first”), despatches you to your machines, and it is there that you find out the magnitude of the outfit’s uselessness. The machine is this large sewing machine affair called a lathe, and as it runs, tiny sharp chips of metal are flung out gaily in all directions at dangerously high speeds. You ask the attendant if you can have a pair of goggles, but he looks surprised. He says you ought to be fine, since you have the proper outfit. 

How, you ask yourself, is wearing a camel skin on your back going to prevent you from being blinded by flying shrapnel? 

Despite harbouring deep misgivings about the purported protective prowess of the outfit, you start the lathe, and miraculously make it through the next hour unscathed, though you feel disinclined to credit any of this to the now soaked uniform.

At lunch you do not feel like eating anything - you only quaff several gallons of water and iced tea and watch moodily as your friends from the other departments, all arrayed in light clothing as befits the heat, laugh and giggle and share your lunch among themselves. Finally, at one o’ clock, it is time to go to your classes, and no words can describe the mortal agony you are going through, sitting in a claustrophobic room in the sweltering heat with a damp, smelly jute bag on your back. 

The misery does not end there. You are told that you must wear the thing to all the laboratories that do not have computers in them. This does not sound unreasonable at first, but then you realise wholly the inadequacy of the garb, and how the only purpose it serves is to make you feel suicidal and sociopathic. You walk into the Dynamics of Machines Laboratory and the attendant tells you that the governor is a dangerous device, with two large weights spinning around at high speeds, and therefore you must wear your workshop outfit. You feel like you want to scream, and to ask him how on earth a blow to the side of the face by a large metal ball could in any way be assuaged by a thick and smelly workshop outfit. 

The pinnacle is reached when you have your Electronics Laboratory on the same day as your workshop, and you have to go and sit in a hall with piddling bread boards and harmless diodes, dressed like you were expecting an attack from the Taliban. In all this suffering, your temper hasn’t improved, and you grow increasingly dissatisfied with your lot, and curse and swear at everything in sight. 

Each day, as you step onto the bus to go home, you mentally count down how many workshop classes you have left in your degree, consoling yourself with the fact that you will have the biggest bonfire in the state planned for the outfit on the evening of the last class. Even then your suffering is not complete, for as you jostle for space in the crowded bus, you get accosted by an old and extremely deaf old lady for a ticket to Kilpauk Garden, for being short-sighted, she has mistaken you in your uniform for the conductor.

Tagged in : News and views, Akshara Vishwanathan, My space, Sara Afreen, Mark Benjamin,