Writer, illustrator Ashok Rajagopalan is great fan of PG Wodehouse. “He taught me to write in a spiritual sense,” says the 48-year-old, who decided to freelance, as a monthly salary of `800 wouldn’t be sufficient to start a family. Rajagopalan, who authored Witchsnare, a gamebook for Penguin, studied mechanical engineering (1980-’84) at Murugappa Polytechnic, Chennai. He also pursued a part-time certificate course in graphic design from Loyola Institute of Visual Communication in 1988. The rebel in college takes us down memory lane.
What did college teach you?
I learned to speak and love Tamil in college. We used to speak Malayalam and English at home. I started reading Sujatha. Puthu Kavithai (A Tamil form of Haiku) was a craze at that time — I wrote a few. I learned interpersonal skills in college and also discovered movies then.
What was your proudest moment in college?
I discovered I was super intelligent. Of course, now I’ve mellowed down but in the arrogance of youth, I believed I was super intelligent. In 1983, during a workshop, I was asked what is the radius of a spur gear (gear in a straight line). I got the answer in a few seconds — it’s infinity. The workshop head then said, ‘You’re very intelligent but not using it’. Later when I was interning at Tube Products of India, an employee asked me to solve a particular question in his exam. I not only answered him but also gave multiple solutions. I felt proud to be more intelligent than an adult. My friends used to look up to me — I helped them improve their English language skills.
Have you had any embarrassing moments in college?
In the sandwich course, you are expected to do two six-month internships. During my second stint, I was a lost sheep especially in the last three months. I hated the sound of factory and stopped going. I thought this would only result in a loss of stipend (`150 per month). During that time, three classmates and I went on a tour of south Tamil Nadu. When I was away, word went to the institute that I was irregular to the factory. When I returned, I had to face a livid father and principal. Though legally, I could appear for my final exam, the principal wanted to make an example out of me and denied permission. So instead of finishing the course in three-and-a-half years, I had to wait for another six months.
How did you score points with the opposite gender?
I totally missed out on that part as I studied in an all-boys’ school and college. At Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai (Rajagopalan enrolled there to study for AMIE certification but he dropped out in a year), it was worse. We used to be fined `5 for talking to a girl.
Was bunking a part of your college routine?
I only bunked during my internship. All 15 of us once mass bunked the workshop. It was historical as it was the first time students of the sandwich course were skipping a session. The electrical HoD chased us on his cycle. To escape we ran into Ramratna Theatre and watched a Rajini movie.
During my second internship, I used to watch a movie everyday, visit all the libraries and read books at the beach. It became a joke that ‘Go to any theatre and you will find Ashok there’.
Did you have any rifts with professors? Why?
Except my principal, the rest liked me. I was a goody-goody boy.
Where did you hang out in college?
I used to take my classmates to Moore Market to buy used books. I took my classmates who were from other parts of Tamil Nadu on a tour of the city, showed them LIC’s office and other popular buildings.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
My friends and I once devised a solar cooker. It worked well — we boiled an egg and also made tea in it. But I was never excited about academic projects. Neither did I participate in NCC nor sports. I did illustrations for a sci-fi story that my friend had written. I also directed a skit in college.