a moment so absurd I had to pinch myself

October 23, 2021

Real life is stranger than fiction. If this did not happen to me, I would have written off this story as an unrealistic fever dream.

I started an open source club in college. Barely out of my freshman year, starting an initiative like this was way out of my comfort zone. For the first few months, I managed everything. Organising and conducting all the meetups, moderating the Slack channel, where all communications took place, managing social media (poorly), and dealing with an awfully uptight and clueless college bureaucracy.

More people were joining and participating in the club as I was burning out. So naturally, that was my call to assemble a core team to help me with the administrative stuff.

We used to have this system in place to be able to join Slack channel. All you had to do was make a Pull Request to our GitHub repository to add your name in a "members list" document. The reasoning behind this system is it raises the barrier of entry just high enough to stop freeloaders who join, but not contribute or engage in any way. And besides, anyone who would do this would already get a small picture of how Open Source contributions work! We had an extremely detailed tutorial to do this, almost down to keystrokes, to make it super easy to those new to Open Source.

Naturally, to apply to be a part of the new core team, you had to send me a message in that Slack channel. Just to make it super clear, I conducted a meetup (with the help of a few friends) to show how to get the link to the Slack channel and all the requirements to apply. Through the club account, I sent a highly detailed email to all those who filled out the application form with the same instructions.

A strange thing I noticed in this process is how some people who never previously participated or showed any interest in the club (or Open Source) suddenly wanted to be on the core team. Maybe because it would look nice to put on their résumés? It never made much sense to me... it's just a random new student club that anyone could have started.

There was one lad in that category who took it way too far. I'll call him Swapnil. Swapnil skipped all the detailed instructions to get into Slack in my email. He decided to instead reply to it with a cover letter for why I should have him in the core team. It was not a great letter. Rife with punctuation and spelling errors, he told me how he is a perfect fit for the marketing and campaigning role (there was no such role), and that he created two instagram pages 'which i call them two non technical startups'. He also said he's a great fit because he has his 'own vision for this club to make it exceed its own goals by having great principles and execution of plans'.

I must remind you, me from that period was a fatigued soul juggling a lot of hats and not being particularly adept at any of them. My patience was eroding like cheap old shoes. I replied to him, urging him to read the email carefully again, and contacting my handle on Slack to apply. Since it was also the last date to apply, I decided to extend it for him. Despite the unfavourable impression, I gave him an opportunity to redeem himself.

Soon, I saw a message on my phone from Swapnil. He felt it was a good idea to track down my number through a large group chat we had in common and send me a screenshot of the email that he just sent me. And to clear any possible doubt, he added that he wanted to be a part of the core team. I suppressed the flames in my spirit and told him, as compassionately as I could muster, that he managed to apply for this role in all the places except the one place he had to. I also asked him to be patient, as I went through all the other applications. The conversation continued (@vuhh was my Slack handle)—

Swapnil: So I need to send my application to @vuhh?
Me: Yes.
Swapnil: It's giving an error when I mention @vuhh. It doesn't exist it seems.

I thought, maybe this is a genuine glitch. I asked him to show it. He left that message on read. I figured he probably gave up, and I could forget about this whole matter. How naïve I was.

Turns out he contacted my flatmate at the time. My flatmate was in his class. He needed help to set up a GitHub account. Not only was he not in the Slack workspace, he never even had a GitHub account needed to add his name to our members list! Where was he mentioning @vuhh?! My flatmate told me how remarkably incompetent he was. The reason he could not create a GitHub account was because the registration form told him that his username of choice was already taken by someone else. He was not able to recover from that setback.

The next day, I received a forwarded message from Swapnil, promoting one of his non-technical startups. He started flexing to me about how he managed to grow their WhatsApp group of 70 people to over 110. I was in a poor mood that day, and the last thing I wanted was more invasive messages from this buffoon. I sent him a long, significantly less compassionate message about why he absolutely will not make it to the core team. You refused to follow clearly laid out instructions. It would not be fair to the other applicants who respected the deadlines and the systems I set up.

He replied, "yeah bro, you are right, it's not fair. But,"


Nassim Taleb had an aphorism about Buts. Everything before the But is meant to be ignored by the speaker; and everything after the But should be ignored by the listener.

In this case however, I could not ignore what he sent after the But. The first picture was a sickly woman in a hospital bed, on a ventilator. The second was a steel dish, in the same environment, containing what I could only recognize as "meat". There were two pieces of meat, one small and one big, presumably something that used to be in that poor woman. I did not ask which bit of which organ it was. I was too shocked.

These are the reasons why I did not open the GitHub account, said Swapnil. I am fine if you don't include me in the core team. But let me be your advisor, and give you my approach for you guys to implement. And almost remembering that he sent those pictures, he referred back to them, saying that's his aunt.

I blocked him.