This last weekend, had to make a trip to the airport to pick a friend of mine and I found myself blissfully overshoot the exit - The road to the Tampa airport is peculiar that the airport exit is the last exit before you hit a 10 mile bridge, which cannot and does not have an exit for 10 miles. It just got me thinking as to how you can end up doing something, almost on auto-pilot - without thinking actively about what you are doing.
The first recollected instance of this happening was my english exams - the last time I did any academically related activity before my english exam must be way back in my primary school when we were really tested on grammar and all that stuff. Thankfully, when I was in the sixth, the CBSE had a brain wave and abolished any direct grammar testing questions - or so my school told us. So grammar was more or less nullified to complete the sentences kind of practical testing which didn't demand that I know the difference between adverb, adjective and all those stuff - till this date, I really do not know what an adverb is. One of the best things that was taught to me in PSBB was by my 'class' teacher, Mrs. Asha Kannan, back in my 4th standard who said that a grammatically correct sentence is one which sounds right to you. I have stuck on to that logic and so far through my school, UG and GRE-Toefl-CAT times, this logic has helped staying away from actually studying wordlists or Wren and Martin or Nurnberg and Rosenblum. In fact, my recommended book for GRE would be the Big Book which has 50 practice tests out of which you take, arbitrarily, 10-15 exams and you should be really fine for the GRE. And the version of the CAT exam that I wrote was more RC specific which helped me ace the verbal section (though I majorly flunked the DA section :) ). SO more or less, my english exams back in school involved taking the question-cum-answer sheet (thankfully to avoid junta from writing their sondha kadhai sogha kadhai, we were given allotted spaces to write our answers). So, my only aim was to finish the paper inside of 1.5 hours and to have a sound nap on the desk. This might sound pure lunacy, but somehow I loved to sleep on the desks - and so throughout the exam, I was more or less on auto pilot with the formal letter, RC and all that stuff.
The next 'remember-able' instance of me being on auto pilot was my electrical machines laboratory in my UG days. The lab was a very simple one. They gave you all the circuit diagrams and all you have to do was to make the circuit connections and take the I-V readings and depending on the experiment, do a plot and end up with the shunt resistance or series resistance of the armature and all that stuff which all had pre determined formulas. So all the work involved was to rig up the connections, take the I-V readings and do a rough plot and see if it looks anything like what it is supposed to. As long as you didn't mess up with your 3ph connections or didn't do outright silly things like connecting a voltmeter in series, you ended up with the correct readings. And the remainder of the time was spent in which guy was line vittufying for which girl in the class - this was a pretty fun activity. We were grouped based on our roll numbers and being named what I'm, I was pretty much preceded by 4 guys with the same name as me and succeeded by the same number with the same name (the first and second portion of my name are perhaps, the most common south indian names ever, though I don't think there are many people with my exact combination - based on the fact that I pretty much got my name in all the social networking/email accounts). And I had these two amazing guys in my group who were pretty much your enthu-pattani kinds. So more often than not, my lab 'experiment' was done and dusted within the first hour and the for the rest of the time, we guys would have a happy time looking at inter-lab-group line vittufyings and intra-lab-group line pottufyings. The fun would be when our crazy EM professor would start on his rant about 'indha kaalathu engineering pasanga' which would provide us enough entertainment for the day.
While in college, I had the other daily routine which involved me in auto pilot mode - the 40 odd km trip to and from our college to my bus stop - through, some hook and lots of crook, I changed my bus to a route which had the Bus Coordinator Prof in it. That guy - as is the thondru-thotta vazhakkam of people who have power - always made sure that the bus on his route was either an air bus or sometimes, air conditioned air bus. So for the 10K I paid every year, I decided to get a bang for my buck and take the air bus - so reach the bus stop at 7.30, talk arbit stuff about anything till 8, board the bus, get the last but one seat and sleep. Some of those days, the bus coord guy would come around asking for our bus pass to see if we were genuinely on that route or whether we were people who pretended to have missed our original bus to be on an air bus. After a while, unwilling to be disturbed from my morning siesta, I had my bus pass and placed it on the next seat and pretty much had a sound sleep until we reached the Chembarambakkam lake, by which point, some guy would SMS you asking whether you had completed some arbit assignment or record or obse or graph... So the last 10 mins of the bus ride was spent in: 1. Getting to know what was that I had NOT done that was supposed to be submitted. 2. Determine if I could escape from the prof who demanded the submission through the gift of the gab (more or less, my college had this typical categories of professors - 1. female staff who had completed their ME a couple of years ago 2. Male staff who had completed their ME a couple of years ago 3. Senior staff). There was pretty much no escape from the 3rd category and it involved me doing some real work in the bus with my calculator and graphs. Category 1 was the easiest - you could yap to them about some arbit thing - mostly, the prevalent Madhavan padam or some indee padam (depending on their geographical background) and you can escape with pretty much anything, including murder. Category 2 were the ones who had various sub categories:
2 a. The rural quota ME guy - you talk 4-5 sentences in english , putting in every complicated word you know and you can pretty much walk away scot free. But the trouble would brew if you did in the presence of category 1 staff as our rural romeo would feel offended that you asinga paduthified him in front of the 'figures'. So in those instances, you somehow create a familiarity, talk in chennai lingo about some arbit stuff and escape.
2 b. I'm-a-know-it-all-and-you-better-lick-my-shoes kind - these were the kind I absolutely detested. These are the kinds who studied ME because they were para aarvam to continue masters after their UG, but due to either financial status/own principles, chose not to come over to the US and do their ME in MIT (Chromepet) or some other local pultu college. Whatever you do, you never want to let these junta know that you want to go abroad for your higher studies - if you do, every instance that they get, these makkal will say, "Unnaku ellam US la MS admit kudkaranga" - You typically say to these makkal that you are 'thalai-la adichufying' as to why you chose electrical engineering and you put in an extra bit - "epdi sir neenga ME pannenga? Sema padips ah sir neenga?" More often than not, this statement leads the 2 b category person to believe that he is a self anointed guru for you and they tell you some arbit mokka logic that they followed to be in the 'successful' position - you listen to that arbit logic/funda and walk away with a sorry (Naan ennoda appa amma solliye ketka maatein - bloody nee solliya ketka poren plays in your mind when you walk away).
In my department we had a peculiar assistant professor who was once suspended for doing some 3rd rate stuff with girl students - this guy was more or less your sabalist kezham - who at 50 odd years wants to see how he can use his age to do silmisham, which the poor girls would not mind, thinking of him as their thatha at college. So with this guy, we do an Arjuna (of Mahabharatha) - like the way he used Sikhandi to defeat Bheeshma, you channel your gate pass/leave letter (forged) or permission letter (to not submit record etc) through a few of the well favored girls (the thatha, apparently, had some 'taste' in the figures he wanted to deal with) - so you give your requests through one of those favored girls and you pretty much, ended up with his signature on any piece of paper.
I digress - coming back to my point, so, the last 10 minutes of my morning bus journey was most often than not spent in some academic activity. The evening bus journey back was slightly more interesting - as most often my route was linkified to some other route in the evenings (as the bus coord left college at 5.30, he reserved the route to leave at 5.30). So this gave me a ring side view/knowledge of which payyan is dating which ponnu. Which 'pair' was spotted where in Madras - who are all the guys who are putting kadalai to a girl. All this was fun to hear and sometimes, you get to watch these wooings in the bus - and by the time I reached poonamallee, I was pretty much entertained for the day - after which I read the book (non academic, of course) or slept my way through till my bus stop - the good thing being that most of the days, our bus was held up at the Kathipara junction - which, I could have avoided had I just gotten down at Kathipara and walked to my bus stop near the Guindy railway station. But then that would mean that I have to wake up from my stupor and do some actual work, which would have meant that this activity of mine would have never found its way here. :)
After all these auto pilot experiences, I pretty much think, this was my first auto pilot experience in the US, where I was able to do work without actually thinking about what I was doing or why.