Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Through the Looking Glass

[ Sandeep Bhadra & Swaroop Venkatesh ]

Five years is a long time. IIT has offered us experiences way beyond what was promised by the GCU guideline to IIT existence. As our profs will attest, there is very little to add to our JEE fundaes, and most of us have lost most of that too. Nevertheless, our five years here will remain the most memorable in our lives.

IIT from close quarters is very much like Alice’s journey through the Looking Glass. In short, the irreverent IITian attitude has manifested itself in every aspect of life on campus. We have all dutifully got our parents to sign on the dotted line upon the annual no-ragging agreement, only to flout it with impunity, and perhaps with the added zest which comes from breaking any rule – howsoever petty. We have become GCU counselors and then gone and told our batchmates which among the freshies are the most fun to rag. Sometimes we did it out of the sheer enthu to pain other folks, but mostly it was to prove that we were cooler than the next guy.

As arrogant nineteen-year olds, we vied with each other for the occupancy of the last bench, talked loudly in class and pretended to be disdainful of anything constructive or academic. We pooh-poohed branch changers who assiduously jotted down notes with five different inks, who sat in the first bench and behaved as if the fate of the world hung upon the solution of Bessel’s equations. How stupid they were, as any second-year guy will tell you, the fate of the universe actually depends on his nailing the Informal’s coordship. It’s a package deal – get the coordship, put pseud, pretend to work, and collect a babe at the end of the 4th sem FREE. We fell headlong into Machiavellian machinations to secure the coveted coordships, and as there were more among us that were disappointed, we instantly formed Informals-coord-hater cliques and spent endless hours dissecting their latest act of utter shallowness. Those less confident of their eloquence, but with longtime aspirations beyond such immediate compensations as girlfriends, enlisted for facilities coordships. The rules of the game are really very simple, you become GA vol -- and move tables to OAT and back in the first year. If you are God at that, they make you GA coord the next year, where not only do you move tables as before, but also bask in the warmth of the proximity to the incumbent cul-secs. Security coords meanwhile discover that they don’t need to buy fags for the entire semester after Saarang. The more ambitious among these coords would have, by now, discovered the (beaten) track that leads to the Throne. Towards the end of Saarang, you notice some people hanging around with some other people in the darkest corners of HSB and OAT, or in the rarefied environs atop the terrace of Vicky (RIP) wines. For those who have dirty minds, they can be doing but one thing. Putting strats for the next elections, discussing how 1/16th of Hostel A will go against their home candidate and chalking out elaborate details of how exactly you can net the maximum number of PG’s onto your side. And how morally corrupt the cul-secs have been in previous years.

Apart from cricket/footer around world-cup time, mud slinging and name-calling are the favorite IIT sports. Incidentally, till about 95, one of the favorite ways of letting a performer on stage receive an instant critique of his art was to hurl paper planes at him/her. The audience would be quicker to recognize the apparent talents of a plane-chucker whose plane gets dead on the mark, than the hapless artiste. Now you know why Saarang did not need an ISO-9002 certificate to ensure quality. And they have made plane designing into an event at Shaastra. IIT is in many ways a killer of enthu. Many people did not come on stage and give it their best fearing the wrath of a very intolerant audience. Each year, we claim a victim at the Saarang dramatics. Aspirants to the Executive wing take Shakespeare too literally when he says that all the world is a stage. Election manifestos are as honest and forthright, as mess food is palatable.

Speaking of mess ‘food’, the frequency of consumption of food within the mess premises is a steadily decreasing function, reaching zero asymptotically in the final semesters. Mess secs who rode the wave of popular expectation, having committed themselves to the betterment of the hostel grub, make small, vain efforts towards this lost cause during festival days. And of course on Hostel nights. It remains a mystery why one would invite ones closest friends to a hostel night and bear the onslaught of “hostel talent” and snaking winding queues for food that is unlikely to be there by the time one gets there. This is a good place to mention the subtle art of poonding – more enterprising IITians with elastic consciences can be found scanning queues for weak links where one could attach oneself with minimum fuss. In the face of those who think that their poonding before you into the same queue gives them the moral right to question your (unwanted) presence, you can always come up with a trite “Eh! I was there before you came, da! ” But even these mortals are infinitely superior to the bottom-feeders who invite practically their whole gang and eat off a single plate like Arabs. Senior toasts and rogues gallery are the few occasions, apart from the ‘English for Communication’ course, when everyone tries to chip in with smart-alecky lines with multiple clauses and double infinitives, thereby creating a literary style that is quite unique to hostel nights. Otherwise, our dependence on the insti argot becomes apparent when we try to avoid using words like ‘hajjaar’, ‘obly’ and ‘maajor’ in job-interviews.

Academic life on campus is fuelled by RG. It’s the weapon of the diligent and the bane of the last-minute crammer. It’s the toppers’ way of getting back at you for the all the fun that he might have missed out on – manifesting itself on nights before quizzes when you run from pillar to post gathering solutions to tricky tutorial problems or even more significantly in the unrelenting non-cooperation at app-meetings. The reasons for apping to more than the gentlemanly figure of seven/eight univs vary from candid confessions of insecurity that can only be assuaged by a constant stream of univ offers in the final semester to the more creative whines like ‘I am firsting only to two univs, I have only one safe, and all my other univs are too high’. Education at IIT stops after the sixth sem for B.techs and eight sem for Duals. The penultimate semester is spent in playing hardball with your classmates for the app, choosing univs, trying to drive those above you off these same univs, concocting sops, collecting recos and remembering to put everything together in the app-packets. Final year students whittle away the last semester in the aggravating anticipation of correspondence from these same univs. There goes your BTP (or DTP as the case may be). Re-formatting project reports of pass-outs who in turn cogged them from their seniors is the accepted norm. This immediately leads to the logical conclusion that undergrad research at IITM is still stuck in the early 70’s – this notwithstanding the professed protestations of research enthusiasm on grad-school Sops.

Non-academic pursuits mainly comprise Lit-Soc and Schroeter. Lit-soc today is more social than literary and even less cultural. Only a handful of self-appointed arbiters of literary and cultural activities meet each other and compete against each other in the same events. Breaking into these groups is impossible for an outsider and so, more and more students on campus are growing apathetic to the lit-scene. Sports, on the other hand is much more accessible to all, especially thanks to informal contests like the Dean’s trophy. While critics may carp that we are geeks preparing around the year to duel with other geeks at the inter-IIT Sportsfest, Schroeter and other informal sporting events are conducted on campus with a rigor that Lit-soc would do well to emulate. The ‘Olympic size’ pool and ‘modern’ fitness club attract hordes of IITians months before Saarang as the average couch-potato makes a last ditch effort to mask the inadequacies of mess-grub. Health advice is offered gratis at the fitness club by the friendly instructor who will exhort you to conserve your ‘body fluids’.

In summation, we’d like to explain why we made that erudite reference to Alice in the second paragraph. In Through the Looking glass, the Red Queen tells Alice that she must keep on running just to stay in the same place, and run faster than that if she ever hopes to get somewhere. Life in IIT follows the Red Queen Paradox to the T. If you want to get anywhere -- run. Faster than ever. In case you haven’t realized it already, your wingmates are doing the same – in between fart sessions on the wing cot and booze parties on Hostel terraces. We hope this article makes it to the GCU booklet now.