The year is quite irrelevant, I suppose: I could not have been more than a confused teenager, just making his way through college. We were not more than two decades past the midpoint of the 20th century. Independence was still a memory fresh in the minds of our parents’ generation, while the majority of us were just a little too young to grasp how the world around us was changing – how the slow forces of time were shaping this newly established institute into something bigger than anything we could have foreseen. The Indian Institute of Technology set up here in Madras started off as a small campus snuggled in the midst of the Guindy National Park, not yet the behemoth it was to become in the upcoming years. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I turn the gears of my mind back to an unsuspecting fresher going about his day…
Somewhere in the 1960s:
I wake up to the sounds of a batchmate’s aggressive snoring – not exactly the welcoming morning birdsong I expected, but an effective alarm nonetheless. I hope that Kaveri has finally lived up to its name: maybe today is the day that water finally flows from all the taps. Alas, it is not to be. I console myself with the thought that Narmada and Krishna also remain quite barren. On the (not so) bright side, the lights finally appear to be functioning, though we all dread a time when, inevitably, the lights are suspended and we have to resume working in the perpetual darkness. The radio I’ve managed to sneak in from home is my only source of entertainment in the dark evenings. The food in the messes remain equally uninspiring, and enough jokes have been made about the same that I have nothing to add on to it. Humour is the best coping mechanism, as so many people have wisely said, and an abundance of good humour will serve you well here.
Classes are as hectic as can be expected, and this weather is enough to short-circuit your brains, assuming the courses haven’t already done so. The thought of the upcoming Saturday night movie is the only thing that drives us around in this heat. Though some credit is due to our cycles – they have survived a number of imminent breakdowns, and sometimes it feels like they stay together not with nuts and bolts, but with pure willpower and the sheer panic you feel when you’re late to a class. However, today’s classes end fairly uneventfully, and evening takes me to the post-office, where I find a letter from home, which feels so far despite it being only a few hundred kilometres and a day’s journey away. My parents send their love, and my sister peppers the letter with a barrage of questions about IIT and the campus– she swears she’ll be here too in just a few more years.
As the light wanes, I take a walk around the place, which acquires a special charm now that everything has not been obscured by the heat-haze. Some tinkering around has led to my radio being as good as new, and I hum a soft tune under my breath, some new song that was playing on All India Radio has wormed its way into my brain. The Gajendra Circle with its tall, conical structure looks like an imposing guardian staring down at all the scurrying inhabitants below. Under its watchful eye, I sit and observe the wildlife in all its glory, from the minute insects to the graceful, elusive deer, which are very shy and retiring (I have a few wing-mates who would do well to learn from them). I begin to wonder: how long can this harmony between Man and Nature last? I suppose that as long as there are people who can appreciate that the progress of Technology need not stand in the way of the forests, the campus should be alright.
It’s getting quite late, I see. I should be getting back to my hostel – the nightly roll call awaits, and it will take many years of dissent, I think, before they do away with it entirely. I cast one last glance around, and slowly make my way back to the buildings in the distance, waiting for the new day and what it may bring.
Disclaimer: The above account is purely fictional, pieced together from old archives, records, and photographs.
Image and archival credits: IIT Madras Heritage Centre
(G)olden Tickets is a heritage series in celebration of 60 years of IIT Madras and coincidentally, 10 years of The Fifth Estate. We comb through archives in the Heritage Centre, interview alumni, and dig up little known insti trivia to travel back in time. Join us on this journey with (G)olden Tickets. Comments and suggestions are always welcome, you can send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Series by Sharayu Shejale