Devan Harikumar is a fourth year CSE student at IIT Patna. This is a story that he feels touches on the failing brand value system of newly established IITs1.
Back in the good old days when someone asked you which college you were from, and you answered IIT, you could literally see them well up with admiration. They might even rub their eyes to make sure you’re real. You’d have to answer fifty questions after that -“What’s it like, son?”, “What are your placements like?”, “What is the pay package?” and the kind. People whom you were introduced to in family functions and the like would look at you as if you were from Mars.
Having an IITian in the family was something to boast of. “You’re an IITian? My uncle’s father-in-law’s son’s second cousin twice removed was an IITian too. What a coincidence!”. For all it mattered, that person might’ve been you, because back then there were very few IITians. At least, someone you’d see round the corner was unlikely to be one. Today, when they ask you “Which college are you from?”, and you answer “IIT”, they would ask again,somewhat wearily, “You too? Old or new?”. That aside, a sizeable fraction of people in given communities might be IITians. There will be no welling up with admiration and no introductions either.
Although there would now be one follow-up question: “You’re from a new IIT! Will you get placed?” And they might not even care what you say to that because the question was rhetorical. Gone are the times when ‘IIT’ meant ‘good jobs’!
There is something special about the people who pass through your life unnoticed. They strike up a trivial conversation with you and somehow make you realize something you have been unable to notice your entire life. You don’t remember them, just the conversation. There was this middle-aged man at the Ernakulam North railway station. I was waiting for my train to Patna when he asked me:
“Where are you off to?”
“Christmas vacation, huh?”
“Not exactly. We usually have December off.”
“Oh, which college NIT, IIT?
He spoke in a manner which was way too overqualified for the tobacco-chewing impression he created in the beginning.
It was unlikely that he’d predict ‘IIT Patna’ anyhow. It is a curious habit for people who participate in these delightful guessing games that they only think of the seven well-established institutes.
“Wait, I shall guess! After all, how many are there? Seven or eight?”
My heart sank lower.
He looked perplexed for a second or two, but then laughed patting my shoulder “Ha ha, good one. I know there is no IIT there.”
He might as well have stabbed me in the chest. Don’t tell me there is no IIT there, for God’s sake, I have been studying there for the past three years. But what is the point?
“All right, I was kidding. IIT Guwahati.”
“I knew it. I was just about to say that. You got me there for a second when you said Patna” He smiled at me. “Could you not have gone to Madras or Bombay?”
Madras and Bombay sounded like his first choice to everything.
“That’s not how it works. I needed a better rank in JEE for that. What’s wrong with Patna anyway? I mean, Guwahati?”
“Guwahati is a new one right? I mean it came like, what? 15 years back?”
“If an IIT had opened, say, last year, would you have gone there? Same reason why.”
I felt like the blood circulation inside me was ignoring my head. I felt giddy. From the distance 12696 crawled into the platform like a snail, its bright headlight piercing the December haze. Never before had a train arrived at a timelier instant. “There you go.”. It took a minute and forty five long seconds for the train to finally come to a halt. I lifted my luggage and entered into my coach. He beamed at me. The train was about to leave when I lifted the window shutter for some fresh air and met the same face I beamed at, a while ago.
“What would it be like if they founded say some six new IITs this year?” I asked at last, out of curiosity.
“Ha ha, you kidding me? That would be like having an IIT at every bus stop.”
‘No, I am not kidding you. I’m just speaking the truth.’ I said to myself.
Like I said, there wasn’t a thing worth noticing about that man, save the tobacco stained teeth. But what did remain of him in my memory is the remark he made – ‘an IIT at every bus stop’. The train left the station but my train of thought lingered around that last remark.
The reason why I came to IIT is not the ‘IIT life’ we often covet, it’s not in bunking classes or making friends, and it is not the campus (we don’t have one, incidentally). I came to IIT because of its placements. And when I reasoned to myself that way, I hadn’t even stopped to consider that there would be two kinds of IITs – the old and the new. I hadn’t realised that the location of the campus matters in placements. I hadn’t realised that the name of the city which follows the ‘IIT’ name matters so much in my future. And again, I had also not realised that the outside world would grow so blind to see we ever wrote the JEE.
That, to put a long story short, is the extent of discrimination faced among the institutes. Perhaps the most ironic bit would be that there is no one to blame. What did they really expect when they wanted to set up an IIT in every state? More opportunity, my foot.
Four to five years back, parents and the multitude of coaching centres had one thing to tell children – that if they tried really hard and cracked the JEE, their life would be so much easier for the following four years. That they would never have to worry about anything else for the rest of their lives. That was a time when getting into IIT meant good jobs at the conclusion of 4 years. Today? There are IITs and then there are more IITs. At the risk of being whimsical, it’s only a matter of time before we outnumber the NITs, or any colleges of a particular class. In few years, God forbid, there may be more IITs than there are bus stops.
1The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Fifth Estate or IIT Madras. For specific queries and feedback, leave a message or mail us at t5e.iitm[at]gmail.com.
More of Devan’s work can be found in his personal blog.