A terrific Department Secretary, someone who is always running a minimum of 5 projects, the Institute Blues winner from the HS department- Yashaswini Rajeshwar, popularly known as Yash among her friends, talks about her memorable journey of 5 years in the institute where she learned “the freedom to explore, the safety to accept, the sanctuary to discover, and the support to stumble.” This is the second in the Through the Goggles of a Graduate series.
The writing for this piece was done on the train on the way to Convo. While the editing was done later, five hundred kilometers away from the city, I decided to let the train stick around as an actor, playing its role in adding to the sentimentality and nostalgia.
As a freshie, there was something awe-inspiring about the graduation series that The Fifth Estate (T5E) floated every year. For the four years that followed, I made sure I read every one, all the while wondering what it must feel like to be The Graduand while slowly getting closer myself. Back in 2011, I created a label for my Gmail inbox that read ‘Class of 2016,’ putting in place a filter for all the emails on my class group. That day, the finish line seemed light years away. Today, I write this piece atop an upper berth of the Indian Railways as I take a day off from my first job to head to the 53rd Convocation of IIT Madras, aka the end of the road.
In so many ways, it truly has been light years. And in so many others, it feels like we barely got started.
It was in June 2011 that I was given a piece of advice that I would only cherish more and more through insti. With a freshly minted acceptance letter in my hand, I announced to a high school teacher that I was joining the Integrated MA programme in IIT Madras when he said “survive that and you can survive it all.” In more ways than one, these last five years have been exactly that – a maddening hurdles chase. While we ran it, on so many days, we could only remember the sand and dust and grit, and possibly a shove in the ribs from someone running alongside. But just now, as Nilgiri Express wreaks havoc with my handwriting, my most vivid memories are of the jumps in between the race, the fleeting moments where we caught ourselves suspended in thin air, flying for just that second. And I cannot wait to see the grinning faces right next to mine as a huge round of bear hugs go around tomorrow. Over the last five years, we celebrated the victories and stomached the losses; we laughed a riot and cried up a storm; we held hands through the ups and downs and back again until we lost track. And now, we celebrate.
On my first day at IIT, I got lost between Sharav and SAC. Multiple times. Fairly into my first semester, I was that MA freshie who didn’t know what CRC was. Today, acronyms flow off our tongues with not just an ease but also a pride of possession. HSB is ours and forever will be. We have the best DCF in town. And God forbid another batch of juniors trespass and steal MML from us.
While I could sing paeans about how much insti taught me about cohabitation (thank you, monkeys) and nocturnality (lucky are those who didn’t lose hair and gain dark circles these last few years), the lessons go far deeper than that. For years to come, I will speak of being witness to the era where ‘club culture’ truly emerged, when insti got its first HS GenSec and then SAC (now SLC) Speaker, and when slowly but surely, the department did not need to justify its existence at every bend of the road. In five years, we learnt to face the monsters under our beds, supporting each other while we explored unchartered territory, acquiring the language to speak of everything from the newest season of GoT and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ to misogyny, sexism and sexuality. The only battle lost seems to be with Microsoft Word, which still doesn’t accept ‘problematise’ as a real word. The last five years have been transformative for each of us, and at the end of it all today, I can blindly vouch for being in the company of peers who have fearlessly, tirelessly, relentlessly pushed their own boundaries. From a first play and first radical haircut to first answer volunteered and first presentation given, the corridors of HSB and classrooms of HS11 have seen it all.
Even as I write this, I strike out the phrase “in so many ways” from my notebook as it threatens to star in every paragraph, an acquisition thanks to my thesis advisor and chuckle at how her lectures and feedback to my writing has seeped into my very vocabulary, even my style. IITM has left its mark in the uncanniest places! But amidst all the sappy lessons-learnt that this post could be about, if I were to choose one defining moment, one favourite memory, it would be this – bunk beds in a room overlooking the sea, over a dozen final year students sat around joking, laughing, talking, sharing, confiding. Driven by a burst of final year senti, we had made our way to Pondy to make ‘em memories. In that room, amidst attempts to choreograph pop music, relationships were built, burnt bridges were repaired, and a support system was found. At the fag end of a five-year journey, we all came out richer, stronger, more confident. (In so many ways) seems a rather fitting metaphor to insti itself.
To my non-HS batchmates, I can only say thank you. It is easy to get lost in the world of HS academia, and you were our window to the outside world. And for those of you who graduated a year before us, know that many conversations were had about how we missed bumping into familiar faces at Guru. I hope that many years from today, if we run into each other, we will grab coffee while trying to chart out the trajectory of Tifs-IRCTC-Archana Sweets through the campus, sharing a guffaw at the very hip and happening GFC.
When Nilgiri Express stops tomorrow at Chennai Central and I get into a cab to go to insti and pick up my graduation gown, it will be my last time before I become an official alum. I know that the gates (and the odds are, people taking pictures in front of it), the sudden dip in temperature and the cheery smile from the security officers who have become all too familiar with this localite will probably make me unmanageably emotional. I’ll be smiling to myself as I leave behind my newly formed avatar as a teacher and become an “insti person” one more time. For in five years, if there is anything IITM has given me, it is this – the freedom to explore, the safety to accept, the sanctuary to discover, and the support to stumble. What else is college about anyway?
Correction: Yashaswini Rajeshwar is not the first student from HS department to have won the Institute Blues medal.