by the Editorial Team
The rescheduling of Shaastra and Saarang to the first days of January, and the housing of first-year undergraduates in hitherto exclusively post-graduate hostels have resulted in some noticeable changes to the student culture on campus. With the fests falling back-to-back in the vacation, they are attended by fewer insti students, and, additionally, the enthusiasm of students to be in the organising teams of the festivals has declined perceptibly. For inter-hostel events, which form the major competitive platform for fostering cultural and technical activities within the Institute, UG hostels have usually relied heavily on freshers, inducting them into the ‘culture’ early, so that they could keep the hostel legacy afloat; this year, however, sees a forced departure from that tradition.
Trouble in LitSoc paradise
LitSoc 2013-14 officially kicked off in September, after Quiz 1. The first big events this year were Creative Writing Group, Choreo Night and Queen of Sheba. Choreo Night happened on Friday, October 4th, Queen of Sheba on 5th and 6th, and the deadline for Creative Writing Group was initially scheduled for the night of Monday, the 7th. The first day of Queen of Sheba, however, resulted in controversy. QoS has traditionally lasted for one evening, but last year the rules were changed to make it a two-day event, and this extended format continued this year as well. The tasks were time-intensive, and with Choreo the day before, the Creative Writing deadline two days after and quiz week coming up, the scheduling sparked a lot of dissent.
Additionally, the fact that QoS had been made bigger in a year when their hostels didn’t have any freshers (who’ve been an integral part of QoS in past years) troubled the Lit and Soc Secs of a few UG hostels. An emergency meeting of the LitSoc Council was convened on Saturday evening, and the Events Cores floated the possibility of an extension of the Creative Writing deadline to the Secretaries. This was met with mixed reactions, but the Cores confirmed in an email the next day that the deadline would indeed be extended by a day.
Controversy also stemmed from the nature of the QoS tasks themselves – one task required hostels to get a top comment praising Architects in the Saarang Rock Show promotional video (ironically, this backfired because all the comments got more downvotes than upvotes, and ended up being hidden by YouTube) while another required the Lit/Soc Secs to share a post about the Rock Show on their hostel Facebook groups, with points being awarded to the hostels with maximum likes. In a status update the LitSec of Mandakini Hostel, lambasted this as the ‘cheapest publicity stunt’ and asserted that this competition also violated Facebook policy. He was asked by the Saarang team to take down his post. When the deadline for Creative Writing Group was extended by a day against Mandak’s wishes, the aforementioned LitSec stepped down, citing the scheduling, the tasks involving Saarang publicity for LitSoc points and the fact that he did not wish to be prevented from expressing his views as reasons for his decision.
Points to ponder
A resignation from a LitSec for such reasons is unusual, to say the least, and the events that transpired have raised several questions.
Traditionally, the outcome of QoS has been dependent on how well a hostel can mobilise and enthuse its first-years into participating. With no enthusiastic UG freshers in the old UG hostels this year, most of them saw the Lit and Soc Secs participate in it almost single-handedly, while the hostels where the current UG freshers reside gave up early in the competition. “In such a situation,” asks a Lit Sec, “does LitSoc QoS add any value to the cultural scene in insti?”
While this might have been the situation in most hostels, there were important exceptions to this rule, hostels where final years played an active role in QoS. An Events Core says, “This complaint about the lack of freshies has been brought up for other events as well. Does this mean those events should be scrapped as well?”
There’s also been indignation at the fact that LitSoc, a platform to promote cultural and literary talent in the institute, is being used to publicise Saarang’s professional shows. Hostels put in a lot of effort for LitSoc, and the value of LitSoc points stems from the fact that they are rewards gained by nurturing and exhibiting talent. Undoubtedly, Saarang and LitSoc are linked, insofar as they involve identical events conducted by the same coordinators, but it is difficult to see how awarding LitSoc points for Saarang ProShows’ publicity is in the spirit of LitSoc.
Scheduling, too, is a tricky matter, and LitSoc schedules, thanks to the complicated host of factors that influence them (the large number of events, the unavailability of venues and people, and restrictions on conducting events before Quiz 1, mainly), have always been subject to last-minute changes. Perhaps the Cores are under just too much pressure in this regard, being expected to pull off a juggling act that is near impossible?
Then there is the fact that Nikhil was asked to take down his status about Saarang, which draws attention to the elephant in the room – is there too little open critiquing of Saarang? Year after year, there are complaints about mismanagement in the festival, allegations of irregularities which are all swept under the carpet, while on the surface, their publicity campaign only gets more aggressive, their advertisements more persistent. Maybe this is natural in a world where social media outreach is almost a commodity, but where is the neutralising voice amidst the frenzy?
The position of the Saarang events cores in this regard was that Nikhil, as a member of the “cultural wing” of the institute, must not criticise the institute’s cultural festival in a public forum. But, argue some LitSecs, the post of a Literary or Social Affairs secretary is a part of the hostel council, completely unrelated to the Saarang team. How much responsibility can be placed on them for a role they did not sign up for?
A lot of the problems that plague Saarang can be attributed to its rescheduling, the shortage of applicants for several posts and the ban on first-year volunteers imposed this year; the organisers are facing new challenges that they hadn’t bargained for. And in a scenario where fewer insti students are attending their own college fests than ever before, measures such as this ‘like’ competition probably did provide a boost in publicity. But although it is easier said than done, more effective, surely, would be some introspection on Saarang’s part – so that Saarang can maintain its relevance and face the new challenges thrown at it by changing times.
Have an opinion about Saarang, LitSoc and recent events? Tell us in the comments. (Keep it clean.)