Student life – A Throwback to the Past



In the second article of the “Heritage Series”, we take you on a photo tour, which we hope will tickle your funny bone, rekindle old memories, and draw a parallel between student life, then and now


First set of graduates, IIT-M, 1964
First set of graduates along with faculty, IIT-M, 1964


As is wont, academics shall be discussed first. Even now, the most studious of us groan at the very idea of quizzes and exams (though perhaps with a few exceptions), despite having just one set of exams per month. But, if we look back at the academic curriculum of IIT-M, some 30-40 years ago, one might perhaps be thankful for the relatively ‘lite’ schedule that we now have. Back then, it was quite common to see students moaning and groaning about their ‘perios’, which were tests conducted thrice a week, which later became surprise tests, and the usual quizzes, assignments and end-semester examinations. The frustration and sentiments of the students are quite evident in the cartoon below.


The state of surprise tests
The state of tests. ‘Umpire Sen’ is a reference to Director, Prof. B. Sengupto



Adding to the rigorous academic schedule was the month long workshop that attempted to inculcate a sense of workmanship, and practical application into students minds. While the workshop sessions were received well by most students, and even enjoyed, there were some who felt that they were supposed to be taught the concepts of engineering, and not “forced to blister their hands using workmen’s tools” to which, the reply from the others was, “a good engineer should know how to use, not just his brains, but also his hands.”


Workshop - much hasn't changed.
Workshop. Well, much hasn’t changed.



In addition to the academic curriculum, the compulsory NCC (National Cadet Corps) was a major part of students’ lives. Winter camps for cadets were supposed to be conducted annually. But, these camps often did not take place, as is evident from this notice.


NCC Camp, Regarding.
NCC Camp, Regarding.



There being no electronic form of communication, notices like these were a routine and were often featured in the campus publication, Campastimes, or on hostel notice boards. While some were important notices, informing perhaps about a test or session, some were quite imaginative, to say in the least.


A notice on one of the hostel IP boards
A labyrinth of a hostel?



Hostel life was, like today, one of the most important part of a student’s college life, considering that they spent at least one-third of a day in the hostel. A look at the hostel related writings over fifty years, yields a strange mix of experiences, ranging from ‘wing cricket’ in hostel corridors, to the weekly film club meetings. Some hostels even enjoyed a morning ‘alarm call’ from the Taramani which was once a small hamlet nestled in the shadows of IIT-M. Early in the morning, every day, someone in Taramani would inevitably welcome the new day by switching on what could be called ‘music’, but only euphemistically. What that broadcast lacked in melodiousness, it more than made up for in strength. For fifteen minutes, the air resounded with this acoustic eruption. The Taramani-side rooms of hostels such as Saraswathi, Brahmaputra usually bore the full brunt of these high-decibel transmissions.


“…Cursing myself for having set the alarm at 6, that too on a holiday, I immediately re-enter that blissful beatitude, sleep, only to be woken minutes later by a jarring clarion call…no amount of hitting the alarm ends that jarring noise! My nebulous speculations as to the noise is soon put to and end as I realise that it is nothing but the “music” from Tarams!”, recounts an alumnus



Water shortage was another persistent issue in the hostels for the first few years. The figurative rivers had now run dry because of the drought. One of the writings in Campastimes, the then campus publication, takes a hilarious dig at the situation:


The reported decision of our Registrar

‘The reported decision of our Registrar to rename our hostels as the Sahara Hostel, the Kalahari Hostel and the Arabian Hostel, has raised a chorus of protest from all quarters. Such drastic steps were rendered unnecessary when the hostelites bound themselves under oath to adopt the following resolutions to exorcise the ghost of water that has haunted the Campus.

  1. that rasam be stopped forthwith in all messes,

  1. that no bathing be allowed in the Campus except under the pain of immediate dismissal from the hostel, or what is worse, transfer to the other IITs in the North. Note: Experiments have shown that the Eskimos are the healthiest race in the world,
  2. that members of the hostels will co-operate with the authorities in detecting hydromaniacs from Kerala,

  1. that all inmates shall lick and polish their own plates before leaving the mess,
  2. that on rainy days, students may be allowed to come out of the lecture halls and have their baths in the open…’


The swimming pool was also empty for most time due to the water shortage.  The articles below strongly capture the hope to see the swimming pool functional and “swimmable”.


'From Here and There' about the swimming pool


'Swimming' competitions
‘Swimming’ competitions



With very few residents on campus, there was no regulation binding students to use of bicycles in those days. So, the use of mopeds and motorcycles was in fashion. However, the bus system was prevalent, with the buses being named after mountains. This, along with hostels’ nomenclature after rivers, gave IIT-M the reputation as the ‘land of stationary rivers and moving mountains’.


Vicky moped = Bullet?
Vicky moped = Bullet?!


Kanchenjunga - the 'moving mountain'
Kanchenjunga – the ‘moving mountain’



Two of the deep-rooted traditions among the students that continue till date are Saturday night OAT films and annual hostel nights. Hostel nights were celebrated grandly and, as a student remarks, “hostels literally got transformed over night, looking cleaner, sporting streamers, balloons and the like.” Dozens of guests were invited and sweets were brought as far as from Bangalore, via the Brindavan Express train.


The Saturday night films organized by Film Club were a major draw. Students would turn up in huge numbers, well in advance, some carrying umbrellas, water bottles and sometimes even pillows. The films were screened at Central Workshop initially before moving to OAT. Students often had experiences of watching the films in knee deep water, when they were screened during bad weather. As a student said, “It was trivial stuff like these that made life at IIT so memorable!”


Well, who wouldn’t agree?



Editor’s note:

This is the second article in the “Heritage Series”. In the third and final article in the series, we’ll look at the evolution of GC with times. The first article on the history of foundation of IIT-M can be found here.

We are grateful to Kumaran Sathasivam, IIT-M alumnus and author of Campaschimes, for allowing us to use excerpts and photographs from the book. Campaschimes is a comprehensive and richly illustrated book on IIT-M’s history and in the editor’s opinion, it is a must-read for anyone even remotely related to IIT-M.


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