Design by: Hardhik Pinjala
Edited by: Mahima Raut
Disclaimer: This author is guilty of sending many an unsuspecting senior/alum on a nostalgic trip in her quest to unearth some fossils of insti culture.
Congratulations, Insti student! You have discovered, in the span of a few months, a new category of existence. Call it what you will, but it is that halfway land between what is sem time and what is not sem time but also not a vacation or a typical internship or a convivial summer school or anything really. Your brain tells you every day to get down to business and prepare for your endsems while your treacherous heart insists on wallowing in the good ole days. There, there, we know. Ergo, offering some comfort, we’re going to indulge the nostalgia and take you on a trip of some insti traditions- the living, the dead, the terminal, the resurrected, and everything in between.
Remember all those times in the last few months when you couldn’t attend online classes because of ‘network issues’ *cough**cough*? In your data-starved mind, did insti morph into a promised land of free Wi-Fi and unlimited data? There was an insti before unlimited Wi-Fi, just like there will be an insti post-COVID, and it was a very different place.
In medieval insti history i.e. the pre-LAN age, when computers only existed in the library and departments, the OAT culture was quite different.
The archives tell us how different areas were earmarked for each hostel and OAT was THE scene, not just of movie screening, but of some thunderous hostel sloganeering, with the big screen used for some healthy LitSoc/Schroeter grandstanding during the interval .
Of course, now that OAT is not the only avenue for cinematic content, we can still stroll in every other Saturday with cross-hostel friends, blissfully ignorant of a tradition of rivalry that once thrived there.
Perhaps the best way of describing LAN-era insti was ‘sharing is caring.’ Indeed, seniors who lived before the age of unlimited insti Wi-Fi are wont to reminisce about DC++, a peer-to-peer data sharing network on insti LAN. Large hubs with creative and not-so-creative names existed to share everything from movies, TV shows, and video games to acads : “deets for geeks” and “blue moon” fundae.
It is said that students who went on semester exchanges would procure “top-notch content” abroad and share it with insti folks via DC++ when they got back home.
We know for a fact that the increasing number of classroom naps and grand slams (cutting all four morning slots) prompted the admin to cut the LAN connection for a few hours every day .
Why, one might ask, with an equally vibrant content-sharing culture on social media, would you mourn the passing of DC++? The nub is that where earlier, engagement with fellow students was absolutely necessary to obtain good content, now it isn’t.
Of course, not all traditions die a premature death because of the boomer diagnosis for all that ails Gen Z (need I spell it out?) A few, like the Saras-Godav Independence Day water fight, which some students prophesize will soon become the stuff of legends, fall prey to bigger issues. When Sangam ground was built between the two hostels, the existing rivalry and lack of a booking system demanded that they have a face-off to stake their claim to the ground. Thence came the tradition of having a water fight on Independence Day.
Alums remember how enthu hostellers, fired up with hostel bhakti, would gather at midnight to battle it out with water balloons and choice expletives. Several hoarse voices and sodden clothes later, they would sing the national anthem and disperse.
But seniors note that there have been fewer and fewer participants in recent years because of the given constant water crisis, it is difficult to justify such a tradition.
None of this is by way of eulogizing all our cultural inheritance. Regarding some traditions such as outlandish hostel-specific dress-codes for non-participants during Freshie Night, we leave you to decide whether they merit a revival.
In 2012, Narmada freshies were required to come attired in a shirt with green patches, half pants, a handkerchief tied around their foreheads, and a bathroom slipper and a shoe apiece .
Observers chalk up the decline of certain traditions to the separation of freshie hostels. While the decision to segregate freshies stemmed from a valid concern about ragging, some students observe that it created a disconnect between different batches and an entire culture of freshie-senior interaction and mentoring is on the decline, to say nothing of an all-consuming passion for LitSoc and TechSoc. It appears that without the customary inculcation of a hostel spirit in Sem 1, much of the inherited rivalry cannot be passed down.
You remember that time a few million years ago when you were asked to ‘put intro’? Did you wonder then, before you were enlightened, why the divinely mandated, set-in-stone format demanded a ‘nickname’? Pre-2012 students remember the nickname culture fondly as their initiation into insti. Seniors, in all their wisdom and creativity, would christen freshies with names that became their
instant insti identity.
The tradition of nicknames inspired its own brand of humour-math, science, and otherwise – often capitalising on individual quirks or unforgettable gaffes.
While explaining the significance of these creative insti-specific appellations, a senior was reminded of a student nicknamed Oks (0 Kelvin) because his jokes were the rock-bottom. Nicknames fostered a sense of kinship between seniors and freshies along with a feeling of belonging in insti.
Some alums remember a time when nicknames were so frequently used that one’s real name was heard only during roll call.
The tradition plunged into decline with the advent of freshie hostels and consequent constraints on freshie-senior interaction. With another graduating batch or two, the plug will have been effectively pulled. RIP nicknames.
The persistence of all traditions is contingent on a degree of interest, especially from the freshies. Some, like intros, nicknames, and insti lingo need a large number of students subscribing to them to remain relevant, while others like the HS department’s Dead Poets Society endure with a small number of participants. But given all the competing claims on one’s interest (I defy you to find a single coord app that does not prescribe tapping into freshie enthu), there is little time left for the kind of spontaneity that inspired events like the erstwhile informal jam sessions in Ganga’s quad.
There is precedent to show how some customs, with a little enthu, are easily resurrected, even transformed. A trip to the Heritage Centre’s archives betrays the long crossword-solving tradition in insti.
As far back as 1962, Campastimes used to publish cryptic crosswords for the average bored engineering student and the enthu ebbed and flowed till informal crossword-solving in dining spaces was institutionalized as ‘thuncc.’
Today you can still find a handful of WGC enthusiasts in places like CCD (food is a constant) and while copies of The Hindu may have been replaced with interactive online grids, the tradition of solving remains.
Circumstances might have precipitated a paradigm shift in the insti student life, but, to paraphrase the Bard, our creativity in interacting with others is inexhaustible. The endless wisdom of Harry Potter tells us that time will not slow down when something unpleasant lies ahead, like the prospect of an online semester. And yet we have always forged connections that endure, traditions which adapt to the times and perhaps on a blue day, a glimpse into the past will remind us of this.
- Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra- Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale, Her infinite variety
- Pictures taken from http://www.ae.iitm.ac.in/~mhsn/IITM/saras.html