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One of the many great things about insti is that they let you keep your ID card even after you pass out, albeit with a couple of holes in it. So here I am, looking at my photo from four years back. Well, I look pretty much the same. My cheeks are not as chubby now, but the credit for that has to go to A-Diet Express. Anyway, I may not have changed much in terms of looks, but as a person I have undergone a major transformation, as have everyone else. Trying to point out individual changes would be a futile exercise as there has been so much that has changed. Broadly I could maybe say that I learnt to take care of myself.
I still remember the day I entered those famed gates, proud parents in front. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Two years of slogging had borne fruit, and now I had that brand etched on me for life. I have faint memories of the registration and the orientation process. But what I do remember clearly was exploring the campus the day I bought my cycle and later pushing it back all the way from the main gate after the chain broke.
My insti life started when I moved into my hostel a couple of days before classes were to start. Initially, I found it tough. The thrill of joining one of the most esteemed institutes in the country gave way to fear of the foreign surroundings. I was homesick, and I felt alone and helpless. One of my roommates seemed to find it even more difficult. He barely spoke to me which made me even more uncomfortable. However, this phase soon passed, and the two of us learned to embrace the variety in culture that IIT Madras presents us with. There were people from so many different places who spoke so many different languages. The dominant language, I would soon find out was Telugu. There were also so many different characters around, people with different skill sets – gifted singers, dancers, sportspersons, and writers and a few like me who did not fall into any of these categories. There was the methodical one, there was witty one and- more relevant to his hostel dwellers- there was the one who used to bathe once a month.
There were 160 freshers in Jamuna. Now this had its advantages and its disadvantages. On the plus side, we did well in almost every competition that year. We won Tech Soc by a huge margin; we did well in both LitSoc and Schroeter. On the downside, the collective night interactions with the seniors were wasteful and largely limited to roll calls (which used to last a long time as can be imagined). Slowly the freshers got accustomed to insti Life – the lingo – the ‘put’ which goes with anything and everything, the ‘pseud’ which we blamed each other for ‘putting’ , ‘RG’ (enough said) and many other such usages. We began to own these, and the ‘insti’ word that invariably creeps into your conversation became much more natural. There was also the skewed sex ratio. There seemed to be more monkeys in my hostel than there were girls in my batch (Yeah I exaggerate stuff if you haven’t already noticed).
Insti provides us with so many amazing opportunities – chances to work with professors of international renown, CFI if you are interested in the technical side, top-class sports facilities, many different clubs and the chances to develop your organizational skills through Shaastra, Saarang and all the department festivals. The festival celebrations are also a lot of fun – Holi and Diwali in particular. In October, all of us were running around trying to be volunteers in Shaastra. Saarang was an incredible experience with the Carnival and the pro-nights. I still remember the performance by Vishal and Sekhar that year. At the end of the year were the institute elections. I was campaigning for some candidate I had never even met. This was essential to garner the political support that would be essential in making a Shaastra or Saarang coordinator. Horse Trading was the norm, and we were provided with a list of candidates to vote for. Soap Boxes were disrupted by cheering and booing from opposing sides. A very small portion of us even bothered to look at the manifestos.
Most of us were trying to distinguish ourselves by taking part in different non-academic activities. As a senior told me in my first year – “You have made it to IIT Madras. You are the cream of the cream. Now, what else can you do other than mug?” This turned out really useful as in this rush to prove ourselves cool, we got to try our hands at a variety of things. I tried ‘Tech’ but it didn’t quite agree with me. I tried ‘Lit’. I picked up a few word games along the way and also tried my hand at writing fiction. I became crazy about football especially after I moved into that football-crazy wing in my second year. I played a lot (I was never good and I am still terrible at sports). I also started gaming, mostly FIFA. The late night tournaments we used to conduct among ourselves (sometimes in the TV room on the big screen) often had wagers (An Andhra mess biriyani was the usual item). Talking about food, I saw Zaitoon close down in my second year, and it wouldn’t be up again through my stay. This was not such a bad thing after all because we started out going out more often for food. And of course if you were too lazy or you did not have sufficient time, there were the Andhra messes at Taramani. The Andhra Mess is an integral part of the insti experience.
As we started going after all the cool things, in many cases, the academics suffered. This was perceived as fine, and we used to label those who sat down and worked hard as ‘maggus’. It would only be in our final year that we would realize how important academics actually were. The real studs were the ones who carried their studies along and got good grades along with the non-academic activities. Come placements and the ‘maggus’ also started looking like ‘studs’. It definitely helps when you know exactly what to do with your life. Do you want to go for higher studies, do you want to get a core job or do you want to go into some other sector? You can work towards your goal trying to pick up those skills that would benefit you. Insti provides us with such resources that provided you are willing to work for it, you can go almost anywhere. However, many of us had no idea what we wanted to do, and we were just looking for whatever comes our way. This worked out in many cases and did not in some others. Well, IIT Madras provides you with opportunities, and it is up to you to take them.
Four years is a long time and in these four years, I have had a whole lot of experiences. I have felt happiness, sorrow, rejection, achievement, desperation and a whole plethora of other emotions. There have been instances when I felt that life had knocked me down really bad but I have always been able to get back up. Insti prepares us for life. It really does. It teaches us to deal with victory and failure, to get back up when you are down. It teaches you to take care of yourself, to handle and revel in the freedom that you will get. My life in Insti has been truly memorable, and I have made friends for life. All those experiences we shared together – those midnight conversations about nothing in particular, watching movies in the front row of theatres for just ten bucks, those games of football, the trip to Parambikulam and so many other experiences – these will forever remain memories that I cherish. I feel privileged to have been educated alongside some of the best minds in India. These are people who will make it to the top in whatever field they choose to go into. The outside world views us with just envy – the people who get to live in that lush green campus; the people who get to learn from its unique culture – the truly lucky ones.
About the author: Arjun Shajan graduates with a B.Tech degree in Chemical Engineering. He is currently studying at IIM Ahmedabad for PGP, and says that he is yet to ” find my true calling and (am) presently trying out different things hoping to find the one that strikes a special chord.”