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To write for the T5E was one of the last things on my Insti to-do list, and perhaps the only realistic one left (save climbing the GC elephants at my convocation, but that, of course, is a conversation for another day) The wonderful and terrible thing about giving advice, however, is that it runs the risk of revealing too much of the things you’ve gone through. So, I present to you here a list of suggestions for life on insti, carefully curated to take out all the bad bits, and leave only those things soggy with nostalgia, fit to be recounted to the twelve or so people that I suspect will read this:
1. Experiment: I came into Insti totally confident and absolutely certain about my future. Of course, I’d been great at everything I tried my hand at in school, and expected to be the same. But how the mighty do fall. As soon as I realized I was not the best at anything in my year/class/set of friends, I decided to change course immediately, and to try as many new things as possible. Enthusiasm, I quickly learnt, is something the world will tell you to be embarrassed about. If you wanted to try every single one of the zillion things Insti has to offer, it’ll take you a good more than five years to do all of them. But you should definitely try to, regardless. Which leads me to a corollary: Take time to give yourself labels. Let me assure you that everyone in insti will do it for you anyway, so don’t speed up the process. Don’t let yourself become ‘Proshows x’ or ‘Spons y’. Any individual is more than the one thing they do the most.
2. But find a thing you love and stick to it: At risk of giving terribly contradictory advice, I issue this caveat. Find one thing you love, and stick to it, and odds are, you’ll get good at it. For me, that thing was drams. I had been on stage since I was in school, and always kind-of did theatre, but only when I got to Insti, and over my five years doing it, did I realise that it was my avocation, my one life-long hobby. I was in almost every Stagecoach that was put up in the last five years, and I have watched myself stretching, growing out to become a better actor that I ever imagined I could be. When I came to Chennai, I used to fantasize about getting to perform at Museum Theatre, that hallowed stage, and doing Drams on insti was how I took my baby steps to it. When I had that privilege in my final year, working with a stellar cast of extremely senior and talented actors, I suddenly, heart-wrenchingly, realized, I’d give almost anything to perform at CLT one last time. Several of my best friends and memories on campus come from doing drams, and really, really loving it.
3. Remember acads: At risk of being that girl, don’t forget that what you’re here to do is learn. Spend your time learning as much as you can, whatever form this learning may take. Here’s a pro-tip: Do one course during your degree that terrifies you. In my seventh semester, I did the unthinkable as an HS student, and decided to take up Innovation and Social Enterprises Lab, as my minor elective. I will be quick to assure you that I had close to no background in design, electronics or pretty much anything else. I had never even been to the CFI before that first day of class. It probably didn’t help that the professor I was working with had a reputation for being extremely tough, but fair. With the help of some wonderfully supportive, non-judgemental B.Tech classmates, who in most of my time working with them never cracked an HS joke (at least in earshot! :P) and darling friends volunteering as test subjects for my prototype, I somehow scraped my way through it, building with a team-mate a tiny device that would help locate spectacles. I also discovered in this process, that I was completely fascinated by technology, and the impact that it had on people’s lives. Further reflection, some engaging internships, and three semesters later, it was to become the subject of my MAP – examining the manner in which assistive technology affects the experiences of disability in the lives of children with cerebral palsy. As I get ready to take up a job that works on (amongst other things!) the way technology is used by people with disabilities for employment, I sometimes wonder what route my life would have taken if I hadn’t thrown myself (with much trepidation) into the deep end of the pool of things I just didn’t know. It was a privilege through and through to be a part of a department that supported crazy questions, counterfactuals across the board, and thinking out very loud; a department that has welcomed me, frustrated me, inspired me, challenged me, cherished me, and taught me how to think.
4. Keep yourself grounded: It’s very easy to believe in Insti that it is a reflection of the world outside, and to get entirely and wholly wrapped up in Insti activities. I have shed several tears over coordships and coreships, and paper proposals rejected, and WM tryouts I didn’t make, and plot twist: I’m okay. When I needed to remember that there was a life beyond it all, I would scramble out, hop on a 23C and rush to the beach. Your grades, your coordships, your significant others, your friendships – most all of it will stop meaning very much sooner rather than later. Take cognizance of this fact, and savour the little things – early morning coffee at the Murugan Idly Kadai or GRT, wading through a soaking Insti in the rain, star-gazing from whatever rooftop is currently accessible. Those are the real things on campus, and I’ve not always remembered that. I hope this comes as a reminder to those of you who have the luxury of a few years left.
5. Meet people unlike yourself: Insti is the best time of your life to meet people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common. I’ve met some of the most interesting people doing things I loathed once. Insti clubs are wonderfully diverse, and you see people from backgrounds that you’d never imagine. This has happened to me with sport, something that I have spent my childhood studiously not doing. Between NSO in my first year, running with the Forest Gumps in my last, and winning a trip to the Olympics through an essay competition in the middle, I have turned this around: enjoying sport and exercise, as well as seeing how unbelievably important it is to have a healthy regard for things you know nothing at all about. You may never have the wonderful opportunity of so many dissimilar people in the same place, so you might as well make the absolute most of it. I now have someone to call if I need nice pictures taken, to know what are the best restaurants in town are, to figure out what’s wrong with my mobile phone, to correct my running posture, to recommend books and movies to me, to help me set up an RSS feed and several things more, and it is only because of meeting people I had NOTHING in common with.
Finally, these few years are your chance to be someone ridiculous – someone who runs, who sings, who stays up till 5 AM for no reason, someone who falls in love, falls out of it quickly, someone who messes up, someone who makes it right, someone who is reckless, someone who plays safe, someone who is. This is your chance to be everything you want to, take all the risks you may never have taken before and may never take again. As I look back on my five years here, leaving as nothing like the person I came in as, I have discovered that insti has finally made me someone I am proud of being – an IITian.
About the author: Kavya Srinivasan graduates with an MA in Development Studies from the HSS department. She is going to be joining a not-for-profit in Bangalore called Enable India, working for people with disabilities. In her free time, she intends to do lots of theatre, and sigh sadly at drafts of a play she’s writing.