Through the Goggles of a Graduate: Nikhil S

Design by Siri Chandana

For our next TGG, we have Nikhil S! Nikhil graduated in 2021 with a BTech in Mechanical Engineering and is now pursuing a Masters in Robotics at ETH Zürich. Although he did take academics seriously at times, he dabbled in a bit of weightlifting and loved to swim. He also played his part in organizing Shaastra as a Strategist in Events. He walks you through some of his pre-pandemic insti experiences, sharing his thoughts on monkeys, people in insti and the ride down a dark Madras Avenue.

This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Madras Avenue is narrow in comparison with Bonn and Delhi Avenue. There used to be a time, early in our first semester, when the whole road was lit with a few dim yellow sodium lamps. Sometimes a few lights flicker out, leading to stretches of utter darkness – you hear the rush of wind as a cool breeze hits you, you’re pedaling fast hoping the road ahead is clear, but you can’t know and you’re thrilled about it.

That’s how life in insti begins, kids exploring their newfound freedom. Most get out and explore, some binge TV series, some resort to computer games, some stay afraid of the monkey. Freshie enthu is never to be undermined and can get you into all kinds of fixes. But it’s one of the vital forces that maintains insti’s PoR culture. The innumerable fundae sessions on everything from the arts and sports to sciences and technology, insti has a lot to offer. Everyone in their own small worlds coming together to enlarge them just a little bit each time.

You get used to the hostel life after a while. It was a tad depressing during the drought, though. You wake up just in time to rush for class, and on your way to the washroom you see your friend looking all clean and fresh after a shower and carrying back a bucket of water for a bath later in the day. Open the tap to the extreme, water drips out drop drop. Activities postponed till you find water in an MSB washroom (quite a fix when you find there’s no water after). Wake up five minutes earlier the next day to see startled faces on your way to the mess because you have your brush with toothpaste on clutched tightly along with the cycle handle – this way at least some water is assured. And maybe also have an egg and some milk at the mess. The mess didn’t provide luxury food, but it must’ve been more of a balanced diet than what I’m trying to cook for myself nowadays. Try your hand at cooking more often, it seems fun.

Monkey raids in the rooms were common despite the grills and mosquito nets. The larger ones can’t enter, so sneak in the little ones for the task. To prevent this, I had ropes tied in between the grill bars which often left the monkeys extra pissed when they saw apples lying on the table so close yet so far, which they demonstrated by prying open the mosquito nets and leaving a mess of dust and dry leaves inside. But it’s a joy to watch the little ones play.

All I have left are scratches and teeth marks on a bottle and my laptop charger, which I proudly present to the next person I meet.

Returning from a hectic class-filled day, khaki clothes and shoes and whatnot, I enter my room to see a monkey sitting on the window ledge outside trying to mouth 6-7 Hide & Seek biscuits in a go. I send a picture to my friend in the neighbouring room (we share the window ledge). Two messages on WhatsApp and I’m roaring with laughter – he left it out to get rid of some ants in the biscuit pack, now he wants no more of it.

You look quite similar the night before the exam. Often you’re trying to stuff in a semester’s material in a few hours and there’s only so much the mind can take. You lessen the impact turning to YouTube for help, but very soon you’ve exhausted all Tom & Jerry cartoons. You prepare for it in advance by going to a temple on campus, sometimes call along a couple friends. Strictly only before the exams, not a word of thanks. Four years of Mechanical Engineering with a tinge of nonlinear dynamics, and Newton’s laws and Dynamical System Theory’s all you believe in; whatever happens, happens. You try different study locations – CRC, the Library, Ramu Tea Stall on the way. You look in disbelief at the few that are sound asleep and those preparing to. Who’s still awake that can explain this to me as though I were five? Just so that I get the 1 mark questions right or know at least what the larger questions expect me to know!

Some professors like to play around with you. They want you to know that that core course is not going to be a pleasurable experience. The corrected answer scripts for the first quiz are distributed, and the class average is around 30% and yours even lower. You don’t know what to do; you’re too upset. The degree’s a far stretch. You give up on Acads, watch Apocalypse Now (1979, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Now you’re confused, not even happy or sad; nothing makes sense. You go straight to the pool – that’s where you drown your sorrows, see things clearly. If you’re early enough and the pool’s near empty, you can see beautiful sparkling patterns of refracted sunlight on the floor of the deep pool as you swim breaststroke in still water. Call in many of your friends, splash around water, forget the passing of time.

Online insti was no fun for a person who was running around too much, meeting too many people to make an impactful decision and take on an important position. Then comes rejection, from people you trust most and to top it all your phone dies, severing all connections. All that’s left of that sprawling world is all you carry in your mind. The physical world seemed so unreal. You feebly live on, fuelled by calls from a few friends and one person. Sometimes you wish it were ever that way.

Sleep keeps going round, you exist, and the semester passes quickly online. And on a fine unassuming Friday morning you have your last class: a doubt clearing session before the end sem (you have no doubts, you haven’t seen those recorded lectures in months) and you feel something weirdly missing. That’s how it ends. What a joke, the exams and placement tests all seem, people struggling to get some answers different – surely, must improve networking skills. The rush at the beginning of the semester for the peace courses without attendance and easy grading is missed. You pour heart and soul into a BTech project and despite all that they misjudge it and still fall for the bloated ones. They like incoherencies jammed into each other, painted to look good. Core courses a waste of time, half of us living by the Institute ranking (works as long as recruiters too are fooled by it), never to look back on our major the moment we step out. Big fat resumes. Snarl at the system; we’re all puppets.

Passing by the Admin block on my way to the Library, one fine day, I see a troop of monkeys playing around the large blue letters that said ADMINISTRATION, chuckle and pull my phone out to snap a picture. For the simplest of tasks like adding an additional course for the semester you’d find yourself running to the 4th floor in each break between classes you can manage, all through the week. They like to complicate it further by involving the Faculty advisor once in a while, who might rarely be found in the office or inclined to reply to emails. If any enterprise involving the Acads section was difficult normally, it was near impossible once insti went online. Phone calls daily for three weeks in a row since my VISA’s held up for want of a degree certificate – people could say we’re in love. Surely, IITM, you won’t be forgotten too soon even if you make the passing easy. “Bro, when will we have convocation?”

Some professors are friendly. You must realise, maybe one of the reasons they’ve signed up for the job is expecting interactions with students. They like telling stories from their lives, like to help you make decisions advising you about factors you might not be experienced with. Imagine walking into a professor’s office for resolution when you turn 20 and have an existential crisis. I have great respect for a few professors I have met. 

There are all these places, all these animals, all these Events, but the people. The people. Most of them going through the same problems as you are, and just as confused about where they’re gonna end up. I’m going to mess up singulars and plurals; you know who I’m talking about.

The friend who shares the same outlook on comics and movies, an assured companion for the next Marvel movie in Phoenix. Had a rough week? Go for a ride along those long insti roads at night, talking rubbish and the purpose of life and coursework. The friend who wakes up a little earlier, takes coursework more seriously regularly, and sticks with you through thick and thin though there are several swearwords spared in many heated moments. The friend you see around once in a while and start talking with, forgetting what assignments you have left for tomorrow. That neat trick you found recently, that complex problem you found a cool way to understand, that piece of old music you just came across – this is the first person you tell this to. The friend who’s your constant companion to the pool, the small and long alike. The friend who’s such a dear, yet clumsy, asks if you could wake them for an exam because the room’s on your runway. Ah, those carefree nights when you go out for a walk and a long conversation and end up jumping, imitating the frog in front of you on the road to SAC, still lit with dim yellow sodium lamps.

The fests and PoRs are great ways to meet new people, pick up skills and be startled at the end of what you’ve achieved. You start seeing things differently. Bonus points for getting to know how the whole fest works. What an idiot I was, thinking I wouldn’t gain much interacting with the peeps who came in later.

The friend and father figure you look up to in the beginning, take instructions from and have some conflicts with. Much later you see reasons and mistakes clearer and chatter on till it is dawn. The all-enthu friend who can’t stop talking about a roommate’s peculiarities which you soon find you’re the least interested in but realise a healthy amount of gossip informs you of how the world runs in circles far away. That person you admire so much you’re content they’re part of your life and hope it ever stays that way. You want to tell your woes and joys. Till the point it breaks. But you can’t let go. The friend that fills in those voids still left. And the multitude of others who never cease to surprise you. You try, but can’t often understand how they think and how their actions are driven.

Of course you have the greatest affection for each person, they form your world. And it’s always personal. Thrown into a new environment, you miss the people the most. These experiences, on much contemplation they make you cry, they allow you to understand art better. Some movies feel so different on rewatching. Poetry makes a lot more sense. The night(s) we tried to talk through. Oh, how limited words are!

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Disclaimer: The article carries a poetic license, and the English register is unmodified to publish as the author intended it.

Editor’s Note: You can also read the other articles from the TGG series here.

Nikhil S

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *