Through the Goggles of a Graduate: S Gayathri

Design by Siri Chandana

To kick off this year’s Through The Goggles of a Graduate, we have S Gayathri! Gayathri graduated in 2021 with an MA in Development Studies. She is currently pursuing an MSc in Social Research at the University of Edinburgh to compensate for the 1.5 years of college life that she missed. Gayathri shares her insights from an eventful life in insti that includes a long romance with basketball and stints in T5E, SOC and IViL among other things.

Disclaimer: A lot of these memories and insights are tainted strongly by nostalgia and a need for closure.

Five years is a lot of time. But the 18 months spent away from insti made it hard to remember all the things that had happened in the first 3.5 years. Our batch lived in insti through a cyclone, a massive water shortage, and a pandemic. We were the batch that witnessed insti change over time. The most taken for granted places – Suprabha, Zaitoon, Ramu, a place that rhymed with may-fate were replaced or completely abandoned. We witnessed and participated in protests that ranged from taking back the right to hug people, reclaiming our space, and paying attention to students’ mental health. The transformation of insti from 2016 to 2021 was sobering – there used to be far lesser rubble, more students, and actual convocations (complete with gown and all). After all this, after spending a significant time of our life that shaped our worldview, it seemed cruel that we had to come to terms with the end by ourselves.

When I wanted to write about what insti exactly meant for me, I got overwhelmed, and I procrastinated. I procrastinated because I hoped that there was still time- time to attend hostel nights, dress up for our department farewell, play my last Inter IIT and Schroeter match, submit a hard copy of my thesis, and spend the entire last semester doing all the things I never had a chance to do the past nine semesters. I used to pride myself on my memory, but when I sat down to write this piece, everything had morphed into nondescript blobs. Armed with my arsenal of Google photos, where I had carefully documented all the important moments, I wrote this piece. 

During the infinite time I had for introspection, I realised how the people I met made all of this worth remembering and cherishing. I loved how the Akka at Usha cafe knew exactly the amount of sugar that had to be added to my coffee, how the Chetta at K Gate would inquire after my friends and me if we hadn’t been there for some time, how the Zaitoon Anna knew I was speaking bad Malayalam to get food faster but still humoured me, how the lady guards and Gymkhana staff ask after me even now. I hate that I couldn’t say goodbye to any of them for their small kindnesses that made insti a better place. 

I was lucky to meet some of the most incredible people I know. I had seniors who looked out for me and took me under their wing, peers who kept me grounded, and juniors who made me feel old, thereby ensuring that I was not cocooned away in my comfort zone. In my first two years in insti, it seemed to me that everybody I met had their life put together and knew what their next step would be. They talked about their plans – a job, higher studies, a start-up, or a niche talent that they were passionate about. But as semesters passed and people started coming to me for “fundaes”, I realised everyone (or at least a vast majority) was as clueless as I was, because according to my hypothesis, I should have had my life sorted by my final year, if not before. That’s the thing – everyone is just figuring out things as time passes. The people you thought had their life “put together” have had different stories, different struggles, different definitions of what “put together” meant. A lot of people don’t admit to this because insti is designed that way. It is a 617-acre jungle with brilliant and high functioning people scared of failure and judgement while navigating their challenges. And I was a part of it.  Being around so many successful people can be overwhelming and alienating. But after a certain point, you learn who can and can’t be good for you. They needn’t be bad people themselves – but they might have a negative effect on you. 

I can crudely summarise my time in insti like this: the first year went by attending orientations, playing basketball, getting familiar with the curfew-free world, and arguing with the techies that HS was a legitimate discipline. From the second year to the fourth year, odd sems went by in preparation for Inter IIT and attending meetings with multiple teams for organising events. Even sems went by giving and taking fundaes, preparing for elections, conducting interviews, and deciding what to do in the summer. Fifth-year, well, just went by.

Over the course of my time at insti, I realised that I did a lot of things – some very cool, some random, and some useful. The independence and freedom that one gets in insti is liberating and overwhelming at the same time. Some of my stints over 5 years (read 3.5 years) include being a part of the Institute Basketball team, being involved in Saarang under Non-Competitive events, heading the Sports Organising Committee, being a correspondent for T5E, and volunteering with IIT for Villages (IViL) in the capacity I could, among some  others. Being a part of these teams gave me a lot of memories worth cherishing – I interviewed Shraddha Srinath and Dhruv Sehgal, got yelled at by Ratna Pathak Shah (weird flex, I know), randomly acted in an NSS play (even though I did NSO), almost starred in a play that unfortunately got cancelled at the very end. I was part of my batch’s football, cricket, and frisbee team for Intra-Department tournaments (which everyone takes a little too seriously there).

Saarang Spotlight 2018 with Santhosh Narayanan and Vivek

I had a complicated relationship with my department. There was a great deal of learning and unlearning along the way. I began to question the basis of everything I watched or read- what my friends and I call the “curse of the humanities.” My two favourite things about the department were the coffee and samosas at Usha cafe and the knowledge of how wrong techies can be about HS people. 

Intra-department football tournament

There were SO MANY things to do in insti, but so little time. It seems best to use Sylvia Plath’s fig tree metaphor to convey what I felt. It was scary – choosing one thing meant giving up ten others- that suffocating feeling of indecision constantly loomed over me. I was painfully aware that I could only move forward and that if I chose the “wrong fig,” it could fall and rot before I tried to course-correct. The funny thing was that I took up things – PoRs, extracurricular activities etc. – not because I had an “end goal” in mind but simply because I felt excited about it at that point. 

During my initial years, I never really gave acads a second thought. I enjoyed most of the courses, and for the ones I didn’t, I still put in the effort. In my head, it was a non-negotiable contract. My imposter syndrome and acads-is-your-worth voice in my head ensured that I didn’t slack off. I had this theory (retrospectively speaking, a very stupid one) that the more responsibilities I have, the more productive I will be. This hypothesis proved to be true for quite some time. But in my third year, one brick was carelessly removed from my carefully constructed Jenga castle. With  burnout, spiralling mental health, a dislocated shoulder, a lower CG, and too many commitments, everything came crashing down. I took a step back and started doing things that made me genuinely happy.

Looking back, there are very few things that I would miss more than those conversations over a late-night Maggi at Ramu, making spontaneous plans with my friends just before an exam, spending all night planning an event to the last detail, or the 3 hours I spent on the basketball court every day. I would give anything to rush back to that court after a day full of classes, warm up with my team, give everything I had to that “friendly match”, and sit around talking about the day’s game, knowing that tomorrow will not be any different.

Basketball team 2019-20

I was only able to make sense of the emotion I felt towards insti after Diane Nguyen perfectly articulated it in the final episode of Bojack Horseman titled “Nice while it lasted” (edited)

“Sometimes I look back at my <insti> years, and I think, “Who was that person?”  

“I’m glad I lived in <insti>, but I’m not nostalgic for it. I’m glad I knew a lot of people, even if they aren’t in my life anymore. I think there are people who help you become the person that you end up being, and you can be grateful for them even if they were never meant to be in your life forever.”

Things I’m incredibly proud of (in no particular order)

  1. Sleeping through a fire alarm
  2. Scoring both my free throws in my first ever Inter IIT game
  3. Finding the best group of friends
  4. Surviving Sarayu, mess food, water shortage, and insti admin 🙂
  5. Being less terrified of monkeys (actually, some battles can’t be won)

I am not saying that I have it all figured out – where I’m going or what I’m doing. I’m still figuring out how to cut vegetables without sacrificing a finger, how to dress appropriately for Scotland weather, or discovering my research interests. The infinite figs still haunt me, but I’m better equipped to deal with it because I’ve developed a more efficient system for getting through the five stages of grief. 

As an alum, when I look back, I realise that this place has the power to get to everyone- from the ‘half glass full people’ to the sceptics, the existentialists, the realists, the idealists- nobody in the entire spectrum is immune. It doesn’t take long for the excitement to wear off, for the nameless void to creep in, forcing people (or at least me) to resort to using morbid jokes as a defence for the fear that is deep inside. 

Insti is a place of contradictions. But just being there will give you a lot of stories to narrate – some relevant, some irrelevant (just like pieces of this article). If there is one thing that insti taught me, it is to accept its ways, learn to go easy on yourself, and appreciate the people in your life. Things will work out because they have to, and your life will be better for it.

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

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