Through the Goggles of a Graduate: Shaswat Mohanty

For our fifth TGG this year, we have football legend, Shaswat Mohanty. Shaswat graduated in 2019 with a Dual Degree in Mechanical Engineering and is now pursuing his PhD at Stanford. Here he talks about his eventful life in insti which included being an Informals supercoord,  a LitSoc hypeman for Jam, an Institute Blues recipient – and of course, playing football. 


Who would have believed that five years of insti (the lingo is impossible to lose) would get over in such a flash? It is overwhelming to say the least, as I sit down to pen down a “brief” recap of my insti life and its aspects I cherish. I already feel that using the word brief was a mistake and those who have borne witness to my speeches know it too.

I remember walking into insti with a great deal of excitement to pursue Mechanical Engineering, primarily because of my love for mechanics and fluid mechanics. It sounds like a cliched SoP statement, but reviewing 20 and writing another 30 versions for yourself does this to a person.

Funnily enough, I graduated with nothing but a fear of fluid mechanics and a love for mechanics, which happens to be the field of interest for my PhD. 

The first few days were surreal for most of us since we weren’t used to the kind of freedom that insti had to offer. These were the days when TGH had an open WiFi named ‘tsunami-wave”, because of which it became a rendezvous point during the late-night campus exploration drives. The campus happened to be much greener at the time (the pre-Vardah era). The first month in insti was filled with late-night interaction sessions at “senior” hostels. Not all connections made turned out to be fruitful but it gave a freshie incredible insight into the workings of the campus!


The first few weeks were all about us finding our feet in what was to be our second home. I was a fairly timid chap when I entered insti, but a stint as an emcee at freshie night changed it all. Though no one heard us speak on stage (because the Mahanadhi-Pampa rivalry trumped the appreciation of artistic ability), it served as my audition for almost every emceeing occasion for the next couple of years. That brings me to my first Saarang – I started my Informals volunteer stint as *surprise surprise* an emcee at the carnival stage. That emcee team consisted of all the Consult studs of my batch, namely, Parvathi, Vamsi, and Kaushik.

We’ve all come a long way since the days of freshie enthusiasm. This enthu made most of us look forward to the ProShows, though this waned significantly as the years passed by.


Captain Wingmates


It seems odd to me that I haven’t yet mentioned anything about football, but let’s just say that it’s to limit the football-specific content for the non-football crazy audience. However, let me get to my first formed opinions of the Institute Football team, which wasn’t called the Madras Wolves back then!  The aura of the team and the seniors is what inspired me ever since my first year.


I had led my school team for six straight years but when I walked in for my first session on the insti field, I realized that it would take much more to make a mark.


Everyone had their own aspirations during the first semester; for some, it was a branch change, whereas for me it was a spot in the Inter IIT contingent.  Aspirations don’t necessarily materialize into achievements, as was the case for me. However, insti had far too many options for one to explore, which is why a setback never really was one for long since the Schroeter football season was quickly upon us. It was our first taste of Schroeter and it was a bittersweet experience, thanks to the innovative name-calling that we were subjected to at the hands of the senior hostels. That wrapped up a fairly eventful first year for me.


My second year was a PoR loaded year, as it is for most sophomores. Saarang and Inter-IIT kept me occupied most of the time and academics took a backseat. I believe that by the time we graduated, the number of student organizations and the resulting surplus of available PoRs was such that it was impossible for any student to be “unemployed”. The second-year also happened to be my first Shaastra, where I landed my biggest emcee gig at OAT. I believe that also happened to be my last year in terms of emcee outings as I was swiftly replaced in the cul-scene by the “new blood”, Ganesh Dileep, in the following year who became the go-to emcee. My involvement in the Cultural sphere in the insti shifted from individual stints on the stage to participating in group events (primarily because of the pizza night that followed), such as Litsoc Drams, LM group and the typically Jamuna-dominated event of  QoS.

The participation in these events brought all the hostellers together and helped in forging some of my best friendships with my seniors.

These events made us realize on the tons of experiences we’d missed out on in the freshie hostels. I’m not really sure if the freshie hostel system will ever be scrapped but that first year in the mother hostel does stand out in stark contrast to the freshie year.


However, the most significant part of the year for me was being part of the Inter IIT Organizing team, as working for it served as an added motivation for me to fight for an institute team spot. I believe, anyone who watched the Sharks maul that Aquatics Meet would be doubly inspired to represent insti. This is when I realized that the remainder of my insti life would revolve around football. Work and football ensured that I slept for four hours a night, but it all paid off when our captain, Abhijeet Shenoi announced my name as part of the final list. The team put in a strong sports fest performance by winning silver and looked poised to take the Inter IIT crown, as most teams would believe about their chances. However, as a few of those left in insti might remember, it was the year the floods washed out the Main Meet at home.


And here’s where I’d like to share a bit of Insti football history: this batch was the first batch of the Madras Wolves, in case some curious Wolves stumble upon this article thirty years down the line.


The Indomitable Wolves


The third-year is by when you’d want to have a good idea about where you want to be post insti. If you’re blessed with an extra year, like me, you could probably take an extra semester to think things out. However, I did so not out of choice but due to circumstances.


Ten days into the semester, I tore my ACL during one of the practice matches, which ended my Inter IIT hopes for the year for good, a recurring theme in my footballing life at insti.


Surprisingly enough, the contingent was marred with injuries that year, with the football team being hit the hardest with five additional injuries during Inter-IIT itself. The phase with the crutches gave me a good conversation starter and it was of great help during the internship process. The sympathy brownie points made securing an internship much easier than it would’ve been or that was probably me trying to look for positives in yet another year without an inter IIT. The months post my surgery were sans football but still engaging because there’s always something to work on in insti. My Non-Comp Events Supercoordship kept me well occupied and I was crutches-free by the time of Saarang. It was the last time I participated in our Informals’ traditional dance to “Lean On” with the group of awkward dancers, a.k.a, the Informals team. The even semester, as always, was all about Schroeter for me. More so this year, given that I was the Hostel Sports Secretary. We were in with a chance, till we lost to Alaknanda in every final that we were in, including one of the most heated football finals in recent years, where my five minutes could qualify as a cameo at best. That brought an end to my “ACL year”.


I was happy to be back on my feet, though the tag of the “The Cripple” stayed. My summer internship was an interesting conversation topic because I was the first-ever HUL intern to be sent to Nigeria, and for all those willing to hear more about it can read the T5E and Chennai36 article that was released back in the day to document our internship experiences.


What I find really funny about my time in insti was, I knew I wanted to app for a PhD ever since my second year, but my motivation or primary goal for each year was sports-centric. This year around I was hoping to finally play at an Inter IIT, and it was an even bigger occasion since we were hosting it again. With the memories of my sophomore year still fresh, I just knew that I had to be part of the Meet once again. I ended up heading the Inter IIT Sports Meet Organizing team with Shuhel and Dhyanesh, who was the Sports Secretary that year. Academics took some sort of a backseat.

The sports year began with yet another solid display by the Sharks (no surprise there). I had rejoined regular insti practice after an eight-month-long strengthening and rehab routine. Just when I thought that the third time’s a charm, I did manage to get injured, yet again. What made it worse was that it was during the main camp!


With my ankle the size of a watermelon, hardly anyone expected me to play but the desperation of not having played so far drove me to manage through three games in part, during the tournament.


I’ll never really understand how these freak injuries coincided with the biggest sporting event of the year but that’s sports in a nutshell. The Schroeter semester was really exciting for us since the hostel contingent had been significantly strengthened by the incoming ED batch. We were the favourites for the overall Schroeter but an unexpected exit in football made the race for the championship slightly exciting. In the end, Jamuna did end up winning the Schroeter (something of note for anyone keeping a tab of Jamuna’s sporting history) and finished second in Dean’s trophy.  The Gymkhana day was one that my wingmate, Surya, and I had been waiting for with great anticipation. Back in our sophomore year, we’d ponder over the possibility, the “what if’, of us becoming captains of our respective teams. As it so happened, both of us were handed the captaincy in our final year and it did serve as the perfect ending to our fourth year. 


Jam Fam

I have a feeling that I’m probably giving out the vibe that it is all right to let academics take a backseat. However, that is not my intention. It’s really important for every student to find his/her balance. It’s important to be indulging in activities outside the sphere of academics but it shouldn’t mean that you zone out on your academics altogether. Despite having pushed academics much lower on my priority list, I ensured I did well enough to not be kicked out of home. All right, that’s the end of my Uncle-esque sermon and also my penultimate year on campus. 


Unlike in my previous years, the primary goal in my final year wasn’t just sports. I began realizing that in all my years at insti, I hadn’t really built a research profile. My DDP advisor, Ratna Kumar Annabattula, understood my situation and was extremely proactive during my initial weeks and ensured I stuck to his plan to develop. He and my PhD mentor, Pramod Kumbhar, ensured that I stayed on track with my research even with the 20 hours of football every week. Leading the Madras Wolves is a feeling like no other. I loved leading the team and it was just amazing to groom the plethora of footballing talent that insti had to offer. The period leading up to the Inter IIT was a really hectic one. College deadlines, six hours of practice and being there for the wing and friends during placements kept most of the final year students occupied. Unlike previous years, I did manage to escape even the slightest hint of an injury though we had a forgettable run at the main Meet. Our most memorable achievement was the dominant run that we had at the Sportsfest, which made us believe that we could now pose a challenge to sports colleges.


The weeks after the Main Meet felt empty since most of my insti had been 20 hours of weekly football towards the goal of the Inter IIT, and that had ceased to exist. I think all those who’ve worked for any organisation in Insti will be able to resonate with this in their final year.

Once you invest yourself in something, it just becomes part of your routine and when insti draws to a close, the departure from the routine is what is bound to hit a student.

It was around this time when I received my acceptance from Stanford. That marked the end of last hint of stress for me in insti. Everyone, including us, was ticking things off their bucket list with the cliched tag of “#finalsemdiaries”. The final sem was full of nostalgia-inducing events. Emotions were running heavy on the day of the degree photoshoot, not to mention the “Devdas-esque” scenes at hostel nights, out of love for the hostel. 


Two tips for all those who will be planning their final semester wing trip:

  1. Please do check your train/flight timings so that you don’t contemplate substituting a Goa trip with a Pondicherry one
  2. Do not leave the day after your hostel night because you’re bound to something stupid
The Wing

Our trips were done, our final year shenanigans were done and we moved to the final few weeks of insti. Being one of the Insti Blues recipients was a special moment for me and for my Blues cohort. The next few events were a blur since the water shortage resulted in us getting exiled as soon as we turned in our thesis. It was an abrupt end to what was the best five years of my life, and I think most of us genuinely mean it when we say it. 


If anyone has managed to read up until this point, the only thing I’d like to say is that insti will give you numerous opportunities to mould yourself into the person you want to be. Be proactive and positive enough because every time a door shuts for you in insti, three more open. If you think about it, most of the things I did in insti were not towards my preparation for a PhD. It had more to with me exploring my likes and dislikes and sticking to the things I loved. Irrespective of what you want to do eventually, ensure that you live out these student years to the fullest and manage your time judiciously and smartly enough. Cherish every moment of your four/five years, because despite the lows you might face, insti is still going to be home and the place where you’d have made the most lasting memories.


It’s been four months in the States and I can’t help but use insti lingo even at Stanford and ping my wing on Google Duo on a weekly basis.


It’s fitting to say that it’s easy to get out of insti, but it’s impossible to get insti out of you.

Editor’s Note: Fun Fact – Shaswat was briefly a correspondent for T5E! You can read his articles here.

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