Through the Goggles of a Graduate: Varun Sanklecha

For our next and final TGG, we have Varun Sanklecha! Varun finished his B.Tech at the Mechanical Engineering department and is currently an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company. Read on as he talks you through his insti life, the dabble across Raftar and Squash and friends turned family.

In the most cliched way, let me start by saying, I can’t believe 4 years (technically 2.75 but let’s not get into the gory details) of insti have come to an end. 

Four years of courses, a couple of research projects and one minor led me to the realisation this is not what I wanted to pursue, or maybe I still do – I’m still figuring things out. When put in the position to make a choice, I went with whatever felt like it and mostly winged it. It sort of has always turned out alright.  

More important is that I leave with a treasure of memories and friends for a lifetime. I consider myself fortunate to have met some of the most amazing people (won’t take any names in case I miss someone) in this long journey, without whom, this article would not have been half as good as it is.

A Home Away from Home

As any good story, let’s start at the beginning when an enthu filled 18-year-old kid entered the gates of IITM. Orientations, late-night cycling, aero well, making random videos with even more random groups of people, pretty much summarises my first semester.

Snap from the first InterIIT

The first place I ever visited in insti were the squash courts. Having played a lot in school I couldn’t wait to pick the racquets up again.  Insti was a new environment, I was living away from home for the first time, I knew very few people and sometimes I even felt intimidated by other people.  Being a freshie was not easy, or atleast wasn’t easy for me. Having something to do everyday and be good at it really helped me settle in. Nothing cures a bad day like 3 hours spent in the sauna that are IITM squash courts; it became a major anchor for me. The fact that I was a freshie didn’t matter. On the court, I was an equal, and it made me feel like I was part of the team.

In my factory days, one of my teachers told me that first years usually don’t make it to InterIIT. All I wanted to do then was play for insti in my first year. I had so much feels for it that I decided not to go home on the first long weekend of the year, but to stay to watch the Aquatics meet (when would I ever get a chance again?). Throwing in a little bit of context here, back in my freshman year, IIT Madras hosted inter-IIT and I witnessed the match from homeground. As aquatics happens during the semester, witnessing it is out of the picture otherwise. This was my first exposure to “cheering/ anti-cheering” that is pretty much the essence of any good home support. If you don’t understand the past couple of sentences, I feel bad for you.

I did end up playing for IITM in my freshie year (I was on top of the world when I found out) and it was an experience like no other.  The amount of passion, heart and effort that goes behind InterIITs year after year is enough to make anyone fall in love with it. My first interIIT was tough. In a flurry of excitement, I managed to injure my hamstring a few days before the first match. We ended up not scoring even a single point for insti. This experience brought me back to earth from the ‘pseude putting’ (an insti name that stuck) cloud I was riding on.

InterIIT 2019 Champions

Over the course of the next year and the year after that, the dream of winning InterIIT was a constant source of motivation to wake up at 6 AM, hit the gym, eat healthier and work on my mental strength, all for that one goal. If I miss a day, I know an opponent is not, and he’s gaining on me, which I wouldn’t be able to come to terms with. Along with me, I had some of the most hardworking teammates and fellow contingent members who shared the same passion and whose feels for insti sports kept me going on for days, even when I didn’t want to. In the next 2 years, we managed a bronze and pulled off a gold in my third and last interIIT. I can still picture the exact moment in the greatest of details as I hit the last shot of the match, and of course, the euphoria that followed it. 

Shady Shopping and Salty Simulations  

If you ask anyone in insti who knows me, they will probably tell you two things. I played squash and was part of Raftar. That essentially sums up my 4 years in Insti. Raftar, for those of you who don’t know, consists of a bunch of idiots who give up on sleep, food, grades, and basically an insti life for a stupid piece of metal that, more often than not, refuses to start. There have been nights before end-sems when the entire team would be in CFI, working on a submission for a competition. These nights sometimes ran so late that people went to 9 AM exams directly from CFI (thank heavens for Gopal mess). Coming back from lectures (this is mostly where we caught up on sleep) every day to continue on the simulation that did not run the previous night at 3 am due to a wrong variable name was pretty much a usual occurrence.  On weekends, you are shopping in shady scrap metal shops, bargaining for the most random piece of aluminium and paying with money you probably won’t ever see again (reimbursements are a myth). In summer and winter vacations, you get to go to a test track in a village 90km from Chennai to test your car from 8 AM till you are toasted in the sun, dripping in sweat, smelling of oil and have hair filled with pebbles and dried leaves, but have a belly full of the most delicious tea on the planet to compensate. God, I miss those days.

All this effort pays off during the competition. That is if it all goes well. If not, well, back to the workshop and no pizza for you. Of course, that’s a joke, there’s always pizza. My first Formula Bharat, the main formula student competition in India, wasn’t the best performance for the team. From a consistent podium finish in the past, we were down to the 10th. The car suffered from major reliability issues. Designing the fastest car means nothing if it doesn’t cross the finish line. The only silver lining were static events (Design, Cost and Business plan presentation) where we finished as the overall winners. It was heartbreaking to see all that effort throughout the year leading to no result.

Racing at Hoeckenheim

This loss led to probably the best times in the team. Everyone wanted to prove how good our car really was. In August 2019, during Formula Student Germany, the premier formula student competition in the world, we camped on an actual Formula One racetrack – an unforgettable experience. That track and those cars gave us perspective on how far we can go before calling ourselves the best in the world. It will not happen in a year or two, but the target to get there one day will always be there on our minds.

Formula Bharat 2020 Champions

Wrapping up a good event in Germany we headed to the next Formula Bharat. We were the best team on and off-track that year without a question. You didn’t have to tell anyone to do something twice and sometimes not even once. The whole team went about it like clockwork. We could take a loss but never the lack of effort to win. Incompetence was pretty much non-existent within the team. It didn’t matter if a team member was given responsibility over something, if there was anything to do that would help the team, as simple as refilling water in the scorching pits, someone would do it. The team rose through broken brake discs, last-minute prep for events, sudden change of plans, exhaustion and what not to beat everyone. There was no team that year that deserved to win it as much as we did, and when we finally did claim the overall championship, it brought tears to the eyes of almost everyone in the team. If there was one moment for me where I was proud to be anywhere, that was it. I was proud to be a part of this amazing team full of absolute nutcases.

Maybe the Murphy’s law 

Winning Formula Bharat and getting a gold at Inter-IIT, when everything seemed to be well in place, Murphy’s law had to take its chance. Which leads me to the pandemic. We all left, thinking we would be back in fifteen days, but ended up graduating over a YouTube video. It wasn’t easy to adapt to online classes, but it was harder to miss out on all the final year stuff. The last Saarang, the last interIIT, the last competition with the team – all had already happened and I hadn’t realized. None of us really did, did we? My only regret in insti has been not being able to say goodbye to so many people who meant a lot to me. Luckily in the last semester, I was able to meet some of them on closure seeking trips.  After all, the best thing about insti is the people. If it hadn’t been for some friends, I would never have applied for Raftar. I made friends for a lifetime in my freshie hostel wing, without whom, insti would have been quite dull. My teammates in Raftar understood my passion for InterIIT and if it hadn’t been for their help (whether it be stepping in for me or scheduling a meeting around my practice times), I probably would never have won a gold. All these people have helped me become who I am today. There are so many seniors upon whom I still rely for fundaes on life and everything beyond.

Trekking at the Himalayas

While squash was one anchor, some of my early wingmates were the other. They were and still are the embodiment of the famous joke – “you never let your friends do anything stupid, alone.” There have been so many spontaneous plans, random road trips and nonsensical 3 AM discussions that I lost count long ago.  I didn’t have to watch myself around them, I could be myself without any hesitation. To this day, I have only dared to do some things (like go on a Himalayan trek) because one of them thought of an idea and another said, “let’s book it now before we decide otherwise.”

If I look back at my happiest memories in insti, they have never been mine alone, I have been lucky enough to have people to share it with and they only make them more memorable. So my only “advice” here (even though I am in no shape or form qualified to give one) is to find a bunch of idiots you can be yourself around. Four years will get over very quickly, the only thing that will remain are the stories you tell. Make sure you like the one about yourself. And even if you don’t, who cares?

Varun Sanklecha

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