Un-Presidented Times

Editor: Neha Anand | Design: Devika Deevasan

The editors at T5E were startled to discover an unauthorised post made on their blog. The article was written by a student, but here’s the catch- the student seemed to be from an alternate universe; one where there was no COVID-19, or at least, not in the same form… 

T5E Disclaimer: The author – C Gajendra, fresher’20, IIT Madras, has no intention to hurt the sentiments of any individual, community, sect, religion or nationality. This article is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

T5E Disclaimer 2.0: C Gajendra is a person, not the elephant and circle, damn it. Give his feelings some respect.

8th September 2021:

This is it guys, this is the moment we have waited for. All the trials and tribulations of the past two years, the sacrifices and the endless wait have culminated to this moment. I know you have been waiting for a video, and may be surprised that this has turned out to be a blog post, but all will be explained. I promise. Now without further ado, I present to you, my first blog as a college student – “A Day in the Life of a Prisoner Freshie at IIT Madras”. 

The day begins at 8 AM with the roll call. It’s quite simple really- like it was at school. Remember what school felt like? Ah, the good old days.

All we have to do now is wake up and yell out “PRESENT” through the grills, and retire back to our ‘beds‘ to catch up on the two years of sleep lost in toiling for the dreadful JailEE.

Let me take this opportunity to describe to you my humble lodgings in this esteemed establishment. The room is a tiny enclosure with three walls of concrete, and bars made of the finest steel to the fourth side. It consists of a squeaky, creaky cot, an age-old basin with a leaky faucet and one rusty chair. Fun fact: TOI published an article where some old ex-cons remarked that our dormitories are modelled after pre-colonial prison cells! Oh, what other historical gems does this long-established institute hold?  Hundreds of rooms like mine surround a courtyard at the centre of which stands a formidable tower, emanating a dazzling white light rumoured to be powered by stolen Vibranium. That’s the tower where the administration resides. The classes are broadcasted via speakers and projectors in the centre of the quadrangle.

In the times that I am awake during a class broadcast, I try to recognise my classmates from the hundred silhouettes visible through tiny boxes. It is absolutely fun to catch some of them in various stages of motion- ranging from eating to sleeping. 

Insti had introduced the trimester system, which split up the compressed academic year into three periods, each with exams at the end – sharing an uncanny resemblance with the three meals of the day, although nowhere nearly as wholesome. With the end of the first two classes, we are near the end of the Breakfast trimester. For Breakfast, we sit on single desks, as always in Sector K.V. of the quadrangle. To prevent any form of malpractice, we are made to wear full-face clown masks that just have two tiny holes to look through.

Oh, what a pain it is to wear masks. The feeling of claustrophobia and breathlessness that accompanies it definitely does not help with the examination anxiety. It must be a funny sight to the administration though, watching hundreds of us sitting centimetres apart wearing clown masks, with a panoramic view from the Vibranium tower top. 

During the Lunch trimester, we have the most awaited Shaastrang events.

Now, some of you have asked me to spare no detail in describing my first-ever college fest experience, so I shall oblige. The month before Shaastrang is filled with all the clubs advertising and recruiting as much of the fresh meat into their fold. It is an absolute joy to be part of these exclusive clubs. The rules are pretty hardcore. I shall list a few of them here to give you an idea:

  1. You do not stop talking about fight club your club.
  2. You do not stop talking about your club.
  3. If this is your first year in the club, you DO NOT stop bringing attention to your club. 
  4. No banging heads. 

Turns out that the fourth rule was a new addition after the institute-wide reforms. After everything changed. Apparently, the new administration wasn’t too happy when they heard that students were headbanging during Rock Night. 

Some of my followers have told me that surprisingly there exist a select few who are not aware of how it was before. You must be living under a rock. There is absolutely no way you have come this far without knowing. Nevertheless, I shall take the liberty to explain- 

It began when the Unified Statesmen of Adyar – a group that had taken responsibility to enforce global safety and security standards, decided to suspend their defence commitments to IIT Madras. Within no time, Insti witnessed the rise of an extremist group that overthrew the existing presidency – destroying its pillars of freedom and equality that had stood firm for over 60 years.

Originally a 19 member group, they called themselves the Anoroc-Y and spread at a viral speed. I have always wondered how much time they must have spent in finding a name that hinted at an infectious pathogen yet synonymous with anarchy. 

The Anoroc-ists had feverish energy which they put to good use when enacting their long-held passion of disseminating their principles and conquering new territories. As much as people fought to contain their ideology, community spread was inevitable, and the administration too turned in no time.

On 17 March 2020, the students of IIT Madras woke up to an email that changed their fate drastically. I have attached a copy of the same (which was covertly procured from a couple of seniors) for your reference:  

Email from the Academic Section, IIT Madras.
Dated 17.03.2020

The diktat dropped like a bomb on the students, with its blast radius covering all batches and disciplines alike. Unsurprisingly, it would also go on to have a detrimental effect on the students yet to come – the freshers of 2020. It marked the end to late-night adventures, selfies with deer, cycling to Bessie and movie nights at OAT. Soon enough, the panopticon became the norm of student life.

Anyway, where was I? With the fests and other events reaching a satisfactory conclusion (satisfactory in the context of an otherwise monotonous lifestyle), the light of the day seemed to be dying into the Dinner trimester. We are all fatigued by now, and ‘lucky’ us – the Dinner trimester was scheduled to end later than the normal semester system, thereby cutting down on our sleep before sophomore year. Listening to classes through the grills begins to feel more annoying than ever.

While final year students get transferred to other containment zones (some even abroad!), the only form of social activity for the freshers is by interacting with each other and our seniors. And how exactly would we do that in this complex facility, you wonder?

Fortunately, we are generously offered brief bathroom breaks where we could meet our fellow inmates in the lavatory. The place had earned its code name – Ramu.

Usual conversations would be led by a senior recalling his past, a time where the only bars in his life were those at the Main Gate of Insti. More often than not, these recurrent strolls down memory lane are more dreary than dreamy to us freshies. Yet, it’s worthwhile getting the input, for it is a sign of hope that this too shall pass. A hope that we could one day be immune to the Anoroc-ist forces, and be able to relish these experiences first-hand.

The dinner trimester turns out to be a rather anticlimactic end to our time as a fresher. Students celebrate through sighs of relief as they complete their final exams on a random Friday afternoon. To some it seemed to have gone by really quick by virtue of its uneventful nature, to others it seemed to be the longest period for the same reason. And just like that, we’re now sophomores!

The Anoroc-Y don’t seem to be done just yet, as they’ve sent a second wave of troops to intensify their policy enforcements – thereby limiting my resources and time. I apologise, but it looks like this is all I can pen down with these constraints. Word out there is that there might be a third wave as well. It’s strange how they refer to themselves with the Greek alphabet, I once came in contact with the leader of the Delta ranks – and boy, they are not to be messed with.

If you’re reading this, then I’m glad this news has reached the outside world, and I hope it does not demotivate you from doing well in your JailEE. If not, then I pray that people remember me.

C Gajendra, an innocent fresher at IIT Madras.

Stuck in the feedback loop from hell.

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