Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I wish to remember my IIT Kanpur as...

I am a Delhi-ite and was assigned IIT Kanpur against my expectations of going to IIT Delhi. Today, I feel surprised at the negative perceptions of IITK before and during JEE-counseling. But then I realize that it's easy to forget how disappointed I myself was when counseling results slowly loaded on the computer screen, and I saw 'Kanpur' appear where I was sure 'Delhi' would be. After that, the usual well-wishers started giving me advice about Kanpur 'being too academically rigorous', 'not as lucrative in terms of placements as the big-city IITs', 'not having enough industry interaction', 'not fun enough' or 'not giving enough all round exposure', which only added to my disappointment. I think I distinctly remember my reservations being shaken at the main gate itself, where I was welcomed by a sign, and engulfed by the green monsoon growth and the sounds of the peacocks and insects. 

I knew that some of my friends also felt that the stereotypical IITK image wasn't something they could relate to. I reached out to some of them, and they have helped me to make a little diary of how they remember their IITK. Some controversial events of the recent past do not contribute to these memories, and I am leaving them out of the documentation.

I wish to remember my IIT Kanpur as:

A place with top class infrastructure in the student hostels, non-academic and academic areas. Where “the hostels had students from three academic years living together making inter batch interaction smoother, and yet we had our own closed groups within our same batch living together on the same floor, who formed a family away from home.” (Shivam Kumar, Y9). A place where the well-maintained infrastructure was in a beautiful balance with the natural beauty. The baghia and the pond near the main gate. The laburnums which would paint the ground yellow in April, or the gulmohars which could make everything brighter with their reds.  A place which would drench itself in beautiful colors throughout the year, from grey and lush green during the monsoons, to yellow and red during the summers.

The laburnums and gulmohars which grow all over the campus just before summer each year.
A place which made it "almost ridiculous when friends from other colleges narrated about curbs, restrictions and rules when we had so much freedom in our own campus (other IITs had curbs on internet usage and hostel visitors which seemed outlandish)." (Shivam Kumar, Y9).

A place where new instruments (from music to technology) could be ‘discovered’, and people could hone their skills to become proficient users. There were many guitarists who promoted themselves from Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam to the best Pink Floyd solos. A place where I had the huge freedom to be able to visit my cultural club at 4am, because that's when I felt like recording my songs (A song I recorded with the natural morning bird sounds in the background).

A place where we organized national-level student festivals spanning technology, arts and sports, primarily on our own (with help from administration), inviting participants and popular personalities from all over the world.

A place where either we taught ourselves the responsibility that came together with this freedom, or were made to learn this by experiencing the consequences of our actions. We could cherish both in the long run.

A place where the Counseling Service held our hands and welcomed us warmly into the campus. A place where we could have our own families (amma-baapu, behen-bhai, mausi-chacha traditions) which would continue much beyond just our degrees. 

A place where most of us had our first, awkward, trysts with formal wear, before donning them with ease during our respective professions.

From being new at formal wear...
...to a pre-graduation 'photo-shoot' (the brick is symbolic of the Civil Engineering education we received J)
A place where people were under lesser pressure to 'compete' with the 'city crowd' (which may plague some other big-city institutions). This acted as a great leveler between people from different rural and urban backgrounds. There maybe a notion that there's nothing 'to do' in Kanpur, but the same perception made me more involved in what I loved to do, within the campus, all while developing much more meaningful friendships without any pretense; there was no one to impress, well apart from the festivals ;)
"I firmly believe that the deep relationships I have with my IIT friends is because we had no city to distract us from being together on campus." (Amit Kanudia, batch of '88)

Photo by and of Awadhesh Kumar (a Y9 alumnus)
Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi in the library of all places :)
A place where students and teachers were equally enthusiastic to share a happy moment together outside class. A place where some teachers could be real mentors whom you could confide in, even your deepest insecurities, without having the fear of being judged. A place where the institutional setup allowed you to go privately to the Counseling Service and take help when you felt the need.

A place where the golden hearted SIS guards, despite having to work tirelessly in their uniforms without fans in the peak summer and in the cold nights during peak winter, could always share some friendly words with you over a cup of canteen or MT tea when their shifts changed.
Photo of a SIS guard at work, by Anushank Jain (Y13)
A place where I could use the beautiful swimming pool and be inspired by my affectionate sports instructors (I'm sure people who did other sports have similar stories). 

A place where I grew up with not only my friends, but also with our barber and our dhobi. We've all grown older together. We've all migrated to touch phones now, but they have a few more wrinkles and many more latesht songs than I do (which they got from our high speed internet downloads!). 

Photo by Nitica Sakharwade (Y10)
A place which made “you feel like you had a magical world of your own away from the real world” (Shivam Kumar, Y9)“A place which was relaxing due to its sense of security but inspiring at the same time” (Nitica Sakharwade, Y10).

A place where food places had their signature specialities. Hall-8's Sagar Maggi, lalaji's methi malai paneer. A place where food was available throughout the day except maybe from 4-6 am. Not to forget the dhabas which lined the GT road around the campus. The shehtoot near the library and faculty homes, the jamun, ber and aam were available in plenty during their respective seasons. "The mess food was decent, but the mess talks with friends unforgettable." (Shivam Kumar, Y9)

Students of Jagriti during a science exhibition at Lodhar (2011),
'teaching' the best teachers in the country (Prof. H.C. Verma in the second photo).
A place where some students and teachers also understood their social responsibility towards the members of the campus community and people of the neighboring regions, particularly children. 

An advanced campus (with its own markets, banks, marriage halls, the possibility of cashless payments for juice or chaat) next to villages without any public transport, electrification and other basic needs. A place which has developed like an oasis of comfort amidst the chaos of a rural-urban divide (we are very close to the district border between Kanpur Nagar and Kanpur Dehat).

An aerial view of village Bansathi near the campus (Photo by Sri Harsha, Y8)

A pond in village Bansathi (Photo by Sri Harsha, Y8)
I don't remember anything from placement time, I do remember distinctly some moments from Antaragni, bulla sessions or Physical Education - 101. I don't remember my grades in detail, but I do remember some enthusiastic teachers who care deeply about me even today and the many support staff (in canteens, offices and shops) who contributed to a wonderful life at IITK. I remember the awe-inspiring discussions with some of the more open faculty, students/friends from everywhere, rickshaw pullers, motorcycled doodhwaale (milkmen) from nearby villages (2nd generation upgrade from cycles 😊). I remember the apnapan (belongingness) which I felt while greeting so many people with a warm 'ram-ram' already during rickshaw ride into the campus when I returned from my parents' home every time. Though I left home, I always had a home welcome me. 

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