Four years at IISc

It was four years ago that I walked into this abode of learning, already burdened by my luggage and the excitement that led to my admission here. As a parting message Father told me, “Study well, but do not just that. Have a good time. I won’t interfere not just because it’s not good but I don’t know much about your program.” So I was to fend for myself.

Well, nobody knew about the program anyway. (Jobs?!) It was another experiment the institute conducted (daringly and with a vision, we’re told. No prizes for guessing that Dr Kalam was behind this.) The program was close to being shut down two years ago; how close is a matter of your taste for histrionics. Now that the results have started to appear, it seems that the experiment has succeeded in many aspects.

As much as I had thought and told myself that I was prepared for the high academic standards of this place and the impending culture shock of living in a city like Bangalore, I didn’t have it easy at all. But the institute and the city have been very accommodating. Then there was the business of growing up, about which (almost) nobody specifically talked to me, and which came really hard at me.

It makes me think badly of myself when I read the things every eighteen year old should have mastered. Similar things to survive and thrive in college: very reasonable at first glance but not so when you’re living on your own in this serious and grown-ups-only world: attend every class on time; make good notes; ask questions; study on time and prepare well for exams; actively engage with friends and the larger institute community; debate; organise events; cultivate a hobby; master a sport, and so on. Everything checked but agonisingly partially, like a half-raised hand in a large auditorium. Like also played. The mediocrity was too painful; at times I was gasping for breath.

That dread hasn’t left me yet. I guess it is here to stay. Maybe I should just ignore it and move on, like how everything moves on: tests, semesters, summers, and years.

Things get much lighter, not easier but lighter — manageable, when you have a good group of friends who’ll help each other. Sometimes just a quiet listener can be your saviour.  Having friends with a taste for books, movies, and well-cooked food is a blessing. Taking a walk with friends in the dark, deep, and lovely woods, though you have grades to keep, isn’t an indulgence. It’s a part of college, of growing up.

While I made some very good friends, remarkable people all of them, and have great memories with them, I also very often shut myself away from everybody else. I took that luxury for myself to try and understand what works for me and what doesn’t.

A few weeks ago, I met an old friend who (also) went to a highly sought-after college. Going by the things he was saying, I was left wondering what a different college experience he had! Such let’s-make-a-big-dent-in-the-world optimism! If my (IISc) friends’ experiences or mine anything to go by, IISc has prepared us for life in a strange sort of way. True, each of us has had a unique experience, but our common ground is rather strange for undergraduates.

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Like every college, ours has many problems too; it’s not my intention to dissect them here. If I were to think about the good things that happened to me, I can only be grateful to everybody I’ve met in the institute (barring the Academic Section guys, of course.) There’s nothing to complain and I have no regrets. This is just what (I wish) I would say when you ask me, “Aur bhai, kya haal hai?”

Four down, one more to go!

Back home, back to work

Hello there!

It is Summer, and the Gulmohars have taken over the institute – in the Gulmohar marg and elsewhere.  The bright sunshine pierces the canopies, fresh with the tender leaves of Spring, and lights up the roads and our spirits.  Then, there are the numerous types of birds merrily chirping, cooing and cawing; and not to forget, their droppings whose volumes may be as diverse as those of pipette tips in the biology labs.

This city is the darling among Indian cities chiefly due to its perennial climate of moderation.  Thanks to the rich variety of life in the campus, changes in weather are obvious though slight.  Mounds of shed leaves of the autumn gave way to carpets of flowers on the roads (bird droppings are permanent, of course).  The clear bright sky of Summer has added to the colour of tender leaves and flowers of every kind, of the healthy brown earth, of sign boards, of people, their clothes, the buildings and on and on.  To fall back on the seasoned description of Spring time, it is riot of colours here.

With it are stimulated our animalities that make us feel alive all over again: hunger (pray to your Gods to make you find mess food tasty), a slight tiresomeness and sweat.  Sweat, dear readers, is my favourite.  Many times, sweat alone is the result of your hard work.  In this city, even that is rare.

Students are here from everywhere for summer term making up for the emptiness of vacation.  Let us wish them good luck, and let us – in that spirit – roll our sleeves up to get back to work, more intensely this time.

For now, I have got a new water bottle, a bunch of pencils and a new pair of sandals.  I am going on a ride early in the morning on my little red bicycle.  Great times ahead!

Another study session

It is exam time at college.  All the apprehensions of an approaching apocalypse have gone, for it is already upon us. Each student is presented with the crucial task of earning their grade; sit with the books before the exams, study for the exams, go and write the exams and be done with the exams.  Grades do not matter during preparation; they are transcended, if you like, for want of peace of mind and a sense of judgement to know what one writes without afflicting irreparable damage to logic.  Everyone is in the fabled ‘zone’, for they believe that the best of the works are done when the mind is without doubt and is engrossed in the present.  The days are unusually calm and time really slow, when one considers how busy normal days are.

One should also observe that not everyone does well, even by their own standards.  But calm must be maintained, because you may afford to lose battles but not the war.  Well…

Basically, such behaviour shows up because each of us have gone through so many exams that another one hardly makes a difference.  Also that this one exam doesn’t completely decide the grade, a second chance will be given.  No swollen red eyes grieving for under-performance, no getting caught cheating and no dog fights for extra time.  Both the parties, the examiners and the examined are reasonably liberal about the system.  Each party wants it to be removed but has no idea how to fill the void its absence creates.

It comes to me as a surprise how life is just so normal in spite of exams.  Earlier, we were told exams can be life altering.  But, true as it can be, even those exam preparation times gave a lot of time to sit back and observe life in its rich variety.  For instance, I can experience idle weekdays.  I have been getting educated non-stop all my life but there are people around who have seen life differently; life can go on without learning or creating new things, it can mean mere survival, waiting for the day to pass, it can mean embracing normality and giving up one’s dreams to let the loved ones chase theirs.   The world is only a set of processes, each working to its own end.  No individual, by any action, can affect anything at all.

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Now, with just the right amount of time left for me to complete the task at hand, I come back to my books to prepare for an important rendition, knowing very well that in the end it does not really matter.  But means can be more enjoyable than ends.  Life is good.