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!