Monday, February 1, 2010

Ijj aal well?

Close your eyes. Visualize your high school days. Remember the tutions, the homework and they late night studying. Now gently, whisper ... IIT

IIT. Dreams. Aspirations. Thrill. Enthusiasm. Thirst for knowledge, the strife for perfection and the leap of achievement.

And four years down the line, the adjectives change deceptively. Disillusionment. Dissatisfaction. Frustration. Aversion to books, antagonistic towards labs, antipathy to education and the anathema that is college life. What went wrong? What indeed went so wrong in so short a time?

Being on the student side of the stile of educational hierarchy, I have a tendency to speak for those among whom I stand. Granted, we are no less. IIT'ians and rockets are known to work only when their a**es are on fire. We don't study, we plagiarize projects, bunk classes even at high noon and sleep through labs. Surely there could not have been a more unruly and indisciplined lot than us. We are the paragon of bohemianism, irreverence personified and the epitomes of inconsistency.

But did they expect anything else? When they hand-picked 5000 of India's 5-lakh strong high-school population, did they expect us to be "normal"? Would an 18 year old boy prefer to go to a class or to the nearest fast food joint? Would a 19 year old girl prefer to measure titre values or watch the sunset hand-in-hand with her boyfriend? Would a young innovator rather slog over bookish formulae after a tiresome night of trying to perfect his automated door-lock than sleep?
Why were we expected to be so conventional after the selection procedure so meticulously filtered out only the mavericks?

Well, we were ready to go through that too. If I remember correctly, not a SINGLE student had bunked any class on the first day he came to IIT. Nobody had failed to try his/her level best to blaze through the first mid-semester examination at IIT. Nobody had manipulated lab results the first day they tried their hands at something in the lab. We were ready. Ready to give our best shot. Our most sincere hard work.

But they destroyed that too. They were so bad at what they were supposed to do, that within a matter of a couple of weeks they convinced people it was not worthwhile going to classes. They lost the most dedicated and sincere audience they could ever have by their extravagantly limpid demonstration of the fact that they themselves did NOT LOVE what they were doing, and that they were MISERABLE with their own lives. They made it clear that the objective of engineering was to write and solve equations, often without bothering about what they really meant or how they could be put to some practical use. They impressed upon us that lab experiments HAD TO give the same results that they expected, because they were not smart enough to explain what went wrong. Your answers had to be what "pleased" their aesthetic sense, else it was wrong. And when little boys and girls wept behind closed doors in their rooms after the mid-semester massacre, nobody came to tell them that there was always a second time. Or a third or fourth. The judgement had been taken. In a matter of 2 months, you went from being an IITian to a nobody. And the tag stuck on. It just went on, education for the sake of filling your notebooks.

The poison thus insinuated spread like wild conflagration. The smartest minds of the nation broke down under the curse of neglect, misjudgment and plebeian channelization. Friends rifted into "nerds" and "dudes" (which was primarily anchored around your CPI). The hurt sentiments of snuffed out hope resorted to extra academics, more often to feel the recognition, sense of achievement and success which they had been deprived of, than for the true love of it. But being exceptionally brilliant, they excelled at that too. They became extraordinary sportsmen, singers, artists and dramatists, or revived the talents admonished at home and long forgotten under the onerous piles of notes that symbolizes education today. They organized the best known fests in Asia and made the whole continent shake up and take notice of IIT for reasons people really had not expected in the first place.

Surprisingly, they did not like it. They never joined in the merriment, although they were certainly not THAT old. When boys and girls shook their legs on the dance floor, they arched their eyebrows and questioned their moral standards. When youngsters ran away from mess food they barricaded the gates to tie them in. When boys turned in late for class after having spent hours trying to organize the same events for which they boasted to their peers elsewhere, they rudely turned them out for indiscipline. When students enthusiastically displayed working models, they asked for theory, and when students worked out new principles, they asked for application. The amusement went a step further when the same people who quarreled with their families every evening at home attempted to counsel those whose minds had not been clouded by age. And all their noble motives suddenly vaporized into thin air when a student died from lack of timely medical attention.

And at the end of it all, when the thoroughly demotivated and frustrated population took up jobs in finance, went to management schools and to foreign universities hoping for a more intellectually stimulating environment, they put up another laughable show of ironic chicanery. To the new entrants, they showed placement statistics - they are lucrative figures anyway. To the government and newspapers, they fretted about the lack of technical bent in the minds of the youth and the brazen craze for wealth. And to the parents, they wondered why people are in such a hurry to leave the country for good. Only deep within they knew that there was only one answer to it all, a finger pointing back at themselves.

Why was this done to us? We had come here, honestly, to learn, and to make India proud. We were methodically subdued and demoralized and discouraged in every way possible. Why were we cheated and deprived? Why was our creativity nipped in the bud? Why were the erudite forced to reduce themselves to the pedestrian?

And when next time I hear a grandiloquent speech describing how we are wasting our parent's and the taxpayer's money, how ignorant we are and how hopelessly inadequate our knowledge is compared to those who strive to maintain the "sanctity of IIT", I wish to stand up and say "You may be a great man, and I may know nothing. But I have a right to live and be happy. You have already robbed me of too much, don't you dare take this away from me too."