To bend and not to fold

There are thousands of things in my mind right now that I would like to put on this blog, share with the world. But I hardly manage to find time or the kind of tranquility that I want in order to write. There is one thing however, that never fails to push me to the emotional state where words just seem to flow. Few minutes ago, I watched a video prepared by IITK students called "The Way We Were".

There was nothing much in the video. Large part of the video is a music video produced in house at IITK which, I must say, is quite good. The rest of the video is brief snippets of some junta talking about how they feel about IITK and what makes it special for them. It is this part that prompted me to write this post.

First to quote a dear friend of mine, the later part in the video looks rather like a "boisterous attempt at self-glorification". I somewhat agree with that and it is this feeling of agreement that forces me to think what would I have said if I was there in the video? What has IITK given me? What makes it special? so very special?

For answering this question, let me first look at what the junta in the video said. Most of what they said, involved the facilities, the people, the place, the activities that happen in IITK. They talked about having become tough and mature through the 4 years they spent in IITK. They talked about the friendship and camaraderie that people shared and so on. What I believe, though, is that most of these have little to do with IITK in particular.

In fact, most of those feelings have to do with the fact that this was the first time for most of them that they came out of their houses and parental guidance and stayed alone in hostel. Staying in IITK gives it a flavour of its own for sure but they probably would have felt the same way on leaving from any other college. And on the same note, people across the college hostels make bonds and friends that they cherish for life. These things do not make IITK stand out. There has to be something else, something different.

And probably I am in a better position to see it since I spent one year in another college before coming to IITK. I have fond memories of the place, all those late night sessions that happened there, my first 9-12 movie, all those delicious journeys back home and the atmosphere there. It was all so wonderful. What was missing then?

There were 9 hostels there in which BTechs used to put up. We lived according to our Depts and years. So the set of students one lived with remained same for 4 years. Classes were held in small groups formed out of.. again, students from the same batch and same Dept. So at times you could be hanging out with the same guy, maybe your roommate, for 24, 48, 72 hours straight. We developed strong friendships, we had lovely talks but mostly within this small group. True there was interaction across batches, across Depts and across hostels but that was minimal. For all the 4 years, I was 1st meta, then 2nd meta, then 3rd meta and then 4th meta. In fact, I was Roll No 31 to be precise, a number that always reminded me that I was the 31st person to have taken this Dept in the order of my rank in entrance exam. Didn't matter if I topped the Dept., I remained Roll No. 31. I am not saying that the system was repressive or mocking in anyway but such small things tell you something important about the attitude of the place, the culture of the place. The junior senior interaction was governed by these Roll Nos. So the person with the same roll no in the senior batch would be my "baap" and would help me out.

Contrast this with IITK and you know what is different. If I have to say in short, then at the cost of intending a little pun, I would say IITK is a "melting pot". It melts everything that gets into it, consumes any identity that all the external things impose on us and frees us to discover what lies inside. Consider that I was roll no 4, that I lived in Hall 2 and that I took quantum Physics, Linear Algebra, Data Structures, Mechanics of Solids etc etc. None of this information will let you say with certainty what my Dept was, what my year was and what my Rank in JEE was. As the joke goes - "Saari AIR pahle hafte me hi nikal jaati hai". It was after the freedom from all these outside aberration that I was set free, set free to explore, to do, to take up responsibility, to stand up for people, to fight for causes, to touch the sky and most importantly, to bite the dust.

I stayed in a hostel that housed 500 junta, junta across batches, junta across Depts and each one of them was there as a result of a flip of a coin, completely random. There was no scheme, no choice. It was like being born again. I studied in a class of 400 junta, across Depts. and what sitting in L7 feels like, anyone from IITK will tell you. I did courses with my seniors, got an A, did courses with my Juniors, got a C, did courses in other depts, did courses in which I was the only BTech. .. the list is endless. In one of the courses I did, there was so much variety of junta that no slot from Monday 8:00 to Friday 5:00 was free for classes. We finally settled for the weekends and late evenings.

And everything that I mentioned above, everything that happened around me told me something. It told me that there are no boundaries that cannot be crossed, no labels that cannot be scraped and no challenges that cannot be accepted. And the system identified me for what what I am. It didn't categories me and set me aside, it gave me a chance to choose my own labels. And what is more, it made sure that no matter how high I reach, there is never lack of things, of people to look up to. The end of the road was always only the opening to a whole new landscape, with higher peaks, with new challenges. There was no best, everyone was best in something. And this was possible because system allowed it and in fact encouraged it.

This is what IITK did for me. It made me tough but not brittle. It made me flexible but not plastic. I remember a poem I learned in school which talked about "things in life have taught me to bend but not to fold". Something similar happened in my life around 5 years ago.


Anonymous said…
Undoubtly,this is ur best post ever. I came. saw the soon as I realized it was abt the video from DRPG..I left the post and saw the video for the first time..(had the email flagged in my mail box, because it was pending).
fully agree with the self-glorification part. but thats totally human..Frankly, the first thought that came to my mind was why did not we (my batch) think of the doing this..I mean recording self-praises on the video, coz they are the best reunion material! Anyways.
Again, agree with you on the point that most of the feelings expressed in the video had their foundations on the fact that it was the first time we were part of such a huge student body who was independent (almost!..if you allow me to forget the senate meetings involving DOSA :D).

Last two paras are amazing. You are at ur best when you are emotional.I mean 'this' emotional! :) like that :D

Last weekend,I 'made' a senior (2000 graduate)and few others watch Bend It Like Munna..:D
Anonymous said…
Nostalgic post. Couldn't have put it better. Could you send me the video please? (send it to my UCSD address: dgupta AT cs DOT ucsd DOT edu). I'll have something to say about this post in greater detail, I'll put a link in here when I do :)
Anonymous said…
Not a response, but related:
Braveheart said…
Dear Abhaya,

Like almost every human being, your words flow when they ride on the flow of emotions. But unlike most who deliver their best for romanticism, your best comes out with nostalgia. Decidely so, these two are the greatest aspects that drive the human creativity.

On a more factual note, you have said in your beautiful prose what I have only been able to say in rough words. Yes, the system was miraculously setup in place by whoever designed it, perhaps without even considering its hidden merits. I have tangentially participated in multiple debates with many folks from other IITs and they completely fail to understand what different it makes to the environment. Sad, I pity them! Maybe, your post will help them.

Add to it the one-canteen-per-hostel-open-till-really late-in-the-night culture and the rules regarding repeating the course thoroughly (which you have a reason not to be concerned with!) and not escaping it with a mere 'suppli' unlike other IITs and you are talking about the far more superior and tough academic environment at the same time.

Though, it goes without saying that what sets IITK apart from any other institute is its 'Spirit'. After two years since I passed out, I have known enough to feel it. Now, I get a more concrete logic behind the feeling.

-- Akshaya
Gauraw said…

Thanks Abhaya ... for putting it in such a great way!!
Amit Pratap said…
I saw this video and realized the self glorification part of it but at the same time i was sure that there has to be something that made me feel proud of being a part of this system. I couldn't realize what it was ..and today after reading your post i realized what made us different.

Truely..this is a great post and i wish that IITK will keep its culture intact.

Unknown said…
Do me a favour by sending me that video to

This was very well analyzed by you. Though I must say, at my time Roll Numbers use to Year Prefix. Mine was 95154.
Gauraw said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gauraw said…
Manish: Even now, roll numbers have prefix for year. Abhaya's roll number also had that. What he meant to say was that the other part of the roll number (154 in your case) was based purely on the name. And it has nothing to do with your department or AIR or your rank in department on the basis of AIR.
Anyway, the video can be picked from
ps: I am replying on Abhaya's behalf because he will probably not be online for next couple of days.
Unknown said…
Thanks Gauraw. Rest part was clear to me, but when he said that 'year' factor is also removed, then I wondered.

Anyways, thanks for clearing the doubt and the video link!
pango said…
Having graduated this year only from IITK, nostalgia still hangs over me, for sure. When I watched that video, my heart beat didn't increase, the sense of pride was missing! I was sure that something is missing out, and you have jotted down those feelings in a wonderful manner.
As I have moved on to another educational institure, where I have had an opportunity to interact with IITians from other IITs, I have noticed a subtle difference. While IITD, B have lot to say of their city culture, pseudapa(a must use slang here), we from IITK never boasts of anything(Certainly, we can't boast of Kanpur ciy :)). We feel best at "feeling" our learning. Having said that, I think the "sense of pride" in IITK people is less. Perhaps, they are not aware of what they have gained from IITK. Certainly, this posting is going to help them.
Great post...I dont know how I missed it:) I watched the video on the day I got the mail from alumni cell about this video. Downloaded it straight and played and replayed it back while preparing for an exam that was happening next morning. Nostalgia and things it does to you...(read: my alma mater, my homecoming on my blog :))I could hardly stop talking about IITK, people and the things that are so inherent to it, even after hours of watching the still has a huge hangover over me. Like pango, I am also at a place where there are people from other IITs and other colleges....but they dont understand IITKians simple obsessions with their alma mater :) People dont understand why us IITKians hate things about IIMC so much and always compare contrast with IITK....why ?? I can only guess and maybe I am right...unlike other IITs, IITK has a very distinct culture of its own...its not like the pseudogiri of IITDians or the uniqueness of the IITbians or the collectivism of IITKgpians...its difficult to define but there is something about IITK thats is different. I will not comment on the video as such because its enough for me that I have a nostalgia linking to IITK...dont want to do a critical appreciation for once :)
And, you have written a great post. Given words to something i cudnt describe. Keep posting. Maybe we can start a group blog on this topic, I will be more than happy to contribute :)

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