This essay first appeared on Vox Populi, IIT Kanpur’s website.
Thumbnail credits to Vox Populi.
Thank you to everyone at Vox for suggestions and reading the drafts.
“Hello, Dada. Can you lend me some money? Yeah, we’ve been asked to empty our rooms, and the post office won’t post trunk or trolleys, so I’ll have to send them via a private courier which charges ₹100/kg. Yeah, about ₹8,000 would do. Thanks!” My time at IIT Kanpur came to an abrupt end, weeks before I expected it to. I had just been discharged from a city hospital and was just starting to recover. Because of the unforeseen circumstances arising from the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, the institute mandated all UGs to leave the campus by Apr 26, 2021. Moments after a friend broke the news on the wing WhatsApp group, we sat together and decided on our return journeys. I booked a flight to return home at about 2 A.M. that morning while getting emotional about what had just happened. The next day, we did wing photoshoots, said our last goodbyes, and slowly started departing campus.
If you know me or asked me about campus life at some point, I probably told you how excited I was about the prospect of leaving the place. Well, that wasn’t a lie. I always wanted to leave IIT Kanpur, and I knew that the time to depart would come one day, but I just did not know how soon it would be. I guess I hate the idea of being told what to do. I did not have much choice, so I came to terms with reality, washed my clothes, packed my sneakers, and headed home. I still do not know what I want from life or what I’m going to do shortly. But, my IITK journey has been a wholesome one, and this essay is an attempt to let you in on some of the experiences I’ve had on campus. And, if you’re looking for a “started as an introverted-shy-guy but am graduating as an extroverted-everything-sorted-guy” story, close this tab right now because my story is nothing like that! I’ve always been an outgoing sort of person. My life isn’t sorted at all. I am currently going through many dilemmas that need figuring out, broken family relationships that need repair, and economic status that needs raising.
The quest to educate their children to the highest levels possible ran in the family from as early as I can remember. I think most of it stemmed from their life experiences. Both of my parents did not finish high school. My mother lost her father to Tuberculosis, and my father had a complicated life himself. So, a child of hers becoming a doctor was very important for dear mother. They did not spare any efforts in educating their children. I think part of that came from realizing that education has the power to change the world and economic status even. Why I chose to not pursue a medical career is something that needs thinking. But, by some stroke of luck, I landed up at IITK. I still remember the hot, rainy July month when I first went to Uttar Pradesh. My worldview by that point was indeed limited, and I did not know what to expect. I saw extreme poverty under the flyovers in Lucknow, along the roads in Kanpur, saw cars taking a detour because of cows on the highway, and thought to myself, “Damn! Kanpur is dirty.” Don’t get me wrong, we have poor people where I come from, but the level of extreme poverty that I saw was a first. To rub salt to my wounds, I expected a huge-ass gate on our entry to IITK, but by the time I realized we were inside IITK, no gate came, except a railway crossing. I think this pretty much sums up my experience at IITK. Expectations that pay off to nothing at the end.
The Orientation Week was one of the best weeks of my stay on campus. This was true for my orientation and accurate as well for Y18’s orientation. This second-year guy proclaimed to his friends, “Yeh mera baccha hai.” rather proudly and helped me get through all the initial hurdles. Senior girls who would enthusiastically ask juniors for their introduction would not press further as soon as they come to know I’m his “baccha.” For that, I’m ever thankful to him. I would later try to pass on this empathetic treatment to my “bacchas” when I became an SG. Seniors are the people you reached out to when you’re in a dilemma. They’re the ones who advised kids to turn down Friday evening invitations to Hall 1. They just seemed to have an endless store of knowledge on everything, from the best dance moves and best crowd-songs to gyaan on how the campus functions, which courses to take, and which lines to step on in the airstrip, and which ones are forbidden. Chappals seemed to be the footwear of choice, and Boxers the preferred choice for bottom wear. They could preach over a congregation of eager first years and lead them to salvation as the poor kids ran, holding their blue folders on either hand and pretended to have wings.
Once the academic grind started, I kind of got lost in assignments and deadlines. Going into the program, I did not know what Electrical Engineering has in store or what engineers do. I hated “Engineering Drawing,” also called TA101A, and I hated “Intro to Electrical Engineering (ESO203A).” I still do not know what it is that I love. If there are two things that I learned from my time at IITK, it is never to pursue Electrical Engineering once I got out of that place and that North Indian slangs are okay. I have no intentions of stepping back from those realizations. Things got so bad at one point that I contemplated leaving the institute and going off to another place. A kind professor advised me to stay on because I was close to finishing the degree anyway. His advice gave me some clarity on things, and more importantly, I’m graduating debt-free by staying on. I cannot tell you if that was the right decision or the wrong one, only time would tell that. But, since then, I’ve come to realize that your time at IITK is what you make it to be. All the fantastic people make IITK what it is, not the curriculum, the administration, or the structure. It took me a hockey-field breakup, a couple of sleeping pills, and a life-changing humanities class to start swearing. It probably sounds absurd, but when you’re not used to speaking a particular language or used to saying that language in a certain way, it is hard to get into the local way of speaking. I’m happy to report that I’m one of you now. “Shuru majboori mai kiya tha, ab mazaa ane laga hai.”
I was sad, angry, and truthfully, heartbroken when I discovered that I’ll have to live in a separate wing starting from the second year. I’m sure my friends did not mean to single me out, and it was probably childish of me to fret over something as stupid and random as wing allocation. But, at the time, it felt sickening beyond measures to imagine going to an entirely new wing and living with a separate set of people with whom you have not interacted much in your first year. This was the first incident that made me realize the importance of belonging to a particular group. The second moment of realization of this sense of belonging would come a few years later when I would be hospitalized for a viral fever at the onset of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is that I love being alone. I always have. Good coffee, an excellent novel, and good music in my ears are all I ever wanted. My understanding is that I did not precisely fit into the kind of guy they would like in their group. To quote a friend, “They don’t dislike you per se, but you probably aren’t good enough for their group.”
Just after the wing allocation fiasco, I fell sick and was at the ICU for four days. Of course, unsurprisingly, my friends came along to the hospital and cared for me. I’m genuinely grateful for their friendship. As I said, grief over wing allocation was childish, but I felt pretty bad at that time. I went to the DoAA office to get a medical leave approved and then apply for a makeup lab for the TA201A welding lab. But, the gentleman at the office said that my leave could not be approved. Why? Because the doctor did not explicitly “give in writing” that I was unfit to go for welding post my ICU discharge. When I reasoned with him, saying I had hospital bills as proof, he disagreed with discussing further. The course instructor eventually approved my makeup lab without a formal medical leave after I wrote an email to him describing my situation. I would discover that awful experience at administration offices is constant across state borders and institutions. Things are just supposed to not work, apparently. I hated trips to the hospital and to admin offices, but obviously, this wouldn’t be the last during my B.Tech.
“I’m going to have a crush on her forever, and that’s all that’s ever going to happen.” — Trevor Noah in Born A Crime.
I probably have more crushes than is typical. If you pretend that you’ve liked only one person, then you’re one of the more determined ones, or you’re just lying! My first crush on campus was on this overly cute girl I came across in “Introduction to Philosophy” class. I had a more compelling reason to attend the classes. In contrast, others spent a month debating whether the table in front of the classroom was really a table or just “an essence” of a table. The table was clearly in front of the class. Just go and touch that damn thing if you had any doubt! I even signed up to dance during Freshers’ Night. I never performed dance in my life, not at least the choreographed ones. I know it’s wild, but I’m so glad that I volunteered because that night was fun, and more importantly, because the person I had a crush on at that time was dancing too. Oh, for those of you asking, “What happened after that?” Nothing! We are graduating, and that’s that. Expectations that pay off to nothing at the end. I don’t really know a lot about love. Most internships last longer than the time I’ve been in love. If you’re overly friendly, with a cute face that gives out theoretical and practical advice after hearing people out, “friendzone” kind of happens. If you think you’ll win a heart over by sharing relatable lyrics and songs, you’re f**d. It doesn’t work like that. Do you know what works? Nothing!
If you’re overly friendly, with a cute face that gives out theoretical and practical advice after hearing people out, “friendzone” kind of happens.
I think my love would have lasted longer if it weren’t for something as f***ed up as “Galaxy.” What is “Galaxy” if not Wannabe-Lawyers persevering? People would come up with their usual “Rulebook” bullshit for each and everything. It looks pretty absurd to me - people come up with and write rules in the Rulebook, and the same set of people find loopholes that they, later on, use to get events that they did not win scrapped. These people should get ₹50 added to their no dues amount for overacting. Instead of fussing over the rules, a better alternative would have been to put equal effort into the events so that the best pool may win. I saw two very admirable seniors fighting over points of an event that I helped organize. I’m not going to lie; it was hilarious. And they canceled that event later on. My guess is the pool that wanted to win very badly did not win. There would always be someone who would go around your hall and call only you for every event to add to this misery. I remember once getting called for something to do with Hindi Sahitya Sabha (I cannot read Hindi xD). My dream is to see “Galaxy” happening sometime soon where every event gets scrapped, and every pool stands at zero points. My suggestion to break that tie would be to organize a grand sword fight on Auditorium grounds among the pool captains.
I’m known for sharing my unfiltered thoughts on social media. While many people appreciate this frank and honest nature of mine, I know that not everyone thinks that way, and that is okay. I remember getting some stares during one of the initial ELS meets for something I defended ferociously. Oh, screw ELS. It is okay to change your views when presented with new information. I think I’ve grown more in this aspect, as compared to anything else. I believe that the dignity of human life and the well-being of humankind are above every institution and ideology. I think we can all appreciate that humanity is above all else. Every development, discussion that happens should be centered around the upliftment of everyone and not just the privileged bunch. If growth is happening at the cost of persecution of one section of the society, that is not development at all. After all, would you measure human progress by the number of buildings, bridges, and airports that get built or by the quality of lives of humankind as a whole? Some people have stopped talking to me because of this, and that is okay. I don’t need that negative energy in my life.
Given the times that we’re in, I think viewing humanity above all else can sometimes get one into trouble. Nothing has happened so far, but you can’t predict the future. With elected representatives throwing around conspiracy theories left and right, and preaching things not backed by science, it is all the more reason to speak up. The way I see it, humankind and its empathy would stand the test of time compared to the divisive rhetoric and bigotry that we are so used to hearing from everyone. It boils down to you at the end of the day - how you wish to use your influence and privilege. Sure, you may choose to remain neutral, you know, like the ones for whom everything is complicated even if someone is getting stabbed in front of their eyes. You can do that, but I have no respect for you in that case. For many people on campus, IITK represents an isolated heavenly abode that is supposed to be devoid of influences of its times and the society it serves. That is such a privileged position to take. If you cannot use your intelligence and influence to bring about good to the community you’re serving, should you even exist in that society?
I’d never attended a Baarat in my life until “Hall 1 ki Baarat.” Sure, I watched marriage proceedings in movies, but I did not experience any in real life. If you’re getting married soon, remember to invite me to your Baarat. When the day of the Baarat came, I was more excited than most final years. If you’re curious, none got shot and fell off the horse. The event was overall poorly managed but fun. They closed the gates to people other than the final year students. Everyone who had a life at IITK would remember bonding over random dance moves to Bhojpuri songs. That night was one of such nights. I came to know many Y17s, whose existence I did not know about, until that point. Somewhere in that crowd, a naive kid thought, “next year.” But Coronavirus had other plans. I don’t think anyone would have even come close to being a Dulhan compared to me. That is a wish that shall remain a wish. Expectations that pay off to nothing at the end.
At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, I had to run to the hospital because someone I really cared about was dying. I was clueless, powerless, and felt that I could not breathe. I did not sleep for three days straight. I just could not imagine an alternative reality where people close to me dying made sense. The ambulance was out of fuel. The bridge on the road connecting my locality to the hospital had collapsed because bridges collapsing after a long time are no surprise. I was angry at everyone and more so at myself for not being able to anything. I still get chills when I think about the dozens of families who would have lost their loved ones because the ambulance did not have fuel or the hospital did not have enough staff. Medical infrastructure is all but non-existent in Tripura. No matter which party and which people come to power, none really thinks about upgrading the critical infrastructure in the state. I believe the current pandemic exposed the failures of governments, both past, and present. However, if it takes deaths and hospitalizations of hundreds of thousands of people to come to that realization, someone somewhere has f***ed up or is actively f***ing up.
As a kid living in a more or less homogeneous society, you’re not used to thinking about your identity all that much. The concept of ST, SC, OBC, etc., was unheard of where I come from because everyone is tribal. So, when someone did not get a seat at IITB or the so-called “top-branches” at IITK and decided to go, “Okay, that’s it! I’m going to write about you on Facebook.” I had a hard time digesting it. I’m proud to be tribal, and there is nothing you can say or do to change that. This roots and appearance thing led to some hilarious incidents as well. During Antaragni 2018, a Chinese guy came up to me and started speaking Mandarin (from what I assumed) to me. When I told him that I did not speak Mandarin and that I’m an Indian, he showed me his Chinese passport and said that I looked like one of them. I was so excited by that episode that I lost my college ID and debit cards that night. People assumed or asked me if I’m from Nepal or Bhutan, or China at various points. I don’t know if I should be happy or sad about them. For the record, I’m Indian, and I think ours is the greatest nation and civilization on Earth.
Throughout my time at IITK, I’d come to be associated with many groups. Some of them were short-lived, while others lasted longer. I participated in journalism, company formation, departmental well-being, debates, and the well-being of other students. At times, I even called strangers trying to convince them to come to attend one of our on-campus events or call someone else to fill up L18 with random school kids so that the events would look “better.” I found my sense of belonging in Quiz Club. It is the best club on campus. Slide after slide, someone would raise their hand and whisper magic words into the ears of the Quizmaster. The Quizmaster would then give their verdict on whether to reward or punish these whispers. I miss in-person quizzes so much. I used to get so excited about late-night quizzes. I would sometimes skip dinner to make it on time to LitSoc Room before everyone else when running one of my quizzes. Quiz Club gave me a few hours of peace and excitement, away from the worries of daily life. When I told people I have a quiz, it usually meant that I was sure about attending that particular quiz night instead of the usual academic quizzes. I loved Quiz Club so much that I’d go on to “coordinate” its activities and get screwed by “the Rulebook” during Galaxy.
I had a hard time balancing academics with extracurriculars. So, I did the sensible thing - no, I did not reduce the number of things I was taking part in; I stopped taking part in all of them. You know, that’s like Trump saying stop testing people, and we’ll have fewer cases. Clearly, it did not work out for Trump, neither did it work out for me. That is one of the decisions that I regret. I think it would have been much better if I had continued the extracurriculars but narrowed down the number of things I took part in. But, things are still not as bad. I loved working with folks at E-Cell, pitched random startup ideas to VCs during events, and enjoyed interacting with alumni. During my short stint with Vox Populi, I proposed conducting a first-year student survey on various aspects. Even though I was not involved in running the survey eventually, I’m happy that the idea got to see the light of the day. Being an SG was a fulfilling experience. I learned many things while talking to several people to resolve the problems the “bacchas” had. I have no idea about how large my family tree has grown, but it is a dream to see Hall 5 populated only with my descendants someday.
I had had my fair share of sufferings when it came to adjusting to the mess food. I used to be amazed by people who survived on a few rotis. On top of that, it seemed like whatever culinary skills one lacked could be covered up by a pinch of dhania and a few liters of cooking oil. As someone who eats rice thrice a day and is not used to eating oily food all that much, getting used to North Indian food was a struggle. I would go to different canteens to try out new food items and stick to one that worked the best. I frequented Hall 4 canteen to eat their Chicken fried rice and Chicken Manchurian rice at Hall 5 canteen. I hate pizzas, paneer, burgers, and ketchup. I especially hate people who put ketchup in their Maggi. If you are around OAT, you should try chicken roll with some ice cream. Latte is my favorite kind of coffee drink, and I especially love anything that has chocolate in it. The best food on campus has to be Gol gappe. I love them so much that I ate 20 of them in one go on my last day on campus. If all those things sound expensive, you should try egg fried rice in your hostel mess. That is the best thing one could eat on any given day, in my opinion. I am very particular about my food habits, and I think this is well reflected in other domains, e.g., music.
I had two end-semester examinations on Dec 11, 2020. And if you’re like me, you’d also know that Evermore dropped that day. I submitted the first endsem about 1.5 hours ahead of time and listened to the album instead. I did not study for the other one. I think music can have a significant impact on your mood and general well-being. It had a great impact on me. I would even claim that music helped me get through my worst days on campus. I’m the kind of person who would loop through Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Ed Sheeran for days. And listen to Selena Gomez’s whispers for hours. With two back-to-back albums in about six months, Taylor Swift really helped me get through the worst days of the pandemic. I mean, I’d still love her unconditionally even if she did not do that. The dream upon graduation was to attend one of her in-person concerts during the Asian leg of her tour. But, I think that wish will probably stay a wish. The pandemic does not seem to be ending anytime soon, and in-person live concerts will probably take a long time to return. Expectations that pay off to nothing at the end.
My second trip to a city hospital happened just a few weeks ago. I was diagnosed with a viral fever and got to stay at the hospital for four days. Those four days were probably the worst in a long time. Because of the situation arising from the pandemic, none of my friends were with me at the hospital. I spent the next four days staring at the white ceiling and counting numbers up and down. Things got so depressing that I had to tell the doctor how lonely I felt and how depressing the whole vibe was. The doc was amazing and discharged me on the same day. Just as I was leaving the hospital, I overheard my hospital roommate’s conversations. He described in painful detail how difficult it was to get a bed at the hospital. That’s when I realized the privilege I had. He was on oxygen support and could not find a bed until he went back and forth to two or three hospitals. I remember getting a bed as soon as I was a little stable and got my tests done. It definitely did not take hours for me to find a bed. I would probably have met the same fate if I did not study at IITK. If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this essay - it is that most people are decent people. If it weren’t for the fantastic roommate in the hospital, I would have had a far worse time at the hospital. His family bought drinking water for me (the hospital canteen does not accept UPI payments!) and cared for me as if I was one of their own.
If I could start my undergraduate life all over again, I would probably take Biology in Grade 12 and attend a medical college. And avoid Electrical Engineering at all costs. Contrary to popular opinion, I loved LIF101A. And I’ll probably study some more Biology given a chance. Oh, I’ll not go to IIT Kanpur in that version of life. Are you kidding me? The sex ratio is horrible, so is the weather. These were not on top of the list of things that matter when I joined IITK, but I’ve since realized that both of them are pretty important to one’s well-being. To add fuel to the fire, it turns out that I did not like my engineering courses at all. As a bonus, my mother would be delighted with her son. In fact, I still wish it was possible to study History or English Literature at Delhi University. But, life has its own ways. So, it is what it is. Expectations that pay off to nothing at the end. Don’t even ask me why I’m interested in History or English Literature. If you know, you know!
As I Leave IITK, I realize that I’m an imperfect being, in fact, quite far from being perfect. There was a time when that fact would be unsettling, but I think you come to accept what you are over time. That’s the only good part about aging, I suppose. I know I’m not perfect, but I think I’m pretty good to everyone. That’s just like my 4.68 Uber ratings. You know, pretty good but not perfect. Thanks, IITK, for being a gracious host. And thank you to everyone who played some part in shaping my college journey. Hopefully, one day I’d get to go back to campus as an assistant professor or some politician, preaching things I don’t mean. Until then, let life happen.
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