IIT campus: pandrah saal baad

For me, it was a visit to the campus after more than 15 years. The first thing that struck me was the traffic on campus: I think I saw more vehicles in a day than I did in all four years of my B.Tech. I later heard that the situation had been even worse before motorbikes had been banned for students. Perhaps the campus should have a no-motorised-vehicles Wednesday or some such for people to realize what is possible with cycles.

The other thing that strikes one is the number of new buildings and buildings-under-construction. Infinity corridor seems to be acquiring an infinity of buildings. I suppose this is unavoidable given the four or five-fold increase in the number of students and the concomitant increase in departments, faculty, administrative staff, what-have-you. After all outside, too, things have changed dramatically: One night on Gulmohur Terrace, I was stunned to see the lights of “Hiranandani”: The last  time I looked, it was undulating hills as backdrop to the lake.

The lake: Well, now that Vihar is out of bounds, Powai lake is the only lake accessible to campus residents. Surely the uncared-for look of the lake is avoidable. On one of our morning walks, Varun actually burst into tears and said, “The next time we come, there won’t be a lake”. From various conversations I had with faculty and students (I won’t quote anyone:You are free to comment on this post if you like) I too got a discouraging picture. The students claim they are overworked, and have no time for extra-curricular activities like cleaning up the lake or anything else. The faculty seem to suggest that students inhabit a certain “comfort zone”, and the sense of “One person can make a difference” has disappeared.

This sense of disempowerment, I am quite familiar with, living in Thekambattu: People feel that one person cannot make a difference any more; so one may as well join the herd where there is safety in numbers. It is quite possible that the increase in size of IIT-B with the increase in bureaucracy has given rise to this sense of disempowerment.

As I see it, the two stakeholders who can be prime-movers are faculty and students. The faculty are the long-term residents and the students are the most numerous. It is obviously impossible for fifty faculty to gather on a Saturday morning to pull water hyacinth out of  the lake, but three or four faculty working with fifty students can make a great difference. Together they could create a sense of community which could come to include mess workers, non-academic staff, and just about anyone who enjoys an evening walk or a morning run along  the lake.

I know of one success-story-in-progress at Baner Hill in Pune which started with Rohit and a handful of people and now boasts involvement from people from all walks of life.

And, who knows, if the campus residents can script a Powai Lake success story; the next time I visit, I could perhaps take the boys out rowing from a functional boat-club rather than having to tell them 25-year-old stories about it while showing them the unused jetty.

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5 Responses to “IIT campus: pandrah saal baad”

  1. gaurav1729 Says:

    Thanks for the report. I think I have to learn to cherish my memories of campus, because we really were in a special place at a special time.

  2. J Motwani Says:

    Cherish them well Gaurav, because its all history now.
    We are striving to be world-class on all fronts, with a vengeance.

  3. vivek joshi Says:

    I interacted with students quite a bit over the last year or so. Student life has changed significantly in many many respects, and we are also in an era of outsourcing. We lived at a time perhaps when resources were either not available or out of reach. My kids are not of IIT age yet, but I just cannot see them enthusisastic about doing such things as cleaning up the lake by hand. Given a chance students may not mind managing such a process or some kind of using mechanization.

  4. Vibhu Says:

    The size of the organization (in this case, the campus body) has a lot to do with it. I’ve seen first hand how individual behaviour changes in companies as they grow from tens to hundreds to thousands of people.

    The initial phase is one in which individuals think about the organization as “this is my company … something that I need to help”. In our case, this resulted in people bringing in bagels and donuts semi-regularly at their own cost, picking up the ocassional piece of trash, etc.

    As it grows, people know fewer people around them and think of it less like a family/home environment and somebody else’s problem. In our case, I’d see people ignore things like empty cans of coke sitting somewhere rather than tossing them in the trash. It was clearly the janitor’s problem.

    Growth beyond this phase results often in some fraction taking on an even more extreme attitude “I need to extract my pound of flesh from the ecosystem … its large enough to stand it”. I’d see people be completely cavalier about grabbing resources for themselves with no regard to whether it was fair or not, just because they could.

    I think IIT-B is in the second phase, where most people there regard the problems on campus as being somebody else’s responsibility.

  5. Dhananjay Patankar Says:

    Good observations, Vibhu…

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