Silver Jubilee Reunion

I remember that at a GBM in H7 long ago, I had said that the eloquent and the loud ones will always have their say, but someone should speak for the tentative and the unsure, as well. So, though this may turn out to be a contentious post, here goes: (If everyone who choses to do so, will please comment on the blog itself, then some measure of a discussion can take place)

It was great to have met so many friends, acquaintances and now-friends at one go. That really is the raison d’etre of the reunion; so I feel that things should be geared towards meetings; meetings should not become secondary.

There were cribs that the Indian-residents among us were not as enthu as the US/NRI contingent, and the campus residents even less so. Well, I guess it is the case that those of us who live in India (and more so those who live on campus) have an ongoing relationship with the campus and its residents which is not nostalgic. So we are not reliving the past as much as those who haven’t visited IIT for 25 years are.

May I also say that collecting money and pledges for the Legacy project is fine but doing it aggressively (and with an element of RG-giri) is unacceptable. One must accept that some alumni are not in a position to or do not want to donate money to IIT. In fact, the ₹6000 registration fee (and accommodation extra and photos extra) is itself very steep for a bag, a mug, a T-shirt and a few meals. Surely, in the scheme of things, IIT can afford to host the Silver Jubilee batch.

The question of waste too arises: Did anyone count the number of bags left behind at the guest-houses? And surely, there must be an alternative to sealed plastic tumblers for every drink of water.

Most people who come, want to meet old friends and make new ones, This can be encouraged by providing chai and biscuits at a few venues. Then whosoever is interested can join the cack session. I know from my interactions with some of the current students that they want to meet and talk to alumni; and the fact that the reunion and the alumni day are during the holidays means that very few get the chance: Would it not make sense to move the reunion to term time?

In any case, another idea that can be explored is that of visiting alumni: I would imagine that a couple of weeks’ visit every term from an alumnus or two would leaven the spirit of the place. The students get to interact with Industry, NGOs, Academia, Government (even the odd farmer:-), and the alumni get to meet young blood , which is always exciting.
Will junta (Class of ’86, profs, students, anyone who has an opinion on this, Class of ’87 who will go through this, this year…) take a little time and comment on what I have said.

After all, a legacy is for keeps.

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10 Responses to “Silver Jubilee Reunion”

  1. Jogesh Says:

    IIT organises it because they want the money.
    Largest bucks come from the nris.
    Nris would rather visit in December when its holidays in gora land.
    Hence its held in December.

  2. jogesh99 Says:

    Considering that you are the only one with his own bludy alumni fund, this is a bit rich, don’t you think!

  3. Poorvi Vora Says:

    I know our class representatives spent a lot of time planning the event and that they solicited opinions. I appreciate their efforts, and admit to not having invested similarly in the event myself. (I live a mile from campus this year but was unable to attend because I was out of town).

    But it would be dishonest of me not to say what I think about some larger issues that go beyond a single reunion. Also, having spent about 6 months as a visiting faculty member at IIT, I have developed some fresh opinions about some of these issues.

    I have a big problem with the aggressive collection of money for the gift, and also with the notion that every batch has to prove that they are the most generous by raising the most money. Not so much because I think that some may not earn as much as others (though this is true too) but because I have a problem with money being used to measure contribution.
    * For example, how does one measure the contribution of those alumni/ae who serve on the IIT faculty (and there are many)?

    I also really dislike the notion of an IIT brand and attempting to make it something like the Harvard or Stanford or MIT brands (which is different from making IIT like one of Stanford, MIT or Harvard). I think the focus on a brand takes away from focus on value. I don’t think just being an IITian is such a great thing, having encountered many very bright Indian folks who didn’t go to IIT. I would enjoy meeting old friends, but really dislike all the rah-rah-rah.

    I also think we shouldn’t be thinking of our monetary gifts as carrots to encourage the Institute/faculty to behave in this way or that. Clearly, money is not the only thing motivating IIT faculty. We might wish to spend some more time trying to understand the personal motivations and goals of those individuals who run the Institute, and, if we wish to make change there, to try to work with these goals and motivations, instead of projecting our own or those of the outside world. Certainly, this would be much harder and would require a longer-term and deeper relationship with the Institute than most of us are willing to have (me included?)

    I also think that, while giving gifts, we should focus on the human resources that go into the Institute. For this reason, I like the mess worker funds and the faculty health insurance fund started by previous classes. I think if one does not have the time and energy to make longer-term changes, we should just focus on these funds and then start one which would enhance faculty salaries or provide loans to deserving students.

    If each class creates a new project to bear their name, IIT will be saddled with an increasing number of individual projects — which is not an efficient way of making effective changes. In the future (hear this, 87ites 🙂 ) it would probably be better to have a single large fund that could be strategically used towards larger goals (all of it can be managed by an Alumni Board).

    pv

  4. Vibhu Mittal Says:

    Its most disagreeable to come along and find that I agree with everybody before me. I’ll list some things that I liked about the reunion and things that I did not …

    Liked: The opportunity to reconnect with old batchmates. There are some people with whom I am still in touch, but there are far more whom I remember well, but don’t have enough of a connection with on a regular basis. This was a terrific opportunity to do so and I am glad I went.

    Disliked: The “programme” that had me schlepping from the SMSoM to the Gymkhana to the GH and so on. The organizers meant well, but I was there to meet friends, not play cricket.

    The most memorable times during the two days were (i) a long morning walk along the lake and meandering back through the hostels (ii) long chai sessions outside the GH where the tables had been set up, (iii) hanging around the GH and finding people as they walked in and out

    Suggestion for the 87 batch: maximize the chances to get people together; have fewer programmed events; try and convince people on the fence that they should come — both of you will be better for it.

    Timing: I’d rather come to IIT when the students and faculty members are all there. December is not great as far as finding tickets are concerned — my suggestion for an event like this is that its best done sans family. Which means that synchronizing this with school vacations is not a big deal.

    Fund raising. I don’t have any opinions on the NRI vs the non-NRI front. I have heard that in the 2010 reunion, the donations were skewed in favor of folks from India. In our case, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Asking people to pony up money for the reunion does seem tacky on the part of IIT — they should invite people to it (skip all the bags, the wedding-like shamiana, lighting, etc — figure out places that people can meet up, walk around and chat)

    Our batch started fund raising relatively late — maybe mid November? This may have had something to do with the outcome. When we were in Pune as part of a hostel reunion before the SJRU, we seemed to agree that spending the money on trying to help the mess workers’ kids with educational materials/scholarships would be a good thing. I still believe that the marginal difference there would be much more than in funding anything at the institute or faculty level.

    The only thing that I would have liked to have funded — after having visited the campus this year — would be to have the main gate replaced. Or at least have the bamboo scaffolding et al taken down.

  5. kishorlaud Says:

    Having not attended the event, my opinions are from the ‘armchair’. Here are some thoughts

    – If technology/facilites permit, I think it would be great to have a virtual session where those unable to physically participate can jump in for a little while.

    – I must admit I don’t fully understand the comment about ” how does one measure the contribution of those alumni/ae who serve on the IIT faculty (and there are many)?”. Once the face of it, I see being on the IIT faculty as an individual professional choice some have made and less of an alumni contribution. Having said that, I do agree that alumni contributions to IIT should go well beyond the monetary such as helping with projects, industry relationships and the like…

    – As an institute, fund raising has really not been a big part of our DNA. So I would expect that we dont get everything right. I am not terribly upset by that as these things get refined with time.

  6. Anand Joshi Says:

    Sundar, thanks for starting the discussion. Off course, the best part was meeting so many old friends in one setting. From that angle it was highly efficient and effective (sorry to be sounding like a corporate type). Understand that donations were voluntary, regardless of pushing and prodding. I do believe that in the longer term it will produce great outcomes, regardless of the process.

  7. Vinayak Bhalerao Says:

    Yes, thanks Sundar for getting this discussion started. It looks like people are more comfortable sharing their thoughts with you than with facebook. That is quite an accomplishment! 🙂

    A couple of points of my own and responses to others:
    – I absolutely loved being there. Though only about a third of the people made it, it was great to catch up with those who did. It was also great to visit the hostel, the dept, and the walk along the lake, of course. The photos, including the formal group photos are priceless.

    – While being there is of course the best, for those who couldn’t make it, I think having a virtual venue for a part of the proceedings would be a great idea. In fact, alumni from other years could also join in those. Just for fun.

    – I totally agree that the informal gatherings were a lot more fun and interesting than the formal ones. But, at the same time, it is natural for organizers to feel like they have to organize things, (and we would complain if they didn’t). I see these formal things as games that we all like to play, and if you don’t organize the game, far fewer people will come. It’s the same bug/feature in our head that affects everything we do.

    – I don’t think the fundraising drive was too aggressive. Particularly if you compare with other universities or organizations. That’s not to say that they are right or wrong (though it seems to work). As Sundar says, it is the loud/nagging ones that get heard (same silly bug in the head again.) The only suggestion I would have there is that people who haven’t visited the campus in a long time don’t really have a good enough idea about the best way to allocate the money and being there even for 2 days might make you change your opinion, and of course, people who live and work there might have a completely different perspective. So it might be a good idea for the future to keep the final decision on the allocation of funds open until well after the reunion.

  8. Milind Kandlikar Says:

    My view of the reunion is colored by the event that preceded it – an H2 reunion in the hills surrounding Pune, when a grand time was had by all – and some of that feel good rubbed of on the official event. To be sure, the IIT soiree itself was a little bit of a letdown though I did get to meet a small number of good friends. I was quite shocked though to see the number of people (outside the hostel and some departments -EE,CS) that I barely knew or recognized. It really gives the lie to this whole idea of a cohesive ‘batch’. Ain’t no such thing.

    Superficially some things stood out – IIT is obviously wealthier and better equipped and lots of money is being spent – but like the rest of the country new India ( the convention center) and old India (crumbling hostels) co-exist. Academically, there is now a concerted research push and an uptick in publications, patents and so on, though undergrads still rule the roost, which is never great for research. The whole brand IIT thing continues apace and is more annoying than ever. Never has a place done so little and claimed so much credit.

    It is also clear that a lack of money is not a barrier for research – there is plenty of it to be had from government and private sources. Which brings us to the question of alumni fundraising. I don’t think that the fundraising was too aggressive. In fact, it was all done behind the scenes – by people both in India and in the US. Though small compared to what IIT spends – it is not an inconsequential sum – because it is smart money that can be spent in creative ways. Some projects – the mess workers fund, retired faculty insurance (but what about other employees including those low-down in the totem pole?) have had a high impact.

    I like SV’s idea of a visitors program – these should in fact *not* be academics – since there are plenty of academic visitors it seems. The visitors could be artists, activists of all sorts, and interesting individuals with stories to tell and ideas to convey.

    Perhaps, one could ask students, faculty and staff to come up with short proposals for projects that they would like to see funded. Doing this bottom up will certainly help improve the chances for spending the money on the right set of projects/activities.

  9. Damayanti Bhattacharya Says:

    Dear Sunder,
    In many ways I am an outsider to this group, but after reading all the mails I decided to jump in cause I think I can provide a unique in-campus view of the whole SJRU business.
    I have been a campus resident for the last 10+ years and although I am an employee of the IITB Alumni Association ( yes the gin joint that helped organize your reunion) I am strictly not a part of the “system”. I am not the confident sort and even though most of the time my take on things don’t go down too well with the main building types I have stopped worrying about being meek or being ignored ( as I mostly am:-D) and still go ahead and say what I have to if I feel strongly about it. Here too, because I consider Sundar a friend, I am going to take the liberty of stating some ground realities which will sound unpleasant but might clear up a few misconceptions.
    The ground reality is that you got the reunion you deserved.
    Most of you came to the Institute with the expectation of a readymade packaged event waiting for you…and yet you had illusions that the experience would somehow fit in with your expectations!!
    I am going to disagree with you Sundar while eloquent and the loud ones might say their piece if only the tentative and unsure would forget themselves for a second and just speak up they might just discover to their surprise that there are other voices which would speak up in support. Most of us do not participate (it is the malaise that effects all aspects of our nation) and it is tragic for the opportunities lost.
    Every year IITBAA works with successive batches for their reunions. For us it is a conveyor belt which we call “reunion season” yet every batch organizer likes to that theirs is the first and should be the grandest reunion! The organizing committees take on the task of mmm…organizing… with great gusto but most are unwilling to listen to suggestions from us (despite the fact that we have the benefit of years of experience). Every year I dutifully point out, – Do not pack the days with too many events…do not spend thousands often lakhs on what I personally consider tacky bollywood style entertainment, Keep enough time for hostel visits, cut the speeches, pay enough attention to family entertainment but does anyone listen? NO. And that is because other people from the batch who should have spoken up and supported us earlier were t0o bound by inertia to respond. As I said you got the reunion you deserved.
    Even the December event..again it is the batches who want it so. I keep telling batches that come to campus in the monsoons..campus is divine, it is start of the sem and students have time to interact..has anyone listened ? The result is zero so far. We have designed other events now to get students and alumni to interact..but that is a different story.
    As for you legacy ..I don’t agree with Jog that IITB is only interested in money…the go after the money cause it is comparatively easier to get then your time. Nor do I agree with Poorvi that people who contribute time are not valued. The bottom line is that very few of you alumni are willing to invest your time or your mindshare. For those who do there is always worthwhile things to do..HATS Mess workers awards, Soneri Bagh Eco Development project, Retired faculty Wellness Fund, Financial Aid Programme, Young Faculty Awards Programme, are all people centred projects that were initiated by volunteer alumni like this. Incidentally barring one these are all projects administered by IITBAA. Unfortunately they are a small handful. For most of you involvement is limited to discussions on the net and writing the occasional cheque. Then how can you blame IIT for going after money?
    The truth is both alumni money and their time is important…MIlind yes IIT’s have lots of money for some stuf but then again there are many areas where MHRD would not give money and IIT will not spend cause their hands are tied by MHRD.
    At AA our focus is to raise funds for people centred projects ( as opposed say new buildings) and in areas where we know IITB cannot or say will not spend.…that is how Mess Workers Awards came about. We would love to do more for the thousands of class four workers who work as casual contract labour in IITB with and then retire with no benefits. Their condition is the worse then mess workers…but alumni will pay where they have attachment. So while it is relatively easier to get funds for the hostel mess guy…it is next to impossible to get funds for the contract safai karmachari, swimming pool life guard, lab attendant, the chotu who baught you chai and grew old doing so..I can go on but you get my drift. IITBAA has a fund called Benevolent Fund through which we try to help but it is run from our very small revenue surplus and we can only help few in very small amounts.
    PV here is another misconception I would like to correct.. all batches do not create new projects ,-Class of 1983 donated all their money to YFA. As a matter of fact every batch from 1980 onwards ( barring yours) have donated something towards YFA. It is perhaps the biggest and most important and most valued group alumni funded project in any IIT anywhere and at anytime. IITB as well as IITBAA actively discourages all batches from creating individual projects and encourage them to support existing initiatives but so far while we have been successful in getting the batches to donate part/half of their funds to existing initiatives, there is also a strong desire to leave their individual footprint behind on campus. Call it a batch ego if you will. So they design some new fangled component, have their party and leave…more often than not no one is interested to find out about execution and the money stays locked up in Heritage Fund in the US for years at 1% interest due to non implementation. This is not a hypothetical scenario but a reality.
    The issue is also not always about IIT having lots of money. There are many within IIT Bombay who would like some semblance of independence and autonomy from this excessive dependence on the government. But that can only happen with alumni and corporate support. It is also not true that big bucks are required to make a change. IITB has 40,000 plus alumni.. if all of you decided to donate 4000 a year ( piddly 1000 per quarter) it would be 160 crores/ year and if you committed this amount for the next ten years it would be a 1600 crore corpus. That is some serious money with which IITB could easily get some real autonomy from MHRD. And is there a rule that you can only contribute during your SJRU alone??We even designed a programme called Give One for IITB designed specifically for small donors who wish to make a long term difference..if anyone is interested I can tell you more. One more thing there are many alumni funded and administered non Institute focused projects as well,- there is Village knowledge Centers in Bangalore Chapter for instance..

    Finally I have personal gripe about Indians and our notions of charity. In general we are only too willing to make donations to religious trusts, few big ticket NGO’s like CRY and so forth but we have no culture of annual charitable giving. We find all kinds of excuses to not donate..but the bottom line is it is not a part of our DNA to give every year. That is why the bulk of the NGO’s in India are still funded by fundraising organizations from USA and Europe and why the bulk of the money IITB gets also comes from USA. It is not because NRI’s have more money..it is because every year they donate to a cause and we don’t.
    There are interesting visitors programmes in IITB and I would love to work with anyone who is interested enough to give some sustained time. Event’s are what we do to engage with almni but what keeps us going is a few interesting non-runof the mill projects..
    Apologies for the length of this post.

  10. Damayanti Bhattacharya Says:

    PS I forgot to tel you guys I suck at spelling and never read my stuff after typing it out in one go..So you guys will have to suffer through the regulation typos grammos which are trademark me..But as I keep telling all my friends as long as you are getting the general drift:-D

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