IIT

This year, as is the case each year, there will be crazed competition among teenagers, in which they will fight each other to the finish for a grand prize. Yes, I’m talking about the Hunger Games, also known as the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Exam (IIT JEE) – in which hundreds of thousands of contestants from all over the country will take each other on, in a riveting drama and spectacle watched by the population at large – for the privilege of entering the hallowed portals of learning at the dozen IIT campuses in the country. Last year, less than 1% of aspirants were admitted, making this easily the most competitive race in the world. Compare with Harvard which accepted 7% of applicants last year.

From: The Director of Admissions, IIT JEE

To: “Hunger Games” Winner, Class of 2016

Dear Winner,

Congratulations. You’ve made it!

First, I salute your parents’ dogged determination and single-minded focus in making sure that you got in. I tip my hat to your grandparents for their prayers, and to your siblings for intuitively grasping the significance of the stakes and staying out of your hair as you prepared for the ordeal. I commend your school in advance for its annual report, which they will publish shortly, carrying 4×6 photos of winners like yourself. I would salute you, but we all know that you had nothing to do with this.

Let me share details about the class of 2016. This year, we have one successful aspirant who neither attended Kota nor comes from the city of Hyderabad. We’re investigating the reasons for this anomaly. For security reasons, I must keep her name confidential. The boy-girl ratio in the class of 2016 will continue to resemble that of armed forces. My advice: Learn Telugu. And, start practising your pick-up lines.

Over the next four years, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate your repressed truculence towards absorbing any education whatsoever, and most of you will seize it. More than half our faculty is not looking forward to your presence on campus, as they are fully aware of the disregard you will demonstrate towards gentlemen named Maxwell, Gauss and Lorentz. Indeed, you will be blind to the joys of science and engineering which you never had in the first place.

You’re now a life member of the most exclusive club in the world. Allow me point out some of the exciting benefits that await you.

- You will be sought after throughout your life. You will have opportunities to enter varied and unconnected universes in investment banking, angel investing, optimizing search algorithms, designing the next Angry Birds app, increasing pre-paid SIM card sales in Assam and creating powerpoint presentations for the next desktop operating system. Sadly, a miniscule percent of your class will “engineer” anything of value.

- You will be a member of various google and yahoo alumni groups, the primary purpose of which will be to find jobs for all of your relatives.

- You will be enrolled into a lifelong email relationship with our alumni association, whose idea of robust engagement is to invite you to a re-union twenty five long years after you’ve left the campus.

- You will be presented opportunities to obtain enormous power. Some of you will use this responsibly to enable social empowerment by implementing national ID systems. Yet others will use it to make shady deals with Sri Lankan day traders. Most of you will prove yourselves to be incapable of receiving or handling this and fade into obscurity.

- You will spend most of your life “living upto your potential”, advancing your career, competing with rather than winning friends, and in having unreasonably high expectations of the world at large. It’s likely that disillusionment will hold you in its uncomfortably tight embrace by the time you enter your forties. At that point, a number of you will embark on a search for “the meaning of happiness”, whatever that means.

Fret not. The picture is not entirely dire. It’s entirely possible that the “IIT education”, which you spent your energies assiduously avoiding, may have actually penetrated your consciousness without your knowledge. Some of you will wake up to the wonders of learning and creativity at some distant point in time. And an even smaller fraction of your class will finally get to bask in the bliss of comprehending the insignificance of it all.

Welcome to IIT and God speed!

Best regards.

If you liked this, you might also like Weighted Average – a campus tale.

Weighted Average

August 15, 2011 in LAUGHING GAS

Ever wonder what the statute of limitations on a college degree should be? I mean, how long should a college degree be allowed to be valid? Is a college degree really worth anything, say a decade from when you are out of college? Laughing Gas recommendation is to render all college degrees that are ten years or older, null and void. But, we digress.

Memories of lessons learnt in a classroom bleach and fade from acid tests in the real world in due course of time. And, all that’s left are memories, selectively picked and retained from the fondest trove.

Presented this week is a nugget from the author’s pensieve of campus memories, the first of hopefully more to come in the Campus Tales series. As with any campus tale, this has been embellished and artfully embroidered for maximum effect.

Weighted Average

Everyone experiences these moments. You know, the moments of shock. They are sometimes preceded by profound bliss, with singing birds, brilliant sunshine or fluorescent rainbows in the background. And then, without so much of a warning, the music stops.

“Aren’t the IIT results out this week?”, the steady penetrating voice of a relative puncturing my bliss into abrupt nothingness.

I was at a family gathering that evening, which had turned out to be not so unpleasant after all. Until, voices started firing bullets at my blissful insouciance.

“Holy cow”, I sat up straight. The relative was right. I was a mere seventy two hours away from judgment day.

“Wait. Why am I panicking?”, I thought to myself. “It is possible that I might just get through”, hope springing to the fore.

“I read that over one lakh students wrote the JEE this year. I am sure you have done well. Haven’t you?”, the penetrating voice continued remorselessly.

I nodded and smiled weakly, my optimism rapidly receding as I re-calculated the odds. All conversations stopped. Heads turned. The wheels of time creaked to a clanging halt. The birds had stopped singing. There was no more the brilliant sunshine. The entire universe paused for a moment to enjoy my discomfiture.

The power of fortune is understood only by the unfortunate, for the lucky have no reason to analyze it.  So I realized as I awaited the verdict. Seventy two hours later, I discovered that I had a ticket to travel to the end of the rainbow with the rumored pot of gold. And, so began an incredible ride.

A few weeks later

After having completed admission formalities, we were in line for the medical examination at IIT Madras. The two boys who stood in front in line chatted while we awaited our turns. The little details overheard here and there indicated that they had met on the train from Bangalore to Chennai. They seemed pretty chummy. And, the conversation inevitably veered towards the choice of a branch of study made that morning. It appeared that they had managed to convince themselves that delving into the finer details of Civil Engineering was the best use of their time over the next four years.

“Excuse me”

I inserted myself politely into the conversation. The boys paused and turned to look at me. I had resolved to bring to their attention what, in my mind, was nothing short of a major faux pas.

“How come you guys didn’t consider Metallurgy? Civil engineering is not what it used to be”

I spoke confidently.

The heavier of the two goggled at me first. Then, he goggled at his friend in incomprehension. His friend returned what I can only describe as an understanding glance of acknowledgement.

“Metallurgy? No way. I have no plans to become a welder in a mechanic shop”, he finally blurted.

“Welding? Is that all metallurgists do? Are you kidding me?”

“What else do you think they do?”, his friend piped in.

I had to admit that they had me on this one. I had no idea what metallurgists did. But, it had seemed mysterious and exotic until a few minutes back. The mystery was unraveling already, and the picture did not look pretty.

“Step forward”

A bespectacled man, who sat at the table in front of us, gestured to the heavier of the two boys.

“Come forward. We’ll need to check your height and weight”

“Vinod. Height 175cm, weight 78 kgs”, called out the peon who was doing special duty that day in measuring heights and weights of pimply faced seventeen year olds.

“Seventy eight? Are you sure?”, the bespectacled man got up from his chair. He walked over to look at the needle which seemed to have no such doubts and sat steadily at the 78 mark.

“Next”, he called as he went back to seat himself in his chair and sip his fourth coffee of the day.

The lighter boy stepped nimbly onto the scale.

“Sanjeev. Height 175 cms. Weight 48kg” the peon measuring called out again.

“48? .. are you sure?”, the bespectacled man, again, was not happy with this piece of information. Reluctantly, he got up from his seat to examine for himself. He craned to look closely at the needle which now hovered indecisively around the 48 mark as though it was trying to decide how far it would go in its transgression of truth.

“48kg? That’s 2 kg below the required 50kg weight minimum”, the bespectacled man paused.  He had been weighing adolescent teenagers at IIT Madras for two decades. His mastery of the rules was second to none.

The lighter boy stood there on the scale, digesting this piece of information cautiously. He turned to look at the needle, mentally willing it to move a couple of notches further.

This was riveting drama. All eyes darted to and fro between Sanjeev and the weight recorder and the bespectacled man.

What would they do? Would they deny him admission? After all, he was only 2 kgs under the requirement.

Questions swirled in the air that day.

The bespectacled man stood there, pondering and scratching his chin. As he absently surveyed the crowd assembled there awaiting his judgment, his eyes alighted on the 78kg boy, who, still in the vicinity, was waiting for his lighter friend.

“A-ha!”, the man smiled.

“You are 48kg. And, your friend over there is 78kg. Between you, the average is 63kg. I declare both of you eligible. Welcome to IIT, boys!”, he roared.

The crowd approved smilingly. The sun appeared from behind the clouds. The birds started chirping again. The bespectacled man wiped the sweat off his brow, and smiled in relief and gesticulated to the peon.

“Get me another coffee”. He sat down heavily in his chair and mopped his forehead. Only two out of the two hundred in line were done.  But, he had already accomplished  a great deal that day.