Musings of an outgoing GS
Right, so this is my first post on my blog after almost a year. I started off this blog in an attempt to rekindle my love for Kannada writing and literature. After a religious practice of writing one piece a day or two for around a fortnight, I had to pull brakes on it ever since I had to travel to Bangalore on getting the news of the demise of my granddad. The wound healed but the scars are still left behind. As my ‘hectic’ tenure as the General Secretary, Cultural Affairs at IIT Bombay (from Apr ‘12 to March ‘13) nears its end, I plan to restart blogging here in my free time. And not restricting to my views on life and the world through my writings in Kannada, I’m hereby opening up to penning down my thoughts on some of the notable aspects/experiences of my life so far. And I cant think of anything better than my musings now, on the day of handing over of the highest student office at one of most renowned institutes of the world.
I’m someone who didn’t know what IIT was (forget knowing about it, I didn’t even know what the T in IIT stood for) until I took up JEE coaching post 10th grade. And this was something I did not do by interest, but by sheer peer pressure. So yeah, engineering at IIT was never a childhood aspiration, but something that happened by chance. For numerous reasons, after not making it to IIT on my first attempt, I entered BITS Pilani before cracking JEE on my second attempt.
The one year at BITS Pilani has perhaps taught me some of the most important lessons of life (lessons learnt the hard way) – patience, composure, will power and most importantly confidence. Hitting rock bottom in life is sometimes very crucial. It only gives you the courage to face anything thats up ahead, since things can’t get any worse than hitting rock bottom. Life at BITS Pilani created a rough image in my mind of how I should plan and take up things at IIT, the optimum balance (for me) between the curricular and the co-curricular. Bottom-line, if I hadn’t messed up my first attempt at JEE and landed up at IITB, its quite possible my IITian life would have been totally different.
A fresher in his first semester at IITB is like an excited kid let loose at a fair. The platforms available to develop hobbies, better inter-personal skills, learn man-money-minute-material management hands-on is simply amazing. In my case, taking up dramatics as a hobby (sometimes more than just a hobby given the time investment) was triggered by an event. It was the Main Dramatics GC in early November of 2009, when I happened to see the play ‘Rafi Sahab ki Mayyat’ live.
It was a packed auditorium by the time I reached. I stood by the exit door, and being cramped up for space I almost stood on my toes to gain an extra two inches for better viewing. The cheering and applause for Snehil Gautam (the lead) was shocking! The adulation he received was something I felt then was surreal! (I guess, even today I’ll feel the same goosebumps to see him on stage as with watching, say Naseer Sahab) Its perhaps this culture of making cult/sports icons ‘GOD’ at IITB that catalysed my entry into dramatics, and further into cultural activities as a whole.
The dreams of becoming a General Secretary someday were evident right from the time I took up the post of an Institute Secretary. I did not have a clue about the work domain of a GS, but it was a dream nevertheless. Bas banna hai! I in fact opted for an Institute Secretary post in order to know the intricacies of a GSs work. I exactly cannot recollect how the seed got planted, but it must be the due to the culmination of the views of people around me that the most ‘powerful’ student office on campus is that of a GS. And if there is something I have tactically worked towards (since becoming the Institute Secretary), it must be this – to become a GS.
The process of elections is perhaps as value additive (if not more) as the tenure itself. (I’m sure once the tenure ends and things settle down, the positive/negative effects of the tenure will show up on my personality and my views on this point are bound to change) Frankly speaking, I never thought about victory or defeat. I simply cant recall a time when I critically analysed my winning chances. Two possibilities, either I was confident and didn’t want to waste time OR I felt I was in a losing race and didn’t want to lose heart by analysing the chances. The more I think about it, I feel the latter is a stronger opinion, that I feared defeat and chose not to think about it! (But the key was I didn’t overanalyse and panic/screw-up)
I cannot recall a time when I doubted my candidature. But yes, in elections the winner needs more than just a good candidature. He/she needs charisma to attract support (supporters rather). I don’t see anything wrong with that. Throughout my tenure, there have been multiple instances where getting people together for numerous reasons has been an important deal. And if thats tested in the process of elections, thats not detrimental for sure. But for someone who keeps to himself, doesn’t socialise much, and was called snobbish with attributions of an attitude problem, in hindsight, it was pleasantly surprising to make it through the elections.
And no talk on elections can end without a heartfelt gratitude to all the friends who helped me through the process. I have never seen in my life such selfless help from people around me, and almost all of them voluntarily. Its very likely that without their help I would have missed out on an epic adventure of my life – the tenure of a GS.
4. CHALLENGES (of a GS Cult): (This is not an exhaustive list but those points which qualify as both non-trivial and significant) (In random order)
i. The work force: Surprisingly, a GS has the least direct work force of all the post holders under Students’ Gymkhana! My immediate work force are my seven secretaries and three nominees. Any work to be done on ground, has to be taken up by these ten. The challenge here is that the seven secretaries are elected by the people and not interviewed by me. They have their own vision + manifesto and may not have any correlation with that of a GSs. The rate determining step of a successful tenure will solely depend on how this team of ten is organised, controlled and executed by the GS. Though I have been majorly advantaged by a motivated set of ten, it was no simple task to ensure the system runs alright.
ii. Bias and fallacies: In the process of contesting and getting through an election, there are hands joined with some sections and ties broken with a few other. For someone who won by seven votes, I had a good share of both. Given the strong emotions that run during the elections, its very easy to resort to biasing or to take revenge! The power that the post holds does allow one to exercise this to some extent. But not adopting such narrow minded non-progressive approach is a challenging one, but something thats needed for a society to move forward. (In hindsight, no matter how hard one tries to stay unbiased, the fallacies amongst people continue to exist about a GSs bias. The job is such)
iii. Making things possible: Last year July, I happened to meet one of the key persons of Junoon Theatre. She was from MIT. I asked her what in her opinion was the difference between the Indian and the MIT setup of things. She replied saying that at MIT they believe everything is possible and all problems have a practical solution. Given the sarkaari setup of things here at IITB, ‘making things possible’ has a huge energy barrier to be crossed each time. Apprehensive authorities, stringent policies, bureaucratic paperwork, irrational staff – what not! My plan of action has always been to maintain a list of deliverables and one way or another to try my best to make them possible.
iv. Diplomacy and Ego issues: According to me, a GS is more of a politician at some scale than a bureaucrat. I find it extremely necessary to stay diplomatic and be politically correct. While being firm and bold are two of the most vital virtues, it is very essential to not remove the mask of diplomacy. Satisfying the egos of certain sections at various instances is part and parcel of the job, like it or not. A majority support at all times is needed to ensure a smooth tenure. I have seen egos hurt creating a butterfly effect of sorts to affect ones tenure adversely. Its a tricky point and a difficult situation to be in especially when one holds the highest student office. Being humble could be one way of making things easy.
v. Closed door meetings: The fun part of the tenure was to chair meetings where each of its members has their own agenda and prejudices. To me, the real check of a shrewd character happens here. I’ve always gone into meetings with my set of missions to accomplish and manoeuvre the meeting accordingly. Some went flawlessly smooth and some with high drama. But nonetheless, I cannot recall a single disappointment here. Be it meetings for PAFs, awards, council, collaborations etc, I have succeeded with my agenda hook or crook. The same doesn’t extend to meetings with the faculty though. The dynamics change here since diplomacy, respect and lack-of-leverage take a preference.
vi. Taking risks: The exciting part of being a GS is to be given the chance to dream big and all the requisite tools to realise those dreams too. In my own ways, I have experimented with the opportunities thrown at me. The exciting part of the tenure was always when I took risks. Be it with Roots, Vividh, InterIIT E-Weekend, The Indian Tempest etc. Some clicked and some didn’t. But the kick of taking risks is something that will always excite me to seek positive changes in any system I’m thrown into. Its always easy to work towards a safe manifesto and a non-controversial tenure. But then one will miss out on the adrenaline rush and of course the illumination that follows when one takes a risk.
vii. Staying social: Winning (sometimes even contesting) an election does give one the opportunity to make umpteen number of contacts across the institute. Since on many an occasion a GS interacts with people, it is expected of a GS to have an active social life. In my case this was a clear misconception. But I agree with the part that enroute becoming a GS, I got to know many people whom I wouldn’t have otherwise. A lot of times it has so happened that a walk from Main Building to my Hostel-6 has resulted in many smiles being exchanged along the way. But all these attribute to being ‘well known’ and ‘well connected’. My challenge was slightly different. It was about being available to the well knit friends circle amidst the busy tenure. There have been get togethers skipped, parties missed, treats postponed and even a simple email/SMS response to a school friend procrastinated. Its very easy to get trapped in the habit of getting too involved in the post and not think beyond the boundaries of the work domain. One has to realise that any PoR isn’t a 24X7 job; that posts are a part of life and not the sole components.
5. OBSERVATIONS (by a GS Cult): (This is not an exhaustive list but those points which qualify as both non-trivial and significant. It can be apparent that most of the observations are indicating that our system is faulty. But I must stress upon the fact that the current setup is on the better side and these points are only to make things close to perfect) (In random order)
i. FOR the students?: In my opinion, the basic reason that IITB (IITs rather) came into existence was to pioneer the growth of science and technology in our country. To achieve this, there are numerous approaches that the institute can take. But whatever the approach be, the one basic target that the institute should aim at, is churning out a good crop of students who are equipped with tools to become the torch bearers of a positive change (say, at least in the fields of science and technology) in the nation. In order to catalyse this process, its very important on the institute’s part to maintain a balanced, healthy student life with all world class infrastructure in place (in-short without divulging into micro details of the parameters involved) To ensure this, its imperative on the authorities part to operate with this basic mindset that the institute primarily exists to groom students and all the plans need to revolve around the mantra ‘FOR the students’.
But going by the way certain issues were dealt with – accommodation issues, SAC grounds issue, Estate office work, below average living infrastructure – I have my questions on the institute’s way of working. I understand that ours being a governmental organisation, there are numerous bureaucratic policies that are difficult to deal with and hence a shift in ideology. But I’d still say, as in point 4iv above, everything can be made possible. During my short stay at a US university, if there was one major difference that I observed in the way ours and their administration works – it is this!
ii. Lack of aggression: (A continuation of the above point) As students, its important to retaliate/protest whenever we sight the points mentioned above in 5i are being violated. As a group we need to show the unity and the aggression to keep a check on the way our administration works. But the problem I cite is that we students are too passive in this regard. We get accustomed to things too easily. Be it the security issues, substandard living conditions, accommodation issues etc – I have been mildly surprised to see the lack of student protests. I have seen how a staff union’s protest has made the wheels of change move on certain occasions. There is a fine line between controlled+required aggression and reckless+random protests, and I must say that a firm minded union with a planned strategy can catalyse changes in the society.
iii. Challenges with setup of new systems: When I look at the tenures of the previous GSs and OCs, I must admit that a lot of us have failed to establish new systems (systems can mean – IITBBC, Career Cell, Guest Accommodation Booking System, Sports Mela, International Music Festival, Cashless Campus, Brewberrys) in our setup. Its essential for new systems to be explored, bigger challenges to be taken up, new ideas ventured upon – to ensure the agents of change exist at an optimum level in an evolving society. While I understand the challenges to meet the quantum of basic work by a GS or an OC are high, there is no one who can stop him from deleting whats not needed and brining in new systems for a positive change. The institute does suffer from ‘jo chalta aa raha woh chalta hi rahega’ and the lack of leaders with balls to create a change. But I must admit and acknowledge that the passing out GSs and OCs have done a much better job in this regard (collectively) over the previous years. A positive sign.
iv. Lack of extravagance: Without comparing things with the outside world, even on an absolute scale I feel the lack of extravagance is an issue to be addressed. (not many might agree with me on this) While I’m a firm believer of optimising resources and not wasting them, its to be seen that there is a fine line between liberally spending resources and misusing them. In order to establish and maintain a world class setup, the institute has to do much better. I’m given the reasons of challenges involved in running a governmental organisation and the tax payer’s money involved etc etc and what not! Be it the low quality food, average eateries, very few entertainment shows, lack of professional support (in certain genres) in extra curricular activities (and many more) – I have my cribs.
My hypothesis is that the big-shots who run show are primarily faculty members and don’t necessarily have the qualifications of running/leading an organisation (But I must admit some of them have managed remarkably well). On the other hand, the rest (staff) are sarkaari naukars who beyond a point don’t aspire much to create revolutionary changes. A GS has a limited time to work out his plan. In fact, his GS post is only a part time activity. He is constrained with his basic duties, and the initiatives that he does manage to pull off are few in number. But what an institute needs is more than just a set of efficient GSs. It needs a better administration that seeks change and people at the helm who can ‘make things possible’.
v. PoR centric mentality: The institute has more than 1000 PoRs (official or unofficial) handed out every year. One major perception amongst people is how certain students become resume centric and take up PoRs to create an impression of a well rounded personality. While I agree with the bit that there is a sizeable chunk that takes up PoR for a better profile, I beg to differ on the point that students take up PoRs for the sake of it (Its a small number in my opinion) I don’t see any issues with the former point. I took up a PoR to make a good profile. What people need to understand is that a good profile is a resultant of a tenure undertaken and thats inevitable. The larger picture is that one takes up a PoR to complete the aspirations of learning to manage man-material-money-minutes. Now where does one set the bar for the tenure is completely upon the individual. While most primary (GSs, OCs, GSecs) and secondary (Insti Secretaries, Managers, CGs) post holders complete their basic duties well, not everyone manages to set the bar high for their portfolio. I guess thats where people have a problem with. They fail to realise the work behind the scenes and simply look forward to spikes/populous work on most occasions. They need to understand that tenures come in – fucked up, bad, average, good and god.
vi. The image: Some of the common adjectives associated with a GS are rational, sensible, (street)smart, compassionate, bold, ambitious, achiever, disciplined, logical etc. (I’m sure I lack few of the above) But whats more important is that one has to make the best use of the tools available, and simultaneously learn the new tricks of the trade as early as possible. Being a GS does come at a price. Being in a public domain, right from a change of hairstyle to getting high in insti to breaking rules of security to getting into a spat – one is closely watched. It does run at ones back of the mind that a pretence to some extent and a change in lifestyle to a larger extent is needed to fit into the shoes perfectly. While this change in lifestyle was a little strange at the beginning, I’m more than confident now that its going to be a way of life. That, is one priceless change!
vii. The tenure: The tenure has been a roller-coaster ride where fundae about life has been rediscovered, philosophy on certain aspects revised. Looking back at my tenure, its difficult to comment on its success or failure. Its been a satisfying journey by being able to complete the majority of the deliverables I had on my list when I started off. While the discussions on parameters involved in judging a good tenure can get subjective and the conclusions made can go either ways, I will take pride in finally managing to have had a relatively non-controversial tenure (over my predecessors), fewer cribs raised and an award to cement the fact that the work done was indeed better as compared to previous years. I guess I have extracted what I wanted to from the post, but only time can tell if the institute got what it wanted, out of my tenure. (short and long term effects)
6. THE FUTURE:
I’ve been asked these questions on multiple occasions in the last one month or so:
i. Infi chill ho jaega tu. Nahi?: After two years of an active involvement in extra curricular activities and the subsequent two years being busy with Gymkhana posts, it certainly does appear that the next one year is going to be a new experience before passing out. What I’m really looking forward to is to renew the process of observing life, something that only an unoccupied/free mind can achieve.
ii. Ek aur PoR le raha hai?: Power doesn’t exist in the realms of a position we hold, its within the capacity of a determined mind. I’m sure there are other challenges to conquer, things to experience before passing out of IIT, other than taking up PoRs. I’m going to look out for those opportunities and experiences.
iii. To kya kar raha hai agle saal?: To begin with, I’m going to get this latch of my room door repaired. Its been pending since a few weeks. World has gone ahead and discovered Quora, GoT – some catching up is needed there. Discovering new music, cinema is definitely happening. Travelling around Mumbai is high up on the to-do list too. And if persistence persists, then getting back to fitness is on the cards. People around will see me online on all chats for sure. Some long lost love for Kannada literature is going to be rediscovered. Hmm.. these top the list for now.
iv: Kya plans hai aage?: In the past, I have sought redemption (re-JEE), adulation (entering dram), power (elections). Clearly, what we do in life depends on what we seek at that point of time. Liberation is the ultimate path to seek. But I’m sure, there are other worldly pleasures on the way to get distracted with.