Monday, April 30, 2012

One December Night

'So do we have an IITR MUN 2012?'

That was the question I posed to Prateek, Sec-Gen of IITR MUN 2011. It was a casual question with simple intentions - Cogni was coming in three months and I had chosen not to apply for any of the departmental posts because I had (wrongly) assumed that it would be politics all over again. So now, jobless, I wanted something to do.

Deja vu Cogni'11, when, thanks to an earth-shattering branch change, I was left high and dry with absolutely nothing to do. I applied to IITR MUN 2011 - seemed like my kind of event - and was asked to take up the job of Editor-in-Chief of the IP. How I landed up being the delegate of India in my first ever MUN is a story for another day, though.

So, faced with a similar situation, although with a vastly expanded reputation and influence in the Lit circle, I posed this innocent question, wondering if I could get USA this time. The answer -

'No idea. You tell me!'

Now, that was an unexpected response. So the old warhorses are tired and are ready to pass on the torch. But do we need another MUN? Was the last one good enough. Simple enough - HELL YEAH! IITR MUN 2011 was one of the most successful events ever at Cogni. We definitely needed another one. In fact, we needed two (something that I now see as a mistake, though one with several benefits included).

And so came the idea - IITR MUN 2.0. 2.0 times the committees. 2.0 times the fun! As a marketing gimmick, it was priceless. But then, 2.0 times the fun needed 2.0 times the work. Who would join me? There was also the question of trying to do another Vox Populi - by then, I was already the first among equals in the Literary Section (3rd year) - so that was another option for me. Finally, in consultation with the LitSecy (who I would eventually succeed), Vox was cancelled and MUN was put under Litsec.

And so we had an event. But what about the team?

Up next: Finding another coordinator

Looking Back at RKB: Part 2

In the summer of 2011, what is called the Spring Semester, some semblance of normalcy came to RKB. We now had dedicated water coolers and washing machines were on their way. After some hiccups, the bathrooms were being cleaned regularly.

And then came the Bhawan CC. It was RKB's first tryst with Internet and it spawned whole new cultures. The CC not only had some 15 computers, there was also (rather slow) WiFi, meaning that upto 30 people could use the Internet at a time. Add to that was the fact that rooms nearby could also use the WiFi. People (including yours truly) would line up a good half and hour before opening time to use the CC. There would be a scramble for the best computers - mainly the ones with IDM and those near the fans. The caretaker would go to great pains to ensure people penned down their names in the register - before indulging in some online fun himself!

The Bhawan CC was a breath of fresh air but it got crowded very quickly, which is why we still had to make use of the ICC. Using the ICC after 6:00 PM is nothing new, addicts in the City use it all the time. But to go from the Gaon to the City is a big deal - and in the beginning of 3-1, when my intern apping was on full-steam, I did just that. Everyday after dinner. 8:00 PM, sharp, out of RKB. Work till 10:00 PM.

We had our first Bhawan's Day - whose name nobody can recall - which was described, very succinctly, as a flop show for more reasons than just the food. But no matter, RKB had already gained notoriety as the worst place to live in. It deserved the worse Bhawan's Day too!

The summer break came and went - still no LAN/WiFi. In came the politicians and the threat by the electorate to boycott the polls in the absence of Internet. And then, four days before MTE-1, it happened. Facebook suddenly exploded with status updates about RKB's LAN. Friend lists exploded; online friends expanded. Sharing statuses and pictures became passe; Youtube and Facebook were seamlessly integrated! Yes: RKB finally had LAN. And the hitherto worst place to live in became the to-rated Bhawan in the institute.

We had a successful Bhawan's Day, praised by all. The lifts were working, pots and plants added some greenery to the place. The Mess Roof became the centre of recreation. Yes, we were a Bhawan, we were THE BHAWAN!

Of course, all good things face what Indian mothers call the nazar... the devilish eyes of the very envious. The history and the politics aside, the time came for us to leave. Civil was allotted Jawahar Bhawan, the former #1 Bhawan, which is still as good as it gets if you disregard the LAN (which is almost impossible to do). IIT Roorkee tried to create a modern hostel to display its industrious administration; it ended up creating the forbidden fruit that nearly tore the entire UG students group into pieces and threatened the peace that the student institutions are build upon.

And it all came down to three letters - L-A-N. To quote a junior:

Give me a tent in the middle of a broken road with no food and water. But put a LAN port in it. I'll take it!

A Milestone in the Arabian Sea

The inauguration of the Indian Navy's latest naval base - INS Dweeprakshak - in the Lakshadweep Islands under the Southern Naval Command (Kochi) is a matter of pride for the Indian Navy - the largest local navy in the Indian Ocean Region. Not only does INS Dweeprakshak allow India to protect its western Island territories more effectively and in coordination with the Lakshadweep Islands Coast Guard, it also lends a footing to our maritime dream of becoming a blue water navy with interests ranging from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca.

Although the Navy has had a presence in the Union Territory since the eighties, the recent spike in piracy off the Somali coast and its further reach to as close as 200 nautical miles off Minicoy Island seems to be the short-term event that pushed the Navy to finally commission a full-fledged base.

But INS Dweeprakshak is not meant only to fight piracy. In the face of a Chinese 'string of pearls' strategy to cut-off India from the other nations of the Indian Ocean - despite China itself being nothing more than a Pacific power, a weak one at that - this move will serve as an important means to listen and observe to what the Chinese are upto in this region. Recently, there were some rumours that Seychelles had offered a refueling-station to the Chinese for their Somali mission. Now, India has such a station in Oman, but then, India is a regional power and the Chinese are the invaders in the Indian Ocean.

India must use this base as a strategic push into the region, eventually converting it into another Tri-Services Command akin to the one in Nicobar. The safety of out maritime community and our own maritime security depend on such a vision.

Looking Back at RKB: Part 1

One by one, each of the city-side Bhawans are on their way to allot rooms to the Batch of 2013 who, after three years of sticking together, are to be separated branch-wise. It feels strange, leaving the Bhawan that has been my home for the last two years, whose iconic view of the campus from the top floor I have savoured, but whose terrace I have never been able to go to.

RKB started out as the monstrous new Bhawan of IITR - a giant among the older Bhawans, one that people were fighting over, even in the City. But very soon, the ugly truth came out. There was no Internet - forget the prophesied LAN, there wasn't even any WiFi or a Computer Centre. But that was a small part of the problem - there was no electricity in many of the plug points either; there were no water coolers anywhere but two in the mess; there was no lawn to play and relax on; the lifts kept breaking down; no newspaper agent was allotted; there were no washing machines in the Bhawan... the list just went on.

And then there was the mess. RKB mess is legendary because of its size, which is why in its first year, it was the RKB-Cautley Mess - a mess designed for 1100 people, larger than any other. It was also the first privately-outsources mess in the institute. And it was pure hell. Unimaginably long lines, a severe shortage of utensils and even a shortage of place to sit during peak hours were the hallmark of this mess. And of course, the bad food. The lowest point was probably when the same bad food was served during Bhawans Day - a very embarrassing moment!

The Internet problem got much worse as frustration began to set in. RKB has become synonymous with stone-age communication, with online activity at a low in the campus. Most importantly, Cautley Bhawan had a fun time poking fun at their poor cousins next door. RKB hit another low with a suicide in 2-2, something that shocked the Bhawan and the institute. One thing had become clear - RKB was not the promised land; it was crass punishment.

And one day, all that changed.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Of Cold Politics and Heartbreak

By Fatima Bhutto

The journey of Pakistan since the death of Qaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah can be traced through a series of assassinations and coups that have rocked the country and ensured that the military and intelligence establishment held on to power no matter what. In Songs of Blood and Sword, Fatima Bhutto aims at looking at that history through the story of her family - the Bhuttos. The family that has now become Pakistan's first political family.

The Bhutto family had a long history that spread across Sindh - and before partition, Sindh was a part of the Bombay Presidency. And then came partition and the family of feudal landlords found itself in a new country, the 'land of the Pure.' Very soon however, the promised land turns rotten as Ayub Khan rescinds the 1956 Constitution. And then one man stands up to the military - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB).

The book's most poignant narrative however, is not about ZAB. It's about his children. Apart from the gut-wrenching chapter on the judicial murder of ZAB, it actually goes into Pakistan after his end. And then we reach two main characters - Murtaza and Benazir. Both destined to succeed ZAB. But only one can. In the end, Benazir proves to be the cold-hearted politician, who curries up to each and every person who was involved in killing her father, and Fatima's father Murtaza fades away into the wilderness, confused over his love life, defeated by his sister.

Or so Fatima tells us. There are other narratives, of course, but the fact that Benazir failed to repeal the Hudood Ordinances makes for a compelling case that she was indeed a politician sans principles. Whatever, may be the case, Songs of Blood and Sword is a well-researched story of a family, a country and the people around either.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Last Ceremony

The Cultural Council 2011-12 was officially dissolved yesterday at the annual Valedictory Function that saw the entire Council come out in diminishing numbers and also chanced upon seeing the two magazines together for the first time under the Council. It was a pretty good event, with some good performance by MusicSec, which were, as always, modulated to suit the needs of the distinguished and very old faculty advisers in attendance.

It was a strange feeling - on one side, I went up to the stage to collect my memento for being a member of Kshitij. And co-terminus with that is my tenure. So, officially, I am out of this magazine. Juniors might invite me for meetings just for the fun of it, and there will be two senior-sponsored chapos, and Ed might ask me to write something to fill space, but in the end, there will be no more regular meetings.; there will be no more editing; there will be no more trips to the CulSoc office or the FacAd's offic; there will be more telling people that I'm in Kshitij. In short, the defining part of my extracurriculars in IITR has just ended for good.

On the other hand, I officially became Additional Literary Secretary. Although, for reasons best known to the current Secretary, I was unable to participate in the very silly exchange-of-chairs ceremony, it's just symbolic. Now I have to do all the administrative work for the Debating Club - anything new? Hardly! For the last two semester, Debating has been as much a part of my week as has Kshitij, maybe even more, but that does not make it anymore special. So while I shall of course ensure the smooth running of the Club, it does not make up for the loss of my membership with the magazine.

As a sort of concession, we were given probably the best food yet at IITR - although we should've eaten the sweets first! A good function, good food, a huge loss, some gains. Life goes on.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Last Hurdle

As this semester - the Semester of Conquest - comes to an end, the time has come for the ETE exams, this one being the most crucial of all. This semester has been all about cultural activities for me, but as always, studies are the prime focus. Having witnessed my seniors struggling over higher studies, a good CGPA is a definite requirement for me.

Now, this semester, we've had six subjects and the proficiency. In the proficiency, not only am I guaranteed an A+ but I've also ascended to Addl. Literary Secretary. In CE-300, I see an A or an A+ for sure. Now, there ends the good part. All the subjects have had varying degrees of toughness but coupled with an expanded cultural portfolio, this semester has been tough. Therefore, I don't see my SGPA going anywhere above 8.5.

In CE-332, I am confident, mainly because both my MTEs went well and my tutor and practical instructor (the same person) has been dishing out high marks throughout the semester. So, just a decent ETE is good enough. A closely similar story with CE-354, where my MTE marks have been good - though they could've been better - while the sessional marks should be good too.

Now come the big question marks: CE-352 is a subject where I am in seriously big trouble. Although MTE-1 was good, MTE-2 was a huge flop, with my mark hovering around the average. The tutorials are a big question mark because, presumably, they will not even be evaluated (which is a good thing, if you know what I mean!) And the practicals are another question mark, although there is a quiz for that.

CE-362 is a problem of another kind: the professor has gives such high marks that I'm actually just above the average again! The practicals and tutorials are on the negative side here, which is exceptionally bad since I wanted to take up Transportation Engineering for my MS.

So, here's to the final week of ghissing and mugging before I leave for Munich!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Sense of Loss


So, it ends! After two years, my tenure in Kshitij is up. I've written in each and every issue that has come out since I joined - I wrote as many as five pages in one issue! True, I never had any official post and will be officially remembered as just another member. But then, the memories I have, having worked for short periods with virtually every aspect of the magazine - Editorial, Finance, Design, Administration - are what I shall cherish forever.

Kshitij was the defining point of my time in the Roorkee Campus since my Branch Change. Now that it's over, there's a sense of loss. I now have the Debating Club to take care of - as Additional Literary Secretary (Parliamentary Debating Group) - but Kshitij will always give me the greatest memories.

Now that it's over, it feels strange. Like I've lost a hand or a foot - something you take for granted. I was proud to work for Kshitij and will always remember every moment of it.