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The Promising Tale Of Student-Driven Activities

November 20, 2013
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We may carp ad infinitum and begrudge this campus, its lack of facilities, poor infrastructure and a myriad inadequacies that we see this place as strewn with. While it may be true that most sections of our Hobbies club and the Cultural Council are conspicuous only by their absence outside the campus and that our campus, standing as it does in seclusion, is what seems to be the biggest scourge of itself, it is also quite true that as far as the tangible is concerned , facilities are not as meagre as we make them out to be.

The resources which were meant to culminate in a cornucopia of student centred activities and events have, sadly enough, either been under utilized or never been available to those who deserved it. The perfectly avoidable rigmaroles of getting financial aid, dealing with permissions and unnecessary bureaucracy have indeed strengthened students’ proclivities for quelling extra curricular activities in the name of academics.

But even with all the restrictions and enforced surveillance, many have managed to step away from the herd and indulge in other colors of life. The numerous student groups of IITR bear testimony to this indulgence.

That a lot of these noble structures and highly meaningful sections appear to be in a metaphoric state of shambles, especially when we see them pale in comparison to their counterparts elsewhere, is a concern that ought to and can be resolved well within the scope of our present resources, which, as of today, remain considerably and quite deplorably untapped.

##OF PROMISES AND EXPECTATIONS

Srishti brings to life the Hobbies Club of IIT-R unfailingly every year, many thanks to the grades at stake. But to say that grades are the sole motivating factor would be great injustice to those who find Hobbies Club to be their home away from home. Idle conversations with any one of these rare species will leave you in awe of the platform that this unpretentious institution provides. Some may argue that this is the true essence of IIT, uncaged minds giving flight to ideas of tomorrow. But like every other modern day setup, it delivers just a little more than a politician’s promise. Who is to be blamed for this? What is stopping them from becoming the unfettered centres of innovation that they are expected to be?

More often than not, people tend to blame lack of funds as the reason for the dismal performance of IITR on a national level. However, surprisingly or not, it turned out that it wasn’t the inadequacy in terms of amount but the delay in getting the cash in hand that was the major issue.

“We get the proper monetary support,” says Shashank Shekhar, Secretary of Electronics section, “but even though the semester starts in August, we don’t get the money before January. By then we have already invested a lot of our own money because we can’t wait.”

Other secretaries complained that even when the money has been sanctioned, it is tough for them to get their bills reimbursed.

“It is very tough to get the bills past the lower clerical staff who try to find the most inconsequential of faults in the claim and delay the reimbursement,” cribbed Harshil Mathur, General Secretary of Hobbies Club.

Nearly all the secretaries who Watch Out spoke to had invested tens of thousands of their own money in their section due to this (possibly avoidable) delay.

Problems escalate when the motivated ones try to venture out of their nest and compete at a national level. While many have actually gone out, participated and won accolades for our institute, these all have been personal initiatives rather than being professor-backed. So, if even the money is sufficient, on paper, the encouragement is missing. The situation seems to be similar for various sections of the Cultural Council, which however have an another, altogether different problem to deal with.

##ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

“We have no room for cultural independence, there’s no independence of thought!“ claims Sankalp Agarwal, member of the dramatics section.

Policing every cultural activity that ever takes place has never helped in the growth of art, if history is any indication.

Curious is the case of sections seeking permission to use the Convocation Hall to stage their performances and what leaves us more curious is that cultural events are cancelled on several occasions, for no apparent reason. It is difficult to fathom what the administration means when they so categorically state that hosting too many shows at the Hall would deviate the focus of students from academics. It is difficult, also, to fathom what terrible difference it could make if only such infrastructural establishments on campus could be put to optimal and generous use.

Problems faced by the students seem unending, be it funds or the lack of encouragement from the administration. The administration appears to be a strong naysayer when it comes to sections of the cultural council participating in cultural fests in other institutes. To book an auditorium for a performance seems to be almost impossible as it requires numerous permissions from different pockets of the administration. With few avenues of professional advice and no professional help whatsoever, the groups in the cultural council continue to struggle. Not only do they lack guidance, they can’t even think of inviting trainers for workshops during cultural festival thanks to the sorry state of affairs in the Thomso office.

##THE MONK WHO CAN’T DRIVE HIS MARUTI

But, the buck passes on to the students mainly. What would seem like very basic facilities to an outsider that are currently provided at Hobbies Club remain under-utilised for most part of the year. It’s only Srishti that seems to wake many of the cavalier web developers , photographers or electronics enthusiasts out of there seemingly eternal state of hibernation.

One should blame the students again when one notices that the spirit of practicing arts, for arts’ sake, is missing here. Some students join the performing arts sections just to experience the rockstar moments on stage. Most likely, they come off as convincing charlatans at best, when they actually do perform. The performing sections of the cult soc lack for originality and give inordinate importance to performance while letting the very essence of art, which lies in creativity and selfishly focussed practice, take a backseat.

This shouldn’t ever be misinterpreted as the lack of talented artists. The quality of shows and the reason the cultural council is empty when there aren’t shows coming up can only be ascribed to an unfortunate perception of art by the general populace on campus. The audience is more interested in the glamour and the props more than the class of music or the grace of dance. Well, audience and armchair critics are both never knowledgable but real aficionados are always put off by uninterested audiences or ones that hoot like hooligans at nothing particularly impressive.

The plays staged by dramatics sections are professional, the music section has many highly trained musicians to boast of, but, the shows still don’t feature original compositions perhaps because of performers’ obligations to bend to the will of the audience. But, given we have all that it takes for far more frequent performances that emphasise only on the art form, why not prove that art doesn’t suffer amidst hardcore technologists? And, most importantly, the cultural council should come to the aid of those who are starting out to learn the arts and simultaneously provide healthy challenges to those who wish to practice art rather than facilitating trite performances by those who can and have given performances before coming here.

In the hobbies club as well, the onus lies on the students here to make the best out of the facilities provided by the institution before demanding fatter cheques and fancier gadgets. The astronomy section’s current team, for example, is highly passionate and has managed to obtain funding for a costly, new telescope. Further, the section has developed close interaction with faculties who have been instrumental in providing the oft needed nudge to break the monotony.

SDSLabs, to cite another example, have gone from being virtually unknown to being provided servers costing Rs 4.7 lakh by the same administration who are accused of being stingy. They have proven their worth in various national level competitions like Yahoo! HackU IITD Edition and Deloitte CCTC among others.

Electronics section members won consolation prize in the prestigious Texas Instruments’ Analog Design Contest 2012 and have also been participating in Robocon every year along with Robotics section. The Cultural Council’s sections are trying their best too. The Quizzing team, which is promisingly growing in number, always put up a better show than the previous year at Nihilant, the inter-IIT-IIM quizzing event.

The Dramatics section performed in IITD during Rendezvous and the Music section delighted the audience during Pan IIT in Kolkata.

Digendra Rathore, secretary of FSAE offers a shaft of optimism by absolving the administration of blame. “Institutional procedures notwithstanding, the administration and the faculty advisors are willing to cooperate.” Their performance in Australia last year seems to have received the recognition it warranted and has interested the institute enough to sanction funds amounting to Rs 12.5 lakh. A year into their project, the section has earned the attention and trust that takes years, sometimes, to find its way to most other student initiatives. The procedure of funding however could be standardised and like in every other section, room for better facilities, more recognition and industrial collaborations seem to be the need of the hour.

Overall, it’s an increased presence in and outside the campus that student-driven activities on campus need foremost. Wherever such a presence already exists, one has enough reasons to justify that the involved students could do with more support and encouragement. And, thanks to some pioneers on campus, such support for some technical and cultural activities on campus, is in the offing.