What Did I Learn in IIT?

I am often asked this question, specially in the context that my career choice has nothing do with my B.Tech. degree. I feel like recounting some of my experiences from my IIT life, which taught me a great deal and played a key role in shaping me as a person and have directly or indirectly helped me in my professional life as well.

Today I will recount a story from my 2nd year of IIT life, but before we get going, some background. People who are familiar with life in IIT Bombay or have seen Chhichhore know the competitive spirit between hostels when it comes to extracurricular activities. While Chhichhore talks about sports GC (General Championship), my story is more about Cult (cultural) GC.

I was in hostel 5 and at the end of my first year, when annual awards were being distributed, my hostel had won only one trophy. This trophy we won was in bridge, because we were fortunate to have one ace bridge player in our hostel. I was sitting in the crowd thinking why cannot our hostel win any awards. I told my friend sitting beside me that next year I will make sure our hostel wins at least one award.

With this conviction in my mind, I became dramatics secretary of my hostel and with the help of everyone in the hostel managed to win almost every inter-hostel dramatics event that year. Now coming back to the story.

The biggest inter-hostel creative event in IIT Bombay is called PAF, which is short for Performing Art Festival. In this event 2/3 hostels are paired together to put up a live play at the stage of Open Air Theater (OAT), witnessed by thousands of fellow students and other campus residents.

We design giant sets using crates, tables, newspaper and bamboos to facilitate the performance. I along with another senior from hostel was in-charge of set piece on center stage. The center stage was supposed to be the lair of a tantrik. The creative team gave us a design of a throne, which was supposed to be the main attraction of center stage. The design given to us looked something like this:

We had three days to design it, so we analyzed all the material we had and started working on it. We were having second thoughts about how the audience sitting in the OAT be able to appreciate the center piece like this and decided to be creative about it. At one point, I suggested checking with the creative team. To this my senior replied, “har kaam puchh-puchh ke nahi kiya jata.” (We need not ask permission for everything.)

So we kept working on our vision and kept learning and improvising at every step of the way. First we thought maybe we should make the skull bigger, if that was the main attraction. Then we decided that maybe instead of making a chair with skull on it, we should make a cave in the shape of a skull, where the character will sit inside its mouth.

While making it, we realized that mouth could not be made big enough for a person to fit. So, we decided to make nose of the skull big enough for a full size human to fit in it and designed steps for him to climb up and down. What we ended up creating was this.

Center stage for Shantimrigyam, PAF by hostel 5 and 6, IIT Bombay (2003)

We did not stop at that. We made the jaw of the skull movable, so when the villain laughed the jaw of the skull moved. (we made someone sit behind the skull to do this, since all our engineering efforts failed to produce results in time.)

I along with another friend sat behind the black curtain inside the two giant eyes and when the tantrik got killed we dropped red color, making it look like tears of blood.

That year along with winning the dramatics trophy, we also won the best PAF. The effort we had put in resulted into us winning best prop trophy.

Someone has uploaded a video of the PAF on Youtube (quality is very bad though), if you wish, you can watch the entire performance there.

If it is still not clear, what I learned from this experience, let me state it explicitly. I learned that if you are clear about the objective and are ready to learn and adopt, with belief in your own ability, you can end up achieving more than what you imagined to begin with. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. As long as you are clear of the bigger objective, finer details are not rules cast in stone but general guidelines.