Making of an Aamjunta

When I take a cursory glance over the last six years that I spent at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (MAP), it not only surprises me but also leaves me spell-bound. Ruminating at the breadth of my experiences and at the grinding process, I suddenly feel to have grown-up and learnt far more in terms of my life at the institute. To document all those require a Herculean amount of work, memory and time. Yet, I am tempted to pen down some of these for all those who might be interested to know what IIT has offered me; to an aamjunta by choice.

It was around 6am, 18th July, 2002. I landed at Dadar with my bag and baggage. Fortunately, my brother and one of my friends were there to receive me. Did not have any problem to come to my brother’s place at Ghatkopar. The city was new to me and so was the Mumbaiya culture. I came to this city with a purpose, to complete some part of my dream. Certainly, did not think at that time to stay for more than 2 years at Mumbai. But, destiny had some thing else as its plan. Completed six years at Mumbai and more than 5 years in one room 🙂 Don’t know exactly how many months (or years) more is destined for me.

On 22nd July, 2002 I joined IIT Bombay as an MTech student. Had a wonderful orientation programme with encouraging (rather warning) speeches and registration. Took some time to get into the system. Even though my IIT Madras experience was handy, it was bit tough initially to decide the courses and then struggling for the exams and quizes. I started my life in the institute from a small one room quarter T-1/128 (behind H-4) in the campus, shared with two other self sponsored MTech students as I was an industry sponsored candidate and was not entitled for a hostel in the first slot of allotment :(. That room was quite good, but the iron beds were really bumpy like the bumps and gutters of Mumbai during rainy season. Had tough time for food, especially during heavy showers, as we were allotted H-2 mess. Missing breakfast and snacks were very common. Fortunately, got accommodation in H-2 after a couple of months and life started the way I wanted. Had a very good and lively friend circle at H-2. Gossiping with them during lunch and dinner time was more interesting than the usual Rajma-Chawal.

I remember that when I first shifted to that hostel people used to inquire about my nativity, to which I replied humbly “I am from Orissa”. My fellow inmates would reply with perfect nonchalance and an all-knowing intelligence, “Oh Orissa! Orissa Assam me hai na?” I gaped with utter disbelief. I had pledged myself there on to make sure I take a pride in my homeland wherever I go and made it a point to remain a typical Odiya boy in spite of my education and nature of work. “Khanepe aur sone pe (on food and sleep) – no compromise” used to be the basic philosophy of my existence in IIT Bombay, be it exam time, or quiz time.

In the academic front, I joined Infonet lab, Electrical Engg, my second home and my work place for all these years. I was introduced to the other members of my lab by my guide. Everybody in the lab were quite busy with their work and with their friends. Took some time to get into the lab culture and into the fun world. Had very good time with seniors (though I was elder than most of them) in the lab towards the end of 1st year. In the beginning, it was the PC lab not Infonet lab, which was my working place. Reason? Simple, all my batch mates used to work in the PC lab. Our batch was mixed with very senior people in their early 40s married with kids, and freshers in their early 20s, and me the middle one 🙂 . We used to have parties, fun very often. It was quite lively with extremely brilliant guys at one end and with extremely un-professional guys at the other end. I used to solve (or try to solve) the assignments in time (in fact before time) and was quite sincere during those days. Getting calls for assignments was quite common; ctrl+c and ctrl+v was most of the times unavoidable (even sometimes names get copied also). Course work was a bit tough, not because it was made tough, rather becoming a student after a gap of 5 years was the reason why I found it tough. Open ended exams, 9.30pm quizzes, seminar without a guide etc., were mostly the memorable events of the 1st semester.

1st semester exam ended in late November 2002 and I booked my tickets for Bhubaneshwar via Chennai. It was 2nd December, 2002; I had my train for Chennai from Dadar at 8.30pm. Busy with last minute packing at Ghatkopar at my brother’s place. “Bhom”, “Bhom” — suddenly it sounded alarming at about 6.30pm. Could not understand any thing at that time. My brother came out from his room and saw people running outside in a panic. “What’s the matter?” He asked.. some one replied, “Bomb blast hua hai, bhago”. We could not believe… Two bombs blasted the Ghatkopar area, and one very near to the platform no. 1 on a BEST bus (some 200 mts from our rented room). Could not understand what was happening, how to react when things like that happened in real life, and most importantly how to go to Dadar? No taxi, no bus and local train for some time. Entire area was cordoned off. With all that, had some quick dinner and left for Dadar. Thought of taking a risk by going in local train. That clicked, got an almost empty local train and reached Dadar. Train journey was good. Reached office (company which sponsored my MTech) after a day. Felt some thing wrong there. The atmosphere was not good. Did not find the aura which RNB had left in July. Spent 2 weeks there and left for home town after that.

My mother came with me in my return journey. While coming back, I lost a bag in the auto rikshaw. I still remember the incident, and get teased by my family members. The 2nd semester was quite interesting and difficult. My company unit, where I was working got closed down and we got pink letters. Fortunately, I got saved by RNB and joined him as consultant for 2 months at Gandhinagar. Even got some financial help from my guide through some project. Had good time at Gandhinagar with friends and other people. Fought with many people on principle and aamjunta’s way of life started. The complex feelings between PhD and non-PhD at Gandhinagar added fuel to the fire within me; I determined to go for PhD at any cost. But, I declined politely their sponsorship offer as I had burnt fingers just before their offer.

I lost one of my very close relative in that semester, reason is still a mystery for us. Then began the MTP (MTech Project) tension. Reading standard documents, RFCs, proposals became part of life. At the personal front I had a few good reasons to cheer up, brother got married, my social service started in 3 schools and my involvement with various organizations increased.

In the summer vacation, we got the news (rumors too) about a new hostel: Hostel-12. There are accidents, and some extremely good ones. One can name it as a turn in the wheel of fortune or my amazing luck that I got a boarder seat in Room No. A-501 in the newly formed Hostel-12 located at the fag end of the campus. Most of my H-2 friends got rooms in the vicinity of my room in the same wing. Good time started, and I moved from a shared accommodation to single accommodation. The view from my window can inspire a Wordsworth or a Tagore to compose the masterpieces of their life. The Powai Lake and the lovely green landscape around it, can keep any one glued to my window for hours. During the monsoons, if you observe closely through my window, you can literally see the clouds darkening up into a beautiful blackness and sweep over the lake into huge rain storm. Life became a sweet-sour journey full of fun, frolic and work. Not just the structure of the building but the lifestyle itself in H-12 can put the best ones into envy. As a student, what more can one look for?

In the second year, I joined the institute bit late, after a week due to my other commitments. MTP started with full vigour. Used to have marathon meetings. Hope was very high, to do this, to do that. But, that did not happen. Work was constrained with so many other factors, did not get a focussed work and even could not test my code on the real hardware. MTP ended without even a glance of the real hardware on which my codes are based on (though got AAs). As the sysad of our lab, midnight calls (and even sobbing complaints 😦 ) were very common. Fighting for a flat screen monitor, or for a working place were day-to-day affairs. I too resigned from the sysad post, even though I knew the consequences. Some one has to protest against unethical and wrong attitudes, does not matter whether that will turn to be good to you or not.

Not just academics attracted me, participated in extra curricular activities too and even won some events. Was quite involved in welcome/farewell functions of Utkala. Had good time with many Odiyas here and was quite motivated by some of them. From the very beginning, going for PhD was in my mind. Even though I tried for one or two jobs, I applied for PhD at IIT Bombay. Even though I could not do well in the written test, I managed well in the interviews and solved most of the problems there. That was a turning point in my career. Got selected for PhD for the Jan session, but deferred for a semester. Instead of availing that offer, applied again for PhD in July. Faced two written tests and one interview during my last stage of MTP. Interview did not go well and I was quite depressed. Did not get the support from the people I expected, but finally got the offer (interstingly I topped in the list) and joined for PhD with TAship in July 2004.

Life did not end there. It was just the beginning, beginning of a commitment, and a career.

To be continued….

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3 Responses

  1. Dada: Add a link to IITB Map (for the benefit of those who haven’t been to IITB)

  2. Great narration Hemant da !! Reminded me of our days together.. Those were the best days of our life together 🙂

  3. Five Point Some One? or some thing better :). All the best.

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