‘No kidding! 2800/- for 100 odd kms?
‘Sir, you pay 2000, I will give you the bill for 2800/-. What is your problem. You will get it reimbursed from the IIT.’
The chaos at the Kolkata airport taxi stand was unimaginable. The jugglery of bill offered by the ‘government approved taxi stand’ only showed how submissive we have become to corruption.
Stopped during the journey to have food at a Dhaba. The driver insisted that he will eat after dropping me. Convinced him to join. He told about his children, one girl studying in class 5th. Forcefully reminded him of the importance of education, especially for the girl child.
74 takka. Answered the man behind the counter.
Just 74 for two of us? I exclaimed. Last night in Chennai had a dinner with two other people in one of the roof top restaurants. The bill was Rs. 4683.
Compare 74 and 4683 and consider that this 74 includes the cost of food, the cost of cooks and the waiters, the rent of the place, electricity etc and other maintenance before the person can take out anything from the galla.
How will he survive? How will he afford to pay for his children’s primary education and the subsequent expensive higher education? I looked around the tired faces of people in the eatery and compared them with those of the fresh ones in the posh Chennai restaurant. There the liquor flowing, the credit cards flashing, here the every coin being counted.
Reached IIT campus around midnight. The air was filled with excitement. Hundreds of students wearing the springfest up on their sleeves. The IIT-K is much greener than the IIT-Madras but sans the deer J
Abhishek came to receive and led me to the technology guest house. KK is also staying nearby, he mentioned. He was fantastic with more than 15000 students attending his performance. I just smiled and headed towards my room.
10 AM, 24th Jan, the next day, the day of India Calling
I was so looking forward to India Calling. Those who are unaware about the Springfest, it is the annual fest of IIT-K where more than 20,000 students gather to participate in various cultural, social and off-curricular events. The nights are usually reserved for mega performances such as that from famous bands and famous singers. I was very exited and honoured that I was chosen to judge the India Calling, a social case study competition where teams across India were to present their cases in response to the problem statement. The initial screening had already taken place and finally ten teams were chosen to present their cases today. If this would make the well wishers happy, as the prize, signed copies of True Dummy were to be given to the top teams.
The problem statement :
Problem Statement : “The communal flare ups in Orissa & Karnataka and the rising power of the maoists. The revengeful politics of hate against North Indians, and its repercussions in Bihar & UP. Such recent happenings have scarred relations between communities forever. Does all this show that there is an undercurrent of regionalism flowing amongst the veins of the largest democracy in the world?”
To me, this was a great opportunity to encounter what the current youth of India is thinking about the regional and communal divide. Do they care? Are they sensitive to the issue? Do they have any solution?
What followed was a fascinating experience. Sensitive or otherwise, the youth was not scared to speak. Some even went overboard. I did my best to raise important questions and make required observations:
“Please avoid using pictures, audio tracks without referencing them.” “No unsubstantiated statement please. Where are the references?” “So you think Javed Akhtar sahab is pseudo-secular. And what makes you think so? Alright, so you read what he said in a newspaper. Fine. Will talk about it later.” “No my friend, just because your mother works in education board doesn’t mean that you can speak on madarsas with authority. Have you ever visited one?”
With each passing hour, the auditorium swelled more. The cross-questioning became more and more passionate and at times confrontational. I let them discuss freely but intervened when required. A point to mention here - Rabindra nath Tagore’s poem where the mind is without fear featured in many of the presentations. No body noticed that I was downloading something from the internet as we went on with our discussion.
By the time the last team came it already had been over seven hours. Then came the time for the decision. I walked towards the stage and before speaking a word plugged my laptop to the projector. “Let us first watch something which show the ‘true’ colour of Javed Sahab. It is part 3 of an interview that he gave to a reporter from Pakistan. (Those who are interested can watch this fascinating piece here : )
The crowd applauded umpteenth times! By their reaction it was clear that they hadn’t seen this before. “Seeking truth, cutting across the obstructing mediums is the only way to progress.” I concluded. (Will recommend all to watch that brilliant display of an ardent patriotic and a theosophist). Perhaps, I become the first timer in the history of IIT to use Javed Akhtar Sahab in the lecture and up on the projector!
“This is all fine but is India not turning into a big tragedy?” commented a senior professor.
“Not at all. It is a land of great history and continues to be. To me, its survival is beyond an iota of doubt.”
Finally, the three top teams were chosen on the basis of them being by comparison the closest to having objective, substantiated and focused account of the problem. My joy was doubled when the team to come second hailed from a small town in Punjab. The boys came to me and gifted a pocket book of Swami Vinvekanda’s thoughts. One of the most cherished gifts of the recent times!
This I guess is what I all remember from the IIT-K campus.
What more could I have asked from the land that gave birth to the great men like Rabindra Nath Tagore and Swami Vinvekanada!