The Loss of Innocence – The IIT, Then and Now
“That was the age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos.”
I was in Sangli and ours was the first 12th class of the new 10+2+3 model introduced by the state education board. I performed better in Biology and got admission to the Medical college – but I had to wait for 2 years to get in as I was 15 years old at that time. I was hoping to get my second choice of Engineering college – but to my surprise I could secure the only open seat at VJTI in Mumbai. I took it. A few days later we came to know that someone I knew got in the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay via JEE (Joint Entrance Examination).
That was the first time I heard of the IIT! Later I did my post-graduation in IIT(B).
May be my being unaware of IIT was a not a very common thing even then. But I soon came to know how intelligent students from all over India appeared for the JEE and got in the IITs.
BTW – a little earlier than that, IIT was the preserve of only the “English educated” elite! Initially, score in the English language test too was considered for the ranking. That was the time when the medium of secondary education in the country was still predominantly the regional language. English medium “Convent” schools were few and that too only in the major cities. Sometime in the late seventies IIT JEE ranking started counting only Maths and Science scores – and finally the smart students from all over the country started pouring in, irrespective of their fluency in English.
That was THE age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos. There was no gruesome competition to get in. There was no laborious and hard toil for mastering the technique of the entrance examination. Undergraduates used to spend 5 years for their degree. (Now it’s a four year course.) Cultural and sports activities were popular – especially in the students studying in the first three years.
I asked a friend how he prepared for the JEE then. He was in Nagpur and had subscribed to the correspondence course of the famed “Agrawal Classes” in Mumbai. “Their course material used to come in regularly, but I never used it fully. My board examination got over in March and I had a little more than a month for JEE preparations. I was living at my aunt’s place and marriage preparations for her daughter were in full swing. I studied for JEE in that melee – spending almost 3 weeks just for Physics.” This friend cracked JEE nicely and completed his Mechanical Engineering at IIT(B) in the early eighties.
Fast forward to now. I just glanced at the website of a leading IIT JEE training institution. It solemnly declared that unless one is ready to spend 12 hours every day for the next two years (after class 10), they should not even think of preparing for IIT JEE!
There are institutions (most notably in Kota, Rajasthan) which charge huge fees, provide hostel facility and where students give every waking hour of their two years to prepare for JEE.
Gone are the days when we used to hear stories of smart and intelligent students from far away places cracking JEE with self study – of course with some help from their teachers.
The fact is that today the number of seats in the IITs are woefully short – compared with the huge pool of extremely smart students. That has turned the competition so fierce that being intelligent and fluent in Math and Science is just not good enough. You have to master the technique and and practice it brutally to stand a chance!
That I call the loss of innocence! I remember my PG days at IIT when I, along with my UG hostel mates, used to spend night after night in the corridors of the main building or in the “Convo” (convocation hall) rehearsing for the annual production – a full fledged Marathi play. Friends of mine had gone to the extent of getting an Elephant for the inter hostel entertainment program competition. (You can catch some of it in the book Madhouse.) Sports was always very popular. Of course, this was on the side as we studied for our respective degrees.
I am not sure how much of that remains in the IIT of today – where may be the preparations for GRE and insanely high salary offers to campus recruits must have drowned all of that vibrancy for good (or bad)!