At a trijunction, a girl is standing calling her friend. That night had a full moon; innocent rustling of leaves; lazily swaying shrubs; distant echoes of girls singing in their rooms; and 5 deer. How nature could make one feel majestic, you could see that that night. With enchanting glances in their big black eyes , they encircled that girl guarding her from all the ominous feelings approaching her that night. For those euphoric moments, she was the queen of that little space and those eyes were the studded flowers of her crown shining under bright moonlight.
One would take it as a description of some animated scene right from a story of helpless Barbie. But this is the place which has topped the NIRF rankings 2017, 2018 and 2020. They call it the best educational institution right now in India– INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, MADRAS. What happened with the above mentioned girl can happen with any person inhabiting that place.
Nestled in the centre of a very colourful, dynamic and a joyful city named Chennai ( formerly known as Madras), this institute nurtures one in every possible dimension of this universe. Right from the place where you enter this institution, its mysterious tranquility welcomes and astonishes you at the same time. Especially when you leave an auto/ bus/ your personal vehicle next to a flyover, with personal belongings in your hands and personal dreams in your mind, this place silently proffers her shrubby arms to embrace you. As a student you might still be apprehensive for your future, but as a human you are at peace with your present.
THE WHYS, THE WHATS, THE HOWS
Before taking you to the depths of wonders of the organization which provided me the degree of Masters in Chemistry under the guidance and company of some brilliant minds of India, let us first understand what constitutes uniqueness.
In my opinion, uniqueness of a place or a person is a quality which is either found only at that place or a quality that reminds you of that place or person whenever you get to experience it. It might be a flower, a painting, a rock, a ladder, or even a sound. A single toll of bell can take you all the way to that place where you first heard that toll. A fragrance can make you feel the warmth of a person whom you loved all your life.
But why do we find a uniqueness in every place we visit, every person we meet? Is it something which is innately theirs? Or is it us? It can be you, me or any other person. Whenever we fail to grasp the ‘specialty’, we tend to dislike it. Are we always looking out for something new, something ‘unique’ subconsciously? If it is, why we often fail to appreciate the individuality of a person or a place? Why are we more inclined to accept something unique when it is pleasing to our senses? Is this telling that a uniqueness of a place is a subjective attribute? This actually happens often. For instance, my friends went to one of the shops in world famous Paratha Wali Gully. One of them really liked the Parathas, another one liked the side curries and pickles more. All my friends were bewildered with this new liking. So what happens? Does the ubiquitous appreciation unconsciously push one to appreciate other features? Does the ‘specialty’ changes for other?
Sometimes, the quality which is perceived as unique, yes I believe it is entirely subjective, is the one which every place is supposed to have. We expect a place to have that, a person to possess that. Take the value named PATIENCE, we like to think everyone must have it. Still we find patience rarely even within ourselves. When personalities like Gandhi, Mandela practice it, we say it is unique to them. Strange, isn’t it?
Also, when people find something creative, innovative, and new , they feel discomfort in acknowledging its qualities. British scholars whilst studying different sculptures, temples, and statues built in ancient India felt the same discomfort since they didn’t have the yardstick to compare those styles with. They declared them hideous, vulgar, uncivilized, and wastage of material. The same discomfort was felt by Peter Keating, Guy Francon, Ellsworth Toohey and so on in The Fountainhead; they wanted to demolish even the last piece of brick of Howard Roark’s creations.
A PREMIUM REWARD
All these questions arise within you when you wander aimlessly in the campus of IIT Madras. This organization offers a student brilliant professors; dynamic and innovative friends; out of the box opportunities to create and think better; healthy food with vibrant company of your friends; and a much needed solitude. Those who are religious , this institute offers them 3 temples and may be more which I am sure I am not familiar with. The business students are known to have 100% placement records. Engineering students are known to solve such complex problems which everyday experiences throws at a country. As mentioned earlier, it is known to be the best institute for many years now, which, by the way, was celebrated by distributing scrumptious Mysore Pak.
It, therefore, can be said if a laborious and mentally strong student comes on board, this institute takes care of all his potential requirements. But what strikes me as uniqueness is the space outside the classrooms. Records, accolades, etc are a work of faculties, students, staff workers, cleaners and so on. But what stays when all these leave? Like in these days, students were asked to leave the campus for their better future. COVID -19 did the unimaginable. What stays is the tranquility of the campus.
INTO THE WOODS
When you enter the campus, you get to see roads disappearing into mystery. You board an institute bus named after a mountain to get to the hostel which is named after a river. If you close your eyes, you forget whether you are on a Jungle safari or you are approaching your promising future. Green black canopy on both sides of the roads; shy blackbucks hiding from you; humans being warned of sudden appearance of a herd of deer; advices to go slow for wildlife’s sake and yours too; roads disappearing into another alley of silence leaving you intrigued; and then comes four elephants-the GAJENDRA CHOWK. One would think the free trip to a wildlife sanctuary is over. But is it?
It is not. From the Gajendra chowk, hostels, library and lecture halls start. Anything can be snatched away from you around them. It is a monkey-menace. From a size that can fit on your palm to savage elder monkeys, they don’t let you relax nor after lunch neither after class. But they become a tolerable part of your life after all. It is not the only creature living with you.
Deer, quick and shy, not to mention far too elegant, they also become an integral part of your life who teach you to learn indifference towards all the disturbing experiences of life. The soul of campus lives in them. They manifest the essence of the institute. We, students of IITM, like to believe that this is plausibly the only place in India where deer are almost domesticated. You can feed them, they will come to you near the juice shops, you can sit with them, touch them, play with them, and they won’t even flinch. Whenever a temple cooks prasada, deer gather at the back of the temple to silently enjoy the feast.
YOUR TREEPY JOURNEY
Sometimes, if you feel troubled and like to sit silently in a temple at late hours, you would get to see the enchanting sight of 20-30 deer enjoying the solitude in a haze of dim light. Or if you like to have late nights walk with your ‘special’ friend, the trees with trunks touching skies with experience of a great-great-grandmother and braids like a 10 year old, accompany you all the way.
This campus never fails to bedazzle you with its hidden secrets. Crocodiles and cobras in the ponds, red lilies trying to kiss the sky, all this silently waits for you to find out. One cannot afford to miss the synthetic running track in the stadium with the bubbling athletic potential of students and professors. The stadium is surrounded with thick canopy of wild trees and an encircling pond. There is a hidden alley running parallel to the wild patch. It seems it is the path ‘less travelled by’. Robert Frost never leaves you in that campus for a moment.
Another spectacle for the city dwelling students is the tall and thick trees of a wildfruit, devoured by monkeys usually, commonly known as KAINTHA in the northern India. Those ball shaped fruits hanging in a bunch can make you forget any worry in your mind. Rows of tamarind trees will remind you of your childhood and delicious tamarind rice. You can collect them while going for your classes. The campus has everything one can expect from an IIT campus but for those who like to wait and breathe, it offers much more to the students.
Interestingly, IIT Guwahati has a spectacular campus too. It has buildings with architecture favourable for hills, lush greenery, big ponds with migrant birds and guarding trees around. But that same greenery does not evoke the sense of familiarity. It is the experience which differs. What we see is apparently influenced by what we feel at that moment. Whether there are 1000 trees or 2 trees, what matters is your connectedness with their shadow. For me, that inhabited piece of Guindy National Park is tantamount to abode of peace, salvation, endurance.
THEY SHALL OVERCOME
Interestingly, everyone likes to be surrounded with greenery especially in a spiritual country like India. Still, this wilderness struck me as uniqueness. Cyclone Vardah in December 2016 devastated a major portion of this wilderness with all its might. It looked like a tormented widow after a forever-newly- wedded bride. It was inexplicable pain. It will take many years to regain that might and beauty.
It has been 2 years since leaving the institute for upcoming endeavours. The campus gave me a part of it, a hidden secret which cannot be divulged. This uniqueness has shaped my values and virtues to find the peace and endurance within.
By RIJUTA PANDEY, KANPUR, UTTAR PRADESH