How it Happened

Posted on Mon 02 August 2021 in Writing

"Baba, I got Mathematics and Computing Dual at IITD", I told my father excitedly on the day the first round allocations were over. "It probably won't change now". Certain of this, I returned back to whatever I was doing, excitedly waiting for the seat allocations to get over (while simultaneously crossing my fingers for the slightest hope of a branch upgrade, as we all do). Even though the campus was not opening and the semester was planned to be conducted online, I hoped to truly enjoy my first year of college life.

The allocations went similarly for so many of us: get a rank, see where you fit, fill your preference and wait for the acceptance letter. In hindsight, it's amazing that such a small and short decision can influence your life's trajectory so much: it can change the people you interact with, the experiences you enjoy and the moments you cherish, but I'm getting existential at this point. I was now a student of IIT Delhi: I remember the first thing I did to show my allegiance was sketch the logo of IIT Delhi. Did you know there are 40 circles on the rim of the logo? Me neither :)

After the seat allocation rounds, the ball was finally set rolling: we got an email from IIT Delhi, asking us to register on their portal. Cue a long list of paperwork (there were more than 15 forms!), lots of running around and finally we were greeted with 'your documents are pending approval'. Kind of anticlimatic, but it would get better! Our online induction videos were uploaded on 11th November, and a lot of them were quite nice, especially the director's message. However, our department introduction video was conducted by a 2nd year and a 3rd year, and the department head was nowhere in sight (Bigger F for CS people, whose department introduction was not uploaded). We had a meeting with the Dean(s) on 12th, but because of technical glitches, it was postponed to 13th. Alright, that happens sometimes, I suppose. The meeting on 13th went ahead as planned, until the chat got spammed by a certain 'Watson'. The joys of an online semester, I chuckled and moved on.

We were split into two batches and forty groups, with groups 1-20 (Batch A) having a different set of courses for the first semester. We had our introductory classes from 16th-17th, with full classes scheduled to start from the 18th of November. Initially, social interaction with others from IITD was tricky: I hadn't attended a coaching and I knew absolutely no one at IIT Delhi from the first year. Fortunately, I was soon added to my department group, and I spent the first few days being moderately active there.

Time seemed to dilate from then on: the bogeys was loaded, the doors were shut, the train took off from the platform and the scenery outside dissolved to a blur. Classes took over, and fortunately we had some very good professors and a light workload in the start. I interacted with a few people personally (thanks to Teams chat), and joined a few discord servers, where people were active. Soon after (I don't remember the exact date), I was put into a hostel. Just like many other important things in life: where you're born, your name or your religion, your hostel is god-given (a 'lucky draw' if you're an atheist ;)). Fortunately, god smiled at me and gave me Udaigiri: the newest and largest hostel at IIT Delhi. Speaking to the handful of people I knew at that point, everyone was positive about Udaigiri, and the positivity was truly infectious. We were introduced to our ~Babloos~ BSW representatives soon after, and got to know a lot more about the culture of the hostel, and our exploits in dance and debate.

Going into the next month, IITD came alive: In spite of the online semester, the six-day work week and the ever-rising workload, the seniors did their best to give the freshers a respite, a taste of what life at IITD was like, and for many of us freshies, it worked :) we had a tour of stalls sometime early in December, followed by BRCA night, where (for me) we had our first genuinely fun face-to-face interaction with our compatriots. Even though I'm not in touch with most of the people in my breakout room, it was a great experience. The Club groups opened soon after, and our introductory club events also started taking place. Having a background in Quizzing, Debating and Arts, those were the clubs whose events I took part in majorly, and I still remember my first debate speech, where I stalled for 30 seconds in the middle of a five minute speech :P. Things got serious soon after: we had our first quizzes scheduled in early and mid-December, and they were not pleasant. I think acclimatizing to the academic environment comes as a culture shock to all here, but it was still a culture shock nevertheless. The Maths quiz was easy-ish, but Chemistry was a nightmare. I got 17/25 in my first chemistry quiz while the highest was 23, and I was clueless for quite a few questions. This was quite the shock, and I realized that this journey would be harder than I thought. The Mechanics quiz went a bit better, but since that was out of 15 and easier, everyone did well comparatively. The only silver lining of the Chemistry quiz was that Prof. Kurur stayed on after the quiz to take doubts for the chemistry quiz, but soon we were peppering him with doubts about life, the universe and everything else, and he happily obliged.

Our minor examinations occured during the end of December. Barely knowing anyone forced me to spend most of my time studying, and it reflected: I got decent grades in all the papers except Mathematics (Ironic considering I had aptitude for my department, or so I believed). I was fortunate, for it didn't pan out that well for all of us: averages were low, most people cheated, a few were caught, and it was a low point for quite a few of us. I believe that the online sem exacerbated the testing scenario: giving an offline test is immensely easier than giving an online test. You have to deal with harder question papers, spotty internet connections, disturbances and sounds in your house and still answer all the questions asked in a span of less than two hours. This skewed the scenario heavily against the people with poor internet connections, or the ones with a not-so-quiet environment in their houses. While the institute was providing dongles and computer equipment to those affected, those were trying times; they still haven't ended, as I'll speak more about them up ahead, but let's return to the joys of the past for now.

Soon after minors, things returned back to normal. This is the time when I believe fresher club interaction was at it's peak: I made most of my new friends in this phase, and most of them were from Quizzing Club. I would attend classes in the morning, take a nap in the afternoon, study for a while in the evening and babble about the weird and the wonderful with my friends on the myriad groups and clubs that had been created. Being an introvert like many others here, I finally began to fit in: the joys of a club are finding a group of people who resonate at the same frequency as you do, and I participated in a lot of quizzing events with them. There were quite a few events in this period as well: Literati, No Brainer, Potpourri, Quizzitch and a lot of other quizzes, which I enjoyed participating in. These took place in the middle of other quizzes as well, and juggling both academics and extracurriculars online was not great. I did mess up a quiz or two along the way (CML organic quiz I'm looking at you).

Leading up to the majors, the discussion ebbed, and almost everyone returned back to studying. The majors were a make or break moment for a lot of people here, and you could sense the tension before them. Doubt groups that had been lying dormant suddenly became active, and Piazza, which nobody generally uses, started overflowing with doubts. People also started attending the academic mentorship programmes (which were quite helpful). It's said that the mind forgets bad memories more easily than good ones, and even though my majors went quite well, I can't remember what I did, or what I wrote in them (which is probably a good thing).

The post-major break was the best time for a lot of us. Covid was at a low, academics were out of everyone's mind, there were quite a few events to participate in, there were a lot of meetups across all the various cities and everyone was optimistic about returning to campus for the practical component of the second semester. However, the rest is history: Covid cases have spiked, institute elections have been postponed, students are being asked to return back to their homes and the situation has taken a turn for the worse.

This article was meant to be a light-hearted reminiscence about how life has been so far, but it's impossible to ignore what lies ahead. The only way to get through these trying times is positivity: stay positive. This is easier said than done, so here's a few things to do: pick up that guitar that's been gathering dust and pluck a few notes. Attend the next dance or music club workshop. Spend some time with your family members; play a game with your siblings. If you don't feel like doing these, remember that you're not alone! All of us at IITD are just a phone call or text away, so don't hesitate to pick up the phone and speak your mind out. We've been through times that have been harder than this, and given enough time this too will pass.

Concluding on a positive note, I had to dig up my old calendars and schedule to write this; I haven't been completely honest if I ever mentioned that I remember it all, but there are a few moments that I do remember. I remember spending New Year with friends at IIT, playing skribbl till 1. I remember all the hostel, group and club meets that we had, most of which went on till late in the night. I remember the awkward silences online, where the TA would ask us if we understood the question, and everyone would stay quiet for 5 minutes. There are a lot of other things I will remember that I would rather not say here ;) A lot of people also feel sorry for us, saying that we won't have the memories that would be created were we on campus. I disagree. As John Milton said, "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven", and though we may look back at these troubled times differently, we will cherish them nevertheless.

This article featured in Reverie, Udaigiri house's submission for Gazettale 2021.