Student Stories: Articles by current Engineering Students

Students from engineering colleges across the country tell their stories and share a slice of their life with readers.

Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, archaeologist extraordinaire, visits IIT Gandhinagar.

Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer has recently joined IIT Gandhinagar (IITGN) as a Scholar-in-Residence in the Archaeology discipline. He has been teaching archaeology and ancient technology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison since 1985, and served as Field Director and Co-Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project. His main focus lies in the Indus Valley Civilization and he has worked in both India and Pakistan, as well as in other adjacent regions such as Oman and China. His work has been featured in the National Geographic Magazine and Scientific American and on the website A pioneer in experimental archaeology, he has recreated many Harappan Civilization Technologies using traditional methods. Also, he has recreated Harappan stone beads, seals, pottery, copper mirrors, stoneware bangles and other artefacts. India has been reputed for its iron and steel since ancient times, and steel from India rated as some of the finest in the world and was traded across the world. The fame of steel from India is well captured in the words of the Arab Edrisi (a 12th century traveller), who said, "The Hindus excel in the manufacture of iron and it is impossible to find anything to surpass the edge from Hinduwani (Indian) steel." Credit goes to India for developing complex metallurgy and producing alloys. This reveals the metallurgical skills which artisans of ancient India possessed, but somewhere this traditional way has been lost. Prof. Kenoyer took steps to recreate the metals in the same way as it used to be in the ancient times. One of the objectives of his current visit to IITGN is to recreate Harappan technologies in copper ore smelting. For this, he collected copper ore from the Ambaji mines, Gujarat, which he then sorted and segregated, and used them to smelt in a traditionally built furnace at the IITGN Palaj Campus. He also put up a tent on the area near the road joining our hostels and the academic blocks, where he set up his traditionally built furnace. The students got very excited and visited his tent many times to see what he was doing, and how. Due to Prof. Kenoyer's visit, we learnt a lot about the Indian archaeology and the ancient ways of smelting ore. His immense knowledge about the Indus Valley Civilization and ancient archaeology mesmerized all students and encouraged them to pursue a career in this domain. He is one of the world's leading experts on the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization, and at the same time speaks Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali fluently. I found myself very lucky as I got an opportunity to meet this amazing person, and got a glimpse of Indian archaeology and methodologies that were followed during the ancient times. Interacting with such a humble and knowledgeable person is one of the richest experience of mine that I got here at IITGN.

Saarang 2016 fever takes over IIT Madras

The annual cultural fest of IIT Madras (IITM) began on January 6, 2016, with an Indian Classical Music concert. Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan performed to the accompaniment of Mridangam and Tabla and mesmerized viewers with his heart touching renditions. Bharatnatyam dancer and actress Rukmini Vijayakumar enchanted the audience with her beautiful performance.

The whole fest was full of street shows, soul stirring dance performances, jaw dropping stunts and more, by artists and students of various colleges. Fine art competitions and events like 'Face of Saarang' helped discover the hidden talents of Chennai's students. Brands opened stalls with special discounts and offers on their products. 'Panache', the fashion show, celebrated the diversity in style and tradition in our glamourous country. MRF's bike stunt show and the evening's Bollywood Nite featuring music directors Vishal & Shekhar were other centres of attraction.

Apart from these cultural events, the Saarang team also executed its social responsibilities by organizing programmes like Cancer Awareness Conclave in association with the Apollo Hospital. Another event supported feminism, through the 'Logical Indian - The Social Journalist Contest'. Animal rights organization PETA and FarmDost (an initiative to help farmers by tractor manufacturer TAFE) also found a place in this year's Saarang. IITM also collected donations for flood relief through various drives.

Intolerance or Defamation - where does communal violence lie?

Over the past few decades, a lot has been talked about communal violence in India. A recent protest taking the form of a riot in an infamous district of West Bengal buttresses this very fact. The riot broke out in Malda, West Bengal on January 3, 2016 after an authority of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha was accused of referring to Prophet Muhammad as a homosexual man. The statement came out in the aftermath of another comment passed by a senior Samajwadi Party Leader Azam Khan, who apparently issued a similar statement with regard to the members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

This eventually led to the initiation of a protest planned by a Muslim Organization - Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamaat (AJS). The protestors obstructed a bus affiliated with the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC), and set it on fire. In addition, the Kaliachak police station located in the district was attacked by the mob. Several bundles of files and other computer records maintained by the police force were damaged. According to reports, more than 20 police vehicles (including a BSF bus) were set on fire.  Currently, since Section 144 has been imposed in the area, the circumstances are very much pacified. However, the area's population has chosen not to resume their daily activities in the forthcoming days.

Many experts are of the opinion that the protest took form due to anti-Muslim influences in a number of political parties, like The All India Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). However, no evidence has come forward that supports this theory.

The more disturbing fact is that the fire of Malda's riots reached Bihar's Purnea district and similar scenes of destruction of public property and deaths were observed. People act in a violent manner after they are purposely incited by politicians who have an agenda of pocketing votes based on communalism. The main reason behind this is the lack of education among the people who fall into this trap and act inappropriately.

Summarizing , which is the element that is more disturbing to the modern era? The word 'homosexual' being treated as an insult or a massacre on account of defamation of a particular religion? All this could have been avoided if people were educated enough to develop of sense of understanding which will enable them to differentiate between what is to be believed and what is not.

Engineering Initials - The Beginning of a Journey

Young minds soaked in scientific concepts, right after attempting the final gateway to the engineering college of their dreams, await choices to be made.

Be it a definite decision or bewildering uncertainty, a student can't help but be uneasy at the thought of spending the next four years at an institution at the discretion of a rank.

The student's arrival at the allotted college is paradoxical. Excitement peaks thinking of things new, while the mind is reminded of the distant home. Before one can handle this emotional tumult, paperwork and other formalities are to be done. Fresh faces come in bulk, each with an introduction. One undergoes the process of getting familiar with faces and names several times, mostly confused on what to talk about. Once silence is mutually comfortable, conversations become free and natural.

Classes commence slowly and one realises it would take effort to come back on the academic track after months of rigorous revision. In this struggle, nostalgia serves blasts from the past. Though it will be difficult, you must make it a habit to stay in the moment, for then only things will go smooth. As time progresses, a plethora of opportunities and challenges emerge in the form of student chapters, clubs, fests and what not. One can think anything about such events, but at the end of the day, it's all about what was accomplished. Confusion may take a toll so prioritising interests, rather than switching activities, is crucial. Make up your mind. Believe in yourself. Stay optimistic. Do what you really want to. Be free. Love yourself. So much to do, while some struggle to wake up early. But that's just about it. The key is to never give up. No matter what may go wrong, do give it a shot if you really want to. 

Monitoring sleep is one of those ideal acts which commonly become just a part of imagination. With multiple assignments, completion tasks, or desired movies to watch, the bed is used more for activities unintended for it. Internet slams your life like never before. The sooner one starts staying actively outside their room, the better. Classrooms are filled due to compulsory attendance most of time. One would expect engineering to be completely technical before joining. But, Academics turns out to be only one slice of bread from the bread packet of engineering, just because there are no exams in the following week. Freedom can be the best gift or worst privilege of this journey. Choose wisely, live well.

Intellectus helps improve Communication

Imagine yourself sitting in a group of job aspirants in front of an interview panel. They have given you a topic to discuss on. You know a lot about that topic, but you have never been in a Group Discussion before. What happens?

Now again imagine yourself, alone, in front of an interview panel. They just asked you a technical question, and it happens to be about the topic that you 'own'. You know the right answers, but you have never really talked about anything in front of people who aren't your family or friends.

Another harsh truth here is that the other candidates - your classmates - might possibly know as much as you do about these topics and questions. So how will you stand out? Or worse, they do not know as much as you do, but can at least express the little that they do know better than you. The point is, in today's competitive world, communication skills are as important as any other skills your engineering degree might give you.

An Ahmedabad based commerce college, HLIC, organizes a two day event named Intellectus every year, where they test the aforementioned skills of the participants. Since only one student is allowed to represent each college, it ensures a high level of competition.

Intellectus holds five different competitions - Essay Writing, Group Discussion, Extempore Speaking, Book Review and Personality Contest. The different judging panels are usually eminent personalities from different walks of life, like academicians, communication experts, college professors, businessmen, and others.

Since majority of the undergraduate participants are from courses like BBA, BCom, BA or Law, it becomes interesting for engineering students to compete with people whose business is being able to talk or write well. The participant who has a good performance overall in all the competitions also gets a rolling trophy for their college. Even though winning is a big deal, participating is an experience in itself.

You will see a Law student bring up subsections from the Constitution in the group discussion, or an Arts student explaining your favourite book in a new way. You'd learn a lot more, presenting your ideas and yourself, than you would with your time in an engineering college.

HLIC, the institute which organizes the event, provides accommodation and food to all participants, and goes to great lengths to provide every comfort. The organizers are all undergraduate students themselves, warm and friendly. These are the events that will ensure that your failure in interviews and group discussions will not be because you lacked confidence, stage fear, or suffered from poor communication skills.

On Startup India - a new initiative to boost startups

India has seen many inspiring slogans, but recently, 'Startup India, Standup India' seems to have taken the country by storm. Unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Team India speech, on the 69th Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, New Delhi, the slogan has been exhilarating for budding entrepreneurs and businessmen in India.

An initiative to boost employment opportunities, it is expected to begin a big-bang startup boom in India. The slogan was put to action on January 16, 2016, when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley kickstarted the ambition Start Up India Mission at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.

The initiative aims to provide a relaxed environment for startups so that entrepreneurs don't face financial or governmental adversities to expand their endeavour. Ideas that don't have financial backing will have support from the initiative, in which a fund of Rs. 10,000 crore will be set aside to back them, with the corpus initially set at Rs. 2,500 crore, along with a credit guarantee fund as well. For up and running companies tax exemptions will be provided for three years, and concessions on capital gains taxes will alleviate the financial burden on blooming startups.

The primary hurdle for startups came when they had to register as a startup. They had to conform to the rules, policies, standards and laws laid down by the government. With this initiative, a compliance regime based on self-certification, with no regulatory inspections, for the first three years has been proposed. This will help startups function with ease without interference by government officers.

For innovations will need to be patented, the initiative has proposed an 80% reduction in filing fees, with a fast track mechanism in place. A panel of legal facilitators will support the startups in this matter, with the costs to be borne by the government.

USA ranks first in the number of startups, with a staggering 5084 registered officially. India is not far behind, being second with 2328 registered startups. The Startup India initiative aims to make India the leader in the number of startups. Under the initiative, 5 lakh schools and 10 lakh students will be involved in core innovation programmes. National and international startup festivals will provide visibility and ensure that the future of Indian startups is safeguarded progressively.

The initiative will include many infrastructural resources for startups: A Startup India hub - a single point of contact for interacting with the government, the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) to promote research and development, 500 tinkering labs, 35 incubators built on public-private partnerships, 31 innovation centres at all National Institutes of Technology, seven new research parks, and five new bio-clusters. A mobile app will be launched on April 1, 2016, to provide speedy and smooth registration of startups within one day.

To sum up, the Startup India initiative is a promising venture, undertaken by the government to make India a leader in startups, who will boost the country's economy. The number of startups in India is on the rise, and this scheme will certainly encourage the Indian youth to channel their innovative thinking into business ventures. Considered to be the fastest growing economy in the world, the Startup India initiative will certainly give a boost to the heights the world expects it to achieve.

From the Stone Age to the Digital Age: A journey

It's been an amazing journey, from the ages when humans made tools out of stones to today, when smartphon apps and gadgets are made comparable to human intelligence. We can write on screens by using our hands, by gestures, or even pointing our eyes at a single point. The pace with which technology has evolved in the past few years is outstanding. Since I am from an electronics background, I'll focus only on advancements in semiconductor technology. In the world of semiconductors, a transistor is just like a tiny seed, responsible for the mighty oak that has grown out of it. The birth of the transistor was designed by three physicists: John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley, who were justly awarded the Nobel Prize for this achievement. The transistor is basically nothing more than a switch and an amplifier. But none of our devices can live without it! The transistor revolutionized the field of electronics, and paved the way for the small, cheap, handy gadgets that all of us use today, like calculators, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc. Transistors are the active component in all modern electronics. Several companies produce billions of individually packaged discrete transistors annually. A vast majority of transistors are produced in the form of integrated circuits (ICs). These are visible on the printed circuit boards (PCBs) of any device you open up - your remote control, USB drive, mouse, cell phone, etc. An IC the size of your thumb holds several billion transistors, in the form of a chip with a few pins. This is what makes your devices so compact! Since so many ICs and transistors can fit in a small area, these smaller modules are able to provide the same functionality once provided by computers the size of large rooms. This has resulted in slim, sophisticated mobile phones, tablets, laptops... the list goes on. Today we can get any information about anything just by typing in Google or any browser at a lightning fast speed. We are able to communicate at such fast speeds through wired or wireless networks, as if there is a zero delay. It's really hard to imagine how these strings of data, all in the form of 0s and 1s, are travelling such a long distance, that too in the air as a medium! For me, it's hard to believe, but it is happening. Every billionth of a second, these data are travelling in the form of Electromagnetic waves, which are invisible to all of us, but we are surrounded by them all the time! We store a huge amount of data in our hard disks. If you wonder how this happens - this is just a string of stored 0s and 1s. The 0s are represented by a ground logic levels like 0 volts, and 1s are represented by high logic levels like 5V. A higher data rate, high speed, large memories, compactness - all have been achieved in the past few decades. The coming generations of gadgets will be even smarter and powerful, plus light weight. Just imagine, soon you may hae a palmtop device with all the functionalities of a laptop! But everything has a counterpart - achieving high speeds and large memories come at the cost of high power consumption and more complex circuits. The world is shrinking - communication gaps are closing, and networking is growing at a fast rate with technological advancement. Everything is getting digitized as we see a complete transformation stepping into the digital age. We are the luckiest generation, we experienced those big fat computers at home which did nothing advanced, to slimmer computers with large memories and good processing powers. And now we have these laptops and tablets with amazing capabilities which can do all the possible tasks we ask them to, and even those which are beyond imagination! Truly an awesome age to live in!

FUNDAMENTALS OF COMPUTER PROGRAMMING - AN OVERVIEW ON THE SUBJECT Computer Programming Fundamentals - An Overview Computer programming is now an essential part of engineering. From a simple calculator to virtual reality, the wide variety of programming applications makes it worth learning. Beginners usually encounter the issue of learning new languages used to command a computer. Along with the new language, come the sets of rules and exceptions. It takes time to acquaint oneself with the structures and syntax that help in using the language efficiently. Programming has to be introduced to students by experienced teachers only. Incomplete explanations in the beginning could easily develop a dislike for the subject in students. Institutes should try to encourage students to develop their programming skills. The most important part of a computer program is its logic. Once the logic is understood, it has to be translated into machine readable code using the rules and exceptions. Cracking the logic will take some time, but daily practice helps optimize the speed of coding, leading to faster translation. Since the amount of information in the code is huge, agility is highly desirable. A relatively simply structured, and naturally flexible, versatile programming language is 'C', developed by Dennis Ritchie in 1978. It has sustained for over three decades, despite new and advanced coding languages coming after it, hence it is valued as a first step towards learning programming. After learning C, students can take up other programming languages based on applicability. The major reason students get fed up of programming early is the minor errors that creep into their programs. Although the logic may be right, programs may not compile due to a missing character, or an extra character in the wrong location, or even a blunder. The errors that get displayed as a result are too complex for beginners to understand. They have to be patient and learn from their mistakes.

Why Startup India?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the action plan for his dream initiative 'Startup India' on January 16, 2016, with the aim to revive the entrepreneurship spirit of India's youth. He announced various incentives for startups, which is the story that every news channel is telling. But a major question arises: why startups? Did some dramatic changes happen which made the Indian ecosystem favourable for startups? To answer these questions we need to understand the current scenario of our country.

India has the largest youth population in the world. 68% of the current population is under 35 years of age .This is the biggest asset for India. The world's second largest population (1.27 billion) with the large middle class provides India a potential candidate to become one of the biggest domestic markets globally. This is the reason why every big international company wants to do business in India. India was once a country where business was dominated by certain communities, which was considered as taboo by other communities. The mindset was that only a businessman's son will be able to do business.

This perception has changed in recent times, with success stories of new startups in India, like Flipkart, Redbus, Inmobi, etc. changing the style of looking at any business. Youngsters these days are enthusiastic in doing new things, ready to take a big leap, and are more risk-tolerant than their parents.

A report, titled 'Start-up India - Momentous Rise of the India Start-up Ecosystem', released by NASSCOM & Zinnov Consulting, mentions that the average startup founder is just 28 years old. With 4000+ technology driven startups and an increase in funding from $ 2.5 bn in 2014 to $ 4.9 bn in 2015, India stands third in the global startup ecosystem.

Another report, 'Future of India - The Winning Leap', prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, advocates a crucial need for entrepreneurial companies, to ensure a successful future for the country. India will need to create at least one crore new jobs annually over the coming decade. To meet this job demand, the government has to give constant boost to both large corporates and entrepreneurial startups. Initiatives like 'Make in India' and 'Startup India' will help fuel this growth. Recent campus placement reports indicate that even at IITs and other institutes, startups are hiring in good numbers, stating the fact that young entrepreneurs are optimistic about their businesses.

According to a report first published in 2014, Indians are dominating immigrant entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley, constituting 32.4% of all such startups. Narendra Modi wants to bring such a revolution in India too, hence the fillip to provide a suitable ecosystem to young entrepreneurs.

In one of the attempts to encourage entrepreneurship, IIT Madras, along with its alumni, established the IITM Research Park. Its main aim is to facilitate the promotion of research and development in partnership with the industry, and assist the growth of new ventures. About 100 research companies, innovation centres of large corporations, and startups have their offices at the Park. The government is planning to open such research parks at six other IITs as well.

'We are more than five' - IITGn student body lights a candle for Rohith

In August 2015, a section of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protested in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) against the screening of the movie 'Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain'. Controversies abound regarding the actual incident, but the media reported that physical violence took place, while the ABVP members denied any forceful threats.

After the incident, five students of the HCU were expelled from the hostel, and their access to public areas other than classrooms and labs was prohibited. Early January 2016, they were asked to leave the hostel premises as well, their rooms locked by hostel authorities. The stated reason was that they protested against the hanging of Yakub Memon, a convict in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. On Sunday, January 17, one of the five students, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide by hanging himself on the university campus, leaving behind a self-explanatory letter.

"HCU's new VC dismissed the 5 students after receiving a letter from the HRD Ministry, alleging that they were allegedly casteist, extremist, and anti-national. The allegations were encouraged by Bandaru Dattatreya, Minister of Labour and Employment," a PhD student explained, when asked for details. "We have been informed that till now no university authority has offered condolences to Rohith's family officially," he said. Did it happen because Rohith was from a Dalit background, or was it an extreme level operation to control student politics?

The IIT Gandhinagar (IITGn) student community silently opposed such an approach to stop research scholars from voicing their opinion. On Tuesday, January 19, IITGn students held a candlelight condolence meet for Rohith, and offered a black band protesting against such situations. The slogan, 'We are more than five', with Rohith's photo, symbolised IITGn's peaceful support to the movement.

Rohith's suicide note has created quite an uproar among the educated mass in the country. Although it suggests that nobody is responsible for the suicide, that fact that Rohith spent a lot of thought in writing the letter leaves a lot of question marks. The full note is available here:

A positive beginning for a new institute

The new semester made for a splendid start at IIT Tirupati. The best advantage of being in new institutes is that every thing is new. Most facilities seen in older IITs have been arranged for the newer IITs as well. At IIT Tirupati, the Science lab, set up recently, is well equipped with advanced instruments.

Oven, fridge, ice maker. Not your usual kitchen equipment, but lab equipment used for experiments. A first aid kit, in case of an accident. Eye wash liquid to clean our eyes in case any chemical enters them. Even a shower in case of any bodily contact. In short, it's a mini laboratory, as compared to the labs in other IITs, which has all the required equipment. This semester, the workshops are being conducted on campus only. The Wi-Fi facility at the hostels, eagerly awaited by all students, will be set up in a couple of weeks. A gym has been set up in the boys' hostel. The playgrounds, delayed due to the recent floods, are on the verge of completion.

In the new lab, the first preference is not given to experimentation or analysis, but to safety and security. Without taking safeguards for our wellbeing, nobody is permitted into the lab. Everyone must enter the lab wearing goggles, lab coats, shoes, and when required, gloves and masks. The lab assistants take decent care of students. They insist on keeping the lab clean and hygienic.

An exciting class, named Life Skills, has been introduced this semester, as a weekly two hour session. We even have movie time once a week, and we discuss the movie in class afterwards. Others might say that only professors who have retired from older IITs come to teach here, but we say that we have the benefit of learning from very experienced teachers. What else does a new institute need?

How do more engineers affect India?

While the number of engineering graduates in India is increasing rapidly, with the increase in the number of engineering colleges, it doesn't seem to do any good to this developing country.

India leads the world in the number of engineers produced every year. 85% of school graduates prefer taking up engineering over other fields. This creates an uneven distribution of the community across various fields. Surplus engineers create a shortage of experts in fields which are necessary for creating a healthy community, which has artists, scientists, doctors, sportsmen, etc.

Is social imbalance the only problem created by this surplus of engineers? No. On one side, we are exporting talented engineering brains to foreign countries. On the other side, most of those who stay back in India are either unemployed or underemployed. The people who get jobs, get little salary, or work in a field which has no relevance to their degree.

Meanwhile, quality seems to maintain an inverse proportionality with quantity. Studies say that 97% of Indian engineering graduates cannot speak English. These meaningless engineering degrees should be reduced and the interest and demand for other degrees and education should be stimulated and handled. This will lead to a super community with all kinds of expert engineers, scientists and other experts who are needed for the society. Hope we reach the ideal goals of "India 2020" on time.

Sources: here & here

Learning From my failures

Our on-campus placement season started mid-July 2015. Being an NIT, many companies visit our campus to handpick the best students. Like everyone, I also had favorite companies to get into, with dream jobs and great pay packages. Being an Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) student, I always had an advantage: we are eligible to apply for multiple job profiles.

The first company that attended our campus was a core company. Everyone in our class, especially the so-called 'toppers', were competing to get placed there. Being an average student I had very little hope of being one of them. Finally, the day arrived and the first round was a written test for 20 minutes, which had quantitative ability questions and some technical questions. I was not satisfied with my performance in the test because I did not perform well in the technical section.

With little hope left, I went back to my hostel, had my lunch and slept with my phone on silent mode. After some time, when I looked at my phone, there were 10 missed calls from my friend. When I called him, he told me that I was shortlisted for the group discussion (GD). I immediately dressed up and ran to the GD room, where I found out that my GD slot had already started. I felt I jeopardized my chances by coming late. However, the Training and Placement Officer TPO told me that I can go in the next slot for my GD. I tried not to get tense and maintained my coolness. But when the GD started, my heart was pounding like an F1 car engine and my mind was somewhere else. Everyone in the room was shouting at each other and I lacked the confidence to participate in the GD. Finally, in the last 2 minutes, I gave my views and came out of the room.

After the GD, I found that I was not shortlisted for the interview. When analysed the failure, I found out that the main reasons for me not doing well that day were carelessness and my lack of confidence. Firstly, if I was little more serious about the interview, I would have waited till the shortlist for the GD was announced. Instead, I went to the hostel and slept. Moreover, I lacked the confidence to speak in the GD.

The cliché, 'Failures are the stepping stones to success,' was true in my case. I learnt from my mistakes to be more serious about the things I do and also to believe in myself. I was not able to crack the consecutive interviews. But eventually, the experiences I gained from each failed interview and GD helped me know my weaknesses. Eventually, I got placed, but what still haunts me every day is why I wasn't more serious and confident in my first interview. A mistake once made can never be changed but it can be avoided in the future.

IIT Madras: Shaastra 2016 - A review

The 17th edition of  IIT Madras' Annual Technical Festival, Shaastra, started on January 23 with a plethora of professional shows, competitions and lectures where everybody has something for everybody. It is a prestigious techno-management fest of the nation's sharp minds. Shaastra is the first ISO certified festival of its kind, whose vision is to promote a new frontier of thought and encourage interaction between industry, academia and future innovation. Shastra 2016 showcased the latest technology and innovation through entertaining game shows and exhibitions. It's aim was to create  a sense of curiosity about technology.

Shaastra 2016 also hosted Ukraine's top fire and light show, Adelaida. It was an exciting mix of performers of pyrotechnics and electrical lighting. This show was the first of its kind, not only in Chennai, but the whole of South India. India's only light painter Vivek Patil delighted the audience with his light art. Light art uses technology to create live art, and is made using a beam of light on a massive luminescent canvas. He also fascinated viewers by narrating stories through his sand art.

Extreme sports show also found a place in this year's Shaatra. One of the best teams of Europe, Freesty'air, who are known for their stunts like obstacle clearance, aerial tricks and back flips, kept the audience on the edge of their seats. This year's Shaastra included lectures by NASA Scientist Dr Kamlesh Lulla; Deepak Bapna, VP-Technology, VISA; Vinita Bali, Former MD, Britannia Industries. The student also enjoyed robotics competitions, photography contests and Indian Railway design challenges.

Should Humanities be taught in Technical Education?

Of late, many engineering colleges, including centrally funded institutes, have introduced humanity studies as subjects. These often include philosophy, history, culture, literature, psychology, art, music, etc. For a syllabus laden with technical education, many professors and students question the justification of such courses as mandatory subjects. Counsellors and psychiatrists may intend to counter the former's queries, but students get stuck in the dilemma of selecting a proper subject.

Current engineering courses are primarily filled with subjects of programming languages, mechanics, electronics, structural applications, material science and the like. In their initial years, students learn mathematics, physics and chemistry to familiarize them with the complexity of science and interconnections between different subjects. Then what does a course like 'The history of Music in India' teach an engineering student? The idea would seem absurd, from a technical point of view.

When students from various backgrounds come together, the disparity in cultural and social customs create barriers in communication. Coping with the busy schedule and tough exam patterns often stand as obstacles in student life too. Humanities or soft studies intend to balance this lifestyle. Intellectuals also point their finger towards a different perspective too. Knowledge about history, politics, music, art, language, etc. completes a person from a technical background. They enable students to have better foresight for themselves and others.

IIT Gandhinagar follows a similar principle. Even for postgraduate students, a minimum of 6 credits in humanity studies are mandatory in order to complete the degree. Alongwith the main courses, many short courses on communication, language, medicine, relationships, travel, etc. keep the student body active through the academic year.

Graduate and undergraduate technical studies should not be only about learning the X-Y-Z of engineering. They should be about becoming self sufficient with the knowledge of everything but a master in something. This is the positive aspect of introducing humanities in technical education.

An unforgettable day at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Literature was in the air of Jaipur, with the ninth edition of Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), 2016. The five day festival from January 21 to 25, celebrated, literature, culture, poetry, revolution, history and many more. Intellectuals from about 20 countries debated and discussed on diverse topics.

This year the name of the fest was 'Kathasaritsagar', meaning the sea of stories. The venue of this grandeur was Diggi Palace, a heritage building in Jaipur. JLF witnessed a footfall of 35,000 every day. It was that time of the year where many of the Malaviya National Institute of Technology students spent their days at Diggi Palace, enjoying the precious words of scholars and Rajasthani Folk music. The beautifully decorated tents become the place where discussions took place on a plethora of topics such as the importance of silk route in developing cultures across the globe, the role of Urdu poets in poetry, Make in India, caste discrimination, temples in Pakistan, journey of entrepreneur, sexual violence in South Asia and many more.

I reached out for the fest to listen to my favourite author of modern era, Amish Tripathi, whose novels have not only made mythology interesting but also are a fountain of inspiration to me. The session started with a formal discussion with Amish, where he discussed his journey so far and the difficulties he faced in getting his first book published that later turned out to be a Best-seller. It was a motivational session for budding authors. It further got better when he gave me an autograph on "Scion of Ikshvaku". His first novel on Lord Ram Series.

Jaipur Literature Fest is incomplete without some beautiful poems and shayaris. When it comes to Hindi shayari, who better than the Oscar winning lyricist of India, Gulzar, to narrate a few poems from his collection. His poems compelled the audience to think and introspect, and at the same time appreciate the man who penned these words. The event rose to great heights when this session was followed by another legendary and national award winning lyricist of India, Javed Akhtar, who narrated some of his best Urdu poetry.

The energy of the place was such that it engaged me for eight hours and gave me insights about various aspects of life something which I will cherish forever. 

IIT Tirupati celebrates its first Republic Day

The Republic day celebrations at IIT Tirupati began at 8:00 AM on January 26 with a parade by the students. The Professor-in-charge hoisted the Tricolour, followed by the National Anthem. A group photo session with students and faculty was taken, after which the celebrations shifted to the classrooms.

The faculty spoke a few words of advice, and then the celebrations began with gusto. We sang a few songs in groups and individually. A few girls put up a fun skit about corruption. Then, elections were held for the class representatives of the four branches - this was the most exciting part of the day. A debate on the topic of tolerance was held, which interestingly changed mid-way to a topic on equality, before going back to tolerance. The results of the elections were announced, and we discussed some clubs for the rest of the time. It was a half a day of quite enjoyable celebrations.

Memes, Trollfaces & Vines - the bricks of social media

Memes on social media have incessantly dominated due to their sly and quick humor. A meme, by definition, is an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person in a culture. Their expression has made communicating on the social front more elegant and enjoyable. Creativity has found its way in conveying the humourous intricacies of personal conversation.

Be it 'Pulp Fiction', or 'Be Like Bill', the memes running successfully in the start of 2016, people increasingly relate to them immediately, though they take some time to gather traction. A regular user of social platforms realises the dynamic nature of these memes. Every like, share or comment adds on to the spread of ideas. Just like evolution, these ideas have to be quite relatable to survive. They have to be, as everyone values something that connects with them or their culture.

Memes evolve just as our genes. These are altered by humans as they express creatively and continuously. The importance they hold in our lives depend on the strength of their recognition and personal experiences. A meme could make you feel happier for the rest of the day or make you reflect on the void nature of life. Like everything else, we get from it what we tend to seek in the moment.

Trollfaces integrate the effect of a meme. It is inexplicably amusing to watch these expressions after a sarcasting taunt. The more playful they seem, the better. Interestingly, the 24 year old Carlos Ramirez, who drew the first trollface, has patented it and earns well off its use. Now that's thug life! The latest online trend, after memes and trolls, was vines. Initiated in 2013, it allows users to upload six second videos on social media. Even celebrities use this platform for expression and publicity.

For anything to be funny, there must always be an element of surprise. Something unexpected sparks the laugh out of you. And sometimes the unexpectedness of common events in life being portrayed as unusual makes us giggle. That's where standup comics steal their ideas from. So I wonder what could follow next in line!

Encaptivated by the aura of Anwesha at IIT Patna

It was night already and the deadline for the submission of the assignment was the very next day. The assignment was a big one and no one in the entire third year Computer Science and Engineering department had finished it yet. But there was not even an iota of anxiety in anyone's mind. After all, the only thing we could think of was feasting our eyes on the pretty girls with their hands up in the air swaying their hips in euphoria to Euphoria. Ha! Who cares about a goddamn assignment? We danced our worries away far into the night.

It was indeed the best time of the year. The enchantment of Anwesha, the annual cultural fest of IIT Patna (IITP), makes you forget everything else and the world all of a sudden becomes a very tiny place. Be it an event like "Beg, Borrow, Steal," in which different teams are supposed to collect and bring a list of items in a given time or an event like "Tamasha," containing questions from movies and TV shows. Anwesha is all about frolic, fun and creativity. It presents numerous fun events like "StockMart," which is a virtual stock exchange and "Darpan," an event in which you get to paint on walls. And, if you are an engineering student, you are bound to fall in love a lot of times in those three days. I remember participating in "Beg, Borrow, Steal" last year and there was a task which required that a guy come back with a lipstick mark on his hand. I summoned up all my courage and went up to a very beautiful girl with lipstick in my hand and an "Excuse me." But as soon as the beauty turned around and looked at me, I froze. I could not mutter a single intelligible word (for real), let alone ask her for giving me a peck on my hand. Her friends, apparently, had a great time watching the whole scene. Before I approached her, I doubted if I had a shot. Now, with her big gorgeous blue eyes looking straight into mine, I knew, for sure that I, clearly, stood no chance whatsoever. I hung my head and quietly walked away. Phew! Finally, I had to put lipstick on my lips and kiss my own hand (Yes, there is always a way). It did not go in vain eventually as our team won the competition.

Anwesha is a beautiful expression of art at its best. As it seems, we cannot express all our emotions in words, because if we could, we would not have needed art in the first place. This is, in fact the beauty of it. The artist has dreamed his painting, he painted his dream and called it "Anwesha." It is always beautiful to see how two colors when put one next to the other, sing and how a small piece of art manages to enthrall the deepest of your senses - manages to effortlessly express something which even a thousand words cannot. It is perplexing how a picture can be so charismatic that it begins to speak a language of its own, and convey a mood and an atmosphere in a single frame, without the slightest incongruity in it. Anwesha expresses, in absolute subtlety, the journey of this spectacle and that of IITP as a whole. It is as if it becomes absolutely natural to imagine random stripes in an abstract picture to be paths couching the indelible memories in the journey, and the paths that are yet to be trodden. There have been multifarious emotions, disparate hues, but the grit to move on has surely been unflinching. But, we are still in a stage of infancy and there is a huge room for improvement. Gaining the trust of more and more sponsors, and people is what needs to be done now. There are a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome if we have to challenge the likes of Mood Indigo (IIT Bombay) and Rendezvous (IIT Delhi). It is definitely not a cakewalk and that is exactly what makes it so much more fun.