Sunday, March 06, 2005

Illuminating minds...

After reading this article of mine, some of my friends complained that it is a bit too long. So I have decided on this way to help the readers. I have demarcated the portions that deal with my story and the one that deals with my views on Illumination Festival. The first part, beginning the next paragraph is the story. Look for a change in style if you want to read my views only.


In the winter vacations of our first year, one of my friends, proud of our accomplishments at Illumination that year went back home to tell his parents all about the marvelous competition. After hearing him speak, his father said, "Did I send you to the IIT to do such things?". He was dumbstruck.

Do we agree with his father, or we do not? Obviously we can't agree as his father knows nothing about Illumination; the team-work, the passion, the elixiration, and what not. We can't agree to anything unless we think for ourselves about it. After all, this is what we have learnt while our JEE preparations, and being into IIT is an ample proof that we can think by ourselves.

My tryst with Illumination(or 'illu', as they say it) dates back 3 years from now when I was in first year. I knew it then as the heart and soul of KGP life. Winning it was the goal of everybody around. It had so much at stake that I can't resist the adrenaline pumping and worked for as much time as I can spare to make my hall win. Being in MS hall wasn't an excuse after all. We were all JCBinas and there was unity among the first years. I recollect working 5~6 hours a day for Illumination work and the figures doubled two days before the finals. On the D-day, when we got the final signal, I started lighting the lamps assigned to me at the roof of HJB Hall. As soon as I was about to finish 80% of the work(we had a pretty tight schedule), we heard the final call saying that we should all stop lighting the lamps and go to hiding as the Jury has come.

"Oh! I couldn't see how well the chataiis were lit by the "Chatai Team" as they are the centre of the attraction of the whole Illumination fest".

"Never mind", I said to myself. "Lets wait for the Jury to finish".

It seemed like a long wait. And when it was announced that the Jury has left, we came out only to find that half of the lamps on the chataiis went out, and more importantly, two of the chataiis caught fire.

"Oh dear! This reduces our chance of winning it this time."

I don't remember exactly what prize we won, was it the consolation prize or the third prize, it was always a consolation prize for the first years who showed so much tempo with so little funda.

This I am sure is the outline of most other "First Illumination" stories that you will hear. All the memories I had of it were the official Gymkhana's or Hall's Photography secy's photographs. I cheered myself with the fact that in addition to Illumination, we also had made a Rangoli for Rangoli competition which stands the wrath of time for two days, and hence we could see to in its original glory after the Jury went. Of course we couldn't see it before as it will leak the theme and somehow damage the prospects of winning the competition.

In comes second year and after a brief period in which we got accustomed to the ways and means of my our abode, THE RAJENDRA PRASAD HALL OF RESIDENCE, comes the time to tighten our seat belts for Illumination. We are told about the glorious past RP Hall has in Illumination competition. It is a prestige issue to win it.

"The winners can hold their chins high for the next one year, and the losers will even avoid making an eye contact with you", we were told by an overly enthusiast office-bearer of our Hall.

This and many such motivating speeches infused in me patriotism type of feelings and I became a warrior in the name of my country, RP Hall. No wonder, RP Hall(and I believe most other Halls) spends a greater percentage of its budget on Illumination competition than India spends percent of its GDP on defense. I got introduced to the professional way of preparing for Illumination. With so much funda pouring in and the element of secrecy that we have to maintain about it, made it look like a commando operation. A story similar to the first year experience ensued and I remember bidding good-bye to our master-pieces as the Judges kept pouring in. Later I learnt that we won the competition! But it didn't give me the happiness I wanted. Because I had freed my mind and started to think on my own about Illumination.


Lets first talk about the nature of the competition. It is an Inter-Hall competition, kept under the GCHA(General Championship Hall Affairs) with 100 points. As half of you are already crying foul, as you thought it to be under Soc-n-cult GC, you are mistaken. It is rightly put under the GCHA as unlike other competitions in which a small team representing the Hall participates, here the whole Hall is a participant. Any competition that is organized, is organized with the aim of improving certain quality of the participant. Be it a soc-n-cult event like extempore, debate, collaging, etc. or a sports event like 100m sprint, golf(sorry! not yet in IITKGP), hammer throw, or even weight lifting. All the events require the contestants to sharpen up their skills in one or more ways to become the champion. Let's see what our good old Illumination has to offer. As far as I remember, I have learnt how to make loops out of metallic wires, and then mechanically tie them up(thousands in number) to the black marks on the chataiis. I don't think that it requires, or for that matter develops any special skill on our part. It doesn't give us anything new to learn that we will require or get pleasure out of in rest of our lives. But wait a minute, don't you think that designing the chataiis require art skills. Also, even arranging for the chataiis for Illumination or gathering people to work requires management skill. Sure they do, and I can't agree even more to you, but does it really matter. The Chatai Design Team as they are called are the well established people of Hall in arts, and they are limited to a dozen in number. Of course they benefit out of Illumination, but not us. Same is the case with the "Management" guys. Most of the work force of Illumination competition is the sophomore population that gains nothing out of the competition. They just work like bulls in an oil-churning mill working day and night to bring glory to their Hall. Many of them stop going to the lectures of their respective discipline(for which they were actually sent to IIT by their parents!). They take night-outs tying the same old loops to the hardly different chataiis, and when the twilight sets on, climb up to the roof of the mess to curse their RK counterparts, taking enjoyment out of the backfire.

Now back to Finance Ministry. Typically, the Illumination budget of any year varies between Rs.60~80 thousand. Unconfirmed sources say that approximately 75 percent of this amount actually gets spent on Illumination activity, while the rest is hogged up by the organizers(OMG, this is exactly like our defense Ministry). As this is not a gossip column, we need not worry what's true and what's not and lets just concentrate on the aggregate figure that actually costs us. Our halls PLF list says there are approximately 400 boarders. And this competition costs us somewhere around Rs.200 per head. This is an enormous amount considering the number of people paying it. Such an amount if had been saved earlier would have led to the making of a new Basketball court some ten years back, that we RPians wanted for so long. Also unlike the Basketball court that gives returns year after year, amount spent on Illumination Competition just vanishes into thin air. The value of the remains become zero even the very next morning. Now comes the hidden costs. As one of our Professors told us, the IIT pays Rs.50 per hour to students doing official work. Although official estimates are always under-estimated, we still take it as a benchmark of the value of time of an IIT student. Considering that on an average, 30 people work for 3 hours daily for 25 days and on the last two days, a total of 150 people give 18 hours, we get the net value of the work as 30*3+150*18=2790 man-hours. This equals a total of Rs.1,40,000 approx. per hall. Assuming an equivalent of 9~10 hall with such tempo, are there, the cost goes up to Rs.10,00,000! This amount is staggeringly high as compared to the direct cost. Even if we don't convert the time into money, what right do we have to force people to waste their time on such activities. I use the term force as the second years are actually forced to do the work.

This now brings us to the part where we discuss Principles, Tradition, Morality and Values. Most supporters of Illumination say that it has been our tradition since long back and therefore we should continue it. I totally disagree with the conclusion. On the same lines, Child Marriages, Sati System and Caste system have been our tradition. So do we need to continue them just because they are our tradition? At least I don't think so. What's rotten must be thrown away. In ways similar to the evils of our society, the Illumination competition has its evils. Firstly, it is not based on competition spirit, but on hatred and misplaced patriotism infused by our seniors. The students are forced to part away with their time, money and belongings. Yes, as you all will now be remembering, that many of us have to part away with our furniture. These are soaked in oil and returned on first-come-first-serve basis. As many people take multiple servings, many of the people have to return with a horrible piece of furniture or even no furniture at all! I remember that during our second year I gave away one bucket for filling oil and an umbrella to protect the lamps. Although I expected them to be returned in bad condition owing to rough handling, I didn't expect that they both will be stolen. Same case was there with my compatriots as all the 7 buckets and 3 umbrellas were stolen! When I went to inquire this from a 'Illu Head', he said "Do you think we haven't lost anything in our second year during illu". This confirmed my belief that ours was not a one-off case. There are many more incidents of theft as people are forced to work in the front lawn while the power is deliberately cut-off! Don't you think that by holding this competition we are encouraging such thieves?

Another thing I came to know about illumination is that it is the biggest reason behind the pathetic state of R.P. Hall's garden; Even so much that we were forced to opt out of the Inter-hall gardening competition. Here's the story for the uninitiated. R.P. Hall had to pull out of Inter-hall Gardening competition as during illumination, the ground is defaced so much that its not possible to hold a gardening competition. Also, due to oil spill, the capacity of the soil to support good garden is tremendously reduced.

Also, I don't think that this competition gives us any satisfaction it ought to give even in this ugly shape. This is because we the people who make it are hardly given any chance to see and enjoy what we have achieved. Instead, we are forced to go into hiding when people belonging to the families of Jury admire the hard-work. Does Illumination comes under social service that first we allow other to reap the benefits then take what is left over? So we see (Sorry, "I see" as you are still free to think on your own) that Illumination competition gives us nothing but a chance to catch Tetanus(as at least five injuries due to contact with metal parts happen everyday) and get our grades screwed up(as it is usually around Mid-Semester Exams).

Even illumination goes against the spirit of Diwali festival. When all of India is illuminating with diyas, flickering lights, etc, we (the KGPians) have our power cut-off and are not allowed to light even a single match-stick. And what's more, we are forced to go into hiding! Is this not infringement of religious freedom as provided by the Indian Constitution? If someone would have asked me in my school days giving description of how it is celebrated, Diwali is the last day I would have suggested.

But I am not allowed to stop here. How can I just babble about the problem and not propose a solution! As you might have guessed, the only solution is to stop this with immediate effect. (People note that I have nothing against the Rangoli Competition. It draws participation from a dozen people who represent a hostel. It has lower budget, people improve their personality by participating in it, and everyone gets to see the benefit.) For how long will we go along the same Mahabharat or Ramayan theme and wondering if we can keep it a secret? I have spent 2 hours writing it, and if this can stop Illumination even an year earlier, I feel that this Rs.100 investment was invested well. After all, it helped me improve my creative writing skills!

-Ambuj Saxena

PS: Your comments and constructive criticism are most welcome.


Subhrajit said...

I agree to most of the things you said.

Nasir Hussain said...

"We waste lots of money knowingly and unknowingly. So investing Rs. 200 per annum in this activity is not worthless", This was the view of one of my comrades not mine.
To me it sounds like a thief replying to a Judge,"Many thives are uncaught and roaming free, why only I am being punished?"

Vinay Agarwal said...

Hi Ambuj,
I really appreciate your creative writing skills and wish you all the best in the future with all your endeavours.However just to correct on some facts,Illumination occurs after Mid-Sems and not before as said by you which clearly reflects the labour you have put into it all these years.Also as far as the belongings of the hall are concerned,I would recomend that instead of enquiring from people like you,raise your head and you will see lots of proud RPians around who can tell you better that your own group of sycophants.

Ambuj Saxena said...

Hi Vinay,

Thanks for your comments.

First about the Mid-sems question. Is it not true that a lot of time around mid-sems is wasted for Illumination competition.

That it doesn't always come before is no excuse. When we were in first year, it came before Mid-sem, and when we were in second year, after mid-sem.

The sycophant from whom I enquired about the Common Room clock was the then CRTR secy, Mr. Seth Siddharth Sunil Kumar. As he is still a part of the hall, you can approach him and enquire about it.

And what about my (and other's) belongings that were stolen. I asked each and every Illu head and they were unable to give a satisfactory reponse about them. I lost my bucket and umbrella myself and this gives me sufficient reason to complain.


r@hul_z@t said...

Ambuj most of the time talks on useless topics.. overly concerned !
But i think he has improved a bit... ILLU is really a wastage of money and costly time...
We burn oil there... just take a step ouuta IIT boundary... you see a lot of poor people... I mean real poor... They got nothing to eat !

If you really want to Put time and Money.. Why not EAch hall.... work as a team... Organise a Bhandara.. Free Meal...

ILLU's enjoyment is for 2-3 hrs... and INPUT is too high... 70-80 guys working simultaneously, forcefully or willingly, every evening and for atleast 20 days ( actually i don't know exactly, I never did my part of labour... always escaped ! )

ILLU's enjoyment if an affair of hardly some hours, but by serving poor, this will give our soul much more satisfaction !
Moreover Illu ek din mein over... and there are 10 halls, so Atleast for 10 days.. IIT will feed poor....

wasie yaar... mano ya na mano... but each & every guys sub-concious knows.. ILLU is almost useless !

aamrun said...

Hi Ambuj Bhaiyya,

I don't think you will ever read this, but I believe that despite all the pain and loss, Illu does gift us something much dearer that time and money, the chance to bond with hallmates who we have never even talked with.

I do not agrre "Did I send you to IIT" argument. Such a person would not even agrre with Chedis, bunking classes, DC and what not. And yet even the most maggu fellow can't survive in KGP without them.

I agree that the hiding part should be abolished. The grounds can be revitalised if proper care is taken, if it could happen in Hiroshima-Nagasaki, it will happen in RP.

Illu is one of the most endearing memories of KGP that I will bear with me all my life. Money is not everything, as for grades, a one night stand is enough.

Abhishek Ghosh
RP Hall