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As the cab moved through the gullies of Mumbai towards the domestic airport something snapped inside.  The feeling of leaving behind all that I acquired for the past five years gnawed at my heart….

Rain clouds blurring the eveneing sky

Rain clouds blurring the evening sky

Long ago, I had written an article named ‘Sunrise to Sunrise: a Day’s Work at IIT’ . This post is going to be diametrically opposite to the earlier posts on IIT and life at IIT. For those of you who are waiting for a sequel to the Koraput travel article, you’ll have to wait a little longer because I felt an urgent need to note down the feeling of a researcher leaving IIT after graduation lest I forget the entire confusing web of emotions. Actually, the world which rests on ‘moving on’ funda won’t be able to connect with my article because this is going to be “senti” and a “tear-jerker” in the language of any IITian. But then…. 🙂

Remember the 1967 Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Graduate’ directed by Mike Nichols and written by Charles Webb? Remember the confusion and fixity of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) a 21 year old graduate who tries to search for himself within a confusing web of relationships, search for ‘true’ love and the problems of ‘what next’? Remember Simon and Garfunkel’s haunting track ‘Sounds of Silence’? If you haven’t seen the movie — must watch. Well! Not all graduating souls have as dramatic a life as Benjamin, but that doesn’t make life on the whole any less dramatic. To be 21 and a graduate is so different from being in late twenties or thirties and graduating. This post aims to search for that drama in the mundane life of a graduating IITian researcher. But how do you locate drama in the life of people who are  deprived of friends and maybe hunting for the ‘right’ job or boy/girl or maybe attempting to negotiate through the excruciating demands of research and marriage? Well! I don’t really have an answer….

Silhoutte of Hostel-11 in the Evening

Silhoutte of Hostel-11 in the Evening

When the packers come and carry your things — little trinkets and small nothings which you have gathered over the last many years of your stay in the hostel, you feel so badly possessive for each of them. You start feeling the new chaos regarding where do you, your ideas and your things fit into the world. I shall never forget those last few moments of hostel life when I was trying to ‘un-knot’ and pull down my yellow curtains from the large glass windows of my hostel room. A close friend kept packing my things and dumping all the remnants of five years into my bag as if to make the ordeal simpler for me. There is something really ironical about leaving IIT — you leave people or are left behind by people. The entire process of staying and leaving (hopefully with a graduation) is like meeting a portion of ‘real life’ and if you are perceptive enough you realize that life is about packing things (both literally and emotionally) and walking out. The workers and cleaning staff of Hostel-11 kept smiling and praying for me — “didi! aap kab aaoge next?” When I had entered IIT I had come alone with dreams in eyes, graduating from IIT again the walk is alone (except for a few very hard-earned friends and memories) and some of those dreams are still left unrealized. There are a few things that people like us needed to learn from  people and their life @ IIT — to take it easy, to hide emotions and try behaving as if we are great assets to the country. Well, this post will be a massive let down for such people. As IITians there are many of us who are yet to learn the quality of emotional and individual honesty and commitment before deciding to ‘sacrifice’ our lives for social and national goals.

The problems of an average researcher at IIT ranges from handling their research topics to library surveys to equation with thesis supervisors to interpersonal relationships and marriage if you are not married or issues of marriage if you are married. It is my personal experience that by the time you negotiate through the alleys of research and the issues of personal life and reach the stage of graduation you become rather dispassionate about things and become a distant observer of life and the passage of events. For many, the moment of submission and the moment of defense brings elation and joy. Talking about my personal experience, when I saw the black-bound gold embossed cover of my thesis and turned a few pages of it I felt a  distance, as if I never wrote all those pages in my life, as if someone else was doing all that running around and writing business and as if those five years were spent by someone else — someone who is a stranger, maybe an alter-ego, maybe a magic spell….

During those final moments of ‘good-byes’ with friends, hostelites, teachers and my supervisor I felt a strange emptiness in heart. Especially meeting my research guide was a completely different experience.  He was the same person whom I had been meeting for the past five years every morning and afternoon for work and for the thesis. Now, with the last chais at KRESIT the ticking of the clock became heavier. There is a novel of William Faulkner called Sound and the Fury where this ticking of the clock of a character Quentin’s life is dealt in a very strong sense.  Somewhere those good-byes kept reminding me of the times past and the ticking of the clock for the future seemed more aggressive and vehement.

I am not sure if every researcher feels the same feelings that I am documenting in my post. We all are different from each other — some have the dire need to break the boundaries of confinement set by research and the last few days for them are just a necessity which has to be lived through. Some of us have outlived the place and need to seek new modes of being imprisoned. However, life is not without confinement — there is no true freedom. In the language of one of my teachers’ ‘freedom is the necessity to chose one’s own bondage’ . Some of us have chosen our bondage and some of us are bound to choose a new confinement — but no one can deny that confinement.

As the cab moved towards the airport, the radio sang out: “Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaatein hain jo mukaam woh phir nahin aate! (Roughly: those small destinations that move through as the journey of life moves on, never come back)” I looked out as the rains lashed through the black-yellow cab window and caught a glimpse of the last landmark of IIT as we move towards the airport or towards Andheri — hostel 12, standing imposingly next to Renaissance hotel, braving the rain-storm blowing through the Powai lake. I sank back and the cabbie turned back to ask me… “Maam! Kya aap wapas nahin aa rahe hain? (Roughly: Maam won’t you come back?)” I smiled and said: “Nahin! Vijayaji!”  The cab passed through Seepz and I just looked out searching unconsciously for some known faces and some long lost friends whom I had met long before joining PhD….