Learning to be Terse

Correspondence with the Warden, Tapti Hostel.

Posted in Campus, Conversation by Croor Singh on October 28, 2010

I’ve been asked if I would put up the emails I exchanged with Prof. Nari, by Nari himself, and also by TFE, the campus magazine who want to write something about this but won’t really be allowed to say anything even mildly provocative.

I must say, before you go on and read the emails, that I had no idea who the warden of Tapti was when I first wrote to him (the text of which email is in the original post). I still don’t know Nari personally, although he seems like somebody I would want to know, if for nothing else than his willingness to allow people to ask questions of him.

All of which is to say that I could have had no possible fodder for ad hominem attacks when I wrote these emails. If, in spite of this, you find something you think is a personal attack, please point it out, and I will gladly take it back. Nari has shown commendable promptness in forwarding our correspondence to the people who are directly affected by this issue – the students of Tapti. This, for me, is reason to believe that his motives were entirely honourable.

Below are the emails – unedited except for formatting, and in chronological order although I’ve omitted the headers and so forth:

1) From me, To Nari:

The text in its entirety is in the original post.

2) From Nari, To me:

Dear Ravichandran,

I drafted the notice, I told the hostel council of my intent.  I wonder if you have seen the notice.  I have not initiated any form of moral policing.

I did read your weblog and could not find anything that I should take back except that you are upset.
If you are around in chennai, drop in and we could chat.  If you are elsewhere, gmail works.

Another one.  Please read the last line of the post. Here is what I told the hostel council on that:

The probability of my turning up to visit anyone’s room in the hostel during the day is low. If with high probability, conditioned on this low probability event, I find a student sleeping, I am forced to take action.  It seems logical that I must be concerned if above happens.

3) From me, To Nari:

Hi.

I must admit that I expected a rather less considerate response. One ends up shoehorning people into categories. I apologise.

I take that you looked at the blogpost after you wrote the first two emails – I have indeed ‘seen’ the notice. I’ll only say something about the last one:

> The probability of my turning up to visit anyone’s room in the hostel during the day is low.
> If with high probability, conditioned on this low probability event, I find a student sleeping, I am
> forced to take action.

> It seems logical that I must be concerned if above happens.

If a student sleeps twenty hours a day, he’s probably clinically depressed, and needs medical help; in which case a pat on the shoulder from you might actually help – if he knows you; if not, you’re actually just as likely to do more damage as not.

If he’s sleeping in on a lazy day, or has no work, or is taking a break, or is daydreaming, or just has a different routine than you do, or approve of or consider ‘appropriate’, I see no reason for you to accost him. I see even less reason for you to threaten that a whole list of people will be apprised of this ‘event’.

Especially since I’ve had two decades more experience dealing with my parents than I do dealing with you – why would you think that telling on me to them would do anything? Other than, you know, your getting laughed at a bit. A similar argument goes for my FA, my guide and my HoD. I’ve dealt with them a lot longer than I’ve dealt with you. I may not know the Dean, but I’m sure he’d look at you askance if you asked him to throw me out of the hostel for sleeping, so I’m not all that worried.

In any case, you see what I mean when I say you are imposing your morality, your sleep-cycle, on residents of your hostel, all of whom are adults. Or trying to – we all know how enforceable something like this is.

-Ravichandran

PS: Since your order makes a point of saying ‘sleeping in your room’, a friend of mine points out that the residents of Tapti could sleep in the corridor, the common room, the garden, the quadrangle, the roof, the bathrooms, or hang upside down from the ceiling,. Food for thought, perhaps.

PPS: Your point about probability only holds if you assume no correlation between your being jobless and the student being jobless. You seem to have, for no reason I can think of.

4) From Nari, To me:

Ravichandran,
Ayush, the GSec is copied on in this mail.  I believe that he believes that my intent is not to moralize or police.  I see a problem and am attempting a solution. I have never stood by the sidelines and waited for my seniors/ parents/ profs to approve of my actions.

> If a student sleeps twenty hours a day, he’s probably clinically depressed, and needs medical help;
> in which case a pat on the shoulder from you might actually help – if he knows you;
> if not, you’re actually just as likely to do more damage as not.

And again, what I told the hostel council is that I will talk to the fac ad/ guide/hod. I did not say I will punish. Who am I to punish, leaving aside that I teach here and that could be considered punishment.   The analogy is that if I did not want to go to school my mother whacked me out of home.

Secondly, I am not threatening to whine to anyone’s parents.   It is a very logical action: “your ward seems to be in a muck, I have noticed it, can we bail him out?”.    The hostel council is aware of these arguments.

It is very easy to take an open hearted, unpoliceman-like approach and paint a negative picture.    I truly do not understand your compound sentences, p^*ps, and intended criticism.  I would appreciate if we keep it all matter of fact.  I have a job to do with my hostel and with my students. Emphasise my. I really see it that way. Really appreciate your what seems like concern.

5) From me, To Nari:

Professor,

Like I said, it is easy to shoehorn people into categories without knowing them, and I plead guilty to this. I don’t know you except through the notice, and may have formed an image of you going in.

I only hope that this notice doesn’t become precedent for other people in the administration who might not share your concern or your lack of an agenda.

Your openness to criticism is heartening. I ask for nothing more. I thank you for responding as promptly as you have done, and hope that you haven’t taken any of my comments personally.

6) From Nari, To me:

Ravichandran,

The notice that I have put up is in line with my nature.  It is a suggestion first, a request then, a demand next, and an enforcement when all else as failed.

Parents, deans, and other monsters figure only after I have tried all at  hand.   Most students of Tapti are aware of this. However, for bitter pills, I cannot wait for everyone to come on board.   The reason is simple: by the time someone comes on board, he has left the institute, and likely his son/daughter is here at IITM.

Secondly, the motivation for the notice is simple, to have a cleaner, organized, less-smelly hostel in which a resident gets better as per any personal definition, and in the eyes of any relevant evaluator (parent, employer, etc).  Like I said, if someone is “sacked out” whenever I drop by, I need to be concerned.

I read your mail at face-value and replied at face-value.

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One Response

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  1. Ananthu James said, on April 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    I was an inmate of Tapti Hostel from August 2009 to April 2010. These rules came after I left Tapti. To be honest, I was never informed about these before reading this post.

    I hope you know about the mail from JNC Hostel office after this year’s GBM. There are many funny things including plan to start “surprise checks in rooms”.


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