I was asked to write up about half a page of something to go into the JNC brochure for 2011-12. I took more than one pass at this, the second one because the first would’ve been impossible to publish in a JNC brochure. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be put up here. Below are the two half-page blurbs I wrote.
First, the version I think will get published in the brochure:
Being a student at JNC – Croor Singh, Engineering Mechanics unit
I joined JNC two months after I graduated, having spent the five most formative years of my life at IIT Madras. It wasn’t hard, ill-advised as it may have been – as it may yet be, to compare and contrast the campuses, the milieus, the people.
The most obvious observation which can be made is that the campus at JNCASR is well cared-for. A lot of money and effort goes into maintaining the infrastructure, and it shows. (Ask somebody from IITM how the hostels that were built not four years ago have fared.) Oscar Wilde might point out that living in an aesthetically pleasing environment can do only good things to how much people care about their surroundings, and how they treat fellow inhabitants.
There are other differences too: a smaller community means that everybody knows everybody else at JNC; it is very easy to get a reputation, and very hard to get rid of one. The average person here is also easier to impress (shock?) than at IITM. Or perhaps nonchalance (indifference?) is just an emergent property with a higher threshold number.
There are also similarities. As at IITM, the admission forms include one that asks parents to declare that they will be responsible for what their children do. Even if said children happen to have children of their own. Internet content is filtered through the url-filter from hell. Because graduate research students are too dumb to understand what sexual harrassment is, I guess. The hostel’s internet connection is switched off at 8 am. Because people need to be told when to wake up; again, I guess. And that drink you were having with your friends on Friday? That had better have been Coke.
These similarities are but symptoms of a broader underlying condition, but that is a different, and much longer, essay.
That ‘different, and much longer, essay’ is something I hope to get back to; I’ll put it up here when I do.The second version was more critical, it was a rant:
Being a student at JNCASR – Croor Singh, Engineering Mechanics Unit
I joined JNCASR in August 2010 as an R&D assistant, and as a PhD student later that year. I work with Rama Govindarajan (who insists on that preposition rather than ‘for’), who is unobtrusive to a fault. My presence at JNCASR is her doing.
In the very early days, something I wrote for my blog got blocked because the url contained the word ‘sex’ . I pointed out to the webmasters that not everything of that description is pornography, and that I saw little reason why content should be filtered at all in a post-graduate research institution. I hear this is still talked about as being the raving of a rabble-rousing libertine.
There is, among the forms for admission into the Centre, one that asks parents to declare that they may be held responsible for the conduct of their ‘wards’. I thought it odd that somebody else could be held responsible for my actions, and said so. In an email. Copied to several people. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth followed. A group of people empowered to change the status quo met, and decided to do… nothing. The student guidelines now state explicitly that the parental-consent form may not be signed by the student . Well, duh.
This treatment of enfranchised adults like children is by no means an aberration. There is an upper limit on the number of courses a student can take. Because the student and her advisor are not to be trusted with that decision. Alcohol is banned in the student residence. Not really, of course, but the rule exists and has been advertised. The hostel’s internet connection is switched off between 8am and 7pm, because, one may assume, graduate-research students need to be told when to wake up.
Perhaps the worst part is that JNC is nearer the present-century end of the scale when it comes to this sort of thing.
 JNCASR Student Guidelines, page 22.