Monday, February 25, 2008

Alumni loyalties

As usual, Sunil takes the lead and I follow - same issue, different perspective, similar conclusions! Some folks might say I lack originality!
The Old Campionites Association (OCA) sent me an invite to their annual reunion bash (always held at the RWITC) the other day. Much as I would have loved to attend, sitting so many miles away I will have to wait to see the snaps dutifully put up on the OCA website post-March 1st. Going through the OCA website (and Patrick's too), one can't but help feel nostalgic about the times we all shared in the corridors of 13, Cooperage Road. Seeing today's titans (or Campion Champions, as they have been baptized) as little bacchhas in shorts, is amusing to say the least. Every photograph is a throwback to an era that we wished would end (let's face it, all said and done, no one liked school when we were kids), but a decade later we realize the true value of the times we spent there, and the friendships we forged.
Unlike Sunil, I am fortunate to have evaded the clutches of the University Alumni Association (or whatever moniker it goes by). Sunil was very lucky to have been part of a semi-autonomous institute/center (part of the University though), which (to an outsider/semi-insider like me) had its own 'set of rules'. But then I guess everyone had to deal with the overall bureaucracy. If Sunil gripes about his professors, then I can't say much about the ones I was taught by. Some were genuinely nice people, but the majority were mini-Hitlers. The 'great visionary' Sunil referred to taught us a course in the third/fourth semester, which is best remembered for the strict dress-code he tried to enforce and which we tried our best to ignore. And then we had to deal with the newly implemented system of TAs in our final year - an interesting move, but something which backfired miserably! I can emphatically state that most of them didn't really know their stuff well enough and most of us had this air of indifference over the whole thing.
And that is where I see the clear difference between universities here and 99% of the ones back home. The Indian education system is such, that it hinders creativity and thinking through/analyzing the whole process (something I plead guilty to on occasion). We are all 'pushed' with the idea of becoming doctors/engineers, that we learn by rote and regurgitate it with unfailing efficiency on the exam answer sheets. Even in college, we had a set of courses that we have to take and there was little room to pick and choose electives; unlike out here where choosing coursework is almost like a distraction! I strongly believe that a lot of us lacked a strong mentor in our department, who could guide us and help us focus on our professional development better. Of course it's another story when it comes to the fact that some of the professors who taught us had PhDs from our own department, but had this arrogant air about them, as if they had Ivy League PhDs. The lab technicians were fun blokes to talk to - quite unassuming folks - and they often knew more about the chemicals/experiments than the professors themselves.
But looking back at the four years I spent there, I made some good friends, acquired a taste for some amazing music, and hopefully learned something at the professional level. I am sure I will have a good time going back to the old haunts and remembering the good ol' days - as I once chuckled: "Every lamp-post has it's own story to tell".
And so, going back to the issue of loyalties, I think I have a decent sense of loyalty to every institute I have attended. They have played a role (big/small?) in shaping me into something more concrete compared to the wide-eyed tyke who walked up the steps of an institution with a glorious past (and I dare say, uncertain future) almost a decade ago.

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