A few weeks ago my college friend Anurag pointed out a very significant fact to me. He was going through my blog archives and he suddenly asked me why I had not written anything about my college days. I had never noticed this by myself, but it is true that I never wrote anything about my college other than this. So I am writing this post about my college days, about very important four years of my life.
IIIT-C or Indian Institute of Information Technology Calcutta (as opposed to the International Institute of Information Technology Kolkata, a private college under Bishwabharati University) was formed in 2000, just before the assembly elections in West Bengal. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was the new Chief Minister, and he wanted to build a center of excellence in the state. IIIT-C was the CM’s brainchild, and it was started with joint effort from the State Government and private partners. The first batch was selected through an India-wide admission test and they started their studies in a rented campus. Then 2001 came and all hell broke loose.
When Osama had planned the 9/11 attacks on USA, he surely had no idea how it was going to change the college life of two hundred students in a city on the other side of the globe. Due to the attacks, the IT jobs vanished, the sponsors backed off, and the development of IIIT-C stopped. This was just after we had started our first semester. Government of India wasn’t particularly helpful in helping us out. On the contrary, they denied AICTE approval to the college. Ultimately we were bailed out by the CM himself who merged us into the West Bengal University of Technology (WBUT) and thus assured that we would be getting a valid Bachelors’ degree. But since then, it was a downhill journey for IIIT-C in a lot of ways.
But all that is technical stuff that I don’t want to go into. I want to describe our “college life” here.
IIIT-C had two distinct images in the minds of the people, and both were wrong. The people from other states thought that the college was a centre of excellence, at par with the other IIITs and maybe even comparable to the IITs. The reason behind this idea was the fact that the IIITs at Allahabad, Hyderabad and Gwalior were doing extremely well, and were actually huge institutes with campuses built on acres of land, sophisticated labs, enviable libraries, beautiful student hostels and industry backing at every stage. But little did they know that IIIT-C was an ensemble of a couple of rented rooms here, a couple of rented rooms there, some rented rooms for labs, a tiny library and some rented and some private hostels. There were times when we had to travel between buildings by public transport to attend consecutive classes.
The other image of IIIT-C was in the minds of the people of West Bengal, who had seen the students take to the streets for a legal degree and proper infrastructure. They had formed an opinion that this was just another of those private engineering colleges, and it was even worse as the State Government was handling the issue, and they would not have their children studying in IIIT-C under any circumstances. Indeed, many of my relatives actually looked down upon me with a sense of pity when they heard that I was a student of IIIT-C.
Both these images were as right as they were wrong. While from the infrastructure point of view the people of the state were closer to the truth, with respect to our syllabus, quality of students, quality of faculty and most importantly, in our spirit, we could take on any of the other IIITs any day. The story of our college life is basically the story of these students striving to live up to the former image of the institute, while desperately trying to disprove the latter image. We had to fight for our campus, for our professors, for our syllabus, for the admission procedure of the newer batches and for our placements. We fought for the hostel facilities (not me technically, as I was a day scholar), against the bureaucracy and the red-tapism of the WBUT, and against the amateurish and laid back attitude of the administrators. At the same time, our students were beating the IITs in their own technical fests, getting admission into foreign universities, and landing up with plush jobs. It was not easy. I still remember the day when one of the IT giants of India came to our campus with offers for BPO jobs. Our whole senior batch walked out after their presentation and the officers left the college furious. Next year, they were back with Software Engineering job offers, and were fighting with other companies for the first slot.
The road was far from smooth. WBUT tried its best to change our syllabus, which was one of its kind in the state, and make it the same as the other colleges (they did succeed in doing it three batches later). They also tried their best to make it an all-Bengali college, which we resisted up to our next batch. The faculty that IIIT-C had started off with would be the envy of any college. People such as the HODs of Jadavpur University and renowned professors from Calcutta University taught us. Some of the professors were directly from the industry and they actually knew what the scenario in the outside world was. WBUT stopped paying them salary and they left one by one. We needed software for our Lab sessions, and WBUT stopped giving us money to buy them. They even restricted our lab timings, making sure we never had the time to do anything worthwhile. We were desperate, like sailors on a floundering ship, yet we were trying to keep our mast high.
And that is the reason I never wrote about my college days. My college life can hardly be called a joyful experience. All college-related incidents that I can think of are negative ones. Yet we learnt a lot during this time. It was this four year long struggle that prepared many of us for our future lives. The people who emerged winners by solving their own problems were ready to face any challenges of the corporate world. And I’m sure the kind of satisfaction that we got after getting a job, after doing a good project or after any achievement for that matter, was much more than an IITian feels after a similar achievement. For them it is routine, it is expected, it is a system that was always there. For us it was not only a system that we built brick by brick, but one for building which we had to demolish another older non-productive system.
IIIT-C was never the centre of excellence that the State Government promised us, and it is never going to be one anymore. It is now called SIT (School of Information Technology) that teaches a routine syllabus of IT to a batch of students selected through the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination. But for us, the first few batches, it will always be an institute that we were proud to be part of. Maybe we didn’t leave with positive experiences worth writing about, but we definitely came out with a more positive attitude and greater faith in our abilities.