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Arifa Khan

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By Arifa Khan   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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Recollection of a small town girl of her undergraduate years at IIT Madras

Article published in Journeys - IIT Madras Alumni mag May 2005

The point of the story is IIT gave me wings, and taught me to fly with my dreams..

On a lighter note, IIT was not unlike a Tapovana (retreat) where our princes were packed off to master every skill at an early age, under the tutelage of wise sages. I stopped being a manically dedicated student when I entered IIT, and determined to prepare myself for life – that I had been so ill-equipped for coming from Kadiri. If the trillion dollar IIT brand were not enough, young boys and girls of my country, consider the following: More than I studied at IIT, I spent time mastering English from reading R.K. Narayan, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens for the first time, practised public speaking and displayed other mundane talents like dancing to packed houses of audiences that killed my stage fright for good; had a first taste of arts like Zakir Hussain’s tabla, SP Balasubramaniam’s singing, Kalakshetra’s bharatanatyam and Arun Shourie’s feisty speeches all on campus; honed my athletic skills running alongside beautiful deer in an even more breathtaking stadium; took Karate lessons and practiced them with male classmates I disliked; went about carpentry and welding classes in a real mechanic’s gear; enjoyed many Rajnikant’s block busters in the open air theater under a star studded sky; went on an Industrial tour across the length and breadth of India as the only girl in a contingent of 20.

Everyone including Prof M.S. Ananth, the then Head of The Department of Chemical Engineering was very apprehensive about sending a single girl in a huge group of young unruly boys on a month long tour. But, I insisted. Prof Ananth, being a protective father himself, proceeded to think deeply about the implications, in his characteristic style - and asked me to get a permission letter from home. I duly went to Kadiri, my hometown in Andhra Pradesh, and got him a letter. I could not understand why I had to cancel my plans and not use the opportunity of an institute-sponsored India travel to explore the breadth of my country just because no other girl would go with me. Prof Swaminathan, who was our guide on the tour had a strategy to handle me. He gave me the unique privilege of taking detailed notes at every factory we visited on the manufacturing process and the responsibility to submit an official report at the end of it - so as to keep me distracted from guys and away from trouble. It seemed to work. Much to Prof Anath's relief, when we got back, Prof Swaminathan had all parises for my good behavior and a few friends from the otherwise shy and reticent lot!

Contrary to all economic theories, I do value my IIT education much more, even having paid almost nothing for it, than I do my exorbitantly expensive Wharton MBA, with all due credit to Wharton. IIT was indeed a royal banquet to a student like me - hungry for life, but little opportunity to live it outside of IIT!

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