Disclaimer: The following views are based on the experiences of certain individuals and may not encompass the experience of all students on campus.
No, not everyone’s gone home. We spoke to some of our friends who are currently on campus. Here’s a look at the IIIT Campus during Covid-19.
Bakul Nivas erupted with joy on March 14, 2020, at 5:33 pm when the Director of the institute, Prof. PJ Narayanan, filled everyone’s mailboxes with the words ‘suspension of in-campus teaching’. All of UG 1-4 and M-Tech students were asked to vacate the campus right away and go back to their homes promptly, in light of the increasing and impending danger of the coronavirus. Soon, the hostels emptied out and IIIT was as deserted as ever. Everyone went back, many thinking they would return for the end semester examinations. Little did they know, the lockdown would turn out to be enormously indefinite. Thinking about the IIIT campus now, one would probably imagine empty hostels, inoperative messes etc. But that hasn’t been the case, because many of the research students never left!
There are 75 odd students on campus right now!
This number does not include the mess workers, security guards and the faculty. There are easily over a 100 people on the IIIT campus currently. Around 68 boys and 6-7 girls. The boys are all living in the Kadamba hostel and the few girls are staying in Parijat. Only the UG and MTech students were asked to vacate, and a choice was given to the research students if they wished to stay back and continue to focus on their research and theses.
Why did the rule not apply to the research students?
Well, the research students at IIIT aren’t exactly ‘students’ in the classic sense of the word. They’re more ‘staff’ than ‘students’. A ‘staff’ is anyone who receives a stipend for research work. The research people on campus, like the MS by research students, get a stipend from the college which covers their living expenses (around 8k a month). Tuition fees is covered and wholly sponsored by the research lab with which the student is affiliated. This is also true for the PhD students on our campus. Many MS and PhD. students also take courses, but irrespective of whether they do coursework or not, the tuition fees is paid in its entirety by the lab.
And yes, this holds true for the UG5 duals as well! They too receive a stiped from the college to cover their hostel and mess expenses!
So the research students aren’t exactly ‘students’ per se, and hence, the rule did not apply to them. Legally, it wouldn’t have mattered whether they vacated or not. There would have been no need for the institute to explain to the government, and hence, the rule did not apply strictly for them.
Why did some of them stay back?
The professors did not force anyone to stay back. All the research students were given a choice, if they wanted to go home, or stay on campus and work on their theses and projects. Most of the students who decided to stay back were second-year MS students. Makes sense, when you’re so close to graduating and finishing your thesis, you wouldn’t want to break the rhythm. There would also be some students working on hardware related projects, which would be impossible to work on remotely. The advisors wholeheartedly supported such students and encouraged them to stay and finish off their work in time. After all, productivity is arguably higher on campus than at home.
We spoke to three of our friends on campus and they all said that none of the advisors had forced anyone to stay back. It was the student’s choice, whether he/she chose to stay on campus or leave and regardless of what they chose, the professors supported the students with their decisions. (All of the RRC hardware students eventually left!)
Just potatoes and brinjals
All the messes were closed down, and only Kadamba mess continues to operate till today. All the canteens – JC, VC, BBC – all were shut down as well. Initially, when the lockdown commenced, many shops closed down. People were confused about what to buy and where to buy it from. For the initial one month, the mess workers were sceptical as to where to order the groceries from. There was a lot of panic regarding which delivery services to use. That resulted in potatoes, brinjals and the boring dal being served very frequently. It got really annoying due to the predictable food, but there was no other option at the time.
There were days when they only served paneer parathas and paneer korma, and might have been difficult for someone who didn’t consume dairy products. But soon, things got better and started to take shape. The menu improved a bit and there was a little more variety, but it was still nowhere nearly as good as the regular Kadamba menus.
Remember when the virus initially broke out in India, this hashtag was dominantly trending on Twitter? This was a huge misconception, as eating meat in no way made anyone prone to contracting the virus. Of course, it was eating wild animal meat that caused the virus in the first place, but the fact that ‘eating chicken is not advisable’ was a huge piece of misinformation, which severely impacted the meat industry in India, and chicken prices falling drastically.
The mess workers were not ready to cook meat. Not only because of the misinformation scare, but also because they were already pretty understaffed and cooking meat is twice the effort. But on a couple of days, they were able to cook chicken with the help of the student volunteers, who helped them cut and prepare the meat. But due to this, they weren’t able to prepare any vegetables and the vegetarians on campus could eat only dal on those days.
Mess Workers – the true heroes!
The mess workers did a tremendous job and made the best of whatever groceries they acquired. The efforts put in by the mess workers and the institute committees to allow the smooth functioning of the mess is highly commendable in these unprecedented times. These were difficult times indeed, but there wasn’t a single day when four meals weren’t served! (Yes, you read that right, they continued to make snacks!)
By the beginning of May, the menu became a little more diverse. The students did not complain because everyone understood the delicate nature of these strange times. The mess workers continue to cook food for everyone and ensure that everyone is fed, everyday! And along with that, they also continued to cook donation food for the migrant workers (around 200 packages a day) which is really laudable!
There are also around 12 security guards, who take care of our campus and constantly monitor the hostels and the gates with utmost precautions. Hats off to them as well!
And for Eid, they actually got some more mess staff to come to the campus in advance, and were able to even prepare sweets for Eid!
Aah yes, OBH…
OBH acts as a residence for the mess workers and security guards. And a part of it is a quarantine zone.
All the mess workers and the security guards live in OBH (Palash Nivas). Some of the mess workers had abruptly left when the situation became serious, to go back to their families, due to which they became understaffed. But soon, new migrant workers were able to come into campus before Eid and were quarantined in the OBH quarantine zone for two weeks before they started to cook in the mess.
When some of the mess workers left, they had to remove dosas and idlis from the menu as they’re hard to cook. But now, the situation has gotten much better as there are more workers. The mess continues to operate seamlessly, ensuring everyone gets not 2 or 3, but 4 meals a day! And the workers continue to live in OBH.
No one is allowed to leave campus
I think this one’s pretty obvious. The movement in an out of the IIIT campus is restricted and strictly monitored by the guards. Even after some of the lockdown rules were relaxed in India, no student is allowed to leave campus, as it’s too dangerous. Gachibowli is a red zone, but it doesn’t matter, because no one leaves the campus anyways. Only the vegetables, milk and other food items come in and go out.
Initially, even the T-Hub people weren’t allowed to enter campus. But later on into the summer, they started to allow T-Hub and CIE people to come in, but only a maximum of 15% of the workforce. They’re not allowed to come to the hostel and eat in the mess, and similarly, the students are not allowed to go to T-Hub.
No one’s allowed to order from Zomato or Swiggy, or go out to DLF and have Tawa bondas (although I’m not sure if the stalls are functioning). But the students are allowed to order from Amazon and Big Basket!
Which now brings us to…
Our dear Bakul Nivas is a Amazon Delivery Disinfectant Zone xD
Yes, you read that right!
The students can order from amazon and big basket (the food takes around 1-2 weeks to arrive). All the deliveries are kept in a separate room in Bakul to disinfectant them, and only then can the students collect their orders. To reduce the number of delivery vehicles coming in, students need to form groups of 5 and place one single order. And only one order is allowed to be placed per team, per week.
The hostel committee – Prof. Prabhakar, Kishore sir etc. have done a really fantastic job is arranging all this, so that the students are able to safely order from big basket!
What if someone falls sick?
Aarogya continues to operate on limited doctors and nurses and limited working hours. If anyone falls sick or starts to feel any symptoms, they are advised to go to Arogya. If it is not very serious, the student would be kept under quarantine in OBH, else, they would send the student to the hospital to be tested and treated.
But since there is almost a minimal movement in and out of the campus (except for the essentials), and all the essentials are being provided, we can hope that no one would fall severely ill. IIIT has done a splendid job to keep itself well protected from the virus.
Students have to clean bathrooms themselves!
If you were wondering why the word ‘housekeeping’ was never mentioned, it’s because there are no cleaners on campus. The equipment is all present in the hostels – the mops, disinfectant sprays etc. Students are expected to clean the hostels themselves. Not just their rooms and the corridors, but the bathrooms too! Each floor in Kadamba has a representative, who is responsible and in charge of cleaning the floor.
The gym is closed for obvious reasons, but the TT table in Kadamba Nivas is a nice recreational activity for the students, whenever they’re bored of research.
But wait, isn’t it summer? What about coolers?
Yes, it is summer, and one can only imagine how horrible Hyderabad’s scorching summer heat is! The students are allowed to rent coolers – not new ones, IIIT has a stock of old coolers which the students can use on rent. The procedure is, tell the guard, go to the cooler stock room in OBH with your friend, and then carry it back to your room.
And yes, they can roam around the campus, go for a run or a walk amongst our lush green trees. But it was way too hot in May and June, making it the heat unbearable. Although now, the temperature would hopefully change as the monsoon approaches.
What about the Labs? Can students go there and work?
Initially, all labs were closed! No one was allowed to even enter them. Everyone had to take back their equipment and move it to their rooms. The reason for almost every student for staying back was to work on their thesis and finish their research work. It would honestly have been really depressing to stay cooped up in the hostels and work there. But when the lockdown was initially announced in late March, it had to be strict, and so the college had no choice but to necessarily close down the labs.
But soon, by the end of May, the labs opened up! They continue to operate until today, from 8am to 6pm strictly. The students have to get permission from their advisors, so they can visit the labs and use the spaces, strictly within this time frame. It’s undeniably better than working in the rooms though, as the spaces are a lot bigger.
I’m sure you miss Oreo, don’t you? She misses us too 😢
Dogs are exceptionally lonely during these troubled times. They’ve probably never seen the campus as deserted as it is right now, for such a long period of time. Students found Oreo lurking on the 4th floor of Kadamba Nivas, just so she could be in the company of some people. It breaks my heart every time I think about this. The dogs will jump on literally anybody, because they really miss everyone.
The institute has taken the responsibility to feed the dogs. They’ve been feeding them regularly, similar to how the CCC used to do in the pre lockdown days. There are also a lot of cats coming into the hostels. Institute hasn’t taken any responsibility to take care of them, but the students have! 🙂
“My advisor came to my hostel personally and gave me some home-made curry, rice and fruits for lunch”
The faculty keep coming to meet the students, which is really sweet of them! Now the interactions have gone up as the labs have opened up, but when the labs were locked down, advisors would all call their students once/twice a week, to ensure they’re doing alright 🙂
Some of the faculty, along with student volunteers, also water the plants on campus and clean the roads. There are committee meetings every Sunday at the Kadamba mess, and anyone is allowed to join in and discuss the ongoing issues and weekly campus plans.
It would have been a really difficult decision for the students to decide to stay back, knowing very well that most of the students were leaving. But they made a very valiant decision to stay back and finish their theses. It’s really heartwarming that the advisors have been supporting the students throughout and encouraging them to cross that finish line they’re barely a few metres away from!
The times are hard, life seems very perplexing, but the IIIT family is stronger than ever!
After the latest email from the Dean, and with the coronavirus cases rising rapidly through the country, it’s almost certain that the campus is going to stay like this until the end of 2020. But as the Government of India continues to relax the travel restrictions, our friends on campus won’t be stuck for long. Once they’re done with their projects and theses, they should be able to go back home since flights have begun. There are also some research students who want to return back to the campus, so they can complete their projects. Our campus certainly won’t be empty, and we can only hope that our campus’s vibrancy and exuberance will return back at the start of 2021. Until then, we wish our friends on campus the best of luck with their research.
To everyone on campus, we hope you stay strong and safe through these difficult times.