Welcome to the May 2021 issue of Ping!, the third one to come out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first pandemic release was during a much simpler time – when home quarantine could naively be confused for an impromptu holiday. The period around the second issue saw students coming to grips with the isolation of homestay, the monotony of the every day, and our psyche during the lockdown. The cover of that August issue echoed that sentiment partially – a sense of being trapped in one’s head, forced to reflect and reevaluate parts of social life otherwise taken for granted. This magazine echoes a different sentiment – one that’s more outward-looking – a fight for normalcy obstructed by a relentless pandemic, which is captured in the cover design by Pratyay Suvarnapathaki.
The call to return to campus has reached a fever pitch recently as more than a year has passed since IIIT suspended in-class teaching. More agitating than quarantine, however, is the lack of a clear end to this pandemic. As of publication, India witnesses the largest peak of COVID-19 cases yet, leaving any plans for a campus reopening in limbo. Seeing no end in sight, IIIT had made attempts to ease back into regular functioning, but COVID scares routinely dampened enthusiasm. The unfortunate loss of a few IIIT staff has exacerbated the already tense situation, forcing IIIT to reevaluate its bubble in a crisis-ridden city. Hence, last year’s themes, that of a lacking social life, would be a gross mischaracterisation of these times.
This magazine, however, is not about the pandemic but a mere product of pandemic productivity. The only hint of COVID-19 is in the piece ‘What if online was the new norm?’ and the delayed release of this issue. For the most part, it reflects regular student life: pieces on CND and Math electives at IIIT discuss the origins of a popular programme and the problems plaguing IIIT’s math curriculum. ‘Parliament Perception’ addresses common complaints about parliament and its fractured reputation. On the other end, pieces such as ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Top Gear’ discuss famous pop culture moments. And, there’s more! We couldn’t fit everything into the magazine, so here’s a quick rundown of some notable events/issues these past few months.
A major point of contention over the Spring Semester was the sudden increase in workload. The freshmen found the jump from high-school education to undergraduate studies harder than normal because of the difficulty in online instruction. The sophomores were burdened by poor academic scheduling as they saw most of their electives pushed to the second half of the semester. Overall, most students across batches reported high-stress levels due to multiple consecutive deadlines, despite reporting similar concerns in the 2020 Monsoon semester. However, unlike the Monsoon semester, there was no option to mask one’s grade with the ‘P*’ grade. Subsequently, the past few months have seen a long campaign to restore ‘P*’ with no success. To the institute’s credit, the academic office has been handling genuine appeals (due to COVID-19 infections or other related problems) on a case by case basis. Still, it sets up an interesting situation for the coming semester, which will likely be online as well. In the absence of fool-proof examinations, a greater number of assignments and projects have flooded calendars, leaving little time for recreation; the last two months of Spring barely saw any activity from any cultural clubs, a dry spell typically reserved for examination weeks.
February saw the re-emergence of Felicity, albeit in an entirely online format. The event this year, in a way, represented how we exist in this quasi-normal state. All the regular events – Inaugurals, a comic act, music performances, etc., were present, but everything was watered down. There was no cheering as your batchmates stepped up to dance, sang their hearts out or cribbed about how the comic was very unfunny and pompous. Instead, you had live comments on an online interface, which reduced their impact and made them devoid of emotion and inhumane. Now, this is not to say that Felicity was a failure, or even to say that it was not a success. The event was exceptionally well organised and quite fun. The performances were beautiful, and the use of Live Releases on Youtube ensured a clean, enjoyable time with no technical glitches.
The reduced costs because of shifting everything online meant that there were more ‘star performers’ than usual. A large chunk of the budget was available to get multiple comedians and internet personalities. This shift in focus from the form of the event (stage, lights) to the function was a positive change and made for an enjoyable felicity, even without the typical ‘grandeur’.
Freshers Complete One Year Online And Seniors Graduate Online
Commonly referred to as the Quaranteens, the freshmen (UG2K20 batch) had a rough start to their undergraduate studies. The batch was broken into two parts because of varying examination dates, and it took around two semesters (out of three) for them to complete the same courses. Now, IIIT has a very unique social dynamic. There are multiple tiny groups that are formed because of mutual love (or hate) for particular things. You are more likely to remain friends with the people you meet on the first day of induction and are less likely to make lasting friendships as the years go by. This effect has been exacerbated because of the online setting. The division between “Section A” and “Section B” is apparent, and common talking points, like “bitching” about courses, are very restricted.
Another unfortunate by-product of the continuous lockdown has led to the second batch of seniors graduating online. Life online has been strange indeed. Around this time last year, India struggled with fixing a date for the JEE examinations, and this year is no different. It’s nearly guaranteed that the next set of freshers will join online as well, making for an even more interesting student dynamic. If there was such a thing as ‘IIIT culture’, it’s likely harder to return to that same sense of normalcy even a year later. The idea that more than half of the IIIT campus is unaware of its buildings, hidden rooms, and friendly/devilish dogs is something that won’t get easier to digest any time soon. However, the ‘Sir/Ma’am’ culture still lives, so at least some things never die…