I just spent the holiday afternoon massively triggering myself by watching the just-released Netflix documentary Alma Matters, about life in IIT Kharagpur. Based on the trailer itself, I thought I could relate to it, thanks to my four years at IIT Madras. And so my wife and I sat, and spent three hours on the documentary. Our daughter was with us for the first half hour, and then disappeared for reasons mentioned below.
I have too many random thoughts in my head right now, so let me do this post in bullet points.
- I have always had mixed feelings about my time at IIT Madras. On the one hand, I found it incredibly depressing. Even now, the very thought of going to Chennai depresses me. On the other, I have a lot of great memories from there, and built a strong network.
Now that I think of it, having watched the documentary, a lot of those “great memories” were simply about me making the best use of a bad situation I was in. I don’t think I want to put myself, or my daughter, through that kind of an experience again
- My basic problem at IIT was that I just couldn’t connect with most people there. I sometimes joke that I couldn’t connect with 80% of the people there, but remain in touch with the remaining 20%. And that is possibly right.
The problem is that most people there were either “too fighter”, always worried about and doing academics, or “too given up”, not caring about anything at all in life. I couldn’t empathise with either and ended up having a not so great time.
- My wife intently watched the show with me, even though she got bored by the end of the first episode. “It’s all so depressing”, she kept saying. “Yes, this is how life was”, I kept countering.
And then I think she caught the point. “Take out the cigarettes and alcohol, and this is just like school. Not like college at all”, she said. And I think that quite sums up IIT for me. We were adults (most of us for most of the time – I turned eighteen a few months after I joined), but were treated like children for the most part. And led our lives like children in some ways, either being too regimented, or massively rebelling.
“Now I can see why people don’t grow up when they go to IIT”, my wife said. After I had agreed, she went on, “this applies to you as well. You also haven’t grown up”. I couldn’t counter.
- The “maleness” of the place wasn’t easy to notice. After one scene, my wife mentioned that we spend such a long time in the prime years of our lives dealing only with other men, that it is impossible to have normal relationships later on. It’s only a few who have come from more liberal backgrounds, or who manage to unlearn the IIT stuff, who manage to have reasonably normal long-term relationships.
- The maleness of IITs was also given sort of ironic treatment by the show. There is a segment in the first episode about elections, which shows a female candidate, about how girls have a really bad time at IIT due to the massively warped sex ratio (in my time it was 16:1), and so it is difficult for girls to get respect.
And then that turned out to be the “token female segment” in the show, as girls were all but absent in the rest of the three hours. That girls hardly made it to the show sort of self-reinforced the concept that girls aren’t treated well at IITs,
- After intently watching for half an hour, my daughter asked, “if this is a movie about IIT, why aren’t you in it?”. I told her that it’s about a different IIT. “OK fine. I’ll watch it when they make a movie about your IIT”, she said and disappeared.
- While the second and third episodes of the show were too long-drawn and sort of boring, I did manage to finish the show end-to-end in one sitting, which has to say something about it being gripping (no doubt to someone like me who could empathise with parts of it).
- Finally, watch this trailer to the show. Watch what the guy says about people with different CGPA ranges.
- He talks about “respect 8 pointers and don’t like 9 pointers”. That sort of made me happy since I finished (I THINK) with a CGPA of 8.9
If you’re from an IIT, you are likely to empathise with the show. If you are close to someone from IIT, you might appreciate them better when you watch it. Overall three episodes is too long-drawn. The first episode is a good enough gist of life at IIT.
And yeah, trigger warnings apply.