Thursday, August 09, 2007

Convocated!

I hate goodbyes. In my ideal world, people would meet with a hoop and a hurrah but when it comes to farewells, they would just mumble it, or better, just nod! “I grunt my farewell” is my motto. But if there is a meeting there has to be a departure (duality you see) and my reaction to this necessary evil is to put on a blasĂ© expression and spout pithy words like “Life is too short for goodbyes” or a re-assuring “It is a small world...” or a Mafiosi-like “We will meet again”. But the truth is I hate goodbyes. The reason is mostly selfish. “Goodbyes” indicate a transition, moving to new environs, change and most worryingly, new people. What if you never really meet people whose wavelength doesn’t match with yours?

And so, I reasoned, why dwell on things that remind you of the change? Therefore, once my viva got over I hurriedly packed my luggage and headed home. (Okay, I admit, I stayed for one more day after the viva. May I rot in CCW hell!)

When I saw the mail asking us to confirm our participation in the convocation, I was torn. My fear of goodbyes still persisted but then again, it is a Convocation! As a wag once remarked, “Sometimes marriages may occur twice, but a Convocation occurs only once!” Suitably convinced by such bad logic, I booked a ticket on the Airavatha service of KSRTC and waited in anticipation for the day.

Like all best laid plans, this one had its potential of going gang-aft agley. You see I was doing the first term of my post graduation and like most first terms there was quite some work to be done and the Damocles sword of “surprise quizzes” hanging over my head. An obscure psychological study once found that a statistically significant proportion of those who hated surprises generally had once been subjected to surprises quizzes. There is of course the case of the lady-from-a-reputed- business- school who broke off her engagement and ran to the library when her fiancĂ© shouted “surprise” on Valentine’s Day!

Anyway, the plunge was taken with a brave heart and it was sure worth it! The convocation is a ceremony basically, but like all ceremonies the rituals and the solemnity of the occasion ordain a certain halo to it. I eagerly went to collect my gown and I was a tad bit disappointed to discover that undergraduates do not get tassels.

The Convocation started off with the dignitaries walking in to the tune of what was called a Police Band. As the Chief Guest Dr.R. Chidamabaram, the Director, Deans and HoDs walked on to the stage, in their wizard like flowing gowns, for a brief moment, one got a sense of history and the import of the ceremony itself.

A digression now. It is very interesting to speculate on the evolution of the University system since many of the rituals (if you can call it that) in the Convocation do not fit into an Indian context at all. The use of Latin, the robes themselves and the whole atmosphere all seem to be vestiges of practises dating to perhaps, the Renaissance.
And therein lays an interesting paradox. Modern thought and education often portray religious education and scientific education as opposites. The argument is often reduced to one of Rational Vs. Irrational. But during the Renaissance, some of the biggest advances in intellectual thought were made by monks. Gregor Mendel of the Theory of Heredity is perhaps the most famous monk-scientist. Another one I recently came across was a Francisan Friar named Luca Pacioli, referred to as the Father of Accounting, for inventing the double entry book keeping system. Bayes’ Theorem is named after a Reverend Thomas Bayes.

I remember reading numerous other names which keep cropping up, especially in achievements related to mathematics. A possible reason could be that before the invention of printing, it was the job of monasteries to make copies of the ancient tomes of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Therefore, monks had an almost exclusive access to these works of great intellectual achievement. Therefore, monasteries may have played more important roles as centres of education.

Then why this divorce between Science and Religion and when did it occur? One can speculate that the separation of Science from Religion had to do something with the notion of separating Church from State which in turn traces its origins to the French Revolution. An interesting question arises: Were the persecution stories of Galileo and Copernicus played up by ideological forces interested in the separation of state and church?

Aah... history is never simple. I think we are too conditioned by the concept of a mathematical proof and therefore, when we look for “proof” in other subjects we tend to define it in mathematical terms. However, such a proof requires an absolute, independent framework to start with. With history, we just do not have that! Biases are built into the very structure of historical study. As a consequence, a logically rigorous approach to history, while intellectually stimulating, is prone to be futile!

Anyway, as I was saying before, any sense of history was only momentary. In the bare and functional architecture of SAC, it is really difficult to feel anything more than the urge to play badminton! The function began and most of us were reeling from the heat and suffocation and looking frequently at the program to see when we could get our degrees, the coveted IIT chaapa!

One of the expected highlights from a Convocation is the speech from the Chief Guest and I felt that as speeches go, the one by Dr.R.Chidamabaram was a tad bit disappointing. Please do not get me wrong. I am in no way competent to comment nonchalantly of a person with quite an impressive list of achievements and that too, a physicist. (I have always held the view that Physics is the only subject worth studying at school level) But I have always felt that once these big scientists reach a certain level, the intellectual sharpness and ruthlessness seem to reduce and is replaced by an ambiguity in approach that would give a complex to MBAs! But then again my dissatisfaction with the speech could be a reflection of my own biases.

I think there are three formulaic approaches which would definitely work for Convocation Speeches. One approach is to convey a gung-ho “Go get ‘em tiger, but watch out for a couple of things” kind of speech. I am reminded of one by Azim Premji at a Convocation at IIMA. The other one is take a reflective, nostalgia tinged approach. A good example would be Steve Jobs’ “Connecting the Dots” speech. Baz Luhrman’s “Everybody is free to wear sunscreen” is the absolute gem in this department and few can better this! The approach I prefer is to be provocative. Raise an issue, ruffle a couple of feathers, never hurts as long as you are perfectly rational in the process. There was an internet hoax which alleged that Larry Ellison of Oracle got on to podium at Harvard and said that the top 10 richest people in the Forbes’ list were dropouts! While the speech was definitely not true and I am not too sure about the factoid, just imagine the effect it would have had!

Finally, after the Madam Registrar proposed that “...One Thousand three hundred and ten degrees be given out in person or in absentia”, the Director started awarding the degrees. The IITM degree certificate is extremely well done and one spends the initial moment literally basking in the reflected glory. After marvelling at one’s photo, a curious feeling of having “done something” sets in. I say curious because one hasn’t really done anything solid, if you think about it. This is just the first step to making things or doing things or blazing trails. But a sweet, pleasant feeling permeates the body and a genuine feeling of triumph is felt.

However, I must admit one thing now. I felt pangs of jealousy during the part where they gave out the medals for various achievements. While I have the highest regards for all the winners and as usual the awards reflected the best of the student community, the negative feelings were a reminder of how screwed up my priorities had been. So why don’t we do things in reverse and make the incoming batch sit for the convocation? This way they can get a feel of what they are going to get at the end of the process! But jokes apart, the convocation was an awesome experience and it was really satisfying just being there.

12 comments:

Vishwanath said...

Ada paavi.. what was so satisfying about the convo da??

You didnt even stay with us afterwards... I got scotch and all, foreign saraku...

But all in all, the "degree" of satisfaction is what counts i guess after the convo

Czar said...

:)

themiddler said...

@Desba

I know man... I really missed the foreign saraku.
But as you put it best, it was the 'degree' of satisfaction.

@Czar

:)

Ashish said...

"In the bare and functional architecture of SAC, it is really difficult to feel anything more than the urge to play badminton!"

Lovely line!

As for the medals... don't worry da.. they just didn't put up enough riders for junta like us... Highest CGPA in Chemical Engineering Dept scored by a Mandakini student born in July... surely that award is mine!!!

Shankar said...

congratz on your degree :)

Karthik/SK/wimpy/SKimpy said...

good to know that you went da. i'm sure the muggoos RG and Bus didn't! even in our batch, a lot of supposedly "chill" guys chickened out bcoz of a FinAcc quiz the next day. of course, that didn't stop baada and me from going.

don't know why but the IITM convo has this strange halo which i found was sorely missing at IIMB. dunno why. maybe it's bcoz it's the first time. maybe it's bcoz you know you won't be meeting some of your classmates ever again. maybe the fact that you go back to campus for it... remember this and answer me a year and a half down the line

Chintu said...

For me, what is surprising is this, our insti is full of scientists who slam all rituals, but what is convocation but a ritual?

themiddler said...

@Wimp

Err... this year our section hasn't had surprise quizzes which is why I went. Otherwise I would have chickened out myself... faccha term da!

Hmm... will remember the point on IIMB convo. In fact, I was expecting the opposite... since this would have the last degree for the bulk of the junta!

themiddler said...

@Aziz

:D Yes man... On second thought, it is more fashionable to claim to be an unrecognized genius!

@Shanks

Thank you :) Same to you as well.

themiddler said...

@chintamani

Agree on the concept. Often, we slam ritualism but the thing is we tend to look at these things as processes that have to be performed. (which is in truth the definition of a ritual)

But since one thinks of it as a process, it doesn't affect the ritual basher as much.

Anand said...

I think the separation of state and church LED to the French Revolution, not vice versa, as your line seems. Church and State got separated, so it was no longer sin to rape the Marie Antoinette ;)
And yeah man, convo is not an event. It's a feeling (the oft-used line for Saarang :D )

themiddler said...

@Anand

My understanding is this... the main aim was to overthrow the King. But the theory was that King came from God.
Therefore to displace the King, the religious had to be convinced that the King was not Divine.

BUT the main motivation was to overthrow the King. Ideas like equality, fraternity, separation of Church from State were part of the ideology to achieve the Revolution.

Of course, I presume it must be a bit more involved than this. I read Fench Revolution in school but I am fairly certain this was the broad argument.