This post has nothing to do with the Indian Railways. Why would you think this has something with that? Because in its infinite wisdom the Railways has created a class of bogeys called “2 Jan Chair Car”! How did that materialize? Because a few years back they started this service called “Jan Shatabdi” which are all-seater trains with comfortable seating but no air conditioning. Essentially, a low-cost version of the Shatabdi. And they realized none of their existing bogeys fit this description, so they created a new class and called it “2 Jan Chair Car”.
So if not about the railways, what is it about? it is about the date 2nd January. The authorities at IIT Madras, I believe, have long known that students (most of them at least) don’t really have a social life, and not many of them are likely to celebrate new year in a big way (unless they are already on campus). Hence, every year the “even semester” would begin on 2nd January. The odd semester began at different times – sometimes in mid-July, sometimes in end-August. But the starting date of the even semester was fixed – 2nd January!
For people like me from nearby places such as Bangalore, it meant spending four consecutive New Years Days catching an overnight train. For people from farther away, especially closer to the north, it meant ushering in the new year on a train, for they had to start on the 31st (or earlier) to make it in time for classes on the 2nd.
Our “odd semester” results would have come out in the vacations and typically someone who had stayed back on campus would have had the responsibility of checking and informing everyone’s grades. On 2 Jan, we would go up to the notice boards and check our grades for ourselves. And occasionally we would go to professors who had taught us in the previous term seeking revaluation and a better grade. However, considering that final exam transcripts were “closed” (i.e. not available to the students) not much would come out of it.
Then we had this strange ritual called “registration” which we had to do every term. Administrative officials would be sitting in classrooms and we had to go fill up a form and sign on what courses we were going to take that semester. It was normally a pretty meaningless ritual, for we would have selected and been granted the courses the previous semester itself. But I suppose it served some administrative purpose.
The good thing about the start of the even semester was that this was the time of the year when Madras was at its coolest (relatively speaking, of course!). And then there would be Saarang (formerly Mardi Gras), the IIT Madras cultural festival to look forward to, and those that would be involved in organizing it (which I was in my latter two years at IIT) would spend pretty much all of January doing that.
Us people from Bangalore had another ritual – we would try and travel together to Chennai in the same train at the start of every semester. Sometime in the preceding holidays we would appoint a date when we would all meet at the Indian Railway booking counter in Jayanagar (most of us were from the south) and book tickets. Once, since we were booking in bulk, we were asked to fill a separate form. We had been asked what the purpose of our travel to Chennai was. We filled it as “pilgrimage”!
PS: some of you might have seen this blog post via Twitter. However, I’m taking a break from twitter (I’d gotten addicted, this is my version of a “quit smoking” new year resolution). So if you want to respond, please leave a comment here rather than replying on twitter.