An Ode to the Board



I will begin with an untold story. The story of a piece that outdid itself.

 

Professor S maintains an articulate, sometimes razor-sharp, and witful account on the forgotten universe of Facebook. A profile would now and then enter into a verbal duel with him on his political commentary — a manifestation perhaps of the polarisation in the present times. It even lead us to ponder his inclusion in one of the events of BSP once. His presence will polarise people, a team member mooted. We found someone else soon, and the discussion was short-circuited before it could reach any logical conclusion. Prof. S’s influence on the work of the Board, however, came about in a more remote and inadvertent fashion later on.


A post by Prof. S that year hailed the success of a scheme at IIT Delhi, which had, as per the data he had access to, completed its preset goals. I stumbled on this post at a time when the conceptualisation of the second Inquirer, the bi-monthly magazine of the Board in 2020, was underway. A bulb tripped — a barrage of questions flying over my bemused face. There, it began.


The ground for a long-form narrative piece – borrowed in part from the questions the post had birthed – was to be laid over the next few days, starting with a concept note that consisted of a rather ambitious series of steps. The full article took a couple of months of toil to come to life thereafter, in what also became the first instance of a piece of the Board to be sent into the larger world beyond the boundaries of IIT. ‘What Effect Has the IIT Supernumerary Scheme Had? A Look at IIT Delhi’, read the title on The Wire Science.

Prof. Rao, the former Director, shared the article across multiple social-media platforms)

The reception was majorly a testament of the hard-work of the journalists and technical editors who had knitted the piece, and borne with my persistent inquiries. Professor S shared it via his profile too, unbeknownst of his own contribution therein. He doesn’t know still. His profile continues to attract dissidents and supporters alike.

 

I met Nishant in the rustic corridors of Shivalik Hostel in 2018, month one. He was an year elder, many years wiser. While I was aware of the Board’s work beforehand, Nishant told me how BSP could house and marshal my desire to write and tell stories. He reaffirmed my keenness to be a part of the Board, that I’d harboured right from the beginning. Unsurprisingly then, I stumbled on Nishant during the eve of announcement of the team of BSP for the session of 2019-20, around the hostel mess.


Yash and Khushi – two Chief Editors in that session – had asked me to decipher an artwork in the interview three days before at SAC, besides posing some questions about the functioning of the Board. In the limbo that followed, I would curl in my bed every now and then, hypothesising, and dreading, a sophomore year without BSP.


Did you see the results? I was selected, I said.

I already knew from Priyanshu, Nishant said.

Why didn’t you tell me then? I was anxious all this while.

You know it now, congratulations, he chuckled.


Nishant’s potshots, at times – I would later learn – were a way of teaching. He didn’t, though, shy away from taking credits of anything and everything I partook in BSP in the months to come. I distinctly remember a message of his, saying how I had to win whatever monthly award BSP was doling out. Unaware, he was referring to the memento of ‘Journo of the Month’. I told Nishant it didn’t matter as long I enjoyed the work. Your idealism will not last for long, Nishant contended. He made the remark ample times later too, hoping, hopefully, to be proved wrong on every count.

 

The doors to BSP opened for us freshers towards the fag end of our freshman year in 2019, only after the hullabaloo of who-will-become-what had been laid to rest in the preceding institute elections. I found out about the schedule of the interviews for the position of Journalist via a friend, as we sat biting the rotis in our mess. The mail of the schedule had, owing to some Gmail goof-up, not arrived in my Inbox. I wouldn’t have perhaps known about the timings and dates of the interviews, if not for that friend and the stumbling at the mess. Ironically then, he’s a trenchant critic of the work we do at the Board today.


My first assignment as a member of the Board in 2019 was to co-cover the Open House being held at the Lecture Hall Complex in the month of April. I asked one of the ex-members in my hostel about the intricacies of the task before moving onwards. He said something on the lines of maza aayega — a remark that held, in the least, the promise of recreation. It was indeed, in the vein of my senior, mazedar.


Images from the report on Open House, 2019


Open House is an exhibition of the ongoing research at IIT Delhi, thrown open, in all senses of the word, to the starry-eyed kids from across the schools of the city. I recall being as stunned by some of the projects as the curious students in uniforms. The report of the event was published a couple of days after.


Instagram hadn’t upturned the social scape of the college till then. Our report on Facebook thus, was a classic mixture of text and pictures. Beautifully plain. Plain beautiful. We don’t do such reports anymore.


The trope of maza, or fun as people tend to call it here, can allude to a range of endeavours. To venture out, to participate, to strike friendships, to root for your friend, to meet and greet new faces — can be equally exhilarating. I had a lot of fun for instance in all the stories that came my way as a journalist at the Board after Open House, from the interview with Ramashray Bhaiya to the story of the hike in the fees of the M.Tech. program at IITs. It’s imperative, however, to distinguish fun from its homophonic counterpart: फ़न (craft). For it may be fun to have conversations with who’s who for your article, and listen to them spill the tea about this and that, but it only takes फ़न (craft) to carve a riveting piece out of the conversations you have had. We at BSP can do a lot of fun, but cannot do without the फ़न (craft) of knowing and telling stories. No well-meaning media organisation can, for that matter.


It also takes फ़न (craft) to make conversations at first place, to hear a story before you can tell it, tell it well. The conversations we indulge in as a part of our stories thus become as crucial as the final piece that follows it. Why would a Ramashray Bhaiya open-up to us? Why would a Security Officer elaborate on his viewpoint? Why would a Professor give us their honest take on the system we inhabit? What makes them speak to us?


In his essay The Mission Statement is in Italics, Raj Kamal Jha emphasises on this facet of good journalism, one where “you try to be better at listening.”


“Because you need stories like fish need water, birds need sky, you listen to others. But before you do that, you need to convince them that you are interested in listening. Not just out of politeness but because this is who you are, story-teller, truth-seeker, fact-finder. You ask them questions not because you need a few paragraphs which have inverted commas, quote unquote, but because you have worked hard to come up with those questions and you, genuinely, wish to know the answers,” Jha avers.


In the course of stories that a member of BSP pursues, a conversation for the mere fun of it thence becomes meaningless, untenable rather. It’s only the other फ़न(craft) that accords the conversations some meaning and flavour, composes them into a piece that engrosses a reader, leaves them thinking. Answering, raising, questions aplenty.

 

April, 2019. I sat in the frosty indoors of the CSC on a drizzling dusk, surfing the blog of an author who had visited the institute a couple of days back, to workshop us on the elements of a short story. On a side note, I extended an invitation to her to adjudge the pioneer edition of LitMart (now LitFair) in the next fall. She agreed, but had to opt out on the day of the event due to a medical condition. Fated as it were, she judged the second edition of the competition in 2020.


Nevertheless, I caught the sight of a trio entering the CSC as I hopped across the entries on the blog that evening. I recognized the three of them as the Chief Editors, one of whom had interviewed me a few days back. The first full team meeting of the Board in 2019-20, which I were to attend in the capacity of a journalist, was still a couple of days away. The Editors opened the website of BSP, navigating to the Inception of previous years. The website was notorious for its processing speed, or lack thereof, back then. A couple of whispers followed, and they turned around to leave.


Utkarsh Tyagi was amongst the three that day, glancing at the website for around a couple of minutes. A measure of one’s acquaintance with Utkarsh, I realised in the coming months, was perhaps how they addressed him. Anyone who knew him well-enough — and almost everyone knew him well-enough in those days — called him Tyagi. Slogans were raised in Tyagi’s name. Facebook pages made to document his fandom. Tyagi for Cultu. Tyagi for G.Sec. All failed campaigns. At throning a human who was only after his happiness.


Towards the tail of our tenures as journalists, after the lockdown had been imposed and the selections delayed, Tyagi asked me to write to a professor for an interview. I wrote in earnestness, committing an unexpectedly silly mistake.


Utkarsh Tyagi Chief Ed: It’s not of, it’s for

Raunaq Saraswat Journo: What?

Utkarsh Tyagi Chief Ed: You wrote Board of Student Publications in the mail to Sanghi, it’s for

Raunaq Saraswat Journo: Oh shit, sorry, sorry, I didn’t know how


Tyagi was, and remains, effortlessly cool in his demeanour, a trait which perhaps made him both the subject and recipient of too many jokes. He smiled at all. I, too, particularly enjoyed picking an argument with him in meetings, objecting to a remark he had made, or an article idea he disapproved of. He smiled at all.

 

The acronym BSP can be, presumably, expanded to the twins of Board ‘for’ Student Publications and Board ‘of’ Student Publications — the former being the accurate. Most members who spend an year with the Board know the correct name, sometimes after using the incorrect at least once, sometimes apriori. Every year, however, a description or a mail or a message by the Board ends up using ‘of’ instead of ‘for,’ underlining a difference that is, at least seemingly, insignificant. While this error is inadvertent on almost all counts, it makes for an intriguing insight into what the Board is, can be, and ends up being. Why are we ‘for’ and not ‘of’? Or are we, in actuality, a mix of both? The first edition of Steller, a competition BSP facilitated, could become a case-in-point. How it came to be, is an eventful story too.

An Instagram story of BSP, post-Steller. Steller 2020 became my last performance on stage.


It was around February 2020, when I came across a post by Tape A Tale, a popular oral storytelling and slam poetry channel on You Tube, pronouncing the launch of their Pan India Storytelling Competition ‘Steller’, for students from across colleges. Tape A Tale had reached out to institutions across the length and breadth of the country for the same, partnering with the suitable student bodies, to host the preliminary selection rounds. This was also a first-of-its-kind event, and saw humongous response from all corners. IIT Delhi, surprisingly, was not a part of the roster till then.


What happened next was more impulsive than intentional. I commented on their post, blurting, “Why isn’t IIT Delhi on your list, did you even try approaching us?” The organising team reverted back shortly, proposing to ‘make it work.’ Tape A Tale partnered with BSP in the next couple of days, added IIT Delhi to their roster, and co-hosted the first edition of the competition at the Seminar Hall a week later. Steller cross BSP went on to become an annual feature after that, and has so far seen three editions. One on-the-ground, two on-screen.

A complain in the open, before the first ever edition of Steller, 2020.


‘Steller’ saw BSP become, even if convectively, a Board ‘of’ Student Publications, the publications replaced with the stories narrated by the participants. Via the competition, the Board allowed for a free, non-discretionary flow of fictional stories, as opposed to the editorialised, checked, sanitised fiction and non-fiction that it would release under its name. For in Board ‘for’ Student Publications, in that sense, is loosely symbolic of a supervised and standardised Board, that is not made up of but for (some select) student publications, that clear the checks and codes of the Board. This is akin to any other well-meaning media, from the likes of The Indian Express to The Quint, where editors take calls on the limits and allowances. BSP, however, is neither.


BSP, cannot, owing to its singular position as a ‘student’ media body, serve merely as a faucet of select publications by a sundry group of editors and journalists. This is also where it both, differs and deviates, from a Quint or an Indian Express. For while the said publications exist independent of their readers, BSP exists in relation to them, as an integral part of the very community it seeks to speak about. In other words, the Board cannot become the fourth pillar wholly, not in a system where no three sturdy pillars exist. It has to, while carrying out its duties as the speaker of truth, enable and allow for a free, open, and uncurtailed written expression of the creative and the constructive. Turn a purveyor of discourse and all dissents, humour and satire, anecdotes and memories — all within reasonable limits, but beyond the usual editorial ambit.


A fully harnessed BSP thus necessitates both expansions — Board of Student Publications and Board for Student Publications — to go hand-in-hand to some extent. Steller is not the only way of achieving this goal. Literary Arts, Creative Writing Competitions in Literati, and Opinion-editorials are all examples of an unconstrained outlay of streams of thoughts under the Board’s aegis. It’s imperative for the team to understand this dual nature of BSP, to sit down and discuss on making it more than just for the students, and less than solely of the students. The Board, in that sense, needs to find an optimum.

 

Our source of tickle and wit was singular. Vyomesh. In his post lauding the team that pulled-off LitMart in 2019, Priyanshu wrote how “Vyomesh was what he wanted to be if he were to grow a year younger.” Even now, as then, being with Vyomesh made you want to be like him in some ways. I met him first as a member of a club we didn’t take fondly to, and later, as a fellow Chief Editor at the Board we found equally delightful.

Priyanshu aka Kasu, after the first successful edition of LitMart in 2019, lauded the team, and thanked the stars. Kasu was a flamboyant but feisty Chief Editor, who drank only Coke back then.


The mosaic group of Chief Editors that piloted the Board during the first virtual session from start to end in 2020-21 found itself in an uncharted territory right from the start. With the medium of communication entirely remote and virtual, a sense of unsaid unease prevailed throughout the year. The work doubtlessly ensued, in greater volumes even, but the Board remained, by and large, a disjoint lot.


In a conversation with Yash, the General Secretary then, and Everyday King as I loved to address him as, he told me that one of the regrets of his tenure was the near-absence of ‘team-bonding.’


I wonder if the solitary strangeness of everyday made it practically impossible — especially for the people who had spent more than a year and a half at the brick and mortar college — to foster new bonds in the screenspace one inhabited, all while trying to preserve their ties from the in-person era. I, for one, didn’t learn, neither then, nor now, the art of striking friendships online. Self-admittedly, I was perhaps the worst culprit in reducing the Board to a workplace, maintaining only as much contact as was needed. It was for reasons I didn’t know fully well myself, but primarily, were a product of the times we were living in.


Muskaan and I bid adieu to Yash from the groups at BSP circa August, 2021, in the hope of building-up on the progress of the two years we had been a part. We were decidedly certain on improving the ‘team-bonding,’ a facet we knew had suffered all too well.


The story of us – Muskaan, the Supreme Leader, and I – came a full-circle on the day of our induction as the General Secretaries. The first piece I wrote for the Board in Inception in 2019 was the first piece Muskaan wrote too. The last time I edited a piece for a Board was the last time she edited one too. A choicest closure.


Intermittent in our tenure as General Secretaries were conversations about the health of the Board. These were essentially self-replicating sentiments, about how a Chief Editor had not responded, or how a piece had taken too long to come through, or how the work within the Board was not happening at the pace it should. On ocassions we pondered if we were too concerned, and if the concerns were too trivial to worry about. All is well, we concluded at the end of each such conversation, mostly out of our inability to find any resolution to the crises ourselves.


The ‘team-bonding,’ at the face of it, did better itself from the abject standards it fell to during the pandemic as the institute retrieved its panache. Vyomesh remained as humorous as he was in 2019, catching Muskaan’s ire every now and then. In a significant change pre and post pandemic, Ayush and I became willing spectators to their sparring friendship.

 

A glance at the ‘About Us’ section of the official website of BSP is telling of the ruptures induced by the virus in the Boards and Clubs of the institute. In the team picture that appears foremost, people occupy their share(s) in the screen-space, their presence determined by the quality and speed of their routers. A link holds the members across the years together. A link on Teams. There is also a (bleak) black in the middle, punctuated by the belief of the Board. In team, it says in bold, we trust. The Board, quite likely, survived on this trust in the two years of the pandemic.

Two halves of the full team, BSP, 2021-22, on ‘Teams’


The second line in the description of the Board is of importance, some. “BSP is a source of information about all that is happening in the campus, be it about the next big event near you or the latest cool gadget being built at IITD,” it asserts. This definition is inexhaustive, for reasons of space perhaps. Not to forget that most of the members of the Board are perhaps oblivious to it — including the writer of this piece, until now. About Us, after all, are primarily written for them, the visitors.


An alternative About us could read on (no pun intended) these lines: The Board is about the ‘covering’ of the events that take place in the premises, from the House Days to the Open Houses to the Institute Lectures to everything in the midst. It is as much about the ‘uncovering’ of the developments that take place, or don’t, probing, enquiring, into the popular and the accepted. Interestingly however, the Board is not the first source of information about the happenings on campus on almost all counts. It doesn’t, and can’t, break news. But in the spate of news that floats on campus, only the Board can organise and sift through the information that goes around, breaking-free of the hearsays and the uncredible.


The Board in its present form, characteristically, doesn’t cover as much as it uncover. The requirements of the two are, in any case, distinct. The former needs immediacy, the latter perseverance. The former demands efficiency, the latter proficience. The former is, by definition, an acute report on the matter, answering the five W’s and the one H of what, when, where, why, who, and how. The latter, on the other hand, is a more sprawling and granular examination of the causes and the effects.


The Fifth Estate of IIT Madras and Vox Populi of IIT Kanpur fare far better than BSP in the coverage of the matters at hand. The comparison although doesn’t imply if X-is-better-than-the-Y. These are two different working models, magazine-esque and newspaper like. We’re more of the former, akin to perhaps the likes of The Caravan or Outlook. The others are just more of the latter.


In the years to come, the Board may as well shift, or find a middleground, just as the team picture in the About Us will move from screen-space to a physical one, marking a return. A return to publishing in print, and Literati under the roof. A return to the old times, albeit with a new flair.

 

It happened in a matter of minutes. Three professors, two of whom held the position of Dean, sat across the screen, pronouncing the fate of a festival that had seen months of diligence and commitment.


Literati, the Deans dictated around 8 PM on 22nd January, 2022, had to be cancelled – to save the face of the institute.


Literati’22 could never materialise, except it imprinted in the minds of those weaving it, a memory starker than the animate, actual Literati(s) of previous years. While I suppose that very many questioned the pretence of a post BSP was made to release to call-off the festival, the actual reasons behind the cancellation were never spoken of in the public domain. The Indian Express did show some interest in telling our story initially, but couldn’t proceed due to certain pieces they thought were missing in the puzzle. The tragedy, eventually, faded away from the consciousness of the community, but only after it had taken a toll on the team.

Speakers of the sabotaged Literati, 2022. “It was so good after so long,” an alum of the Board had said.


It’s foolhardy to get into the nitty-gritties of the plot of festival’s cancellation. The story, in brief, was that of optimism in the face of our current political climate. We didn’t anticipate the presence of a panellist to irk a slew of people on Twitter. Nor did we expect a pull of hands from the institute when we needed their cover the most. In essence, our failure lay in not expecting the expected. We paid with our tears.


The days following the cancellation were painstakingly arduous. No one knew what was to be said to the junior members of the Board. No one knew how to put an end to the barrage of hate comments on the social media of Literati. No one knew what to make of the article a blot of a media organisation had written on the incident. Helpless, we could only grieve.


I remained greatly sceptical of asking the editorial team to work in the period around Literati. It seemed to me that I had lost the moral right to ask them to give any more time to the Board, when their previous efforts had been rendered futile. The team, however, in a show of remarkable resilience, picked up from where they had left soon after the setback. And the Board moved, onwards.


In a mail to a professor we confided in in the wake of cancellation, I’d written how “we’ll contact her if we’re able to lift our morale and do anything worthy in the remaining parts of our tenure.” Astoundingly then, the Board’s story on the controversy surrounding Dil Mil’s inclusion in Rendezvous, released in May, became an opening reading in a course she’s slated to teach next fall. Poetic justice, I marvelled.

 

A span of three years with a Board or a club cannot be composed of crests alone. It has to, for merely upkeeping the law of averages and the maxims of life, pass through the deepest of troughs. Consist of rides uphill and downhill, even if one were to imagine and aspire for a Sisyphus's happiness.


The Board's tussles with the administration of the institute inevitably made, and continues to, for most of the downslides. Beginning with the redaction of the coverage of the march held in the institute during the protests against CAA-NRC in 2019, to the blatant refusal to the publishing of a survey inquiring into the presence of the casual casteism on campus in 2020, to the outright cancellation of a festival two days before its commencement in 2022, the administration has, more often than not, stood against the realisation of Board's motto and vision.


The guise of the last of the administration's pushbacks — the cancellation of Literati in January 2022 — was perhaps both, the silliest and the harshest. It was too dark a humour to gulp really, to tell a team that they were diagnosed with Covid, when they had recuperated from the illness just days before, and even worked in the middle of it. More than a few people read in between the lines to infer the actual reasons anyhow, citing how Literati went too left. Some even concluded that the clampdown was fated, and justified. The explanation suited many, for a widely-accepted allegation against BSP is that it's slanted to the left school of thought. As baseless as it sounds to the members of the Board, it's an appealing reasoning, to colour the Board in one shade, and oversimplify all that is intricate.


The forced extinguishing of Literati came as a rude shock to the team that had lent its heart and soul in shaping the contours of the festival. In the discourse that followed in the wake of the ominous news, questions were raised over certain names in the roster, and whether they could've been — or should've been — omitted. "The team should've," an alum of the Board said, "kept in mind people who can't read the fine print and are pure visual learners." A sophomore journalist quipped about the no-go-zones for the Board, and how one knows about them. The knock-out notwithstanding, Literati begged larger questions. I fear, and admit, that we didn't venture as far as we possibly should have in our diagnosis ex-pose.


We didn't, for instance, inspect how political grounds may spew a similar incident in future editions, if one's personal tilts and biases — even if subconsciously — were to affect who-was-given-the-stage. We did not, also, deliberate on a systemic means to keep apart the personal disagreements and moral disagreements over a personality. At the heart of this discussion perhaps would have lain a broader, all-encompassing exchange, on the fine but significant difference between the politics of the members of the Board, and the politics, values rather, of the Board as a whole. In a Board where the editorial team changes every session, which of the two defines the other? What are the values of the Board? Should the politics of the members of the Board be even accounted? Does the politics of the members of the Board not have any bearing on its functioning at all? We didn't attempt to answer any of these.


But I do believe the above examinations, and more, will occur with the sails of time. During raging flak of the Board's work, or around a tricky edit in a piece perhaps. Literati too, hopefully, will find its footing in the coming editions, and emerge louder and clearer. In achieving all this, I ardently hope that the Board continues to be as proportional on the axis of gender as it is today, and strives to improve its standing on the axes of caste, program of study, and multilingualism. For that matter, the Board will never be able to represent (and speak for) everyone, unless it accords representation to the different social groups. Political identities can be dealt with subsequently.

 

When the thought of writing a piece on my tryst with Board for Student Publications first occurred to me, I was more than a little flummoxed. As someone who’d never rooted for personal stories that became elaborate résumé(s) became eulogies, I was deeply unsure of making myself the mainstay of the final piece I willed to write for the Board. I gravitated, helplessly, towards a more critical piece on the moorings of the Board, peppered with stories I deemed imperative, and compelling, knowing fully-well the inverse relationship between the length of the piece and the readership.


A question, uncannily similar to the one that had emerged in the winters of 2018 – when I’d set out to make a collegiate magazine composed of the reflections of the freshmen from across colleges – returned: Why, why on earth, was I indulged in this process? Besides a vague, somewhat specious answer of a ‘piece that stands testimony to the fabric of the Board,’— although who was I to feign what the fabric was — I couldn’t guess. Back in 2018 too, I had surrendered any and all attempts at finding the answer to this question, and built the magazine as I could. The writing of the above sections, as the making of that magazine, was perhaps done because it was not possible to not do it. I indulged back then, and now too, because indulgence was the end in itself, and not a means to an end.


I deeply admire this Board, and every human it has lead me to in different stages of my association with it. I don’t know when it grew on me, so much so, that I grew with it. Truth be told, I just fell in love with what it stood for.


I part a content member, knowing that the fortunes will be heralded by people very capable. Alvida, for it’s time.

 

“Charaghon ko aankhon main mehfooz rakhna, Badi der tak raat hi raat hogi, Musafir hain hum, Musafir ho tum bhi, Kisi mod par phir mulakat hogi,”

- Bashir Badr

 

Addendum: An ode to the design team, but without any design


I was awakened to the impossibility of any publication by the Board in the absence of its (mostly stunning) presentation on multiple instances in the past one year. The Board may or may not write well for some, but it is, inevitably, a demonstrator of how-to-design-exceedingly-well, consistently. In a more telling way, a piece of a Board pre-design is identical to this slide. Mere text. Words without images and illustration. It’s cooked, but not ready to be served.


While I know that excellence in Design within BSP predates the three years I’ve been a part, I can only invoke Ayush, Ayesha, Sahil, and Suhani, to mark the outstanding work they’ve done as Design Chief Editors of the Board, and will keep at in different capacities.


In closing this meek attempt at role-reversal, I asked Ayush what he had to say about the Design team at BSP.


Raunaq: If I were to ask you about the Design Team at BSP


Ayush: Are I’m bad in framing emotions into sentences


Raunaq: Don’t worry. Dil kholo, bolo


Ayush: “Good design, when done properly, should be invisible,” is a famous quote. Probably that’s why there are no/very few design related comments on our posts on Insta, because it’s invisible.


Raunaq: I love you, know that

 


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