IIT Kanpur's fest: BRAVE NEW YOUNGISTAN
A recent couple of days spent on the campus of Kanpur’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) were a huge high. The occasion was the annual Techkriti 2015, an inter-collegiate technical and entrepreneurial festival organised by the students who make sure that brains from around the world take over the campus for four fabulous days.
I caught myself gawking at David Hilmers, former NASA astronaut and veteran of four space flights who has spent more than 493 hours in space, sipping tea ordinarily like any one of us. It was exhilarating to cross paths with Pat Spain, host of National Geographic television shows like Nature’s Call and Beast Hunter who travels around the world talking about animals. His creepy-crawly experiences with bullet ants and one-eyed monsters in different parts of the world peppered that evening’s meal with many a dash of extraordinary thrill.
There was Meera Sanyal, former CEO and chairperson, Royal Bank of Scotland, and now Aam Aadmi Party contestant from South Mumbai, who refused to make a big deal of her warring colleagues. She spoke instead of the role of youngsters in banking simulation, the Indian economy and politics. Later, she tweeted that she was really happy to be at IIT Kanpur—truly a temple of modern India. Beautiful campus, great students and amazing co-speakers.On her return from the campus, she said, “Back from gr8 visit to IIT Kanpur—so impressed with passion & commitment of our young engineers & entrepreneurs. India is in good hands.”
Prof Ramamurti Shankar, the John Randolph Huffman Professor of Physics at Yale University and famous for his crash course in Einstein’s theory of relativity, brought with him also that wonderful twinkle in the eye. At the guest house dining hall, over an informal meal, he warned not to ask why like philosophers but to find out more about love and life. The more relevant question, according to all good physicists, is how. Divya Sornaraja, engineering whiz kid-turned-entrepreneur from Madurai, shares a cosmic connection with physics. Yet her mind is full of whys and when she quizzed Prof Shankar on the probability of a fifth dimension, he counterquestioned her with a how. And all those present around that delightful conversation found their jaws dropping further towards the ground.
Divya is a self-confessed crazy kid with an admiration for science and sense. This twenty-something’s love for emerging technologies and also a passionate intent to change the world by using the Internet inspired her to found Pith Inc in Silicon Valley. She likes the idea of youngsters coming together to transform India into a more just and happy society. She dreams of a revolution from down up as a collective call against corruption. She feels that media and social media empower individuals by giving them a voice and, instead of caressing corruption, it’s time to take the first step to curtail this cannibalism—in this era when anyone can use a mobile camera or voice recorder to prove corruption and also utilise online facilities like Facebook.
“When the fangs of Corruption bite you, the pain drives you to implement whatever it takes to fight that poison killing you spreading across,” writes Divya on her Dso blog.
Complete disgust at the corruption in the country was uniformly expressed by contestant after contestant at the 29 States competition which I was invited to judge. The event is billed as the country’s largest platform for a discussion with young people who want to make a positive change in society. The theme of the discussion was the Indian Political System and the aim was to provide a platform to young voices that see India differently and, above all, aspire to innovate and exterminate social evils like corruption through social campaigns. The event was part of a total of 65 events including competitions, workshops and talks attended by at least 1,800 outstation candidates from 300 colleges.
Some 30 youngsters came up with in-depth presentations on various problems and solutions in each of the country’s 29 states. However, what was common to all participants was their contempt for corruption, traced as the root cause of all problems facing India today ranging from poverty, illiteracy, homelessness, unemployment and drug addiction to environmental degradation. To hear so many young Indians say that they are against corruption is of course music to the ears but what this brave new youngistan plans to do about it is quite another question.