The Bharuch diary part 1: getting there
It was the 28th of December, 2008. We had just finished the last paper of our first year terminal examination. Everyone in class was talking about their plans for the short break. It was the first proper break we had gotten after a very long time. So, naturally, everyone was looking forward to it. There were a few of us, however, that were actually not quite so relieved. As it happened, we were going to leave for our very first LIK site visit that evening. All our seniors had already gone ahead and were waiting for us to join them. All of us were very much exited but we also knew that this was NOT going to be a break. If anything else, this was going to be the toughest five days that we had ever experienced.
The site that was selected for that year was Bharuch. It is an average town in the state of Gujarat. It doesn't have any known landmarks nor is it a known heritage centre. But it was what had caught the attention of our head Nidhi Subramanyam. That year, the brief was to document a 'traditional' settlement, someplace that still retained the classical 'Indian' touch. From what we had studied, there were many such places/settlements all across the country, but according to her, this one was a better answer than most.
Our train was in the evening. After the paper, we left in a hurry, trying to avoid any further delays or getting caught up in any unnecessary discussions. We had some last minute packing to do. And since we were supposed to go on a college trip right from the site we had to carry an extra bag! All in all, it didn't feel like we were going to make it to the station in time for the 5 p.m. train. But, there we were (well, most of us). We reached at 4:50 pm and started searching for our train in a frenzy! We knew there was still a bit of time left but none of us wanted to come this far only to watch the train depart in front of our eyes. Finally, one of us found the correct platform and we all boarded the train. Now we were only waiting for a few more members. We kept calling them but to no avail. They 'weren't in range.'
The train wasn't going to wait for long and when one of them finally answered our call, the train started to move. It was no use. They were nowhere near the station. So this was how our first site visit began. We called up Pranav (a fourth-year and the guy in charge of all the NASA activities) and told him that we had left and also about those that were left behind. He was unfazed (almost as if he expected it) and told us where to get off. He said he'd take care of those guys too.
Five hours and a few awesome discussions later, we arrived at Bharuch. Pranav was there at the station to show us the way to our 'on-site accommodation.' Since we couldn't exactly afford hotel rooms, they had to look for alternatives (and mostly, these weren't what we would consider a place to stay). That year, our heads had talked one of their relatives into renting us a decommissioned maternity house. When we reached the place, it had already been transformed into a makeshift studio/workshop. Our seniors were waiting for us. They had finally got the manual labor they were waiting for. Upon entering, we were told to keep our bags in an adjoining room and come into the main hall for our briefing.
We sat along one side of the room while Nidhi and Pranav explained to us how we were to work for the next few days. We were going to be split into preformed teams. All these teams worked in tandem with one another and gathered whatever data that the head required. Each team would focus on a specific type of data. For example, there was a team that would only go and document the artistic details that adorned the houses. There was a team that would only document the internal planning of the houses. Then there was a team that would measure only the streets and the entrances to these houses. Finally when they got together at the accommodation, they would be able to put all this together to get a proper measured drawing of the whole site with the details! It was like putting together a huge three-dimensional puzzle. It was awesome! But this was easier said than done. That year, our aim was to document a huge area. It was supposed to be the largest site to be selected in the history of our college! As a result, there were a large number of teams and the hierarchy of people in charge was also a bit tricky.
All of us were excited to be part of this process (manual labor or not). Nidhi started calling us out and then telling us where we were to go and work and the heads of those respective teams. All my friends were called out and assigned to their respective teams until there were only two of us left, Ritinha and me. We were told to go and meet Divya. She was a fourth-year in charge of the analysis team (it really wasn't much of a team, there were only two of them). Incidentally, we were the only ones who worked under a fourth-year. Every other team head was either a third-year or a second-year. At that time, we had no idea how they had decided where each of us would fit, but looking back, everyone was perfect where they were.
That night, we weren't exactly given any work but each of us were filled in as to what the status of the team was, and how each of them would function on the site. It took a little longer for Divya to explain to us what it is we were supposed do, since we weren't going to be focusing on only parts. Our work was a bit different; we were going to be focusing on everything! We were supposed to take all the pieces from the other teams and put them together in a way that would tell us the story of our site. We were supposed to prove why our site was the best possible answer to the brief! And we didn't have much time.
After being briefed, it was dinner time. Everyone gathered in the main hall and sat together in a large circle. This was supposed to be one of those times when the whole team was together and no one was allowed to skip this ritual (and I don't think anyone would have skipped it willingly either). It was one the noisiest dinners I had ever seen. Everyone recounting their best moments of the day, regaling each other with the pranks that they had pulled, jokes that they had seen or heard, informing others about food stalls and juice centers that they simply had to go to.
We were finally a part of NASA.