On September 16, 2008, I was exposed to the one thing that would change the way I looked at life. The one thing that would in many ways define me and make me the person that people know me to be today. The one thing that showed me who I was and what I wanted to become.
It was the second day of our college. Our seniors came to the class and said there was going to be an 'introduction' session after college. They wanted to show us why our college was what it was. I could understand peoples' apprehension. Everyone was well aware of the fact that we were going to be hazed.
It wasn't surprising to find out that only half the class had turned up after college in our Art Gallery. Everyone just wanted to get over whatever was going to happen. But we were all in for a surprise. A few minutes after all of us gathered in that room, a few seniors brought in huge portfolios. They carried it as if it were made of glass. None of us were allowed to even touch it. Not even to help them. They kept this on one of the many tables and started to unpack the whole thing.
While the unpacking was underway, one of the final-year students, Akshay Verma, asked us why we had chosen to come to this college. Most of us said that it was supposed to be the best college in the state. Then he asked us why we thought it was the best college. No one answered. I guess the question was rhetorical as he didn't really wait for an answer.
He said the answer was NASA…
Not the "space thing," but rather the National Association of Students of Architecture. It was entirely a student initiative. And there was supposed to be an annual competition where all the architecture colleges from India participated. The prize was The Le Corbusier Trophy (named after a master architect). There were basically five major trophies to work for. Each one had a different goal. One of them, the LIK (Louis I. Kahn) Trophy, dealt with documenting and conserving the unknown or lesser-known heritage of India. Then there was HUDCO (A Delhi based organization) which dealt with the question of sustainable housing. The next one was Urban Redesign. This one asked for sites within Urban settlements that needed to be redesigned to suit today's needs. There was also a complete analysis-based trophy called Nari Gandhi (this one named after one of the Indian contemporary masters). And then there was the most important trophy called the Reuben's Trophy (named after the person who envisioned NASA). This was basically a showcase of the annual work of the college. It was composed using everyone's work!
The passion with which this guy was talking was contagious. By the time the other guys had unpacked, we all were completely worked up. Everyone's expectations were already soaring. And they didn't disappoint.
There was only one word that I could actually think about at the time they introduced the LIK portfolios. UNREAL! There was just NO WAY that ordinary people could do the stuff on those sheets. As if this was not enough, they informed us that all the work in all those portfolios was done by hand. We all were so taken aback that everyone was clamoring to get a better view of this phenomenon. All the drawings, the lettering, the sketches. EVERYTHING! How was it possible?!
Before the shock could wear off, they showed us HUDCO and Urban Redesign. In hindsight, those sheets were also awesome but the thing was, after looking at something so phenomenal, computer-generated drawings just couldn't hold us. Nari Gandhi was also received with the same lack of enthusiasm.
After the shock and awe, they asked us who wanted to join. It wasn't really a question. It was more of a challenge. I still remember that scene very clearly because that is one thing that still amuses me. Everyone put their hands up. And about ninety percent of the people wanted to do LIK. And their only statement was to tell us that only about 10 people from our batch would stay. This wasn't because they would cull the herd but because the herd itself would thin out.
By the end of the introduction to the portfolios we came to know that the seniors that were there to show us all this were the heads of those trophies. They were all in their fourth year of study and all of them were radiating pride. There was our unit secretary, Pranav Gujjar, the coordinator for all the NASA activities. He would represent the college when we went for the actual convention. Then there was Nidhi Subramanyam, the head of the LIK trophy. Looking at her, it would have been hard for anyone to guess she would be the head of anything. But then we also came to know that she was the General Secretary of the college! So basically, not someone to underestimate. There were also others whom I don't remember, but who made me realize that this was where I wanted to be.
When these guys recounted their experiences they talked about their own seniors as being these demigods who had done things which were out of the reach of us mortals. When I thought about the it, I realized that even these guys were extraordinary in their own right. This was what I wanted to become. I wanted to be able to someday tell my juniors about these legends. Someday I wanted to be there on the other side and be able to inspire the same passion that these guys were inspiring in us.
By the end of the session, it was more of a need then a choice to join this…cult. I knew that if I ever wanted to perfect my techniques and my abilities, it was going to start here. So when they passed around a piece of paper for us to write what we were interested in doing, I promptly wrote down my name and that I had to win the LIK trophy.