Convention: the conclusion of NASA
The day before we leave for the convention is probably the most important and exhilarating day than any other day before or after it. First of all, there is the massive rush to put all the finishing touches on the sheets. All the major work needs to be finished before we can leave for the convention centre. Once outside the sterilized environment of the NASA room, the sheets should ideally only come out once we pin them up for the jury. Ideally. Then there's the clamor of people's parents coming to see them off and getting their things to college (believe it or not the last few days are generally run through in the same clothes). These parents are very eager to see the work done by their child, but the room is in such an uproar that it is next to impossible to get anywhere near it. So, most of the times they are unceremoniously shooed away by their kids. Most of the NASA heads are waging war over the printer, the first-years become hapless soldiers and it's more akin to a domination match in a game called Unreal Tournament. Most of the people are double and triple checking the packing and waterproofing the 'black box' in which all the folios from the different trophies are stored for the journey.
Finally, everyone starts to leave for the station where we need to catch the train for our destination. It's considered a miracle if someone or something is not left behind! While leaving from the college, everyone shouts the college slogan and I swear that sound must be heard by at least half the city. It's more of a war cry and it does drive everyone into frenzy! Finally, when everyone settles down in the train, people start to drop off to sleep almost anywhere. The position doesn't matter, we just need sleep. Most of us don't even get up to eat and end up sleeping through the entire journey.
Once we reach the convention centre (which is usually some college), the unit secretary goes and registers all of us and we get our kids. We finally become delegates. It's a nice feeling, and after all that sleep, everything just appears better! There is always some work left, so everyone is tasked with finding the best place to work in secrecy (it's absolutely FORBIDDEN to disclose anything regarding our site or the identity of our college). After all, it's a tradition.
The actual pinning up happens sometime during the night. And it's not the normal timing that comes to mind when we say night. It's way after midnight. There are only three people per trophy who are allowed to go inside for the pin up, the unit secretary and the unit designee notwithstanding. Everyone else waits for them outside the building. It's an awesome sight. There are literally a hundred colleges waiting for their delegates who have gone inside to pin up their hard work. The whole atmosphere is charged, the energy is palpable. There is no way anyone can sleep. Finally, the delegates arrive and everyone heads to their accommodations. This happens around dawn.
The first day goes into getting some much needed rest. The train is okay, but everyone needs a proper sleep. On a bed. People get up in the afternoon and gather at the food stalls. Here the first-years are told about the on-the-spot competitions. This is after all, a convention, and there are a lot of events planned for the three or four days that people are here. The competitions are fun, but our college has a tradition where winning these 'competitions' brings shame to the college. So basically, people come up with innovative ways of actually losing in style! The first-years need to attend this, but most often compulsion is not necessary. After one or two of those events, people start asking about the next ones themselves. There are also a lot of good presentations by eminent architects. Mostly people avoid this, but sometimes there are awesome architectural celebrities and people just go in to see them.
Finally, on the second day, people start getting restless and wait for the announcement of the shortlisted panels. Each panel gets a number upon registration. The name of the college is not displayed (for obvious reasons). After the juries, they select ten panels as the shortlisted entries. These panels are then further scrutinized in detail. At the end of the second day, there is an air of tension. Everyone is enjoying, but their ears are focused toward the speakers put up throughout the campus. And finally, when they announce the shortlisted colleges, they erupt into a pre-victory celebration. There are others who have dejected looks on their faces, but I don't think I've ever been one of them. The short-listing party goes on well into the night and everyone is looking forward to the next day when the exhibition will finally open up for everyone to see.
The next morning, the first-years are briefed about their roles for the exhibition. We have to stand next to the panel and NOT let anyone touch it. If someone wants to see the underlying sheets, then we have to pick them up and show them. NO TOUCHING!
Now is the time for us to live the stories that our seniors have told us. There are so many things we expect. And the convention lives up to its reputation. The first noticeable change in people is when they realize that we are from THE Academy of Architecture. They tend to look at you differently. Like something not to be trifled with. The next thing is the variety of work presented here! It's on a completely different scale. Each college has something unique to show and though we know our work is good, there are just too many things to see. There are even some representations and techniques that are never even seen in college. Most importantly, we can actually see the effort put into the sheets. And the pride of the people who have managed to put it there. One convention is enough to inspire you for a lifetime.
After that, the rest of the time goes by in a daze. It's generally divided into attending concerts, stuffing yourself with food, sleeping, hanging out with friends and in some cases going on trips and forging new relationships within the team.
The valedictory function sees everyone gathered into the pavilion/ground/stadium/auditorium. There are more than a hundred colleges and each one is trying to make the most noise! Over the thunderous war cries, the function starts and when they are about to announce the winners, there is absolute silence. I had never really understood the feeling of waiting for something with bated breath until I realized I had stopped breathing because of the tension. And just like that, they announced our victory! The feeling is indescribable. Everyone shouted themselves hoarse! There were no words coming out. It was just a release of emotion. To realize that all your hard work and all your sacrifices finally bore fruit is a sensation that can truly shake your entire being. Everything seems different.
If I try and remember exactly what happened that night, it's impossible. There are just bits and pieces. I have never shouted so much, nor have I ever danced so much in my life before. And just like that, the journey called NASA that I had undertaken with so many people had finally reached its first stop.