This story (Late night internet chats land IITian in court) [Link] caught my attention today. No it was not just because of the judge making the man pay for the accommodation of the woman but for the way the word “IIT ” occurs in the headline and inside the piece. This is all the more confounding since the man in question does not now study in the said institution (he works for a “multinational firm in Gurgaon” ) and even more importantly there is nothing in his IIT education that has any bearing on what happened. Some may claim that his desire for late night chats with women stem from the social situation in school and to them I would say this is hardly an IIT-only phenomenon, many lonely men from different educational backgrounds, usually those with highly gender-imbalanced student bodies, are found to engage in such nocturnal activities.
Of course this report is not an isolated case. Every time a person who went to IIT does something noteworthy (be it good or, as in this case, possibly bad), it is inevitable that his alma mater will be referenced —”ex-IIT releases guitar CD”, “IIT alumni directs movie”, “IIT man writes bestselling novel”, “IIT alumni writes awesome coffee-table book”, “IIT students start political party”, “IIT man kills sister“, “IIT graduate acts in porn flick”. Okay I made the last one up but you do get the point.
Well so do I. And so does everyone. The label “IIT” is a label of excellence, that has transcended its original “premier institute of technology” stamp to become a guarantee of overall grooviness, in any field of human endeavor. A friend of mine, a professional photographer, tells me how a mention of his IIT-IIM pedigree distinguishes him in a place where his education should really have no bearing. An grand-aunt would say how for her darling grand-daughter “she only wants an IIT or an IIM”. A lady friend of mine told me, with barely concealed pride, how she is being pestered for matches by “boys from IIT” but she wants to “establish herself first”.
In my own professional life, I have never felt the absence of an “IIT label” to be a hindrance—I got into the graduate school I wanted after graduation from Jadavpur University and after that my publications and the grants that I won spoke for me. Paradoxically it is in my writing life, which has nothing to do with my engineering degree, that my not being from IIT has been somewhat of an issue. I remember in an interview I did for “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss”, a reporter asked “So you are from IIT?” I shook my head. “But you told me you stay in US, you are a PhD and you are a “techie”. (I never told the reporter I am a “techie”—hate the word with a passion). I explained to the person that just because I have a published book and I am a “techie” does not necessarily mean I am from IIT. The reporter hid the disappointment well. Not so this reader at a book event who asked me, with genuine eagerness, “Which IIT did you graduate from?”. I nodded a “No”. He followed it with a desperately-trying-to-save-the-situation “Oh you must be those who dropped out of IIT to write”. I once again said “No” this time, saw the sadness in his eyes.
He mumbled “I just thought….”. A bit embarrassed, I avoided his gaze.