Taking Wings- The Economic Times
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TIMES NEWS NETWORK
[ WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2003 01:48:04 AM]
While the IITs have been around for 50 years and are probably the best-known educational brands in the country, global recognition has been a recent phenomenon, with the explosion of technology and the global achievements of IITians.
Gupta, Menezes all rose to the top of their chosen professions globally. The technology saw the Valley filled with exploits of IITians with names such as Kanwal Rekhi, Sabeer Bhatia and Gururaj Deshpande becoming part of valley folklore.
It was jokingly said that the moment the venture capitalist found that you were an IITian, he was willing to fund you even if you were not thinking of a venture.
Clearly a large part of the mystique of the IIT brand is lent to it by the IITian. In fact, there are those like Gupta and Sawhney who believe that the IITian brand is probably a little ahead of the IIT brand.
The IITs are a collection of students who are not only the best and the brightest but also fiercely competitive. Says Kittu Kolluri, CEO, Neoteris, “Everyone who comes there is a topper and then you find out that there can be only one topper and that it is hard to even stay in the top 10.”
And it is this competitiveness which stands the IITian in good stead.. Says Nilekani, “The academics is just one part of the four years . More important is the street smartness that you develop while you are there.” He goes on to point that a number of successful IITians were all rounders who were equally good in debates, sports and such extra-curricular activities.
Says Gupta, who is close buddies with an IITian who chose to stay back in India, YC Deveshwar, chairman ITC: “There is a life beyond academics and there is lots of opportunity for leadership traits of the students to come to the forefront.”
The expectations from an IITian are also high which helps in developing a never say die attitude. Says Gopalakrishnan, “It gave us the confidence that we could achieve the extraordinary if we set out mind to it.”
Almost everyone believes that the residential nature of the program plays a large part in overall development of an IITian.
The four year residential programme has also resulted in a strong sense of identification with the IIT name and a vibrant alumni network. Long before the advent of email, IITians still found a way to stay in touch with each other.
Senior batch mates would help their hostel mates in securing admissions abroad by lobbying with professors, funding application monies and reviewing statement of purpose. At IIT-Powai, for instance, the wing culture — you are closest to your wing-mates, not even so much to your batch and classmates — has helped students to strike out on their own globally.
Says Kelkar: “ When I arrived in the US there was a fellow IITian there at the airport to receive me and help me settle in.” Banga, echoes similar thoughts when he says, “I am still in touch with many of my batch mates and some of my best friends are from IIT Delhi.”
Apocryphal stories of all notable alumni still circulate on campus even if they have passed out decades ago. Every fresh batch of IITians can see the very room that a Nilekani or a Gupta spent his four years in. Nilekani himself is believed to have donated money to hostel 8 (H8) in Powai for its general upgradation. Exploits of alumni are handed down year after year in late night sessions at the night canteen. “One does not realise the worth of being an IITian while one is at an IIT,” say ex-IITians, “But when you goes to an MIT or a Stanford and finds that the whole class looks at you differently on finding out that you are an IITian, that’s when it hits you.”
Pandit Nehru in his first convocation address in 1956 said “Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are going to come to India.”
It is a promise that the IITs have stood true to, providing what is considered by many to be the finest undergraduate education in the world.

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