This Too Is India

Long-time reader Kush Tandon was in India a couple of months ago, and since then he’s been slowly putting up the photos he took on his blog and on his Flickr account. As I was perusing them the other day, one photo stood out to me:

kush tandon iit roorkee.jpg

(click on the image to see it larger; click here to see Kush’s IIT-Roorkee photo set)

Kush also gives a caption to the photo to explain a little about the history of IIT Roorkee:

IIT Roorkee, once University of Roorkee, and before that Thomason College is perhaps the prettiest campus in India, something like Cornell University campus in Ithaca for North America. It is a quiet, green oasis that is about 150 years old. Its history spans training engineers for canal building in India, sappers for Indian military for many wars (British India and later independent India), for huge dam making projects immediately after the independence, and now with India’s economy opening up. (link)

I personally like the photo because it defies the clichés regarding what India looks like — which probably tend to dictate what we ourselves photograph when we go there. That is not to say that there isn’t another side to life, even in Roorkee (and Kush himself has a number of photos showing poverty as well as open trash). But both kinds of images are part of the story.

Do readers have photographs in their public collections that show images of the Indian subcontinent that also defy expectations in some way? If so, we would love to see them…

132 thoughts on “This Too Is India

  1. 100 · Randomizer said

    @96 about 200 comments for those interested.

    295,000 out of 300,000 and only 200 comments :)

    For your (1) – Really? If yes, then I am sorry for my comment. Only if I can take it back, but hey then I better read/watch – this and this.

  2. Randomize & IIT_alum @ 100-102

    There is no denying that some of best and most successful minds are from IITs but it would be great if that level of excellence and standard gets more diversified across the country and across the educational spectrum. India has only 5-6 excellent IITs but in America there are SO MANY non-MITs, Harvard, Stanford, Yale institutions that are much better than most of the non-IIT universities in India. This is the secret of the success of America; that it doesn’t rest just on those ivy league institues. If India doesn’t change this then forever we will be resting on the laurels of the “spikes of brilliance” to raise the profile of the country. That energy will dissipate very fast and is not sustainable in the long run.

  3. Bridget Jones

    Agreed with the “better” part.

    Though I disagree with the “secret of American Success” formula, maybe a if you add some “Low Corruption”, “Capitalistism”, “Tons of Resources”, “Booming economy”, “Tons of spending power” etc. :) would have made the secret recipe 5 years back.

    Currently – recession, trade deficit, budget deficit, unpopular president supporting unpopular war, recession, rising unemployment, sinking dollar, sinking housing market, etc disqualifies the “successful” part (at least for the short run)

  4. IIT Alumnus Please don’t fling mud around randomly, because eventually a lot of it will end up falling on you. Nobody disputes that IITians are generally quite sharp and talented but your above posts only reinforce the (perhaps unfair) image of the arrogant IITian. As far as competition ratios go,the All India Institute of Medical Sciences accepts around 50 undergraduate students out of 70-80 thousand applicants.The ratios are similar for most Med schools in the country, with the All India quota finishing at around 2500 (at least in the late ’90s when I last checked).Very similar to the IITs. And while there are crooks like in every other profession, you will not find too many docs selling coke/pepsi. Personally I think the smartest people study humanities. Sorry for the digression.Back to lurk

  5. Mr/Dr Henry Gray

    Sorry but I could not understand the implication of the advice – “Please don’t fling mud around randomly, because eventually a lot of it will end up falling on you”. Festive spirit? :) .

    For smartest people alive and dead, check this.

    I have a feeling that my sense of humor is getting borderline obnoxious.

  6. 26 · JEE whaa? said

    Students do nothing through their 11th and 12th grade but study for the JEE, doing tens of problems of each type that has shown up in recent JEEs, while completely neglecting their schools – which they can do because these coaching institutes start up their own schools which make sure the students have to do just enough to get a barely passing grade in the 12th standard examinations. This has led to the kind of disaster where even some top ranking students in recent JEEs have ended up struggling once they get to IIT, due to some combination of a complete lack of motivation as well as an absence of grounding in necessary fundamentals.

    I don’t think Ramaiah(Hyderabad) sprang up in the last 5 years,It has been in existence for past 15 years or so.Check your facts.

  7. I dont get it. How does posting pictures of 19th century british colonial architecture somehow make you forget about the extreme shabbiness of the rest of India?

    Indians have been clinging to such escapism for a long time already: notice all the pictures of Mughal buildings like the Taj Mahal and bollywood stars like the Khans in indian grocery stores?

  8. 109 · Vyasa said

    Indians have been clinging to such escapism for a long time already: notice all the pictures of Mughal buildings like the Taj Mahal and bollywood stars like the Khans in indian grocery stores?

    Please read this article.

    Though I feel you have not visited this.

  9. As for all this silly chest-thumping over the IITs, the reality is that none of them rank in the world’s top 100 colleges:

    http://www.topuniversities.com/worlduniversityrankings/results/2007/overall_rankings/top_400_universities/

    The list is dominated by the anglo-saxon nations followed by the east asian confucian nations (China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea).

    The IITs have produced zero Nobel Laureates in all the decades they have existed. IIT students perform poorly in international academic competitions like the Math Olympiad. Etc, etc….

  10. IIT_alum:

    I feel you have not visited this

    Dude thats pathetic. That article (written by another indian chest-thumper) mostly shows architectural designs not actual buildings. Even if those buildings ever get built what do you think the chances are that they wont be surrounded by the worst slums known to mankind?

  11. Folks, Vyasa = Prem = Prema = Dev = troll who tries to fan the India-sucks meme in any pathetic way he can. Please don’t engage it.

  12. 113 · Dont respond to Vyasa said

    Folks, Vyasa = Prem = Prema = Dev = troll who tries to fan the India-sucks meme in any pathetic way he can. Please don’t engage it.

    Thanks Buddy :)

  13. By the way, if you look at the India Today rankings over the past 10 years (I know many consider these rankings a joke, but they are at least as credible as perceptions and rumors), IIT-Kharagpur has often been ranked at #1 amongst engineering colleges in India.

    Rama, thanks. My understanding was that these rankings are weighted significantly by graduate work in addition to the undergraduate program. But you are right – I was going primarily off of preferences of JEE rankers which, as you point out, is swayed by the location of Kharagpur.

    I don’t think Ramaiah(Hyderabad) sprang up in the last 5 years,It has been in existence for past 15 years or so.Check your facts.

    I am aware that Ramaiah has been around for over 20 years, but I think the practice of people from all over Andhra (at the very least) coming to Hyderabad for IIT coaching has really exploded much more recently. And that is exactly what I was referring to when I talked about the specialized residential aspect.

    I was pointing to a subset of people who pursue engineering degrees. You are right about a lot of smart people in India pursing Medicine, Law, Police, Politics, Journalism, Films, Stock/Commodity Trading, etc.

    That’s a tremendously unfair statement. You can equally quote the stellar achievements of Ranbaxy (whatever you might think of patents etc., the reverse-engineering is a very good technical accomplishment), Kiran Bedi, Satyajit Ray, top quality Indian academics in theoretical fields, and so on. I am not sure identifying outliers is a productive exercise in either direction – proving that IITians are all obnoxious, or that non-IITians are all incompetent.

  14. And that is exactly what I was referring to when I talked about the specialized residential aspect.

    You are totally wrong. “Ramaiah” is very far from being anything like a residential institution. They have classes for only 3-4 hours per day (that too inside a shed on the terrace of a private home in a residential neighborhood)

    I’m not trying to champion the cause of coaching/cram centers here, but I’m just giving you some facts, which are often distorted severely, like you just did.

  15. I believe in individual achievement over institutional reputation. But, I think peer group is also important and plays a role in educational environment. In that way, IITs do have the cream of the crop.

    I agree with Randomizer @100 on (1). As far as I know, there was way more stress on EAMCET than JEE at one point in last decade. A good rank in EAMCET kept you within state but an ok rank in JEE made you move across the country to get into an IIT. It is not an easy prospect sending a 17/18-year-old to a different state.

  16. They have classes for only 3-4 hours per day

    I should probably also mention that these 3-4 hours of classes are timed so as to avoid a clash with normal school schedule. (If you are in the morning batch, its from 4/5am-8am and for the evening batch its from 4/5 pm – 8 pm)

  17. I believe in individual achievement over institutional reputation. But, I think peer group is also important and plays a role in educational environment. In that way, IITs do have the cream of the crop.

    Yes, thats correct. I think the big deal about going to an IIT over other colleges (within India) is that its very difficult to find a peer group of students that comes anywhere close to the best students at an IIT. I’m sure the best students at outside colleges are definitely as good, or might even be better than your average IIT kid in every respect.

  18. You are totally wrong.

    Ok. That distorts the context of my statement. I specifically elaborated on what I meant in my comment, and I understand that Ramaiah and Kota are very different, especially in scale – Ramaiah is far smaller than Kota is.

    Some sample articles (this last one seems dated, especially since it talks about students taking the JEE 3-4 times to get through, that has been ended with the two attempt limit that is now enforced) give an idea of the extreme pressure that kids who hope to do engineering are in, and the lengths they go to. There’s no reason to harbor a chip on the shoulder about this, and in any case, I don’t want to derail this thread with more nitpicking on this issue.

    But, I think peer group is also important and plays a role in educational environment. In that way, IITs do have the cream of the crop.

    Even before IIT, I also benefited from the high school I went to because there was a general momentum and enthusiasm among the students about studying for the JEE, and an awareness of the different resources available (although the school teachers were less than encouraging because some saw it as an affront to their own relevance). The peer group in the IITs and the resources available (as compared to some of the top engineering schools in that region) are both really good.

    The IIT education itself – I think the technical skills are solid and often superior to an undergraduate education even from a top US school, but what was lacking (which I understood only in retrospect, and in comparison with the top quality American schools) was practical hands-on experience in building systems relevant to the theory we learned, as well as an encouragement of innovation and initiative. I think the latter is changing now, at least for students who want to pursue a technical career, because students are encouraged to take up summer research internships in American/European universities and labs where they are exposed to a different culture and working style, which I think is very helpful, and also because there is some hiring of US returned alums as professors, so they bring an interest in research and a more egalitarian student interaction back with them.

  19. The IIT education itself – I think the technical skills are solid and often superior to an undergraduate education even from a top US school

    I think the claim about superiority of IIT to top US schools is a bit of a hyperbole. The curriculum in a top US school (I’m not so sure about the not-top US schools, though I would wager that they must be quite competitive too) is a lot more flexible than in an IIT, and consequently way better in many ways (much better professors, more choices to take graduate classes in your area of interest, opportunities for research, etc. etc. etc.)

  20. bulbul, partial quoting much? :)

    but what was lacking (which I understood only in retrospect, and in comparison with the top quality American schools) was practical hands-on experience in building systems relevant to the theory we learned, as well as an encouragement of innovation and initiative. I think the latter is changing now, at least for students who want to pursue a technical career, because students are encouraged to take up summer research internships in American/European universities and labs where they are exposed to a different culture and working style, which I think is very helpful, and also because there is some hiring of US returned alums as professors, so they bring an interest in research and a more egalitarian student interaction back with them.
  21. My dad and his IIT Mumbs buddies went to a big reunion a couple of years back in Cali. I think Bill Gates spoke. Anyway, they were talking to some young men, no doubt trying to find potential husbands for their daughters, and the young men said they were from Roorkee. My dad and his friends were all like, “What the hell is that?” which apparently almost caused a fight.

  22. 120· JEE whaa? said

    I think the latter is changing now, at least for students who want to pursue a technical career, because students are encouraged to take up summer research internships in American/European universities and labs where they are exposed to a different culture and working style, which I think is very helpful, and also because there is some hiring of US returned alums as professors, so they bring an interest in research and a more egalitarian student interaction back with them.

    (bolded by me)

    [semi-rant: sorry SM Intern] Oh! The curse of that! Any published author’s contact is no longer safe from recieving ridiculous emails which got nothing to do with nothing! I always thought that students from IITs are savvy enough to know about applying internships at American/European universities based on their awareness about graduate school applications. Apparently not…

    I hope IITs provide some guidance/training to their students on this before making the internship a part of the degree requirement. Otherwise, some universities might change their spam filters.

  23. I visited Roorkee back in the late 90s. It was like walking into a garbage dump. Sorry to say but this has become a hallmark of us desis.

    We try to play up all things Indian (and even vaguely Indian like Sunita Williams) these days. The Indian education system stinks and gigantic queues of code coolies that line up for H1B visas is a symptom of that.

    Now there’s gonna be a smart aleck on this board who will point out the illustrious IIT-ians who have made it big in the US. Gupta, Jain, Patil, rah rah rah….let’s get talking about the other 250,000 who crunch code and kiss middle management arse for a living.

    Let’s get realistic people and face India’s deficiencies head-on for once. I don’t see Mexicans and Chinese people raving about their countries like we do. And, for anyone who’s been to Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City and a million other places there knows, they are 50 years ahead of us in so many ways.

  24. Let’s get realistic people and face India’s deficiencies head-on for once. I don’t see Mexicans and Chinese people raving about their countries like we do. And, for anyone who’s been to Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City and a million other places there knows, they are 50 years ahead of us in so many ways.

    I agree with your general sentiment, but what you write above is unmitigated nonsense. Have you read a chinese or mexican message board recently for heaven’s sake, or talked to an average chinese national? Indians do not have a monopoly on nationalism or national pride (the chinese are probably way more nationalistic than Indians–you may say with some justification–but that is beside the point; there are papers being written on the high levels of nationalism and pride among chinese, one incidentally by a very close friend of mine who also happens to be a chinese citizen. part of his research concerns “nationalism in the net”). Hell bbc bursts with pride when a single brit makes it big in america (its actually somewhat of a joke among non-nationalist brits). criticism of the kind you offer is very good, but applies to almost all nationalities. I ‘m sorry to be somewhat rude, but unreflective generalizations without bases in facts are a pet peeve of mine.

  25. I agree with your general sentiment, but what you write above is unmitigated nonsense. Have you read a chinese or mexican message board recently for heaven’s sake, or talked to an average chinese national?

    Yes. I go to China every 3 weeks and worked in Xi’an, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Suzhou. Not that this is relevant in any way to your baseless rebuttal.

    Since you are so familiar with Chinese and British nationalism, have you visted Tsinghua, Fudan, Oxford and Cambridge? I have. No one in their right mind would compare the IITs and even less Roorkee with the top-ranked universities in the UK and China. Go take a look at the equipment in their labs for one.

    I think you’re a troll. A pseudo-intellectual who spouts half-cooked opinions on the net. Get a life, seriously.

  26. I will not dignify your intemperate ejaculation with an equally intemperate response; however I wanted to clarify that if you read what I wrote carefully, you will see that my point was not about relative technological superiority of the Chinese or British over Indians, but of the universal tendency of people everywhere to take pride in ‘national’ development (however “unjustified”; hence my line that “the chinese are probably way more nationalistic than Indians–you may say with some justification–but that is beside the point”). So your petulant shrieks about universities in China and Britain are irrelevant. As for being a troll, I’ll leave that for other readers to decide.

  27. This is indeed nice architecture from some British man and I do not doubt an English man praising British empire spreading throughout the Uni-verse ( you might want to check dictionary meaning of verse ), we all know Britishers destroyed thousands of Indian ancient architecture only to built there own and what more can they expect, other than people whose history was partly erased and getting appreciated from same group of folks. I too appreciate the building but no more than Birla mandir of Dilli or Saraswati mandir of Pilani. White building( not so racist building just like white house ) with pillars of Rome. Thanks Amar.

  28. Mr. Sigh, I would like to comment regarding Mexicans and Chinese ahead of India by 50 yrs. I do agree with regards to infrastructure, they have better shaped fruits and vegetables all laced with US patented companies, many of them have started using single use seeds, genetically modified, next they are all following americans, like they have started gaining pounds around their bellies and soon u will see diabetes and heart problem patients prescribibg to rat poison COUMADIN, then there will depression and again US drug companies will make good profit by selling ZOLOFT for millions and there will be no ZOLOFT on the streets ( ZOLOFT is also called as LSD ). Now for your information Pharmaceutical and Petroleum cartel are the biggest in the world, there is no new inventions or discoveries going on in China and Mexico, they are hard man power provider for big US companies whereas brain power comes from IT buildings in Bangalore ( Bandakallu ) or Chennai. Chinese can never rave on anything cuz communist government will rant them away, as far as mexicans raving, 90% of them are drunk after 9pm on daily basis, they are again factories for big US giants, Mexicans don’t have their own culture they were occupied by Spanish people and they forgot their ancestral Mayan language, Chinese are better in a way they have their own culture. Chinese are nationalistic are you crazy, they have been most opressed society as of today, I believe in brain power not on bull/horse power.