ISM Musings – by Arvinder Kaur (93’ PE)
I am on my way to India right now after a two-year COVID induced gap, and memories are flooding my brain. Some happy, some sad and some bittersweet. It’s the same with my memories of ISM. It is not just my alma mater but also the place where I grew up, as my father taught at ISM. And my father is an ISM graduate too, so that makes for a triple strength bond!
My earliest memories of ISM are as a five-year old, playing hide and seek and other games in the streets of Teachers Colony. Festivals were the best – with staff that hailed from almost all the Indian states, I got to sample regional delicacies and experience a wide range of traditions while sharing celebrations with our friends.
I remember visiting the Geology Museum in the Main Building with my father and marveling at the magical rock balanced on my palm, swaying gently like a living, breathing thing. One of my favorite memories of the Main Building is climbing the stairs to watch the sun rise on a new year. The library adjacent to the Main Building was appropriately revered as the abode of Saraswati. It was there that I eagerly peered through a telescope when Halley’s comet swung by in 1986, allowing us mortals a glimpse of heavenly wonders.
The hostels, of course, were off limits as they were boys’ hostels. Once a year, however, on Basant, Old Hostel would open up to alumni and their families and we would breathlessly watch games of ping-pong, played with an intensity usually reserved for the sport of cricket. Old Hostel (renamed Diamond Hostel by the time I joined ISM as a student) also has the unusual distinction of hosting my wedding ceremony on a blistering hot day in May a few years after I graduated.
As a student, I saw a side of the institute that I did not have access to earlier. There was now a girl’s hostel, of course, and there lived in them role models who remain an inspiration to me even today. Practical training every summer kept us on our toes, but also gave us a chance to visit new places. While training at ONGC’s Institute of Drilling Technology in the first year, we hopped on a bus to Mussorie and Chakrata, where for the first time in my life I “touched” clouds that were wafting by.
By second year, ISM was convinced we could do more, and sent us off to ONGC installations in Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Ankleshwar. As the train slowly pulled into the outskirts of Ahmedabad, we three girls spotted a board saying ONGC Chandkheda and decided it made more sense to get off right there instead of going to Ahmedabad station and then wasting time and money to return to Chandkheda. We promptly pulled our luggage out and tossed it out of the moving train, jumping out ourselves right after. When we looked back, we noticed everyone gawking at us out the windows of the gradually retreating train. We crossed the train tracks purposefully, and my friend walked up to a parked police car to inquire where we might find an auto to take us to the ONGC guesthouse. The police officer took one look at the three girls in pigtails and promptly offered to drop us off at our destination. We reached our dwelling in style with police escort. On our first morning at the Chandkheda guest house, we polished off our breakfast and then figured out that it was more efficient to scale the locked gate visible across the lawn to catch the bus to the oilfield than walk out the main entrance like a lady. So that’s what we did. I think it’s incidents like these that resulted in a comment from a male classmate to an “Arts” college girl during Saturnalia (the annual college festival that has now been rebranded, though I doubt that it is any less bacchanalian) that his female classmates were not feminine enough. All these years later, I still wouldn’t have it any other way!
Third year brought with it the Mandal Commission protest, with the institute shutting down for a week to allow tempers to cool off. There was a lot of talk that students should offer free education to disadvantaged children in the community, but nothing came out of it, and I am ashamed to say I did not contribute anything except words. Some 15 years back, I learned that (then) current ISM students had implemented what we had only discussed, and they were successfully preparing these children for admission into proper schools.
Come final year, we Petroleum Engineers learned that we were out of luck for jobs. ONGC was hit by the downturn and had slashed recruitment to zero. Realization dawned on me that the promise of the highest salary in the institute was meaningless when it was dependent on a single employer that was not bound by any commitments. So alternate plans were made, fast and furious- GRE, CAT, Civil Services, etc. Each of the 40+ students landed on their feet and all are doing very well today. When ISM decided to diversify its course offerings and some alumni were disappointed, I voiced support for the change because I had seen firsthand the impact of operating in the geosciences niche. I vote for jobs over nostalgia any day.
I was unable to attend the silver anniversary celebration of our batch. I have not been back to ISM Dhanbad since 2006 as my parents have moved to another city. But whenever I smell the fragrant earth after a rain-shower, I am reminded of ISM, my childhood home, my alma mater and the place where I formed lifelong friendships. It was magical then and I am sure it’s magical now.