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(Editorial) Welcome Aboard!

The month of August brings with it a slew of fresh voices to the campus of the Indian Institute of Science. This year, 800 new students/research scholars were admitted. These new faces undoubtedly come to the institute with a lot of hopes and expectations. Also present, perhaps, is a small measure of apprehension that accompanies joining a new place. From student volunteers first accompanying the freshers to the institute from the bus stops/train stations to the welcome they receive (by the Director and the various student bodies), the institute does its best to make the newest members of its fold feel at home as soon as possible.

To our newest readers, Voices too would like to say, “Welcome Aboard!” As you unpack your bags and settle down into your new lodgings and begin to look around, you are bound to wonder, “What kind of a place did I get myself into?”; the tone of the question being more inquisitive and exploratory, rather than accusatory. What, it is only natural to ask yourself, does this place have to offer? As is usually the norm, if, like in the past years, this was our “Freshers’ Special”, this coloumn would have ended here, with a few added words on how this edition of Voices is the answer to all such questions. However, as this issue of Voices is not our usual fare with which we welcome the incoming freshers, a few more words are in order.
The Indian Institute of Science is, without contest, the topmost research institute of India. A fact reaffirmed recently, when the 2013 edition of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU 2013) was released. So, the education that you will receive here and the research opportunities that will present themselves to you will be top-notch. But this is not all there is on the table. The various student bodies that are active on campus and the various amenities that this campus gives you, provide you with an ample opportunity to develop yourself in all facets. Whether you wish to indulge in an existing hobby or cultivate a new one, with the wide range of activities on offer, it is highly unlikely that you will come away disappointed.

At this point, you are probably wondering, where do I look for information of this sort? Well, the archives of Voices are a good place to start. A few of the more prominent recreational clubs feature in our “Freshers’ Specials” of yore. If you are a gourmand or simply find yourself bored of what the messes have to offer, the “Food Special” that Voices came out with a few years ago would be of incredible help. An issue dedicated to the vagaries of research life, the “Research Special” is worth perusing as well. These special issues, as well as over 10 years’ worth of regular issues, which make for excellent reading material, may just help you come to terms with IISc sooner. So head over to the Voices website (www. at the earliest and dig in! And while you are at it, if you feel like sharing your first impressions about your new home away from home, do not hesitate to write to us.

K. Vijayanth Reddy (ECE/CeNSE)

Fitness Woes

This morning I went to the gym,

in a rare urge to keep me trim.

From far behind, on the treadmill,

I saw a lady walking with skill.  

I got closer: ‘twas not a ‘her’ but a ‘him’.


I lifted a two-kg dumbbell:

my arms started hurting like hell!

I then tried the skipping rope,

but I badly tripped on the slope

and fell on face to emit a shrill yell.



Later, I went to the open ground:

joined folks ‘twere running around.

Just as I geared up for the race,

I tramped on my left shoe lace

n dropped’own with a thud on an earthen mound.


I recovered from all this just in time,

with two parts vodka n one part lime.

‘t’s a very refreshing drink:

Stirs you up to clearly think.

Else, how could I write this ghastly rhyme?


Pradeep M (CIVIL)

Students’ Council News (July-September)

Greetings from the Students’ Council!

In July, SC along with Mess Committee and the support of the students was instrumental in reversing the decision to privatize the messes and 2012 batch students have now been allowed to join the old messes. Among the new messes, E-mess has been closed and the C-mess has been shifted to its location. The D-mess will continue to run for another 6 months subject to evaluation by the mess-committees (after 3 months) of the A/B/C messes. The administration has agreed to continue the current pricing structure for the old messes till December. This welcome decision was the result of the efforts of the Students’ Council and the Mess Committee. The financial assistance on mess bills is now shared with D mess boarders. The efforts climaxed in a peaceful march by the students against the imminent rise in mess bills. We thank the students who participated in the march as it was only due to your support, cooperation and participation that our stand was made strong and the results are for all to see. We hope to see similar unity in other issues binding students as well.

 Health Committee and Social Committee of the Council in association with Rotary Club organized a Blood Donation camp on 15th August. 222 units of blood were collected. We thank everyone for participating in large numbers and making the camp successful!

 Environment Committee members had surveyed the present state of dustbins and waste management in the campus and a report of the same, along with photos was presented to the Registrar. The work was appreciated and a meeting was arranged with the person in-charge of garbage collection. The request to install new dustbins was considered and this issue is being worked on.  Members of the Environmental Committee also made an attempt to beautify the Faculty Club premises recently. A ‘Clean the Campus’ drive will be organized soon by the committee. Please come forward and help us in this endeavor to improve and maintain the environs of our beautiful campus.

 The Nation First Initiative (NFI) has sent teams to the flood-affected region of Chandrapuri, Uttarakhand to engage in relief and rehabilitation of the affected people. The NFI teams are continuing their commendable work and will do so for a few months till the work in that area is completed. There were several teams sent and each team stayed there for a specified duration, contributing to the entire body of the work to be done. Students interested to volunteer can contact the council. On the occasion of Independence Day, NFI performed a short street play on theme of “Are we really Independent?” in front of the messes. The play received an enthusiastic response.

Much of the SC activity in July was focused on organizing the assistance given to new students joining this fall in the entire admission process. One group oversaw the transportation provided to the freshers to reach the institute from Yesvantpur and SBC railway stations. Our volunteers plied from early morning to late night to help the newcomers reach the institute without any hassles. Another group worked to set up help-desks and disseminate info-sheets to direct (i.e. hostel room allotment, buying essentials, admission procedure etc.).  Help desks were put up in front of the hostel office and inside the faculty building. We hope that the freshers benefitted from this assistance. A big thanks to all the volunteers for making the entire attempt a successful one!

The Cultural Committee of the council organized a grand freshers’ welcome, ‘Sangam’ on 17th and 18th August, 2013 at J.N.Tata Auditorium. IISc has students from different parts of the country and is a melting pot of various cultures.  ‘Sangam’ referred to this confluence of cultures and the activities planned showcased the cultural diversity. The underlying theme also emphasized the fact that no matter where we come from, we all come under the umbrella of ‘Students of IISc’; so there is Unity in Diversity! This was the first major cultural event of SC 2013-14 and with its  games, dances, skits, music performances, orientation program and finally the food fest, ‘Sangam’ turned out to be a huge hit with the students. It was gratifying to see the participation and we thank everyone, from performers to volunteers to the keen audience for being a part of this new venture of SC.

 The Amenities Committee organized a ‘Bicycle Drive’ in September and will be organizing a ‘Laptop Drive’ soon. In laptop drive, top laptop brand(s) with best deals would be invited to showcase their devices and students can purchase laptops at discounted prices.

 The Hostel Committee has ensured that newspapers get delivered to the common rooms (started September 1st). The volunteers are now focusing on issues of hostel maintenance and providing other facilities (T.V. etc.) in common rooms.

 A ‘Library Orientation’ program was conducted wherein a tour of the library was given by the deputy librarian, detailing all the available facilities. Library Senate Committee has decided to put important information related to library in the student handbook from the next year onwards.

In the past month, we organized a few talks to address problems faced by students, such as addiction.

A COD meeting was held on October 1st. The issues we presented in the meeting are: 1) Appoint a dedicated placement officer, 2) Recruitment of faculty to organize a regular English course, 3) Wi-Fi in hostel common rooms, 4) Changes in procedure of allotting supervisors in the Biology departments, and 5) Scholarship hike.

We have many other initiatives in mind and helping hands are always welcome to put those plans into action! Please mail to if you would like to volunteer for SC activities. Do join the google group ‘IISc-Students-Official’ to receive SC updates.

Students’ Council

The Elephant and the Blind Men: In Defence of the National Anthem

The readers of a serious article can be classified into three categories. One, those who read to cherish the importance of reading and learning, which they think they ‘require’! Two, those who read with a pre-conceived mind on the subject, making the process of reading itself a ‘satire’; and three, those who read  only to ‘show the attire’. This article is largely directed at the people in the second category, who, while lacking in information, seem to have no dearth of (strong) opinion. The first group can also join the party to stop the savouring of this debate. One request: please go beyond the names of the authors. It is a trifle difficult, but you can, can’t you?

So, here is the topic: ‘Jana Gana Mana was written by the sycophant Tagore in praise of the British. It cannot be our national anthem. We must replace it’

This ‘complaint’ consistently surfaces at least once a year. Hence, it is worthwhile to share some relevant information and ascertain if the allegation is justifiable. Like any author’s, Tagore’s literary work, including this song, can be critically understood from three perspectives: the literary pieces themselves, the history associated with their creation and Tagore in personal life. Only then can we decide whether to fill our hearts with admiration or wrath.


Let’s start with ‘the accused’ – Rabindranath Tagore. Asia’s first Nobel laureate, Tagore was the most famous Indian, when Emperor George V and Empress Mary came to grandest of all the royal shows – the Delhi durbar of 1911. There was never any dearth of royalists amongst Indians, and in this context, a few of them asked Tagore to compose a song in praise of the monarch. Tagore, it is said, was quite disturbed with this proposal. After all, he had spearheaded the anti-partition-of-Bengal movement during 1905-07 and his writings, fiction and non-fiction, had been critical of the destructive British policies towards India. He decided to answer this queer request in the way befitting a poet. Describing the incident to his friend P.B. Sen, he wrote, “…A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of the Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has for ages held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense…”. It was sung at the Calcutta session of the Congress that year, which coincided with the arrival of George V. In fact, on the same day, another song written specifically in praise of the British emperor was also sung. The English press, rather poor at understanding the subtlety of Tagore’s verse, messed up their reporting initiating a confusion that has since persisted.

In his lifetime, Tagore had been asked more than once about Jana Gana Mana (abbreviated, JGM) being written in praise of the emperor. His blunt reply was, “I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me of such unbounded stupidity as to sing in praise of George IV or George V as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind.”

The debate over the acceptability of nationalist songs, however, continued. And as British assisted communalism (involving treacherous groups from both major communities) intensified in the 1930s, even the legendary song –Bande Mataram (abbreviated, BM)– became more of a hindrance than of actual use. The problem lay in the latter stanzas of BM, which for example, ran thus “…Baahutetumi Maashakti, Hridayetumi Maa bhakti, Tomaripratimagadi Mandire Mandire, Bande Maataram, Tvan hi Durga Dashaprahardharini…”. It had not been a major issue for decades, but now as communalism and counter-communalism emerged as a big British ally, its ‘importance’ got pumped up. The freedom fighters would have to resist this ‘divide and rule’ tactic. So, in 1937, a committee, comprising of Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Narendra Dev and Maulana Azad (with Tagore as advisor) was constituted to decide which songs could be sung at the convocations and in the legislative assemblies. After much deliberation, the committee recommended JGM as the national anthem. BM and other songs could be sung depending on the time, place and situation. The august intentions of the committee were best exemplified in a letter written by Tagore to Bose. Tagore wrote, “The core of BM is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course, Bankim does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman can be expected to patriotically worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’….The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating…” In postscript, he added “…since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgment is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will – we do not want the endless tug of war…” It is noteworthy it was Tagore who had composed the music for the BM in 1896. It was also a song to which many of the freedom fighters had strong personal attachment. Yet, they were pragmatic enough to banish their ‘musical weapon’ rather than allow the enemy to misuse it. Evidently, the priority was to form a united front against the British.

In contrast, JGM had become increasingly popular. Certainly, the freedom fighters had no doubt over its meaning. Most importantly, it’s concept of India- that of a pluralistic yet united nation – was acceptable to all Indians. It got a further boost when Bose (by this time, known as Netaji) used it as the national anthem of the Azad Hind government. In 1946, Gandhiji observed, “the song has found a place in our national life”. Also the JGM was easier to perform by bands; an orchestra performance received accolades at the U.N. in 1947. It was finally adopted as the anthem of the republic in 1950. It was also decided that as the national song, the BM would enjoy a status equal to the anthem.

The Song

The question remains as to what made him write the song the way he wrote it. It could have been multi-factorial. The song, actually a hymn, has 5-stanzas, of which only the first one has been used as an anthem. A reading of the remaining 4 stanzas assures one that it is not addressed to any mortal, certainly not to a man (Stanza 4 actually mentions the word ‘ snehomoyeetumimaata’ i.e. caring mother; and obviously, George V was no female!). Rather, its reference to an omnipresent and omnipotent destiny maker of India is similar to the Supreme Being or Monarch – the ultimate guide and arbiter of human life – a recurring theme in scores of Tagore’s compositions, including the  Gitanjali. Any artist’s mind goes through distinguishable periods of creativity where the creative work in each period has a specific mood or thought. Since Gitanjali and the song in question are contemporary, the mood in one can be held true as the mood of the other. Another hypothesis is that the ‘…charioteer, the clarion call of whose sacred conch saves us from despair…’ (Stanza 3) draws its inspiration from the Mahabharata.

Whether there was any actual human inspiration to JGM is not evident. But, it has been postulated that Swami Vivekananda could have had an influence. Born in the same Calcutta locality, Tagore and Vivekananda had known each other in their youth. But, there was little communication, and perhaps some mutual mis-apprehension, in later life. In any case, Vivekananda was dead before long.

It was only in 1907-11 that Tagore became aware of the Swami’s contributions. Impressed, he made Vivekananda’s writings compulsory in his new school at Shantiniketan. His idea of the monk can be summed up in his famous words, “If you want to know India, read Vivekananda”. Incidentally, the ‘treacherous’ JGM was written in the same period. Hence, it is possible that the monk’s confident attitude with respect to the motherland’s greatness and destiny were inculcated into the Bharatbhagyabidhata idea.

A more detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this article. But, whatever the philosophical or historical inspiration, it is evident that Tagore’s ‘Lord of India’, is not a colonial king, but an eternal beacon for the Indian people. The ‘pro-British’ allegation turns out to be silly indeed.

Tagore in Personal Life

Tagore was enrolled in English schools, but left all of them because of his personal dislikes. He returned to India degree-less! He idealized that in order to create a nation where “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”, the education system must be changed. So, he established Shantiniketan to work from the grassroots. A pertinent question to the doubters is why would he neither study nor implement the British system if he, as they allege, was very fond of British imperialism?

Tagore’s contributions to the freedom struggle have been recognized by historians as being immeasurable. To cite one example, we hope that the readers are acquainted with his organizing of ‘Raksha-Bandhan’ as a symbolic unity between the two religions as a protest against the malicious order for the ‘Partition of Bengal’ by Lord Curzon. His later actions like the renunciation of the Knighthood title after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre leave no doubt of his commitment towards his fellow Indians. He remained a friend and constructive critic of the Indian leadership till the end.  In his own words: “I have loved India and sought to serve her not because of her geographical magnitude, not because of her great past, but because of my faith in her today and my belief that she will stand for truth and freedom and the higher things of life”.

Back to the Present

Unfortunately, the ‘allegation’ has refused to die down. The reason is obvious. The idea of unity in diversity – enshrined in the anthem’s lyrics, the decision of the 1937-committee, the Azad Hind and the Constitution – is exactly what the communal groups are against even today. And in this case, by deliberately ignoring the well-considered decisions that should have resolved this issue over 70 years back, they ceaselessly malign the great poet and attempt to create an inflammatory situation where a few communities can be painted as ‘anti-Indian’. Not surprisingly, there are individuals in other communities who respond in equally rabid manners. The end result is that either fanatical group thrives on the parochialism of the other. Frankly, their actions are not unexpected; one should not expect good sense from wicked men and certainly, poetic aesthetics are beyond their capacity.

The tragedy is that even well-meaning people get misled by their nefarious propaganda. And, that is because we often tend to have strong opinions without knowing the details of history. In essence, since knowledge is limitless, we are all blind to some degree towards the truth. The problem occurs only when someone does not understand the extent of self-blindness. Just as a few blindfolded men fail to comprehend or describe an elephant, similarly cursory readings and ‘forwarded e-mails’ are unlikely to be of much use in understanding Tagore (or for that matter, any genius). But, as the old maxim says, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing”.

Anirban Mitra (MCB)

and Souvik Bhattacharyya (MCB)

Contents – July 2013


The Forgotten Children of IISc

A Brush with Harsh Reality

Students Protest Proposed Rise in Mess Bills

Notebook Distribution

Students’ Council News

Samanway – 2013

Sign Cynicism

Secret of Macrophotography

The pdf version of the July 2013 issue of Voices can be downloaded here

The Forgotten Children of IISc


IISc is, by nature, dynamic. The institute, over the last century, has evolved continually, trying to keep up with the needs of the country. As it evolves, its landscape changes too. Buildings come and buildings go, the old making way for the new. For this cause, toil many migrant workers, hidden within the tall Aluminium sheets covering the four flanks of their work site, playing their role in the growth of the institute. Not far from their work places, their children play away under the afternoon sun. And therein lies the stark irony. Living within an institute that is revered as a temple of knowledge, these children may never see the inside of a classroom. 4

A large part of the workforce employed by the contractors to work for the construction projects in the Institute, are migrant labourers hailing from other states. They go where their work takes them, often with their families staying with them near the sites. When asked till when their stay in the institute will last, the most common reply from the labourers was “When the work here ends”. Sadly their children suffer the brunt of this. Many can never attend the same school for an entire academic year as their parents rarely stay that long in one place. Some wish their children to have a permanent roof over their head, instead of a nomadic existence. “I will send my children to stay with their grandparents back in our village, soon”, said Shabaana*, a labourer, busy wetting the newly laid concrete at a construction site near the new Aerospace Department. Those who stay with their parents near the work site, however, are left to the care of others in the temporary tin roofed settlement as both the parents have to work at the site to make ends meet. Ramesh, a project manager with the Ramky Group who is in-charge of the construction at that site, said, “Indeed! We would love to send these children to pre-school. That way, we don’t have to worry about their safety because a construction site is an unsafe place for little children to loiter around”. He remembers there being a Balawadi centre within the campus a few years ago. And he is right.

A Balawadi centre is a pre-school specifically aimed for children in the age group of three to five years belonging to the underprivileged section of our society. The aim of such initiatives is to ensure universalisation of pre-schooling. It is believed that this will improve the rate of enrolment in primary education. Not too long ago (late 2007) the students and the Administration had been instrumental in setting up a Balawadi centre in the Institute for the children of the construction workers working in the Institute then. Sadly, as the construction projects got over and the workers left, the centre was closed down. According to some workers Voices spoke to, the place near the Water Recycling Plant where a new canteen is coming up is the place where this Balawadi centre once stood.5

Back at the construction site, the site in-charge seemed oblivious to the presence of the little ones in the settlement right next to the site. When prodded further he admitted their presence, “Yes, there are children, but they are all small, some three or four years old. No one is older than six”. He said, “We are ready to even sponsor their school uniforms and books, but the parents are not interested in sending their kids to school. They stay for no longer than six to eight months.” He has been in the institute for 7 years. When asked about the old Balawadi centre, he admitted he didn’t know there was one. “If they open it again, I’ll encourage my labourers to send their children there. I’ll also arrange a vehicle to take them to school and bring them back.” He mentioned the tens of thousands of rupees they donate to a school nearby, the management of which approaches them for donations, on a yearly basis. One might wonder, if true, how the management could miss seeing the children that play on the path that leads to their generous donor’s office.

The people behind the Note Book Drive initiative too, were at one point, keen on making sure these children get primary education. When asked about their view, they said, “We started ‘Reach and Teach’ 3-4 years back; aimed at the children of construction workers but we had lot of difficulties in taking the initiative forward. The main difficulty we always faced was the shorter time duration for which they were present in the institute. The labourers mostly used to change. Also, once Prof. Prabal Maiti (from the Physics Department) started discussion with the administration to have a permanent crèche for those kids in IISc , but the administration never really responded ”. Even after repeated attempts, the Voices Team could not get any response from the administration in this matter .

“It would delight us all if these children could go to school”, said Babu, a bachelor new to the settlement. “Would you like to go to school?” he asked little Ismail. He nodded a quick “No!”. And everyone around laughed.

One of the elders near him smiled and said “No, my boy, be a good kid and go to school.” Indeed, who, among those who live in India’s premier research institute, would know better the value of educating the young, than the ones who were denied it in their youth.

*All names have been changed to protect identities

Excerpts from the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Central Rules, 1971:


“A Creche should be located within 50 metres of every establishment where 20 or more women are ordinarily employed as contract labour. While the Creche should be conveniently accessible to the mothers of the children accommodated therein, it should not be situated in close proximity to establishment where obnoxious fumes, dust or odours are given off or in which excessively noisy processes are carried on… Accommodation in the Creche should be on a scale of at least 20 sq. ft. of floor area per child. There should be a shady open air play-ground suitably fenced for older children…The Creche should have first-aid equipment kept in proper condition. Every child should be medically examined before admission. There should be medical check-up of the children once a month and their weight recorded once a month. A record of the periodical medical check-up should be entered in the record of medical examination of each child kept at the Creche…”


Arjun Shetty (ECE), Arpita Mondal (CIVIL), & Ranjith Warrier (AERO)




On behalf of the Queer IISc group.

SC Elections Special Issue – I