When I joined the Institute in 1979, there was ferment in the student ranks. It was not universal, and large swathes of the student community went about their work with mild amusement or, sometimes, exasperation at the doings of their fellows. There was however a very vocal and energetic group of student activists, many of whom were my friends. In the previous year and the year I joined, they dominated the Student’s Council (SC). They organized strikes and demonstrations to demand a greater role for students in the new admissions to the various programmes of the Institute. This of course was then, and is now, the unquestioned and exclusive privilege of the faculty and the administration. The SC, however, had secured a brief victory, when the Director agreed to do away with the entrance exams for that year, and rely solely on interviews for admission to the PhD programmes. Why the SC deemed this more just and egalitarian is not clear to me now, but I remember being caught up in the excitement of having stood up to the establishment. The Director appointed a committee consisting of two senior professors and two nominees of the SC to go into the entire matter of admissions. The committee met several times and submitted reports and did all the usual things committees do. There were also many meetings between the students and the Director, during which hot words were exchanged. Finally as happens in such cases, the whole issue died a natural death. (One of the more cynical members of the SC described the eventual outcome as follows: ‘When you complete one revolution, you are back at the starting point’). When I was inducted into the editorial board of DRAG along with three others, however, the admissions matter was still alive. Since DRAG was nominally funded by students’ fees, the SC, flushed with its ‘success’ in challenging the establishment, took charge of the magazine and sternly instructed us to concentrate on matters of general interest to the student community, and not just on literature and poetry and other such dilettante stuff, which apparently had been the focus of the previous versions of the magazine. We tried!
The first issue was a disappointment, even to us. The two most energetic members of the editorial team were busy at that time organizing the student’s cultural festival, called Vibrations, and the magazine was left mostly to the care of the other two, who were older and more conservative. Much of the rather staid reportage was about Vibrations, and this enraged members of the SC, to whom this westernized cultural festival was anathema. The issue was notable in one other respect. It lacked a name, and the masthead was deliberately left blank. We had asked the previous editorial committee why it was called DRAG, and they couldn’t tell us. Their mumbled explanations about how the first editor may have been an aeronautical engineer were not convincing. When it was pointed out to them that in slang ‘a drag’ means ‘a bore’, they replied that that was the whole idea, a kind of self-deprecatory ‘insider’ joke. Another explanation for the name was that the magazine was originally called ‘The Rag’, but over a few years had mutated to its current form. We decided we needed a new name, and below the blank masthead of our first issue we announced a DRAG renaming contest, with results to be announced in the next issue. After going through the contents of that issue, which as I said were largely oriented towards the cultural festival, one of the SC members angrily suggested that we rename it ‘Peeping Tom’, which happened to be the name of the daily newssheet brought out during Vibrations. The other suggestions that came to us in the subsequent weeks were not much better, and in the second issue we resumed the name DRAG, stating editorially that perhaps this was the name that best described the ethos of the Institute.
The second issue was far better, chiefly, I think, due to the efforts of the youngest member of the team. For those who may not know, there was at that time a large batch of students, who, after completing a Bachelor’s degree in Science, joined the Institute for a three-year B.E. course. These students supplied most of the energy for the student activities. The youngest member of our team was student of electrical engineering and he managed to obtain and digitize a photograph of the Institute main building, which we printed using an electric typewriter (actually a line-printer) and used as the cover page. This was revolutionary for that antediluvian time, and was well-received by the readers. The other contents of this issue were equally well-received, including a terrific eye-witness description of a Total Solar Eclipse which we were fortunate enough to experience. This was our best issue. By the time we brought out the third issue, the editorial board was reduced to three, with the youngest member having finished his course. This was our final hurrah, and was something of a tired affair. Afterwards we handed over charge to the next team and went back to our research. DRAG continued for two or three more issues, but I did not see much of it as I approached the end of my stay in the Institute. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as editor, and was happy when I was invited to continue my ‘literary’ activities as a member of the team that brought out ‘Yellow Mag’.
This unofficial, privately-financed gossip rag was the subversive brainchild of two or three fellow-students who are now extremely accomplished members of the scientific establishment. The fortnightly gossip sheet was usually four pages long, copies were made overnight by cyclostyling and placed secretly at strategic locations around the campus. I contributed some articles to it and helped to print and distribute it. But the thing I liked best about it was the party that accompanied the launch of each issue.
Department of Crystallography and Biophysics,
University of Madras, Guindy Campus,
Chennai 600 025, India