Monday, February 5, 2018

On IITK duty: Experiences with JEE/GATE

Just returned from Varanasi where I had gone as IITK representative to an examination center for GATE. And I thought it is a good time to record how things have changed in the last 25 years that I have been involved with JEE and GATE (only with respect to the arrangements for the Institute representative, I have written lots of times about the exams per se, and this post is not for that). This is written under the "Stories" blog and not "Musings" blog, for this reason.

A few months after I joined IITK faculty, I volunteered for JEE duty. I was asked to go to a school in Lucknow along with two staff members, and three really heavy trunks. The only thing JEE office would do is that an IITK bus (non-AC, of course) would take all teams to Lucknow, and drop us in front of the Railway Station at Charbagh. We were completely on our own from that time onwards for the next three days. We had to arrange two tempos (couldn't fit 3 trunks in one tempo), take all the material to the school, and deposit it with the principal. After that, the search for a cheap hotel will begin. We can't stay with friends/family since all three of us had to stay together. We were given certain amount of money which was not enough for any decent hotel. Our school was 10-15 KM from Charbagh. They told us we can't get any cheap hotel nearby. So we came back to Charbagh and went from hotel to hotel. Finally, I convinced my colleagues that we can go to a slightly expensive hotel. They could share a room and thus, their portion of bill will be within the amount allowed to them jointly. I will take a single room and pay the difference from my pocket. In the morning for the next two days, find a tempo which has at least 3 empty seats and going in the direction of the school. Hiring a taxi from hotel to the center would have been way above the budget allowed. Using public transport in hot summer wasn't the most convenient thing to do. After the last exam, find two tempos and bring those trunks which are slightly lighter now (since we don't have question papers anymore) to Charbagh where the IITK bus will be waiting. And with no mobile phones, if anything happened to you, you were on your own. Teams going to longer distances were dropped at Station, and they had to find a way to board the trains with those heavy trunks. From the stay perspective, GATE exams were easier, since they invariably were held at colleges, and colleges would have a guest house.

Contrast that with today. An AC taxi takes you from Kanpur to your center. The taxi would be with you all 24 hours. A good hotel would have been booked for all team members, with everyone getting a single room. The breakfast would have been arranged. The lunch would be arranged by the center. And they will give you enough "daily allowance" to have dinner in a good restaurant. And, of course, with online exams, no trunks to be carried. Anything that you can think of would have been arranged and taken care of.

Things drastically improved in 1996-97. We started using AC buses for a couple of cities and AC taxis for some. AC buses came from Agra. JEE could not find in the entire city of Kanpur, AC buses on hire. Yes, one of the 10 largest cities of the country had no AC buses for hire, just 20 years ago. Today, it may be difficult to hire a non-AC bus. We also started booking hotels centrally for all team members. As highways improved, we discontinued buses completely, and even centers as far away as 300-350 KM would be served by a taxi. The quality of hotels improved. The daily allowance for food improved, and so on.

I was telling these stories to my colleagues over the weekend, and their reaction was, why would anyone agree to volunteer for JEE/GATE under those circumstances. Well, part of the answer is that that was life at that time. On IITK campus, there was hardly anyone with an AC at home, now most people have. There was hardly anyone with a car on campus, now most people have. What JEE/GATE was offering was similar to how we lived. Now that we live more lavishly, we expect JEE/GATE to provide facilities that we are used to at our homes. But I believe, there was also a greater sense of belonging at that time. We "owned" IIT Kanpur. Today, we are mere employees of IIT Kanpur. As "owners" we are more willing to face hardships. As employees, we  want whatever best is possible.

Bonus stories: If you are still interesting in continuing, here are my favorite stories, one from JEE experience, and another from GATE experience.

It must have been 1998 or so. Mobile phones had come in, but very few of us had a personal one. (I got mine in July, 2000.) JEE would rent mobile phones for a few days and give one to each team with the instruction to use it only when necessary, since it would cost a bomb. (I think it was 16 Rs outgoing and 8 Rs incoming. So talking to another team would cost 24 rupees per minute.) Before the first exam, I received a phone call from Prof. Manohar Prasad, who had gone to another center in Jhansi. When they opened the question papers, they found the wrong QPs packed in one of the bundle of 50 papers. While everyone carried a few extra papers, they were still short by some 25 papers. The school did not have a photocopying machine, and he was not comfortable with the idea of getting QPs copied at an outside shop. I told him that he should postpone the exam by 15-20 minutes, come to my center, and I will give him 25 papers that I had extra.

After the phone call, I explained the situation to the Presiding Officer of the center and told him that I would be giving 25 papers to my colleagues. He plainly refused. He said that custody of papers is his responsibility and he does not know this colleague of mine, and what if there is a leak. I explained that I can give whatever he needs in writing and take full responsibility so that no one raises any fingers on him, if indeed there is a problem. But he was not happy. I then proposed that one of his trusted person can go with Prof. Prasad to his center and if he is convinced there that these papers would only be used to conduct JEE there, then he hands them over, otherwise brings them back. But he was adamant. He kept saying smooth conduct of exam is his responsibility. I told him that while his responsibility was only to ensure smooth conduct at his center, my responsibility was to ensure smooth conduct of JEE in the entire country. Finally, I called up Prof. Prasad who was about to reach my center. Told him that I will give him paper outside the control room and he should just rush back before the center folks realize what has happened. I got a packet out and did exactly this. Came back and told the Presiding Officer that I have given the papers. Now he had two options. One, he reports this to JEE Chairman. Two, he files an FIR, and I face the police. Better sense prevailed, and he preferred to not make it a police case.

Another interesting incident happened during GATE duty in 1995. I was assigned the center at Pantnagar University. I convinced our team to go a day early. I had recently married, and I went with wife with a plan to visit Nainital. So GATE office dropped us by a bus at Lucknow. We took the overnight Meter Gauge train to Lalkuan. No porter there. So had to lift heavy trunks to come out of the station and thankfully, university had sent a car to pick our team, and they had rooms booked in their guest house. GATE was always more convenient than JEE. Soon after breakfast, we headed for Nainital. Took a bus. But after a couple of hours at Nainital, the weather became bad. It started raining, almost freezing rain. The temperature had gone to 0. And both of us were only wearing a sweater. How can you guess that in February, it can get so cold. And we certainly weren't in the habit of checking weather before traveling. We rushed to the bus stand to go back. But we were told that the road was too dangerous to drive, as it had even snowed at places. Just a couple of hours ago, it was 20 centigrade. We even decided to afford a taxi, if one was available, but no one was willing to drive. It became too cold, and we started searching for hotels. There were thousands of tourists stuck and all of them looking for hotels, and Nainital is a small town. No luck with anything. I was wondering if we had to spend the night under the sky and whether we would be alive by morning. I was hoping that the rest of the team-members would be able to successfully conduct GATE, if such a thing happened.

Then, one person told us of this house where they rented a couple of their rooms to tourists once in a while. It was on height and needed climbing large number of steps. I was debating whether to go there since we were already too tired to walk, and if we reached the top and they told us that there is no room, what would we do. But the other option of staying outdoors was too scary and we climbed. Thankfully, they had a room, but they told us that there was no heater, and it would be bad in the night. They promised to give us two blankets each so that we can survive the night. We really had no option. I still remember the hot Aloo Parathas that they cooked. Absolutely heavenly. In the morning, the weather was clear. Came down to the bus stop, took the bus and reached Pantnagar. Our team was very concerned for our safety and were glad to see us.


  1. Great recall of those times. I liked the part of "ownership".

  2. Still, we are the owners sir !!!

  3. Dear Sir,
    I am amazed at the level of detail you can remember in these "stories".
    (Y8 dual)

  4. @Vamshi, I do not remember every trip for JEE/GATE. These were very difficult situations and hence, one remembers them.