"The Swinging Sixties!"
The sprawling, lush and serene campus of IIT-Bombay has never failed to enthral and inspire its visitors, always stirring a sense of awe and allure and invigorating academic exertion, as attested by several faculty, alumni and students. Citing an article published in the Indian Forestry College Journal, “The campus of IIT-Bombay, flanked by two large lakes, ribbed by several hilly spurs, blessed with 250 cm of annual rainfall and still remaining remnants of vegetation of the shrunken Borivali National Park, contains many nooks and corners of idyllic natural beauty and would set on fire the imagination of any conservationist.”
However, at its infancy in the early 60s, things couldn’t have been more disparate. The institute just comprised one wing of SASMIRA (Silk and Art Silk Mills Research Association) in the name of campus with a few rented flats at Worli acting as the students’ hostel. Being far from homely or comfortable and lying on the outskirts, life on the campus was far from cosy. “The area was infested with snakes and a variety of insects. There were no roads, nor foot tracks to move from one building to another; no street lights. People recall they had to walk through the lush and wild growth, sometimes three to four feet high, always in the danger of snake-bites or insect-bites. Snakes, scorpions, crabs, and frogs entered the houses and students’ hostel rooms, classrooms, and offices.” Secluded from the rest of the world, even rudimentary aspects of campus life such as transport was also an undertaking in itself, with the only respite coming in the form of the bus service between Vikhroli to Powai, introduced by the director at the time Brig. Bose after multiple persuasions to the BEST. Even still reaching Vikhroli from Powai was an irritant in itself!
Consequently, the resides resorted to unconventional modes of transport not just limited to bikes (where you can haul and bail your comrades out of the trouble of trodding), or cycles (where one can simultaneously relish the affable company of fair damsels), but sometimes even biological machines like horses were also utilized by the flamboyant few! And occasionally, these splendid mounts encapsulated riveting tales of their self too! The horse in the third image of the post has a similar bemusing story. Found abandoned in a sick condition by alumnus Kaul (H-4 Aero engineering) who moved by the animal's deplorable state, made arrangements for its medicines and food. Pretty soon enough, the steed became the centre of awe and wonder for the unsuspecting inmates of the campus and a lovely mode of conveyance for Kaul who used to ride it to the Department and all around the campus on a makeshift saddle!
In a complete dissimilitude to the hustle and bustle of the perpetually lively campus of today, as quiet as a rule, the institute would become eerily silent at late nights and over weekends. Perhaps the only monolith of the past that still remains relevant to date is the persistent and unsought influx of the wild cattle from the hillside area, which at those times used to uncharacteristically bolt away at the slightest hint of human proximity.
With no PCs, internet, or e-mail, the solitary connection to the outside world was the daily mail. Love-letters, letters from family, friends, job offers, GRE applications! Countless connections were made, hearts broken and future careers shaped over this subservient mode of communication. Alumnus D. Dahanukar, of the institute’s second undergraduate batch, recounts, “We were the first batch at Powai. The roads were not asphalted, we wore gumboots in the rain. There were only three buildings: Hostel 1, and two others pretty far away. The Main Building was being built. The dispensary had a doctor who colour-coded his mixtures, different colours for different years!” The community in those times was small and young but willingly undertook whatever roles they had been assigned, no matter how basely, to enhance the prestige of the institute. The 60s was a tough time. There was no rice available in the market, no kerosene or cooking gas, and one had to wait for an eternity to just get a telephone connection.
With the institute thriving with fauna that intruded every facet of the regular life, alumnus A. Chatterjee reminisces a bemusing incident. The Vihar Lak looming and cladding the institute just as large as Powai nonetheless offered a panorama flawlessly serene and tranquil and enticed many to indulge in a quick swim. Sometimes however such swimmers were greeted with the native dwellers of the lake. Climbing ashore and confronted with a numbing sight: a crocodile gazing right back at him, both Chatterjee and the croc were too stunned by this confrontation. Devoid of any discourtesy and almost apologetic of the encounter, the crocodile gracefully retired to the lake, stranding Chatterjee with a crocodile-infested lake between him and the campus. Amassing all his courage, Chatterjee did decide to brave the waters and fortunately reached ashore without any mishappenings!
With the campus sheltering a plentitude of fauna and even truant intruders like monkeys and panthers, it was the cattle here that developed an air of sovereigns after a few years of exposure to their much evolved human counterparts. Spoilt by the affection and with no regards to decorum, the dung cakes and incursion to classrooms and hostels became as frequent an occurring as the monsoons. No less legion are the stories of annoyance, mishaps, injuries, and close shaves with the campus’ coalitions of cattle and its stray dogs!
Amenities on the campus, even though improved over the 60s, still did so in their own whimsical fashion. The hospital, still an improvement over the initial dispensary, was ambushed with surprises. With a cold dungeon of needles, bandages, blood, and drips, the check-ups used to be hilarious. No blood test, just a stethoscope, and the hearing test being asking the name of the patient in a low voice.
All this shows that IIT-Bombay even though a vanguard of scientific and technological advancement in the modern era, its life on campus (screened by the contemporary digital renaissance) could cloak one in an otherworldly air of its own. The enrapturing scenic grandeur amalgamated with an unremitting and collective zeal of its members to augment the stature of their institute is what made the life in the campus during the swinging sixties such a memorable and wondrous experience!
Credits to Mr. Sunil Hattangdi (B.Tech Aeronautical Department, M.Tech Mechanical Department, from 1969 to 1976) for snapping some of the iconic pics!