During my time at IISER Bhopal, I helped shape the annual science festival organized by the institute called Singularity. Introduced in 2014, it aims at celebrating the fun and curious side of science, rather than its academic incarnation which is only too familiar in a research institute like IISER Bhopal. A big part of the project is also to bring in students from local schools and give them a taster session in science. I have long since graduated from IISER Bhopal, but in the years that have passed Singularity has emerged as one of the most renowned science festivals in the country, attracting a diverse crowd from all backgrounds. Check out what they have been up to at singularity.iiserb.ac.in.
Singularity took its current form as a science festival only in my final year. During most of my time in the institute, it had existed as a science club, organizing weekly meetings for science enthusiasts, occasional invited talks and field trips. IISER Bhopal being a "science research institute" there was little point in a science club at first, but we nevertheless saw the need of creating an ambience of science as an extra-curricular activity in the institute. It started out in 2010 with just five members: myself and four of my friends Aranya Lahiri, Pratik Roy, Saurabh Gosavi and Tarun Saxena. It was an exciting and adventurous ride, to say the least. To mark its first anniversary in 2011, I wrote a small mémoire in institute's annual magazine - Uday:
The Second Intro
Recollecting the first anniversary of Singularity.
Morning 7 O' Clock, my mobile alarm brought me to senses. I didn't yawn, neither did I rub my eyes, nor did I hurry to that tempting snooze button. I jumped right off my bed at once in excitement - which was extremely rare, especially on this hour of the day - and took a peak at my phone. Yes, it was 7, though it was supposed to be 6:30. I jerked my leg in frustration. To add to it, my room-mate yelled that the alarm ranged 3 times before this. My frustration was shifted from the leg to him; I yelled at him in turn, for not waking me up even after hearing the alarm 3 times. Time saved him, because I had only 20 minutes before the first bus to ITI. Today was the first meet of Singularity of this semester.
I brushed my teeth, fresh myself, put on the clothes which my hands could find on the chair, picked up my bag and left the room without even a bath. No, it was not the excitement, neither was it the time, I had no plan to bath even if I would have woke up at 6. It was 7:15 and I was almost on the road when something clicked me. I ran back to H-40 shouting for Aranya, and before even I could enter the house, found him there. We both ran to the bus, and were just in time.
Yesterday night (or I should say today morning, for Akshay) both of us woke till 3 O' Clock and prepared our presentation titled 'The Second Intro', which I had to deliver today. It was about the journey of Singularity from an idea to what it was today. We were going to address this presentation to first years', who had joined the college just about a week ago, to give them a flavor of Singularity. Even after managing Singularity with Aranya for over a semester, surprisingly it was my first presentation. It didn't mean that I was nervous, not till Aranya made me realize that my presentation today would be the first impression of Singularity to the new batch; that made me a bit, in fact, a lot nervous. We two were alone in the bus; we discussed about the presentation and the possibilities to include images here and there, which we were unable to do earlier due to lack of internet in Eco-Green.
We stepped in the mess at about 7:40, and to our surprise, it was not empty. Many first years', bathed and well dressed, were already present in the mess and were having their breakfast. Thank god, there was not a queue, which distinct it from regular days, and made us believe that we caught the 'first' bus from Eco-Green. Anyway, we finished our breakfast and reached the Seminar Hall to prepare our presentation; which was again not empty. How could people be so sincere to their studies???
Anyway, we had about three hours with us, as the presentation was at 11. It might sound long enough at once, but not if I tell you that we had to finalize our presentation, and then I also had to prepare what would I speak. Finalizing the presentation took an hour or so, and then it was time for me to practice. Already the faces in the Seminar Hall appeared to be too entertained by the strange activities going on, which made me ever more cautious and nervous. Finally, I decided not to entertain them anymore, and to just mentally prepare myself for the presentation by accumulating my thoughts, hoping that it would suffice.
It was only 10:55 and the hall was almost half filled with first years', which was extremely rare for Singularity; except for some talks by some prominent professors, we never met a crowd more than 30. Finding no courage I hesitated to start, till finally at 11:05, Aranya pushed me for it. Unexpected population and expecting faces of the crowd took my nervousness to heights. I was half wet in sweat, before even uttering a word. With stammering voice and waving confidence I spoke my first words, and started my 'recitation'. With numerous pronunciation and language mistakes, I finally ended up completing my 40 minutes presentation in 15 minutes. Finally with a 'Thank You', I concluded my presentation, and asked for any suggestions, questions or clarifications, as a ritual. I waited for about a minute for response, realizing that the crowd might need some time to digest my super-fast presentation. But at last, finding no response I declared the end of the meet. To my surprise, no-one moved, instead someone asked about our plans for this semester. After answering it, I again waited for response, and finding none again, declared the end of the meet again, when another question was raised. This sequence repeated itself for another two times, when at last I declared the end for the last time and left the hall in frustration.
After such a horrible address, meet was at last dismissed, and I found myself encircled with some students armed with doubts about Singularity. It cheered and worried me at the same time, as I was successful to create an ambiance for Singularity in their minds, but at the same time I had to answer all those innocent and excited questions. I looked around for Aranya, but as always couldn't find him when needed, and helplessly started my quest.
After it all ended, I was with Aranya in the Seminar Hall. We were binding up the accessories (Laptop, Projector, mike etc.), and by the time were reviewing the meet. To most, this meet would not be much different from others, except the crowd, but to us it was. A semester of inviting professors, setting up the projector, running for the mike at the last moment, and then finding no audience pulling them form Computer Lab and Library to get at least a respectable crowd for the professor; it was never easy. I was feeling secured for the first time, as I could see some interested and motivated faces for Singularity. It could be an illusion, as you never know what attracted those guys, the charm of 'something new' or the 'science'; but whatever it was, it was satisfying. Entering in our third year, we started to feel that we alone could not take Singularity much farther; we needed more interested and motivated people in the quest, and the crowd somehow appeared to promise the same. We could safely handover our love now............. Probably!!
Following the three successful years of Singularity as a science club, we started planning something big by the end of 2013. We figured it would be fun to organize an event stretched over multiple days to celebrate science. Along with various fun activities, we wanted to reach out to the general public, especially school students, and give them a first-hand experience of working with science. It wasn't particularly easy but nevertheless fun. IISER Bhopal had only been around for 5 years and was still struggling to be better known outside the scientific community. We visited various local schools in person, talking to students about science and getting them pumped up for the upcoming festival. Not to mention the hunt for sponsors to fund the event. The results exceeded our wildest expectations. It ended up being a four day fest jam packed with events, four plenary talks and a lot of school crowd. So much so, that we were talking about plans for Singularity '15 even before Singularity '14 was over. I graduated later that year, so couldn't contribute to Singularity '15 or the editions that followed in person. I hope that the trend continues in the future. Nevertheless, I am proud to see how the festival has grown over the years, both in size and ambition. A big shout out to all the organizers and volunteers from IISER Bhopal who helped make this dream a reality: you guys rock!