An Alumnus Perspective after 30 years
It is a salubrious spring morning with gorgeous blue North California skies, bright sunshine and a crisp 12 degrees Celsius. I take a deep yoga breath and imbue fresh oxygen and dollops of Vitamin D. I am standing on Palm Drive overlooking Stanford Oval, watching young men and women scurry in various directions. Some are headed towards their class in Jordan Hall, others rush to Cubberley Auditorium. Many precariously perched on bicycles and skateboards, zoom to Gates Building or the School of Medicine. Purposeful, brimming with youthful energy and completely oblivious to the ephemeral nature of the moment, without a foreboding clue of the looming shutdown.
My memory flashes back 30 years to February 1990 as I walk up Stanford ramp at Vastrapur. To my college days at IIM Ahmedabad, to the times of yore, to the beautiful campus designed by American Architect Louis Isador Kahn.
The architecture both reflected and influenced the tastes of our times. It represented our temple of learning, unfinished yet concrete, antique yet modern – an icon of high stress, enigmatic yet aesthetic.
Looking back on it with rose tinted glasses, the ‘unfinished’ campus look was symbolic of young student lives being shaped in the two years we spent at IIM. Akin to an artist’s use of a kiln to harden ceramic objects and finish them into items of value (note I did not say beauty).
Ancient civilisations like the Romans used rounded arches extensively to span large, open areas. As an innovative variation, Gothic architecture used pointed arches for taller, more closed spaces. The arches of Louis Kahn in the campus corridors represented long tunnels – symbolizing our escape as we burrowed for two years of our lives, unsure if we would ever make it through. Almost miraculously, each one of us did – hardened, standing tall and ready to take on the world!
For the engineering students, the geometric shaped buildings were familiar and welcoming. Harvard Steps and the Stanford ramp were apt symbols of higher education, an important gradient towards a life long successful career.
But during the two years we spent at IIM, we had no such appreciation. More realistically, the brick walls in our dormitories were a furnace in the hot Ahmedabad weather for over 9 months of the year. That certainly served to intensify the academic pressure, so much so that the starkness of the architecture gave us plenty of ideas to bang our head against the wall in desperation and frustration. Nights seemed very short and often I would wake up perspiring profusely and hallucinating about the walls of my room closing in on me. On some days, the feeling was worse than being cloistered in a small prison cell. While we were there, we knew the architecture was distinctive but it did not appear particularly appealing.
For me, the only exceptions were the large lush green lawns where I played a lot of frisbee, the quaint and pretty mounds of grass around the dorms and the grandeur of Louis Kahn Plaza. The majestic convocation ceremony at the pristine LKP was certainly the denouement of our two years.
Three decades later, after a long and rewarding corporate career, I am privileged to be back to school to another great Institution – for renewing purpose and personal Renaissance.