“Law School…Law School…” The crowd chants. In the centre, a girl in a red jersey faces a clutch of girls in deep scarlet. She edges closer to the smallest of the seven but immediately steps back as the rest of them advance towards her. The crowd chants louder. She makes another attempt. Hopping on nimble toes, she manages to finally touch the girl. However just as she does this, the line of seven fall upon her. She pushes and struggles, but the seven get the better of her. Sand flies up in the air, clouding the vision of the arena as the chanting crowd shuffles to get a better view. A whistle is blown. The crowd goes quiet. A girl in scarlet now steps forward and faces a line of 6 girls in red. The crowd begins chanting again.
The finals of the Women’s Kabbadi competition at Spiritus is underway at the SAI Complex in Bangalore University with hosts NLSIU lining up in red against local rivals CMR Law College. The crowd is composed mainly of Law Schoolites, who have come out in force to cheer their team on in the finals of one of many sports on offer at Spiritus 2015, NLS’ annual Sports fest for Law Universities around the country. The girl in red: Shraddha Chaudhary, the Convener of this year’s edition of Spiritus.
Spiritus is just one of the many events that the student body conducts throughout the year. A major part of the undergraduate population is involved in the running of events, as members of the organising committee, as volunteers or as participants. Events have come to be the most prominent creative expression of the NLS student body and contribute to student life at law school in a variety of ways.
Creating Something New
Some events have pioneered the wider field in which they exist. Take the NLS Debate, organised by the Literary and Debating Society (‘LnD’). At its inception in 2002, there was no culture of Parliamentary Debate in India. The first edition saw less than 15 teams participate. However the persistent efforts of the vibrant debating community at NLS in getting other universities to take up the activity saw the tournament explode in subsequent years to become one of India’s most coveted titles that regularly sees close to 50 teams from some of India’s best debating institutions. “Now there is a Parliamentary Debate Tournament in every corner of the country but it was NLS-D that set the standards for how a debate tournament is organised in the country and it holds a special place in the hearts of all NLS Debaters – giving us a chance to share the joy we find in the activity with people across the subcontinent” says Nayan Banerjee, Convener of LnD 2013-2014 and current SBA President.
Another example is that of Strawberry Fields, Law School’s annual music show held on the field next to Gate 4 (now the Vikram Singh Sports Enclave). It initially started off as ‘Lawcommotion’, held in the Acad Quad as a part of Law School’s erstwhile cultural fest LeGala, but has since spawned into a beast of its own might. Attracting India’s best upcoming amateur bands since 1996, Strawberry Fields is credited as the launch-pad for some of India’s most prominent bands like Motherjane and Space Behind the Yellow Room. It can legitimately claim to have played a significant role in the growth of India’s now thriving music scene.
A Dose of Life
Many colleges in India don’t support the organisation of events or when they do simply do not trust students enough to allow them control over the key logistics and management of an event. This is usually rooted in the Indian belief that the main purpose of university is pure academia and that all extra-curricular activities are just distractions. This manifests itself in undesirable ways. For example, at the Vellore Institute of Technology, the financial freedom of societies organising events is greatly restricted, whereby the societies don’t get a chance to financially budget for their own event, instead are allocated a discretionary amount of money to conduct something that usually results in underfunding and administration control over how the content of events will shape up. Christ University while generously funding its events, displays administrative interference, controls appointment of student committees and uses administration tools like permissions and attendance to effectively control final decision making in all matters pertaining to the event. A conversation with any student of an average university in India will tell you the deep problems associated with university administration and the ability of students to independently manage events.
Fortunately, the NLS administration does not subscribe to this mentality and allows its students to manage everything about the event, from budgeting and sponsorship to management of logistics like ensuring accommodation for participants, transport to the venue and infrastructure at event locations.
The management and coordination of these various functions can contribute greatly in the process of creating smarter and competent students and complement academic growth. “Events like Spiritus are essential for wholesome development. They teach you very real, very essential life lessons that will probably help you more in the world than classroom teaching”, says Shraddha.
Sarthak Gupta, Convener of the Law and Technology Committee (‘LTech’) that organised 2015 Edition of Consilience, which hosted a seminal conference on Net Neutrality just at the time the issue was burning hot in the mindspace of Indian Internet users believes that the skills he learnt in organising Consilience “will come in handy not just for the remainder of [his] life in Law School, but for the professional life [he] wishes to lead beyond it as well”,
Part of the learning experience comes from the fact that events throw up various inadvertent and unavoidable challenges. Strawberry Fields, for example, now faces immense competition to get sponsorship, participation and audience due to competition from the the vibrant english music scene in the country. “The show started when there were few listeners of rock music and even fewer avenues for Indian bands to perform. That situation has changed significantly in the past 18 years. People can walk into any pub or music festival to listen to semi-professional and professional bands”, says Gautham Rao Polusany, Convener of Strawberry Fields 2013.
Strawberry Fields has a huge legacy and brand name to fall back upon and will ultimately continue despite the competition. Other events like Consilience don’t enjoy this guarantee. As of two years ago, Consilience was dead, had not occurred for 2 years and the Law and Technology Committee was seen in campus as somewhat of a joke (a popular joke going around Law School used to be- “Go to Ltech when your laptop is spoilt, they will fix it for you”). Its subsequent revival was challenging due to the paucity of passed-down wisdom that other more established committees like EMC and LnD have. As Shivam Singla, Convener of LTech in 2013-2014 puts it. “When we initiated its revival in Jasraj’s year, none of us had any experience in organising a conference and to be frank, little exposure to the field. Consilience had not happened for two years – we had few networks, spoiled relationships, and inadequate mentorship.” But Ltech has managed to pull out of this and successfully revive Consilience, showing promise of a sustainable future for the event. “Since its revival, three consecutive successful editions of Consilience have happened and hopefully the event will continue to be seen as a regular fixture on the NLS calendar just like Spiritus or NLS-D are today”, says Shivam.
Perhaps the biggest challenge however is dealing with the various people that make the event happen: from dealing with participants from multiple contingents at NLSD and Spiritus, to managing referee needs, to assuaging impatient food stall proprietors and dealing with the various infrastructure, hospitality and transport heads that ensure the logistics of an event run smoothly. People are complicated. While on one hand you have a supportive administration and cooperative committee members, on the other you have difficult people such as external vendors, even students within the student community who, as Shraddha aptly puts it “simply like to watch the world burn”.
Finally, there are the challenges of logistics and managing various crises that inevitably come about when multiple things are happening at the same time. These range from minor crises like a bus driver who decided to head home in the middle of an event to major ones like a sponsor backing out at the last minute. Students rise up to these challenges in running events in ingenious ways. In 2011, a major crisis unfolded when during Strawberry Fields, a large fire started raging at the edge of the University Field. It was located behind a scrub of bushes and so was only visible when it had grown quite big. There was dry scrub all around and there was a huge chance that the fire would spread, leading to not only the cancellation of the show but also danger to the people around. Instead of panicking, all students who were present on the field rushed to help douse the raging flames. Since there was no fire-truck nearby, buckets were procured from the nearby boys hostel and the hose near the entrance of the field was switched on. The next hour was an exercise in single-minded determination, with students from first year to fifth, of all shapes and sizes carrying heavy buckets of water over a distance of a quarter of a kilometer, pouring it on the fire and rushing back again to refill the bucket. Eventually students organised themselves in a chain of sorts, reducing the distance a student had to walk with a bucket and increasing speed and efficiency of water delivery to the fire site.
A Lesson in Emotion
Events also have a lasting emotional impact on the people involved in making them come to life. An organising team member has to plan in advance, with constant meetings and frantic telephone calls to sponsors, to hectic late nights ensuring flexes are tied up and all registration has been facilitated, Its hard, incessant work but it all becomes worth it when it pays off in success. “The incredible feeling on that final night when the headliner is playing, are things that will stay with me long after I graduate”, reminisces Vishakh Ranjit, Convener of Strawberry Fields 2014.
For the incoming first years, volunteering (or forced-volunteering as some put it) at an event provides them the first glimpse of the crazy law school life lying ahead of them. Transferring mattresses at 6AM in the morning, tying flexes at 2AM in the night, picking up participants and dignitaries from the airport, all this while having classes, project and exams on their could be the best possible preparation for the years ahead. Additionally, events also constitute one of the major platform for senior-junior bonding, with multiple opportunities for first years to get to know and interact (positively, of course) with seniors they have not met before. It may be emotionally traumatising in the short term. But in the long term the first year has made friends for life.
And in addition to everything else, events no doubt provide liveliness to campus and make one appreciate the wider social life present outside the academic activities. Parth Singh, Joint Convener of Spiritus 2013, known for his frank and outspoken views among the student community, puts it quite aptly, “You learn to appreciate passion better sitting on the field listening to bands from around the country the whole day or sitting at the basketball court screaming your throat hoarse in the third quarter of an NLS v. SOEL match, even though they have no tangible material incentive. You are sitting there watching it because you’re passionate. Passion for cheering on your college, seeing players give it their all, coming from random places around the country to play because they are passionate about the sport. In a time of cynicism, where the term CV-whoring is being bandied about with increasing frequency, it is refreshing to be reminded that passion still exists and the great value it can add to make one’s Law School life better.”
Back on the Kabbadi Court, the next round has begun and Shraddha is back in the opponent’s half, playing the same game of cat and mouse, moving closer to the second end line. The crowd cheers louder. Shraddha makes a quick motion and manages to touch one of the scarlet shirted girls. Dust flies up the air as she moves towards her own end zone. A few girls in scarlet have caught her arm and are attempting to pull her down. Relentless, she moves ever closer to the halfway line. The crowd chants get louder. The scarlet girls finally bring her down 1 foot away from the half line. Dust flies up again. A whistle blows. The crowd erupts louder than before. Shraddha’s left hand is beyond the white halfway line. 5 points for Law School. That is one unassailable lead. The crowd chants become the loudest they have been in the match. NLS is going to win the women’s Kabaddi gold. Some of the crowd makes its way to the nearby Football Field where the NLS Men’s Football team is about to begin its quarter-final match. There is already a crowd there,“Law School… Law School…”.