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Three Turns of the Dial

Three years they wrote, drew, and designed
In a desperate attempt to complete the image they had dreamt of
But when it was time for them to hand over the reigns to the new
Did they realise that the dream was not to complete the image
But to make sure that it lived on forever.”

Our founder, Athyunnath Eleti, had (quite) a few words to say.

“It began with waffles. Big Belgian waffles, freshly made and topped with two large scoops of vanilla ice cream. There were five of us, two sophomores and three freshmen. All huddled around this small table on the first floor of the KMC Foodcourt. That’s how the story starts. Five people, some waffles, and an idea.

The official founding date of The MIT Post is 19th November 2014. That was the day I was called into the office of Dr. Veena Maben, who was then the Associate Director for Student Welfare, and asked to name the board of what was then a nameless media body that we liked to call The Manipal Standard. I wrote a Word document on her computer, it was signed, and all of a sudden, we were official. That’s all it takes—a piece of paper with some names on it. My friends say that when I called them that evening, I was squealing like a child. 

The first Board of The MIT Post

The story begins like most others, in a dorm room in the 16th block. Room 215, for those of you wondering. I had just joined a student-run magazine called Chill Maadi, and, frustrated with how it was doing, I called my brother in Hyderabad to rant. He said something really simple – “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you change it?”.

I know right? Such a radical notion! Back then, changing something was not in my vocabulary. I had lived a life where if there is something that bothered me, I would find a way to walk around it. But his words struck home and I sat down and wrote an essay called The Manipal 2.0 Idea and showed it to some friends, who said it sounded nice. At the same time, my brother, a budding designer, came up with some mockups for what the magazine should look like. I told him I wanted to call it The Standard, inspired by the Roman standards that stood as symbols and the dictionary meaning of the word, since I wanted this publication to reflect the highest standards possible.

It would be another year before I built up the audacity to publish it. In November 2013, I finally hit “Post” and shared it with the internet. I even sent it to some professors, those who were active on the Student Council Facebook group, though that received a largely tepid response. At this point I was working as an Editor for Chill Maadi, the soon to be Editor-in-Chief of MTTN, and an editor at The MIT Media Team, which was an extension of the Media Team category that existed during the fests. The reason I waited for a year was so I could have a resume that would make people take me seriously. I took printouts, walked into the office of Professor Praveen Shetty, and said, “Hello, I would like to form a journalism organization.” 

To this day, I owe everything I am to the fact that that man took a chance on me and said “Okay”. I may be the founder of The Post, but Praveen Shetty is the man who made it possible for it to be founded. He proposed a deal—I help in organising The Manipal Conclave, he helps me with my endeavour. “Get a team”, he said, as I walked out of his office. I tried very hard not to let my heart explode from the excitement.

I sent out some texts—to Srishti Saraswat and Avneesh Chandra, two people who I had known briefly when I worked with them for the International Press Unit for Summit Manipal, both exceptional writers, and a guy I knew to be the smartest man on campus at that time—Apuroop Sethupathy. It was a simple “Hey have you read this post I wrote? I’m thinking of working on it, would you like to join me? Meet me at this place at this time”. I didn’t expect any of them to say yes. I hadn’t told them anything but to meet me on a Sunday morning. Kinda creepy if you think about it. To this day I don’t know why they all took a chance on me and said yes. The fourth and final member of the team would be Shubheksha Jalan, who had read the Facebook post and sent me a text asking if I intended to do anything about the problems I had listed and that she wanted in.

Seriously, now that I look back, I can’t believe how lucky I got. We met in a classroom in NLH, that was booked under Praveen sir’s name. I told them about myself, what I wanted to do, what Praveen sir had said, and ended with the best line you can use in a pep talk, “Seriously guys, the probability of any of this happening is less than 1 percent. It’s just an idea, a project I was working on and could use some help with, and something I think is important. But I don’t want to make any promises. This will require serious work, hours of it, and there is a 99% chance of failure. Obviously, there is nothing you can get out of this because it’s all unofficial. So yeah, there is absolutely no logical reason for you to stay”.  That was quite the inspiration. Three hours later we were all trying not to burp from all the waffles we had eaten.

I’ll fast forward the tape here for a bit.

The short version of the story is, it took us six months. We wrote over a dozen drafts of our proposal, which included a three-day long Conclave that would rival the best events out there, a ten-page-long proposal for a new journalism organization, one of the first of its kind in the country, completely student-run, independent but also funded by the university, with details about how its staff would function. I quickly realized that I had to trudge through the backwaters of bureaucracy. The college, for good reasons, was reluctant to give the students any more power or freedom. Free speech is a tool more misused than any other in the world’s largest democracy. My grades suffered, and I slipped from being one of the best students to the lower half of my class. As the points in my GPA dropped I asked myself countless times if it was worth it. The sleepless nights and the frantic phone calls. The surveys and the interviews to gather evidence I needed. It wasn’t just me, the entire team was suffering. People left, I lost friends, I was fighting with everyone from the Student Council to the administration. I was spending more time in the corridors of AB1 than in my own dorm room. I started to think that maybe I had oversold it when I said there was a 1% chance of it happening. It was during one of those nights that I realized that what I was doing was bigger than just one person. It was about how the Institute could function as a more transparent body in the future. It was about the 9000 other students who wanted change but didn’t know how to go about it. It was also the first time I wanted to be a journalist.

One day during those six months, a couple of weeks before the end-semester examinations, during what was probably my tenth meeting with Veena ma’am and Praveen sir, she decided it was time to settle this. She said “Let’s go meet the director”. It was ten at night, well past perm-time, and the lights in AB1 were resting their filaments, when she walked into the antechamber of his cabin and knocked. There was an answer, she walked in, quickly followed by Praveen sir and me, with me trying to not lose bladder-control from fear. They sat. I stood and spoke. An hour later, he said, “You’re young, I can’t fire the current chief just because you think you have a better idea. How about you apply next year? There will be an open call, and then if you get selected I am sure Veena and Praveen will help you execute your plan”, and thus I was dismissed.

The Post at The Manipal Conclave

Summer happened, my plans for the Conclave fell down flat because they were too grand and unreasonable, my team didn’t get selected because the SC didn’t want me running what was, by law, their show, and I was allowed to join the organizing committee as a compromise. I think everyone was a tad concerned I was going to lose it and burn down the place.

And then, my roommate and best friend Ashwin Mathew called me to say there that there was a circular on the notice board calling for applicants for The MIT Media Team.

A digressing caveat here, The MIT Media Team was the second iteration of the Media category that existed for TechTatva and Revels. I had started my career in writing at the Media category. It’s where I made my first friends in Manipal, people who are now like family. So, when it was announced that the Media Category was going to turn into the Media Team and work year-round to publish the newsletters, I signed up. Luckily enough, all my friends signed up too! It was brilliant! I loved working there with the people who were closest to me. And then I had a falling out with the board. I had imagined that the Media Team would evolve into The Standard. My vision and all that. But the then board didn’t agree, and I left.

So, when six months later, word spread around about what I was doing, of course my friends were angry. It was their turn to ascend to the board and here was this guy who left them, who had gone to the Director no less to say that their work was worthless and he could do better. In my blind passion for The Standard, I had overlooked the collateral damage I would cause to those I loved.

Ashwin was my in at this point. He was still a part of the Media Team, and anyone who knows Ashwin Mathew can’t help liking him. He had this infectious charm, which is one of the reasons I am still alive today. Ashwin knew what I was up to and reserved judgement until I did something concrete. He didn’t want to be dragged on one of Athyu’s “wild west” adventures, and with good reason. Those never seemed to end well. But he had faith in me and my abilities and so came that phone call.

I ran.

The two of us just stared at the two-page notice on the board. “THIS IS IT!”, I thought. I dug through my Whatsapp chats to find The Standard group and sent Srishti and Avneesh quick texts telling them what was happening.

Then, I told Ashwin it was time for me to apologize and try to make peace with The MIT Media Team. I don’t know what he did, all I know is that I owe him and them an infinite debt of gratitude. You have probably noticed by now how I keep talking about how many people I have to thank. The story of The Post is the story of its people. To think that it was all done by just one man is plain untrue. It would also be highly arrogant of me to assume I was that man. The story of The Post’s founding is one of human trust. It shows you the power of friendship, and how greatness can be achieved if people believe in you. To anyone reading this, never underestimate the power of encouragement.

Thus began the trials. We all applied. By then, Ashwin had left The Media Team to channel his energy and time into his passion for theatre and drama. He would become one of the best actors MIT has ever seen.

We wrote our letters. All four of us submitted The Standard proposal as an attachment to our application. I asked my parents to courier me all my certificates as soon as possible. In the end, our applications were about thirty pages long, including the photocopies of the certificates. This was our last chance and I’d be damned if I gave it anything but my very best.  I remember the OM Xerox akka asking me if this was for a job application since I looked so nervous. I said yes.

Then came the interview stage. I walked into a room with six professors and the Associate Director for Alumni Affairs, M.V. Kini. This was the man who would decide my fate. The same man who I had told via my proposal that his team was worthless. You can see why I keep talking about how lucky I got.

If you look at the original notice it asks for a 6.5 GPA. The actual requirement was 7. Everyone qualified for it except me. Remember when I said I owed everything to Praveen Shetty? Here’s why. He convinced them to reduce the GPA requirement just so that I could qualify for the interview. I will never be able to repay my debt to him.

At this point, we meet two more people in the story who would become defining architects of The Post. One of whom is still the presiding head of the organization. Abhay Shetty and Aditi Shastry. A confession- I am not an easy person to work with. I was rude and arrogant and demanding and any other person would’ve fired me a long time ago. But in Abhay and Aditi I was exceptionally lucky to find two people who would put up with me being a huge pain. In complete honesty, they tolerated me. God, do I love them.

Back to the interview room. I waited outside. Along with Srishti, Avneesh, Ashwin, Ananya Agarwal, Tanya Nadkarni, and another old friend from the erstwhile media team. I knew Annie was applying for Chief too and that she was more talented than me and way more qualified, having worked in the old team for longer than I had.

I hated how we sat. The four of us on one side, and Annie and the others from the old media team on the other. It was as though we were two separate teams competing. I didn’t want any of that. One by one each of them was called in. They went in, left the room after ten minutes, looked at me, and walked away. The last of them was Ashwin, who said he’ll wait with the others for me. It was then my turn. I was complimented for my writing,  but then given a scenario where I would have none of the resources I had so voraciously demanded, and asked how I would function in that environment. I said I couldn’t. That for me to do my job I’d need a large staff, an office, and authority to question and write anything I want. Needless to say, the interview didn’t go well.

But I like to think that’s the day M.V. Kini finally warmed up to me. Later on, at the FC I found out that both Srishti and Ashwin were offered the post of Editor-in-Chief, and they had both said no. And Avneesh was also given the job be applied for, and asked if he’s okay working without me. They had said they would rather not be a part of the team, than be in one without me. Srishti and Avneesh had worked for months on this idea. It was as much theirs as it was mine. And they had said no. For me. While we were walking back to the dorms, Ashwin saw the tears in my eyes, but never mentioned them out loud.

A week after that, another notice went up, asking for more applications for the board of the media team, specifically for the role of Editor-in-Chief.

I was heartbroken. They wouldn’t be looking for more applicants if they like me right? That night Ashwin saw me eat two packets of biryani and watch reruns of Friends until I fell asleep. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things. I had given up.

But my friends hadn’t. Ashwin hadn’t. And he worked his magic. He spoke to Abhay and Aditi, both of whom said they had liked me but my approach of absolute control was not something the higher-ups would be comfortable working with.

We all went out once again for waffles and laughed at the good run we had had. Waffles are important. Never underestimate the power of good waffles, ice cream, and cheesecake.

A few weeks later, the weekend before TechTatva, I was snoring in my dorm, having set an alarm for the Annapoorna Sunday lunch. The phone rang. It was an unsaved number, and I answered groggily.

“Athyunnath, I am calling you because the Associate Director of Alumni Affairs would like to meet you. Could you come to the Director’s office please?” said the voice on the other end. That woke me up.

“Yes, sir. When, sir?”

“Now.”

I ran.

I will never forget those fifteen minutes that it took to get to the office. I sent voice notes to the Standard group- which now included Ashwin- so Srishti and Avneesh could get updated on the situation.

I burst into the room expecting to see one person.

There were ten.

Seated on one side of the table were the four professors from before, including Abhay, Aditi, Veena ma’am, and one of the senior English faculty, and M.V. Kini. On the other side were Annie, Kabir (the Editor-in-Chief of The Editorial Board) and Soumya (Kabir’s Managing Editor).  Annie smiled at me and gestured to the seat next to her.

I sat. I looked at the friendly faces in the room. Abhay and Aditi were smiling at me. Veena ma’am had a twinkle in her eye. But Kini was stone-faced. He looked straight at me. I gulped, wondering how my hair looked and wishing I had had enough time to take a shower. As I reached with my hand to try and straighten my hair, Kini sir spoke.

“So Athyunnath, we need you to work on the Media Team for TechTatva. You can assemble your team and we need a newsletter like the past few years. Okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, then. Congratulations. Your dream has come true.”

Abhay burst out laughing. Aditi was smiling wider, as were the other professors. And in a feat defying gravity all the blood in my body rushed into my face. I was blushing. Under the table Annie reached out for my hand and squeezed it. It was her way of showing her approval. We would be a team to reckon with.

Kabir and Soumya had been called in to see if they’d be willing to help out by lending people and resources from the Ed Board, because they knew we didn’t have a team.  Kabir generously offered his help. I knew how big a deal it was. Kabir was running the Ed Board and already had an overflowing plate. For him to offer me this—I realized his kindness had no boundaries.

We said we needed a workforce. The English professors said they’d call their best students. We graciously accepted their favour. It was happening. It was all happening. It was coming true. You know why they say you should fight for your dreams and never give up? Because there is no feeling in the whole world that will even come close to what it’s like when they come true.

My hands were cold. I called Srishti. Then Ashwin. Then Avneesh. Then my friend Neel, the best designer on campus, who had loved the designs my brother had made and had promised me he would work with me. I called Tanya Nadkarni who would soon be the Head of Reporting with her exceptional writing skills. I called Danny Thomas, my trusted advisor and friend from the media team, who was the glue that held the team together. I called Roopa Pai, my first editor from the first media category. I knew I needed an adult in the room to keep me in check. Roopa would serve as an advisor, which meant she could give me a talking to anytime she wished. It was necessary. I couldn’t allow this to get to my head.

And so we began.

M.V. Kini, Abhay, and Aditi helped us every step of the way. They went out of their way to support us. In two days we pulled off the impossible.  We formed an entire staff. Designed a new magazine. Churned out articles. Got ready for TechTatva.

It was glorious. Our lives were being scored to Baba O’Riley. We worked hard, and we published the first three issues of The Standard.

The Staff during the launch of the first magazine

The weekend after, I would organize and host The Manipal Conclave. It now had reporters from The Standard to interview all the speakers. I met the future board of The Post. Subhalakshmi Sarkar, Manas Subramony, Sagnik Basu, Amit Shah, and all the other names you are familiar with now. They started then. I was called in one late evening to a meeting with the Director and the Joint Director. Afraid I would be fired, I walked in only to be handed a huge project. A guest was coming in the next day and they wanted me and my team to organize a full length event for him.

I called every friend in my contact list. Akhilesh Oberoi, future president of the Literary Society, to create a sports quiz. Shiv and Kunal Bahn (founder of BEANS entertainment) from Aaina to host the event. It was the first time multiple clubs had come together under one banner to create and execute an event. All in one night.
Red Bull made a lot of money that night. As did the 10th block canteen.

And then TechTatva ended. And we found ourselves wondering what was next. What’s the future now? Is The Standard going to stay? Or was it just a college fest category like the media team?

Around this time, I did something stupid. I jumped the gun and conducted an internet extravaganza about the team and our work. Sirens went off in AB1 and I was asked to immediately delete all of the pages and come in for a meeting the next day. It was ground for getting fired, and Ashwin knew that. He and Danny accompanied Annie (who had also received a call) to the Associate Director’s office.

People were angry of course. They had reasons to be. And then something happened. I was asked to leave the room. They were going to decide my fate. Annie was still inside, though. I left and waited outside with Abhay who looked at me, disappointed. I had let them down. I had let all of them down. And they had done so much for me.

Ten minutes- but what to me seemed like an hour- later I was called in again. I was asked to apologise, and left with a stern warning. As we walked out, Ashwin and Annie were talking to each other and Ashwin signaled me to stay away. Back in the dorm, he told me what had happened. For a few minutes that day, I had been fired. And then a miracle took place. Ananya Agarwal, stood there facing those angry faces– convinced them to let me keep my position. Mind you, if I was fired, Annie would be Chief. She had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I had left the Media Team and backstabbed her by proposing a whole new body. She had all the reasons in the world to hate me and none to support me. But she fought for me. And I got to keep my job. I can’t begin to tell you how much I owe her.

I’ll fast forward one last time.

A few weeks later, after what felt like years, what with the countless negotiations with the Student Council and the administration regarding our organization’s charter, on November 19th, 2014, we were official. The name The MIT Post would come in a few months later, after many more discussions. And the first issue of the magazine after that. I would continue to serve with my board for another year. The first year was full of challenges too. And boy, are those good stories.

Moments before the Post was officially launched

But this is the story of what led to that day, the day we celebrate now as the anniversary of The MIT Post. The day the team and its board were made official as a recognized body of the college.

The day The Post was born.

On my first day as Editor-in-Chief, the first piece I ever wrote was the editorial for the first issue of The Standard in which I mentioned the quote that still drives The Post to this day. The words of Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The Post Staff

Yours,
Athyu

As related by Athyunnath Eleti, Editor-in-Chief: Class of 2016

Featured image: Vipul Mone