I am Naresh (Jat), Mechanical Dual, 2002-07, Godavari. I was the Institute Sports Secretary in my final year and have been invited to write something about sports in IIT Madras around those days. It has been a long time now but I will try my best to share all the ‘relevant’ memories, especially those that I continue to cherish till date.

Naresh_Mehta1Early days

IIT Madras was leading the all-time list of Inter IIT general championship victories when I started as a freshie (am sure that is still the case) and sports had a very strong influence on the life of an average student on the campus.

I was a badminton player in school days and as a freshie wanted to get into the NSO batch of this sport, but found myself doing relatively better in the NSO selections for athletics.  A part of me still wanted to chase my first love, ‘badminton’(the fact that a very attractive girl, a year senior to me, was Instibadi player had nothing to do with this) but eventually decided to heed the advice of Mr. Johnson (senior most instructor of gymkhana at that time) to focus on athletics – and I can’t thank him enough. So that was the beginning of my relationship with running.

At this point, I must also add the unique misery of 2002 batch – first batch to have been subjected to Admin’s experiment of putting freshie boys in a separate hostel – ‘Sarayu’ (which had been converted from a girls hostel) and then moving them into regular hostels in 2nd year (some anti-ragging initiative which didn’t quite work as we had frequent visitor from senior hostels in the first 3 months – if you know what I mean).

So we were the unfortunate lot who didn’t have any ‘room father’ in 1st year but ‘room-mothers’… and obviously a very big disadvantage in Schroeter as we had literally no chance against other hostels which would come with proper star studded teams (Inter-IIT players et. al.) while we would be a bunch of freshies barely managing to field a team and without proper kit.

Growing as a sportsman

After first year, we were moved to different senior boys’ hostels and I landed in Godav – my home for next 4 years. And soon like all the other atheists I too started believing in God* :)

My running got me the attention of senior sportsmen of the hostel. I used to practice middle distance during NSO and had the ideal pace and stamina to excel in football and hockey at hostel level. But the biggest turning point was on the athletics track when I won my first Schroeter medal – a bronze in 5K beating some rather respected athletes. I was as shocked as my hostel’s athletics captain Raghu who was rather sad to have not spotted my ‘talent’ earlier as I could have potentially won a medal in 800M or 1.5K as well.

That medal got me into the probable list for Inter IIT athletics team. And I was soon under the wings of LP – extremely respected long distance runner in his 5th year (dual) and former Institute sports secretary; in short I was training with the best and I managed to get into the contingent going to IIT B for Inter IIT 2003!

I feel very fortunate to have been a member of that team full of some absolute legends; LP (‘03 dual), Biju (‘03 dual), Anand (‘06 dual), Raghu (‘05), Rudy (‘05) – true champions all of them. We won the athletics trophy by a record margin, winning both the relays in style and all the 3 medals of 100m (yes IIT Madras won them all -gold, silver and bronze of 100m sprint) – we had historically been strong in sprints while long distance events were dominated by IIT B in those days… but as always LP managed to bag silvers across 800m, 1.5K and 5K losing to the same old rival from Bombay this time as well. LP’s role was always very critical as his silvers used to ensure that we didn’t let Bombay offset the lead taken by our sprinters in long distance events. Biju, sports secretary that year was declared best athlete of Inter IIT for his gold medals in hammer, discus and javelin throw -extremely strong and ever so humble mallu!

Our contingent was so strong that in almost every sport we finished in top 3 – watching hockey team win gold medal in the penalty shoot outs against IIT D was a great experience, great rivalry and intensity – both on and off the fields :). It was a great learning experience for me and inspired me to train harder and make myself count next year.

And leading the pack

I finished 3rd in the road race later that year (4th semester), behind LP and a German (exchange program) and around same time was elected as hostel sports secretary of Godav (for 2004-05).

Atheltics Winners Inter IIT 2004

Athletics Winners Inter IIT 2004

I was a far more experienced and trained athlete by my 3rd year and won several medals in athletics (mostly gold) which helped Godav finish second in athletics and got me the best athlete trophy in Schroeter. I was a key member of the football and hockey teams as well, both of them winning bronze in Schroeter. Godav ‘almost’ won the Schroeter that year but Ganga managed to leverage some ‘technical elements’ from the rule book to snatch it away from us at the last moment (the fact that the Insti sports secretary back then was from Ganga had ‘nothing’ to with this) – so close yet so far!

This was also the year of home Inter IIT for us (Dec’04) where I won 400m relay gold and 3 silvers (800m, 1500m, 400m hurdles)- basically played the role of LP, and just like him found a new superior rival in IIT B. And as always our champion sprinters ensured we lifted Athletics trophy! We won the Inter IIT yet again – but no one was surprised this time, we all knew GC was going to stay home!

In my 4th year, I was Institute road race captain (started a road racing club that year, which I was told died a natural death in couple of years), vice-captain of athletics team, and hostel captain of the football team. Around this time I decided to move away from longer distances and focus on middle distance events (400m to 1500m and hurdles) and managed to win all my events in Schroeter except losing to a good friend in 1500m. I was very disappointed with myself, hadn’t expected a pull from him in last 60m and had no time left to react to that. That friend ‘Durgesh’ and his wife are both ultra-marathoners now.

I unfortunately missed out on that year’s Inter IIT because of some personal constraints. It was a tough championship for Madras where we saw emergence of new rivals in athletics (KGP and Delhi) and our teams struggling in other sports as well. We lost the GC but did discover another class sprinter, Gautam Ethiraj… he was a late starter who started sprinting only in 3rd year and shocked everyone in both Schroeter and Inter IIT.

Leading IITM contingent InterIIT 2006

Leading IITM contingent Inter IIT 2006

Later that year (my 8th semester), I was elected unopposed as Institute Sports secretary for 2006-07.

And very soon realized the challenges of this position– all the admin stuff, working with gymkhana around the procurement of sports equipment, kits, track suits, finalizing Inter IIT contingent, coordinating with team captains, dealing with Inter IIT organizing committee (still remember the tough discussions we (sports secretaries from all IITs) had at IIT Guwahati in Jul’06 trying to convince Dean (Students) of IIT G and placement cell reps from all IITs to put placements on hold during Inter IIT – took much longer than I thought it would).

We got back the GC that year and I am very proud to have led such an amazing contingent.

It was a miserable tournament at personal level, was nowhere close to my best due to lack of training and managed to fall sick a day before the start of the tournament (fortunately not admitted by IITG hospital). I could barely manage a bronze and despite stellar gold medal efforts from Gautam Ethiraj in sprints we finished 4th in athletics (dominated by D, B and KGP – just like the previous year which I had missed).

However, we did very well across most of the other sports – my favourites are gold in football in penalty shootouts against KGP, gold in basketball led by amazing Porko beating a far more experienced team of Delhi and gold in cricket on the last day which sealed the General Championship for IIT Madras.

I also initiated the concept of sports volunteers (usually 2nd year students) who acted as a bridge between gymkhana and student community. This group played a key role in helping me with the launch of the monthly newsletter capturing all the sports activities (Schroeter, Dean’s trophy, GF & KR, Inter IITetc.) and it was named ‘SCHnelleRhÖhErsTarkER’, German for Citius, Altius, Fortius (with the highlighted SCHROETER) – absolute genius :)

Naresh_Mehta2

IITM Director’s recognition of my services as SS 2006-07

So just to conclude and while running the risk of sounding clichéd, I can very safely claim that these years in IIT Madras will be the days you will miss the most in your lives.You will long to relive them…so please live them to the fullest while you are still there.

I continue to run regularly averaging 25K a week and participate in 2-3 half marathons every year (PB 1:48). I am based in Edinburgh (UK) these days working for a data science firm called dunnhumby.

* ‘I was an atheist until I realised I was God’ – Godav’s motto, in case it is not in use anymore!