Wednesday, April 02, 2008
We had this subject called Engineering Electromagnetics (EMT) in 3rd semester. I remember that it had Maxwell's equations, that the text book was authored by William Hayt and that he made a reference to the Star Trek transponder in his book to illustrate a point. Apart from these very important details, I remember precious little from that subject. We were assigned a "different" professor for that subject. He was this educated-in-foreign-but-dressed-like-a-mullah guy (he had a beard up to his knees, wore no shoes and wore what looked like an unwashed white khurta and a veshti up to the knee). He came to class only 10% of the time, conducted 'class elections' whenever he came and when we broke for our 'study holidays' he had crossed the 'Introduction' segment and scratched Lesson 1. We then broke for holidays and EMT exam happened the day after Deepavali.
EMT was a confusing , convoluted, and complicated (The Three Cs) subject for people like us who thought college was good time pass. We neither understood the book nor appreciated the untimely humor of a foreign author. Usually people call friends the day-before exam when study-situation seems out of control. The 10 minute conversation with a co-loser is therapeutic. The traditional phone calls before EMT exam day was very tense. Not a good sign. Even the people who usually continued to study outside the exam hall until 10 minutes after the exam started, gave-up and came in early. The exam was a shocker. We were asked these 12-mark "problem questions" as opposed to "theory questions". This, stand alone, was completely unheard of in the history of Madras University. 20 minutes into the exam people started turning back and laughing. 40 minutes into the exam a few boys got up and left. 2 hours into the exam almost all the boys barring a few had left. The first girl left 45 minutes before exam close - a feat never accomplished before.
After the exam got over, for no obvious reason, a very very stupid boy started a signature campaign for "moderation" of exam papers. I had never heard of a 'signature campaign' until then. Didn't know what it was capable of doing. He thrust a letter in my face and the letter had 35 or so signatures in it. It was a dirty white paper with a few scribbled sentences, which actually meant "respected sir, as I was suffering from poor preparation and no problem solving experience, please give me 45 marks or more". When I refused to sign and I was given this angry traitor look. Finally, I relented and signed. The whole concept of having a paper with a lot of scribbled signatures (with no name, address, or other I.D) seemed absurd. It took him 10 days to find out who to post the letter to. That it was considered to be powerful enough to move mountains seemed even more absurd (Later, I learned that you actually needed such signature collections to nominate yourself for MLA kind of elections). Whenever someone has ever asked me to put a signature on a signature campaign (apparently we now have e-campaigns, whatever the hell that means), I have instantly regarded the person as an idiot and inserted him in my hash table at the appropriate location. Somehow I strongly believe such things should never work and cannot understand how a person could be such a drunken optimist and so disconnected to believe otherwise.
I have this burning question. Has any signature campaign ever worked? I am not that naive. I know such signature campaigns are like soft-versions of bandhs, hartals and fasts - which nowadays are used mainly for posturing or a publicity gimmick. They don't really intend to achieve anything except to check-a-box or to say "hey don't blame me! I have done my part to show my solidarity" (like the Rajinikanth fast on the Cauvery issue). But in the history of signature campaigns - has anything ever been achieved as a direct result just having a few scribbled names on a piece of paper? Or has the only outcome been "the problem still remains, only that now more people know about it". My hypothesis is that 90% of such signature campaigns will never be read by the decision maker (it could be 99% for the e-campaigns). And the remaining 10% increases publicity of the issue and could (really remote though) indirectly lead to the decision-maker being pressured. I don't see a situation where the decision-maker sees a signature campaign stand-alone and goes "my god! since I know that so many people feel this way - let me change my mind. I don't want to hurt their feelings". If the Controller of Examinations had seen, he didn't because the letter was never posted, the EMT signature campaign, I am sure my class would have got more than the 34 arrears it eventually ended-up getting. Is my hypothesis correct?