Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Signature Campaigns

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?


Sowmya said...

Reader lerndhu click panna, engeyo pogudhu...fix panna koodadha?

Anonymous said...

too much!! we also got similar EMT paper like that only.

my college days were filled with such signature campaigns, most of them being management vs students or RTC vs students. Strangely enough, most of the time, these worked in the sense that there was some kind of forum which was organised and both parties got their say and some kind of concensus / compromise was arrived at. In one particular case, a Principal was made to abdicate when the students and faculty joined hands and it all started with a signature campaign.

BUT, I believe that these successes were more due to other colluding circumstances . The campaign helped in catching the attention of an open management. It was not they were toothless, just that they wielded their power judiciously ( justice is on our side ).

Apart from these in-college campaigns, I believe nothing else that I have seen has had any effect. The ones before WC are the worst I say.

Anonymous said...

//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//

Pure unadulterated 24 carat Gold...

- Ganesh

Anush Moorthy said...

Personally I do not believe that these things fact, there is nothing that can change a system. You can chip at it slowly and over time you will be able to achieve something.

However, we had this one 'elective' by a good prof., which was cancelled for no apparent reason. We were told that we needed min of 20 students to have that as the elective. So I organized something akin to your signature campaign (with IDs here) and then gave it to the HOD. It worked, we had our elective.

EMT eh? Ya, we had the same Electromagnetics - my god, I cannot believe that such a complicated subject is a part of daily research for some people! Oh, and there is a good book on the subject by Sadiku, Hayt is the standard...I used the 'local author' - technical publications! ;)

Babu said...

yes and no, depends on what this SC is signed for, for example if a TV station boardcast something sensitive and many were hurt and if you send a SC to them they might take an action or at least apologize to the viewers which only makes u feel better but damage is done ;-)...

but in ur instance I don't think it would work....
I remember EM for us EEE's too and we were given 5 days hols before that paper but due election damn Jaya, they had it advanced and got no leave or just one....
and my story went something like this.....some of us decided to study and give it a shot and 90% of hostel guys from EEE went for a movie before night, some even decided not to turn up for the exam....these assoles who went to the movie persuaded me to join in but I didn't and their guilt was killing them, but when they returned back after second show @ 3:00am from Devi to Crescent they discovered hostel did not have power from 10pm...they danced the whole way singing I did not study :-D.......lucky the paper had only theory for us and I passed ...LOL

rishabh said...

your blog is hilarious.

and yes there were quite a few signature campaigns. I remeber couple of years ago there was athis fad of generally signing petitions on and it became quite popular too. I personally remember signing a "Jessica Alba should be forced to wear less clothes in her future movies" petition

bombay dosti said...

hmm,think you have answered the same. One, creating awareness is one huge step in any social change/issue. So,if a signature campaign can do that, then so be it. Second, yes, no change is going to happen just because of the campaign, but then, its many things that add on to help bring a change.Change is not a linear process na?
Your blog is interesting, and your inherant disklike for jargons,evident in your posts, is the most appealing :)
do you really mean everything you write????

Anonymous said...

Why is a bandh mostly falls closer a weekend(like a friday or monday) or some other holiday? Does the attention to the bandh increase and also get "solidarity" from "working class"?

Anand said...

EMT, Maxwell's Equations, William, brings back disturbing memories :)

I didn't know the author used a Star Trek transponder to illustrate a point. Goes to show how much interest I took in it. Luckily (literally) I got a 47 and passed in the first attempt! Phew

Sriram said...

How far was your grad school application SOP removed from this real story?

Karthik Sriram said...


The "EMT Experience" for you in Madras Univ was "Communication engg Experience" for us (2001-2005 - EEE) under Anna Univ - I swear if that I could change the EMT to Comm engg and obv Hayt to Kennedy and there would be no differece! But then Anna Univ is much more "Seth" than Madras - they made us pay 800 bucks for "re-evaluation" and when I went back to submit my form, a friendly clerk showed me where they'd 'stored' our exam scripts - in a godown - in gunny sacks and the bloody roof was leaking. Ever since I refused to pay money for re-evaluation or re-totalling.

And a signature campaign did go thro and due to some eminent politician son in our dept, the matter got escalated to the higher strata of the AU - with the ultimate result that assh*le scored a totally undeserved 80 in that paper while others pretty much got what they expected...


Hawkeye said...


ippo okayvaa


ya! the WC kick-the-players-out campaigns annoy me


avar parents have paid hefty phone bills :-)


gangadhar was the local author?


the hostel participates in earth hour. :-) Field Theory was last exam of 4th sem for you guys so motivation to study is really low. EMT was also the last exam but they put the fear of god into us.


jessica alba. now that is a worthy campaign. I am almost beginning to reevaluate my view on such campaigns

bombay dosti,

thanks. what do you mean by 'mean'?


'bandh' should be for 3 days in the future and should border a weekend.


transponder example happened in introduction itself.


what is the real story?


signature campaign no use. political influence very useful. ithu thaan naan solren.

Satyajit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Satyajit said...

this is necessary....its the "convenient" way of supporting a cause. see it,sign it,forget it. they form a great dinner time conversation piece where one feels "worthy" because he/she helped a "cause". internally its all "don't waste my time unless it take less than a minute".

Anonymous said...

Took me back to the good old college days! I remember the EMT paper. It had no questions from the sample question papers from previous yrs. I followed a policy of a friend of mine who said exam papers are graded on accuracy and also on molams (the flower measurement - 1 molam=1 mark). So I wrote till the last minute anything I could thing of on EMT, never mind the questions. I scored a very respectable percentage, since who would fail someone who wrote 40 molams?

Sarang said...

Nice post! I liked the way you almost spoke of Superstar and did not. I need to learn how to do that!

Anyway, nothing like rememberring the good old EMT examination. I still do not know how in the world I cleared it! Got a stamp (just enough to pass) :)

Anonymous said...

I have tried to save Tibet in a minute by putting my signature :-)

Karthik Sriram said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karthik Sriram said...

The two lines above are a single line link.


Nikhil Narayanan said...

I have tried my hand at signature campaigns when in school.
Couple of us, tried to IMPEACH my classmate who was elected the school pupil leader!!! LOL!!
We were like, any democratically elected leader could be called back from office by the same guys who elected them....
May be my first brush with a suspension happened there....thanks to the school princi who did not lend me an ear! Looser :D

Anyways, nothing happened. We guys were warned.
And she continued to be the leader. Damn!!