A culture fest is an event of many parts. How do students make it tick?

It required several man hours of 35 committees comprising thousand student volunteers and 15 faculty members to ensure that the recently-concluded ‘Anokha', a pan-India technical festival of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, was a success.

If one thought that this was Amrita's USP, then one had to look at other tech and cultural fests such as ‘Kurukshetra' of College of Engineering Guindy, Anna University; ‘Riviera' of Vellore Institute of Technology, and ‘Shaastra' and ‘Saarang' of Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, to realise that these institutions too adopted a similar USP to script their success stories.

“It was 5 a.m. and we were trying to accommodate the girl participants who had arrived a day earlier without prior notice. Some sports participant had hurt his ankle, and the sound systems in the auditorium were blaring loudly. Outside, a group of environmental activists were protesting at the sponsorship we had received from a company that was involved in a legal tangle.”

Sounds chaotic? This is how the day began for Aarthi K. (name changed), student organiser of a cultural fest of an engineering college.

Amid semester examinations, industry projects, campus training and internal evaluations, a different sort of frenzy grips campuses when budding engineers plan out a flurry of events and activities for cultural or technical fests.

A tech fest or a cultural fest is viewed as a legacy that is handed down by seniors to juniors and every batch deems it a responsibility to make it “bigger and better.” While the first edition of ‘Anokha' had 1,500 participants, the second edition in 2011 witnessed 7,000 entries.

“The final-year students are the main organisers who select their successors for the next edition,” says student co-ordinator Hari Raju S. of ‘Kurukshetra'.

And organising is a year-long business too. Private universities and colleges get cracking by forming committees, identifying sponsors, people to perform, etc. While most of the work is mostly managed by students, auditing and accounting of financial transactions is taken care of by faculty.

The tussle for the ISO certification also drives students to keep the organisation well-detailed in documentation. “We have the Quality Management Unit that does routine checks of events and expenditure to make sure everything is transparent,” says Karthik Rajakumar, student organiser of Shaastra and Saarang.

Organisers say that the expenditure for the fests amounts to anything between Rs. 30 lakh and Rs. 70 lakh without including the advertisement costs. Most of the organisational costs are met through sponsorships.

According to Prashant R. Nair, convenor of ‘Anokha', some companies lend their support in forms other than monetary. “Whether they give cash or otherwise, it's a win-win situation for the companies. Some provide technical expertise, some others conduct an event or workshop, while others set up an exhibition.”

How do the students work in committees? Mr. Prashant explains by drawing an analogy. “It is like an organisation where there is a hierarchy, you have targets to meet and based on these you deliver. All the ingredients that are required for smooth running of an organisation are also applied here. Students learn to work within a framework, resolve conflicts, and take care of personal and team targets, all the while attending classes and preparing for projects and examinations.”

Students too believe that the fests are excellent platforms for them to learn valuable management lessons and life skills. Juggling many things at the same time, working in teams, communicating effectively, organising events without glitches — these are among the many things they learn that books will not teach them.

After all this, do things go wrong? Sometimes, they do. When everything is organised for the start of a workshop and much to everyone's embarrassment the promised audience does not turn up. It is time for a flurry of phone calls to ask friends and friends of friends to fill up seats.

On other occasions, explains Hari, “The crowd exceeds the auditorium capacity since most of the registration is done online now. Apart from relocating the event, shifting the projectors and other appliances, it is also important to ensure that the event does not start very late.”

The alumni of the institution too chip in. Students of CEG say that alumni are the best bet for arranging for a sudden replacement of a guest lecture, or even on matters of the kind of technical workshops to organise.

How much ever importance is attached to the ‘generous sponsor', the ‘supportive management' and the ‘hardworking faculty', it cannot be denied that it is the enthusiasm and enterprise of the students that are the determining factors for the success of the fests.

It has to be seen to be believed that it is their true labour of love for their alma mater that takes these fests to their logical conclusion.

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