There were no bespectacled teachers wielding the rod to silence the classroom. Nor were there any sticklers for discipline giving stern glances when the students break into murmurs.

Instead, the classrooms hosted workshops with personalities such as actor Kamal Haasan and director Gautam Menon on the podium where brainstorming sessions on maths and science usually take place.

All workshops at Saarang 2010, the cultural fest hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M), unfolded with a good turnout of giggling girls and laid-back guys who turned into compliant learners, once inside the classrooms. As the workshops began on the first day of the four-day event, the participants flipped open notebooks, feverishly clinging on to every word of the resource persons.

But learning at a cultural fest such as Saarang did not seem to be such a bad idea, after all. Particularly, when the talks were not even remotely related to academics.

If fun breeds talent, then IIT Saarang testifies to it in every sense. At the end of a photography workshop, the picturesque places in the campus were caught on frames by the students who walked out discussing focal length and shutter speed.

A few who got themselves registered for some workshops were trying to swap them with the ones that they thought would be more interesting. But regulars such as Sarathy Mani knew what to choose. Even before her practice for Saarang took off, she booked for herself a place in the salsa workshop.

At the indoor gallery where the salsa workshop was held, the crowd clearly stood out from the rest. Girls were busy doing a few warm-up jigs as guys gave a lost look at the trainer. “Salsa has a lot of maths in it. If you are engineers, you should be able to follow without difficulty,” the trainer said, in her last attempt to encourage the young men. Those who tried to match the steps of their female partners managed to swirl twice and ended up gasping for breath.

Outside the gallery, rock bands were giving their best to fetch a slot in the prestigious finals. A few yards away from it was a place that was splashed with colours of all shades. Art competition at FA Hut seemed to derive its inspiration from the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar. There were paintings of cute, one-eyed aliens with coiled tentacles and sturdy-looking robots fiercely trampling trees in the earth. And a few students even recreated the film’s climax scene of good-over-evil battle on their canvases.

Those who were not part of any of these events had a busier work to do – dressing up for the Choreo, the much-awaited dance show. The Lakme’s free makeover kiosk that was largely deserted in the morning saw women flowing in as the evening set in. While all this was on, mammoth trees gave shelter to chunks of students who were fine-tuning their vocal cords to face the next set of competitions.

From a yummy workshop on chocolate making to hip-shaking workshop on dance, day two of Saarang promises liberal doses of fun. Antakshari, photography contest, classical vocal, creative writing, scrabble and dance competition are lined up along with an art exhibition and quiz.

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