Two ELAS ex-Joint Secretaries look back at a fest cherished forever in their memories and how the latest edition has fared.
There aren’t that many times in the year that one can look forward to a weekend. Weekends at the Hyderabad campus of BITS Pilani are usually times of solitude with the streets fraught with silence and in-expression. In fact, I’d have better luck meeting a student if I took a bus back into the city. But the last weekend of January ’15 was different. It bled into February, but that was not what made it different. The ideas we espoused in college were manifested into yet another edition of our very own National Literary Festival, Verba Maximus. As a fest, Verba Maximus has always been about quality events and the participant’s experience above all else. It’s not a fest where you’d have to spend a lot of money to enjoy, or even a lot of time. By participating, or just observing, the fest leaves ample opportunity to learn and grow.
Before we begin, we bid you to forgive us, for our sense of nostalgia may paint a slight tinge on our views on a fest close to both our hearts. Yet, we attempt to remain as unbiased as possible, with a firm belief that one should always be his own greatest critic. This piece aims not to single out any individual for their faults, but rather act as a good dose of introspection vital to point out the various pitfalls and shortcomings of the fest so that they can be built upon in years to come. As BITSians, we can never be satisfied with any edition of VM, for always there is much scope to grow and many new heights to be scaled.
What Worked: The site was up and running a good two months before the fest. Moreover, the site was regular updated with event and pro-show details. Initiatives to keep the site as interactive as possible with puzzles and competitions were a nice touch.
What Didn’t: The purpose of the website was purely to convey information, which it did effectively. Some might say it was bland, while others would hail its simplicity. The authors leave that choice up to you.
What Worked: Though the number of regional winners attending the fest remains small in the larger scheme of things, the numbers continue to grow and this initiative continues to bring in a few top class participants from all over the country and has helped to improve the quality of the fest.
What Didn’t: A stagnant fest is a dead one. The regionals failed to expand from last year, targeting only 4 cities again, and unfortunately missing out on some of the major nearby cities. The regional presence could have been improved.
What Worked: The number of colleges contacted, both personally and other means increased drastically. The organisers took great pains to personally call our entire database of previous attendees, establishing a long lasting relationship that can only boost the fest. A division between online/offline publicity heads helped to lessen the burden.
What Didn’t: Though numbers peaked, many important colleges were approached as late as the week just preceding the fest. This is likely to cause many to make other plans for the weekend, giving to have left many with plans already made for the weekend, giving the fest a miss. As some of our largest contingents backed out due to other events going on in their own colleges, the need to keep in touch with such colleges well before the fest is apparent. We have certain flexibility with dates and timings, and, at least, we would be informed well before the fest.
What Worked: Potter-fans surely rejoiced in nostalgia. The theme was broadly based on the tagline “Mischief Managed” which sure spiced up our online media publicity. Many events incorporated the theme in topics for various events, with much enthusiasm from the audience.
What Didn’t: Though vastly popular, such a specific theme is likely to alienate some section of the participants, especially those that haven’t read the books. Topics involving characters from the series may not have been as enjoyable for this section of our audience. Also, for a fest with no Arts & Deco team, it is questionable if a theme was required at all. Moreover, the theme had little to do with any of the pro shows.
What Worked: A beautiful play on the theme of the fest. Customized T-Shirts returned this year thanks to prompt and early designs. T-Shirts arrived well in advance, simplifying many a headache from the previous year.
What Didn’t: Any critique on design would be a personal one, but a few points stand out. The print quality was not as good as desired and with the VM logo appearing a bit blurry. Perhaps the design team should have incorporated a much larger logo keeping such unfortunate eventualities. Also, the fact that “BITS Pilani Hyderabad Campus” was placed on the front looked a bit unusual.
ON THE D-DAY
What Worked: Smooth and short. It was a nice touch to see the OC given due credit this year for all the sleepless nights they have put in for the fest. As always, it was a pleasure to have Dr. VS Rao grace the inauguration with his presence.
What Didn’t: With no special events or performances involved, the attendance from college was muted. Most students found no incentive to come attend the inauguration. Also, due to constraints, some OC members were missing, which was rather unfortunate, given the amount of work they have put in.
What Worked: The Registration Desks were moved inside the academic block so that large incoming crowds were no longer forced to wait in the sun. Two separate registration desks open at rush hours helped to ensure minimum waiting time for the participants. The organised team made sure to collect all phone numbers and emails, thus adding greatly to our fest database.
What Didn’t: The team was well rehearsed to handle the large crowds, but overlooked certain contingency plans. A contingency plan must be put in place to handle issues. Also, the team needed to maintain better communication with event organisers so that event winners could be easily contacted. In the day and age of cell phones, it is quite absurd to see organisers running around searching for finalists.
What Worked: The heart of VM, and it truly was worth all the effort. Though one can question the quality of the masses, the later rounds of every event showcased the talent the fest has drawn. Participants from all over the country just add to the sheen.
What Didn’t: Judges need to be contacted well before the fest, and must be kept in touch with to avoid emergencies. As many of these judges turn up for free, the duty to ensure their availability and comfort lies squarely on the event organisers. Some events took place with a judge short, reflecting badly on the college both in the eyes of the participants as well as the judge himself/herself. This resulted in events running long overtime. Different event organisers also need to maintain communication between themselves so the same judge is not contacted multiple times. Also, each event organiser needs to be aware of the judge, and it is always polite to introduce the judge and his/her credentials before every event. This both reassures the turnout of the quality of judging as well as a token of respect for the judges themselves.
What Worked: While the previous edition of VM hailed an Informals team that caught so much attention that the room was as full as regular events, this years team managed to continue to do so while still encouraging participants to go for the main events. A brilliant show.
What Didn’t: Considering the theme, a HP Quiz seems almost obvious to have, but it was planned for, only a day before the event. With plenty of time at hand, the organisers should have had that one well before and reported to the Event Management Head.
What Worked: The Audi won us much favour here, with both comedians and audience much awed by its splendour. Laughter reverberated across in the first official pro show happening in the auditorium. Record ticket sales show that the college does not yet bore of the East India Comedy, making its third appearance on campus.
What Didn’t: However, variety is the spice of life and one does crave for something new. With many established Comedy Groups in the country now, we hope for something new next year. Failure to get the green rooms booked in advance meant the artists were forced to wait in a makeshift arrangement just off stage. Though the comedians took it in good faith, it does not reflect well professionally on our behalf. As compared to the events, the pro-show started well later than the scheduled time, marking one of the few logistical failures of the fest. The fire alarm was a damper too, though nobody is to blame for the mishap.
What Worked: Though not a household name by a long shot, Avik Chanda kept the crowd enthused. He was friendly and distributing free books among the crowd was a nice gesture. A wide range of questions were raised, from philosophical to technical, and it was nice to hear the first hand perspective of a new Indian author at a reputed publishing house.
What Didn’t: A bit of an anti-climax, to be honest. Though the organisers could do nothing to prevent a medical condition in the last minute, it would have helped to try to call in another Hyderabadi author of similar standing to make up for the loss.
What Worked: The unofficial word indicates significant profits, which is always a cause for cheer. The number of sponsors has fallen this year, which is a concern, but the fest has shown that it can still run safely on the backing of strong turnouts.
What Didn’t: That being said, the fest has had major profits for two consecutive years now. One would wonder, is there much point to shoring up so much money? Based on the statistics, the fest should look into more crowds, or perhaps more famous pro shows, in the following years.
What Worked: With the number of events remaining constant, the prize money was pushed up to 40,000 from 33,000 the previous year. Some Regional Language Events that did not have cash prizes the previous year, thus could be allotted better prizes this year. Hopefully, this will continue to build a truly multi-lingual face to the fest in years to come.
What Didn’t: As discussed before, the rise in cash prizes was not adequate when you consider the overall profits. Though the prizes better the prize money for ELAS events at Pearl, it is still a far cry from other major literary fests in even South India. To attract better competition, the cash prizes need to go up drastically.
What Worked: One more stall than last year. Domino’s is always a popular.
What Didn’t: However, there have been questions raised over whether the fest has preferred popular stalls with lower margins. Whether that is the right path to take or not has again been left to the reader’s discretion. A more universal opinion, is the lack of Indian food options. Moreover, this meant there was no cheap food options available. Surely, a chat stall would have been much appreciated. (One of the authors is vegan, and he couldn’t find anything to eat at the stalls. Finally, he had to settle for bland cafeteria food. A little chaat stall would have been great. )
EVENT SCHEDULING & LOGISTICS
What Worked: Most events started on time rather than BST (BITS Standard Time) at least until unexpected crowds prolonged many of the headliner events. Even though events were lined up one after the other, overlap meant that one can, in practice, participate in every event. Participants could choose when to enter or exit, and this made everyone’s fest experience unique.
What Didn’t: Multiple rooms booked for certain events lay unused, as huge crowds were instead accommodated in a single room. This directly resulted in both inordinate delays in events as well as huge discomfort to the thronging crowds. Some of the judges had to wait for cabs after their event due to confusions over who would be responsible for making the bookings. In the end, the event organisers themselves are at least expected to make sure that arrangements have been made.
What Worked: With some major contingents from the previous editions of the fest dropping out in the last minute, it was good to see the fest still well crowded. This perhaps signifies a wider outreach across colleges and is a well needed step.
What Didn’t: But excuses do not mean much in the larger scheme of things, and the absolute numbers indicate a little lesser turnout than the previous year which directly affects multiple repercussions for the next edition of the fest.
What Worked: Being separate from Arena this year, accommodation arrangements had to be handled by the OC itself this year. A surprisingly high number of participants registered to stay overnight and each of them was provided for.
What Didn’t: Up to the last minute, the number of confirmed bookings was uncertain. Because of extra mattresses that had to be booked in the last minute, we were quite close to making marginal losses in accommodation despite charging as much as Pearl or ATMOS.
What Worked: The fest ran quite smoothly this year, with surprisingly few “panic moments” along the way. Kudos to the Logistics team for their hard work in making sure there were minimal hiccups throughout the fest.
What Didn’t: The college ambassador program was not well publicized, and this program could have helped increase the footfall. Also, the go green initiative was dropped, which was unfortunate. A fest should always build upon its previous editions, and needless dropping of these aspects almost looks like a backward step.
Karthik Vickraman (ELAS J Sec 2013-14) and Ranjan Anantharaman (ELAS J Sec 2012-13)