Mimamsa: Stories from Behind the Scenes

The past weekend saw a gruelling but very exhilarating contest for the coveted winner’s trophy of what we at IISER Pune love to call the toughest undergraduate Science quiz in India. Mimamsa, in its ninth edition in 2017, had teams from IISc Bengaluru, NISER Bhubaneswar, IIT Bombay and IIT Madras in the finals, selected after a preliminary round held earlier this year.

Undergraduates from across the country who have participated in Mimamsa over the years have called it “intellectually stimulating” and “enjoyable” – quite aptly so, given the ideology behind its conceptualisation in 2009 by Dr. Sutirth Dey.

However, this post is not about the Mimamsa presented to the participants, but the one students at IISER Pune spend time creating – and I’d argue why these two are not the same. But of course, the arguments I present here are (almost) entirely based on my personal experiences, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with them.

Perhaps the most significant element that makes Mimamsa unique is the flavour of the questions. The questions are non-trivial to begin with, and in fact take a form that makes them seem impenetrable, until, of course, one gets to know the solution. Then the participants feel awestruck if they were not been able to solve a question or otherwise feel elated to have grabbed some essential points to add up to their tally in the contest. That’s it, right? No.

Remember when I said that the Mimamsa presented to the participants is not the Mimamsa students at IISER Pune spend time creating? The questions (on most occasions) evolve from being raw ideas to taking the final forms they’re presented in. And in the course of this evolution, the students involved in the making of these questions evolve too; learning a lot in the process – new ideas, new methods of enquiry, ways to come up with smart solutions, the ability to gauge the level of difficulty of problems, the intricacies of posing questions. The process is long and tiring, and like any other venture, the students make numerous mistakes in the process, but then they get to learn from these mistakes, too. Exactly the things we expect ourselves to become extremely good at as students of Science (and Mathematics).

On the front-end what appears to be a nice, sophisticated quizzing event, is, behind the scenes, a very dense, sometimes exhausting but almost always rewarding process.

Mimamsa is surely about the spirit of quizzing and about motivating enquiry, but it is also about the enormous efforts that are put in by the students on all fronts, and it goes without saying that the teams involved in the organisational aspects over the years must be given an equal credit for what Mimamsa has come to be today.

It might be a bit too early to call Mimamsa a phenomenon – it certainly appears to have the potential to become one in the time to come – but it has already impacted the lives of many of us who have been associated with it, and this does make Mimamsa a phenomenon in our lives.

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