Colouring Life With Happiness: Ayush Moharana
Ayush Moharana is a personality striking a conspicuous figure, be it near the SAC wall, on the streets of NITR, or even outside it. Always the life of the party, he has experienced everything that NITR has to offer and more. He, however, is no stranger to responsibility serving as a post-holder and playing important roles in Astro, Chitraang and Monday Morning. Today Monday Morning provides you with a coup d’oeil in the life of an artist, physics aficionado, globetrotter and much more.
Monday Morning: Tell us something about your life before NITR?
Ayush Moharana: I have been to a lot of places before finally landing here at NITR. I was born in Bhubaneshwar but strangely my birth certificate says that I was born in Korba, Chattisgarh (then in Madhya Pradesh). I started my education at Talcher where I studied from LKG to class 5 and it was there that I got into a lot of extracurriculars like painting and taekwondo. After that, I came to Sambalpur where I studied till class 10th and did my +2 from Bhubaneshwar. After giving JEE, I decided to take a year off to decide on what I wanted to do in the future. I decided I want to do something I like and after giving my exam for the second time I realised that I really enjoyed Mechanics and Physics, making my three primary choices Mechanical engineering, Civil engineering, and Physics. My score wasn’t good enough to get Mechanical or Civil engineering, so physics it was. This wasn’t easy though as my parents did not know much about the scope of Sciences in India, so I had a hard time convincing them that doing something for 5 years only made sense if you like it. The only two colleges with an Integrated MSc program in Physics were NIT Rourkela and NIT Calicut, so with the home state quota in my favour, NIT Rourkela was a clear choice.
MM: How was your first year at NITR?
AM: In my 12th grade, the only thing I did apart from studies was play football since during that period I was under a lot of pressure academically. Before that I was always involved in all sorts of activities, be it sports, painting, debate, etc. So, I decided that after getting into college, I will get involved in everything. I had this fantasy about the college where all the classrooms were posh and air-conditioned but when I came here I realised that reality is very different from my expectations. The classrooms were pretty boring and it used to get pretty hot in there so I used to bunk a lot of classes. I was a part of section-C which was the naughtiest class in our batch so I had a lot of fun times there.
I got to know about the rich club culture and so I set the aim of getting into at least 2 clubs. I once saw this poster of Astro NITR which got me interested and I made up my mind then and there that I would join this club. There was a senior in Astro who was in Chitraang as well and it was from her that I got to know more about the club. One of my other friends was in Designtab so I got into there as well. Finally, at the end of my first year, I joined Monday Morning.
I also tried my hand at sports in my first year. I played football and tennis and tried out for the team and even got into the fresher's football team but unfortunately, got injured at the worst time, as a result, I couldn’t play much football in my freshman year. In my second year, I started playing football again but I couldn't get into the team since the competition level was very high. I didn't start playing tennis seriously until my fourth year. Debashish was the captain at that time and he invited me to come and play after which I got serious and got into the team.
MM: What is this “Random” art idea that most of your peers at Chitraang identify you with? How does this bash of creative energy come from?
AM: While doing graffiti or any art project really, I would usually see that my teammates were tensed about the work that lay ahead. So I would tell them that graffiti is not about stressing on things, it's about taking whatever random idea you have in your mind and painting it and then building on it. This concept actually started when I was painting the CVR walls, there was this one section which was organised painting and then there was this security area which was not painted. So, I just picked up the spray cans and started painting whatever came to my mind on the wall and from that time onwards we picked up the term ‘random painting’.
In my first year, I had some amazing teammates in Prabhat, Srinivas, Prabhu, and others and we had the confidence that no matter what people do, we could somehow cover it up and have a backup plan. My aim was that when the people came to paint after a hectic day, they should have fun, so I always told them to paint randomly whatever they enjoyed. If you think about it, graffiti is basically a compilation of random things. Every graffiti which we did, we initially had no idea about where it was headed, but we somehow managed it somehow in the end.
MM; Can you tell us about your experiences in Chitraang?
AM: I remember this one particular incident in my class 12th. We had this one chemistry teacher who used to come in a crisply ironed shirt with two of his top buttons always open and two phones in his pockets. I got bored and sketched a superhero based on him on the back of my notebook. One day while we were solving some problems, he came behind me and whispered in my ear “I heard there is a new superhero in town.” This habit of sketching in the copies continued after coming to NITR and a friend of mine told me to join Chitraang. I had done a diploma course in art before coming to NITR so naturally, I was pretty confident during my induction process that I would get into the club, but when the results were announced I saw that they had written my roll no. but the name next to it was of some other guy. I had to call and ask them whether that was me or the other guy and to my relief, it was me who got inducted.
At the time all the first years in the club were limited to minor roles, but what we noticed was that our seniors were not really interested in painting, and as a result, we ended up doing most of the work. I remember we were doing this graffiti for INNOVISION and it was going nowhere. We had started at 6 in the evening on Thursday and had to finish by Friday. I and Prabhat were clueless about what we were to do and we went to the seniors for advice where they told us to do whatever we wanted. We worked nonstop and finished it by 3:30 and that was the fastest graffiti I've done so far. Most of the graffiti in my first year were painted by me, Prabhat and Kumar Bhayya.
The second year was my best time in Chitraang mostly because of the fourth years at that time. It was a great experience and you never got bored or tired while working with them. I only have fond memories from that time. I remember one of the best graffitis I've worked on was the KMS graffiti. It was during February and we worked till 1-2 in the night and the area was always silent. It was also the fall season, so many times while working the trees would shed leaves and the entire scene became beautiful.
In my third year, I became the vice president and Prabhat became the president and we planned the first exhibition. Prabhat was very good at acrylics, so in that year we experimented a lot with spray painting and acrylics and had a lot of graffitis. We also took up other projects such as the painting near Dosa Plaza. It was after that that we started receiving offers to paint in cafes and other new restaurants. When we started executing the exhibition, we had an idea about what we would be doing but we didn't have a name, and it suddenly struck me and I came up with the name Palette. I've always felt proud knowing that I was the one that came up with the name. Working for the exhibition was another great experience and something different from what we usually did at Chitraang. I was in charge of the ambience of the exhibition and I did everything I could. I brought this instrumental playlist, the lighting was just perfect as was everything else. When the audience started coming in, it was really great and the event formed a one to one connection between the artist and the viewer. I was also happy that I got two-three offers to buy my paintings, but at the time I didn’t have a lot of work, so I thought it better to keep the paintings for myself. I also remember that I did a live painting at the studio, it was 5th February then and the painting was dedicated to my parents who had their anniversary that day. I put up the painting alongwith a feedback form and people wrote a lot of good stuff wishing my parents on their anniversary which made for the perfect gift for them. Experiences like these bought Chitraang close to my heart. I was also fortunate that I was surrounded by people with the right mindset. It was a very hectic year, but the people always made it easier.
In my fourth year, I was not a postholder so I was not involved much initially, but during the time of the exhibition, I became active once again. The same thing repeated in the fifth year. If you think about it, I did the same things every year, but it was the people that changed things and made everything so happening.
MM: You have a group of thirteen friends popularly known around the campus. How would you introduce them to NITR? Share some of your memorable experiences.
AM: There are a lot of experiences with them that stand out as they have all remained constants in my life. We are just a bunch of average people on the same scale where no one is better than the other. I remember Anshuman had this quote thought of and we made t-shirts out of it “Acceptance is cowardice, denial is ignorance.” Which basically meant that there is no high ground or low ground, just the middle ground. It was just an abstract concept we started using and it stayed. After the first year, we decided that we would all stay together and we had a single cluster in VS with all of us having rooms close to each other. We’ve had a lot of crazy experiences together, especially after classes where we would sit in someone's room and have discussions on all topics imaginable from studies to politics and we also partied a lot. These guys have been pretty supportive to me and I want to thank them for that. These people are pretty selfless and they treat my problems as their own and try to solve it. This is why we have such a strong bond throughout these years.
As to how I would introduce them to NITR, they are a group of mismatched, funny, simple people who are true to themselves. You’ll find a lot of people here at NITR who are double-faced, but not these guys. They are straightforward about who they are and what they believe in.
MM: You also like to travel, your travel partner is Animesh panda, tell us about your travel diaries.
AM: I always used to travel with my parents, but after coming to college it started with an impulsive plan in my second year. I and Animesh had a holiday on Monday and during the weekend we were browsing through youtube where we came across a food vlog about street food in Kolkata. I jokingly told him “Let's go to Kolkata tomorrow and eat whatever they've shown here.” The next morning he comes to my rooms and asks me “Should we leave?” There was a train to Kolkata at 12 and we were having this discussion at 10:30. Finally, I asked my parents and they were okay about it and we were en route to Kolkata. We had booked a hotel online, but when we reached there, it charged us differently. So we started roaming the streets looking for other hotels till we finally found one. Immediately after that, we went out to explore the city and street food. We stayed there for 2 days. Since then we decided that we would plan trips and go out more frequently.
The first planned trip was to Darjeeling with my group of friends and Animesh. We also went to Gangtok from there. Travelling to places that give you peace is something different. I know that I like to party but there is a part of me that sometimes wants to just experience peace as well. I remember us going to the Changu lake in Gangtok which was an amazing experience in itself.
I went to Kasol in the Dussehra holidays of my fourth year. Kasol is this place where you just go to relax and enjoy nature, there is nothing else. Everyone just minds their own business but that doesn’t mean they are closed off to conversations with strangers. We met a group of foreigners there which included a lady from Egypt, a guy from Israel and a girl from the UK. We had a lot of interesting conversations with them. I got to know that the girl from the UK was a friend of one of the actresses from Game of Thrones and we had conversations about that as well.
One experience I vividly remember is our trek to Khir Ganga. So, Khir Ganga is this place where there is no electricity, only tents, and each tent is lit up using batteries. There is this artificial wooden bath where natural hot water flows in. We trekked for 5 hours to reach that spot and we were clearly exhausted. But the moment we got into the tub, everything else just washed away. There was a moment when we were tired and simply sitting where I suddenly looked up at the sky and I could see the milky way clearly. I had never seen so many stars at once before. It was a truly breathtaking scene. We simply kept staring at the sky for hours.
MM: You have been a part of Monday Morning, describe your experience as a member of the design team in your second year.
AM: My initial motivation to get into MM was to sketch cartoons. MMs cartoons back then were very popular. At that time I knew nothing about photoshop, so when they asked me in my interview about why you didn’t learn photoshop I became pretty arrogant and told them why should I when there are other people who can do it, whereas, I can focus on sketching. My interview was not going well at that point but then I had done a doodle on INNOVISION which was published by the INNOVISION page. Sushovan Bhai was in the panel there and he knew about that doodle, so that was the only reason I think that I got inducted. That experience made me learn Photoshop and start exploring it. After getting in I realised that I was not here to just sketch or design and that my job went beyond that. I had to know what was happening around the campus, know the people’s views and project them using designs. This was when I understood that when you are a cartoonist for a media body your role is to first connect with the people before you do anything on the digital platform. I liked to know what was happening around the campus and talk to different people, so I always tried to put everyone’s perspective in my designs. I remember my CCs were pretty tough then, especially Sidharth Ghosh Roy. I recall one day I had submitted my wits-dom and I got a call from him at 4 am to make some changes immediately. So, basically, all my Sunday nights were sleepless that year. Before we had only black and white cartoons, but for my first wits-dom I wanted to do something memorable, so I added colours to it. It was called Freshmen Paradox where the roles were reversed and it was the freshers who were in control of the institute. I also started doing GIFs that year. I remember the first GIF I did was for the 9th MM anniversary and that has remained my best GIF so far. The first year was pretty hectic with a lot less sleep and a lot more work, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Towards the end, I became so attached to MM that I started to feel that I wanted to and should become the Design Coordinator.
MM: How did you come to become the design coordinator of MM?
AM: I had always enjoyed working for MM, this was the biggest reason I wanted to be the Design Coordinator. However my interview went pretty bad, I was called in DBA and throughout the interview, I was grilled for most of the things I said. In the last, I was asked to sell myself and words just went flowing. It was not a very extraordinary interview I would say, maybe the recognition of my work as a member of the design team and the dedication were the reasons I was made the DC.
MM: What were the challenges and experiences of being a Design Coordinator?
AM: When my name was announced as the DC in the commencement, my mind went blank. It was strange, at one point it was a moment of happiness and then suddenly it turned into the realisation of the extreme challenges coming my way. That night was good, all the post holders were having a discussion on how we could bring MM to higher levels, what would we do differently in our tenure, and discussing a lot of ideas in general. I initially assumed it would be less work as compared to being a member of the design team, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had a position of responsibilities in two other clubs as well: Chitraang and Astro club. So it was a very hard and challenging job. MM was obviously a priority and we were a very ambitious team. The most challenging tasks were print issues. In my tenure, we planned to make an isometric design of the map of NITR but because of the lack of perspectives, we thought of improvising with a sketch. Instead of giving direct labels to the buildings, we gave interesting captions. Also, that was the moment when the Panda was born out of the inspiration I took from years of watching Discovery and National Geographic.
I was very relieved when I let go of my responsibility as the DC. When I look back it's never about the sleepless nights or the challenges but about the content and happiness, I have from my tenure of working in MM.
MM: Your friends claim that you are one of the best cartoonists in the campus. Any work which is closest to your heart?
AM: I wouldn’t say that I am one of the best, there are many people better than me. I really enjoy making humorous strips, giving hilarious or catchy dialogues to the strips. But my personal favourite is a very serious work which I made depicting the election scenario in the institute which was called ‘Let's do it right this time’. It was a satirical strip about everything wrong with the elections here.
And if I talk about my favourite backend story, it was a Witsdom for the Valentine’s day eve. It was about the heartbreaks that occur during this eve but I didn't know how to end the strip. Fortunately (or unfortunately), that was also the time when Deadpool was going to be released and we came to know that it won’t be in the theatres here at Rourkela and I got an idea for the strip. I ended it with saying that “the real heartbreak is Deadpool not getting screened in Rourkela”.
MM: We were informed that when you were in Bangalore, you met your friends Aratrika Ghosh and Abhishek Panda. And you went to a club and competed for the title of the “happiest table”. What is the story behind it?
AM: We all happened to be in Bangalore at that time and decided for a meetup. Aratrika suggested this one club and we went there. Every Thursday they have a quiz and the winner table is gifted a 12 years old scotch bottle. The quiz that day was about music and we were pretty confident about it but yet we lost. They said that there is another prize for the happiest table. We three got really excited about this and fought really hard for the prize. We were laughing, singing, dancing, screaming on top of our voices, and pretty much managed to get everybody’s attention and were hoping for the prize. In the end, they declared the winner, saying “ Today, every table is a happy table”. That was as anti-climatic as it could get.
Anyway, when I look back, I realise it was a good night which was all about fun and laughter.
MM: Despite having amazing artistic skills, you are determined to make a career in Astrophysics, what is the reason behind this?
AM: I have done some commission artworks and during this time I thought of art as a career option. But art as a career option comes with restrictions, and I don’t enjoy working with restrictions. Astronomy was something which I have always been fascinated about. You meet people who think very highly of themselves but when you look at things that big, you realise how small we all are. This was an abstract idea which has always driven me towards astronomy. The people with whom I interacted during my internships played a major role in bringing about that curiosity in physics, particularly astrophysics. We were a group of friends who could always talk about astrophysics for ridiculously long hours. I have explored other things, but only astronomy excites me. I know if I would be unable to make a career in it, I’ll always have art as a safety net. I will take a leap of faith in astronomy because I know if nothing happens, I will always have art to fall back upon.
MM: Tell us about your experience as a member of the Astro club.
AM: Since I used to watch Discovery and National Geographic, I had quite a bit of knowledge in the field and I scored well in the inductions test. Also, my poster making skill came as a handy tool in getting me in the club (laughs). In that year, we went camping outside for a night sky watch session, we carried our belongings, eatables, and most importantly, the Celestron Telescope with the T-ring used to take pictures of the celestial bodies using a DSLR. Our Faculty Advisor, Prof. Biplab Ganguli also accompanied us. It was completely dark, and the sky was brilliantly lit by stars. We cooked for ourselves and after sunrise even went for a jog. Meanwhile, the result of that camp was so good that we could capture exceptional images of galaxies, nebulas, etc. which was not possible on the campus because of the light pollution here.
The experience with Astro has been amazing, we all could talk about astrophysics for hours and we still surprise ourselves.
MM: What was your role as a post holder in Astro? How do you see the future of the club?
AM: We organised a lot of night sky watch sessions, and they actually came off as really successful events. Students and faculty alike would stand in long queues and wait for their turn to peek into the screen and witness the beauty of the majestic celestial bodies. We also organised a workshop highlighting the activities that Astro club does, however, the date of the event so selected coincided with the elections date and hence the student turn-out wasn’t as expected. The session, however, was amazing, we invited a professor from IIT Bhubaneswar for the talk. The exhibition was programmed so as to be very interactive where we planned to use basic stuff like rubber to demonstrate space-time warping. We also had this fun event explaining the physics behind Interstellar and surprisingly a lot of people turned up for the session. It turned out to be a really synergistic and successful session.
Since then we have conducted a number of night sky watch sessions set up on the terraces of various buildings on the campus. We organised these events so that people could observe closely and appreciate phenomena like the super blood red moon, the eclipses, the nebulas, etc. A lot of people turn up and show enthusiasm.
The only worry is the funding for various instruments, as we need to have certain basic instruments to gear up the club activities (some sort of a laboratory). Right now, we have members who are very committed, so I don't think we need to be worried about the future prospects of the club. Also, we recently got a new Planetary Imaging Camera which can show the count of photons in the images so we can calculate the energy of the captured body.
MM: Tell us about your final year project.
AM: I am currently working on a group project where we are studying a cluster of stars and observing the age and characteristics of each variety of stars in the group. We got the data from Astrosat and we put forward a proposal for the data. The proposal was accepted and we were provided with the data and are currently working on it.
I also did a project after my second year under a professor from my department. We had to synthesize a nanostructure which could display good conducting properties under UV light detectors. Working on this project was a very good experience. The professor was very supportive and that was the time when my first research paper was published.
MM: Tell us about your internship experiences.
AM: I enrolled for a summer school program for twenty days in Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Kodaikanal. It was an amazing experience. The institute had some of the most amazing instruments, almost comparable to the instruments in NASA. I interacted with people there, exceptionally passionate professors and scientists from around the country who are excerpts in different branches of astrophysics. There was a lecture by Ms Annapurni who worked for the calibration of instruments, she told us stories about how the missiles like the Mangalyaan and Chandrayan was launched, the delays that happened, the sleepless nights for successful launches. My guide was a guy almost my age but he was pretty strict. We used to work from morning eight to eight at night, we will just discuss work. However, after eight he will come to me and invite me for a football game or tennis and buy me dinner and we will just have one. He was one of those few people I started to idolize because he knew how to live in the moment and how to keep work and personal life separately.
After this, I went to Manipal Centre for Research in natural sciences. My guide there was also amazing, however, I wasn’t much interested in natural sciences. I was always drooling over Astrophysics. So, this was also one of the factors which helped me set clear my priorities.
MM: How do you think you have changed as a person through this beautiful journey in NITR?
AM: I think I am the same person I was in my first year. But I learnt how to better handle things and people. One important thing I have learnt is to accept that change takes a lot of time to happen. Also, I have been a person who always ended up doing a lot of things, so, I think I have learnt to let go of a few things.
MM: What are your future plans?
AM: I want to pursue a PhD. I have applied for PhD abroad and I am still waiting for a response to my applications. My back up plan is that I would try to get a publication for my current project. Also, if nothing comes to fruition, I will stay back for a year and work on another project somewhere in Indian and then apply in next year. I got an AIR 199 in the Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST). So, I have also applied for Indian Institutes which focus on Astronomy like Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Indian Institute of Astronomy (IIA). I think I will just get into something somehow. (chuckles)
MM: Any message for the NITR Junta?
I feel that people don't have enough passion for their work these days. I have always wanted to learn many things. I would just insist on learning new things, never judge a skill. You will always find relevance for the things you learn, you just have to know how to use your set of skills. I am really proud of my knowledge of Designing. I will make use of this to reach out to the common people and make them learn about my research work which I believe could be easily understood through visuals and graphics.