Monday, December 26, 2005

The Dilemma of Help

Tsunami occurred about a year ago. Many helped.

Should I just suspend my work for a while and march off for help of the victims? If yes, who will do my work? Isn’t that important too? I may be a doctor. How do I prioritize one patient over the other? Someone might be dying in my absence here. How do I decide? The people who look after my patients in my absence – are they more insensitive than I am? Or should they come with me too? Who’ll run my hospital then?

Should I donate money? Should I donate clothes? How do I make sure that these things actually reach the victims? Should I run sting operations on fraud NGO’s that are gobbling up the money in the name of tsunami relief? Should I go to the affected area and work in person? What will happen if everyone runs off the affected areas? I’m not experienced in doing relief operations. Would my presence not be more of a problem rather than solution? I want to help but how?

I try to spread awareness. I write about it. I talk to people about it. People call me a snob. They say it’s only lip service. I don’t care as long as the job gets done. But then I begin to doubt myself. It is, after all, only lip service. I’m not doing anything palpable, tangible. Self doubt is a great enemy.

But cannot NOT do anything. I feel guilty. As a human I feel that I should help. But how?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Change For The Best

I have heard that some people higher up are trying to get 15% reservation for Muslims in IITs. Go on people, I hail you! Continue in this manner and the youth of this country is going to run out like hell. Then you'll stop even that and people will find other ways. Then you'll pose more restrictions and people will find out even other ways and so on until we will have no democracy and no freedom. Go on, very nice, go on!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Making of Me

Recently Jaspal Madam (she used to teach us computer science at school) is endlessly bugging me with mails to write something about our school. Since lately I also have been reminiscing quite badly about my school, I am feeling infinitely guilty that I have not written anything, especially because I keep writing all other kinds of rubbish. The fact of the matter is, I was very busy for the last fortnight. This is the first real free day that I’ve had in quite some time. Standard excuse, eh?

I have studied in this school (Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vihar, Indore) for fourteen years. Those of you who know this school are probably rolling on the floor laughing right now or cluck-clucking their tongues in sympathy. But let me tell you this, it wasn’t that bad, really, in fact I’m thankful that I did not spend those fourteen years anywhere else.

My earliest memories of school go back, well, to the first year when I was a kid three or four years old. Naturally I don’t remember much of that time. Except that I used to come to the school in the school bus and it used to be quite a novelty although I was perpetually worried that I might forget which bus I’m supposed to board and get lost. Fortunately that never happened. Also we had three buses of the consecutive numbers – 187, 188, 189 and that was quite amusing too.

And before the teachers who are reading this begin to think what a heartless fellow I am let me quickly say that I remember them too. Really I do. This teacher’s day I had become quite nostalgic. Over here in college we don’t have any kind of celebration of teacher’s day. I really miss that. I remember fondly the numerous Teachers’ days I have celebrated in school. The numerous cards that I have prepared by hand to greet them. (Yes, that is a girlish sort of activity but I’ve done it anyway.) I remember you all, teachers. I had written some names here. I have deleted them. I cannot remember all of them. That is human folly. But I do realize the amount of difference you have made in my life. I will forever be indebted to you.

The best thing about his school was the amount of freedom that it gives to its students. This will come as a surprise to many. The people who run this school also do not realize this fact. There is no physical punishment in our school. That is tremendous amount of freedom. The child is free of fear. Academically, I always felt free in this school to study the way that I wanted to. I never memorized answers. I always made them up. My teachers gave me freedom to do that. I fondly remember the school library. The teachers never dictated what I could read and what I could not. They do it at my brother’s school. That was great freedom too. I could read what I liked. The examination system was unique. This will come as a surprise to those of you who are new in this school. Those who have been here for some time will know what I’m taking about. The system of having unit tests each month was, in my opinion, superior to what we have now. We had regular evaluation and the system put far lesser pressure on students. We also had oral examinations which were a great way to build our oral skills. Unfortunately this thing has changed now.

Education in Human Values. I know that most of you have mixed opinions about it. Some people like it some just hate it. Some think that preaching like this does not help. Some people say that it makes better students. I will not go into all that. What I think is that EHV was never about preaching. It was about discussion. It was about making children think about these things. Because until you can make people think, you cannot make them change. The school gave me freedom to think in this way.

Food. Now we are coming to more fun things, isn’t it. The Dining Hall is one of the most important parts of our school culture. A family that eats together stays together. This may sound a bit far-fetched but is nevertheless true. Psychology works that way. My sincere thanks to everyone who works in the Dining Hall for making my life in school so full of this simple pleasure of having good food.

I must also give my sincere thanks to Pranjape sir. I have grown to respect him a lot over the years. I now realize the truth of so many things that he taught us. When you leave home you suddenly realize that this world is immense. One cannot really comprehend this immensity. One suddenly feels this loss of identity and it’s very difficult to cope up with it. It is in such situation that the teaching of competing with the self and not with others has really helped me. If you let go off the self and compare with the other, you will be hopelessly lost in this big wild world.

Quest for excellence. If you do something, do it to your best or don’t do it. That is what he always told us. Very true. Self discipline. You realize the importance of that when you live alone in the hostel and there is no mother or teacher to scold you. Without self discipline you cannot survive.

Words are not enough to express how grateful I am to this school and my teachers. Thank you, thank you all. I don’t think I can ever repay the debt.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I Don't Need God

I’m not what you’ll call a religious person. I don’t go to the temple. I can live without poojas in my home. I do not believe that I will get punished or rewarded if I do this and not do that. I don’t deny got nor do I affirm Him. I just don’t need Him.

Either God exists or he does not.

Assume God exists. The Universe then works according to natural laws, according to Gods whims or is random. If Universe is random, thinking about religion or science or any other thing for that matter is not going to do any good to me. What will happen, will happen and there is nothing I can do or learn about it. If the Universe moves according to natural laws, a systematic study will reveal them and the fact the God exists is not going to affect me at all in any way. If the Universe works according to Gods whims then either these are predictable or they are not. If they are predictable, they can be systematically studied and hence will fall under the purview of science hence the above argument about natural laws will apply. This is actually the point where religion and science come into conflict. Religion claims to be one such systematic study, but has no scientific backing. I’ll go with science in this case. In the case that Gods whims are random, the arguments about random Universe apply.

Assume God does not exist. Then the Universe is random or is bound by natural laws. The above arguments can be evoked. Thus in all cases, I don’t need God. I’m perfectly happy without Him. I don’t need Him to motivate me to behave humanely. I don’t want that extra bit without deserving it so I don’t pray. Call me an atheist if you will, but I never said God does not exist.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Plagiarism

This post is about my first brush with plagiarism. Some time ago, I wrote an article about IITK Lingo. Today, I came to know about this article which copies a couple of paragraphs that appear in my blog almost verbatim.

Needless to say, I'm a bit hurt. I understand that content on the net is free. I myself an avid user of Linux and support the free software philosophy and all. But I do expect people to acknowledge me when they use my work. And if they plan on making some money out of it, I want my rightful share.

If copying blogs is all it takes to write an Indiatimes column, they might as well give me the job. I'll at least write some original stuff for them!

This is what the article says:

Dassu




In IIT-speak, he is The One, he is the elite amongst the elite, he has almost a demigod status, he is the one who has enough guts to challenge the mighty professors who control the life of an IITian, he is the Ten Pointer.

Everyone wants to be him, whether they would admit it or not. But only the chosen ones have it in them. Hail all Dassus.

Nobody but Rahul Gandhi gets this esteemed tag. So ok, he isn’t exactly IIT educated but his lineage, charisma and controversial remarks that challenge his own party are enough to get him in.














This is what part of my blog read:

". . . A related word is magai which is what a maggu does. Magai is also used in a lighter sense for normal studies.

9. Dassu : He is The One, he is the elite amongst the elite, he has almost a demigod status, he is the one who has enough guts to challenge the mighty professors who control the life of an IITian, he is the Ten Pointer. Everyone wants to be him, whether they would admit it or not. But only the chosen ones have it in them. Hail all Dassus.

10. Lassu : the classic flirt. He lives not in the hostel alloted to him but in or near the girls' hostel. The lassu would not leave any opportunity to interact with girls . . . ."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Which SF Character Are You

You can also take the test at http://www.tk421.net/character/

It turns out that I'm Worf! Worf! I can't believe it!

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

IITK Lingo

Just read a blog about the IIT Madras lingo a little while ago. Now the natural feeling of rivalry between the IITs prompts me to write an account of the lingo of my own IIT - IIT Kanpur. There are a few random records of IITK lingo available on the net but they are obscure and somewhat old. I don't think there is any other blog on the topic.

I'll try to be as comprehensive as is possible but if I miss out on something please be kind enough to tip me off.
  • Arbit: stems from arbritary. Used to describe anything strange or un-understandable. After exams - Kya arbit paper tha! (What an arbit paper). Since this slang is so popular throughout India, I don't really need to explain it.
  • Bakait: someone who is very smart and confident. Also used to describe any kind of good quality in the person. For example Sachin is a bakait criketer. As pointed out in one of the comments, Bakait used to be a derogatory word. Now it can be both, depending on usage.
  • Bhasad (rhymes with gadbad of hindi): any kind of chaos. If some stage program has gone wrong - bhasad mach gayi. If there is a big gathering with apparantly no reason - Bhasad ho rahi hai. The adjective of this is Bhasadu - one who maks bhasad. If a guy is very notorious - Bhasadu aadmi hai. Bhasad is the most unique slang that I've every heard.
  • Bulla: the thing that a group of young people does when it has nothing else to do. Bulla means chatting and I'm not talking about the online one. Bulla may range from merely killing time (The weather is quite nice today) to making lewd comments about girls (You don't want an example of this) to serious discussion on the national foriegn policy to making fun of that one bakra in your wing.
  • Chapu: this is another slang that is most frequently used. It is an adjective to denote greatness of anything. A famous person is chapu, delicious food is chapu, a ten pointer is chapu, a four pointer is chapu too (in ironic sense), Sachin is chapu cricketer, Godfather is chapu movie.

    One thing to understand is that Bakait and Chapu are a bit different. For one, Bakait is used mostly for people. Also, Bakait is used to denote strength in character or persona. Chapu is more widely used.
  • Dassu: He is The One, he is the elite amongst the elite, he has almost a demigod status, he is the one who has enough guts to challenge the mighty professors who control the life of an IITian, he is the Ten Pointer. Everyone wants to be him, whether they would admit it or not. But only the chosen ones have it in them. Hail all Dassus.
  • GPL: Gand pe laat. The practice of lifting people up by arms and legs and then beating the ass out of them by kicking them on their buts. Done customarily on birthdays and other moments of happiness like job selections, successful completion of the even for which you are the coordi, and sometimes just for fun.
  • Junta: this is one word that is used most by IITK students, mostly because it is understood outside the hostel too. Not to mention that it is one of the few decent words that we use. This one word encompasses all sorts of gatherings of men and women that you can imagine.
    Usage:
    • Aaj class mein junta bahut kam hai! (There is very less junta in the class today!)
    • Yaar, junta sari bewakoof hoti hai. (Yaar, all junta is stupid)
  • Lassu: the classic flirt. He lives not in the hostel alloted to him but in or near the girls' hostel. The lassu would not leave any opportunity to interact with girls.

    The verb is lasna which means to flirt. Lasna is also used in contexts where someone is giving undue attention to someone. For example if the maggu is asking too many questions to the prof after class - wo prof se las raha hai.
  • Maggu: a guy who studies a lot. Usually despised by nost of his classmates, this is the guy who scores a lot and does nothing other than sit in his room or library and read books. Is usually characterised by a lower (relatively) level of IQ but a mind boggling memorising power. If the professor disallowed indian standards in the class, this gu would be unperturbed because he would have already mugged them up. Never, ever call an IITian a maggu.

    A related word is magai which is what a maggu does. Magai is also used in a lighter sense for normal studies.
  •  Tel: Tel machana is to bungle something up. If you have screwed a mid-sem then paper tel ho gaya. If you cul-secy possesses the brain of a Dodo then Antaragni tel ho jayegi.

    The noun form is Telu. As in - that person is a big Telu. Or by the above example, the cul-secy is a Telu.
  • Tulla: now outdated, it refers to roaming around with nothing to do. It is usually done around the girls' hostel or atleast passes near it. Is normally associated with bulla. Tulla is very important for those rare couples in IIT. I don't know why but all couples at IITK are always on the move. The commonn variant of Tulla is toolna - eg Chalo toolne chalte hain. When a guy is roaming with a girl - Woh bandi tula raha hai.

    This word had become extinct for some while in IITK. When I was in my first year nobody taught me this. Then we met an alumnus who used this slang. None of us could understand. An elaborate search on the net revealed the secret. The word is becoming popular again along with its variants.

    Note: With the continued efforts of me and my friends, this word has been revived. This is my fifth year at campus and this word is now popular.

I think I've covered a lot of words. I cannot think of anymore. If someone points out, I'll add them later. The interesting fact to be noted is that most of the IITK lingo comes from Hindi unlike other colleges where a lot of lingo is derived from English. The reason is that most junta of IITK comes from UP and Bihar. The influence of Hindi is but obvious.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Contemplations on a Leisurely Evening

(A story that I wrote some while ago, it's my personal favourite)

After a most satisfying dinner, my friend and I retired to my study. I asked my wife not to disturb the two of us any further that evening.

My friend slumped into an easy chair as soon as we were alone.

"Do you mind if I smoke?" he asked. I did mind. But since I was receiving him as a guest after about five years, I did not wish to deny him such simple pleasures.

"No." I therefore said.

He lit up his cigarette with the complacency one generally feels on Friday evenings. He took a few deep puffs and filled the room with his exhalations.

"I was surprised," he said at length, "when I heard that you had taken to full time writing."

"I had been putting off that decision for quite some time now. But when this publisher gave me such a big offer, I couldn't resist it anymore. Nevertheless, I was as surprised as everybody else. I always thought of myself as one who likes to play it safe."

"I know." He said. Indeed he did. Perhaps nobody knew me better than he did. We had been friends for that long.

"I just hope," he continued, "that you have thought it through before you took the decision. Writing might not turn out to be as smooth a sailing as you might have imagined."

I knew what was coming. There was a time when we used to have such arguments everyday. Each person trying to put down the other one. The arguments were perfectly friendly, almost always.

"Are you suggesting that I might not survive in the field?"

"Yes." He simply said.

"You are perhaps forgetting that I have already sold two books."

He was gazing at the lit end of his cigarette as if searching for some microscopic entity.

"I am aware of that." He said, looking straight into my eyes, "And I have read those books. They were good enough, I must say, but they lacked finesse."

"Well?"
"You do not appear to be very imaginative. Your plots and characters are just variations on established themes."

I tilted my head to one side and frowned at him. Our debates could get serious sometimes. He was a lawyer, had always been a lawyer, and certainly I did not think he was in the least competent to give a literary criticism of my works.

"What do you know about writing?" I asked savagely.

"Oh, plenty! Just selling a couple of stories doesn't make you the god of the genre. You write science fiction, you say, and yet, not even a single alien species in any of your stories is anything I haven't seen, heard or read before. You are so formulaic."

"I have a reason for that. My stories are plot oriented. There is always an idea I wish to convey. Inventing fancy imaginary worlds is not relevant to my plots. It will only serve to obscure that idea. I keep things as simple as possible for my readers."

My friend smiled viciously.

"Accept it, my friend, it is lack of imagination."

"No!"

"Well then, prove it! Can you give me a full and consistent description of a totally exotic alien species that I have never heard about."

"I can."

"Now? Within fifteen minutes?"

I stared at him. I knew I had fallen into a trap. But I took up the challenge. I walked up to the window and started thinking. My friend quietly finished his cigarette.

"Okay," I said at last, "listen to this."

I settled down into a chair beside him.

"Imagine a planet about the size of the earth. But unlike earth which has a complex structure comprising of the core, mantle and crust, this planet is mostly crystalline. A gigantic crystal which is circling its yellow dwarf star. The crystal structure is not so simple though. When this planet crystallises out of its planetary accretion disk, it develops a highly complex structure inside it. How is it till now?"

He looked at me with a poker face. But I knew he was intrigued.

"Go on." He said.

"Due to this highly complex structure this planet has become a giant computer."

"A computer? How are you going to power it?"

"It is an optical computer. Powered by its sun. The light enters at one end and goes out at another but stupendously complex calculations can be performed in between. Initially the calculations are meaningless, random excitations of atomic orbitals and random photon emissions. But then the process organises itself into small meaningful programs. Programs that can replicate themselves!"

"You mean like DNA?" he asked. I nodded, "How?"

"How did life originate on earth?" I said. Understandably, he remained silent. "Chance, let us say. The same hand of providence that created our DNA created these tiny little programs. These programs then begin to evolve."

My friend leaned forward in his chair.

"You are forgetting one thing. For evolution you need natural selection. For that you need an environment with some challenges. In this giant computer of yours, each program can run without any danger to its existence."

"Well then let's give them an environment. One part of this giant crystal is running an "environment simulation". Let us make it the core. And other smaller parts are running "creature simulations". Both are connected by a two way link. Internal states of the environment determine those of the creature and vice versa."

"Do you mean a matrix like scenario?"

"Essentially, only that everything is natural and the creatures themselves are programs. What they might be experiencing would have nothing to do with their actual physical form. They could think themselves to be organic creatures totally oblivious to the giant crystal and its optics. Their world could have totally different physical rules that ours. Different equations, different constants.

"So, they evolve and they evolve. Until they reach the stage of conscious beings. And then they begin to alter their environment in big ways. But changes have occurred in their own form too. The big leap has been the development of a "mind simulation" beside the "creature simulation". The mind is linked to the body and the body to the environment. Together they form a consistent world."

"You have hit upon a most fascinating concept." My friend said, "there could be a whole different universe inside this simulation with its own set of rules. These creature could be exploring it just as we do."

"Yes," I said, my excitement was growing, "but then, the resolution of every simulation is finite. Thus the creatures will start encountering limits. Like the speed of light for example. Since signals inside this simulation cannot travel instantaneously, a limit on speed of light comes in. And elementary particles. One cannot do computations with an infinite number of particles or with continuous matter. Thus there have to be some particles which are elementary. It need not be these things of course, but something similar."

"And these creatures will never know! They'll forever be wondering how they originated or why there universal constants exist."

I sat back in my chair. I knew I had won the argument.

"I don't know." I said, "maybe they would. But when they start investigating such limits they might discover their true nature. They'd have to if its got to make a good story!"

We chuckled.

"It will make a good story. Okay, you win! You can become a great writer."

At this point my wife interrupted, despite my having asked not to.

"Coffee?" she asked. I looked at my friend.

"Sure." He said.


Somewhere else . . .

Vox looked with satisfaction at his exploration team. They were doing their job perfectly. This planet was the most exotic thing that they had ever encountered. They could not even begin to theorise how such a big mass of crystal had come to exist let alone understand its immensely complex structure. He looked at the screen in front of him that showed the schematic of the optical activity in the central core. The beautiful symmetry of it fascinated him. He longed to know what it was all about.

He could have looked on at the display for ages if he had not noticed a strong spike in one corner of the display.

"What . . ." he began then stopped as he heard some altercation a few meters away from his enclosure. He came out in a hurry.

"What happened?!!" he cried out.

A lot of personnel had gathered towards the northern side of the camp.

"What happened?" Vox shouted out again.

"Nothing much!" someone answered, "Trilex here toppled over some heavy equipment, the power cells have erupted."

"Lousy dumbhead!" Vox muttered to himself, and then louder, "fix it and report to me!"

He went back to his enclosure shaking his head.




The first thing that I had asked my wife when I first met her before marriage was - "Can you make good coffee?"

It turned out she could and I'd be eternally thankful for that. She poured out cups of it for the two of us.

"There is something terrible on the news." she said.

"What?"

"A bad earthquake has struck the Indian Ocean. The resulting Tsunami has wrecked havoc in many countries."

"That is so unfortunate!" my friend exclaimed. We rushed to the living room to hear more of it on TV.

FINISHED
January 17, 2005
5:34 PM (IST)
Kanpur (UP)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ignorance is Bliss (v0.2)

The man enters the street with a pair of chappals in his hand. At first I do not notice, then I dismiss it as some religious ritual (we do happen to have a temple at the far end of our street) and finally I realise that he is not barefoot but is nevertheless carrying another pair chappals in his hands. It finally strikes me as odd and I am pulled back from the higher dimension of thought that I slip into while I'm murdering time in my balcony.

The man is wearing a simple white shirt with stripes and dark trousers. He is unshaven. His hair and stubble both show considerable amount of grey, not from age but from overwork. And of course, he has those chappals in his hand.

Starting from the end, the third or the fourth house in our street is owned by Joshiji. He's the proud patriarch of a family of twenty plus individuals. As if to assert his pride, he stands tall and stiff with long flowing hair upto his shoulders. Every evening, he spends a lot of time strolling in front of his house, observing and periodically admonishing the numerous young ones of his household that play on the street.

The man approaches him reluctantly and appears to say something. The conversation lasts for a few minutes and the man walks on again. He is obviously very disappointed. It is then that it strikes me. The man is actually trying to sell those chappals.

This strikes me as odd immediately. People like him usually have small shops on the footpath. They don't go about selling their stuff in the streets like this, with just one pair of footwear. The man makes another vain attempt with Agrawal Uncle who sends him away even without listening. Along with his son he laughs at the man as he walks away.

My mother comes out into the balcony to throw the vegetable peels onto the street.

"What is that man doing?" she notices him immediately.

"I don't know" I say "He's probably trying to sell those chappals."

"Strange fellow!" she says and stays a while to watch. The man comes over to my house and looks hopefully at me. Obviously he's been watching me for a while and thinks that I'm an interested customer. In his monotonous, plaintive voice, he speaks out the same sentence that he must have spoken at least a hundred times since that morning.

"Would you like to buy these chappals, saab?"

I don't know why but his dark, sunken eyes move me. I look at my mother who is making a conscious effort to look away.

"Saab, saab!" he calls out again in an attempt to catch my attention.

"No, I don't need them." I answer at last.
"Please, saab, I have a sick child at home. Please buy these chappals so I can buy medicine for him."

"No." I say again.

"Please, saab. There must be someone in your household who needs them. Please buy them. My child is seriously ill."

I look at my mother again.

"Give him a rupee or two so he goes away." She says and walks back into the house.

I look down at those sorrowful eyes again.

"Wait, I'm coming down." I say.

I climb down the stairs to the ground floor. I never talk to people, especially to those from the unprivileged society, while I'm standing in the balcony. To me it seems like I'm insulting the person in this way. I always go down and talk. Or give money and food, in case of beggars. I never throw stuff down like my mother tells me to do.

The chappals are not a good make. They have obviously been made in haste. And they are not leather chappals, as I had expected, but made of some kind of cheap plastic.

"How much for them?" I ask.

"Sixty, saab" he says.

I fumble for my wallet but then I hesitate.

***

Jamnaram has been ill for four days now. He has not been able to go to the market and set up his little footpath shop. Not that he ever does roaring business. But at least he is able to earn enough to feed himself and his little son. Now for four days, he has not earned a single rupee and the today they finished the last of whatever food was left in the house. Tomorrow, they'll have to go and beg the neighbours.

His son sleeps beside him in the blissful ignorance of childhood. Jamna fondly runs a hand through his hair. Poor motherless child. I'll do something about it, he thinks, you need never worry.

The next day his son wakes up with high fever. Apparantly the fever was contagious. Jamna borrows some money from his neighbors and takes him to the hospital. After waiting an entire day at the government hospital, the doctor finally examines his son. He prescribes medicine. The nurse at the counter for medicine informs him that the medicine is not available. The hospital staff has either black marketed the medicine or want some payment for it from Jamna. Exhausted, Jamna gets back to his slum. His son is getting delirious with fever. He is himself getting delirious with fever.

Jamna spends the night making a pair chappals out of whatever material is left with him. He does not have the money to buy new material so he makes do with whatever is left. In the morning he sets out to sell them.

***

Jamna wakes up with a heavy head in the morning. He'd stayed up late last night and drunk too much. He had done whopping business yesterday. He's sold almost all his chappals and earned more than five hundred.

He had thrown a grand party for his friends that evening. They'd all got drunk, all at his expense and had chicken for dinner. The drinks kept flowing in as someone fetched the cards. Jamna was supposed to be the star player of that day.

He had lost all he'd got left and he'd lost a lot more. So that now he was in debt.

The very thought made Jamna's head ache harder. Within a few days Ramdin would start pestering him for repayment.

His son walks into the house.

"Baba, I'm hungry!"

Jamna hits him hard in the side.

"Go away, you bastard!" he shouts "go find food on the street. Why didn't your mother take you with her when she died. Would have been so much easier for me!"

The child cries and runs out of the house. Jamna searches the house and finds a shabby pair of chappals in one corner. If he can manage to sell these, he will still be able to get food and liquor for tonight.

***

I hesitate as I fumble for my wallet. I look up to the balcony to see whether my mother is looking. She's not. I fish out a hundred and hand it to the man.

"Keep the change" I tell him.

The man is delighted. He gladly hands me the chappals. I can see that they are no use to me. I will never be able to wear something so cheap. They are probably not even my size. But it's not the chappals that I've bought. It's the delighted look on the man's face. I try not to think about the real reason for that look. Ignorance is bliss.

Finished
2:37 am
October 7, 2005
IIT Kanpur
India.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Gods


Gods


We were hiding on a small planet of a small star of a small galaxy at he periphery of the galactic cluster. We were frightened and thus low on our energy. WE were frightened of the Rebels who had overthrown our government and taken over. They were searching for us - to capture us. We would all be put into places they call prisons and then ... no, they don't kill us. They feed on our energy. They had machines that could extract our energy, against our wish and leave us drained.

To be devoid of energy is a horrible experience. A non-sensitive being cannot understand it. It does not cause physical pain, no, that can be easily cured with medicines. Rather, it overwhelms you with utter despair. The feelings of depression, frustration, nervousness all plague you at once.

But we were in no better condition hiding on this planet. We were all low on our energy, except some grown-ups like dad. All the para energetic machines which work with living energy were dead. They would have made our hide-out perfectly safe. But no one could run them. so low were we on our energy that we actually had to eat to sustain ourselves. That we would have to droop to such a low level of sustenance had been beyond the imagination of any. Nevertheless we had to do it.

All this made dad take the decision. We'll leave - he declared. Everyone was anxious. WE were going to leave - to where? There was nowhere to go. Whole of the cluster was occupied with the Rebels.

"Can't we stay here?" I asked.

Mom shook her head. The Rebels had come to know our whereabouts. They were coming for us. Dad and his men were eluding them with their gadgetry but it would not be long before they found us.

So we left for the eternal void. The space that had always existed and would always exist engulfed us. Hid us, among its many secrets.

We travelled, I don't know for how long, one loses all sense of time in a spaceship. But the chrono told us it was one month. One month! We could have circled our cluster many times over in that time. And yet, we had not reached anywhere. At least our energy levels had revived. WE had to eat no more. When your energy is high you do not need to eat to sustain yourself. Our para-energetic machines were operable and we were using them to locate life. But they told us that there was no energy controlling life in the radius of a million light years.

At last we found a galaxy. A small one. I liked it the moment i saw it on screen. It was very small, almost cute. All alone in space, it did not have a cluster to belong to. My eyes gleamed with the light emitted by it.





I plucked a flower - it was violet-pink - and smelt it. It was a strange but sweet smell. I liked this place instinctively. I liked the trees here, the animals here, the tiny insects that climbed onto my hand and crawled on it.

Our men were inspecting the surroundings. I wondered whether the planet had intelligent life. It would be fun, I mused, to know what archaic life forms were like. We had evolved to energy controlling beings about 10000 years ago. Civilized man before that could not control energy.

Suddenly there was a movement in the bushes and a man appeared. He was humanoid in shape. He had a stick in his hand with a pointed metal tip. Later I came to know it was called a spear.

"We would live here!" Dad said.

"What! With animals?" Mom exclaimed.






Sarah showed me her colored pebbles. She was delighted to have them. One by one she would take them out from her bag and show them to me. She had done it several times. Each time I watched her childish play with patience. At the age of seven when I was struggling with calculus, she was playing with stones.

She asked me to show the magic. It was no magic, actually. Anybody having the energy could do it. I placed the pebbles on the rock and with mere thought lifted them up. Then I put them down. Sarah clapped. She was delighted.

These people were so primitive. All of them. Sarah called me son of god. My father was god for them. And so were all of us, the two hundred odd people who had come with my father on that ship. WE ruled the natives. WE had tried to teach them. They had learned to read and write, and a few other techniques but had failed to learn more. Their mental level was too low. A single generation has a limit to the knowledge it can assimilate. Only with time would their race learn more.

Our control of the energy was magic to them. We could live without eating. Lift things in air. Had vehicles that could fly. So, we were gods.

I liked these people, whatever they were. I liked Sarah. She was my age and a nice playmate.





I looked at Sarah as she dried her hair in the sun. I was awestruck, mesmerized. She was utterly beautiful. She had never looked so gorgeous in the fifteen years I had known her. I suppose it was the effect of our youth.

I went up to her and held her hand.

"Come!" I said.

She gave me a questioning look but followed me. We almost ran to where Dad and Mom were sitting. They were startled as we entered suddenly.

"I'm marrying her" I declared.

Mom was shocked.

"What in the ... you can't do this son!" She protested. But father silenced her.

"You can't help it" he said "this had to happen, one day or the other."





I felt anxious. Sarah was going to deliver our baby. It was our first time and I was tense. Finally, the news came. I had become the father of a son. He was brought up to me. He moved his tiny limbs but had no halo. The halo that surrounded every energy controlling creature. I looked at my mother.

"He doesn't feel the energy" my Mom said softly.

I looked back at my son. It did not matter. He was my son all the same. He did not need energy in this world.





I saw a ship land near our town. From the make I knew it was from our galaxy and the occupants were friends.

Their leader met me in private. They wanted us to return. They had re-established their rule and needed the much learned men in our group. to reconstruct our civilization. After the death of my father I was the leader of the group and had the right to summon everyone back home.

I looked at Sarah. She could not go with me. She could not have survived among energy controlling creatures. Neither did she want to leave this place. I looked at my son. He was playing with his friend. He was about eight at that time. He seemed to have acquired all the traits of his mother. Though hos brain was sharper he was perfectly like the natives. So were the many offsprings of those who had followed my suit. All these could not leave this place.

Of course I could leave my family here and go. They could not have stopped me. I could marry my own kind and settle down with another family. But I had some duty toward Sarah and my son. More than that, in fact more than anything else, I loved them.

"All those who wish" I said "may leave. I'm going nowhere. I have a family here. We people have no place in what is now your world."

They tried to convince me but in vain. Many remained and many left. Mostly old ones who could not forget their real abode.

So I lived on happily with Sarah and my son. Until my time came and I became one with the energy. We people are unlike the natives, we exist even after death, in another plane of existence. We can see and hear all that is in this world, but we have no material form.

So I watched this world in that dream like existence. My son had his sons and they, theirs. My tribe faded out. Time passeed on and on and on.

Thousands of years have passed. My heirs have developed - their culture has developed - their science has developed. They have even reached out to space, if only to the singular satellite of their planet.

And some of them say - It is said that once there were gods. They could do anything. They could lift things without touching them and had vehicles that could fly. Ah, but I don't believe in all this. Its all a myth. One should believe only in scientific facts. There are no gods, no miracles.

I listen to them and I smile at their ignorance. That is all I can do now.

FINISHED ON

7:55 PM (IST) FRIDAY

28 SEPTEMBER 2001

INDORE (MP) INDIA.








The Probe

The high priest closed his eyes in meditation. He tried to quiet his mind, setting it upon the mysteries of life and the glory of the unknown. Just then he heard the rustle of curtains. Someone was there to see him.
Nobody, absolutely nobody disturbed the high priest when he was in meditation. Whatever it was, it had better be important. At leisure, the high priest opened his eyes. The messenger was waiting patiently at his door step.
"What is it?" he asked sternly.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, sire, but there is an important matter that you should attend to.", the messenger said.
Watching the look on his face, the High Priest felt disturbed. He was a new High Priest. Inexperienced, nothing of significance had really happened in the two years since he became High Priest. He did not particularly like this position of responsibility.
The large gathering in the premises of the temple did not help.
"What is it?" he demanded from the Second Highest Priest.
"Some thing unusual has occurred." Said the Second Highest Priest, "These people say that something fell out of the skies yesterday night in the Village. The Headman himself came early in the morning to inform us. The people are scared, sire. You should do something about this quickly."
The High Priest decided to go the Village to see for himself.

The object was huge. It stood twice as tall as a man and wide as a room. What it was, was anybody's guess. To the High Priest it appeared to be a vast jumble of metal pipes. As if a thousand utensils had been crushed together by a giant hand. And it had wheels. That much anyone could make out. But these wheels were not wood, nor metal. It was a strange black material. Black wood, perhaps? The work of the Evil?
"When did it come?" The High Priest enquired.
"Last night, sire, just after midnight. As soon as daylight broke out we rushed to the Temple to inform you. It came from the sky, from towards the north and fell in to the fields."
"And had it been just lying there since that time?"
"Till now, yes."
Suddenly the object rumbled. Everyone shrieked and ran at once. The rumblings stopped and the circle around the object stabilized again but this time with a larger radius. The High Priest was having great difficulty in maintaining his composure.
A long arm shot out of the structure bearing what looked like an eye.
"What is that?" the Second High Priest whispered. It was pretty much the thing that the High Priest himself was wondering. The eye rose high and then in a wide circle.
"It is watching us." Said the High Priest with conviction.
"Watching us? What for? Is that its eye?"
The High Priest shook his head. He took a bold step forward.
"Who are you?" he called out in a loud voice, "Why have you come here?"
The Eye turned towards the High Priest. His heart leaped. But he stood his ground. He could not disgrace himself in front of so many. The Eye moved forward, taking a closer look. Then it retracted. The Devil rumbled again and the Eye settled into it.
The crowd kept waiting in anticipation. But nothing happened. They kept waiting till midday but nothing happened. Finally the High Priest decided to leave. He gave orders to be informed immediately if something happened.

The Temple declared the object to be Devil. Some people believed otherwise. There was rumor doing the rounds among the commoners that the Object was actually a messenger of God. The High Priest was making a mistake in not recognizing it as such. There were those who thought that the choice of the new High Priest had been in correct. The one who was the Second High priest should have been the High Priest now. But the dieing former High Priest decided otherwise. The old man was delusional.
The high priest was aware of all these rumors. They disturbed him. It could not do for the people to be unsatisfied with him. He was well ware that the power vested in any man was only as much as the people gave him. It people did not obey his orders he would have no power.
He had to do something about the matter. That night he gathered a force of ten strong and able bodied men. Armed with mallets and hammers they marched to the site where the object lay. Then with strong sure blows they broke down the work of the devil. The object was crushed to pieces.
The next say arose in a new light. People looked at the High Priest with renewed reverence. He became and instant hero. It was advertised that it was due to his supernatural powers that he Devil had been over powered.

I Have One Too

A Fifty Five Word Story
(I really hope I can stick to the word limit here)

Believe it or not, God actually gives personal audience to every soul before damnation. He's God, after all! He can twist space and time to his liking! But each is allowed only one question. He's god after all! He's got an entire Universe to worry about!

So, I asked - why?

God knitted his brows and appeared to think.

"Come to think of it" he said "it really is an interesting question. Howcome I never thought of it?"

It turns out that MS Word actually shows the word count to be 78. I hate MS Word. No human would have bothered (or had the patience) to count. I hate MS Word anyway! However, I guess this is a passable fifty five word story? I tag nobody.

New Layout

Any comments on the new layout? You will notice that I've added sections for the last song that I really liked, the book that I'm currently reading (the older ones will keep getting pushed down), and for something on the web that you'll never regret reading. How is my new choice of colors? Not that I made it myself but still . . .

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Info and Warning

Hi,
I'm really sorry that I had to turn on this capcha (word verification) thingy on for the comments but I was getting too much comment spam. Second, I've written two posts that are too long. Beware.

Are Teachers Really That Bad?

A lot of people seem to be having a take on their teachers these days. Read this post by Anirudh for instance. If you ask me, I really don't know. When I look back at my life, the fourteen years of my schooling and the two years here, at IIT Kanpur, I find that I've encountered a large number of teachers both good and bad. And its difficult to summarily brand most teachers as bad.

Because what most people seem to be talking about is an ideal situation. That is what most people do - idealise things - when they set out to analyse anything. It's probably a sin stemming from overuse of science in this century (I have something to say on that too, but will leave it for another occasion, another post). What we have to remember at all times is that the real world is not ideal.

The first thing is that most people in this world are not doing what they would like or want to do. So is the case with teachers too. Many teachers are teaching in schools or colleges because they could not do anything else in life. Indeed school teaching is perhaps the last option left to any unemployed graduate these days. If that is the kind of people who are teaching, how do you expect quality from them.

Second is that teachers are also humans. This was the point that one of my teachers drove hard into me at a very early stage of my life. She was my class teacher in class eight and taught us science. The class was having difficulty with the math teacher. What she told us at that time (I don't remember the exact words - I never do) was something like this. The math teacher is also human. You cannot expect her to work independent of external things like an automaton. The teachers performance in a large part depends on the response of the students. If the students don't respond at all or respond in a negative manner, it becomes very difficult for the teacher to teach. Although, the situation did not improve at that time, the advice certainly struck home with me. As a student it is very important to treat the teacher in the right way and send the correct "signals" to him/her. It is only then that learning can be efficient.

Third, when I look back at life I find that I've encountered more good teachers than bad ones in my life. For the benefit of people who like to do such things, I'll define what I mean by "good" here. Since the function of a teacher is to facilitate learning, a good teacher is the one who helps in learning. A bad teacher is the one who inhibits learning. But there are also people who do neither or are somewhere in between. As I'm an optimist (something that Yash would probably not agree with!) I'll call all those teachers good who do not inhibit for most of the time. That is - neutral parties are good too. After all you don't expect this world to be full of Einstiens, do you? (As an aside, I had to use a metaphor that was unconnected with the topic. This is sad. Why have I never heard of a legendary teacher? If it is just my ignorance, do educate me.)

Using this criterion, I find that most teachers that I encountered were good ones. It's only once in a while that I came across bad ones or really horrible ones. Thus, I find it hard to believe that teachers are bad.

But yes, the kind of interaction that you have with teachers changes over the course of your life. When you are a child it is very easy for you and also for the teacher to become personally attached. That facilitates swift learning. As you grow older, your ego and the teachers takes over and it becomes difficult to form that bond. You are able to do it only in very few cases. In colleges where a professor may be interacting with hundreds of students at a time, it becomes humanly impossible to form a personal connection. The ideal situation is when you can interact with the teacher on a one to one basis. But that is not possible where large numbers are involved.

About classroom teaching, we have to understand that charting out a syllabus is necesary. On one hand it does force you to study what you don't want to study. But I will ask just one question - do we really know what we shoudl study and what we should not. When I was in school I hated history and sanskrit. But now I do appreciate the fact that I was tought these things. Sometimes you have to undergo hardships to reap the benefits later on.

Also I have an opinion about why most people hate teacher. Its just because it is human nature to resent authority!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Suggested Movie

Solaris : a nice take on god, second chances etc. A bit abstract, though.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why so much correctness?

This post is inspired by Anirudh's comment on my last post. He said that the question I had asked was very difficult to answer.

Le me stray aside a little bit. When I came to IIT, I was quite a naive fellow. I still am, I don't deny that, but even the dumbest manage to pick up some wisdom. The thing I learnt over here was something that people called political correctness. Now, people may choose to define political correctness in the way they like, however, the consequesnce that it had for my life was this. I have never again been able to speak even one sentence without a long list of expanations.

Let me take a simple statement like - "IIT is a good college.". As soon as I make the horrible mistake of saying those harmless words, my intelligent audience (someone like Anirudh) would immediately interject - "That depends on what you mean by good.".

Of course I know that. I am well aware that good is a subjetive term and its very difficult to define it. That is why we don't define it. We go on using it in our everyday parlance and never define it. But as soon as I start talking to these so called "intellectuals" I have to define it. They wouldn't let me live without it!

The point I wish to make here is not that what these people demand is unreasonable or illogical. Quite the contrary. However, have we ever paid attention to the fact that how cryptic and tedious conversations become when you have to explain each and every statement you make. It becomes downright boring.

I long for those good old days when you could be biased without fear. You did not have to carry the burden of being "politically correct". After all, can you ever be that. I don't think so. You can only try and you'll probably fail miserably because everyone is inherently biased. That is the nature of human consciousness. And besides, being unbiased all the time is also a bias in itself.

Getting back to Ani's comment. I wish someone would have given some answer to my questions, even if a biased one. It's lot more fun to hold opinions, have debates, try to justify them, modify them, test them rather that just shrugging and saying - I don't know . . . It's very hard to say . . .

I've used too many italicised words in this posting. This normally means that the posting was not well written and the writer had to resort to visual cues to emphasize his point.

Update January 20, 2010: It is so embarrassing to read posts from the past. This was written almost 5 years ago! Note the pretentious language: "I was quite a naive fellow", really? But it is interesting to see my first tryst with political correctness. And to note to what degree I have internalized it now. It does take a long time for your views to change.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

That Male Stare

All males stare at females. Even I do. It's a reflex action with me. A girl passes me and my eyes, like an automaton, follow her till she's out of sight. It's like I'm programmed! I just can't help it. These days I hardly notice it. It barely registers in my mind.

But I really wonder what girls actually feel about it? Do they feel annoyed, with so many people staring at them? Do they feel pleased? Or has it stopped bothering them anymore? Just like I barely notice that I'm staring at a girl.

Is this behaviour part of the natural human mating behaviour. I mean, you got to check out as many females as you can, before choosing a mate, right? Or is it a habit that I've picked up from my peers and do it just because everyone else does?

And finally, is it good, or bad, or neither?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Love

I love everything.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Momentary Lapse?

The primary reason that I've not blogged for so long now is that my monitor has not been in working order and it actually took three weeks to sort the matter out. But now that I have my own personal monitor back again, you guys should be able to see some good posts again.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why?

A few days ago I was in Pragati Maidan, Delhi for the National Book Fair. The President of India was about to arrive to inaugarate the fair. Naturally there were several armed policemen present. It was my first experience with so much of police. But the surprising thing is I felt afraid rather than safe! And it did not strike me as odd at all at that time, though now I wonder why.

Sex

Sex is like food, only that its not vital.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Comfortably Numb

I slowly rotate the small circular disk in my hand. It looks deceivingly harmless. Its vendor looks at me hopefully. I have no idea what I’m doing in the black market of the city. My friends and I are out in the city for a treat. But somehow, I don’t want to stay with the crowd. I’ve strayed out alone.

“How much?” I ask.

“A Hundred and fifty.” The vendor says. I give him a look. The market is buzzing with activity. The galaxy of electric bulbs and tubes stretches on to infinity.

“That’s too much!” I say, knowing that these black market vendors always cite prices at least three times the actual.

“No, no!” he says, “I’ve sold it for more. I’m giving a special discount only for you.”

“A hundred.” I say. He shakes his head. I turn to leave. I know he will call me back. He does.

“Okay! Come back. You can have it for hundred.” He says.

“Does it work?” I want to confirm once more. As if he wouldn’t lie.

“Yes!” he says confidently and gives me a lopsided grin.

I throw him a bill, still feeling that I could have bargained for eighty and walk away with the device. It is a weird little thing - one of those that have been banned even before they ever hit the shelves. What it does is simple. You attach the electrodes to your forehead and switch it on. Then you just think about it and before you know it, you are gone. Gone forever. No hassles, no pain. None of the usual difficulties in ending your life. Just sit back, relax and think about it and you’re no more.

Why had I bought it? I don’t know exactly. Perhaps the vendor was a good salesman.

My friends beckon to me from the other side of the street. They are ready to go to the restaurant. I join them in their happy banter that is so characteristic of young people. But my mind is elsewhere. Every now and then my hand goes to my pocket. I feel the smooth surface of that small device in my hand. It is cold, metallic and hard to touch. I feel a strange detachment from the rest of my group. I am in there – laughing, smiling, and nodding – but my mind is elsewhere. It is as if I had separated from my body and was watching from the corner of the room.

We go back late that night. Nobody notices my strange behavior among the festivities. Their liveliness is annoying. Why can’t they keep silent for some time? Why not let me alone. Once we are back at the hostel I make straight for my room. Saumya tries to stop me. He wants me to stay. But I make some stupid excuse and leave.

When I get to my room I switch off the lights and lay down on my bed. I put my hand onto my pocked and take out the device. I switch it on. The red LED on it glows in the dark. Does it really work? I clasp it in my hand feeling the cold surface get warmer in my palm.

Anxious, I get up. I lock my room and walk out – out of my room, out of the hostel. I want to get away – from people, those laughing faces, those stupid jokes, those mundane concerns of daily life. I want to get away from light. I walk towards the loneliest areas of the campus.

For some time I just keep walking – thinking nothing. Then suddenly I realize. I am fiddling with it! I take it out. It looks ghastly in the dim yellow light of the street lamp. I hesitate. What am I thinking? Am I thinking of actually using it?!

Why? Why, because it would be so easy. This small thing was the solution to all of life’s problems. If I use it now, I would not have to wake up to classes on Monday. Hell, I would not even have to wake up. I can sleep forever. Eternally. It would ease all pain. No more classes, homework, projects, reports, jobs, interviews, internships – none of it ever again. No more bother about people and relationships. Nothing to care about. No responsibilities. Peace.

Night sounds fill the space around me. The surroundings are bathed in the diffuse yellow-orange glow of the sodium vapour lamp overhead. I watch the darkness of my shadow grow longer as I walk away from it.

Why not – I question myself. What would become of my family after me? What would my mother do? What about my brother? I have some responsibilities towards them. Can I bear to see them in grief?

But I wouldn’t have to see them in grief once I’m gone, isn’t it? And how long does grief last? A year? Perhaps two? Time heals everything. Life went on after my father died. Life will go on even if I fade away from the face of this earth. This world can do without me. Responsibilities bind you only till you are alive. The dead don’t answer to anyone.

I turn the corner and see the hostel in the distance. I suddenly become aware of my surroundings. The device is still clutched in my hand. I shakily put it away. How can I think this way?

I can’t run away from life like this. This is escapism. Running away from problems does not solve them. I take a deep breath. Would these things really matter once I’m gone?

What about the experiences life has to offer? What about the pleasures of living - the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells – the infinite range of experience that one calls life? Would I not miss them all? And the sufferings, I remind myself. The pains and miseries – I’d miss them all too.

It’s only desire – I tell myself. And the dead have no desire. Desire is the root of all pain, all suffering. Once you are gone there is no more desire, no more pain, no more suffering. No sights or sounds will call out to you then. You’ll be at peace finally.

I see three couples coming towards me on the street. I smile ruefully at my loneliness. I feel a small ache in my heart. The ache of a long lost love. The ache of the lack of companionship. That would be gone too, wouldn’t it?

I pass two of them in trance. My mind has passed into a state of numbness. I can’t think anymore. I can only feel. I can only experience.

My trance is broken by the last couple. I realize that I know them both. The boy exclaims loudly upon seeing me. He engages me in talk about the mundane worldly activities. These things are very important to him. Again a part of me detaches itself and observes. It wonders. It compares the things that the boy is talking about to the grand machinery of the world. It smiles at the difference of scale. Still, these things are so important to this boy. Outwardly I nod and smile, inwardly I’m hardly listening. I completely ignore the girl. I don’t know why.

I take their leave and walk on. The reverie has fallen away and is replaced by more worldly concerns. I find that I’m sweating even though the weather is cool. I’m afraid. Afraid that they might guess what I was thinking. Afraid that they might think I’m mad. Afraid that they might stop me.

Why not? I tell myself again. All that fear will be gone too. Nothing will be left.

A strange lightness fills my heart. I realize that I’m hungry. Perhaps the lack of glucose is making me so depressed. I proceed to the canteen, contemplating what I’d eat.

I order the most sumptuous meal available. I even have an ice cream and a chocolate for dessert. I return to my room. I put on some music. I switch off the lights and lay down on my bed. I take out the device and attach it to my temple. I close my eyes and switch it on.

My family floats into my vision – my mother and brother. I want to talk to them one last time, just like I do twice a week. My thoughts move to other people. I want to say something to each one of them. Relatives, friends – I have something to say to everyone. My thoughts then move to things – things that I want to do. It is an infinite world. Slowly everything fades away and pure melancholy fills my heart.

The Pink Floyd are singing – I . . . . have become . . . . comfortably numb. . . .

Finished

August 21, 2005

2:14 AM

Friday, August 12, 2005

Standard of writing on Meander

I wonder what is going to happen to the standard of writing on Meander. None of the bachhas know how to write good - forget good - even decent English. All of their articles are riddled with dots and dashes, trailing sentences, incorrect expressions and totally unimaginative language. And Atul still calls them "excellent". I really wonder!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Living and Living Alone

I’ve always been a loner. When I was in school and lived at home (I feel that I’ve lost my home now. When I go home now, I feel like an outsider. I hope it’s only temporary.) I was happiest when I was in my balcony – alone with just me and my thoughts. I loved those private moments. Moments when I could think, I could imagine, I could day dream. Think thoughts that I dare not share with anyone.

Hostel took away that privacy. Over here, I had to live with a room mate, who was alien at first then became an acquaintance and then almost rose to the importance of my spouse. I’m not gay mind you but that is how close you actually get to your room mate. But he’s not the best of my pals and he knows it too. I cannot share everything nor anything with him. And I miss my privacy.

I was looking forward to coming to the new hall where I would finally get a single room and my privacy back. Once I again I would be able to spend those endless hours alone. But that was not to be. Till now there has hardly been a moment when I’ve been alone in my room.

Some people have a knack for never realizing the exact time that they start becoming unwelcome. I have a couple of these friends. I would not name the first one but he has the annoying habit of coming to my room and not leaving until he’s specifically told to. To be honest, I don’t dislike him. In fact, I quite like him at times. We have a variety of matching interests and I like talking to him on occasions. But I don’t like his perpetual presence in my room. He behaves like my trunk which is always there the corner. Or like the alarm clock, ticking away on my shelf. He’s constantly present in the periphery of my vision. After some time I ignore him completely, in the vague hope that he’ll leave. But he doesn’t. Poor me.

The second person is Atul. And before he becomes angry let me point out that no, he’s neither the trunk nor the alarm clock. He seldom comes to my room. His vice is persistence. A typical conversation is like this :

Atul: Would you like to come for a walk?

Vinod: Um . . . no, I don’t feel like it right now. (What I’m actually thinking is – his walks don’t usually end till 3:00 am and if I go with him now, there is no way that I can attend the lecture early next morning)

Atul: “Chalo na, please.”

After this, no matter how many times I say no, this guy would not leave my room until I go with him. He’s actually sat for an hour in my room before I had to give in to his request. And he does this with all his requests. He really gets on to my nerves after some time. After all there is a time and place when and where I prefer to do things. Why should I do things at his convenience? But like I said – he’s persistent.

Let me now make the confession that this blog was actually intended for – I had a quarrel with Atul over this. Once day I really lost my temper over his behavior and said nasty things. Atul, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I admire and appreciate you a lot as a person. But please try leaving me alone sometimes.

Sometimes I think I’m being mean with these people. After all, they stay with me because they like me. They want my company. I’m grateful to them for that. Very few people actually like me and I cherish all those who do. Really, I’m not being sarcastic. I’m immensely grateful to all the friends that I’ve got over here.

Perhaps it’s good that I get no loneliness over here. When I get out into the big bad world, I’d be lonely like hell. All the loneliness that I could want would be there. I should be thankful for these years. But then again that was exactly what they said when I left school – you’ll have to face the world alone now. It turned out that it wasn’t that bad. So maybe it wouldn’t be that bad when I get out of this place too.

All things appear to be weird until they happen – growing up, going to college, having a job, having family all appear to be difficult until they happen. But when they do happen they seem like the most natural course of life. When the time comes, nothing remains extraordinary. Everything seems normal.

So, I’m still searching, for my bit of loneliness.

JEE: Does it Need Revision?

Lately, there is news floating around in campus that JEE is going to be revamped. What is being said is – that a statistical study was done over the last seven years’ data and it was found that there is a strong correlation between the board exam results of students and their CPI in IIT and no correlation between AIR and CPI. In this light, why not revise JEE and let is take account of the board exam results too. Now I don’t know the details of this study but would still atempt to make some analyses.

  1. The students entering IITs through JEE are not equitably distributed into branches. While taking admission there are always something called good branches – like CSE and EE these days – and bad branches like Civil or pure sciences these days. High rankers go into “good” branches and the low rankers into the “bad” ones. However, once into their departments the students are graded relative to their peers in their own departments. This is true at least in last two years of a B. Tech. program when most of the courses done are departmental. Relative grading implies that most students would get a CPI of 6.5 to 7.5 because C is the grade you get if you are average. So the average guy in CSE gets the same CPI as the average guy in Civil. However, there is a huge difference in their AIRs. Thus the correlation is spoilt.
  2. The study has been done in the past seven years. This is the time when the coaching culture and the IIT hype has reached its high in India. In such a scenario the high AIR of a student implies that he’s worked harder than he deserves to get into IIT. The higher the rank, the more burnt out and unmotivated the student is. He’s already worked so much that he does not want to work anymore. Result – low CPI of a high ranking individual.

Apart from this, I also find a similarity between the school education pattern and the IIT education and JEE stands entirely different.

  1. School students are used to a pattern of quarterly, half-yearly and annual examination. So although, Board Exam is stand alone, it does not feel like one. IITs also have the pattern of quizzes, mid-sems and end sems. JEE on the other hand is a one day match (rather a two day match if you count screening as well).
  2. Board Exams are not competitive exams, neither are the sem exams at the IITs. JEE is. During JEE there is a strong feeling of “defeating others”.
  3. Board Exams have some practical component. IITs have practical component. JEE does not.
  4. There is lot of transparency in Board Exams. Teachers and students both know what will be asked in the exam and what is expected. The exam is neither mysterious nor secretive. IIT sem exams are similar in nature. Most of the time the professor makes sure that the students know what is expected and required of them. JEE on the other hand is the most mysterious and non-transparent exam that I’ve seen. No “model” question and answers are prepared by the IIT. The pattern keeps varying each year. It is never known to the students what they are supposed to know or what is expected of them. There is a lot of secrecy surrounding JEE.
  5. There a no “droppers” in the Board Exam. Most people give the exam only once. Similarly the most students do a course only once in the IITs. They don’t repeat it over and over again. JEE however, has a large number of “droppers” appearing – people who have made multiple attempts at the Exam. Over the years they might have become proficient at cracking the exam rather than having developed an understanding of the subject.

In view of the above points I’d say that making JEE more transparent would be a good reform. Tell the students what they are expected to know, what they are being tested for and what they are supposed to write in the exam.

Please do not bar droppers from appearing for the exam which I think would be grossly unfair!

Also I don’t think that taking Board Exams into account is a good idea for JEE for the following reasons.

  1. There is a lot of variation in the grading. CBSE itself admits the fact. The Board Exam score does not depict the actual ability of the student. (That can be said about JEE or any other exam too.)
  2. The Board Exam curriculum is not in line with the abilities that are required in IITs. The IIT system requires extensive problem solving abilities but the Board Exam does not prepare the student for it.

Again, I don’t know the details of the statistics so many of my views can be stupid but I sincerely hope they help. I don’t like the coaching culture at all and its in common interest that something is done about it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Purpose of the IITs and the Way to Live

The title will sound strange. Please be patient and by the end of this blog, I hope, you will understand it.

The new semester has recently started and I’m once again doing five new courses and have five new teachers. All the profs are okay, a couple are good. But one fellow is strange. Let me not name him. He’s taking the Design of Steel Structures course. Now this fellow seems to be least interested in design or steel or structures or the course itself for that matter. There have been four lectures till now and he’s talked to everything but these three words and any combination of them.

His favourite topic of conversation appears to be the flaw in the IIT system. I don’t think it’s his fault at all. That actually happens to be the favourite topic of conversation for everyone around here. People related to the IIT have this strange notion that nothing except the IIT is important and therefore discussion related to the IIT fills up most of their time, free or otherwise.

Let me get to the point fast. In this professor’s view, the IIT philosophy of imparting a holistic education is flawed. We are supposed to be an engineering institute and there is no point in teaching so many courses from humanities or pure sciences. The remark affected me emotionally which in itself if some news because it is very difficult to move me. At least that is the impression I have of myself. Once I was watching Charlie Chaplins Gold Rush with Jimmy John, a good friend of mine. After the movie he asked my opinion about it. I said it was a good film, quite funny. But, he said, you were hardly laughing!

Anyhow, the remarks affected me because I myself belong to that category of students who are more than busy getting a holistic education and screwing up their academics, or rather the engineering part of it.

The question is – which way is correct? Should the IITs target to develop your overall personalities or should they just concentrate on making world class engineers. For the starters, India has hardly ever produced world class engineers. Why waste your time then?

Dr. Suchitra Mathur, who I’ve got to know quite well over the last couple of years and who has been a guru to me during this time, emphasizes that the IITs were not set up to produce engineers but leaders. And leaders need versatile personalities. Some people, unfortunately, do not agree with her.

The question is also larger. As a student it faces you at every moment of your life. Do you make a bee-line to your goal or do you meander towards it? I’ve always been the meandering sorts, even during JEE time, and I don’t think I can ever be anything else. I believe it has paid off well for me. Being very good at some particular things take you a long way ahead in your life – I’ve always envied JEE rank one. But being average at many things has its own advantages. I find myself to be comfortable in more situations than most people. I can carry out an intelligent conversation on more topics than others. I enjoy more facets of life than others.

Life after all is not a one way track. It’s more like a jungle. You have to wade your way through, never knowing what you will encounter at the next step. What you thought you’d do ten years hence you might never actually do in your entire life. Why concentrate on one thing then and miss out on all others?

Still, I withdraw any harsh words against the above mentioned professor for it is my belief that every individual is correct.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Movie Review: Virudhh

An Angry Old Man: Viruddh

Indian cinema is maturing and it’s maturing fast. Along with sex saturated masala flicks we are also getting some very innovative movies. Viruddh is one such movie which is entirely against the norms.

Perhaps that is not entirely true. Amitabh Bachhan started his career with the image of an angry young man. The industry gave him some very powerful roles, often written specifically for him that revolved around the same basic idea – an angry young man taking it upon himself to cleanse the society. Bachhan rose to a larger than life image which has lasted till date. Viruddh is the same basic idea. The place where it is innovative is that now it’s the angry old man and not the young one. Indian industry has rarely, if ever seen an old man in the role of a hero. I was glad to see that Indian audience has become matured enough to accept an old man as a hero. Perhaps it is the magic of Bachhan that has carried it through but it has happened nevertheless.

The film is pathetically slow before the interval. I did not time it but the movie was less than two and a half hours long and it could easily have been shorter. The pre-interval part drags along leisurely in depicting the life of the Patwardhan couple spending their retirement days in contentment. But forty-five minutes of this goody-goody banter between them is too excruciating. After a long wait the story takes its first real turn at the death of John Abraham who is playing junior Patwardhan in the movie.

The second part of the movie grips you from the very beginning. It is dominated totally by Amitabh who delivers a steady volley of great performances. There are some intense moments in this part and everyone has acted with finesse. The climax is brilliantly executed and succeeds in making an impact.

The actors have all acted well. Both Sanjay Dutt and Sachin Khedekar are good. Supporting cast does not falter anywhere. Editing and cinematography is okay.

The one thing which really spoils the movie is a profuse inclusion of embedded advertisements which really gets on to your nerves after some time. The movie is selling everything from Calcium Sandoz tablets and Elf engine oil to Navatan tel and Western Union Money Transfer, all executed in full television style. I mean, come on, the audience does not want to spend its hard earned money on these stupid ads. Perhaps, as long as you have Amitabh Bachhan on screen, it does not really matter what he’s saying – the public will watch.

In all, I’ll call it a good movie. Although it repeats an age-old formula it does not lose its charm anywhere. Rather it is refreshing in these days when Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra have been feeding us feel-good family dramas for a long time now. And for the die hard Amitabh fan, it’s a great delight to watch the superstar in his most familiar guise once again.