Saturday, December 27, 2014

Love to Hate

Why do we love to hate so much?

This question comes to my mind every time I open any form of social media. We hate politicians, we hate animals, we hate our neighbors, we hate this, that, everything. Not a single day passes without some form of hatred being posted on every social platform. Let me put it in another way

If x is an object to be hated,

y = hate (x)

Now somebody that loves x, will hate y

hate(y) = hate(hate(x))

Next somebody will hate the somebody hating y, because maybe that somebody likes x.

Therefore hate(hate(y)) = hate(hate(hate(x)))

If x = hate(y)

hate(x) = hate(hate(hate(x)))

Substituting further we get

hate(x) = hate(hate(hate(.......hate(x)....)))

Can you see where this is going? 

One single hate gives rise to multiple hates and there is simply no end. Any person with a bit of familiarity with computer programming knows what this is. Classic stack overflow in recursive functions (Okay, I had to put some geeky stuff here).
Which brings us to the question (once you forgive the senselessness of my mathematical model). Why do we hate everything so much?

The most recent episode, that actually prompted me into writing this post, is about the scathing criticism of the new movie PK. Assuming that you have watched the movie in addition to reading and listening to all the praises and brickbats, I want to give my opinion.

The movie raises questions, lots of them, some might be viewed as controversial. Most of the criticism that I've read is that it singles out Hinduism as a religion for questioning beliefs. Why not Islam, Christianity or Sikhism? This reminds me of an incident when I was in school. The teacher was reprimanding a student for some bad behavior. The student's argument was, why do you pick on just me? I'm not the only one behaving badly, there are many more in this class. Why have you singled me out? The teacher replied, even if everybody else in the class is behaving badly, does that mean your behavior is fine? We are focusing on behavior, not who is doing it!

By now it should be clear, which side of the coin I'm supporting. The movie did raise some big questions, but the so called protectors of religion are evading the actual questions and instead resorting to redirecting the focus. I'm a Hindu myself, and no, I did not feel that my belief was questioned in any manner by the movie. The questions raised were logical ones. If God loves his children, will he tell them to roll on the floor or beat yourself before he shows love? When he is so powerful, will he be hurt by somebody asking him a question?

What is the whole point of religion? All of seek peace of mind. Some find it in work, some in art, some find it in religion. It is all in the mind, in a very personal space. Nobody can force you to believe in something until and unless it comes from within. It isn't necessary that what we believe is correct. For example, didn't mankind believe once upon a time that the earth was flat or that the sun revolved around the earth? If questions were not raised about this, we wouldn't have discovered the truth. When we are unable to answer questions on what we believe, somewhere in a remote corner of this personal space in the mind, doubts begin to rise as to maybe, just maybe there might be more to this than what meets the eye. It is not the faith that is being questioned, it is the logic behind the practices that is questioned. We seek to rationalize every thing, then why not religion too?

A few years back, the same people made another movie that questioned the educational system in engineering colleges of India. Nobody said, why only engineering, why not arts, commerce, law colleges? All of us enjoyed the movie and went home with a smile. Why not do the same here?

What I'm most happy about is that the movie has given rise to widespread discussion on a topic that is being demonized. We need to move away from the "my religion is better than yours" debate. Religion is a personal preference, just like the brand and type of clothes we wear. Just because I like wearing a particular brand does not mean everybody should. Just because I prefer playing cricket does not mean a person playing football is wrong or ignorant. If you feel that questions are being asked about your beliefs, answer them using the same beliefs. If you think the questions don't make any sense, explain why they don't make any sense.Sometimes the question is more important than the person asking the question.

And please, for once. Can we stop hating each other? If you don't like a person, don't talk to them. Simple! There is so much more to life than hating somebody just because that somebody does not believe in the same thing as you do. If you don't want to hear the questions that the movie asks, just don't watch the movie. Is it so difficult to "not spend" your money on something that you don't want to watch?

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one and everybody thinks that the other person's stinks. I like mine.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Lonely Birthday

"Thank you"
"Thanks a lot :)"
"Haha ... thanks"

Replying to all those meaningless wishes on Facebook is the last thing I want to do on my birthday. I want to go out, I want to celebrate. Alas that isn't going to happen. A man struggling to find a job in a new city has very few friends, if not none. These are not the type of friends you would want to go out with and have a party. I know who I want to go out with and she is right next door. But Meera would not go anywhere with me, not now.

People have called me a lot of things over the years, shy and introverted being the most decent of them. They never understood me and majority did not even try to understand me. Yes, I had a problem and the problem was that I found it extremely difficult to convert my thoughts into spoken words. I always had answers to all the questions in my mind, but they refused to come out of my mouth. I was going downhill with my inability to communicate, almost on the verge of contemplating suicide, and that's when I met Meera.

She turned my life around. Finally I had found somebody who understood me. She introduced me to writing and that gave me an outlet for all the thoughts that were flooding and overwhelming my mind. She made me realize that I wasn't totally useless and in fact I was pretty good at something.

Don't think about those times, I tell myself. Things have changed now. People come into your life, change things around, and then they leave you, as if they weren't even there. You are on your own now and its high time you got your shit together. Nobody cares about anybody other than themselves, so learn to live with it.

Okay okay fine. I get the point, but thinking about the good days makes me feel better. It is like a tiny spark of light in a dark tunnel. It does not do much, but it does give you something to smile about.

Smile like a fool the entire day if you so like. Anyway, nobody is going to celebrate your birthday for you. Not Meera, nor any of your family. You don't even have any friends. Don't tell me you have 347 so called friends on Facebook, they don't count.

My head is about to burst, I don't want to think anything.

Yes, you don't want to think. That will stop everybody else from thinking that you are an idiot, is that right? That will stop people from making fun of you behind your back. Your stopping to think prevented that Raj in school from sticking that paper on your butt saying "Here is an Asshole". Your stopping to think prevented you from losing your jobs, is it? Your stopping to think will prevent you from overhearing Meera making fun of you?

Stop it right there. I like her, hell I love her more than anything else.

Yes you do. But what does she feel about you? I don't think she even wants to wish you on your birthday.

She doesn't know it because I never told her. Go to hell, I am going to tell her right now, and nothing is going to stop me.

I pick up the key to her apartment from my table and walk to her door. Will it be rude to go in without knocking? I knock on the door but nobody answers. I unlock the door and enter. Everything is too dark. I turn on the light and there I see Meera sleeping peacefully in her sleeping bag. I open the zip of the bag and hold her in my arms. I like holding her when she is asleep. The blood on her clothes has also dried up now. Why Meera why? Why did you say mean things about me? I liked holding you better when you were awake, but it is fine. I will take whatever I get in this life. An asshole cannot make big demands. I hope you are sleeping soundly Meera.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Late Evening

Never...Never again am I going to multi-task, thought Sapna as she hastily picked up everything that was fallen on the footpath. Never search for something in your purse while you are talking on the phone. In compliance with Murphy's law, the purse will choose that very moment to overturn and spill all the assorted contents all over.

It was quite a crowded evening and the people around her looked on as she gathered her myriad collection. Too much to expect a bit of chivalry and decency from the men standing around, she thought. None of them came forward to help her, they just stood their ground and stared. One particular man with a rugged unshaven face stood out. His stare was weird to say the least. Maybe stared was the wrong word, leching would be more appropriate. Sapna realized that she was bending down while picking up her things. She adjusted her top so that the neckline came up a bit higher. Bloody men, she thought. Always out to get a glimpse wherever and whenever they can.

In a hurry she stuffed everything in the purse and walked away. The sun was going down and she was already getting late. As she hurriedly crossed the street, she looked back and saw the unshaven man behind her. He waved out to her smiling. The smile revealed tobacco stained teeth. Creepy!

She quickened her pace. There was still about a kilometer to walk before the bus stop. She glanced behind and saw that the man was also walking faster now. He would easily catch up with her before reached the bus. The alley in which she was walking was very less crowded now and it was dark. She broke into a run. If he was going to catch her anyway, she was not going to make it easy for him.

Everybody had told her that the city is not safe for women, especially after dark. She had conveniently chosen to ignore these talks. Afterall she was a strong, modern, independent women and had more important matters to think of. Who worries about all these things until they happen to you? She now regretted not heeding the advice.

She had to lose him somehow, maybe give him a slip. As she was running she saw a broken wall on the right. Maybe that would hide her till he crossed and then she could double back and take another route. She ran behind it and crouched down. A bead of sweat trickled down her neck as she pressed her back against the wall. With her heart pounding in her chest, she peeped from the side and saw him approaching. It was quite apparent that he hadn't seen her go behind the wall as he seemed to be looking around for her. Maybe he will just keep going and she would lose him. In the tension she miscalculated the strength of the wall. A couple of loose bricks fell down with a thud. He noticed the sound and ran towards the broken wall.

Sapna was standing defiantly before him now. If she was going to get it anyway, she won't make it easy for him. She would put all those self-defense lessons to use. He gave his stained smile. His hand went into his pocket as if trying to take out a weapon, but Sapna was too quick for him. A kick on the shins, a punch on the jaw and another kick between his legs. He lay sprawled on the ground. 

As she was about to move away from the scene, she saw something clutched in his hand. It was her wallet that had fallen out earlier.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Past Few Months

After a series of dreams where I was fighting grizzly bears (for some reason that I don't remember) I woke up today. I checked the time and it was 11 am. I walked out of my room and saw my roommate sitting on the couch and watching some sitcom.

"Do you know the time?" He asked me.

"Yeah. 11" I replied.

"Welcome back to the normal world." He said with a smile.

Thats what my last few months have been. Abnormal, because normal is too mainstream.

The euphoria of having cracked the interviews in a software biggie quickly died down as I just realized that I had miscalculated my academic gig. In late December, it dawned on me that in order to graduate I would have to complete a thesis which I had planned on avoiding. To put into perspective the gravity of the miscalculation, a thesis is a research project that one does which has to be unique (never been done before by anybody else) as well as useful to a certain extent. From what I had heard from other students, it takes approximately one year (at least) to complete it and get it approved (if you manage to do it at all). One year of extreme reading and frustration. One year of strong caffeine. I had planned to graduate in May. That gave me 4-5 months. F##k!

With this realization began a barrage of thoughts in my head. Will I graduate? If I don't, will the job be still available if I did not get my degree? Why did I come to this university? What was I thinking when I decided to do my Masters? What am I doing with my life? Bang bang bang!!!

God has a weird sense of humour when it comes to me. He loves to put me in situations where I feel that I cannot make it. And when I am at my lowest, he brings people in my life who just pull me up with a snap and all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. So far my parents have always been among these people and this time it was no different. One fine evening when I was talking to them cribbing about all the problems that I had, I got a pretty stern talk as to when I would stop cribbing and start working. Why was I focussing more on the problem when instead I should be working on the solution? Hadn't I faced challenges before? Was I a coward? Ouch!! That one hurt my ego.

This got me working. Took a look at the different projects I had done so far, extensive search for material on Google (I owe you my life!), contacting the Professor who would be my advisor, and by the second week of January I had a rough plan for what I was going to do for a thesis. It is actually a miracle how things start falling into place once you shift your attention from the problem to the solution. The road was still long and if I had thought it would be a smooth highway, I was sadly mistaken.

I began my work in gusto, and my idea took form. Stuff was fitting together, and pretty fast that too. Maybe a thesis is not so difficult after all. But Murphy had other plans. Around the end of February, while searching for some reference material, I came across a research article which, believe it or not, described EXACTLY the same idea that I was working on. I was devastated. The main criterion of a thesis that it has to be something never done before was not satisfied now. All my work was in vain. To rub salt on my wounds, that article was published in January 2014, just about a month back. I had lost about 2 months of the precious 4 months that I had. Could it get any worse?

My advisor suggested that I look into something called "Ontologies" to use in my project. I don't have much idea about it, he said, but it might be useful. Off I went to my saviour (Google!) and the material was mind-boggling. How will I manage to learn about this and then think of ways to use it in my project, that too in 2 months? This period was by far the worst of the season. All my confidence was crushed and I was pretty darned sure that I won't be graduating any time soon. But again, God had other plans in store.

While at work (yeah, I was working in another group at the same time for a miniature income), my supervisor (who was a PhD student herself) asked me how my thesis was getting along. This triggered my negative rant about how I wasn't going to graduate, how I could not understand those bloody "Ontologies", how I was lost and so on. Turns out, she had done quite a bit of work in that topic and she spent about 45 minutes explaining it all to me. She went to the extent of sharing a chapter which she had written for her dissertation with me. I was given a breath of fresh air. It took all my self control to stop myself from jumping and hugging her and maintain a professional etiquette. This actually kick-started my entire project again, and I still can't thank her enough for it.

What followed was me working with a renewed vigour. I still can't believe that I managed to put in all that effort. My days would begin around 7 in the morning. A quick shower, some breakfast with coffee (an extra spoonful stronger) and off I would go to my lab where I would spend the rest of the day in front of the computer and numerous sheets of paper. Come back home after 10 pm, a quick dinner and off to bed. Repeat. Every night I would get nightmares that I am giving a presentation and it would get rejected. Finally everything culminated in me defending the thesis successfully (though the defence went for an hour more than expected and more difficult than I had thought it would be).

Yes, I survived. I managed to do what almost everybody around me told me was impossible (and I believed that too). It may sound self-centered, but I am proud of myself for pulling it off. But did I do it alone? No way. It would not have begun if my Mom and Dad hadn't kicked my butt and made me start working instead of cribbing. It would not have taken any shape if it hadn't been for Julia (the supervisor) who gave me the right direction. Nothing would have gone anywhere if it wasn't for my awesome advisor Dr. Huang who held my hand while I was struggling to walk (figurative). I would not have had any sanity left if it wasn't for all the amazing friends who would patiently listen to all my rants (with more beeps than words) and keep me going. I would have been drowned in self-pity if it wasn't for some people who reminded me that I wasn't the only one having a shitty time, that Murphy's law did not apply only to me. If you are reading this, and in the past few months if I have ever ranted about my thesis to you, then you have helped me a great deal. If it wasn't for the awesome chemical called caffeine, I wouldn't have been able to concentrate. And finally, if it wasn't for Google, I and millions of others wouldn't have been able to call themselves engineers.

So what's the whole point of this post? Not to show how hard working I am (though its an added bonus :P). If you are a person back home in India, this is to tell you that life is not roses when you are doing post-graduation in US (though the pictures people put up on facebook gives that impression). If you are a prospective Master's student, be ready to slog it out. Do a thesis if you are passionate about a subject. Plan early if you want to do it and you won't land up in a soup like I did. If you can work hard, then it is possible to finish it on time and not delay your graduation. Don't listen to all the negativity around it. I was also scared of the prospect initially, but once you begin to like something and find it interesting, you can easily do it. Thesis is not a monster that it is made out to be. You just have to work hard in a different fashion and trust me, the satisfaction you get out of doing it is all worth the effort. This difficult phase also showed me the importance of having a rock solid circle of friends and family who have faith in you and know you well enough to give you a hand when you need it. To all the people who supported me in the past two years and beyond, I can't thank you enough. I love you all. To all the people I had arguments with in the past few months, I am extremely sorry. I was too stressed out and wasn't thinking straight. Initially I had thought of writing this as a thank you post for all the individuals who helped me, but realized that the list would be too long and out of context most of the time.

So just a few days before I wear the robe and walk on the stage to receive my degree, it feels great to have successfully completed a milestone along with hundreds of others. A couple of months long vacation to look forward to before I rejoin corporate life. Yes, life has never been better. I am happy to be back to normal ... :)

P.S. : I did not use names of any friends since I did not want to miss anyone out by mistake ... :P

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bibliophile is the Word !

Today I am in a fairly good mood, after a really long time. A project that I have been working on endlessly since the past few months has finally started showing some results. Today I don't want to use my brains. I don't feel like thinking much. I want to relax a bit. What can I do? Sleep? Naah. I do that everyday. Watch a movie? Sounds good, but then when most of your day is spent in front of a computer screen, your eyes start giving the middle finger to such ideas. And this brings me to one of my favorite hobbies ever since I was first introduced to it as a kid (reluctantly, if I may so add). 


Now before you start labeling me a "nerd" or a "bookworm", wait for a moment. I already have those labels so you won't really be adding anything new. The correct term is Bibliophile. 

The other day, I entered my apartment (which I share with a few other people) with a heavy bag. I was beaming with joy at what I had managed to lay my hands on. No prizes for guessing that it was a book. I took out a hard-bound 900+ page novel and was ready to dance with it. 

"What the hell is that?" my roommate asked.

"Dude, its the second book of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. Had been looking for it for ages!" 

His expression was as if I was speaking Latin.

"It is an amazing series that I wanted to read."  I added, trying my best to convince that it was an awesome catch. Didn't really work.

"When the hell are you going to read that giant? Its the middle of the semester." he asked.

"This is my way of relaxing after studies." I said. 

He thought I was the biggest idiot in town. After all, who in their right minds would read for relaxation, when you also have to read as a part of academics? Isn't relaxation something that you do for your mind to feel different from what it was feeling all day?

For me, reading is and will always be one of the best mode of relaxation. This post is my attempt to convince you why.

Everybody is fairly familiar with Harry Potter. The book described the Hogwarts school as a big castle with vast grounds and a lake that housed a giant squid amongst many other things. Now if we keep aside the visuals from the movie, what do you imagine it to be? Hard to imagine something different from what you have been shown in the movie, right? I will try giving another scenario. Imagine a beggar sitting down in the corner of a street in the heart of the city. What do you visualize? Is the beggar in your mind a man or a woman? Is the city Mumbai, Delhi or Chicago? What else is there on the street? How many vehicles are moving about?

In the first case, since most of us have watched the Harry Potter movies, our mind is already filled with the visuals from it and even if we read the whole series again, it is difficult if not impossible to get rid of them. However in the second scenario, our mind was an empty canvas that we filled with our imagination. We did not know who the beggar was or in which part of the world he belonged to. Each person's visualization would be different, and each as valid as the other. Remember the high that you got when you painted your first painting or cooked your first dish? That is the exact high that I and so many other bibliophiles like me get when we read a new book.

The sad part of our education is that in majority of the cases, reading is equated with studying and implicitly that is not supposed to be fun. As a child I was a huge fan of the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. I had my own versions of each of the five cousins and I always felt a part of each and every story. My imagination knew no bounds and such stories made me believe that if the characters could achieve feats like these, I can too. And it was hell lot of fun letting your imagination loose.

I am lucky to have a family that loves the smell of a book and still reads for fun. Reading for fun does not involve trying to grasp the meaning behind each and every sentence (which is what we do while "studying"). Sometimes you even skip some of the boring sections of a book and you don't really miss out on much. You live the characters of the story rather than watching them from a distance like we do while watching movies. Reading is a very intimate experience with your mind and it is very personal. The author describes his version of a character in the book and you paint your own version in your mind, how it looks, how it expresses emotions. For example, when I read the HP series before watching the movie, the version of Hermione Granger in my mind was completely different from what Emma Watson looks like. But once I saw the movies, I always visualize Emma instead of the version that I earlier had. Not that I mind visualizing Emma (my not-so-secret crush), but it disappoints the reader in me to not be able to use my own brush to paint a picture.

Some of you may get the high that I was talking about in other activities, like music or sports. But equating reading with "studying" or "stress" is something that I vehemently oppose. Each child needs to be exposed to it at an early stage to see if he/she can see the fun part of it before they start relating it to boring or stressful activities. Because once you get it, it is an addiction that can only enrich you. Any bibliophile can tell you that it is difficult to leave even the most boring book in the middle. You get good ones, you get bad ones. But its the journey from the first page to the last that gives the experience of having lived through a story. Even an emotional wall like me had a tear in his eye while reading the letter written by Hassan to Amir in Khaleid Hosseini's "The Kite Runner" because I could feel the emotions being conveyed. Movies rarely give that feeling.

So if you've reached reading till here without calling me a fool in your mind, I can congratulate myself. Give it a try guys, it can be fun. I can only wish that in today's world of 120 something characters (yes, I do mean Twitter) people can experience the joy that the 400+ pages can give.

Today I want to relax. So off I go. A cup of coffee, a comfortable bed, and a book. Heaven is definitely on Earth! :)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

From a Desi in Amreeka

At the last leg of my journey of pursuing the Master's degree, my mind wandered off to a day about 3 years back when the same mind felt that it was not done with education yet. I resigned from my fairly well-paying job and had a horde of people telling me that I'm committing career suicide by resigning even before I gave the entrance exams for post graduate studies. Even my managers who just about a month before my resignation were less than encouraging during the appraisal sessions, now offered me reduced workload so as to accommodate time for my study preparations. But my mind was made up and I was ready for a one year break for answering the required exams and pursuing my dreams. That part of the dream is almost achieved and with a job offer I am more than keen to take up, I couldn't help, but compare it to a similar situation when I had completed my bachelor's degree. 

The four years spent in obtaining my undergraduate degree had been stressful to say the least, and whatever confidence and self-esteem I had when I entered college was drained out by the time I left. The system did not agree with me and I did not agree with it. The result was that a person who wanted to learn the marvels of technology and had a passion to build, was totally changed and what came out was a guy who in rest of the world's eyes had one of the best pedigree that India had to offer and could conquer the world, but in reality he was just tired of trying to fit in a system that did not allow him to be himself. Comparing that to the present day, my graduate degree has been equally, if not more draining. But there is a feeling of satisfaction inside that I have actually learned something instead of cramming up what others told me to. A new confidence has built up which tells me that if I have managed to come through this, I can handle anything. Why this difference? Living in US has been more challenging than living in Allahabad and way more expensive too. But still I feel studying here has been one of the best decisions I ever took in my life. Why did I not feel the same when I was leaving Allahabad?

I have always been curious ever since I remember, and my parents encouraged it. Though highly introverted, I wanted to explore and learn new stuff. And inherent with that was my questioning behavior. I have never been able to take things at face value and have been ridiculed by classmates for asking too many questions in class. The worst was in an Electronics lecture in my first year at MNNIT. The Prof after finishing an explanation asked if anybody in the class had any questions. Promptly, yours truly raised his hand, and it was the only one in the class of 60. He asked the whole class if anybody else had the same doubt as the one I had asked. Nobody said anything. The Prof's conclusion was that I wasn't paying attention in class since everybody else had understood the concept, that I had a wandering mind and I should control it and focus during the class. I was made to stand up so that everybody could see me and humiliated for 5 minutes. In all these 5 minutes, he did not bother answering my question. The system had shown me my place. 

There were many more incidents like these, each time with me getting convinced that maybe I was a bit stupid and incapable of grasping things fast. The exams were the biggest nightmare. Everybody expected the answers to be exact replica of what was given in the notes and anything written in a different way (though it meant the same) was given a big fat zero. The plummeting grades ate up my confidence, though the effort was always there. Slowly I began to accept that maybe I wasn't that good an engineer and that I should have tried some different career. It was even more reinforced during the final project presentation when our project report was thrown in our faces because one line on the index page was out of alignment. And this was a project that had been called for an international conference. The worst part was that I was in one of the top ranked institutes in India and this was the state. I could only imagine what people in other colleges went through. My belief has been that education is a journey in which teachers and students take part together. If we were on the same side in the beginning, at what stage did it become teachers versus students? And it wasn't just the teachers. The cut-throat competition ensured that friends turned into enemies in the illusion of a "competitive" world outside. Each student was trying to outdo the other in a totally unnecessary race. There were people who would spread rumors about certain chapters being included in the syllabus in order to scare the hell out of their classmates. So instead of studying together, it was more of studying to beat each other, and in this crazy melee I was guilty of trying it too and failed terribly.

Contrasting that with the two year experience in Arizona. I was again one of the few people asking "too many" questions, the Profs encouraged it. Even for the silliest of the doubts they would spend time explaining in different ways till the person understood it. They never hesitated in admitting if they did not know the answer to a question. Never ever did I see any student being humiliated even though they did not understand something or did not score decent marks. The assignments were tough, way more tougher than in undergrad and most of the time you had to take help from your friends to complete some tasks. Collaborative effort was encouraged but any form of plagiarism was severely dealt with. I even know some people who have been deported out of the country for plagiarizing some assignments. Grades were hardly the basis for any form of selection, including jobs and internships. The scores were confidential and nobody would know my grade if I chose not to reveal it. Slowly, as my understanding of the tech world increased, the lost confidence began returning. The only sad part here was that many of my fellow Indians still had that cut throat spirit which they forgot to leave back home.

The US education system is very effective in making you challenge yourself. The strict rules against plagiarism ensure that one tries to do the work honestly, the end result being that you have a better understanding of the material. I am very patriotic and I love my country and people. But it really makes me sad when we end up pulling ourselves down because of the system that we've grown up in. An example would be in selection of courses. Here, unlike the rigid structure in India, the selection of courses is totally up to you, and you can study whichever subject you want, decide your specialization as per your interests. Inspite of this flexibility, I have seen a crazy herd mentality among Indian students here. Everybody wants to go for the so-called easy courses where getting higher grades is easy. Most students don't even know which subjects they are interested in and enroll in courses just because everybody does that. To top it all, when new students come in and ask the seniors for advice, the same advice is passed on and the vicious chain goes on.

Some more points that I would like to make as to why the system in US is better 
  • It encourages innovative thinking rather than rote learning
  • Teacher's are more approachable.
  • There are a lot of resources and facilities for learning. The research labs are well equipped and new ideas bring in new funds to get new equipment.
  • No caste based reservations. There are a lot of scholarships though for the "minority" communities which help them pay the fees, but seriously nobody is denied an opportunity because of the caste or community that the person belongs to. 
Maybe it is unfair to generalize based on my own individual experience. After all our country has given rise to so many people who are considered successful and geniuses in their respective fields. I would like to point out that there are an even greater number of people who did not become successful because of the same system. No system is perfect, but every system can be made better. Instead of living in denial, we should be accepting the flaws and working towards improving it. And we, as students are also equally to blame. I would be blunt and say that as students we rarely cared about learning. If we did, we would have complained against teachers who did not teach, we would have tried to do our homework ourselves instead of copying from various sources. We just cared about getting a good grade, a good degree and a good job at the end of it just so that we can display it to the world as an indicator of our worth. Hardly anybody in India does engineering because he or she wants to be an engineer. The most common reasons are that an engineering degree helps to get a plum job or that their parents forced them to or that it helps the guys to get a bigger sum in dowry (sad, but true) when they get married. If the students themselves lack any passion for learning, can we really blame the teachers for not wanting to teach them?

Most of the Indians that I know here want to go back to India eventually. The main question is, does India want them to come back? Everybody wants to contribute to a positive change, but before that the system has to change to allow them to contribute.

I just realized that this blog post has turned into more of a rant than a structured argument. I have long wanted to write about these things but never came round to it. Some people may disagree with my arguments and that is totally fine since everybody has a right to their opinion. My opinion has been based on my experiences so far. Everybody's journey is different and hence the travel is different. Will be back with the fiction next time... :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Drawn Into a Shell

What a relief it was to be finally back home on a hot summer day. Rina was pleased to have the cool sensation of getting into an air-conditioned house from the furnace that was outside. It was a Friday evening and she had the entire weekend to look forward to now. But more importantly, she was excited about the party that she was hosting that night. A few of her college friends were in town and it was a kind of get together for all of them. It would be great, meeting your friends after 4 long years. How nice it would be to behave like college kids again!

"I am glad you are back. It was getting lonely here." said Rohan from the kitchen.

"Yes, I am back little brother. But we have less time. We need to prepare fast for tonight's party."

"You have to prepare, don't include me."

"Why do you have to behave like an asshole every time Rohan? Try and enjoy yourself for a change. It would be fun, I guarantee you. You will like these people. Even our cousin Atul is coming. And weren't you just saying that you were feeling lonely?"

"You know I don't like meeting people. Why do you always try to force me to? You have a good time with your friends, I will try to enjoy myself in my room." Rohan went into his room and locked the door.

How she wished she could get him out of his shell. Ever since their parents had died in that terrible car crash, Rohan had withdrawn completely from the world. Rina was in her final year of college and the trauma had taken its toll on both of them. She took up a job and along with it the responsibility of caring for her younger brother who would not talk much since. However much she tried, she could not get him to talk about what he was going through. She was suggested to try psychiatric help, but Rohan refused violently and she decided it was best to try herself. With his constantly changing moods, their extended family also kept their distance from them. Even though Rina was protective of her brother and would not abandon him at any cost, she also yearned for a social life outside of the house. She would not date fearing how that would affect Rohan's condition. That was one of the reasons she had organized the party, the other being trying to get Rohan to socialize a bit. The latter part would not be so easy, she realized now.


Everybody came home by 8 pm. Atul had called to inform Rina that he would be a bit late since he was stuck in a traffic jam. Clinton, Samir, Prerna and Tanvi arrived together loaded with booze and snacks and it looked all set to be a great night.

"You have no idea how good it feels to see all of you after so long. Man, we have a lot to catch up on." Rina said, welcoming them into her modest home.

"Anything for some drinks and free food, Rina. Smell's good and my appetite is even better." said Clinton. 

"Still the same forever hungry man, eh Clint? Haven't grown up yet?" asked Prerna.

"Why change perfection?" Clinton replied with that mischievous smile.

"Yeah right. An engineering graduate who is now singing full time in city clubs. How perfect is that?" Samir asked.

"At least it is more perfect than doing MBA after engineering and then sitting in a bank counting money."

"Guys, if you are done with your bickering, our host is also present here." Tanvi turned to Rina. "How have you been girl?"

"Not too bad actually. The new job is keeping me a bit busy these days, but things are way better now."

"I remember how bad it was after the accident." Prerna held Rina's hand. "You have come a long way, and you did it all on your own. How about we drink to that now, eh?"

The bottles were popped open and everybody relaxed on the couch and chairs with their glasses.

"Is it just us or are we expecting more people too?" asked Samir.

"Well, its us, and my cousin Atul who stays a few kilometers away. He would be a bit late since he is stuck in a jam. The city traffic is too horrible."

"Remember the time when we were caught riding triple on Prerna's scooty? How innocent we had acted with the cops and got away with just a warning."

"Thats right Tanvi. You girls have an advantage over guys where that is concerned. Just imagine if the same had happened to us. Damn, my guess is we would have to pay double the fine. And they say that women are oppressed in this country."

"Hey you have a brother too right Rina? What is he doing now?"

"What do I know. He has become a recluse since that accident. Right now he is sitting in his room doing God alone knows what. I will try getting him out."

Rina kept her glass on the table and knocked Rohan's door. There was no response.

She opened it and went inside. He was lying on the bed covered in a blanket. 

"Hey are you sleeping?" she asked him gently.

"No I am dancing." Rohan snapped back.

"You don't have to be rude every time, you know" 

"Why do you ask stupid questions every time?"

"My friends are sitting outside, and they were asking for you, so I just thought I will call you."

"Tell them I am not here."


Atul knocked on the door of Rina's apartment. Not that late, he thought, considering the traffic that he was stuck in. The door was opened by an unfamiliar person.

"Is Rina there?" he asked.

"Yeah, she is inside. You must be Atul right? I am Clinton." 

Atul shook hands and entered the house.

"Somebody care to put this ice cream in the freezer? I hope it has not fully melted yet. Horrible jam it was. Nothing moving for miles together."

"Can understand." said Tanvi, taking the ice cream from Atul. "Rina was just telling us that you got delayed because of that."

Why are you hell bent on embarrassing me in front of everybody. Why does it hurt you so much just to come out and say hello?

The sound was coming from inside. Everybody's attention turned to the door.

Why is it that every single time I have to plead and yell my head off trying to convince you and you don't give a damn? I too need a break sometimes. You always think about yourself. Why won't you consider meeting other people, maybe for a few minutes, if it would make me happy and bring a smile on my face?

Atul brushed aside everybody and went to the room. The door was closed.

"Rina open the door. Its me Atul."

"I am sorry for shouting Atul. But Rohan is once again acting like an ass."

"You open the door. I will talk to him."

The door opened and a flustered Rina came out. Her hair was mangled and there were tears all over her face.

"Why does he have to do this everytime, Atul?"

Atul hugged her tight.

"You need to lie down a bit now. Take your pills and sleep. Don't worry about anything. I will take care of your friends. You just rest."


Atul took a sip of the drink. It made him feel warm.

"Whats between Rina and her brother?" Samir asked.

"Its a tough thing to explain. When the past comes to haunt you, its very difficult to identify it. It comes in various forms and you don't know when it hits you."

"I don't get you." Prerna said.

"Let me try to explain. What do you guys know about the accident in which Rina lost her parents?"

"We know that it was a car crash and the fuel tank of their car caught fire and her parents were burnt to death. Rina was in college with us and it was very hard on her."

"Did you also know that her brother, Rohan was in the car with them?"

"What? So that means he survived the crash? He saw his own parents getting burnt?"

"No, he didn't."

"He didn't see his parents burn?"

"No. I mean he did not survive the crash."