Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PSBB Teachers 10 - Mahalakshmi Miss & Kumudha Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 9 here)

(Note: Since neither of these teachers handled any classes for me, I really don't have much to say about them, which is why I'm clubbing two teachers in a single post.)

PSBB TP Road Library - the 1990's
Mahalakshmi Miss - She was one of the teachers who I remember from the TP Road library. I recently came across an article here and was pleasantly surprised to see her.

PSBB TP Road Office - the 1990's
Kumudha Miss - A very frail, slightly grumpy kind of woman when busy, she handled the running of the office (which was right below our Principal, Jagam miss' room). I'd met her a few times, when I'd gone to get stuff like chalk, dusters, etc. However, whenever I saw she wasn't very busy or anything, she was quite pleasant. :D

(Part 11 here)

Monday, December 21, 2009

PSBB Teachers 9 - Mahalakshmi Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 8 here)

Crafts - '93-'97
Mahalakshmi miss was our Crafts teacher. I should admit that I'm not a particularly crafty person (whether it is in talking to people or in making designer showcase objects out of wool & ice-cream kuchis), but on rare occasions, my craft-work would turn out pretty nicely, well, at least nice enough to hang in my house for a few months. :D
Mahalakshmi miss was a very skilful teacher, with a slightly croaky voice, who, though constantly heckled by us students, put up with us quite sportingly. I think we had "Crafts" until 4th standard or something.
We, however, used to have fun during the class - though the subject, by itself, wasn't particularly very interesting for the normal 9/10-year-old, the fun part came when we used to mess around with the fevicol & paraphernalia that was a requisite for the class. :D

(Part 10 here)

Vaidyanatha Foundation - Rengasamudram

A few weeks ago, I got an email in an egroup about a young Gandhi who, after graduate education in the US, quit his well-paying American job to return home and do yeoman service to the poor, while leading a totally austere life. Totally praiseworthy, to say the least.
One of the members replied saying there were many many such great service activities going on that pass unnoticed and highlighted one such case. What struck me most about the email was how earnest the appeal seemed, in light of the fact that the sender, Shri Ramanathan (a 75+ senior citizen) requested, not for monetary support, but for ideas.
Another highly praiseworthy aspect of his deeds was the fact that he actually does not have any kind of relationship with the village he has settled down and begun his charitable work in/for. Apparently, he surveyed a few places before deciding to settle down here.
Below is his email -
"thanks for the prompt reply/ack of my message. re somehow since there are not enough access it gets disturbed. please giver me your postal address i will send you details of my activities with press clippings, funding is done from own sources right now. we established this foundation: AA Vaidyanatha Foundation, Visram, Agraharam, Rengasamudram 627 413 near Ambasamudram tirunelvely dt tamilnadu. we have no connection with this village, after exploriung possibilities in Kariappatty near madurai we decided this place suitable. (Phone 04634 293460/293560: cell 9486402330/9489351102. but it is an uphill task to help the illiterate poor. there is no co operation from the few bhramin households. the panchayat is chaired by sc man and others do not co operatre with him. we started with feeding the school children 100 every month, then changed it to every week for select 25 boys, girls from the agraharam st. emphasisx is to help the school drop out girl children and generally on the weaker sex. people eke out a living by rolling beeedies and brick kiln work harmful to their health. we have given instrument boxes, study materials, pens, pencils books to all students, now we have given one cycle each to a girl student in 6th 7th 8th standard, we want continue this. school is unaided and has classes from first to 8th standard, efforts to improve the shcool is meeting the same fate dur to non cooperation. we have sewing machine and compouters but lack of bus connect difficult to get a full time teacher. we have approached the TNSTC to start more bus services, the file is not moving atr TNSTC level, we have written to the DY CM MK stalin and hope things would improve. there is neither auto nor four wheeler in the village. we depend on autos to come from mukkudal 3 km away. since there is no medical facility here we got a TB detection treatment camp from Dy Director of health, GH tenkasi, another medical camp from Tirunelvely, we are pressuring the government to start a PHC, thanks to MK Stalin the files are moving though slow. we got Rs.1.25 Lakhs for renovating the cremation ground which was scuttled by communal interests, we got Rs.85000 sanctioned for a play ground same result. we got Rs.20,00,000 for repair of the village road, the panchayat president says it is all spent, there is none to ask how. we were promised Rs.25 Lakhs for metalling of the main road to ambasamudram and mukkudal but due to no proper representation by the panchayat it did not come to us but went to near by kallidaikurichy. the panchayat was asked by the RDO to pass a resolution to seek PHC but no resolution is passed even after 6 months. in the meanwhile State Bank of India has been approached for establishing a medical center, earlier positive response form Tatas for a medical van/ambulance was lost because tamilnadu government has a free ambulance service 108. now i am following up the state bank matter, while keeping in touch with others like amalgamations group chairman sivasailam. Indian overseas bank has promised to send a team to the village to teach the girls to repair mobiles. the village has many heritage temples around including Tamrabarani river, papanasam river, agastyar falls, mnanuimuthar falls, gajendra varadxa perumal, nellayppar and nava tirupathi templs. there is scope eco religious tourism, if some small groups can come visiting it would boost the village morale and the foundation would also be enthused. please see whether small groups can come visiting especially women, we would be happy, in our first floor we can manage two couples or five or six people on short visits. please reply. RAMANATHAN (SENIOR CITIZEN) my wife and me after five decades more living in Bangalore and kochi settled down here buying and remodelling a house to leisurely live. any suggestions, help, comment advice welcome."
For more information about the foundation, go here -
In today's e-World, donating a few hundred dollars to Asha Vision at the click of a button is a fairly easy thing to do. But contributing ideas is more difficult.
If not ideas, the least folks could do is take up his invitation and visit the place. Going by what he says, the village definitely does not appear to be a dull, nondescript locality.
And if not visit, as usual, what we software engineers do best - spread the word around. :-)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Carnataca Sangeetham and Me

I am not from a very musically oriented family or anything. My dad dabbled a little in Mridangam (apparently, he learned from Kumbakkonam Rajappa Iyer, who was Sakkottai Rangu Iyengar's sishyar), as also a little in the guitar. Unfortunately, since he started learning quite late (abt 30 or so), he couldn't really progress very far (his Guru apparently used to say - "Ganesa...unakku nanna varudhu, aana speed pathaadhu. Veral apdiye velayaadanum. Ange paaru-7 vayasu payyan, romba chinna payana irukkaane maami'nu sonna kooda kekka maattengara avan amma - "chumma vandhu okkaarattum mama," apdinu solli kaasu koduthuttu kozhandhaiya vittuttu poidra. Andha kozhandhaiya paaru, mridangatha madila vechukka kooda mudiyala adhaala :D"). 2 cousins from my dad's side (both girls) learnt the violin. Shucks, just as I write this do I realize that one of them is a Music teacher/professor in a college or something in Chennai. :O Revelation.

Anyway, coming back, being from a normal-yet-nothing-special Tambram family, I had my usual push towards Carnatic music, which I stoutly opposed. My PSBB days were more attracted towards physical exploits (despite my not-entirely-conducive-to-physical-activities appearance, back then) - come Summer, it invariably used to be one of the Cricket, Yoga or Gymnastics camps that I used to join. I should especially be credited for my determination because my cousin (the only one in my family who is in my age-group) had started going for Carnatic Vocal classes (pah...indha parents irukkaale!).

So now that it has been fairly established that I had no childhood gift for Carnataca Sangeetham, my parents were quite surprised when they discovered after coming to visit me here, that now, after 24 years of my life, I was able to enjoy some Carnatic songs (for Carnatic reasons also), talk about a few raagas (2, to be specific :P) and appreciate & admire Carnatic musicians (something I had always done, despite my relative non-affiliation with the field) in an informed manner (if very minute). "Enna da, unakkum gnyaanam porandhudutha? Engerndhu idhellam aaramiche?" Sad though, I was, to disappoint them, I reassured them saying I was still the same old gnyaana soonyam wrt Carnatic music, and that there were other reasons that I had consciously started trying to pick up bits-and-pieces of Carnataca Sangeetham.

For me, Carnataca Sangeetham has always been a prime form of expression of love & devotion to the Lord. Being a relatively religious guy, I had always felt deep respect for Carnatic musicians, while also feeling bad that I'd missed out on a great way to worship the Lord. My regard for Carnatic music was also greatly influenced by such divine souls as Smt. MS Subbulakshmi [aah, how her name is one of the first to pop-up, right?], Smt. DK Pattammaal, Shri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Shri. Madurai Somu, Shri. Seergazhi Govindarajan among others. It probably also helped that I am a Sama Vedi. ;-) Over the last few years, however, my admiration took a quantum leap with increased knowledge about a few other factors such as the amount of dedication & effort required to even be half-successful as a Carnatic musician and the amount of Maths present in the art. That's also about the time one of my juniors from college and a close friend started learning the violin from an IIT professor he was doing his Master's under, whom I had introduced him to. Somehow, there were a few exchanges between us, (with him being the primary contributor) and before we knew, we'd started something of a mini-group where we'd discuss & exchange (predominantly) Carnatic compositions. The group consisted mostly of people who were amateurs and had some knowledge either in singing or an instrument, with me obviously being the outsider, with almost no exposure to serious Carnatic stuff. A lot of times, I'd just read through the discussions without really being able to grasp much, but I did make it a point to read though.

It's about a year now since I've been part of the group now, and though I cannot lay claims to being a serious connoisseur of Carnataca Sangeetham, I'm quite enjoying what little I've learnt. Tangibly, I can more-or-less identify two stunners - Thodi & Reethigowla.
Thodi - I can specifically remember from when Thodi got stuck on me - Roopa rendering "Gangai Karai Mannan" in Superstar Global. I was blown away from the first time I saw it. Not that I hadn't listened to the original by Daas Ettaan, but that was waaay back in my Carnatic timeline. Also, this raaga was quite distinct and I understand that it is one of the few raagas which can be identified within the first few notes itself.
Reethigowla - Well, this was since Kangal Irandal, actually. :-) The song initially irritated me, I don't know why - I really liked it, but somehow, I didn't like it. Not sure if the accusations against James Vasanthan of copying were responsible, but I tried to block listening to the song as much as I could, but eventually gave in (much like Harry Potter :D). And then, Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan and Thalaiyai Kuniyum Thaamaraiye came by...and Reethigowla was here to stay. And finally, Azhagaana Rakshasiye revealed itself in all its crowning Rahman glory to me. Just as I type this, I realize I had very similar feelings to this song also - there existed genuine appreciation of the song in me, but there also existed some amount of dislike of the song. Coincidence, I wonder? Oh, and a good friend & one of the carnatically senior-most members of our group, Maythini, brilliantly described the raaga in this comment of hers in Gradwolf's post. I couldn't help but nod away in agreement.

The Raja'ness...
Another wonderful thing to have happened as a result of my slightly increased Carnaticisation is my amazement at the greatness of (in the words of Karthik, my raaga-identifier) "one of the greatest composers of music since Thyagaraja & Bach", (though not yet in their league) Isaignani Ilaiyaraaja. I mean, his music has such a heavy dose of Carnatic raagas that it requires a separate study in itself. One of my favourite pastimes these days is identifying songs with same/similar raagas. This is not something I do by exploring songs in youtube, but random songs just come to my mind, and then other similarly-raagaa'd songs pop up out of the blue. Here are a few similarities I found out by this random reminiscence. (Disclaimer: My only verifier for these songs is Karthik, so the accuracy of these similarities is solely attributed to him :D) -
  1. Oora Therinjikitten and Bhagavan Saranam 
  2. Alaipaayuthey Kanna and Kalyana Then Nila 
  3. Hava Nagila/Misirlou and Engeyum Eppodhum (which I initially thought was Raja sir's, learnt from SK that it is MSV's)
  4. Aboorva Sagotharargal Sad theme, Thenpaandi Cheemayile and Kaadhodu dhaan Naan paaduven (by MSV, sung by LR Easwari)
  5. Poongatru and Valaiyosai 
  6. Thalaivar's ulti-romantic Kaadhalin Deepam Ondru and Nilaave Vaa 
  7. Akkarai Cheemai Azhaginile and Sangeetha Megam (which, IMHO, has one of the best opening pieces of music for any song)
Ok, that's about it for now, and I know there is a good chance I may have been way off mark in many cases, but even if I was wrong in finding similarities (specifically based on Raagas), I've been able to appreciate all these songs much much more now. Not to mention my realization of Ilaiyaraja's greatness. Obviously, I belong to the Rahman era, and his greatness was easier to realize and relate to. (Talking about Rahman, I felt there might be some link between these two - Maanoottu Mandhaiyile and Kathirikka.) I've to go a long way before this 'sub-conscious identification of similarities-in-raagas' syndrome hits me with Rahman as input.

So there I am, in my Carnatic Chronology so far. It's been intimidating & depressing at times (simply because of the magnitude, among a zillion other things), but thoroughly enjoyable, enlightening & engrossing. I'm not sure how long or how far I'll go in this pursuit, but it's been one fulfilling experience so far. :-)

PSBB Teachers 8 - Shankari Mam

[Start of Series]

(Part 7 here)

Drawing - '93-'97
Shankari mam was this awesome Drawing teacher we had, and she could just about whip up any portrait/picture in a matter of minutes. The best thing about her was how unassumingly she used to draw on the board. She'd start drawing the picture quite innocuously enough, and we'd think it was no big deal, and before we knew, we'd have a superb picture on the black board, and that's when we'd start grappling around for our pencils and stuff, often failing miserably enough. :D

(Part 9 here)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

PSBB Teachers 7 - Kamala Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 6 here)

V 'A' - '94-'95
Mrs. Kamala Selvaraj - No, she wasn't Gemini Ganesan's older daughter. :D She was a smart, slightly dark, suave teacher who had bobbed hair. I remember her English was especially good, and she used to drive to school in a light blue Fiat/Premier Padmini. If I'm right, her husband worked at the Chennai Port Trust, because she once arranged/helped when we went on a field trip to the Chennai harbour which remains, till date, my only trip there. :P Not sure why, but she wasn't around for much longer after 5th standard.
I also remember that 5th std was when I first started doing "extra" work at school - helping her out with the progress report cards on the once-in-2/3-months-Sat/Sun when parents would come with their wards, meet the teachers & collect the report cards. I also remember one such 'Report Day' when a classmate, Joel Jayaraj (who is frmr PSBB-Main Sports sir Williams' son) kept irritating me long after most parents had collected the report cards (we usually hung around after school even on normal days), I chased him around the empty 2nd floor corridor and beat him up.
:D Sorry Joel, not sure if you remember, but in case I didn't apologise, here it is. Ironically, Joel is now an officer in the Indian Navy. :D

(Part 8 here)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PSBB Teachers 6 - Chhaya Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 5 here)

IV 'A' - '93-'94
Mrs. Chhaya Bhagat - I think it would be fair to say that she was one of the first teachers who had a mass fan-following, at least as far back as memories go. A small'ish, cute, affable teacher, she had a very delicate yet stern-at-times way of handling the students.
I remember one specific incident - she was explaining the curvature of the Earth's surface in Geography once, when I remembered seeing proof of this in the "Baazigar O..Baazigar" song which had just released (still not sure if it's the camera that made the ocean look curved or if it was a wide angle shot) and out of my eagerness to share that piece of info, I kept raising my hand after she ignored me or asked me to keep quiet or something. I immediately started crying. :D And then, she kindly, sympathetically asked me to tell whatever it was I wanted to, and I happily related the info to the class. :D :D :D
On a sad note, I remember her husband passing away a few years after that. She has two sons, the older one being about our age and the younger one, a few years younger - I still remember how cute he used to look back then, when she used to bring him to school, Vidyut, his name was.

Last I saw her in the end of 12th std, when she had come for her son's admission to DAV Gill Nagar and she even remembered me!

(Part 7 here)

Monday, November 23, 2009

PSBB Teachers 5 - Paddu Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 4 here)

III 'C' - '92-'93
Mrs Padmini Sarathy - I don't remember any specific reason, but she was one of my favourite teachers during those days. She was a kind of frail, bespectacled lady, a bit on the older side. Third standard was also quite a memorable class for another reason - that was the first (and only) time we had a camp fire at school. That was like, by far, one of the most exciting days of my childhood days. Stay back on Friday night - stay in school through Sunday and return home Sunday evening, sleeping in our classrooms. Oof, can you imagine the fun? Thirty-odd 6/7-year-olds in one tiny classroom after an evening of great fun by the camp fire and a sumptuous Saravana Bhavan dinner, the amount of ruckus we would've created! By God, I think that experience is surely one to cherish through life. And the next day, the meticulous me was carefully folding my porvai and all compared to the crumpled mess that a few of my other classmates had left their "beds" in, when Paddu mam appreciated my obedience. :D :D
Also, I remember especially enjoying her Maths classes (I was fresh from that Proficiency in Maths from 2nd standard, you see :D).

(Watchman) Seshadri- A fair Iyengar mama, who, (I retrospectively am surprised was a watchman) always sported the Sricharnam prominently on his forehead. His voice had this amazingly "ghaneer" tone and he befriended the parents especially easily.

(Part 6 here)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

PSBB Teachers 4 - Jamuna Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 3 here)

II 'C' - '91-'92
Mrs Jamuna Nandagopal - Here's another teacher I remember for her sweet, kind nature. If I'm right, she used to live in Blue Diamond Apartments in Motilal St. In those days, it used to be something of a privilege to know personal details of teachers or if teachers spoke to you in Tamil. So I particularly remember these details. I'm not sure if teachers in classes I, II and III handled all subjects for us, but II std was the first time I got some kind of academic award - I still remember the prize - it was for proficiency in Maths (I got centum in all the 5 cycle tests :D) and it was a sweet little Math book. So, an especially memorable class I remember - II 'C'. :-)
(Aayah) Shanthi - PSBB (TP Road) had this awesome set of aayahs who used to take such good care of us kids. Shanthi aayah was one especially semma aayah - she had buck teeth, if I'm not wrong, and some time toward the latter part of junior school, she shaved her head, so that's how I remember her appearance. :D
Btw, my mom apparently met her outside Kodambakkam station on Habibullah Road a few months back. Rather shockingly, she herself approached my mom, who immediately recognized her as a PSBB aayah, and told her - "Amma, neenga Kaushik'oda amma dhaane, thambi epdi irukku?" My mom was absolutely flabbergasted, and more so, I still am, and refuse to believe my mom, still.

(Part 5 here)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Arbit Stuff

  • I want brightness in my life.
  • I love sunshine.
  • I like konjam heat konjam cold. Alternatively, I am ok with Chennai too.
  • I want to constantly see people where(ever) I live. It's ok if they're not my friends or hardly 4 of them know of my existence, but the regular sight of a stranger will do. A lot of them. And I hope I dont know too much about them. If I do, I hope it's nothing bad or unacceptable (to me). If it is, not that I am going to change the world or hate them, but I will feel a little less comfortable.
  • I believe it isn't really as big a sin to be judgemental as it is made out to be. If there is something wrong in being judgemental, it is either because of a flaw in the reasoning/logic behind the judgement or the judger's (mis)perception of the fact/premise that causes him to err in the judgement.
  • Order of Degree of Wrongness -
    Not being judgemental at all >> Making the wrong judgement > Being Judgemental > Perceiving facts in the wrong manner.
  • "Sab kuch chalta hai" is the root cause for most of the misery in the world today.
  • I honestly feel people who are afraid of communicating their opinion in public for fear of retribution are either highly hypocritical or terribly cowardly.
  • That said, one must avoid needless/reasonless/pointless controversy.
  • While travelling in buses or trains, I feel way more comfortable sitting/standing in a front-back manner as opposed to a side-side manner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

PSBB Teachers 3 - Bharti Miss

[Start of Series]

(Part 2 here)

I 'C' - '90-'91
Bharti Miss was a short, slightly plump teacher. Not sure if it's because that is one of the first signs of authority I witnessed in life, but I remember her as a dynamic, authoritative and strict, yet sweet-talking, aggressive-yet-friendly teacher. I also remember her being at the forefront of quite a few extra-curricular activities. She was quite fair and had low-cut hair, if I'm right, and she was also one of the first people I saw wearing glasses with that tag dangling over her neck, which helps to let your glasses hang loose in front of you, without having to place it somewhere.

PS: I also realize I remember a few watchmen and aayahs. So will include them also in this series.

(Watchman) Dhanapal - Dark, burly and affable, I remember him having a very smiling face.

(Part 4 here)

Monday, November 2, 2009

PSBB Teachers 2 - Bina Miss

(Part 1 here)

Pre KG/LKG/UKG - '87-'90
Bina (Madan) Miss - Of all the teachers I remember, she is the only one whose face I don't remember, however much I try. But I somehow seem to remember that she was one of my kindergarten teachers. Sorry, I don't remember anything more. :-(

I also realized I remembered a few watchmen, so going to list them out here also.
Dinakar - A dark, burly pleasant-mannered watchman. Spoke cheerfully with us. :)

(Part 3 here)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

PSBB Teachers 1 - Intro & Shubha Miss

I think any talk of school-life tends to border around our innocence, enjoyment, childhood naughtiness, a lot of eternally green memories and unbridled fun. Seldom do we think about how much we are moulded as individuals and what shape our character takes. It is, of course, fair to say that we realize & feel becoming grown-ups (or however little/much we grow up :) during college-life, because that is when we consciously formed opinions (at least in the case of people born in 1980-1990, IMHO). However, I think a lot of it is already inside us by then, it merely becomes concrete and sizable enough to be called "opinion". Sort of like the construction material has already arrived, it just becomes a structure during college-life/late-teens.

Like most good movies/novels/lessons, the passage of time strengthens our opinion of the object itself, and Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary School is no exception. This is not the " I miss school-life sooo much, adult life sucks" kind of feeling that we generally have in the immediate aftermath of school/college-life. It is more of learning what and all I have learnt from school and how precious it seems, now, of all times. I must confess this realization has been accummulating for quite a while, due to a multitude of observations.

Anyhow, for some reason I still don't know why, I felt like writing a few words about my PSBB teachers, starting from my kg, from what little I remember of them. After finishing my BE and also when I returned to India after my MS, I visited the school, but wasn't able to meet most of the teachers who taught me during TP Road days, so I'm just satisfying myself by writing a few words about them. Hopefully, this gratitude (assuming it is real and not some fake show for increasing blog readership) will reach them somehow.

I asked myself why I wanted to do this - whether this was some spur-of-the-moment thought or an attention-grabbing idea or genuine gratitude. After all, to most people, their teachers are also special and equally great, right? Yes.

First, I don't want it to be misinterpreted that just because I am attempting something like this, PSBB teachers are the greatest (remember the "PSBB'na gethu, mathadhellam vethu" chants from school? :D). It is gross injustice to compare one teacher/school to another. Yes, there might be the odd one that screwed someone badly, but for most part, schools have gone a long way in moulding a child's character. I am basically doing this because I feel, as children, we seldom even acknowledged the contribution our teachers were making for us.

I recollect, retrospectively, now about how passionate my teachers in PSBB were (as also the other ones from other schools, but I dont know them, so I cannot talk about/thank them), as opposed to the didn't-get-an-IT-job-so-joined-some-Engineering-college kinds that are in abundance today. After all, Engineering colleges also have teachers, rather, are supposed to have "teachers".

Of course, there is also the fact that most of our teachers at PSBB were definitely quite well-off and probably became teachers because they were bored at home or didn't want to do any other job. Still, choosing to become a teacher is itself quite noble, and being a dedicated one at that, too, is praiseworthy, at the least.
So here goes my (hopefully) humble attempt at saying Shree Gurubhyo Namaha. :-)
And I really hope I am not going overboard with emotions or becoming needlessly senti about my childhood for whatever reason. Simply, "an objective grateful recollection of school teachers", is how I hope these posts are interpreted as.

For convenience's sake, I will start from Pre-KG. The memories are more structured then.
*PS: Though primarily a tribute, since I will travel through my childhood, one shouldn't mind if I occasionally recollect a few personal not-necessarily-related-to-any-teacher school-related memories. :)*
Pre KG/LKG/UKG - '87-'90
Shubha miss - It is about 20 years since I was in kindergarten, and you must accept my apologies when I am not able to recollect all the details of all my teachers in Pre KG, LKG and UKG. One of them that I do, is Shubha miss. I think my mom liked her a lot, and the imprint of her in my memory is probably more because of my mom's occasional reminiscences during the 4th-8th period which I remember, but I still can remember her somewhat - a tall gracious lady, probably, dusky complexion, with a slightly husky voice. I hazily remember a mostly-smiling face with a KR Vijaya'esque set of teeth. She was probably a Mallu, but I'm not sure.

(Part 2 here)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A few things I feel the reader must know...

I was born (in alphabetical order) -
  1. Indian
  2. Iyer
  3. Tamilian
  4. Theist
  5. Vegetarian
  • Up until a few years ago, I practised/identified myself with all of the above simply because I was born as that. Over the past few years, I have continued to identify myself as the above, though I have been trying to dig deeper and attach meaning to it, hence, practising whatever it is I am, with conviction and a firm sense of belief. However, the journey is, by all means, hard, with no easy answers.
    The order of difficulty, from how I understand, is -

  • I make no bones about what constitutes my identity. I do not want to run away from it, nor do I want to hide it. And I also do not intend to flaunt it.
  • I am explicitly mentioning all my identities so the reader knows my background while reading my posts (either to avoid being unnecessarily wrongly stereotyped or to ensure that the stereotyper realizes he has rightly stereotyped).
  • A few of my posts have been controversial and have earned me much scorn from strangers and caused more than a few unpleasant issues with close friends, however, I do not wish to run away from controversy just because it is that. I have a lot of strong opinions on important issues and the purpose of bringing them to the public domain is in the hope that they would either be reaffirmed or proven wrong. Of course, I also understand that a few comments on some post in my blog definitely does not constitute irrefutable proof of whatever it is, but it will definitely add perspective to my thinking, which is one of the main purposes of this blog, incidentally.
  • Though my posts will have a strong dose of Brahminism/Hinduism/Vegetarianism-influenced view-points (which includes not smoking, not drinking, among other trivialities), I do *NOT*, in this blog, promote/propagate/glorify any of it, simply because I do NOT have conclusive-enough information about the same.
  • If you feel offended at anything I have written, it is MY responsibility. If you have misinterpreted it, though it is you who misinterpreted it, reading what I've written is what made you do it. Hence, I consider it my duty to make you understand/interpret it properly. If you still don't get it, then it means you are either too dumb (why are people dumb?) or too intelligent for me {not being sarcastic}.
  • Which reminds me, I generally tend to have a heavy dose of sarcasm in a lot of my posts. It is my attempt at being humorous. Unfortunately though, sometimes, this attempted humour tends to fall flat because I happened to mix it with my beliefs/principles, even though I didn't try to promote it.
  • I am generally concerned with hypocrisy. I have no idea why. And of late, I've been feeling stupid about it. I have no problems with people like Hawkeye (from whom, incidentally, this section was copied/inspired, though I've always wanted some kind of "about me") who openly accept to being hypocrites. Though (I believe) I am not a hypocrite and try to consciously follow it, I find it easier to relate to people like him. Until quite recently also, I thought sincere/true absence of hypocrisy was a virtue, no longer, though. Nevertheless, I try to continue to be a non-hypocrite, but will dissociate thoughts of virtue from this.
  • A lot of my more serious posts (even if written [attempted-] humorously), might have a morose, complainatory (adj. - like a complaint) feel about them. That's because though I try to enjoy life and appreciate people, my intrinsic nature somehow ingeniously detects failings in people, issues_to_complain_about, etc. which, hitherto, I mostly expressed then-and-there to/in_front_of the person concerned. Now this resulted in a few issues -
    a. My impulsive reactions/feelings are notoriously error-prone. Blogging the issue ensures I've cooled down a bit and have been able to see the issue in calmer light, reflectively.
    b. 97.3% of people don't take criticism in the right spirit. Oh yes, they might smile and listen to you empathetically, but don't let that fool you. I have realized, after multiple fractures, that if you're acting in a potentially rift-inducing/offensive manner for a good cause, unless you're sure there is going to be a good effect, you are better off not acting that way.
    c. This blog also serves another main purpose of being my emotional dumping ground.
  • When I blog about something, in general, I am quite passionate about it, or at least, am passionate about what I say about it. Though I feel right about it at the time of posting, I fully understand the likelihood of error (I am super-mortal), so it is possible that an opinion I posted some time back is not necessarily the one I currently subscribe to, though I will stand by it.
  • I am serious about my blog (even if it's the attempted-yet-mostly-failed-humour posts which are present in abundance).
  • I also try not to take my blog too/very seriously. Hence, nothing too personal (like a letter expressing my love for my mom on her birthday) or very serious (like my favourite God and why I like that God/an intensely exhaustive discussion on why smoking is bad, etc.) is likely to be covered.
  • If you're a guy/girl from a somewhat-orthodox Brahmin family, some of my posts might make you wonder if I was the guy your mom wanted you to be like/marry (respectively), based on the superficial talk that is on ample display in this blog. Whether or not I am that (and more) or not, you have every right to judge, but don't judge me by these writings alone. :-)
  • I do not intend to stand for elections in India any time soon, so I am definitely NOT on an image-building exercise (in the likely case that you feel I am trying to promote my unlikely [misplaced] "good" image).
All this apart, this blog is just another blog - covering anything under the sun which a random guy from Chennai wants to talk about. Feel free to say whatever you feel like (no abusive language please, if you want to offend me, by all means, do it, but in very dignified words; and if you feel I don't deserve that dignity, then it also means I don't deserve your offensive words :D).

Monday, October 19, 2009

New-York-City in a Jiffy

One of the good things about being an Indian grad student in the US is that you are, generally, good at day-to-day practical combinatorial optimization. Ok, I apologize for my badly-disguised attempt at flaunting my Computer Science credentials, I was just referring to our propensity to detect and analyze the most optimal ways to do stuff ranging from packing stuff into our suitcases to buying goods to planning trips - space, time and economic optimization techniques, if you can call them that. It doubly helps if you study at a university where even PhD students need to consistently worry about paying for their tuition - which means that being a lowly Masters student, you can rest assured that unless you're terribly lucky (know someone who can get your resume across to someone else who feels you're good enough to be a GA) or intimidatingly brainy (read being good enough to be an RA/TA for a prof that has enough money to fund your course-work, while a Masters student), you've got to rely on cash cows (aka parents) or sharks (banks) for tuition and the $7.5/hour on-campus job for your living.

Anyhow, such is the grind that even after having moved on to supposedly higher things in life (like working, being employed, having a job, etc.), old habits die hard, that too, with a vengeance. This vengeance especially helps when you've been hit by the recession at least once and madly enough, bring your parents here on a long vacation now, of all times.

So then, like most international bring-parents-to-the-USA-after-your-studies (no-longer) students, I endeavoured to take my parents on the Holy Grail of Materialism (and the epicenter of the global financial earthquake) - NYC.
Since both my budget and vacation days were tight, I decided to fit in the visit over a weekend. After all, NYC isn't exactly a place known for awe-inspiring natural sights where you can lose yourself admiring the beauty of nature for days on end.

Here's my trip in detail, I think it worked out quite well overall, an opinion reaffirmed by a few of my friends, and I hope it helps anyone wanting to simply visit or take your parents to show them NYC in a quick, cost-effective manner.

Date: Sept 19-20, 2009.

Travel & Stay -
I generally don't believe much in vacation packages like flight+hotel, flight+hotel+car, etc...., least of all on airline websites. Still, I just gave it a shot and browsed package deals on popular travel-sites. By a queer twist of fate, I chanced upon the American Airlines site where I got a more-than-just-decent package - return tickets from Chicago to New York for 3 people + 1-night stay at the Hilton-Penn Station for $950.00
I was initially skeptical since it worked out to about $316.66 per person (yes, we ARE this detailed), but considering the fact that the average ticket rates hovered around the $290 - $340 range when looked for tickets, plus at least 75 bucks for even a half-decent hotel, I think 950 was a fair call.
If you're going to NYC, you need to figure *specifically* where you want to stay. If you're a million-miles-away-from-a-millionaire-background guy like me, staying in any of even the decent hotels in Manhattan is out of question, they cost upwards of $200 per night (ok, literary exaggeration - you don't need to be a millionaire to stay in Manhattan, but I hope you catch the drift). There are a (very) few sub-100 hotels in Manhattan, but they are definitely not places you'd want to take your parents to, that too at night. Which then brings you to New Jersey, mainly Jersey City. There are a lot of somewhat-decent sub-100 hotels (motels, more like) in Jersey City, but the problem is transportation. You'd need to get a bus to the nearest train station (PATH transit) which gets you to NYC, and these buses aren't very safe+reliable+frequent at night. Hence, Hilton-Penn Station was quite a deal - apart from the Hilton brand name (obviously), there's a train station right below the hotel (well, ok not right below, like half a block away, and the station's connected to the hotel by a walkway too). Plus the hotel picks you up from Newark Airport (FREE shuttle, yes, like free food).

The Sights -
  • Day 1 -
    • Reached Newark Airport at 11:15 AM, reached hotel at 12:15 PM. Though the official check-in time is 3 PM, if the room's available, they check you in early, else you can leave your baggage with them free of cost.
    • Statue of Liberty - The PATH train from Penn Station goes directly to WTC (Ground Zero) in about 30-40 minutes, from where the ferry station is like a 15-minute walk. You get to see the upcoming Freedom Tower plan, some of Wall Street and the Bull en route, so it's not a bad walk.
      *Alert* - Book your ferry tickets in advance here. Even with tickets, it's good to reach there at least 45 minutes early, the lines tend to get quite long, especially on weekends. I'd booked my ticket for 2 PM, and reached the ferry station at 1:30. :D Wicked, eh!
      So after the usual photo-session on the ferry and next to the Green lady, with the downtown Manhattan backdrop, etc., we returned from Liberty Island at about 5 PM.

    • Washington Square Park - We'd had a good breakfast before leaving Chicago, besides, my mom had packed some lunch in case we were cramped for time, so this helped us until 5. After returning from Liberty Island, we headed straight to Washington Square Park using the Subway (Oh, I forgot to tell, you can get the 1-day pass in any of the subway stations. Unfortunately, unlike Chicago, irrespective of when you buy the pass, it expires at 3 AM after its first use the previous day) to check out the famed NY Dosas . Unfortunately for us, the Dosa guy was off that day, so we headed from here to Saravana Bhavan (a very popular Indian vegetarian restaurant). Sadly for me, the meal here was better than any Indian restaurant in Chicago and though I thoroughly enjoyed the food, I was left ruing the lack of any equivalently good (Indian vegetarian) restaurant in Chicago.
      Anyway, the park itself is quite cute, with tons of people milling around - from doing nothing to reading books to practising a weird balance-this-item-on-your-leg game which was quite interesting. There's also a fountain and a lawn plus a place for your pets to have fun too.
    • Wall Street + NYSE - Whether or not you're into stocks, finance, etc., I'm sure you know at least that something from there bit you, and quite hard, at that. So you might as well see where it all started. So we then took the Subway to Wall Street. And yes, it did feel quite momentous, getting off at Broadway & Wall Street, and walking through NYSE and Trump Building, all the way to the beginning of Brooklyn Bridge.
    • Brooklyn Bridge - It was dark by now, and the city was lit up, and what better place to see the city than from Brooklyn Bridge? It's a long walk, so ensure you've got some energy and time with you if you want to spend some good time atop the bridge. The bridge and the views were beautiful, and if you're a couple, doubly so. ;-)
      After spending a good 45 minutes there, we realized it was close to 9 PM and headed straight to THE place to be on Saturday night.

    • Times Square - Again, you have easy Subway access from Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square and no, I'm not going to list out the routes. The weather that night was near-perfect, so it made for a wonderful time spent at Times Square. My parents were, needless to say, quite taken in by the lights and sounds there. There's also a big seating area bang in the middle of the road for you to just sit and soak in the sights of the place.

      And so, after a tiring-yet-satisfying half day, we head back to the hotel, again, using the Subway and the PATH transit back to NJ.

  • Day 2
    • Empire State Building - Woke up on Sunday at about 8 and left straight for the Empire State which opens at 9. The crowd wasn't that bad, but the travel agents who kept bugging us outside were. Well, even if we own the tower taller than Empire State, courtesy demands we have a look-out from atop Empire State as well, and trust me, you won't be disappointed. The best pic was of the Statue of Liberty, tiny, but no less attractive.
      After a good time there, we walked a bit to grab some lunch before our final stop for the trip.

    • Madam Tussaud's - At 35 bucks per head, it is definitely not cheap, but the place is great fun, especially if you like famous people/history. A decent visit there needs about 2 hours, not more.
      Once outside, we hung around Times Square (in day-time) for some more time and finally, bid farewell to the endearing city at about 3 PM (not before some much-needed drama of course, missing our 5 PM-flight at JFK and then catching the next available flight from La Guardia).
Retrospectively, a fair call, I felt. Here's a jist of the places we covered in about 27 hours -
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Ground Zero/WTC
  • Washington Square Park
  • Wall Street
  • New York Stock Exchange
  • Broadway
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Times Square
  • Empire State Building
  • Madam Tussaud's
I felt these places best exemplify New York City to the average American tourist. Well, of course, there are many more places to see there, but if you're looking for a short, inexpensive, at-the-same-time not very strenuous, yet relatively exhaustive dekho of New York City, I'm sure these places are coverable over a weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stereotyping the Contemporary Intellectual - 3

Continued from Part 2 here

  • Belonging to Vasudaiva Kutumbakam 1 - A direct implication of the example in the Mary/Peter category – Soru. I am not sure how prevalent this habit is, but a lot (a lot, yes, but not all) of these “intellectuals” religiously eat food from everywhere in the world – Ethiopian, Mexican, Chinese, Spanish, etc. I have nothing against any of these cuisines and it is nice to have a wide range of options, but these things irk me –

    1. I, who unabashedly, wholly does NOT belong to this group, who is quite content with half-decent Indian food (or absolutely any food which is prepared in a safe [read purely vegetarian, far away from eggs, meat, fish or poultry] location), find myself ridiculously left-out and outvoted when in the company of such folks (on the rare occasions it happens) and
    2. Remember again that a lot of these folks (at least most of the ones I’ve observed) are MCSI-Brahmins? Which means they’ve been vegetarians for most part of their life. Whether these "intellectuals" are (newly-turned) atheists (agnostics, integral humanitarians, etcetera) who continue to be vegetarian (even though they discard god, a few “intellectuals” might continue to stick to vegetarianism and being “intellectuals”, they need to have a strong feeling towards anything => if vegetarian, they believe in it strongly) or (minority) the still-believing-in-Brahminism/religion junta, eating in restaurants overflowing with non-vegetarian food simply reeks of hypocrisy. How, oh how on earth they can bear to see dead animal pieces next to the food they consume, I cannot understand (I am, in this sense, an "antillectual", if you might).
    3. Among the minority that are still-practising-(pseudo)-Brahmins, but anyhow eat with relish in every such (God-forsaken) international restaurant, and then talk (often in a dreamy-eyed manner and/or ethereal tones which is supposed to convey that they are in a Kadavul-induced-trance or state of divine bliss) about what Maha Periyava says about Brahmins or throw at you the 6th stanza of the Soundarya Lahari, asking you to marvel at its beauty or wax eloquence at Dikshitar's krithi and it's profound philosophical/religious inspiration - to me, it simply doesn't fit. I am probably dumb, athi-moorkaha or whatever, for linking two irrelevant issues, but this whole package doesn't come across as genuine/true.

    Note here that I am not an Indian fundamentalist promoting Indian food and advocating that Indians eat only Indian food. I love my filter coffee and feast on Paneer, knowing fully well that neither is indigenous to India. But the point here is eating something just because it is another cuisine, and doing so often enough, just to prove that you are a global citizen. It is almost like people who start smoking because they feel cool doing it. And whether the food is nice or not, trying to enjoy it so that you feel good at having eaten international cuisine.
    Which now leads me to another sub-classication of these international-cuisine-folks -
    • Never cook at home.
    • Eat that Bruschetta at the Italian/Spanish restaurant, come back home and start making it regularly (if married, often with the spouse) and then start a food blog. Include chweet lines like "The husband made some panini bruschetta sprinkled with toasted almonds today. Yay! Love you, dear!" and other corny equivalents. Seriously.
      And no, this is not a whine from a singleton who is calling the grapes sour because he doesn't have a wife to dote foodily on.

Intriguing how most of the "intellectual" couples either love cooking together, often multi-cuisine delicacies or not cooking any cuisine at all (hey, didn't you know how healthy the food is at Chipotle's, Subway, Taco Bell, etc.?).

  • Philosophical Thanni - Ha, this is one elite group, I tell you. Again, I wouldn't want to hazard a generalization like majority of the "intellectuals" or something (though I won't be surprised if such a generalization is indeed valid), but this much I can be sure - majority in this sub-group is obviously guys (again, it might be my ignorance too, but I can say only as far as I've seen). So then, these "dudes" obviously drink. Fine. No big deal. But the justifications and explanations for their drinking - nothing short of poetry. "Enakku thanni adikka pudichirukku, I derive pleasure from it, though I know it's bad" - apdinu sollittu poinde irundha naan edhukku indha maadhiri oru bullet'a ezhudha poren? Starting with social drinking (which, IMHO, deserves a separate punishment in the Indian Penal Code, by itself), they go on to put all kinds of weird fundae into the heads of ordinary, un"intellectual" folks like me, so much so that after a point of time, we (the un"intellectuals") feel ashamed and philosophically backward for being non-drinkers (or teetotalers, to be more general). Really, I mean it. I've personally gone through this once, the dude in question being the same guy who spoke those priceless words in the Mary/Peter category.
  • Belonging to Vasudaiva Kutumbakam 2 - Applies to all types of "intellectuals" - whether atheistic, agnostic, totally-believe-in-Brahminism, currently-believing-in-Brahminism, etc. When it's time for Dum Dum Dum, anybody and everybody will do. Though the still-Brahmin kinds will initially stick to believing in same-caste marriage, they will, in due course of time, come around to trashing it, having moved on to "higher" things and realizing the utter insignificance and childishness in such beliefs.
    A few memorable quotes these "intellectuals" use to justify their inter-caste marriage (these people specifically belong to the born-Brahmin-believed-in-Brahminism-for-almost-all-their-life-and-even-now-selectively-believe-in-Brahminism-but-are-going-to-marry-inter-caste category) -
    a) "
    i believe its upbringing thats imp and providing the right atmosphere, attitude and opportunities that will promote preserve the culture
    i believe i can do that.
    i knew that h** family and (?)he have the right mindset and background..wrt education/appreciation of arts and culture..apart from that there will be differences.."
    b) "
    but i realised that brahmin-a eruntha mattum pothaathu... its the personal behaviour which makes u what u are.."
    Quiz: Can you identify the gender of the two characters above? [MP, MM, PM, PP]

    In future, I see this attribute being upgraded to a version whose traits will include looking down on same-caste couples; upon seeing a person wearing the Veebuthi or Bottu, staring at the mark for an unnecessarily-long time, intentionally starting a related topic and concluding that wearing such marks is anti-philosophical, anti-spiritual, etc., ending up making you feel like Manohar Parrikar when he lost the confidence vote.

And I shall stop right there. I wanted to include these two categories as well -

  • Do Jalsa and show Jilpa via the blogs they write. ;-) [Remember, the "intellectual" isn't necessarily always an Indian in USA]
  • Return from USA and direct movies like Hyderabad Blues.

But since I am sure there is a massive group out there that (whether "intellectual" or not) overwhelmingly supports such "intellectuals" and will be after my blood just because I mention them in this list without understanding that my calling them "intellectuals" is more light-hearted satire than derogatory criticism/mockery, I shall digress.

In my observation, I have tried to remain as objective as possible (by me ;), without criticizing or frowning upon the "intellectual" characteristics I observed, something I usually do. I admit there might've been one or two instances where my exasperation got the better of me, but I suppose that is understandable, because of the weight of that issue. I must also admit that I fall under one or more of the categories above, so if you feel I'm pulling your leg, understand that I'm pulling mine too (ok, my knee or foot...leg only for thoroughbred "intellectuals" :D).

Stereotyping the Contemporary Intellectual - 2

Continued from Part 1 here

  • Leaning to the Left: This, I think, is somewhat of a minority, but it seems to be growing. Ironically, such notions tend to develop in the US of A. :D
  • The "OMG, that's 150 Calories! That means 10 more minutes on the treadmill"-kind: Fitness is important, no doubt. Daily exercise is important, definitely. But for them, this borders on obsession. Irrespective of whether they are thin or fat (btw, did I tell you, most "intellectuals" are either incredibly lean or pucca figures [purely geometric usage of the word, not to be confused with the generic usage and start wondering about my orientation just because this usage is being applied to guys also, I’m perfectly straight, thanks], whether they are guys or girls?). It especially gets scary when you inadvertently overhear or become part of the said-group for some occasional dinner or something. One session of ordinary soru, and you end up with a feeling that your eating habits apparently hover around the Bakasura and Ghadothkacha mark.
    PS: Guy “intellectuals” can be excused for this one, as it predominantly applies to girl “intellectuals”. Guys, after all, are a trifle less appearance-conscious than girls, so when they see good food, even “intellectual” guys let go. But they would, of course, compensate in the gym, kindly note.
  • They are classified not as Male/Female but as Mary/Peter - Ok, before you misunderstand, they are not the kinds that will put Peter for the sake of vetti-scene. They have a strong grasp over the language (mainly English) and more specifically, they suffer from a disease where they simply cannot communicate simple emotions in simple words.

Sample this –
Since my stream of consciousness veered into food, here is one more update. To all, never go to a Spanish restaurant and order a Paella (Paeya) if you don't know what it is."
Meaning - Since I spoke about food, let me advise you not to go to a Spanish restaurant and order........
(Eh, Payya’va? Karthi Sivakumar padam per maadhiri irukku, idha poi Spain’la saapduvaala?)

Another example -
Suck it up RK, we finally went to Toro and had "Maiz Asado Con Alioli Y Queso Cotija la especialidad de la casa," alright will cut the crap, corn in butter and cheese was freaking awesome."
Meaning - Saavu da RK, we went to Toro and ate a dish (made of corn in butter and cheese) which was semma tasty.
PS: I'm assuming this is the meaning, as, possibly, the speaker and RK were supposed to go to the said restaurant together, but somehow, the speaker beat RK to it; or some similar equivalent situation.

I confess to having used "freaking awesome" once or twice in my life, but the rest of the stuff, I generally have to read once or twice to understand the words fully, sometimes even Google their meaning/usage. And please, I'm not this English-ignorant-for-the-sake-of-GRE-mug-Baron's or Rapidex-Learn-English-in-20-days aasaaami also. Simply by looking at my blog, my English marks in CBSE school [oh, how naive can you get, Kaushik?] and the fact that I was one of my English teacher's fav students (mainly for academic reasons, but the fact that I also admired Madhubala, the original Bollywood beauty, also helped) in high school (albeit Matric). Plus also the fact that in my blog, almost 99% of my writings are grammatically correct, which is no mean feat, considering I've been blogging for almost 2 years now (albeit, with no significant blog-following :D). Basically, what I want to say is - I know some English, sariya? But I don't know too much English, nowhere near even a quasi-pulavan, like what some of my lesser-inclined-to-English friends complain, about being unable to comprehend my blogs. From what I know and hear from them, the subject content of my blog becomes clearer on 2nd or 3rd reading (though I doubt if there's anyone with that much patience :P), sometimes conveying a different message each time. I'm also sure my writings convey a different meaning to people who know me (rather, are acquainted with me for a period of time) and another one to first-time readers or people who aren't acquainted much with me. But the important thing here is that none of this is due to the language, this is (only, if I may add...) due to the content and how I've presented it, as also the topic itself. My blogs would hardly have 2-3 GRE words.
But these Mary's and Peter's, their vocabulary is predominantly made up of such GRE words, often reaching above the GRE level also. :D And let me also add, I am sure I will definitely fall into one (or more) of the above categories of "intellectuals", but I surely surely don't belong to this one.

  • Kannaadi/Ara-nikkar, etc. – Ok, this is surely not applicable to all “intellectuals” (though it might, I am not sure) and this will highly coincide with the chilrai-pisth-cases whose sole aim in life is to earn money and show the world that, in different forms. Karuppu Kannadi (‘Shades’, they are called) enge ponaalum pottukkanum. Idhula enna koduma’na, Madras’la (referring to MCSI’s mainly from Chennai and also hot places from South India), US’la irukkardhoda 10-madangu jaasthi veyyil, for most of the year, aana US’ukku vandhu dhan “shades”. Note specifically that these people generally don't flaunt wealth back home in India, like the "other" group, which indulges in extra-show on that once-in-two-years India trip.
    Also, going out with friends to the movie or any casual hang-out will invariably have to be in mukka-pant or ara-nikkar (provided the weather is conducive). Really. And this applies to both Mary and Peter. Period.
Update 1:

  • "Naan kadaisiya paatha English padam 'Sunset Boulevard'" & VS Naipaul kinds - This is a sure-fire way. Confirmed'unga. They swear by Quentin Tarantino. Quentin Tarantino is God. Problem is, only he is god (IMHO, he is also God, one among the trinity, but there are others, and there are Indians). Vishal Bhardwaj is just a cheap imitation. Indian movies suck. Period. Mani Ratnam was a good director. Indian cinema died after Nayagan. Variations include moving on to other international-language movies - French, Polish, Italian, etc. and revisiting all English classics from the '40s and '50s.
    As far as readership is concerned, abstract philosophy is the in-thing. Richard Dawkins is widely-read.
  • The "NeenGa rOmbo nallavanga" types - Oh yes, another easy one. Since they are fitness conscious and are invariably good runners, they usually associate themselves with some charity fund like Asha and run to raise money. Then forward emails asking us to contribute. Incidentally, this led me to post this. :D
  • Forward-phobia - They are utmost forward-thinkers, but hate to forward and hate forwards. The rare forward that they do send will be screaming with "intellectualism". Easily you will be able to recognize it. And that is to show to us that - "Hey dho paaru, naan summa summa indha maadhiri sirippu mootradhukkum, podhu ariva valakkarthukkum forwards'laam anuppara type illa. Naan anupcha adhu unique'a irukkum (just like me)." You must assume you hear the sender say this when you get that once-in-a-blue-moon "intellectual" forward from someone. And foremost among the rare gems they send will include one from the previous category. If not for them, for their "intellectual" friend (obviously!).
Go to Part 3

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stereotyping the Contemporary Intellectual - 1

For far too long, we have had stereotypes based only on caste, religion and gender. Though there are substantial reasons (at least) for some of those, we have found more reason to ridicule (rather unfairly) based on the stereotypes, without bothering to verify their accuracy (either way). One exception, though, is the stereotype of pseudo-secularists, which can be completely and wholly justified. So much so that sometimes, the stereotype of pseudo-secularists threatened to be their definitive characteristic, when along came someone to prevent that. Anyhow...

This post is definitely NOT meant to ridicule or offend the "intellectual" of today. Probably a satire, well...more a humorous observation by yours truly of some aspects which have been strikingly "intellectuals", to me (of course). So whoever reads this, please take it with a pinch of salt (as with most of my other posts :D) and a generous dose of light-heartedness.

Since I am a middle-class South-Indian (MCSI), my observations predominantly pertain to middle-class South-Indian "intellectuals".However, a lot of these characteristics might as well be applicable to "intellectuals" from North India too.

Note: Henceforth, I will be referring to contemporary intellectuals as "intellectuals". ;-)
All set? Then let's go . . .

  • No longer middle class - The first thing that should strike you about them is that they are no longer middle class. Having been brought up in an essentially savings-based environment, where we used to think about each and every item before buying, that thought process no longer exists. Yes of course, they do opt for their Honda Civics and Mazda 3's compared to more expensive versions, but their concept of savings gets reduced to big expenses alone (unintentional irony). $1.99 milk ceases to hold relevance once they graduate and get a decent-paying job. Dollars, after all, start speaking, not Rupees. When you go for the $2.99 milk, you are paying just 1 dollar more, but that's a difference of 2 dollars effectively (saving one + losing one). What they lose sight of is the fact that saving the cents might not save much, but losing the savings will count.
  • Rejection of Religion: This, I have especially noticed in MCSI Brahmins. Well, probably educated Indians are moving towards atheism en masse, but nowhere can you observe this trait more prominently than in MCSI Brahmins in the USA. Accepted that there is more exposure to free thinking today, and more of us see more of what the world has and is made of, coming out of our closet. But that should encourage us to think inward, the more outward we go. Alas, our enlightenment is just outward. "Integral humanism" and "agnosticism" are other supplementary adjectives to describe their current mental set-up.
  • Photography Pultography: Yes, a must-have characteristic. Either they own an SLR camera or they talk about shooting brilliant pictures with varying angles of light, etc. Whether they really do take good pictures is a discussion best left for another time.
  • Lingo: I think a separate Urban Dictionary can be created for the words used by Intellectuals. Prominent among these words are - Dude, Junta, F***, No kiddin, Preeshiyet it, Honey, More F***, etc.
  • Kambeni: They generally surround themselves with studs from top schools. Agreed that most of the "intellectuals" are, themselves, from top schools, but in case they don't happen to be from one, they immediately catch hold of some who are and jab all mostly hi-funda stuff which generally falls under any one of the categories mentioned here.
Go to Part 2

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A True Match

Disclaimer: I totally am interested in an atmosphere of peace between India and China and seriously dont want war. So please read the post below knowing this, before you start accusing me of being narrow-minded and fight-mongering.

Nuclear wars are potta-thanam. I mean, seriously! One country will bomb somewhere in the other country'aam. Thousands (millions) will die. Call of war. The worst thing is that the place which was bombed would mostly be inhabited by people who have nothing to do with the war apart from being citizens of that country. What kind of war is this?
I dont know what/when the third world war is going to be, however, seeing how things have been heating up between India and China, nobody would exclaim shock if something like that happens. And given Admiral Suresh Mehta's fair assessment of our military capability vis-a-vis China's, I dont think India would stand a realistic chance in a proper current-day war.
Which is why I have an alternative suggestion which is more evenly matched. What is the first thing that strikes your mind when you say evenly matched wrt India & China? Why, the population, of course! So here's what we should do - amass everyone you can on the border. It should be a proper Kurukshetra-range war - fight till death. Anybody and everybody should be at the border. The fighting methods should be hand-to-hand, swords, knives, guns and canons. That's it. No more modernity allowed. No air force. And humans should be used as canons. I strongly think we'd have a good chance then. Yes, China is still ahead population-wise, but apparently, we have more productive work-force. Besides, I should think we have more obese people than the Chinese. So use all these obese people as canons (only people, as I said earlier, no canon balls). Sumo wrestlers and all Japanese only, no? :D But yes, given their expertise in martial arts, maybe they retain the advantage again. But then, someone said Indians can mokka-pottufy better than Chinese. Ha! Beat that! Since English is the only language we can easily communicate within ourselves, we use English with them too. Then, bring in Russell Peters on the Indian side to kalaaichufy them.

I think we'll just about win.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Otta(i) Dhaanam

I've tried to understand this funda, but somehow have never been able to figure it out. Seriously, what's this about charity runs/walks? I am happy to be seeing some form of charity/service to society/the underprivileged, etc. going on but I would be happier to see it with some sane reason, or at least, to be able to understand and appreciate the functioning of the system.
Q. Running - Why do people run?
A. I started off by asking myself this question. Possible answers are that the person is a fitness freak who wants to keep himself/herself in good shape. Else, the person is an athlete who runs for a living. Then, possibly, people run for fun...just that running gives them a sense of liberation. Ok, this last set is probably quite less compared to the other two but let's just say they also contribute to running.
Seri appo, when did this running thing get connected to charity? I figure out people somehow started gathering in groups for a charitable cause, to discuss about it or something, then some wise soul says "let's start running" and his/her company agrees to sponsor the group "run" because it gives them some kind of publicity (which, again, results in an indirect benefit for the company anyway :P). So this part is ok - corporates sponsoring runs primarily because they get some good coverage.
Somewhere, some bloke introduced this brilliant idea of individually contributing to someone's run. I also have squeezed my brain and eked out a possible reason - individuals contributing money to someone else's run acts as a motivation for the runner to run more and bring more money (for the charitable cause, obviously). But here's the thing - isn't this a kind of recursive loop which continues because of the last recursion? Nobody knows why the recursion started in the first place (for the Comp.Scientifically challenged - I give X money encouraging him/her to run for the good cause. X runs. Someone else gives money because X ran and is thinking of running again. X runs again. Some other someone else gives money to X. And it goes on...).
IMHO, if you want to run (for whatever reason), RUN, for God's sake. And if you want to donate money for charity, DONATE. I should think a person who donates money for charity via a contribution to someone's run would anyway donate money to charity. Some XYZ running acts as a means for this person to donate, it isn't the stimulant or motivating factor for a person who was otherwise not going to donate any money, to donate money.
But mixing the two doesn't make sense. I mean it, really. Or at least, I can't figure it out.
  • Unakku thala valicha naan mazhaila shoes'kku badhila seruppu pottundu enna prayojanam?
  • Obama'kku phone adicha naan saappadu saapttuttu sound'a yeppam vidaama irukkardhula enna sambandham?
Reminds me of this hilarious scene from Jillunu Oru Kadhal. :D
Yes, before you say it, I've also thought about Chaos Theory/Butterfly Effect-related reasons. But this explanation will not hold water because the theory holds good only for random events causing random effects...Like -
  • Unakku thala valiyoda Ranganathan Street'la you walking. Me also walking there for Karumbu Juice kudiching plus Thaayar Dairy Vadaam stocking. Suddenly rain coming. All of us running for shelter into Saravana "2-Rupee Samsa" Stores. Appo I accidentally stamp on your foot. You already in head-ache. Now rain. Plus me stamping on your foot. If shoes, your vali unbearable and you slap me. If slippers, I can just slip away because water everywhere and you didn't notice my kaal-midhithal.
  • I am holidaying in Hawaii and walking outside Obama's patti's house. Ange after a semma saappadu (Ok, imagination obviously) I loudly burp. Distracted by my burp, a taxi driver suddenly halts car. Crash. Accident. Secret Service agent from inside patti's house comes outside and takes me in for questioning seeing me at the site. Unearths my Chicago connection. I also belong to Shah Rukh Khan-land. I wear Veebudhi most of time => suicide-mission Anthrax-spreader possibility. Emergency. Call White House.
You see? Ivlo kashta pattu I need to bring a connection to associate Running and Charity. Onnume Puriyaliye...Ada Pongappa.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Download Yaarukku Yaaro Songs!

Yes, there are times when I've just wanted to listen to the songs on a music player. Really. Sam has got so embedded into my brain that just listening to the song brings his moves to my mind's eye. And while travelling sometimes, I feel I need something to cheer me up. Say when I'm down in the dumps while returning from work occasionally. Or simply when my code is not working at work, and I dont want to go to youtube.
Googling "Yaarukku Yaaro Songs" didn't really help apart from giving youtube links and the whole movie.

So for all ye folks out there, wanting to get Thala Sam onto your i-Pod or Media Player list, here's my humble contribution to our tribe.

After all, belonging to the esteemed first set of Yaarukku Yaaro watchers on the historic Jan 28, 2008 and having contributed (in whatever small measure) to spreading the joy of YY, I deem it a privilege to be able to do this.

Indulge! Enjoy! And ensure that you spread the word. Why deny the happiness to people? :-)

Anbaana Iraivan

Nenjam Magizhum Mayile


(PS: I've included the last lines spoken by Dheeba and Thala before Thala breaks into a run and stuns us with that slo-mo rise from the bike on his orange shirt and cap :D)

Yaarukku Yaaro

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What my Blog Counter tells me...

My blog counter might mean one (or more) of the following things -

1. The Hindu Gods don't share a common network.
2. There are multiple Gods.
3. There are aliens.
4. God is an alien.
5. There are both aliens and God.

Any other possibilities?

Monday, August 10, 2009

MS in US Vs M Tech in India - an MS perspective

A very pressing issue which, apparently, not too many people have ventured to explain. Even if they have, it doesn't hurt to have one more *opinion*, does it? Also, since I see that I haven't really blogged anything useful for others, and since I have been wanting to do this for a loooong time (3 years), and also since Karthik Raghavan inspired me to do it partially and also since I want to beat him to it (Ha!). For those needing guidance on admission to CS Master's in the Indian Institutes of Tech (IIT's in India), his posts are an excellent guide.
Target Audience: Definitely not the studs from any of the IIT's, NIT's, CeG's and the like. Also, not for the studs from private colleges who've got loads of IEEE/ACM papers on their resume, apart from internships at DRDO, Microsoft, Google, etc. However, a little bit of perspective always helps, so in case you studs have come till here, there's no harm in walking the extra mile. This post is mainly meant for people like me who have wanted good education and are interested in studying & learning, but were unfortunately forced to make do with private colleges (and eventually realize that great careers can be carved out of humble beginnings also :D) for reasons ranging from sheer laziness to reservation to bad luck to "it's just too bad".
First, I will give you a little bit of my background so you can compare yourself with mine and make a more informed decision.
My Background:
I did my BE(Computer Science & Engineering) from Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, Anna University, passing out in 2006.
I wrote the CS GATE in 3rd year and got 87 percentile. I again wrote GATE in the final year and flunked badly. Not surprisingly, I did not prepare even a wee bit for either exam. Hence, deservedly, my 3rd year score was a fluke and my final year score was justice.
GRE - 1290/1600 (800 Quant + 490 Verbal) - September 2005. TOEFL was something like 285-290/300 same time. Again, I did not go for any coaching classes for GRE and preparation was very limited. My BE Aggregate was 76% and I had a few local papers. Note that despite my keen interest in Computer Science research, I did not do any proper research on any one field - started off with Neural Networks & Fuzzy Logic, changed to Networks, Chaos Theory and finally settled in Game Theory. So much for not knowing one's interest. :P
My MS applications:
I applied to the following 7 universities for doing MS -
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette
  • Washington University at St.Louis
  • Duke University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Chicago
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
Needless to say, I was being very over-ambitious (something I didn't realize back then) and ended up getting only 1 admit - at Illinois Institute of Tech. I also had a job offer at Hexaware Technologies and that could possibly have been another reason for my lacklustre performance in the GRE. So I came to IIT-Chicago, did my MS without any research or specialization, graduated and am working now as a Software Engineer in the financial industry. I was quite interested in researching here and doing a thesis, but that would mean I had to extend my graduation. I had seen enough of life here and decided I wanted to graduate asap, find a job, make some money, get some good experience and shoot back home. Hence, I decided to go with the non-thesis option - just did my coursework, did a couple of internships and found myself a decent job here.

Facts at a Glance:

Time - Anywhere from 1.5 years to 3+ years. Usually, it takes about 2 years.

Money - If you are funded, you can start sending money to your parents within a year. If you are not funded, you might need anywhere from 12 lakhs to 30 lakhs. Typically, inclusive of your monthly expenses, your total expenses for the duration will be about 20 lakhs.
Again, this depends mainly on the type of university (private or state) and location.

On Campus Jobs - DONT TAKE THIS FOR GRANTED. While there are lots of universities where you can quite easily get monthly-paid on-campus jobs, but in a lot of universities, even this is very difficult. A lot of Indian students sadly have to resort to working illegally in departmental stores, restaurants, etc.

Jobs after Graduating - Again, very subjective. But this doesn't come easy. If you dont have good contacts and you aren't lucky, you have to work very very hard (in the other case, you just need to work very hard :D).

On your India-centric Love-live, Relationships, Cultural Degradation, etc. - No comments. :D

Why one should opt for MS in US over M Tech in India -
  • (Surely) International Education - Studying in the US does definitely give you a wider feel. It makes you feel global. You meet tons of new people, from different backgrounds and cultures. Education-wise, there is a wider exposure. You have tremendously more options available. Technology-wise, despite all claims of India being a rising superpower, we will have to admit that even mediocre universities in the US offer you great facilities for studying. That said, you must also realize that as far as brains are concerned, there are equally good (if not better) people (meaning Professors and Research Advisors) available in India. Yes, the options are lesser and the number of such people is also lesser, but there are great professors back in India.
  • (Possibly) Initial Poverty followed by Bigger Bucks - There could hardly be anyone currently in the US who will say that of all the reasons (s)he came here, money wasn't one.
    Yes, the degree of importance will vary. There are two lives here -
    1. Fully/Partially Funded - Typically state universities or very good private universities, you will not have to worry about a majority of your educational expenses, just your monthly needs will have to be met by you. Your funding might either be because you are a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, or simply work on campus for which the univ waives your fees.
    2. Slog yourself/Rely on Loan - Mostly the case with applicants to private universities/mediocre state universities. You will mostly work on any one of a zillion jobs "on campus", or in the sadder case, work off-campus (illegally), and scrum for your monthly expenses. If you're lucky enough, you'll save some money for your 3rd semester after working in the summer, otherwise you have to be prepared to shell out the bucks.
    (I belonged to the latter kind :D).
    Towards the end of your Master's, things become more intense. If you're good enough and/or you have good contacts and/or you are plain lucky, you will land a decent enough job and from then on, things are usually rosy (excuse the current economy :D), well, at least till this. Without a job, however, you are forced to resort to third-grade options depending on how desperate you are. I will refrain from elaborating on such forgettable options now.
  • (Surely) Travel - If you're lucky enough to have money (either because you're funded, got an internship or are simply rich), there are a million places to see here in the US. And the best way to explore all these places is as a student. You have time, you have the energy, and you're lucky if you have the money.
  • (Highly likely) Inability to get into any of the top schools in India - I may be wrong, but as far as I know, the places worth doing a Master's, *irrespective of any question* are any of the IIT's, IISc, TIFR, IIIT and a few other lesser-known ones. You can enter these universities without a second thought, basically, for a Master's (unless of course you have personal issues like research, location, etc.), the same cannot be said of the other private institutions. Yes, there will always be brilliant people or exceptions from the second-rung PG-granting institutions, but on a broader scale, they are no match for the facilities offered by US universities.
  • (Possibly) Settling down in the US - I'm not sure how many such people exist, but I know of a large number with this inclination. Coming to the US as a student is the best way to come here and settle down (provided you are willing to work hard enough and are not jinxed enough). Despite my antagonism, material life in US is not matched in India, at least among the middle class.

My reasons for coming to the US for MS -
  • I was not good enough to get into any of the IIT's/IISc/TIFR.
  • I had been living for 21 years with my parents. I wanted to go outside and get a feel of the real world, away from parents' comfort. This, in a way, also helped me test myself and my character. How much I would be prone to change, lose myself, etc. Anyhow, unrelated.
  • Craze. Much as I hate to admit it, this craze which people have for going to America and studying affected me, even though I did not have much of it.
  • No viable alternatives - I wanted to study more, and felt my BE was inadequate. My only option then was working in Hexaware, and I felt I had to do MS because I wanted to study.
I know I have spoken a lot about my background than going in detail about life here. This is because I want to analogize our lives (yes... you and me) to a binary tree. We start off from the same root and then branch off into sub-trees and recursively diverge until (one of) our lives end. Instead of trying to cover all possible sub-trees and giving you a very vague picture, I've tried to explain in detail, the sub-tree that my life has been, so far. Since I've clearly mentioned my roots, you will be able to better identify which way your sub-trees might branch out.
Hence, in case you are looking for more information, feel free to contact me, I will definitely try to help you out with more specific queries.