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.