Saturday, March 26, 2005


You're fast asleep, on a holiday, in the morning. And you hear a knock at the door. You open the door, and you find an organism of some sort holding a packet of a washing power called Blah or something. The organism then makes its presence felt all the more by vocalizing. It tells you that your clothes are dirty - and they need to be cleaned - not by any ol' washing powder, but Blah.

You look disinterested, but that does not deter the organism. The organism, undoubteldy has had experiences where the sales pitch does not bring home the cake - or, in the organism's case, part with the Blah. The organism then proceeds to give you a demonstration - by producing a rather embarassing looking handkerchief out of thin air and immersing it into a mug of Blah-water solution - which has also appeared out of thin air. After a few seconds of intense battle with the cloth, the organism, shows, with a triumphant look on its face, the de-embarassment of the handkerchief.

You keep quiet. You know ordinary water would have sufficed. But a man needs to be civil. You make the organism's day by purchasing your Blah - despite the fact that you think it is useless. The organism's parents, had they been present at this juncture, would be gleaming at themselves and saying "Our offspring is going to be the Marketing head of HLL .. or better still the prime minister of India!".

Now, dear reader, you must be thinking. Marketing head, I can understand, but prime minister? Doesn't that strike you as a tad.... well.... stupid?

But look at it. What do politicians do all the time? They are little else but sales people for their army. George Bush wants to sell identical arms to both India and Pakistan - despite the fact that he tries his level best to 'stop' the war. American interest, it would seem, would not lie in stopping the war. It would be in perpetuating the war. That's the only way that the otherwise useless tax rupees of India and Pakistan would actually go into the profit margin of large American Corporations.

Almost all conflict in the world is good news for the American economy. Be it on their turf (911) or be it out in the middle east - or be it Bosnia, be it in India, be it in ireland, be it in Chechnya, be it in Serbia, be it in Aceh (and now they have good PR in Aceh too). Their stock rises when a suicide bomber wreaks havoc and kills an entire family. There is joy in the tears of the poor for those corporates.

We can't blame America for all this. With state governments such as those of Bihar and Gujarat - we certainly cannot claim moral higher ground. All we can do is voice - or blog our discontent.

Let this be a lesson to you. If you have a convincing mouth and an unctuous persona, consider a career in politics- you'll be selling and buying a lot more than a mere sales guy in a corporate. That's's where the real challenges are.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I thank you god.

God, thank you for the food that was on my plate. God, thank you for the insect that was on the plate too. I just wondered - are you the God of insects too? If so, did this insect thank you for all the food, minutes before I inadvertenly chomped on it? I suppose it has passed on to a better place - or is it flapping in my stomach? If so, is it thanking you for all the blood that has windfallen upon it?

God, thank for you the air that I breathe. Also thank you for the Sun in the sky. But did you know that these two creations of yours have teamed up against the city of Chennai to expand mercury to the limit of explosion? And did you know that I actually went on a trip to the City and breathed the 'air'? I'm not sure you can call unburnt hydrocarbons air - so I actually went on a trip to the city and breathed the what-not.

God, thank you for all the animals and plants in the world - though I was chased by a particularly large canine creation of yours. I managed to avoid it by running into a building and shutting the door on it. And that spinach that mum fed me sometime ago. I guess I'll have to thank you for that too - though we all know how spinach tastes - Popeye's pesistent propaganda notwithstanding. Yuk.

God, thank you for the flowers and the honey and the birds and the bees. Though I, once, chased by a group of particularly agressive honey-bee specimen stumbled into a bed of particularly thorny roses only for a bird to empty its intestines on me.

God, thank you for the breeze and the rain - though my house was blown away in a hurricane and I was getting drenched to the core in the accompanying rain - almost to get pneumonia. Of course, I did not get pneumonia. I just had a rather persistent strain of common cold - which gave me its faithful company for six months.

God, thank you for the beautiful hills and those lovely fjords. Thank you for the rivers that meander right through them. Though I did have a friend who tried to imitate a bird near one of them fjords- but wound up doing a rather unsuccessful imitation of a cat and then a rather unsuccessful imitation of a fish.

God, thank you for the Beatles and Led Zep. Or should I be thanking their mothers instead? But you did create Britney Spears - and closer to home - Daler Mehndi.

God, thank you for creating water. Though little did you now of the water scarcity that you would correspondingly create.[I am a proud resident of Chennai, a city notorious for its water problems*]. And even littler did you know of the anarchy that a lot of water flowing generates.

And FINALLY, God, thank you for yourself. Though you have given courage to millions all around the world to face their lives with confidence and dignity, your various manifestations have caused almost all the wars in the world. You yourself have killed millions of people - just because you thoroughly confused humanity about what you actually are. God, you started the 'divide and rule' policy, though we Indians blame the Brits for it.

Thank you God, for being there for us. Wherever and whenever we humans err, we reckon it is divine. To err is devine - to blame is human. That's why we created you, God, to err.

*A Plausible remedy to the water problem: collect your sweat and cook in it. That way, even the salt can be recycled!!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

High Ambient Temperature

A technical discourse is hardly something anyone would welcome in this customarily frivolous blog, so this one shall only make a passing mention of the technical - and not dwell on it, thus saving many an awkward moment for the millions who shall read this.

Chennai's ambient, I must say has become a victim of the second law of thermodynamics. Its entropy has increased to hitherto unheard of levels - by virtue of the night time ambient flirting with 27 Centigrade and the day time ambient flirting with something that seems enough to melt even the most self respecting of self respecting metals. Water vapour has also decided to generate entropy by mixing with air - and the psychrometric charts show a configuration quite distant from that utopian 22-25C 'comfort'.

For the non-technically inclined among my millions of readers, I must first congratulate you and thank you throughly for actually getting this far. Lesser mortals would have turned back. I will reaward your patience by transalating the above technical balderdash. To put it in a nutshell - it's so hot and humid here that it is unsufferable. Highlands are being craved for.

I shall resist all temptation to talk of Rayleigh - Benard convection and Mountain breeze - and why the highlands are cooler, since I do love my non technical readers too. And of course, I don't know jackshit about Rayleigh Benard Convection (something that the next few days shall change). Suffice it to say that ample experimental evidence exists to conclusively state that the highlands are immensely cooler than the plains.

The cooler mountains remain pipe dreams! We are confined to the miserable plains - we are doomed to eternal sweat.

While we are on the subject of sweat, I just cannot help wonder why sweat feels sticky - while a bath seems so refreshing. Lots of people say it's salt. So, I propose the following experiments.

  • Stop eating salt. Move to Chennai then. If you do sweat (that's why you moved to Chennai) - and do not feel sticky, then it's not salt. If it isn't salt then is it something organic? If it IS organic, does it burn? If it burns, will it solve our energy crisis? If it solves our energy crisis, will Shell, ONGC and BP get scared? Will these oil companies lobby to ban sweat? Will Manmohan Singh, therefore, want to ban sweat? Will our saviours (viz. Laloo and Hark. Singh. Surjeet) threaten to withdraw support to the govt if sweat is banned? Will the UPA govt. fall? So, if the UPA govt. falls, then odds are sweat contains something besides salt.

  • Smear some salt all over yourself and walk in a railway station. Better still, jump in a tub of brine in a state of undress and start walking on a busy station - say Chennai Central. Count the number of flies stuck to various parts of your body. If the flies exceed a critical number (which needs to be determined by a literature survey) - then it would be reasonable to assume that salt makes you sticky.
Getting back to the eternal heat and all the misery connected to it; if someone asks you why IITians leave India - the answer is quite simple. IIT tortures you in the most inhumane of inhumane climates for five of the most important years of your life. IITians don't leave India for better opportunities. It's just that the climate in the USA is a lot cooler.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

An Indian Summer

March. Spring. Welcome to the misery that is Chennai. IIT Chennai.

The sun is up in the Chennai Sky - doing its business. There is no optimism all around. There is, as a matter of fact, fear in anticipation of the extremely sunny days to come. The sun does not shine rays of hope. March comes before May. May is when all hell breaks loose in Tropical India. While temperatures trudge out of sub zeros all around other parts the northern hemisphere - Chennai is already experimenting with the high 30s. If there is any hell on earth, this is it.

March is early in the day. If you think this is bad enough, just wait till April starts. And then May. Even early mornings in these months are sweaty. The only relief is the occasional thunderstorm that the oppressive Sun invariably creates.

So, you would expect a little sympathy towards the students (here at IIT) from the powers that be. We don't expect the management to provide us with air conditioners in our rooms - that would be ridiculous. But we feel let down. Providing resistance water heaters (or geysers) in the bathrooms is certainly not going to make us feel cooler. Leave alone the ecological repercussions of using electricity to heat water (you convert coal to electricity at 30% efficiency in our pathetically inefficient Indian power plants - and that into heat!!!!), electric water heaters in Chennai are simply redundant. Even without water heaters, the water is quite warm here. We never needed warm water even in the wintry fortnight of Madras.

But no. The institute had funds. When institutes like ours have funds, in general, they waste them on things that nobody can use. (That way they can save on long term maintenance costs). It appals me to think that some poor taxpayer is paying the institute to make such stupid decisions.

Plans are already rampant to use the hot water for cooling applications. One rather roundabout implementation of the air conditioning cycle - namely the vapour absorption cycle could be employed with Water - LiBr - using the hot water in the generator. We could, of course, use the electric current directly, to run a vapour compression cycle. But that would be a little to simple - and would not use the hot water created by the heater - thereby not utilizing the water heaters provided so lovingly (and thoughtlessly) by the management.

And not just that. Have you seen the new dustbins that have been installed here, there and everywhere? These dustbins cannot be opened by monkeys, which can be counted as an advantage. Of course, on the negative side - these dust bins cannot be opened by human beings either - unless, of course people are ready to hug them and pull the lid out. By their very definition they are dustbins - making hugging them a rather unappealing task. So, nobody uses them - which means that they are clean. No maintenance cost.

And what about the millions of computers about to make an arrival to form the Mech DCF? If there ever was a time that we did not need a DCF, this is it. With computers in almost every room - we would prefer it if the institute concentrated on procuring (and more importantly, configuring) high performance mainframes. But, no. Funds exist. So buy DCF computers. They won't spoil for a long time due to under - utilization. Good for IIT.

I tell you. The institute is not dumb. All the investments are very economical in the long term. They won't have to replace these dust bins - as there is almost no danger of them ever getting dirty. And they most certainly won't have to replace the geysers. They won't be used either, as won't the DCF computers.

But I do worry. Is IIT Madras prey to the Peter Principle, at executive levels?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Planet of the Idiots

The world is full of Idiots. I'm not the only one; there's an entire planet of us. That's what it would seem to any rational observer from another planet. But we are lucky; we haven't found life on any other planet. Had we found any, they would be busy laughing back at us. Right at home, Dolphins, reports D. Adams from the U.K., do indeed laugh at us citing the volatility owing to over-development as a reason.

Let's look at what's bothering us now. World problems. The middle east. Anyone's idea of hell on earth. With a population of 6 million, Israel has lesser people than the south Indian city of Chennai - or even Bangalore!! Palestine isn't large either. But the world media looks at the Middle east conflict as an eternal source of revenue. BBC sends intrepid reporters into the 'battle' zone. CNN does too. People watch stories of human interest pertaining to the conflict. Magazines such as New Scientist feature articles on how difficult it is to do research in Palestine, and how nice it is that some Israelis and Palestinians work together.

And on the other side of the coin, let's look at another case. Most of Gangetic India - viz. UP, Jharkhand and Bihar. With a cumulative population of close to 300 million, any of these states would put Israel and Palestine to shame. Take Bihar as a case in point. With a population of 86 Million (without Jharkhand) and a buch of Buffoons on the throne, you would expect Bush's conscience to kick in. If the plight of Iraq's 25 millions melted his caring heart - you would expect the buffonery in the name of Governance inflicted on the 86 million Biharis to not just melt, but vaporise his heart. But did you see a single US marine in India? Does Laloo need to get WMDs to be overthrown? Not that Bush is known to care.

With around 300 million people, we see that it houses 5% of humanity. That's more than most large countries. The number of people in the northern states of India - UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Vananchal is almost equal to the number of people in the USA - and more than Russia, the world's largest country. Oh - while we're at it, the number of people in and around Bombay exceed the entire population of Iraq or Australia.

Looking at statistics on population pertaning to India is like making a quick through the total perspective vortex, a destination popularized by the same D. Adams whose mention was made of eartlier too. Is is tough to imagine a billion people. That's 1 followed by NINE Zeros. To hold such a country as one - under a robust democracy, all its faults notwithstanding - is certainly no mean achievement. I guess the same holds for most massive governments in the world.

Perhaps we aren't a planet of Idiots. We won't laugh at ourselves. Dolphins may laugh at us, but we laugh at them too.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

On why I shall leave

Indian taxpayers are certainly not a rich lot. It would seem a waste of taxpayers' money to educate an elite group of students (us IITians) only to see them take to the seas into the greener pastures of the US of A. It seems to be the poor nations subsidising the rich nations. Brain Drain: Misplaced magnanimity?

All the above notwithstanding, I would like to emphasize that I will still leave India to pursue doctoral studies abroad. I have many reasons for being vehement about this, and these I shall enumerate in this essay.

India is a happening place right now. Indian industry and services are doing incredibly well. Even PSUs are tightening up, salaries are going up, markets are at all time highs and Indian sportsmen are beginning to make a mark on the international arena (albeit quite faint, but you can't learn to run before you crawl!). It would be insane not be in India and not be a part of the gold rush. With projected GDP growth rates close to 6-7%, the sky seems to be the limit in India. But I still choose to leave India right now for doctoral studies.

Why do I want to pursue doctoral studies? It's not the money. I could earn more by working as a business analyst (a job which I have in hand now) and then working my way into an IIM - all right here in India. It is more a question of motivation. I have found myself substantially motivated in tackling tough technological problems faced in Thermal Engineering. Success in these has engendered a confidence within me - and this confidence has metamorphosized my motivation into a passion. I find myself passionate about research in heat transfer and energy now. I can't do heat transfer as a business analyst, much as I would try. Following my heart world mean either to join some MNC in India (such as GE) - or do a doctorate. The former, though materially more lucrative, does not strike a chord with me. My idea of research is much more romantic than developing proprietary solutions to outsourced problems. A doctorate it shall have to be.

But why not a doctorate in India? I've done my undergrad and grad in IIT Madras, an incredible place. But I don't want to do my doctorate here too! As an ambitious human being, I would want to do it in a better place. The only better place in India is IISc Bangalore. And it's easier to get into an American university than into IISc. The only constraint is that the university that I shall go to should have better research opportunities than in IIT. As per what I hear from most people here, the aforementioned is quike likely in most good US universities - since they are the hotbeds of research anywhere in the world - and get lots more funding and therefore attract more talent.

I've never been outside this country. My view of the world is therefore quite narrow. I believe undergoing a course abroad shall broaden my perspective - and shall give me ample opportunity to hobnob with the best in the field that I choose to work in. There's also this awe we Indians who have been resricted just to India have of researchers elsewehere in the globe. I believe a sojourn abroad shall rid me of such prejudices.

So, what after the PhD? Well, the long term plan for me, of course is to come back to India. With tremendous development expected to occur in India, anyone with even a drop of entreprenueral blood would be insane not to come back here. This we can already see, with FDIs and FIIs running towards us, their own countries having saturated long ago. I would want to come back and try my luck as a consultant here - either as a freelancer or in the academia. But that's a long way away. A PhD, a postodoc or a job away. [And of course, marriage-to-a -wonderful-girl away!]

I feel extremely excited now. When I come back, I am sure that I shall have the opportunity to deal with technological problems faced in India as opposed to outsourced problems from elsewhere in the world. Such opporunities are scant right now - but I am sure, that with greater emphasis on research by Internationally competent Indian corporates and with the awakening of one of the largest markets in the world - development akin to that of Germany and Japan in the latter half of last century is not unexpectable. And that means plenty of opportunities for one and all. Plently of wealth to be made.

I really hope that I shall be in a position to pay back the debt to the nation sometime later. As you can see - I really have but no other option but to go abroad if I have to be true to myself.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Things Went Wrong

I've really messed up here at IIT. Messed up academically.

IIT, just like any other institute of higher learning believes in a statistic called the CGPA. The closer your CGPA is to 10, the lesser chance that you have messed up your life here. A CG above nine is something like a clean bed sheet - not a mess at all. Between 8.5 and 9 is something like a few grains of rice on the bedsheet - nothing that a little washing cannot take care of. Between 8 and 8.5 is something like a fountain pen getting out of control on the bed sheet - and will need a lot of washing to take care of.

Some people just realize they aren't any good with white bed sheets anyway - so they dye their bed sheets blue - at least that blocks the ink. They also join Career Launcher and Time to prepare for CAT.

A CG below 8 is not just spilling ink on the sheet - it's urinating on it too. And I'm guilty of that too. I'm in a soup (or what was a soup) right now.

I did not arrive at IIT with lofty dreams of going abroad. As a matter of fact I was repelled by the idea - considering it somewhat unpatriotic. I had no idea about the urgency of attacking books. I adopted an idealistic approach to dealing with books - something on the lines of 'If I don't understand it, then I don't mind losing those marks in the exam'. Add to that the fact that the courses (and the professors) were kind of intimidating and unmotivating. Of couse I wound up with a GPA well below the 8 mark in the first year. Bladder control was lost.

Then came the engineering subjects to the rescue - somewhere in the third semester. But the damage was already done. Three semesters of wetting my bed sheet meant that there was no easy way out. It was all uphill from there. But I did find the courses considerably more motivating. I also found that my motto ('If I don't understand it, then I don't mind losing those marks in the exam') actually helped me get a better understanding of the course material.

A leopard cannot change its spots. I did well in a few courses that I really liked - but embarassed myself thoroughly in others. Idealistic, yes. Stupid, YES. I did not stoop below 8 again, though - but the first three semesters left and indelible mark on my grade card.

Of course (Hail Murphy), I started to like my work then - and realized that pursuing higher education in Mechanical Engineering woundn't be such a bad deal at all. A PhD would be nice. Who'd give me a seat now? I'd dug my own grave in my first year itself.

I have had my share of luck at IIT. It was in the form of a paper being accepted into an international Journal. My new founded enthusiasm saw me approach a dynamic professor for a problem to work on - and also saw me breaking my head on it. I came up with a rather stupid way of tackling it. The stupid method was smart enough to fool the reviewers on the Journal Panel. It was accepted.

This did help me getting a fellowship at Texas A&M university, extremely good for someone with my apalling CGPA, 7.94.

Things did not go all wrong here. But had I really been a little more pragmatic and a little less quixotic and lazy, perhaps, things would have been better. It's always easy to look back and say stuff like 'It could have been'. So, I'll say it. It could have been.......