Saarang – an outsider’s perspective

The first thing that strikes you as you drive into IITM is the flurry of banners and promos around the gate. Every single tree and probably every single blade of grass has been covered with banners. A couple of years back, such scenes could be seen only at Mood Indigo at IITB. Now it looks like Saarang too is selling its soul.

As I go in, I walk in to the AV Quiz finals at 9:30 a.m. expecting the event to start in another ten minutes (the event was scheduled to start at 9). I am pleasantly surprised to see the quiz in full swing and a substantial audience in place. Compare this to our times (I?m speaking like an old man now) when every event started at least an hour late and not more than two rows of seats at CLT would be filled.

The quiz itself is damn good. In fact it feels so good to have this wonderful event back after a one-year layoff. Some questions go over the head of the audience but there are enough brilliant ones to keep them interested. The only sad part is that there are no chocolates, t-shirts, etc. for audience questions. Also, a certain degree of professionalism could be brought into the quiz by powerpointing the questions instead of going about them in an ad hoc manner.

Last year, we had spent substantial newsprint in lamenting about the amount of noise at the informals arena. People don?t seemed to have learnt and it is impossible to make any kind of decent conversation in there. If I remember right, a Prof had told me in 2nd year that the chief purpose of such fests is to network with people from other colleges. With this kind of noise in the most public area of all, I don?t see that happening.

I am also startled by my change in attitude towards saarang in the last one year. Last year I was an enthusiastic, geela undergraduate wanting to improve my network at every available opportunity. Now, as a post-graduate student who is here as a visitor, I don?t see any point in doing all this. Sitting in a junior?s room while listening to what I can hear of Kay Kay?s soulful music, I don?t regret not going for the show. So much unlike the last four years. It?s not that I don?t listen to this kind of music anymore. It?s not that I hate Kay Kay. It is not that I didn?t find company. The only reason I can think of is that after Shankar Mahadevan (not of the Lisa variety)?s show in 2002, I?ll never be able to come out of a Light Music show totally satisfied.

One regret I have had in the last four years has been my inability to stay up through a main quiz final. I hope to correct this aberration tonight. So strange that you realize the value of something only when you lose it.

My successors Nisheeth and BoFI seem to have successfully carried on my newsletter legacy. Articles are as juicy as ever. Hope the tradition continues and the newsletter go on in full force (unlike what has happened in Shaastra). And to plagiarize myself, for Saarangs may come and Saarangs may go but pertinent observations go on for ever.

why MBA

This was written in the form of a letter to a few of my friends doing their PhDs in Computer Science in different universities in the United States.

I was reading The Code Book by Simon Singh last week (definitely recommended). While reading about the different types of cryptography (including RSA and Diffie-Hellman), I suddenly started wondering what made me wander away from CS. Till the end of 2nd year I wanted to pursue a MS?. But suddenly when I arrived in madras for the 5th sem, I wanted to do an MBA, which is what I?m doing now.

I have a feeling a major reason why I left computer science was my ego. I considered myself (and still do) equal to all you people. Now, many of you are doing what they call cutting edge research and are going to pursue PhDs. I don?t see more than a handful of you (like Pratibha) who?ll MS-ditch. To put it frankly, cutting edge research has never fascinated me. It involves thinking about a topic which MAY become useful a few years down the line and if you are lucky enough to be alive when that happens, you will become really famous. Else you may never be able to reap the fruits of your labor.

I must confess that I am a very impatient fellow and would like to see immediate results for whatever I do. I am not the kind who?ll wait for years just to see whether what I?ve done has been of use. I think I?d be much more comfortable in doing something, selling it immediately and reaping the benefits.

The only way I could?ve done that while remaining within the confines of Comp. Sci. was to get into development. But my ego simply wouldn?t allow me to get into this kind of stuff which is considered inferior to cutting-edge research, which I believe is what most of you are doing currently and would be taking up as a career. Given this and the fact that I didn?t like the hardcore research, it definitely meant a goodbye to comp. Sci.

Yet another reason why I got disgruntled with research was the metric used for evaluation (number of papers) and also the increased (and rather unnecessary) formality introduced into the writing of papers.

I believe that formal standards were initially introduced so as to set a kind of standard and to facilitate more effective communication. After all, the entire purpose of a paper is to let your work be known to the world in the larger interest of humanity. However, with standards generally becoming more complex beyond a limit, all this formality encouraged was to fill the paper with unnecessary symbols and try to make it as hard as possible for the reader to comprehend (which ultimately defeats the entire purpose of the paper). Also given the cliques under which paper acceptances operate, this would indeed be a hard paradigm to break.

Here I am, sitting in my hostel room in IIMB, reading up a case for tomorrow?s Strategy class. I fully agree that management papers are less interesting to read than computer science papers, especially Harvard Business Review papers which are the worst of them all. However, I don?t intend to pursue a career in academics. And unlike in Comp. Sci., here a career in industry isn?t looked down upon. It must also be mentioned that MOST of our faculty here have substantial INDUSTRY experience (post-doc and being a lecturer doesn?t count for INDUSTRY experience).

I will be doing my summers at JP Morgan Securities (as I?ve already told you) and hope to get a PPO from there. I have been informed that I?ll be working in the area of Interest Rate Derivatives (which, in fact, involves quite a lot of advanced math). I have also been told that I?ll be using loads of Automata Theory, along with other related stuff, in the work I do. The products that I develop will be immediately sold to clients (here, UK-based financial institutions) and benefits will be reaped. In fact, I?m also supposed to be involved in the selling part. (please note that the above paragraph has been written based on hearsay. I?ll be able to provide a more accurate account of my work in June). The only downside I can see right now is that I?ll have to wear a suit to work daily.

I do feel sometimes that given the heavy research focus of CS@IITM (especially the ?BTech profs?) I may have missed out on some of the more interesting aspects of comp sci. I may have actually liked some of the more ?real? work going on but because of the allocation of profs and lousy floating of electives (with each elective coming only once every 3-4 years) and me giving up on CS in 3rd year, I have actually missed out on them. When I did my OpMan course last term, I felt I should?ve done mech (though I could never come to terms with drawings). When I see the lousy traffic in b?lore, I feel that I should?ve done Civil, specialized in Transportation and worked for India?s infrastructure. When I look at anything close to DSP (not the Merrill lynch kind), I think I should?ve done elec.

Thatz all I had to say folks. Now back to my case on Strategy 🙁

i remember…

Wanted to write this 8 hours ago when i was totally “tight” but then sleep got the better of me and i’m writing this now after having slept, had a bath, grubbed and taken steps to fight the hangover…

All i remember about last night party is that i went upto the bar counter and the guy said, “this is your sixth right? this one will be good for you… “. i don’t even remember going to the bar six times.

then i remember this really good friend of mine advising me to “go to your room and sleep”.

i remember going down on one knee before this girl i had a crush on a few months ago. i remember that she fled seeing that.

a senior from IITM (paddy) had come over. i remember going and talking to him (and fart and moron) for an hour geting “fundaes in life”. i have no idea what i told them or what they told me though.

i remember going to the bogs every half hour as i was getting totally pissed off…

i remember running upto the DJ to dedicate a song. he promptly played it. but i don’t know if he announced the dedication. i remember telling the “dedicatee” that the song was for her. i don’t know her reaction to that though.

i remember a friend telling me that she’ll treat me on the first day of next term. i also remember her telling me atleast a dozen times to “go sleep”. and i know she herself was drunk.

another couple of seniors from IITM had come down. i remember going and talking to them. one of them knew me. the other said she “remembered my face”. i remember going and telling another guy who i didn’t quite recognize but was sure he’s from IITM “wimpy. narmad.”

then i’d won a cup for getting fourth in a quiz yesterday. i remember pouring vodka into it and drinking from it.

thinking of it, i spent five whole hours at the party. and the incidents i’ve described wouldn’t add up to more two hours. god (the one above; not sriram) knows what i did.

getting drunk sometimes brings out the best in you (no, i didn’t puke). there was a lot of things i wanted to tell ‘her’ but had never been able to say so as i was afraid of her reaction. the first thing i did after reaching my room after the party was to dash off a message to her baring all. i’m happy i told her that. i could have told those things only when i was drunk. glad i didn’t miss the opportunity.

i’m also getting quite a bit of footage due to my “antics” yesterday. everyone i meet asks me how i am and whether i’m still hung over. kinda basking in it right now.

more later….

outstanding student

When I graduated out of 10th standard, my school gave me an award citing me as “Outstanding student of the year”. All that i had done to earn it was to talk too much in English Grammar class and thus get chucked out. Ever since i got that award, i have been trying my best to live up to the title.

I joined a different school in the opposite corner of the city for my 11th standard. Fifteen days into it, Ms. T, a highly senior and respected and feared teacher caught me talking in the last bench. She asked me to immediately get out of class. Having been emboldened by the award i had just received, i picked up my books, went up to her (the door was in front of the class close to the blackboard), said, “Thank you ma’am” and walked out. Being a newcomer i obviously didn’t care for reputations. I became a hero overnight.

This school proved to be fertile ground for me to display my outstanding talents. A couple of months after i had ‘staged a walkout’, i was caught in the assembly line (yes, this school believed that nursery kids and 12th standard students should be treated alike and hence made us line up everyday before we moved to our classrooms) with my collar button open and necktie pulled down (having been for 12 years in a school where we could wear sneakers as part of the uniform and there was no tie, etc., i could simply not reconcile myself to the idea of a necktie). I was asked to step out of the line and was made to stand in the school grounds for an hour “in the sun”. I found the November sun much better than the chill of the classroom and spent my time making small talk with some construction workers hanging around.

There were numerous other occasions where i proved myself. In my 12th, i was asked to get out of class for not doing my homework. I walked straight into the library and got down to some serious JEE mugging. Then there was this occasion when half my class was suspended because one of us (the teacher didn’t know who) sent an obscene message (something as bullshitty as “how the c**t are you?”) over the network. Remained outstanding until my mom had a chat with the principal after which i was let in.

However i wasn’t awarded the “outstanding student” award as it required that the recipient be outstanding for five years while i had put in only two years. Ravi, the guy who got the award, by the way, is my classmate here in IIMB.

My career took a severe beating in IIT as i had been forewarned by my uncle (who was a good friend of many of my profs) that no “misconduct” will be tolerated and if i attempt anything like i did in my school, i would take a minimum of eight years of B.Tech. I took temporary retirement and an uneventful four years passed during the course of which i became a ‘bachelor of technology’.

However i made a rousing comeback as soon as i stepped into the hallowed portals of IIMB. On the very first day, i had gone out between classes to wash my face and i find the door shut on me. i politely (something i find it hard to do – be polite) knocked on the door and the kindly prof. swamyji let me in saying that i was pardoned because it was the first class.

There was a lull again as i attended all but one of the classes in my first term. However, today, 2/3rd way into the second term, i became outstanding again.

We had a marketing case presentation today. Generally we put night outs the day before the presentation to complete it. Surprisingly yesterday we found the assignment to our liking, started early and would up by 1 am. We prepared an extremely long and comprehensive presentation. Some groupmates wished that we be called to present while i wished that given the length of the presentation we be simply asked to submit the slides.

I had a good sleep and attended the first class (and had a good nap there also). Next was the marketing class. As usual, i paid my respects to the coffee shop nad not so usually, decided to stop by on the way to wash my face.

Shit happened. I go to class at 10:12 (for a 10:15 class) and find the door locked. A polite knock doesn’t work this time (perhaps it was too polite and the prof didn’t hear or preferred not to hear). I open my phone and find that i don’t have the numbers of any of my groupmates! I frantically start messaging everyone in my class whose number i had. Only Ravi (he too was an outstanding student – remmber?) replies. he says that our group hasn’t been asked to submit and may be called upon to present. I vow to write a blog on this as soon as i’m back.

I wait outside the door. I perch myself on the ledge trying to hear whatz happening in class. I decide that if the next group called isn’t mine, i’ll go back to hostel and get a newspaper. After what seems to be an excrutiatingly long time (though it was only 15 minutes), the first group winds up. I brace myself thinking my group may be called and I be screwed. Soon there’s a message from Ravi. He had seen the wrong group number earlier! Our group had been asked to submit and there was no need for me to stick on there. I heaved a sigh of relief and walked back to the hostel. First thing i did on getting in was to start writing this. Now i guess i’m done with my masterpiece. Hope you liked it.

By the by (!!!), I hope to repeat this many more times and graduate out of IIMB with, among other awards, the prize for the “most outstanding student”.

tabled

Placement Committee committed a grave injustice to me today. IN the name of helping us all out for the summers and “in view of the larger cause”, i, along with a few others was asked to donate my table for the placement process! You have to place your table outside your room by 5, they said. Else we’ll be forced to debar you from the placement process.

Hence at 4:55 this evening began the painful ordeal of shifting things out of my table and on to the floor, bed and everything else i could lay my hands on. First casualty was my beloved comp. I had to disconnect carefully each and every component and carefully shift them on to… .the floor.

Then came the uncomfortable process of shifting certain stuff back on to the ledge as i found my floor too cluttered… finally after an hour’s struggle, i managed to get things in perspective…

the amount of dust i raised must be enuff to give me a head cold 2 days before placements! four cups of coffee haven’t been able to cure it!

however the most uncomfortable part of the assignment is to work with the computer screen on the floor! i’ve put my chair aside and settled myself down on the floor… my keyboard balances on my lap as i sit cross-legged on the floor with my back to the bed. the mouse is on my side…

and my hands are paining maajorly as i’m not used to typing with my keyboard on the lap. and i’ll soon get cramps in my legs for sitting cross-legged…

hence i stop here… more later…

the bastard files – part 1

The last 3-4 days have been among the worst days of my life. I mug all night for a quiz on Saturday morning and royally screw it up, even forgetting parts from my own presentation. Get depressed. Then i make a breakthrough in my Application Exercise (apex) and get maajorly kicked. That is not to last for long as my room is invaded by my apex group-mates who start cribbing, “Rambo (prof) will screw us dude. do something.” I start doing something…

All of saturday evening and sunday morning I work on apex. Sunday afternoon I go for this KQA quiz. There is a question about the sufi equivalent of Nirvana. Clue is that it is related to a 2004 song. We list out movies released in 2004 and yuva is one of them. but we give it the go-by. WE get on with the prelims. prelims over, answers are announced. the answer to THAT question was “Fanaa…. “. two weeks back at a party where i’d gotten drunk for the first time in my life i’d dedicated that very song to a certain somebody. The third line of that song was the status message of a certain somebody else. and i had missed it. can’t describe how low i went after that. quietly took an auto back to campus. started studying for hte marketing quiz. had a thousand forms to fill up. did that. wanted to write that the most significant incident of my life was when Pallavi ditched me. but placement committee shot it down. rewrote the form. worked on apex. continued getting screwd.

monday morning, i go for the marketing quiz with full enthu. five questions. i thot i’d answered two right. for the first time in my life i put 0 in a quiz!! later in the afternoon i give lunch a go-by as i go all the way across town for a big prize money big bullet point quiz. teammates are yet to arrive. me could’ve had my lunch peacefully after all.. they finally arrive. we write the quiz. miss qualification by one point. it was a long and painful (we ran into a couple of Rajyotsava processions) on teh way back. when i got to campus, having tucked in a brown masala dosa on the way, my eyes were burning. couldn’t work for a couple of hours. didn’t find anyone to talk to either. everyone was busy.

ten o clock, i sit down to do my math assignment for tuesday and one of my apex teammates comes in and starts lecturing about how i may be freeeriding in the group. problem is he thinks only those who put night outs work. i don’t have the habit of putting night outs but i work anyways. he gives me a lecture, puts hajaar senti (he happens to be a pretty good friend of mine else i wouldn’t have cared) and goes. i start doing my quant assignment at 12. teammates turn out to be freeriders. and i feeel constrained in CC. start feeling giddy, hungry and tired. but there’s an assignment to be done. put some excuse and come back to my room. do the assignment in the next four hours (quite a shoddy job i must say) and send it across to teammates. they expect me to put fundaes ot them. but i want to sleep. i’ve hardly slept for 2 hours when the alarm wakes me up. i have an hour to write the report and make a powerpoint presentation. put hajaar fight and send it across. class happens to be at 12. turns out all my teammates had chosen to bunk the class!! i was sure to get screwed. sat down in the last row tensed up. there yet another apex teammate comes and asks for fundaes. I start putting fundaes. thankfully we aren’t called to present. Class gets over. I get back. Realize that I had promised to go deliver invites for our fest. Given my busy apex schedule I tell Rachna I want to opt out. She blasts me. There go my chances of getting into FII next year.

I?m so depressed I try to talk to every possible person on bracket. Simply can?t get a conversation going. Get depressed yet again. so I start writing this. Then I see the mail that Rambo has scheduled a 15 min. class at 3 in order to make up for his leaving us 15 minutes early this morning. Leave my blog halfway and go to class. I just came back and wrote this last line.

The trauma of letting go?

I bought it for eight hundred rupees two years ago. It was the maximum I had ever paid for a single piece of clothing. My dad was aghast as he didn?t see what was there in those blue trousers (without pleats that too) made from thick cotton with rivets near the pockets that they cost such a fortune. Adding to the value of the item was a label saying ?Lee? near the backside. ?Eight hundred rupees for this thing!?, he thundered. ?I won?t get you another pair of jeans unless you wear this atleast eighty times?.

I have comfortably outlived his estimate. I have worn it at least a hundred and sixty times in the last two years. And washed it at least thirty times by beating it against the washing board behind my house. What was a brilliant indigo colour has become white near the thigh region. The cloth has been frayed in many places, with at least three proper holes with diameter greater than a centimetre. Constant wear has made this once tight-fitting pair of jeans baggy. I had to buy a new belt recently as the old one made of fine leather failed to hold up these jeans.

But now, sadly, it seems it is the time to let go. ?Boys from respectable families such as ours shouldn?t dress like hippies?, says my dad. ?If you are so fond of it, I?ll get you two new pairs of jeans but please don?t wear these faded ones?, says my mom. ?You may get away with it saying it is ?fashion?. But what will people think of us if they see you like this? ?Can?t even get their son proper clothes?, they will say. I don?t want to see these jeans again?.

When all powers of reasoning fail, it is prudent not to continue a battle. I have finally agreed to my parents? suggestion of discarding my old pair of jeans. But only after I have found a suitable substitute, I have told them. They seem to have grudgingly agreed. And as if to make a statement, I have told them that I will be wearing only those pair of jeans till I find a substitute.

Yesterday I went to the ?mega-mart? near my house from where I had bought those jeans two years ago. ?Blue Lee Jeans, something that looks like this one?, I tell the shopkeeper. Unfortunately everything he shows me are either too loose or too tight or too long or too short or if they satisfy all other criteria, too expensive ? upwards of three thousand rupees. Finally after a lot of rummaging, he pulls out another pair. They fit me to a T. The cost is reasonable. There is only one problem ? they?re already faded. Fat chance my dad?s going to pay for THAT. Even if he does, that means I don?t get any other new clothes till maybe I start earning. I walked out.

I went to all the Lee outlets in town, with no luck. I decided I should be willing to pay more for a pair of jeans. I decided to go for ?Levi?s?. Once again the problem arose ? too tight?too loose? too short? too long? too high? too low? too dark? too light?. I gave up once again. This way, I tried probably all the brands available in town. There was simply no replacement. I knew that no two PEOPLE are the same. But it was only now I realised that the same applies to jeans also.

So here I am, wearing the same old dear jeans of mine. Who cares whether there is a hole in the wrong place or if it is fully faded or if it is extremely dirty. As long as I feel comfortable wearing it, I don?t care two naya paise for what others say. For all you know, I?ll be wearing these jeans all my life. Like the guy in the live-in ad who goes into the washing machine wearing his jeans.