Mike Denness and WTC Bombers

Professors who are insecure with respect to their ability and competence demand, rather than command respect. They institute complicated procedures which ensure that students need to suck up to them. Professors who know they are good don’t care. For example, the better professors who taught me at IIT never took attendance (everybody would be marked present), and would yet lecture to a full house most of the time. Lesser professors would get finicky about attendance. And other such trivial things. By forcing students to do things in a certain way, by “being strict”, they assumed, that students would respect them. It is a wonder that none of them thought this might be counterproductive.

In our third semester at IIT, we had this course called “Digital logic and VLSI Design Lab”. It was a decent and useful course. You would build digital circuits and test them out. No rocket science to it, but something that was useful in the long run. And because there was no rocket science to it, the faculty (one of the more insecure professors) had instituted a complicated process so that he gets some respect (or attention at least). Actually it wasn’t that complex. Before an experiment, we had to write up about the circuit and how we go about the experiment and get his signature on our write up. The lab assistant had been instructed that we should be issued components only after our report had been countersigned by the professor. Nothing too complicated, but a small step to ensure we suck up to him.

Things were mostly smooth, but one day the professor was late to arrive. Or maybe he was there and we didn’t see him – I don’t remember correctly. I don’t know how it happened but we managed to get the components from the lab assistant without our report having been countersigned by the professor. In a jiffy (after all we were three bright IIT boys) we had finished the experiment. And we called the professor to show him the results.

The experiment didn’t matter to him. He didn’t care one bit about the elegant circuit we had constructed. He only looked at our write up. His signature was missing. And he went wild. I won’t get into the details here but he went absolutely ballistic and threatened to annul our experiment, and possibly even fail the three of us in that course. “Such indiscipline is not to be tolerated”, he said.

“Sir, but this is not fair”, a teammate interjected. It only ensured that the professor went even more ballistic. “You guys must be reading the newspapers”, he thundered. “You see what is happening in South Africa? Is that fair? There is absolutely no fairness in this world, so you won’t get any brownie points by arguing that something is not fair” (the professor was a big cricket fan. The events in South Africa pertained to the one match suspension of Virender Sehwag and a suspended sentence to six other Indians, handed out by match referee Mike Denness).

“I don’t want my students to be this indisciplined”, he went on. “You never know where this will take you, if it is not nipped in the bud. One day you will do your experiment without taking my signature. When that is tolerated, you get encouraged to more indiscipline. And so it grows. And one day you will be bombing the WTC”. None of the three of us was able to react to this (this was in October 2001).

I don’t exactly remember how it ended. If I remember right, we had to dismantle our set up, take the professor’s signature on our write up, re-issue the components and re-do the experiment – but I’m not sure – maybe we were let off. But it was an important lesson for us – if indiscipline is not checked right up front, you could go on to be a terrorist it seems!

Shared passions

It is said that couples who share a number of passions are closer. The corollary is that one way of getting closer as a couple is to develop shared passions. However, things aren’t so easy.

Sometimes it can so happen that one partner is a “leader” when it comes to the hobby while the other is a “follower”, and that can ruin some dynamics. Let me explain. Among other things, I’m passionate about spaghetti westerns and Liverpool FC. Pinky is passionate about chick flicks, theatre,  “Full House” and “How I met your mother”. We’ve both independently tried getting the other interested in our respective passions. I’ve watched a number of chick flicks, liked a few of them, but not so much to develop a passion for the genre. Pinky has watched some Liverpool games, but her fundamental dislike for sport-watching makes it hard for her to develop it as a passion.

We’ve tried hard, both to convince the spouse to take up our respective passions, and to get ourselves to get interested in the spouse’s passion. Sadly, things haven’t worked out as well as we’d thought. It’s been hard on both of us. Like today I fidgeted through an hour of a 90s Kannada comedy before declaring (rather rudely) that I was getting bored. Watching me fidget, I’m sure, would have made Pinky uncomfortable, and feel a sense of responsibility.

Such asymmetric passions can cause grief for both the “leader” and the “follower”. The follower tries hard to “fit in”, while the leader tries hard to make sure the follower is fitting in. The dynamics thus created can ruin whatever positive energy a shared passion can create.

All is not lost, though. I only talked about asymmetric passions here. The key is in finding activities which both parties are independently passionate about. My all-time favourite movie is this Kannada movie called Ganeshana Maduve, which I’ve watched at least 20 times. At least 15 of these were before 2009, when I first met Pinky. By then, she too had watched the movie at least 15 times. Both of us are independently passionate about it and we never seem to tire of it. We use dialogues from the movie in everyday conversation, and watch it every time it comes on TV (the other day, it was playing on ETV Kannada early in the morning. As soon as my mother-in-law saw that it was playing she rang me up. I DVRd it, so now we can watch it every day if we want).

Pinky and I are both passionate about Ganeshana Madhuve. We are passionate about long intellectual conversations (which is what made us talk as much as it did back when we were just “blog friends”). We love experimenting with food, both in terms of cooking and eating. Unfortunately the list isn’t as long as we might have liked it, so sometimes we need to invent shared passions. So far we’ve tried imposing our respective individual passions on one another, and that hasn’t worked out too well. Is there a way out?

I can think of one way out. Jointly trying to develop interests in activities neither of us knows much of currently. The odds there are lower that we will both end up liking it, but then again, we are both at the same level. There is no leader and follower, and the disruptive dynamics that ruin passions we try to foist upon one another could be avoided. What do you think we should do?

Breakfast at Maiya’s

It is incredible that a South Indian restaurant in South Bangalore can charge forty rupees for a plate of idli-vada, and not just get away with it, but also run a full house. By the time I was getting out of Maiya’s (in Jayanagar 4th block; I’d written about their dinner earlier) it seemed like the first floor was already full and people were being directed to the seating area on the second floor. Apart from these, in a separate area on the ground floor, there is a breakfast buffet (priced at Rs. 125 on weeekdays and Rs. 150 on Sundays).

The food was good but nothing exceptional. Perhaps I don’t find it exceptional since a lot of my South Indian eating out happens at one of the Vasudev Adiga’s restaurants, which I believe are significantly superior to the other “Darshinis”. The food at Maiya’s was approximately of the same standard as that of a Vasudev Adiga’s, and the coffee (served in a silver tumbler) was incredibly superior. And the place was full. I didn’t bother to exactly estimate the capacity of the place but I think the hall seats around 100 people.

The service was good and quick (except for the coffee which took an hour to arrive), and the waiters weren’t overbearing (unlike those on the third floor where I’d had the silver thali last month). It perhaps gives an idea as to what Adiga’s might have been had it gone into the business of running sit-down restaurants. I haven’t tried making an estimate of the finances, so I don’t really know how well it works out financially to have a sit-down restaurant priced at about 100% premium over similar food at fast-food joints.

The success of Maiya’s in Jayanagar also gives us an indication as to what my neighbours the Kamats (of Yatri Nivas, Lokaruchi, etc.) have missed out – having held a virtual monopoly over sit-down south indian restaurants over the last ten years during which most other sit-down places were downing their shutters and most of the new upstarts have been stand-and-eat types. If only the Kamats had been able to get a hold on their quality, they probably wouldn’t have had to go into the business of Chinese restaurants (chung-wah-opus in Jayanagar 3rd block) or capuccino shops.

Also, Maiya’s is what I call as a “full-service restaurant” – one that serves food throughout the day – as opposed to Darshinis which are typically breakfast-and-evening-snacks focused, or the fine dining places which do only meals. What that allows the Maiyas to do is to maximize their usage of space – since they will be using the same seating infrastructure throughout the day. I remember saying a couple of years back that darshinis should have a time-share arrangement with fine-dining places.

Another nice feature at Maiya’s is the tables. They have a large number of tables which can seat two people across, and which have been designed so as to easily join them to other tables. The chairs are also simple and light and can be moved around. This allows the restaurant to easily reorient the tables and chairs depending upon the size of various dining parties, without resorting to making people share tables with strangers (common practice in south indian restaurants).

Today probably the restaurant was relatively lean, so my mother and I got a table for four (basically 2 tables joined together). However, if the restaurant had reached capacity, I’m sure they’d’ve yanked off one of the tables and given it to someone else.

The food is good but not spectacular, but you can sit down and eat. Go on a weekday when it is not crowded, and you’ll enjoy it. Don’t botehr waiting in line to get in to eat on a Sunday – you might as well take a parcel from the nearest Adigas and eat at home.

2 plates  2-idli-1-vada             2 * 40          Rs. 80
1 plate  rava idli                         1 * 25           Rs. 25
1 coffee (silver tumbler)        1 * 15            Rs. 15
1 tea (silver tumbler)              1 * 15            Rs. 15


Total                                                                   Rs. 135

Tips not accepted.

PS: On the ground floor, at the side, they have one stand-up coffee shop, which operates between 6am and 8pm on all days of the week (the restaurant is closed on Mondays). Absolutely brilliant coffee. Among the best I’ve had in Bangalore. I would recommend you to try it out the next time you pass by the area. Rupees ten only.