Archive for February, 2009


Sometimes we have to learn about other people’s miseries to realize how lucky we are. I heard a very sad news regarding a friend yesterday. It reminded me of a even sadder news that I heard sometime in December’07. Both of them, put things in perspective for me. I have always taken so many things for granted, and whined at life for small set-backs. But never have I thought back, and be grateful that the so many things that I take for granted, are probably things that so many others dream of.

Yesterday, I felt that God should share miseries more evenly. But then, the next instant, selfishly, I realized that I cannot handle such miseries, and was thankful that miseries are not shared evenly, and some people are more lucky than others.


I am not able to, however much I try, to pick up the phone and call my married friends. And now that, I am the only “single” guy left in my whole college gang, I find it even harder. It is a mix of jealousy and a feeling of being an outsider. Right after college, we would spend hours and hours on the phone. Each of us were having different experiences and there was lots of stories to be shared. Slowly, the novelty of our newer experiences began to wear off, and the excessive analysis into career and life planning hit a plateau. The frequency of the calls dwindled, but still, enough story got piled up, when I (or they) eventually called. But, all of a sudden, within six months, all of them have gotten married, and I almost feel that I am standing on the other side of the station, a chasm between their “married” stories and my school and research experiences. I almost do not want to hear their stories, because I cannot relate to it. And, I feel that I have nothing much new to add from my side of survival for the past 2 years…

I still have not got used to this change. I hope that I get over this soon.


Snowy days can never replace the charm of a rainy night. While reading my novel (My name is Red), I just float back to late summer evenings in Calcutta.

As the sun would start its decent, a huge bulk of ominously dark cloud will materialize in the sky. We kids, playing in the terrace, will look at it expectantly. The cloud will then start coming closer, hiding the sun. Within a few moments, the clouds fill the sky, mixing the colours of dusk, purplish and reddish in the far , gradually becoming blue, with the enticing gray of rain bearing clouds. Special effects in the form of lightning at the edge where the cloud and blue sky form a blurry boundary, and loud thunder usher in the strong breeze. The trees sway to the breeze’s music, and the breeze sweeps up the dust and heat of the day. Protecting our eyes, from the sand blowing into us, our hair flowing in the breeze, we run down, just in time as the first rain-drops fall. I go to my room, switch on the light and the fan, which brings in and circulates the cool air to every-corner of my room, spreading the earthy fragrance, and start reading the amar-chitra-katha that I have been reading…

I almost feel the cool breeze and the earthy fragrance in my madison apartment, before I realize that it is snow that I see outside my window…

(photo from a blog called turquoise chill, which I found on google image search)


The PhD Journey, so far: Rest of the story

I left off yesterday, having recounted my confused journey into IIT-Bombay.

Of the many things, the first semester there inspired me, was to learn. Even now, the “research-bug” is absent, but the “knowledge bug” is there. I feel, there is a subtle difference among the two, I love attending classes, and working out assignments and tests. The goal there is clear in front of me: to learn the concept. The bigger picture is also there, these concepts are useful in practice, there are companies out there, which use this knowledge to do what they do. But, when it comes to research, the bigger picture is on a much larger canvass, and I have failed to grasp it in totality.[1]

Research was a new thing, that I had never tried before, and I dived into it, in my 2nd semester at IIT. Alongside, with this new-found passion for “learning”, I spent a lot of time on the coursework, dissecting it and learning much more from it that was taught in the class.

The God of Confusion, was not too pleased with me, and decided to muddle me up again.

One of the positives out of RVCE that I took with me, was the fun and excitement and satisfaction I got, involving myself in organizing events. The placement coordinator work that Parry and I got to do, was perhaps the icing on the cake. Perhaps, the most satisfying moment in my life, was the night, after getting the job, when RP came and hugged me, and thanked me for my efforts that day.

Towards the end of the second-semester, I saw the notice for M.Tech Placement Nominee for IIT. On a whim, I applied. I had not given much thought to placements after coming to IIT, nor had I any idea about the placement scenes for Masters student in the campus. I had, no idea, about the enormity of the job either. Placement team work in RV, had given me some ideas about recruiting practices in India, and I thought, they would probably be useful in IIT aswell.

I almost forgot about the interiew as well. On the day of the interview, I was told to come to the placement office, and I did not know where it was. I asked a random student on campus and got to the interview. Somehow, I managed to impress the panel, even though, I hardly knew about the responsibilities that I would be getting into. Later that evening, when I came to know that I had actually gotten the job, I really drowned in the excitement. It was supposed to be one of the most important student jobs in the campus, I was in a position of extreme responsibility and had a chance to make a difference in the campus.

Over the summer, and slowly over the fall semester, placement work started taking the priority. I was occupied for long parts of the day, making calls to companies, speaking with alumni, HR, other contacts, meeting professors, making arrangements for pre-placement-talks, coordinating our team etc etc. It was becoming, nearly a full time job. More than one weeknights were also spent meeting with the team to discuss what to do, how to do etc. It was fun and I was immensly enjoying it.

During the free time that I had, I worked on research, and churned out a few ideas, wrote some code and did some analysis. It did not turn out to be top-grade research, but was much better than satisfactory. In hindsight, I think, the work was good, because, I dedicated a much lesser time to it, and concentrated only on research during that time. Now, that I have to be a researcher 24X7, my mind drifts to thousand other things, and I end up writing posts like this!

Listening to PPT’s of almost all companies that visit the campus, the efforts to plan, organize and coordinate a placement procedure for 1000 students, instilled a false confidence in me, that I will be very good in the corporate world. But, it was not to be, and for various reasons, I was not considered by around 5-6 companies that I applied to, during the first week of placements.

Sometime amidst this placement duties, my “interest” had drifted towards work again. I had taken a lot of math and statistics courses during my 2nd and 3rd semester, and I wanted to work for one of the statistics/math based companies. After the first week, interview fiasco, I decided to look for jobs in companies that have refused to come to campus, but was working in the general area that I was interested in. I needed references in my resume, and wanted to use a few contacts of my advisers in applying for some of the companies.

I approached them for this, after a pretty lengthy joint meeting, discussing the work. That started a 1 hour lecture session by Prof SCP and VP, urging me to take up PhD. Within an hour, they had decided the people I should look to work with in the US (and they are the biggest names in my research area here), and offered to write incredible reccommendations for me, and also decided to put up personal notes of reccommendation to the biggies in the US. I never had such confidence in myself, as my advisers had in my skills.

When people you respect the most in the world, give you advice, you do not discard it, and I was off to Belgaum to get my UG university transcripts in a week and apply for a PhD. The speed at which all this happend still amazes me. I met my advisers, probably on 10/12/06, and I was done with my applications by 25/12/06. Placements had a 10 day break in december, and in that window, I finished applying to grad school. Anyone who has applied can guess how quick that was!

Deja vu!!!

A year before, I had no coherent reason to join IIT. There was the instinct to take up masters after the interview. And in 12/06, the same instinct, peppered by my adviser’s advice.

The UW admit came in January, and the wheels were turning for my departure to grad school in the US.

The last semester in Madison, was pretty bad, and I saw myself recreating many “what-if” I had done that kind of questions. I could not put together long stretches of time at work, and began to question my instinctive decision again.

Twice, I had given up jobs to be in academics. Twice, I had decided in the last moment to get to graduate school. And after four years into grad school, at two different places, being advised by two really great people in the field that I am working in, I still do not know, if I made the wrong decision twice, or the correct one twice.

I seriously contemplated dropping off, and finally get that job, that I have been yearning for. But, I know, I will not be able to do it, because I am still stuck in-between. I will miss school and research in a job, and I will yearn for a real world job in school.

[1]I know that the trick is to understand that developments is the sum total of many researcher’s efforts. I know that the small simulations that I work with, will present a clearer insight into the problem, and somewhere down the line, the results will actually be used to do something practical and useful. Still, the fact that I am not working on a “real” world problem rankles me. At the same time, the “idea” driving my research project prods me, because, somewhere, far far away in time, there may be a practical implementation. This dichotomy, shows it’s nasty face, now and again, urging me to drop research and look for jobs in the industry using contemporary tools to solve today’s problems sometimes and urging me to invest my skills in developing novel tools to solve tomorrow’s problems some-other times. The sad part is, neither of the urges is the clear winner, giving me a creepy feeling that had I been working someplace now, I would have written a similar post.


The PhD journey, so far! : Part-1

I have been writing my prelim report all week, and it is due on the 16th. If I pass this prelim, I will be well on my way to get a PhD (and if not, I still have another shot at it).

But I have never been one of those “research” types. One of those PhD types, who eat-sleep and drink research, get excited with good as well as bad results, have ideas brewing inside them all the time. Neither am I one of those types- no job, recession, lets do a PhD. I have been stuck in the middle, alternating between an irresistible urge to work on my research, and an unstoppable urge of not wanting to do anything with research.

I still recall, a long after dinner walk sometime in 2003, just finishing 4th semester of engineering, defending my non-interest in CAT/GATE/GRE, and a great desire to get a job. And, I still remember people, trying to talk me into one of the three exams, promising that with my “talent”, I will breeze through them. I recall, sitting in front of Electrical engineering, discussing about “our calling”, and how there are “tech-guys” and “management-guys”. But, this did not much change my decision, and I still wanted a to take up a job. Infact, I remember, talking about not being much interested in an MBA either, because, I never knew understood what the “management type” was except that they were the “I did not like engineering type”. Things got much simpler, when Appa refused to give me the 16,000 for IMS (which in afterthought, was great, I would have prepared with half-an-heart, and that is no good). I also never got the “research bug”, with uninspiring teaching in the department and a syllabus that hardly whets your analytic skills, but got my hands dirty with some technical reading with a couple other people who were pretty sure that research was the way to go and were trying to work on some projects to get a good admit.

Some “events” transpired in February-March 2004, and slowly I drifted out of one friend circle and into another, from the “CAT” gang, to the “GRE” gang. This is where, the first burst of impulse stuck me, and I decide that I will go to America. But unlike, the friends who were applying with me, I had hardly thought about the prospect. Everyone in the hostel, were on one side or the other, MS or MBA, preparing with word-lists and quants and stuff like that. Such stuff was needed for placements too, and I decided that I will go the “GRE” way . Although it was the much expensive proposition, MBA was an unkonwn entity, and I did not know if I would like it or not. Atleast, I was sure, I will not dislike a MS.

We had done thermodynamics in our 5th semester, and some of the models really impressed me. I put a special effort to learn parts of it which were unnecessary for passing the VTU exam, but evoked interest in me, because there were some algorithms listed in the book to solve those equations. So, Thermodynamics became my research interest. Over the 6th semester, my newer GRE enthu friend circle, motivated and pushed me to study for the GRE, to read up on interesting technical stuff. We wrote the GRE over the 6th semester break, and came back with apping on our minds. In the meantime, I landed up a job with CTS. I still was not sure about the whole America thing, but researched universities along with friends, always telling myself, finding out does not mean I will apply. But, I got carried away, and when we found out that universities do not offer funding for MS, decided that PhD is the way to go.

GATE, came in the middle, pretty much out of nowhere. My enthu gang of friends were the only ones in the whole MS enthu gang in the hostel to actually write the exam. Preparation for GATE was an even bigger joke. The three of us, prepared for exactly 2 hours, and almost directly from the exam center, we boarded the Karnataka express for a Delhi/Rajasthan/Agra holiday.

Surprisingly, I was the first to land up with an admit to the USA. Even more surprisingly, the three of us and Haddi, managed to get great GATE ranks as well. My other friends had not gotten admissions yet, and so we decided to apply to IIT-Bombay. I had totally forgotten about interview calls, when PJ, checking for his interview calls, spotted my name on the IIT-B website. And, I was on my way to Mumbai for the interview.

The may interview was actually the first time, I really felt that, I could grasp technical stuff (VTU exams just test how well you can memorize), when, I almost derived a not-so-intutive result with casual egging on by the interviewers. To boost my confidence further, I was put in the top-10 of the selected list (and that was huge jump, because the weight was to GATE rank and interview performance, and my rank was the last rank to be admitted). IIT was a huge huge dream, and I had decided to take that up, almost immediately. Still, long discussions about India/US higher education scene etc etc, ate up my evenings.

I flew into Bombay in July-2005, to live my IIT dream, and there I was, getting a MTech degree. Thinking back, there was hardly a coherent reason, that I could think of, which made me take a MS/PhD decision during the RVCE days, or made me not to accept the CTS job.

The first semester in IIT, stretched me to my limits, and I learned that I have a passion for mathematics, thanks to Prof SCP’s class. I seemed to have impressed the professors (those who interacted with me) too, and the seminar that we had to give by reading a few papers, whetted my appetite for more mathematics related course. SCP’s advance controls class in Spring fit the bill.

The story of 2006 and ’07 and my landing in Madison : Next installment!!



A Suitable Boy:
By way of a review, all I can say is that this book is like a great recipe, with loads of flavors and layers of taste. It will evoke almost every emotion that you are capable of, just like a great recipe pokes at all your taste buds.

It is more than a 1000 pages, but un-put-downable. There were days, when I was sitting in my office and staring at my monitor, with all thoughts on what is going to happen next in the book. And, I finished it in a spurts of reading, 6-7 hours together to breeze past 300 pages, and feel sad that there are 300 pages less to read of this most engrossing book.

Almost immediately as I finished the book, I have elevated it to the top-5 books that I have ever read.

And, I have a nagging feeling, that the next time I am going to read this book (and I am sure I will read it again), it is going to affect me in a totally different way, and that is because the book grapples with lots of issues, and lots of different characters in different phases of maturity. Depending on your emotional status when you read the book, different characters are going to tug your heart and evoke different reactions to the same events.

The first time, my heart went out to Maan, just because he was totally lost for direction in life.

The Zoya Factor
You cannot ask for more from Desi Chic-Lit. It was a breezy read, and am sure, will come out as a movie in a cinema nearby very soon. I have never read a chic-lit book before, but now, I kind of see why people like to read them…

The Peacock Throne
This book blew hot and cold. It is about politics in Chandni chowk, and the story pushes itself through disaster days of Indian history- The ’84 riots, Mandal commission, 6th December and a demolition drive in Chandni chowk in ’96. If for 500 of the 700 page book, you don’t see the story develop, and what keeps you reading on is the blurb on the backpage. The anticipation of how he would make the blurb happen was what kept me reading through writing that was becoming progressively banal. And to make a laborious 500 page read even worse, was the lame ending in the last 50 or pages. The intricately entwined threads in the story add to nothing.

Laborious book, ambitious story, which could have been better executed. The outstanding part was the ’84 riots chapter. It was almost as-if someone else took over the book after that.

R.K. Narayan Omnibus
He is definitely the master. No doubt. I had been sporadically introduced to him before, the story about the mailman in the 10th standard English books, the T.V serials (that were brilliant, almost bringing Malgudi to life), and then a collection of Malgudi days stories.

It was his brilliant but under-rated novel, “Waiting for the Mahatma”, that made me wanting more of him. But, that was not to be, and the next R.K.Narayan book that I picked up was “The English Teacher”.

I did not know about the autobiographical references in The English Teacher, much after I read it, and the second half (of his spiritual quest to understand the loss of his wife) was quite lost on me, but the first half, stands out, and the picture of the idyllic life in Malgudi, the care-free bachelor days, his efforts to make something out of his education (other than teaching), the adjustment to married life, the happiness of the couple, will always stay with me.

His writing says so much, paints such a detailed picture, and is yet so simple. Personally, RKN’s writing is the exact opposite pole of Sulman Rushdie, but they seem to achieve similar results: transport you into the world of the book so efficiently.

The omnibus that I got had the novel “A man-eater for malgudi”, the novella “Talkative man” and a collection of malgudi stories (including the famous astrologer story). All the three parts of the book, had the same thread: simplicity, and a story out of everyday people, the ones that you are likely to meet on the road. The manner in which the printing press owner, Natraj, jumps to the worst possible outcome, in the most logical way, reminded me of Amma, and also that, thinking like that is so human. It made the charachter Natraj human for me. And, I loved the almost anti-climaxical ending, because anything more dramatic would have stood out of the book, it ended as ordinarily as the descriptions of everyday life that it painted for most of the book. Absolutely brilliant.

The settings got simpler and the story even simpler (if that could happen), as the talkative man accosts the strange suit cladded Dr Rann, and contemplates his moves when he has proof to beileve that Dr Rann is duping a local girl. This novella, highlighted the best thing that I love about short stories. You do not have to lay out the charachter, the threads of the story, tiny happenings, 40 years before, to finally uncover the main theme of the novel. You jump into a life, and observe the story in the short story. And, the ambiguity of the remaining life of the charachter, of how she got into that situation, of how his life is going to be changed beyond it, is the magic of the story.

RKN precisely, gets that charm working perfectly in the short stories. From the highly acclaimed Astrologer story to the farmer who sells a statue to an American thinking he sold his goats, to the vocalist controlled by Mohan, to the story-teller who loses his voice. Each story is a gem, and as with The suitable boy, you wanted the book to be never-ending.

Tales of the unexpected
Johnny Depp’s Willi wonka and the chocolate factory, made me make a mental mark that I will read up Roald Dahl. My friendly neighborhood pirated book store owner, gave me a short story collection, and a delightful little book called “The BFG”. Children’s stories have a separate charm, and makes me feel almost the innocent kid lost in world of fairies and giants. On coming to Madison, I was pleasently surprised when Vandana said that Dahl writes serious dark adult stuff.
This India trip, while browsing at Blossoms during my Bangalore leg of the trip, Pydah and I chanced upon Dahl’s adult writing by this title. Currently, this book is my nightly read before lights off, and it has kept me hooked. The stories are like Jeffry Archer’s ” A twist in the tale”, but much darker. Dahl sets up the story brilliantly, slowly building up the tension and anticipation, and finishing it up with a bang. The story about the homicidal wife with the lamb meat creeps you off in the end, leaving you with disbelief. I cannot wait to finish this book.

Also reading/ in transit
My name is Red

The Guide (RKN)

Of Mice and Men

Flowers for Algeron