November 21, 2007

The Great Indian Educational Reprieve

Note: This is a long one

I am an Engineer. Why? I have no actual idea. I took Engineering because I didn't get into Medicine and because my brother did it. Both reasons pretty lousy if you ask me. Why did I take Electronics? Brother dear of course... Why did he do Engineering? Actually, I'll ask him when I meet him tomorrow. But I think I've conveyed my point. From what I have discussed with friends, I have discovered that very few, if any, had any idea what they were getting into with engineering (or anything else for that matter)... everyone thought all you needed was to be fundamentally sound in Mathematics and Physics - both key components, but not the main ones. The important questions that needed to have been answered back then -

1. Was there passion? - Probably not back then.. We had no idea what we were going to be doing..
2. Motivation? - Would good money and a nice-sounding degree qualify?

That is the fundamental problem with the Indian educational system (please discount IIT and BITS - they're the only worthwhile undergraduate institutions for technical study in India). As I was discussing with GH just now, the high school education in India rocks.. when compared to most other countries... We beat China sheerly because most of our schools are English medium.. We beat all other countries hands down because we really don't need a calculator to do 5+4x9-7/6 (yeah it takes a few seconds.. but we're never completely lost) amongst other things.

The problems

1. Learning by the rote: I wonder why we need to know the derivation of E = mc2 when we can just as easily find it on the Internet or something - you may say that the Internet didn't exist back then, blah blah - but when technology has evolved, the educational system needs to have coped alongside for the most effective development. When I came here and was introduced to the concept of the "cheat sheet", I was initially flabbergasted. But the more I read into it, the more it made sense. Its the Sherlock Holmes logic. Why crowd your brain with information you can find in our case, a search query away?

2. Progressive Evaluation: While the high school I was in was known for its continuous evaluation which ensured most of my fundamentals were right (though I cursed it back then). Back in Engineering, I don't remember "learning" anything. It was 4 years of carefree fun, a few days of cramming before the semester exams, practically no homework, easygoing labs and just one final year project which many people ended up "buying". I wrote a post about our exams back then. While that was in light vein, on a serious note, it left us a little unprepared for a competitive educational system like that in the US. When I came here, I was amazed by the range of knowledge and practical experience that the senior students (our high school equivalents) had accumulated over a range of topics. Though I coped great with grad school, I couldn't help but feel cheated with the undergraduate system that left me quite unprepared for the future. This is not how it works in the BITS and the IITs and thats exactly how the rest of the colleges in India need to implement.

3. Autonomous Universities: Each University here in the US is just the equivalent of each of our colleges back in India which is affiliated to a University. But the system here is so sound that they have complete autonomy in all their distinction and no matter where you study it is deemed prestigious. While it is going to take a while in India for that to happen, I see no change with those restricted few colleges that have gained autonomous privileges (eg. whats different in Sathaybama from when they became autonomous to when they remained affiliated? - Nothing). The system slowly but surely has to change.

4. The Teachers: Yes - Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam.. But you need to be able to respect the Guru. And there are exceptions to every generalization. We have seen our share of mentors back in India as well.. there have been some phenomenal motivators. But for every single one of them, we have 100 others who finish their education at one college and start teaching the next semester at the same college, with just a graduate degree. This could never ever happen in the US. Every professor has to have a PhD for a reputed institution. He/She has to bring in some grants/money and conduct research or lead academic discussions. They have a range of students from post docs to undergraduates working for them, expanding their ideas and their research. Its a whole pool. The kind of respect that you gain when you work under a professor, your advisor/mentor borders on reverence here.. something which I haven't been able to feel back in India. I will comment about the educational system in the Europe shortly.

5.The jobs: Every person who has an Engineering degree seems directly to be entitled to employment in the software industry. And frankly no one cares whether the degree is in Mechanical or Civil engineering. The pay is good and thats all that seems to matter. Pretty sad if you ask me. That goes back to there being no direction or passion in the study that one has entailed. The 4 year education was a stop over to making the money. I can actually understand that in some families where the whole family has made many sacrifices to educate the one stellar student in the hopes that the job he/she gets at the end of the education will uplift the financial situation of the entire family. Whats sad is that the availability of specific jobs as per fields of specialization pale in comparison with the abundant high-paying software jobs. Yes, the quality of living has improved for the recent generation in India and all is owed to these software giants.. but it is still unsettling.

And those are just some fundamental problems. The more I think about it, the more that there is. Personally, I am not surprised about the Brain Drain in the intial stages, i.e. say after a Bachelors degree, simply because the post graduate study in India leaves a lot to be desired for in terms of recognition and reward. But I take heart in that I see many people returning. After that initial stay abroad, after that first job after the education. It is happening slowly, but in larger numbers. And this I am proud of. I started this post so long ago that I can't remember what I wanted to conclude from it... But I suppose this is the bottomline. The educational minister of India and every teacher who cares needs to evaluate this system for what it is and make the necessary reforms to improve it.. to introduce the world class quality that is desired of it.. to make it a force to reckon with. After all, they don't say India is the next big super power for nothing, do they?

November 16, 2007

Om Shanti Om

Note: Spoilers ahead.

All I knew when we were going to go see OSO was that it was something to do with the 70s, that Deepika Padukone was supposed to be very very goodlooking and SRK had a new six-pack. All of these ideas were garnered through promos of the songs in SS's house. That was before SS was kind enough to tell me that the story involved reincarnation. Not that I expected anything from the movie, but when I heard the theme, I completely threw away every iota of expectation and logic in my head.

We underestimated the popularity of a SRK/Farah Khan/Bollywood movie and arrived fashionably late at 7:03 pm for a 7:00 show. Not bad, we told ourselves. That was before we stepped into the tiny theatre. It was packed and the noisy desi crowd was laughing, crunching popcorn and talking over the promos of many more movies to come. We waded our way all the way to the front, some 7 rows from the screen and looked up at the massive screen. At first, it took some getting used to... By the time my eyes scanned the length from the left of the screen to the right, the scene had changed. It was funny really. Us girls had subconsciously decided to throw the brains away and have a blast.

And a blast, we did have... The first half was amazingly funny and after Main Hoon Na and now Om Shanti Om, I can safely say that I like Farah Khan's style in direction. She is not afraid to make SRK look stupid and dress him up in red leather, in his skin or even the ridiculous wigs in the movie. And everything is soo obviously melodramatic and overexaggerated that the audience is left in peals of laughter. There is absolutely no logic as suspected and the spoofs of Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, etc were also very entertaining. While SRK plays the comic relief with his sidekick, Iqbal fame - Shreyas Talpade, Deepika Padukone impresses with her elegant 70s do. She looks very refreshing and as the movie progressed, my opinion of her from "Ok what's so great about her" changed to "Wow.. she is very goodlooking". And not just that. She can act too! My favorite sequence in the first half is when SRK spoofs I am assuming Rajnikant in a flying-shooting-tiger fighting sequence with his funny "Enna rascala" and "Mind it.. Never mind it and Find it". It was hilarious and I was roaring so much that I had tears from laughing. Haha.

By the end of the first half, tragedy of unrequited love on either side and the heinous plans of the appreciable villainous producer played by Arjun Rampal have surfaced. And the intermission comes in when both lead characters die. And then comes the story of the reincarnation, past memories and what not. Completely unbelievable, unexpressibly tacky and way corny, the second half seems to drag a bit with a bhooth sentiment woven in the fabric. But the drag is lulled a bit by the appearance of the "star song" where all of Bollywood makes an appearance. I also especially liked the teeny cameos by Akshay and Abhishek. Conspicuous in her absence was Aishwarya. Frankly though, I have tired of seeing Rani/Kajol/Preity make an appearance in all these songs. As for SRK's six-pack, I must say that the man looks fabulous neck-down for his age. His face gives him away. The lack of proportionate arm muscle makes his body look too taut on his frame and not as natural as it is on say, Hrithik (sigh).

All in all, the movie is a complete entertainer, completely predictable, totally laughable and a sure watch if you don't have much to do. Its a certain time-pass and from what I have seen of some recent movies, (LCMD or Darling for example), a sure sound choice. I particularly liked SRK's goofiness (It was such a relief not to see him weep because of some idiotic ultrasentimental love story), the date song sequence and both the Om Shanti Om songs... Music's catchy if not phenomenal. To bolo Ommm Shanti Ommmmm.

November 15, 2007

Birthday Blues?

Note: To everyone, who called, mailed, sent ecards, scrapped, thank you very very much. You made the day that much extra-special. :)

My Birthday. Its over. And surprisingly, this time I didn't have that rush, that unbridled excitement that I used to have when I turned 16 or 18 or even 21. I guess thats what happens when you turn mid-twenty something (you didn't think I was going to reveal the numbers, did you?) I had a fantastically normal day, except for the cell phone jingling every few minutes all morning. It began with a super chocolate cake that SM had baked at night, lunch with a sweet colleague in the morning, and ended with the San Diego jing-bang for dinner, dessert and gang talk. Simple and sweet. None of the cake-on-your-face-and-hair business. Sort of the perfect end to the perfect stay at San Diego.

November 12, 2007


I am in desparate need of help.. I am leaving this country. And as I pack, I realize that I have accumulated more stuff than I could've possibly imagined! I am making my bro bring one of my suitcases and even then, I am left with at least 3 suitcasefuls of luggage... Thats coz I am lugging humungous books and I cannot leave them behind. And I came with 3 in place of 2 s most people did.. And though I threw away as many clothes as I possibly could, I am still left with sooo many things. Crap! One excess baggage costs $110. There has got to be a better way to this... Is there some form of international freight shipping that I am missing out on? I don't know. But if someone does, please please leave me a comment. On the other hand, if one of you friends of mine is coming to India soon and has space for some stuff, lemme know as well... I will happily give you something to carry. I appreciate any form of assistance. :) Thank you.

November 6, 2007

Happy Diwali!

First up, here's wishing all of you and your families a very Happy and Safe Diwali!!

I gave it a lot of thought, but my sentiments remain unchanged from last year. Read my Diwali post here. Have a fabulous Diwali and a colorful year ahead. I know I will ;)

November 5, 2007

The USA Memoirs

Note: Another one of those USA Nostalgia posts...

The Miss list

1. Cincinnati - Its the place I've spent most of my USA life.. over 2/3rds of it anyways.. It holds my fondest memories. So it comes down to the mile radius that I existed in... with no car, with 4 of us crammed into a single-bedroom apartment hauling groceries to our basement apartment, the walk in the snow to school, the many many seminar rooms and classrooms that I have been couped up in writing my thesis, the Mainstreet Mart which was my personal Felix Felicis provider of Chai Tea, importantly my last 6 months in Cincinnati ever since S got his Solara and became the 5th roommate almost literally.. Even as he moved away from campus, he moved closer to us and we saw the real Cincinnati through the Solara that he had... The umpteen restaurants, the late Friday nights as we flopped with all of our laptops, did all our theses work and ran a parallel vein of conversations well into the night with the TV blaring some nonsense.. the evening chais at the Morgens verandahs, the latenight Clue with the roomies... crazy, unprecendented, irrepeatable fun.

2. San Diego - Just when I thought I had had the most of living a student life back in Cinci and had left my days back there, I moved in with SM and literally right in the middle of her friend's circle. And work life couldn't have been more fun... As a new gang that got together with multitude connections interwoven around us, it seemed like we couldn't get enough of each other. We meet almost every night.. for a movie... for dinner.. for dessert...for gym... for meeting. We're all professionals and we're all a wee bit crazy in the evenings when we get together. Be it cycling, be it just eating out, this gang has ensured that my last few days in the US are truly memorable. Thanks SM.

3. Few good friends - Some of my most cherished friendships were grounded here. You guys know who you are. I am glad I found you guys here.. Life really wouldn't have been the same without all those bitching sessions, nightouts and the solid support system that you guys formed around me. This also includes my handful of friends from India who are here as well.. Together, this network was my backbone in the US. And I want each one of you at the wedding. :)

4. The seasons - I have been spoiled by the East Coast.. I have seen 4 distinct seasons each year. And it's been brilliant. I have thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant colors of Fall, the flakes of snow in Winter, the sticky Summers and pleasantly rainy Springs. Fabulous!

5. The cuisines - Well, it all has to come down to food, doesn't it? Hailing from the country of spices, most of us Indians find it unsettling here in the US where steak and red meat rule, especially if you are vegetarian like me. But the varied cuisine is something I could've experienced just here... maybe to hunt for something veggie in any cuisine, maybe out of sheer interest. I have now developed for a whole bunch of cuisines, Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, Mexican, you name it. Technically the land I am headed to is very likely to have just as many cuisines, but this is where I fell in love with food. Before the US, I was never really hungry. My Patti took care of that.. feeding me at periodic intervals, hungry or not.

6. The malls - Yes, I have been in the Gulf. And I have seen the vast vast malls or soukhs as they are called out there. So yes I wasn't daunted by the huge Walmarts and Targets here the way some others have. But in the Gulf, Appa bought us everything we ever wanted. Out here, I had my money, my needs and my discretion to buy stuff. And I enjoyed it. I splurged sometimes, scrimped some others and had a blast overall..

7. The deals - Money rules... when you save it. Before the US I have probably not realized the value of electronics or the importance perhaps. Here I have been spoiled by the deals.. by the variety of things and the greed of requiring things... I have bought my famed camera, umpteen memory supplements, and the thirst hasn't been half-quenched. But then, it never will.

Three years of my life... A lifetime of memories. Fully worth it.

November 2, 2007

Bye Bye USA

Note: These set of blogs are going to be doused in nostalgia, sprinkled with inconsistency and sprayed with fond memories. This is a part of my USA memoirs.

As I near the end of my stay in the US, with less than a month away, what am I feeling?

Its one of those complex questions and merely by not thinking about it, I have successfully avoided answering it. But its a big question and its been creeping in a little by little as the days come to an end. And living each day for it's merit is slowly drawing to a close. As I was consolidating my stuff and trying to pack everything, it hit me. This is it. I don't know when I am ever coming back again. If I am ever coming back again. As a professional? As a tourist? As a dependent? Ever? No clue. And that riles me. When we all left India to pursue our dreams in this Land of Opportunity, we were never really leaving India. We would always go back. Our roots were there and every vacation began with the Indian dream. But this is entirely different. What does it mean to leave a country where your personal identity was established? Where you first figured what being independent was? First lived away from home, paid your own bills, made ends meet, tried your hand at cooking, woke up to an alarm? Maybe all of this means nothing to someone who has had the "hostel" experience back home too. But for me it was all a first. And most of it was exhilarating. I was completely free to do as I liked. I could come and go as I pleased to wherever with whoever and I was free to choose my activities and everything about my life. Having been raised by very liberal parents, I have little reason to complain. But that was still different. We had to tell Amma we would be late coming home. And late still meant before 11:30 at night. Even as I leave the country to fall into stride with my matrimonial plans, with my future academic plans, my life is yet again entwined with at least one more individual's if not more. My decisions will now impact more than just me. I have grown up. And I have grown past the famed single phase as well. Did I make the most of it while it lasted? Looking back, I think I did. I made some of my closest associations with people over here... Gained a few precious friends, made many business contacts, saw many famed places out here (I haven't seen the Grand Canyon - it's going to have to wait for later), etc. etc. Its a mixed emotion. Maybe coz what I have to look forward to is soo exciting, I tend to believe I won't miss the US much (I bet I will miss the "deals" mainly on electronics - but what are friends for?)

Are they any regrets? Honestly - No. I have realized a place is only as good as what you make of it. With the right company, even a place like Ames seemed fun. I have been fortunate to find joy in the loneliest quarters. I will miss being a cell-phone call away from many many dear friends... But I am sure we'll all find a way to communicate just as well all the same. For now, I look forward to what has got to be the best chapter(s) in my life.