Thursday, March 27, 2008

Social initiatives & IITkgp

So many good things are happening! It is difficult not to take a note of it.

In the morning got a phone call. My ex-student Sid...- IIT, IIM, now MNC executive (Cadbury, gave lots of chocolates to my daughter. I am helping myself with some as I write this post) posted in Mumbai is on a KGP visit and there would be a get together in the evening. The last time we met was his marriage (the bride, Piy.. too was my student, she also works in Mumbai) and there were lot of stories to share. We three had a nice adda and besides many things we discussed how feasible is the idea if one batch of say 70 students from one branch of a IIT (say, IITkgp ECE) after passing out adopts one village in India. If not any other thing, helps to put few tubewells in one village, as many villages as yet do not have proper drinking water facility. Then it can be scaled up creating health, education and employment opportunities. In a batch of 70 students there must be at least one student who will have direct or indirect contact of such a village and there will be some working in India (even if most go abroad) and keep a track of the development. Others can take responsibilities of communicating to people, private trust or Government agencies who matter. Also one can help in donating themselves or collecting donations, visiting the village once a year and inspiring, motivating people who are doing field work. The aim is to turn it into a model village in 5-10 years. Thereafter, if they want the batch can take up another village. The good thing about this model is it can be scaled up easily and it has a cascading snow-ball like effect. From IITkgp itself, with 1000 students intake one may expect at least 10 new villages being adopted, cared each year. Think what will happen after 10 years and if other IITs, IIMs, NITs etc... too join. It will have a demonstrational effect and give a message to the public that the IITians also pay back. Though the public at large have high regard for IITians but somewhere in there mind they feel that we are selfish and it is easy to find there exists enormous negative sentiment from public statements made in different media. Sid... said if the executions are done properly the students will come forward e.g. their batch of IIM students donated approx. Rs. 3.5 lakhs for the underprivileged from the institute caution money returned to them. I said that since the focus will be on one village and there are NGOs of repute, the execution part can be worked out. Also the IIT, IIM students are smart enough to devise something new or can start a debate which will definitely lead a way. First of all what is needed in a batch passing out is the conviction that we can and we will do something together.

The day before yesterday stumbled on a notice posted by JAGRUTI, a social initiative at IITkgp calling all the different groups working in the campus for social causes. The aim is to develop awareness, exchange ideas and of course, creation of an organized platform. Their public post at said "There are at least nine social initiatives currently operating in Kharagpur under various names. However there is not much awareness about any of them in the Campus. While many people might be willing to help out with such projects, often they don't come into contact with the right people at the right time. As a result, most initiatives die out in the initial phases due to lack of work-force and excessive load placed on a few people."

To be honest, I didn't know that there were so many initiatives. We at were contemplating that we should start some activity to give members an opportunity to convert some of the theoretical things to practice, else our own training is not complete. Som... with some members has already started exploring some nearby underdeveloped areas. As soon as I saw the notice, I sent a message to VSC mailgroup if few members can attend the meet. Sai.., Kan.. and myself were there from VSC and approx. 50 students and few faculty members. I was so happy! We have had many occasions before where eminent speakers enlightened us on our social responsibilities. This is the first time I saw a student initiative of that scale aiming for sustainable developmental work. More interesting was the presence of one representative of a NGO, PRAJAK who are working together with Railway Police for upliftment of Railway platform kids. The lady, working in an MNC came all the way from Kolkata to support and encourage the activity. Wish we too had that spirit and that level of dedication!

JAGRUTI convenor narrated their experience on working with Rickshawpullers in the form of Rs. 100 a month saving at P.O. It worked well for few months but the student got busy with study and other things, followed by a lean season (student vacationing, not enough business) and drinking habits, that made them defaulters. Emphasis was then shifted to lady members of the family. A group is formed with them. The pickle making gave them some profit but it was not scalable. Now they are trying Sal leaf plate making. But raw material procurement as well as selling are to be done by students which is a tall task. Also 8 of the 9 member team will be passing out this year. Sustainability is an issue. They requested students to join them and their vision going forward is to have chapters of JAGRUTI at IITs, NITs etc. To end they showed a moving video (now in their blogspace) they have prepared to spread awareness.

Then the SAMBHAB (mostly 2nd year students) spokesman said how they have started their work in a different village. Paper bag ('Thonga') making is what they are advocating. There too, selling is their responsibility.

Then PRAJAK representative spoke. She was happy to be proven wrong - once she observed that IITians does not care for social upliftment and do not shoulder any responsibility.

The third year ECE student Ku.. of Gopali Youth Welfare Society (GYWS) explained their work. Theirs is a registered Society at Gopali, 4 km from IITkgp campus. It appeared their work has matured a lot and they are starting an English medium school there, totally free of cost, to make children from backward area more competitive. They are collecting donations for the upcoming school. They agreed to help JAGRUTI if there is a shortage of manpower in their work.

Then spoke representative from KADAM that just started its journey. Representaive of other team were either not present or didn't spoke. Then the floor was open and Professors were asked to give their comments. One Prof. inquired why JAGRUTI failed to get new volunteers from junior batch, why so many organizations if GYWS is doing so well or if there is any ideological difference. The answer given was lack of awareness and there is no ideological difference as such. One student asked why they want to promote JAGRUTI as the common platform. The answer was, call it XYZ, call it 'Technolgy Social Initiative' under Gymkhana etc. Another question asked to GYWS was why not volunteers give some labour and earn money (through coaching affluent students) instead of collecting donations. The answer was - it remains an option but there are many difficulties to do that, mostly in the form of long term commitments required or students' desire to part with hard earned money. One comp. sc. senior students observed that since IIT students' strength is in academics they should do BTech projects which directly helps society at a large. He is part of a national initiative that shoots video to highlight the needs and promote awareness.

I congratulated all the groups for the starts they have made. In responding to some questions they sometimes appeared defensive or apologetic. I requested them not to be so. They are doing good work but it can be done in a better, more organized manner, considering where our strength lies (some sort of SWOT analysis). I requested JAGRUTI members to be more careful in selecting a project. It may be a learning experience for them but the lives that are affected may lose faith by repeated failures. The volunteers should do sufficient homework and also get trained in organizations (in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore ...; in Kolkata, our alumnus started PARIVAAR can provide useful training) in the weekends or in vacations who already have great experience. Regarding common platform, I suggested 2-3 executive members of each team can sit together and chalk it out. It is for the executives of a group to decided whether to retain their identity or merge with someone. Merging should be a natural process and not forced. One should also address why the teams are around batchmates and why across the batch there is a noticeable communication gap. How the dynamics work.

Of course, one should lead by examples, one needs to take a stand. Our own lives should be exemplary. Without that it will be difficult to motivate, draw younger people. I know one IIT BTech in late eighties Patel Hall who refused to give proxy for his batchmate because it was unethical nd was ridiculed like anything in the mess and so many other things. But he stuck to his stand - Ask me any other help, but not this. Later his room at B 1st East used to be considered as temple and there was a handmade poster in his room quoting Vivekananda - "God helps those who do not help themselves".

I may be wrong, but I personally feel - ideology is an issue. Why we do, what we do. It will help us to rise above confusion and conflict which are so common in working for a common cause. It is to be clearly understood that we gain more by helping others (How is it so?), when we give (i.e. Daan) if it is not accompanied by respect (i.e. Maan) from our side it does not yield result, what is the strength of an organized work and what is organiztional discipline (Is it regimental?), how important is to stay away from politics, how important is to involve local youth etc. All these require deliberations of some kind and take leaves from lives and teachings of great social workers. I am happy that the organizers finally decided to meet at a regular interval. I believe there will be much bigger effect if all the groups work together but the model should be such that none feels constrained.

Finally, the caution ahead. (i) It is said - Fame is the last infirmity of noble mind. A social worker should ask periodically, what for he or she is into it and be honest about himself or herself. (ii) There should be proper time management so that the academics do not suffer. The seniors who inspired me a lot in my student days used to say categorically - If your academic performance is poor it will harm our work. People will say that the boy is spoiled by the seniors in the name of social work and that will send a negative message.

Be assured of our (the faculty members) commitment to help such initiatives. In our Dept. I know at least 5 faculty members are directly involved in such work at different places and in different capacities. Everybody would love to support initiatives of our own IIT students which is sincere, serious, non-political and for the good of many (the students themselves as well as the underprivileged people who gives the opportunity to serve). Our best wishes to you all. Please keep us updated about your work.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

“Abar se asichhe firia” (He has come back, again!)

The childhood of a Bengalee is incomplete without reading Sukumar Roy. Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Se’(He) and Pupedidi (a kid named Pupe) doesn’t come even close to Roy’s Ha-Ja-Ba-Ra-La (some alphabets in Bengali), Jhalapala (a play on a teacher, taught and …), Lakkhaner Shaktishel (a play on Ramayana from a different angle) or Pagla Dashu (The eccentric boy, Dashu). If you have a Bengalee friend and a kid in you, you may try some of Sukumar Roy. I assure you that you won’t go disappointed.

If you think I am trying to promote Bengali literature which of course has a very wide audience and a Nobel, you are off the mark. I beg excuse, of course, for this rather long introduction to non-Bengalee readers, if any :( but when I started to write this post postponing my self-styled exile, the title quote of eccentric Dashu of my childhood favourite (even now) Sukumar Roy came to my mind. Dashu through a series of bizarre incidents got a chance to act in a play. He was playing the character of an angel. After one scene, he was supposed to go back to heaven and his role ends there. Unhappy to be away from the limelight, Dashu gate-crashed few scenes later with the above quote that the angel has returned from the heaven. This was not in the script and all the characters were dumbfounded. Dashu had a sharp memory. He remembered others’ dialogues too and spoke on other’s behalf ending the play in a hilarious note.

But this post may be on issues more serious than above. (Resemblance if any, is with me and Dashu :) and not the issues) The exile is postponed by a week or so. As such in the first three days of this new week, I was always on my running shoes, not knowing when and where I’ll take the lunch or a bath! But I learnt something in the process and also there were 5+1 discussions in my office and lab. with students of various levels 1st year UG, 2nd year UG, 3rd year UG, MS students etc. I think all these deserve a post and I may have few points there for your consideration.

It is always great to hear good things about our students from employers, mentors who supervised and assessed their work.
Two weeks back we had an opportunity to visit a new steel plant where two of our graduate students (2006 and 2007 Meta…) have really proved themselves. The persons they are reporting to were full of praise. The students also were enjoying, took us around the plant and were well received by the shop-floor guys. (Personally speaking, my confidence in meeting the target deliverables has increased quite a lot by their presence in that big consultancy project.)
Yesterday and today I heard a lot of praise from Prof.s of one US university where our 3rd year students go as intern and spend eight weeks or so. They work really hard and produce excellent output even in that short period of time. Then one visiting Prof. asked that disturbing question – Your undergraduate research must also be excellent, isn’t it? With so many good students and facilities available, I guess it is so.

I didn’t attempt to give an answer. But it gives me a food for thought. Is our undergraduate research in line with the potential we have in IIT system? I am afraid the answer is – No. There is some good work done by a few with good publication etc. but that is more of an exception than the rule. Why is it like that? It is easy to start a blame game. Students may say – there are not enough exciting problems to work on, not all the faculty members are approachable (for various reasons – disinterested, does not guarantee ‘EX’ etc.), the approachable faculty members are overburdened with too many students and have no time for discussions etc.

What does the faculty member say? I cannot speak on behalf of all the faculty members. (Who am I to do that?) I can express only what I feel citing few examples.

- A week or so back we (myself and another faculty) called a student representative in our lab and asked him why the students in general are so casual about study. It is becoming monotonous and painful for us to scold students every week. The student representative very politely said that (i) in March the students are not expected to study because of Gymkhana election, Dramatics and other extra curricular activity – the faculty members should ‘take it easy’ (ii) the IIT students are not lazy or indifferent. They work hard, for 12-14 hours a day when they go for internship (iii) the job is what only matters and IIT brand is sufficient for most of the students and (iv) once in IIT they don’t need to work hard as one can ‘get away’ with putting small/medium effort.

My reaction to above was – by this approach you are devaluing IIT brand and there is a time lag when brand dilution comes to surface. It does not matter to you because by that time you will be gone but your subsequent batches and we who remain with the system will feel the heat. A decade back, it was considered that the IIT students are the best. Few years back it became ‘the best student from a non-IIT engg. College is better than the worst from IIT’. Now employers think ‘the better students from a non-IIT engg. College is better than the worse students from IIT’. Thus the gap is narrowing. Why? On point (iv) I am reminded of a small story we were told when we were kids. A boy was brought up by his aunt. Since, the parents were not there, the aunt used to try to be very affectionate. In the process, she overlooked many of his follies and the boy used to get away with lying, stealing etc. The boy grew up and became a hardened criminal. Once caught, he was put to rigorous imprisonment. The aunt now old, lamenting, went to see him in jail. And at that time the grown up boy insulted the aunt profusely and told why the aunt didn’t scold and stop him when he was young. Then he could lead a life honour. Now, even if released, he will be seen as one who is back from jail and his life is sealed.

- If that was the story of mid CGPA students, this is one for a high CGPA student. The other day, De..(…) was lamenting that one good student applied for an internship in a foreign university, his host is decided, stipend too is assured. Now the boy senses that a new internship opportunity may be there in another university. The boy asked the De.. if this one offers a stipend few hundred USD more then he is keen to change his option. The De..(…) appears to have stated that stipend part is not yet decided. The boy wanted assurance on higher stipend before he changes option.

My reaction is – Is this the mindset of a good researcher? Few hundred bucks this side or that side, does it matter? What about the commitment to the earlier university faculty who wanted to host? Usually the stipend is enough to support oneself. Should it be the criteria of exercising one’s option?

- In another scene, the students soon after being given the offer letter (they were careful, I guess, not to do it before -why I say that - in recent past, another group of students timed their complaint about a faculty member only after the grades were out - Disclaimer: the faculty complaint part was as told to me by a senior faculty and I had no personal exposure) for internship by a visiting faculty team from a US university started pleading if the stipend can be increased from USD 3000 to USD 3500. One member of the visiting team remarked aside that they were expecting the students will be asking questions on research opportunities, environments etc. The stipend is decided on some formula from the fund that is available and considers what is sufficient for the student to support himself there and not to be considered as an earning opportunity. If stipend is raised, they have to take less number of students and it might not be acceptable to the students themselves and also to the donor of the fund who want more number of IIT students to have an opportunity to visit good US universities. Also such things are not decided in the corridor by begging, pleading.

My reaction is – Do our top students need to do that before Institute guests? I also want to ask this. Does it have anything to do with the expectation building from students pleading and getting more marks and higher grades for different subjects in IIT (The other day, TAs - MTech PhD students who are mostly BTech from non-IIT engg. colleges were laughing how IIT UG students try, try and try to raise even one mark if possible by pleading for hours/days/often weeks)? I request not to take these comments personally (In our Patel Hall days it was said - when we say, we don't mean it, when we don't say, we mean it. I am not elaborating - say what?) as personally I am a great fan of the most vociferous of the group pleading before visiting Prof.s from his BTDS days, I still remember his role in Bengali play 'Muktadhara' (one girl also did a fantastic job there). And I myself also asked for moneteary benefits in terms of discounts while procuring database for our group, sometimes in hundreds of Euros and sometimes in thousands of USD. However I said, (i) if they have a policy to give discount and (ii) if not, can we offer some service to them, say, developing Indian database which they can sell to others and recover whatever discounts they give to us. Believe me it worked, and also my suggestion was included in the annual review of one EU body.

Money is important. But it is not more important than many things. The other day few UG 1st year and 2nd year students came to meet me. Apparently, they were keen to work with our group. We had burnt our fingers once in trying to develop a team around such young people. Last year, one fac. from M.. dept. came to my office and said that he wanted to offer money to four 2nd year E.. students to work in his project. And insisted that I should tell the students to do so as they earlier expressed interest to work with us. I told him that it is better left to the students to work wherever they like. But I believed and still believe they should not simultaneously work at many places. Then the work gets diluted. The fac… mem.. at Prof. level (I am still an Asst. Prof., the bottom most level, no hard feelings though :( I feel it is better if other asks why not a higher position than why :), yes, 'grapes are sour.') was very angry and annoyed and since then stopped talking to me . I don’t want to comment on what those students did as the issue in this para here is to look into another dimension of money available in UG research. Anyway, I told those 1st and 2nd year students that there may be money with many faculty members/groups. Shouldn’t they want to explore those first as we don’t offer any money (neither we guarantee good grade, we have a relatively high benchmark)? Money can have many a use – application to foreign universities, reducing burden of parents or it may be simply fun. Look at your priority. And the students said they should explore if money can be made out of UG research.

I would ask the reader to take the first part of above paragraph as criticism but the second part is mere statement of facts. It should not be misunderstood that where there is money, there is no research output. Neither its converse is true. If a student gets an opportunity to earn some money and get good research output, what is wrong with that? Nothing, from the student point of view. But, if money is the priority, you need to be careful if you are compromising somewhere with the research goal. This is because of the fact that the fund given is often not to get a high innovative component (which requires patience, perseverence) but for some time bound output, even with low innovative component where bricks and mortars are innovation of others. (I tell my M.S., PhD students funded from project that the priority is project deliverables on given timelines. If you can get a thesis out of it and get a degree I'll be happy but you are paid by the sponsor to deliver them something in a given time that works.) Also going after money one tend to ignore other promising areas where there is no money to give to UG students. And I believe for a significant number of IIT UG students money cannot be the priority. I don’t know if I am wrong.

- Industry representative from Ana.. De.. in a meeting says (two days back, seconded by another Industry representative) that they employ a IIT student not for the fact that they know how to handle certain tools. That can be taught in seven days by inviting an engineer from the tool supplying company. They want from the IIT students domain knowledge (like Signal Processing, Curve Fitting, Minimization etc.) and problem solving ability. This is what is available in IIT and not elsewhere. In tea break, I asked that person – Can you come to our Dept. and talk to our students? I believe there is a misconception or proper information not reaching proper place. (In this connection, I would like to propose a student journalist programme. Student journalists from each Dept. will be responsible to cover major events, specially the ones where outsiders come and this can be put up in an electronic student magazine) He said – I would love to.
The first example of a student representative speaking in a lab took place in D… Signal Processing Lab.

I think the above is enough to highlight my points why quality is missing. To put it simply, we are not aspiring for quality as yet. Given the talents we have in our students, we definitely can achieve quality research output and that too in good number.

One member of a 3rd year student group I was talking to this afternoon asked how should one go about to get quality UG research output. It appeared that the question was sincere, also I have a high regard for the student who asked that question. After returning from office I was wondering if I should address that or do something for which I have already committed and by delaying more the pressure will further increase (Received a mail today that asks me after my 2008-2009 commitments are done to commit 2010 and 2011 for two works and that mail “is to keep you informed in advance so that you may plan activities at your end appropriately.”). But as I said, the question appeared sincere and that’s why this long post for my young friends. To answer to his question I would say - The specific things can be told by the faculty members or group leaders of the group you join. But from my own experience I would tend to suggest the following in general.

1. Select an area being pursued in IIT where there is innovation related challenges, as early as possible. There are lots of information available nowadays. If it offers money, consider that as icing on the cake. But, don’t miss the cake.

2. Select a faculty member or a research group in that area. Don’t commit anything. Say, out of your own interest, you want to read some background paper – Review, Tutorial kind. Read them carefully.

3. See if that area excites you or not. If not, repeat step 1 and 2 till you zero on one. This may take 3-4 months time. The exercise is worth doing as you get to know many different areas and often cross-fertilization gives quality research output.

4. Once your area is selected, browse last 5 years publications in IEEE and Elsivier to find out the current trend. Try to narrow down on 2-3 problems in this area. Talk to your group leader/faculty member. He may give 1-2 more choices too in which their group is currently investigating. Take some time, take a closer look at all the options and select one. It may take a month or so. The 1-2-3-4 may be completed in one semester.

5. If you have started early then you might not have done necessary courses required for quality research in this area. Now you have to take the group leader into confidence and assure him of your long term interest and commitment to the group. He may formulate a training program for you : theoretical and experimental with some start-up code.

6. In parallel, take print of last 5 years papers from good journals around that problem. Use pencil to underline important lines. (Papers in good journals explain proposed method beautifully. If something they use are work of others, they may briefly touch it but will definitely give a reference. Find out that paper from reference section. Read the relevant portion.) In the margin of every page write in short what is ‘Aha..’ factor i.e. appears great, a sort of revelations to you and what is ‘Uhh..’ factor i.e. appears as weakness to you. In my last visit abroad one senior faculty of a reputed US university was telling that the research students should actively study philosophy, logic. Then they will be able to find weakness in the argument of others and also build his own argument properly when he writes a paper. Every paper, however good, has weakness. Else research in that direction would have stopped at least by the authors of that paper. That does not happen.

7. Done diligently step 5-6 may take almost a semester. This is called literature survey. This is very important for quality research. (I know one person from a reputed research lab of IIT who once told me how much effort he had given to bring one innovation in his design. I asked what about communicating it to a journal. He said he is not sure if some other group has already designed in that manner before as he did not do proper literature survey. What is this boss? This is not professionalism!) During this time, also try to replicate the result of at least 2-3 good recent papers. You may wonder what is its use. Besides getting a feel of the problem, the code/result will be required for comparison when you yourself propose something new later.

8. Steps 1-7 may take a year or so. But you now have a proper launch pad. In a 4 year program if you have started at the end of 2nd year, you still have one year left. If you start earlier or in Dual Degree programme you have additional time. In any case, the talented among you are well poised to take it to the next level. And the rest becomes specific to that group.

9. Please keep in touch with your group head. Attend all group meetings. If you are into too many things, you will miss some of them. At least, once every fortnight discuss your progress, make a presentation.

10. This I told before but want to tell again. Please avoid probabilistic research. That is to remain engaged with 2-3 groups hoping at least one will click or you'll get reco. from many different faculty members. (Strong reco. citing your achievements, publication, journal communicated etc. from 1 or 2 is sufficient for what you usually look for) It dilutes every one of them. However smart you may be, it is not easy to concentrate on 2-3 problems simultaneously and go deep. You are also free to tell if we faculty members do probabilistic research. If 10 good students work with me definitely 2-3 will generate good output and I am not worried if I do not get 10 good outputs. True, the teaching load here is too much (The US Prof.s say that to do proper research, it should be 2 class per week, maximum 3, ours is average 10 and there is lot of non-teaching responsibilities too), number of students per faculty is increasing at a fast rate and one cannot blame if we cannot give sufficient time to all the students. (The other day my student Bi.., after I missed three appointments because of urgent meetings got things clarified from me in google chat during 10:30-11:00 p.m.) Also I would like the students to consider how much time we devote to our profession, to make the wheel running. To give you an example, for me, it is 14-15 hours a day on average.

11. Don’t use black box approach. That is not quality research. Don’t try to fool the supervisor and in turn yourself. If you have not done anything for a week tell that plain and simple. Don’t speak trash. Don’t worry about scolding or grades. The other day one UG student came to explain me his 7-10 days work. He was trying to pass through slides in a jet speed. In the very first slide after title slide he wrote 5-6 lines. I asked him to explain one simple sentence. He was simply stuck there. It is 1:15 a.m. As I write this blog I find that student is online. Hope he is preparing for the FRI presentation he himself rescheduled. Another point! After that project review meeting, his google catch line showed the following for a brief period - It is difficult to bluff confidently if a Prof. is there at the other side of the table :)

12. Don’t be afraid of failures. As I wrote elsewhere “To start with, don't count successes and failures. It is far more useful to fail with some technique but to be able to tell why it failed than to succeed with another but not to know why it worked.
Negating a hypothesis, that is to say, it won’t work is far more difficult. Still, if you try, you may find there could be something (modifications etc.) for which it can still work. There you are! That is something new! Everything counts if you are sincere and meticulous.

At the end, my apology if the post portrays anybody (including me) in a poor light. This is only to be seen in reference to the issue being discussed - our attitude towards quality reserach. I am sure people know how good we (IIT UG students, I am one of them) all are and such posts should show the new thinking going around to do even better at a larger scale (not limited to few toppers). I specially like and admire extracurricular activities of IIT students. Few years back I used to attend all BTDS productions. Now it is a bit difficult ... but I am almost regular in a weekly study circle where students are overhelming majority.

My best wishes to all of you! Believe me, research is much more exciting than money or grade. And in the long run, it pays you more even in those two terms. Purity (of thought, approach), Patience, Perseverence are the key. Spend 2+ years of quality time (don't simply hang on, in our small lab we have matresses for students to have 1-2 hour nap while working overnight, that kind of attitude). I am sure UG research will do wonder.

Now I hope, I have earned a break from this blog space and can have some time for myself now, to devote to many pressing things. You are welcome to send your view on this blog to my gmail id. May be such a long post with some cartoons would qualify as a IIIE paper (new forum of other kind, inspired by IEEE - just joking!).

All the best! See you again later.

Rejoinder : The following is excerpts from Kriti's new post at Kriti, now in PhD program in the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Tech, worked with our group for his BTP, did reasonably good work, got one mid level journal publication, had all the potential to do much better but ............. well, something can be found from this.

“You think you got into the team because of your abilities? Think again. The list was made by us and sent to the Gymkhana.”

“I always told you that this guy (referring to me) was not up to it. We should never have put his name on the list.”

“You cannot leave the post just because you want to. The Hall gave you the post... and you better live up to the name of the Hall.”

“We don’t tolerate any attitude. If we say so, not a single person in the Hall will talk to you. How would you like that?”

“If you can’t do it, quit. People will curse you for a few days and then they will forget it.”

“Your first priority is academics, you say? Then why the hell did you take up the post? I had warned you earlier...”

“Kid, I believe in you. You can do it.”
---The first year in the Senior Hostel was a confusing and trying one. My extra-curricular ambitions had overlapped with the political ambitions of the Hall. And both of these bulldozed any academics ambitions that I might have had.

And the post goes on ......

Sunday, March 16, 2008

All Or None Law

It is time to get going again (in certain sense) after the two months break I had given to myself. This is to say that the time and energy available (or created) after the routine stuff to be devoted to something big I am aiming for. The infrastructure has considerably improved (don't count the cracks in every room or termite, frogs, reptiles, insects - our cohabitat in the quarter) compared to the first major work I took up in 2004 in a 1BR flat that I got after joining. The dining cum drawing space was my study as well as bedroom for my mother. How often I disturbed her sleep working past midnight in my PC. Like every other mother she was more concerned about me, my health rather than her own and always encouraged. Now we are in a 3BR acco., with a separate study for myself. Net connection has also improved! Time to set a new challenge. 2009 October is one such deadline for a major goal which will be a test of fire. Also there are few semi-major goals to achieve at different points of 2008 and 2009. It requires me to be calm, collected and my concentration level need to be few dB higher.

I try to believe in “If you give, give your all”, a kind of all or none law, when comes to matter of heart, matter of choice (you may find that from the posts made here). Intensity comes from remaining focussed. Hence, as a new week begins tomorrow, it is time to sign off from this blog space and few other extra academic engagements (Dept. society is one of them) for the time being. Shall come back in appropriate time.

Let me correct few facts before bidding adieu : This blog is not to hurt anyone or cast aspersions on anybody or any practice. Who am I to do that? The purpose had been to try my part in removing the asymmetry that is there in information dissemination. This is to make more options available to the people to exercise their choices.

To the IIT student in particular, and youth of India in general I can only say, you are too good. When I was like you (I am nearly double in age) I was much more boring and not as multi faceted as you are now. If I visit your homepage, orkut space or read google catch line, I find that what is on surface is only one-twelfth of you and eleven-twelfth is under water. You are much more than what you present before us. The only thing that haunts me – with such a potential like yours, does our country deserve to be where it is now? Can we not do something together – think big, dream big and then execute it with professional expertise? If we don’t, who will?

Let me reintroduce you from your own space in public domain which I truly admire.

‘About Me’ in orkut :

#All that is gold does not glitter,/Not all those who wander are lost;/The old that is strong does not wither,/Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

#Ever told your child,/We'll do it tomorrow?/And in your haste,/Not see his sorrow?/
When you run so fast to get somewhere,/You miss half the fun of getting there./When you worry and hurry through your day,/It is like an unopened gift..../hrown away. /
Life is not a race./Do take it slower./Hear the music;Before the song is over.

#I am very amibitious but at the same time afraid of failures.I am ambivert and a bit gullible so i make my friends carefully.

#I am a die-hard optimist. I see the best in every person, every situation,no matter how dire the circumstances are. … I believe in mathematical realism.

# I am crazy(my real frnd says),i am silly(My parents says) ..I'm funny(M I?),I m Introvert(My wingies say) ,I m cute (sum1says) ,I am brave( I think). Iam sweet(I say)...I am loud(its a lie)... i m eye catcher ( one of my gr8 frnd saya) i'm cheereul(believe me)..i am opinionated(sumtime)..i'm energetic(chk me if u r not))..i'm annoying(hahaha hidden cali)...i'm fun..i'm utgoing...sometimes...I AM NOT everything...I WISH I COULD BE!! but i'm everything i need to be...I AM JUST ME...and I LIKE IT LIKE THAT...:)
[We (me and author above) have explicit enmity but may be some mutual respect, too :)]

# Recently got my brain scanned and the report said :"The left part has nothing right in it, while the right one nothing left in it."

# Zindagi hai choti, har pal mein khush raho...Office me khush raho, ghar mein khush raho...Aaj paneer nahi hai, dal mein hi khush raho...Aaj gym jane ka samay nahi, do kadam chal ke hi khush raho...Aaj Dosto ka sath nahi, TV dekh ke hi khush raho...Ghar ja nahi sakte to phone kar ke hi khush raho...Aaj koi naraaz hai, uske iss andaz mein bhi khush raho...Jise dekh nahi sakte uski awaz mein hi khush raho...Jise paa nahi sakte uski yaad mein hi khush rahoLaptop na mila to kya, Desktop mein hi khush raho...Bita hua kal ja chuka hai, usse meethi yaadein hai, unme hi khush raho...aane wale pal ka pata nahi... sapno mein hi khush raho...Haste haste ye pal bitaenge, aaj mein hi khush rahoZindagi hai choti, har pal mein khush raho. i belive inEnjoing every moment of my life.

#I'm an eternal optimist...I would rather assume the best in people and be disappointed.

Your introduction at orkut :

*probably India's Nobel hope for the next 2 decades. His ridiculous perseverance regarding acads is countered by his vast interest in xtra curriculars including carnatic music, quiz and so on... he's basically an introvert on the outside and an extrovert on the inside..

* a soft spoken,a movie database,luks of a shariff bachcha wid specs, always lik 2 laugh a lot, & also mak d friends around 2 laugh wid him

*Extremely hardworking might be doing assignment when i m writing this for him......./one of those few people who love to live life by FEEL.

*he'd study 24 hours, to be at the top.that's why he got the IIT.

*he is da guy whom i have always admired he would be studyin in da night nd wouldnt even know dat its mornin.

Your passion :

#passionate in everything if its interesting

#to excel in the things i venture into

#Anything except the Mess food !!

Quote from your homepage :

*"The process of scientific discovery is , in effect, a continual flight from wonder." - Albert Einstein

*Logic is not born in castes or sects. Take a stand before you fall.

*Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.

*Shiv Khera Winners don't do different things, they do things differently.
Swami Vikekananda Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love.

Your google catch line :

#Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving...............Albert Einstein

#you reached for the secret too soon... you cried for the moon

#Wanna trade??? peace of mind up for sale for fame, fortune and money.

#It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is. - Jack Lemmon

#Complexity is the symptom of confusion, not the cause.

#i'll b the one to protect u from a will to survive and a voice of reason.

That's it for now. Spent the day attending a religious function in Community Hall, Prembazar, organized by disciples of Swami Swarupananda. Popular as 'Babamani', he emphasized on two things. (i) Work in right spirit is the only worship. Rest is not 'not doing anything' but to move from one work to other that breaks monotony, if any (ii) Character building movement is the movement that should precede every other movement political, economical, social etc. Any movement, if not done by people of character is bound to fail.

Spent the evening with my school friend who is paying a brief visit to KGP, looking back at those fun days - when sky was more blue, the water clearer, the birds used to sing more beautiful songs ....

--- Bye for now, friends, see you later here ---

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What a week!

What a week! After a tumultuous week that preceded before (undue stress at office, spilling it over to my family, forcing me to send a kind of SOS to my friends, batch-mates, seniors, ex-students that perhaps it is time to rethink about IITkgp) it was a great, great relief! And what a way to end, few hour back Su... gave me a ring. Our paper in a leading Elsi.. journal got accepted in full. The joy is all the more because this is the output of one of the two new research teams I started building up in two new areas after joining IITkgp. Now that the gestation period is over, this will give a shot in the arm of our speech group which was lagging little behind the biomedical group in terms of quality international journal publications.

But the turnaround was initiated by Vinayak and Chiranjeev Maharaj’s visit (previous post), subsequent reading of ‘Inspired Talks’ from abridged edition of Vivekananda’s complete works and inspirational replies/telephone call from friends. Also I got whole hearted support from my two senior colleagues with whom I shared the problems. I am very grateful to them. But for them it would have been much more miserable! I am sure more support would have come but I didn’t want to talk to others on a request to contain the issue and giving it time to resolve by itself. I believe that was the right thing to do in larger interest though mental duress was almost unbearable. Anyway, that is a matter of past and life always says – Move on.

Coming back to the week that it was -

(i) the classes went very well, covered lots of ground in theory as one student termed it ‘heavy duty’, the other spending more time on this subject in the daily schedule he mails to me; I will be on time to finish the syllabi.
(ii) played my small role in tech. tr. gr. of students and April workshop where one of our invention HSA will be showcased.
(iii) MO... signing and receipt of 1st year’s funding from a renowned physician who besides providing clinical facility, hospital trial is also funding our new three year long research project towards a new innovative product for a 50 percent ownership of the would be IP. It is a significant amount of funding and coming from a person (and not usual funding agencies) for a futuristic product shows the confidence he has on our team. We feel honoured and it is a great morale booster for us. The outcome of two sponsored projects we finished in a different area were also very highly rated by the two funding agencies - DST and ISRO.
(iv) received lot of accolades for whatever small work I did for big interdisciplinary IITkgp team looking into a multidimensional problem; the team leader who was not known to me even a month back (I was included in the team by another senior member of a different department. In that dept. I took some classes 3 years back which was received very well by the students) now places lot of confidence in me.
(v) my team members prepared two slides to give an overview of our group’s work in two areas for Adv.. VL.. Con... presentation which was termed ‘too good’ by any standard. Our involvement there is through a kind of invited project which too generated lot of confidence in our young team and faith in our work.
(vi) received royalty cheque, quite a significant amount of money :) from General Manager of a publishing house who few weeks back commented "I sincerely appreciate your dedication towards every single project you take up. Working with you has been a great honor and a learning experience in several ways" at the beginning of my new project with them. I would say, it is an honor and fulfilling experience for me to receive such comments from the leading most technical book publisher of the country.
(vii) had interaction with three different groups (two inside campus, one outside) on how are they working towards social upliftments and their need; had discussions with students who are not yet in any of them but are interested; also I was humbled to receive a telephone call from Chiranjeev Maharaj of Belur Math.

When I was thinking that there are seven wonder-ful reasons to feel great about the week that gone by, got the telephone call from Su.. this morning, the icing(for an academician) on the cake, the elsi… paper. As I end this post I recollect and try not to forget what Vinayak told as his favourite from Vivekananda - “Manifest your divinity (i.e. good qualities) and everything around will be harmoniously arranged for you.”

A rejoinder being added on 21st March, 2008 : Sa…, the PhD student of Biomedical group, rang at about 8:30 p.m. Visited ‘Author Centre’ of a Elsi.. journal having impact factor more than the one where our speech group’s work got accepted one week back. Our work is ‘Accepted with minor modification’. If it is a fight like this, to excel one another, great to be a part of that. Wish both the speech group and biomedical group scale newer heights!

Friday, March 7, 2008

An afternoon with Vinayak, our alumnus and Chiranjeev Maharaj

Vinayak (our alumnus from Mining Engg., MBA from IIM Kolkata, founder of Parivaar – as always, was soft spoken and spoke little. He narrated how he started Parivaar, an home for homeless, mostly girl children, the most vulnerable in our society (which we call civilized) from his private tution money in his IIM days with moral, physical and some financial support from fellow students, lots of them were ex-IITians. It was difficult days with no donation coming from anywhere. But he and his team had a resolve. And within 5 years their conviction percolated to the masses so that fund is no longer an issue. He is invited to open centre at various parts of the country e.g. IPL famous Deccan Chronicle is trying their best to have branch of Parivaar in Hyderabad. In Parivaar, every volunteer is called ‘sevabrati’. What is seva? Vinayak said that it is not crores of rupees you spend on others but more to do with a state of mind which should come to one when he meets another in the form of “What can I do for you?” Money etc. is secondary. If one has that feeling he is sevabrati and is a part of Parivaar. The most important ‘take home’ point for me from Vinayak’s talk was what he considers as his guiding light from Vivekananda – “Manifest your divinity and everything around will be harmoniously arranged for you.”

Swami Satyabodhanandaji (Chiranjeev Maharaj), true to his name was more incisive and didn’t believe in sugar coating what is satya –truth. That we have decided not to see, face, understand what is truth for our own convenience as ignorance is bliss. Truth may trouble us at least in the beginning. Truth asks us to get rid of our inertia. Truth asks us to sacrifice lower things for higher. What happens if we do not face Truth? We deceive ourselves, suffer, repent. What is Truth? Truth is that even today people in our neighbourhood die of hunger, kids do not get education, crores do not have medical facility. In any other civilized country if one is so poor, other would have rushed to offer food and cloth because it is a shame for that country when a person dies of hunger. We spend 50 lakhs – crores to buy a flat in Bangalore, a fraction of that could give 50 families some shelter. Does it ever come to our mind?

Maharaj narrated a story that can be linked to the hypocrisy we, the so called learned indulge in. A king once announced that whoever can teach him the art of making 'Jilipi' (a kind of sweet liked in Bengal) he will be offered half the kingdom and hands of his daughter. As it was being announced everywhere, the queen also heard it. Anxious, she called the king and asked if he knew the consequence of his announcement that half his kingdom will be gone etc. King was unperturbed and asked the queen not to worry. Queen said - Why should I not worry? King replied - It is because I won't learn however best one tries and thus the kingdom will be saved. The queen, surprised, asked - Why then do such stuff? The king said that it is to get some fun from monotony of life. We may feel perplexed to hear such a logic but isn't it also applicable to many of us? We have heard, read, discussed and debated many noble things, came across lives and teachings of great men but we have decided not to learn and reflect the same in our life. It is enough to consider this as an intellectual exercise and not to attach any more importance than that. Why then do we do such stuff? There you are! The king of the story in us! It gives us some sort of fun, kick. How much we hear the sufferings of our fellow men but we have decided not to feel perturbed as if we have no responsibility at all!

Maharaj was in IIT in his return journey from Amlashole, a place in West Midnapore district, 2 hour drive from IITkgp which recently became known for wrong reason – death due to poverty. Shabar tribes living in hills have no access to basic amenities of life – even food is not available everyday and thus they, even the little children have to fast. Education, healthcare are distant dreams. Maharaj, Vinayak and some volunteers are starting an initiative there.

Maharaj continued. Truth is that we are selfish. Truth is that spirituality, concept of God is very simple. We make it complex because we do not want to understand it. Who is spiritual? The one who thinks that what is his due is also due of others. Who is God? The one who thinks of only what is due of others and does not worry about his own due.

Spiritual theories are burdensome. Still if one tries to reason one can find there is one. Why do we love to tell IIT alumni is big and not small? Why we want to have more? More money, more property …? What is the limit? There is none. Why? Because we are infinite. How do we say that? Take a fish out of water, it wants to go back. The finite I in me wants to get back that infinite status and thus the insatiable desire to grow. Extending this logic, in ultimate analysis, there is no other self. It is me only. Till he is happy I cannot be happy and that is the Truth – however hard we try to hypnotize ourselves and forget our real nature. The thought of losing individuality frightens us. But don’t we experience it everyday? In deep sleep – can I identify whether I am an IIT student or a Caltech student or even so basic individual attributes like whether I am a male or female? Individuality and ego comes hand in hand. The one who pushes ‘I’ factor has a trouble within. How? Look at our body parts. The knee lets us know that it is there when it has a problem. Similarly the throat, heart, lungs etc. Till that time we hardly recognize that they are there. If we are doing fine and not creating trouble, our ego will be less and we will work in a quiet, diligent manner.

Maharaj highlighted few other issues like a beggar cannot be happy. And one need not beg in the street to prove that. He mentioned that he was told by a company top executive how a high salaried IIT grad once begged for a US position in his company and looked completely distressed simply because he was placed in India. He narrated one interesting SMS he received few days back. God was asked – What surprises you most in mankind? God answered – That first they lose health to get money and then they lose money to get health (There were few more lines which I couldn’t write in my running note) that is to say if the destination is 5 feet away we go 15 feet foward and then retreat 10 feet. Why not think of having a 5 feet course right in the first place? Same is true in our journey of life. Where do we want to reach? What is being sacrificed and at whose altar?

Maharaj said that the education is different from information gathering. It is development of character and an all round personality and this only gives a person the highest satisfaction in life. Maharaj read one paragraph from Vivekananda’s writing where he called a person traitor who does not think of his fellow men. He narrated how social awareness and social service is an integral part of some US universities and 15 students of one US university will be visiting India soon to work in underdeveloped area as a part of curricular program. He praised Islam as the most practical religion for the majority as most of us need to be forced to make a move. In Islam, one must share minimum 2.5 percent of his earnings with poor people who may be a distant relative in poverty or some neighbour etc. Maharaj though of Hindu faith practised Islam too, offering Namaz etc. once he found in his hostel (at Ramakrishna Mission, Belgharia) there are three Muslim boys. Maharaj requested people to give back to the society. Depending upon broadness of heart one should take care of at least parents, then relatives, local people, countrymen etc. in increasing order of capacity.

Maharaj expressed great hope and sees an important role of IITians in nation building exercise. He requested people to do something for others, even if it is little to start with and not merely think. He wanted the campus study circle ( to be an initiative of the students where faculty members will come as a support and not the other way.

(Disclaimer : The above is as it appeared to me. Misconceptions, faults, if any, should be attributed to my own misunderstanding and not to Vinayak or Maharaj.)