Sunday, March 20, 2011

At a Glance


Happy Holi to all!
Kesaria Balam Padharo Mahre Desh.

The tune had been visiting for quite some time; since the time we were returning from a trip with Republic Day skit team of NSS. There was an antakshari competition arranged by the students in the return journey on a MUV.

Yesterday was the super moon evening. Seven families gathered at the residence of one of our colleagues and celebrated Basanta Purnima with song and recitation. The musical extravaganza started at 8 p.m. and continued till midnight. The mood was to continue even further but for the kids, who however did not show any sign of fatigue. While most of the songs were Rabindrasangeet, one Rajasthani folk song took us far at the other side of the country in the land of desert.

Sponsored Research

Had been quite busy in between. There were reviews of five sponsored projects one after another. One more to go. Another big project has come where I have a good amount of responsibility in platform development and operationalizing the work. There were several visits of an MNC, interested in technology transfer of two our innovations in healthcare area. All these required a lot of team meetings and interaction with visitors. Also a certain amount of travel which I try to minimize to the extent possible. Being in station allows multitasking, to take care of many responsibilities simultaneously.

Receiving a lot of requests from various universities which requires visit to their places. I have been advised to be selective so that the work at KGP does not suffer. We have almost all the right ingredients in place and enough funding. We are looking forward to taking up some audacious challenges. At the formulation / setting up of problem stage, I need to give more time to students. Gou.., my first M.S. student (had two Ph.D.s earlier!!) last month defended his thesis very well. He did some pioneering work in his 2.5 years of association with our lab. in the area of frame selection which reduces computational burden in automatic speaker recognition not just by a factor of 1.5 or 2 but 4 or in some cases 8. The work was immediately accepted by a reputed journal without any single correction. The MS thesis was accepted as it was by both the examiners. One examiner commented that it was almost a Ph.D. level work. Gou.. is now taking a break in his own chosen way and preparing to go abroad for Ph.D. work. Proud to have students like him and wish him the very best.

Received research proposal from someone from abroad who wishes to join our group for a Ph.D. in speech processing area. He has excellent background, a BTech degree from top Indian Institute and Ph.D. from abroad with volumes of work experience. Dean (PGS&R) and Dept. Head welcomed it and the rule (citizenship and others) and procedure for getting fellowship etc. are being explained to him. On behalf of the research team, I appreciate and thankfully acknowledge every single event that encourages us, motivates us to deliver our very best. 


There was an unexpected ending to US edition project when the manuscript was fully ready after 2 years of hard work and the chapters received very good review. The publisher was hugely apologetic saying that the dollars offered to me is a token of appreciation and cannot compensate the passionate work put behind. Yes, I felt sad but only for a day or two. The US audience miss what is already there in new Indian edition and US edition was turning out to be even superior when I completed action on US reviews.

Life moves on. One Editorial Head from the publisher’s Indian arm visited IIT Kharagpur thereafter and we discussed for hours to restart a 2 year old project which took backseat for the US edition. I shall start that work in summer vacation which is 1.5 months away.

NSS Work

National Service Scheme (NSS) occupied a large part of me in this period. National Youth Week celebration included a morning rally (Rally link) and an evening function involving village school teachers, panel discussion, exhibition of inter village school drawing competition, prize distribution, cultural program etc. (Link1, Link2)   This is the first time NSS was asked to put up a show in the Republic Day (Link) flag hoisting ceremony at stadium. The volunteers put up a nice skit on patriotic theme, urging people to participate in the national regeneration, shaking off ‘Sab chalta hai’ attitude. Aurko compeered it very well. Director, IIT Kharagpur was very pleased at the performance and made congratulatory remarks on NSS activities at IIT Kharagpur. We heard the same from one NSS Advisory Committee member who is not from IIT when he attended Youth week function. I shared these with the NSS team and all feel enthused, motivated.

In fortnightly program officers’ meeting got to know how young IITians as NSS volunteers are reaching out to the underprivileged. In one secondary school in a backward slum area (first generation learners), all the classes from V to X (there are different sections in one class) on Saturday from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm are taken by IIT students. They teach mostly Vedic Math., English etc. complementary to what school teachers teach Mon-Fri. The Headmaster said that the feedback from the guardian had been very good. There are many such inspiring developments. It gives me so much of joy to see young IITians who generally represents the India part of the digital divide, getting acquainted with Bharat part. I think it will have far reaching effect in the mind of the IIT students as well as the community it is serving.

Dean (Planning & Coordination) took special interest in seeing that NSS figures in our new communication directory. It was not there earlier. Further, on his advice, we have submitted our infrastructure requirement which will be a shared resource. He found the design well thought out. Two consecutive  such design - one for NSS and the other for a new lab. of the Dept. - I am gaining some experience in this too!

Thanks Giving

Had an opportunity to take Republic Day skit to a trip to make them feel special after their special performances on two consecutive days that made the entire NSS family proud.  A few could not make. Finally, there were ten of us and we hired a Tata Sumo. This was the birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna. The students did not know that. I was surprised when they gifted a Sri Ramakrishna idol to me to say ‘Thanks’. This was also a day where I had so many pics of me clicked on a single day. This collection can be found here (link).

Few weeks back one program officer rang me one afternoon and I accompanied him along with two NSS student volunteers to a village about 5KM south of IIT Kharagpur. The villagers arranged a evening meet to say ‘Thanks’ to NSS, IIT Kharagpur. The volunteers worked hard to make water available in that village without which 300 families were to travel 2KM to nearest source of water, the well, ponds in the village gone dry. The meet was arranged in the evening as the villagers work as a daily labourer during day time.

We sat in the ground (though they arranged chairs for us) with them. They managed a low power incandescent bulb from somewhere. All belong to backward castes, mostly scheduled tribes. They were sitting quietly, did not know how to say thanks but their eyes says it all. Finally, one young person (with whom NSS volunteers established connection first) said that they still cannot believe what is happening is for real. They never believed that there are people who think about their well-being and work for them. The previous Sunday NSS volunteers were there till 7 pm and left only when they saw that mother earth is delivering the water to her those children who need it the most.

Slowly we got into conversation. They talked about issues they are facing on getting ST certificates etc. We told how we can assist them. They accepted our position when we said that as National Service Scheme volunteers, ours is to serve and not criticize any or finding fault with any. As the conversation was in the local language, I was translating it into English for the NSS volunteers in between. To my surprise, many a villagers told that they were able to understand what I was telling in English. At the end of 1 hour meet one school-going teen of the village came forward and said if it is possible for NSS to open a weekly ‘Spoken English’ program for 7-8 teens like him. To come it from a first generation school-goers of a backward village was surprising and the student volunteers immediately agreed on a Saturday afternoon slot.

Uttamda's Blog

I got this message from Uttamda once he returned. "My dear Goutam,Good morning. Yesterday I have created the blog as per your instruction. Thank you. Please visit With best wishes, Uttamda". And in one month what did he deliver! Gems - one after another. I simply kept this link in my google status space. Students here told me that they benefited a lot from these writings. Uttamda once worried about quality of English, language skill etc. I requested him to ignore that and it is the substance for which the world is hungry. One day, I got a ping in my google chat. This was Ch.., an IIT Kharagpur alumnus studying in a top US university, top most in some estimate.

7:57 AM Ch...: This blog is excellent. Thanks so much for sharing. :)
7:58 AM me: Thanks Chintan. He is a very simple person. ....
8:02 AM Ch...: I think a person is as strong as his or her thoughts. Then it doesn't matter what his or her background is.
8:03 AM He has written about very simple things, but with powerful take-aways.

We are One

Some of the senior IIT students (who are providing scholarship to 28 village school students) asked me to interact with a group of juniors who have a common origin (one coaching institute in Andhra Pradesh) and one common desire to serve the community. Their motivation comes from one teacher of the coaching institute, Mr. SVK who has started a 'movement' called VR1, ‘We are One’. There are about 100-150 such students in campus. Met the students one evening in Math Dept. seminar room. They inquired about service opportunities existing in the neighbourhood of the campus.

I shared my experience with them and also some of the issues a new comers face in the IIT environment. Getting into IIT usually is the single minded pursuit before coming here. Hardly one thinks what next once one is in IIT. The IIT-JEE pressure has been released, parental control not in sight, freedom coupled with high speed internet, volumes of materials available in LAN and of different kind, peer pressure etc. there is good enough a recipe to get lost in the web. If one is concerned about community, one has to feel more responsible to acquire knowledge and power so that there is a larger capacity to serve. So the first step is not to get spoilt and to have an all round development of self, evolving as a better human being.

Then one has to understand what is service. One definition says, it is kindness put into action. Both the words – ‘kindness’ and ‘action’ are important. Often there is a lot of action but without feelings for the community, without any sympathy – empathy is a harder call. Where from sympathy comes? What is the philosophy behind? Next, often a lot of kind people are seen with a desire to help the underprivileged. But they find it difficult to reach out, stand by their side under treacherous sun or in a muddy road, issues like availability of time or potential ‘side-effect’ creeps into mind. The action part remains missing or at most turns out to be donation to others who are in action (NGOs) – a kind of outsourcing the responsibility. Each of them in isolation serves some purpose but together they have the desired effect.

VR1 organized one workshop and it was great to have a one-to-one meeting with the founder Mr. SVK. He appeared to be both inspiration and perspiration put into one. Wish his effort the very best. I placed some of my observations on VR1 before him. Next day was a Sunday when he conducted a workshop here on leadership and other issues.

YES+ will be conducting ‘Arts of Living’ workshop in next two weekends. Two students came to my office a few days back and they want a workshop by sisters of Brahmakumaris here. I have listened to discourses of Sister Shivani in television and it is very inspiring, practical and logical. This is also expected very soon. Besides these we are having weekly lecture on spiritual heritage by senior monks of Ramakrishna Mission (every Wednesday at Gargi auditorium). Therefore, there is ample opportunity now. More importantly, that such things are there shows an increasing level of awareness or takers amongst us.


One mail came to me via a final year student who maintained our NSS group’s website 3 year’s back when I was a program officer looking after a small group. This was from Youth Leader Magazine, India a United Nations project with four UNESCO status. The magazine wants to publish interviews of a few NSS volunteers. The aim is to motivate and inspire the young generation for a positive and healthier life and to train them to develop into more social and environmental conscious adults. I nominated two of the NSS volunteers who received ‘Best Volunteer’ award in Youth Week function. The interview is done and waiting for its publication date. This will motivate young IIT students engaged in community service quite a lot. I was told that the correspondent replied like these after the interview, “It is great to see NSS and it's students doing so much for the betterment of the community and self. Your experience will be a motivating story for our readers.”

I myself too was interviewed a few days back by a leading Indian newspaper on one of our research work. The photoshoot is scheduled next TUE. Shall inform readers about the article when it comes up in the daily. Earlier I had opportunity to interact with a few journalists. Interacted closely last December with the author when this article (Link) on Dr. Kalam’s visit to IIT Khargpur took place and I was the organizing secretary. I am told by our Head of the Dept. that I won’t be spared :-) in upcoming Diamond Jubilee program.

Demo 2

The students in the Signals & Systems course performed 2nd mini-project demo a week back. This was on speech recognition. It worked for two words for most of them and more than two for a few. About ten of them participated. None from girls this time. There were a few new developers who was not there for the first. The highest correlation in code was self-certified as 0.2. The final one is awaited on 9th April. This challenge is on developing automatic speaker recognition system again with minimum user base.

The twin pillars of our research group are 'learning to learn' and 'team work'. We use technology profusely - googlegroup, chat, circulating PPT among the team before any presentation etc. (still there is room to improve). The aim is to make everybody independent as well as a team person, confident as well as humble. Trying to the extent possible, to give these 4th sem. students a feel of it. Shall see if it worked.


Something very interesting happened on publication which shows how strong our team is and the quality of bonding amongst us. One ex-scholar of IITkgp (in one of our area of interest but not from our lab.) was coming up with an edited volume from a foreign publisher and on his request one of my ex-scholar and myself put up one chapter. Took 9-10 months to prepare that. Few weeks back we received the agreement form when deadline of publication came very very close. IIT Kharagpur had some objection there in the liability clause. I made suggestion on how it can be rewritten that takes care of the interest of editors, publishers as well as authors. The editors said that the agreement cannot be reworked and there is time pressure. My ex-student was comfortable with the liability clause and signed as principal author and sent the agreement. I came as co-author and the liability was not assigned to me.

Now came an issue if such exclusion would be acceptable to the publisher. We (me and the editors) then agreed that my student will come as single author and my name will be excluded to save the chapter. We wanted the work to be there which editors found very well written and informative. In fact, the Ph.D. thesis of this student of mine earned huge appreciation from both the examiners and the foreign examiner, a senior faculty in a foreign university remarked as ‘best thesis read’. And 9-10 months hard work was at stake. We conveyed the same to my student. I kind of convinced him in the evening. Next morning I get a mail which says “I thought very sanely yesterday night about this matter and found that it will not be good if YOU are not there with me as an author …”. The same was communicated to editors and we are waiting for their decision.

Don’t know if we are acting like idiots on this count. Enjoying the holiday and watching ‘3 Idiots’ in Sony channel televised as Holy special. To us, the eternal optimists, "Ell" is always well. Ours is to work.

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