Sunday, January 8, 2012

Alumni Meet

IIT remained dream institution for generations and will continue to remain so. The conviction is there - for being a part of UG fraternity, research students and member of the faculty. Of course, all the stake holders need to work hard showing unity of thought, words and action. Alumni is a great strength for IIT Kharagpur. Besides their financial help, the experience they share with younger IITians are valuable.

Giving Back

Had it not clashed with NSS time slot, I would have attended the morning function of the alumni meet on 7th Jan. (SAT). I had the responsibility of visiting three villages where three new program officers are taking charge of respective NSS units. I set off at 9:30 AM from home and could return only at 1:15 PM. In one of these villages, the poorest under Gopali Gram Panchayat, we had an interesting experience. We met a proud father who was not exactly complaining about her daughter. The daughter, Asha works as a house-maid in IIT Kharagpur campus. She spends whatever she can save over a period of time for the poorest of the poor in the village. Soon we met Asha who came back from campus to take lunch at village home. She shyly showed us one roofing she sponsored recently for one family which costs her Rs. 4000 (the mud wall was okay, the house is in the first picture with Asha, Program Officer and NSS students in front, beside the children jostling without going to schools - right to education??). She showed one more house in dilapidated condition which she is taking up now (the left one in second picture). These straw roofs lasts for a year or so. The asbestos roofing is more permanent but costs Rs. 15000 and is beyond her capacity or the time frame required is beyond the urgency of the situation. 

Meeting Point

Later in the day, as a part of Alumni Meet, I was revisiting what Asha is doing for her village. Somewhere, we can compare that with our alumni giving back to alma mater. One is higher in relative term and the other is higher in absolute term. Can there be a meeting point somewhere? Few weeks back, I was discussing something similar with the lead student volunteer of this alumni meet. He was an NSS volunteer and we often shared our dreams, visions. A small contribution from our alumni or CSR money of corporate sector can contribute in a big way in relative terms. Having educated by Asha, I myself wonder why I am not contributing Rs. 15,000 a year to have roof for one family in our neighbourhood. Asha says that the whole house including mud walls, bamboo etc. costs Rs. 30,000. NSS, IIT Kharagpur works in 15 villages within 5-6 KM radius of our campus. There are about 15 primary school or sarva shiksha kendra (SSK). Fifteen water filter, each costing Rs. 2000 (approx.) amounts to Rs. 30,000 and can be a big differentiator. The other project could be painting / whitewashing these schools or developing infrastructures so that children feel like coming to school and reduce the drop out rate. We now have a very good rapport with local administration - from SDO, Panchayet Pradhan to village youth and the ground for taking up such activity is prepared!

Panel Discussion

I try to attend panel discussions held in the campus where there are guest speakers. This is to get idea and learn what others who care, are thinking. There were two panel discussions scheduled on 7th Jan. (SAT) afternoon as a part of alumni meet. I missed the first discussion on the 'Future of IIT' as I had to attend a parallel meeting that started at 3:30 PM and was on a dream project of IIT Kharagpur. The second topic of the panel discussion was little specific, on 'Safety in work place' - perhaps triggered by recent loss of lives due to fire at AMRI hospital. I was amazed to listen to the entire range of issues that are associated with safety and we, generally speaking, are so much ignorant of it. One speaker referred to one calculation which shows cost of life in India is only Rs. 12,000. No wonder, we can afford not to take note of it and consider expenditures related to safety is not value accretive! There is a need to educate ourselves and all of us need to work together to create awareness on this count.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Farewell 2011

Good-bye 2011 ... Welcome 2012!

Wish the new year ushers in happiness, peace and prosperity to one and all! My apology if I am not able to reach out individually to all with whom I enjoy a relationship laced with love, care and share.

Earth's revolution

Crossing 40, one perhaps goes into down count mode. With 10-20 years remaining in which health might cooperate, we perhaps try to make every year count. We try to align ourselves more with things that are near and dear to us. We try to get a sense of satisfaction that the life has been a meaningful, worthy pursuit - the goal reached or not. Here comes the question. What has been the goal? Was there any goal for myself? Or was it always living a life on others' terms? Something like Brownian Motion, colliding with one thought now and next with another, leaving a zero net displacement at the end! As Earth completes one revolution around the Sun, it is time to take a look at what our thoughts and deeds revolved around in the year gone by. As it revolved in the orbit, spiraling up, our work may have yielded few milestones. Time to feel proud of it and look for more in the coming year. If something is missed due to slackness, time to take a resolve to remove them in the new year. The more important of course is to take note of what is there at the centre of our revolution, what is the fulcrum. Is it a desire to emerge as a better human being?

Feeling Nostalgic

Looking back at 2011, find a lot of room to improve in the coming year as far as slackness is concerned. I think that I can work even harder. Yes, there are too many responsibilities to give time to. Still, a better time and work management can bring out more. However, I am satisfied on one count. I have learnt to respect people more during the year, specially my young students. Be it my research students, or students in my UG classes, or N.S.S. students; I was simply humbled to see their character strength - the last semester specially was very enlightening. Thanks to all, my students. The strict, rigid personality you encountered day to day and tolerated :-) wants to thank all of you from the bottom of the heart for gifting a wonderful 2011, to which I feel like attached to. Attached is an image from our 25th Dec. Vizag tour. Gadadhar, not yet Sri Ramakrishna, the world renowned teacher who could not spell 'education' properly leaving native village for Dakshineshwar. (This exhibition is on Ramakrishna Beach of Vizag at the other side of the Beach Road. This is the best of such exhibitions I have seen so far.)

One has to move on. Hope, the 2012 batch of students will be similarly generous, if not more.  

Garbeta College Visit

The will and wish of many prevailed. The 5 day year end Vizag family tour followed high fever of daughter. There was an invitation to address N.S.S. volunteers of Garbeta College on 30th Dec. afternoon. My 9 year old daughter who usually prefers mother's company to enjoy her freedom to the fullest, wants me always to be with her when ill. The organizer's thankfully swapped two afternoon programs and mine was rescheduled on 31st Dec., the farewell day of 2011. By that time, the fever came down. We four (myself, Rajat - faculty of IIT Kharagpur and NSS program officer, Sahidullah - senior PhD student and Mr. Prabodh Kumar Sasmal - President, Kharagpur Vivekananda Yuva Mahamandal) set off at 11:15 A.M.  We reached Garbeta college, 65 KM from our campus at about 1:15 PM. We stayed there till 4 PM.

N.S.S. Special Camp at Garbeta College

Dr. Sushil Ghosh, PhD from IIT Kharagpur and now a faculty member at Garbeta College, looking after NSS activities there organized the special 7 day long training camp. About 120 students participated. The pre-lunch session used to be physical work. The post lunch session was on various trainings (e.g. first aid, fire) and talks from invited speakers. On the 2nd day of the camp, Swami Sunishthananda, Principal, Midnapore Ramakrishna Mission School had an inspiring discourse. I heard Swamiji before addressing young audience. One has to listen spell bound when he talks. In my one hour address, I stressed on (i) challenges of modern society (ii) what is social service - self awareness before making others aware (iii) internal and external discipline (iv) self-confidence and believe in the power of the good (v) need to reach career milestones, not for flaunting ego but to be able to serve more (vi) importance of balanced development of Heart (to feel), Head (to think a solution) and Hand (to implement, not outsourcing all the time) (vii) the power of organization (viii) establishing network among NSS units - shared email address with all and requested to follow up. Rajat shared his unit's experience at NSS, IIT Kharagpur with campers. This followed an half-an-hour Q & A session. Finally, it  was time to end the session. We are not too much used to college students touching feet at IIT environment. But this is a common practice in a small town college of 3700 students but with broadband connection, catering to many, many villages in the neighbourhood. As is said, our nation lives in the villages. I was embarrassed a lot when students started asking for autographs.

We paid a short 10 minute visit to a place called Gangani in our return trip. This was one KM from Garbeta college and had a beautiful landscape.

V.S.R.C. Hall Day

This too was scheduled on 31st Dec. evening. VSRC houses project students with separate blocks for boys, girls and married couples. The project students of our lab. invited our family in this evening celebration. We discussed at home. Though the daughter is on recovery mode, it appeared that it would be ambitious to attend it. Hence we decided to give it a miss.

Having returned from Garbeta College at 6:30 PM, I was preparing a project proposal to mail to sponsor and the phone of one project student from VSRC came. "Sir, the program has started. We are waiting for you." There was a need to procure something from the market and I made a detour to VSRC to spend half-an-hour with the students. The cultural program was on. Since I had limited time, visited rooms of our lab. students on their invitation, had sweets and photographs there. They are kind enough not to force me for the dinner. The new block of VSRC meant for girls looked contemporary and beautiful. The old ones for boys looked depressing, perhaps needs a fresh coat of whitewash. The girls of course argued that they take more care of their apartments so that they look good. Among the boys, Isr... beat everybody by several notch in maintaining the room. Among the girls, the ones of Resh... and Debapr... were very nicely arranged. Neer.. disappointed me in the sense that his room had pic.s of only Lord Shiva and Swami Vivekananda :-) He is a regular in Wednesday Bhagavad-Gita class here and I was expecting more such pics there. In comparison, Resh.. had a greater much greater company of gods and goddesses in her room!!! Wished everyone Happy New Year in advance and left VSRC at 8:30 PM.

Gods and Goddesses

I leave it entirely to personal choice whether one believes in gods and goddesses. To me what Vivekananda said, "Be good and do good. That is the whole of religion." or "Religion is the manifestation of divinity already in a person." are sufficient. If worship of one form or the other or no form at all, helps one to have meditative mind, do self-analysis and strike a balance in life and not becoming superstitious or fanatic, it can be considered as a great device. If there is a better device, let one go for that.

Few weeks back was traveling by car with Akash on steering wheel. Akash, a young boy, works in a car rental agency and we got his service on several occasions before. That day my mother was there in the car. She noticed that there were pictures of Goddess Kali of Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna, Ma Sarada in the car. Also, Akash stopped the car at one small road side temple, bowed and threw a coin. To this Akash said, "I never looked at images of Gods and Goddesses or cared about them at younger age. My father used to say that a day might come when I would bow to even road side stones. Now into the profession of car driving, those words have come true." Our faith in gods and goddesses, unless originated from family values or deeper discourses, is proportional to uncertainty faced in life. A regular salaried employee with a guaranteed monthly income, in general, starts the daily chore much differently from a shop-keeper as far as their engagements with gods and goddesses are concerned. Even an otherwise non-believer turns believer when in duress. Does it help? The prayer may help in generating more energy, strength, wisdom which is already in us, not coming from outside. It may help to focus, concentrate. Our mind has great power. Our senses which are oriented outwards, defocusses it and we do not usually feel the power within.

No Smoking

Suraj was the driver in last Kolkata visit. This was the 2nd time I traveled with him. He had to abandon study at Class VIII due to sudden demise of father and started career as a helper of a truck. He takes all care for his sister who is on the verge of completing college education. Suraj wants to study further. Reading is no problem for him but he finds it difficult to write. We discussed if he can use waiting hours at parking to practise writing. That day, he had to park the vehicle at Sector-V, IT hub for some time. I had a discussion for an upcoming research lab. at IIT Khaargpur to be sponsored by the one of the largest Indian MNC in IT sector. In return journey, we stopped at Sher-i-Punjab at Kolaghat for tea. I asked Suraj how he liked Sector-V as it was his first visit. That place is giving employment to lakhs of people and looks so vibrant! Suraj gave an unapproving look at me and said, "What you say is fine but girls working there smoke." I said that there might have been stress in the office work and may be smoking gives some relief. As such everyone now is trying to quit smoking due health concern. Suraj did not look convinced. He said, "The girls were coming in large groups to that shop, close to where I parked the vehicle. Not one or two, all of them were smoking and they did not look stressed. Can so many of them be stressed simultaneously?"

It perhaps was not just a social taboo or gender / class discrimination or cultural shock he was referring to. Perhaps the brother in Suraj was worried about the future of his college going sister aspiring for a job.

New Year Resolution

Let us try sincerely in this new year to come out of the habits that weaken us as an individual or as a nation and embrace the habits that make us strong.

Vizag Tour

My daughter (Brishti) had only 6 day long Christmas leave. We left Kharagpur on 22nd Dec. evening. The 5 day tour was all fun. The scenic beauty is unparallel - the hills merging themselves into the sea, the likes of 'Dolphin Nose'. Brishti spent everyday no less than half-an hour in the sea. Even on 27th evening, before we were set to depart. And it was no surprise that fever came few hours before we were set to board train. That apart every single thing was enjoyable. The hill top film studio, Kailash Giri amusement park, the zoo, submarine, museum - besides the various beaches. I scored a numero uno in some funky sense. Never ever got into sea anytime during the tour, not even the toes got wet! Much did my daughter and her excellency (6th pic from bottom, right side of the frame at Titanic Point of Kaliash Giri)) tried, always found a way out! Two of my pics at film studio is also there - one in OC's chair of the filmy police station (not related to texts where they appear)!!!

Professional Life

This is life as usual like any IIT faculty member. Interacting with students, technical staffs, colleagues, sponsors, collaborators. Trying to reduce no. of sponsored projects to remain focussed. Have had enough to develop a very, very decent lab. infrastructure. Just trying to get funds for existing students and being choosy about new projects. Not renewing projects with two sponsors who supported us for long. Our sincere thanks to them. Shall remain available to them whenever there is any specific need from their side. Shall work with a new sponsor (one Govt. research lab. delivering technology to field) who finds a very good match with our technology portfolio. Shall continue with a physcian sponsored project due to its special nature even if the project value is not high and there is manpower constraint. Seldom we find such a commitment from an individual, a medical expert. Two more interdisciplinary (inter- Dept. projects), One-Two new industry funded collaborative projects - and my hands are full. Cannot take any more. Moreover, would like to finish the book project asap. This is a commitment for long. Admin. responsibility is increasing and cannot help there too. This is what is lined up in 2012, as far as I can see. 

I must say one thing here. The industries with whom we interacted and FICCI have been quite appreciative of our work. This inspires us a lot. On 21st Dec., there was a video shoot in our lab. by media people for an upcoming documentary. There was a dfference this time. In several places, I had to walk from a distance towards the camera. It was difficult for me to give a serious look at my face and there had to be few retakes.