Monday, May 21, 2012


- "Did anything happen in the institute? Tell me the truth."
- "No. Nothing."
- "Why then these series of blood tests? Ultrasonography?"
- "These are routine check-up. Closing on 44 years. Prevention is better than cure."
- "Since when did you start taking care of yourself? How come you became such a good boy! Tell us what are the discomforts."
- "Nothing. I assure you."
- "This evening while talking to your office colleague, what were you discussing in low voice? Did you faint in office? Today or tomorrow, I shall get to know. Why don't you tell now?"
- "Please try. No such things."

And then the news got spread through her highness. Sister, in-laws started inquiring. Also students on seeing the leucoplast on arm. Suddenly, I find that a lot of answering is to be done. An honest and innocuous attempt to live healthier is raising eyebrows! But getting attention even if for a 'healthy' reason like this :-) where concerns are showered on you, suddenly makes you feel that you are not just playing a character role in the drama of life! And my sister and brother-in-law were most severe on me, I suspect that prompted by her highness, criticizing and telling me what I should do and what I should not.

Do I deserve this much of criticism, trial by family and well-wishers? Did I miss morning work out (morning walk plus free hand exercise) for a single day in last two months? One/two day(s) miss does not count. As is said, "Bhawanako Samjho (Appreciate the spirit)"! What can you do if you have an early morning flight to catch or have a 7:30 AM class? Shouldn't want notice the 3KG weight reduction in last 2-3 months and not the 100+ KG absolute weight, the sacrifice made (sweets and other delicacies - more so when you have arguably the best chef of the campus at home)?

The same can be said about office work. Returning home at 10 PM from office should not be overshadowed by the more regular 8:00-8:30 PM schedule! As such being in Kharagpur, being at IIT Kharagpur is always being at home for one who spent his childhood, youth in the town or in the campus. And the reasons for which one has to stay till 10 PM needs greater attention than the 10 PM itself! Let us take yesterday evening as an example. One research student's rehearsal of synopsis seminar started at 6 PM and went up to 7:45 PM (discussion on various points raised by group members). Then had discussions with four young IITKGP students (just completed 2nd year) who were invited in the seminar. These young students are braving summer heat, staying away from home in vacation to work with us as intern and one cannot but be overwhelmed by their dedication and salute their spirit. Once I finished discussion with them at 8:30 PM, I decided to use the late evening serenity to my advantage to type down a detailed thesis examination report which was overdue. Then took its print on letter head, signed and scanned the same, finally mailed it to the registrar of the concerned university. I was supposed to send it last Friday and requested few extra days. Thereby, the guilt feeling of being late is gone and I had a good night sleep. Wasn't that a healthier proposition than sticking to a 8:30 PM deadline?

Let me defend the other criticism faced. This is 'stress'. Here is somebody who worry about big big things where nobody takes him seriously; and he doesn't worry at all about things where he can be taken seriously (of course, at mercy of the greats :-)). Isn't it a perfect recipe for remaining stress-free? Also, it is said that the things one does out of love, passion do not stress. Who can say that I am not enjoying what I am doing? I have seen guidance which tells people to be able to say, "No" to remain stress-free. I think that the coordinator of one of the lead funding agency was in 'shock and awe' when I flatly said 'No' to review requests dumped on me (about 5-6 proposals) without my consent. He was asking why I am late for an assignment that I did not accept at all. I politely said that I had several pending thesis examination work which I accepted and they are of higher priority. Came the reply on expected line, "What will happen to your proposal if the reviewer says 'No' or delays the review?" I don't know if I got de-stressed to say that I wouldn't be applying to them for fund to increase their trouble. I don't know if I should have told them if the reviewer deserves to know what happens to the fate of projects reviewed by them, how much weight the review carries, or if it is the final seminar presentation or any other stuff that are the decider. Perhaps that would have increased the stress level somewhere. Didn't I do good to myself and the society to keep the cumulative stress down? Who will appreciate this?

Whether you apply or not, your application is considered favourably or not, it feels good to be one of the two persons in "To:" list of a mail where application is requested for a faculty position in a lead European University. That somebody notices you at some other part of the world is itself a big 'feel-good' factor. However, aging mother (72+ years) who stays with us in campus quarter and other factor do not allow me to go out even for a semester. My thanks to that university and to my students (basking in their glory, reflected on me) -  the confidence it gives definitely works to the advantage of one, health included.

Next, don't I act swiftly and decisively when it matters the most (to establish that I am at the peak of health) - to confront termite or ant colony and last but not least the snakes? The ordeal needs taking help of maintenance and security staff or flexing rod and muscles to solve the matter then and there. I belong to that hall of fame who killed a snake in bed room single-handedly (Again "Bhawnako Samjho" - used both the hands but no other help except family members), a rare feat in the campus. Recently drove a big snake away from our garden and kept working on the holes for days (each time it was resurfacing). Finally the combination of bleaching powder and stamping of ground (heard that they are deaf but sensitive to vibration) after each day's work out made that big snake give up. To take the ant colony out of quarter, I am following a policy where I am doing spraying activity on one side and keeping the other side (towards the periphery) free. The ants appear to be intelligent enough to understand in which direction I am asking them to go.We never used 'ant colony optimization' algorithm to score a point anywhere in our research - thus, no pricking of conscience!

What else? How to prove that I am doing my best and doing enough? Kashmir, Vizag, Darjeeling in summer 2011, winter 2011, summer 2012 - isn't that great? It is the quality that matters. One should not worry if 4N, 5D could have been extended or Peling, Gangtok could have been included in the itinerary. One has to keep something available for the next vacation!

I think that I have proven my point. Bad cholesterol at border line high is much better than having urea, creatinine crossing the limit, if we know what makes it sweet and sudden. Maintaining blood pressure at 140/90 for about a decade now without medication is no mean feat! More so if you have history of high B.P. in your family! Today evening there is ultrasonography test. I am sure that I shall prove my critics wrong on this count too and it is no surprise that the critics will be the happiest to hear that. Till then enjoy the pics taken during morning walk outs in our beautiful campus and our new quarter (often accompanied by my daughter who inspires, participates - in fact, I had to invent one work out, 'madness at large' which she finds hilarious - don't ask for demo., please!!!). The place behind garage in the last picture is the arena.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lori for Girl Child

This evening I was listening to a prime time television debate on a national news channel. Director Satyajit of 'Satyamev Jayate' was articulate in defending criticism on Rs. 6 crore (or 20 crore in some other estimate) of Advertizement spend to promote the show or earning Rs. 60 crore of sponsorship for the production house by working on public emotion. He strongly defended what comes first to Aamir - calculation or heart. To him, Aamir follows his heart to get into a project and then does his calculation and not the other way. As Satyajit said, there are more hope than cynicism around the show. He need not answer on television what a critic in another place said about the intensity of the make-up of Aamir in the show, that the show is making audience to cry and not angry. One commentator in the television debate said that the problem is with the civil society itself, their mindset. One has to wait and watch the effect of such a show when the initial euphoria subsides, if it can make any difference to "Sab chalta hai" attitude. The census report on gender imbalance was always before us. We chose to ignore. The endorsement of a star brings the issue to the forefront but it requires a coordinated and sustained movement to capitalize on it. Will this issue be overshadowed by twelve other issues that come up in twelve succeeding episodes?

To me, each one is entitled to try in his own way and deserves a chance. This effort from Aamir or the TV Channel is not putting a stop in existing efforts and may complement them, enrich them. Then why complain? Is the responsibility entirely of him? What on earth then you and I will do? He is sensitizing people and giving some sort of start to get us involved and not forcing us to think him as a messiah. I personally do not believe that a show is enough unless it is backed by field level work. We have to see if some such thing is already planned or a network of people, motivated to take the causes forward, emerges with the progress of the show. Aamir has wide fan following and huge acceptability for being serious about what he takes up. The fast track court he talked about may only be the beginning. On making money from sponsors, I won't be surprised if the amount minus production and other cost is donated for various causes brought up in the show. It will be disastrous for his image and future productions, to be seen as one who is talks about social evils to make money out of that. I don't see any reason to be critical on that front.

One research talked about the effect of setting a different but important goal. The rising population of India encouraged small family norms and some penalty for having more than two children. The negative impact is reported here (Link). The male member of the family carries the family name (it gets changed for female after marriage) in Indian family. This  too has its effect. We do find narrower family/caste/religion/group (e.g. iitians) identity prevailing over our higher identity of humanity. Protecting interest of a particular community by the community members is in our very nature and it is no surprise that a distorted form of it does not mind getting the benefit at the cost of others. The UNICEF report (Link) was reflected in Aamir's show minus the snippets like "There have been only two convictions - a fine of 300 rupees ($7) and another fine of 4,000 rupees ($98) -- from over 400 cases lodged under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act." The 2011 state wise sex ratio in the country can be found here (Link) which also compares with 2001 data and shows percentage increase/decrease. From 933 per 1000 in 2001 it marginally improved to 940 per thousand. What is worse and does not meet the eye easily is male female sex ratio of children under 6 years of age. This is just 914 female child per 1000 male child in 2011 census compared to 927 per thousand in 2001 (Link). This dropped 1.40% during the last decade while allover sex ratio raised 0.75% in India (due to higher mortality of aging male population). This we also found in our NSS, IIT Kharagpur field study while talking to health centre workers. We take less care of our girl child and and do our bit to see that only the male child survives.

The national capital, Delhi cannot feel proud with its skewed sex ratio (866 female per 1000 male) and we had seen the plight of a doctor belonging to educated elite in the Aamir show. What is that which asks one of the best college in Delhi (St. Stephens) to propose 40 percent reservation for boys? The girls are outnumbering them in such proportion that the male population needs to be preserved there. India Today report can be found here (Link). And if the argument put forward by college authority is found acceptable which states, "The issue was brought to the notice of the faculty members because of the gender imbalance within most classrooms. Currently, 65 per cent of our student population is girls. This is a reflection of the longstanding global trend where more women tend to opt for humanities. Such a lopsided situation could affect the dynamics of the classroom and the way one approaches the subject." then why nobody talks about reservation of girls in IITs who must be finding it difficult to attend residential intensive IIT-JEE coaching at different states for being girls and are thus are outdone by boys? How is that they do well in 10+2 Board examinations compared to boys and do not get counted when it comes to IIT-JEE which follows same syllabi but different question pattern?

We need to watch if the 'Satyamev Jayate' show goes deep enough so that really the 'Truth triumphs' and addresses the root cause or talks only about taking care of symptoms. Yes, the symptoms are to be treated. We need to take paracetamol to bring down the temperature when in fever but it reappears again unless the main disease is controlled. Yesterday it was preference for boy child, today it is an advertizement (18th Jan., 2012 Times of India report : Link) where a couple asks for sperm of an IITian to get a genius(!) born in the family, tomorrow we may ask for having right DNAs in place to have fairer colour, certain physique, more amount of grey matter and what not in the designer's baby of future. The main issue is our desire to get into a position of advantage vis-a-vis others by using whatever might we possess, denying others their rights and dues, not respecting the concept of equality - the essential fabric of humanity.

How can we become more human, less selfish? The golden rule says, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." If we forget that now and then, we need to look at how we got educated, how values got transmitted to me and work on that - improving the process how the nations educates itself and its future generation from the childhood. Does the society bow to an honest, sincere, hard working person who may be earning just enough to maintain his family? Or does the society treat someone with higher esteem who is simply rich? Today, do the parents tell their children to grow up like Bose, Gandhi - live a life of austerity and dedicate themselves to the service of the nation or to grow up us XYZ who amass huge amount of wealth, live a lavish life like a star?

For an issue like this, star cast may take us to the door but does not make the door open. I would like to believe that the star himself will emerge transformed at the end of the show through a process of evolution - the high make-up melting into tanned skin and soils making its appearance in the sleeves. We as actors work on the situations. But the role of subject and object often changes during the course. The situation starts working on us and become the actor.

I feel very positive to hear in the TV debate, a voice from the people's representative, a young lady from Punjab, narrating how empowerment of women through skill development is changing equation in her village constituency. She said, "Earlier there used to be lori if only a boy child was born. Now there is lori for girl child too."

Let me end this post with a letter of Vivekananda, one of the greatest social reformer of modern India who lived only for 39 years. He had a clear vision of traits required for a would be social reformers when he says (Link), "If you wish to be a true reformer, three things are necessary. The first is to feel. Do you really feel for your brothers? Do you really feel that there is so much misery in the world, so much ignorance and superstition? Do you really feel that men are your brothers? Does this idea come into your whole being? Does it run with your blood? Does it tingle in your veins? Does it course through every nerve and filament of your body? Are you full of that idea of sympathy? If you are, that is only the first step. You must think next if you have found any remedy. The old ideas may be all superstition, but in and round these masses of superstition are nuggets of gold and truth. Have you discovered means by which to keep that gold alone, without any of the dross? If you have done that, that is only the second step; one more thing is necessary. What is your motive? Are you sure that you are not actuated by greed of gold, by thirst for fame or power? Are you really sure that you can stand to your ideals and work on, even if the whole world wants to crush you down? Are you sure you know what you want and will perform your duty, and that alone, even if your life is at stake? Are you sure that you will persevere so long as life endures, so long as there is one pulsation left in the heart? Then you are a real reformer, you are a teacher, a Master, a blessing to mankind."

Vivekananda is writing this letter to an Irish lady, Ms. Margaret Noble who later became Sister Nivedita and dedicated herself fully for the upliftment of India. Vivekananda wanted women to take centre stage in looking for solutions to the problems that are their very own. Nivedita started a girl school in 1898 when education of girl child was unheard of, yes - it is true. In her benediction Vivekananda wrote, "Be thou to India's future son / The mistress, servant, friend in one."

*                                 *                              *                            *                            *                     *

                                                                                                                               7th June, 1896.


My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is: to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life.

This world is in chain of superstition. I pity the oppressed, whether man or woman, and I pity more the oppressors.

One idea that I see clear as daylight is that misery is caused by ignorance and nothing else. Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the Law, it will be, alas, for ages to come. The earth's bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good of many, for the welfare of all. Buddhas by the hundred are necessary with eternal love and pity.

Religions of the world have become lifeless mockeries. What the world wants is character. The world is in need of those whose life is one burning love, selfless. That love will make every word tell like thunderbolt.

It is no superstition with you, I am sure, you have the making in you of a world-mover, and others will also come. Bold words and bolder deeds are what we want. Awake, awake, great ones! The world is burning with misery. Can you sleep? Let us call and call till the sleeping gods awake, till the god within answers to the call. What more is in life? What greater work? The details come to me as I go. I never make plans. Plans grow and work themselves. I only say, awake, awake!

May all blessings attend you for ever!

Yours affectionately,


Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Part I

It bordered on disbelief. "Sir, we the outgoing batch of students, would like to meet you and hand over a memento." It was yesterday morning and I was attending a seminar.  Thanked those students and requested them to come to my office during the break. We had pics together, went to an eatery and chatted at length from what they may expect in an industry job to how they can offer their first-hand service to a village / slum school around their work place or in their native place. They should not be satisfied just by donating money to some organization - first hand knowledge, regular interaction, association will help grow oneness and someday while taking food for themselves, in their thought will come, "Did the boy / girl of that village / slum who is a kind of loner have his / her food today?" It is this concern without which nation building can have all necessary but not sufficient conditions.

Then came the phone call. An alumnus who spent few years in industry got selected for the best business school of the country. He thanked for whatever little I could contribute. It was entirely his effort. The idea also came from him. I still vividly remember the evening when his team met me for the first time. I just tried to see that their idea gets conceptualized and implemented as I had some experience of field level work. We chatted for sometime and he wished to know my availability to decide when he would come down to KGP. Thank you. May you attain more responsible positions and serve to the best of your capacity.

This evening got an email from an UG student who just completed 2nd year. I was with them for a semester in their journey through one particular course. His mail from an Uttarakhand town said, "The course actually gave me a taste of real engineering stuff especially doing some (of) the matlab programs for voice recognition and processing. Thanks a lot for creating a good learning ambiance in the classroom."

These are my mementos received in last 36 hours. Each of these count. Allow me to borrow a stanza from Tennyson poem, 'Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead' (Link) - Rose a nurse of ninety years,/Set his child upon her knee—/Like summer tempest came her tears—/‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’

Part II

There is a reason for disbelief that I mentioned in the opening statement of this post. The steep target of 'Vision 2020', which the institute has set for itself, needs all of us, the teachers, students, alumni and other stake holders to put up a massive quality improvement effort. This starts with quality consciousness, tying up loose ends, if any within the system at every tier. There are and will be issues. Let us see what we can do within our sphere of influence. I remember the TQM (Total Quality Management) concept of Tata Steel, the organization I served for more than four years. A single drop of oil spillage is to get counted and efforts are put on to stop the same. Besides, we are the best in the country and we have to think and act like the best in every step as we are role model before many. The vibration, the very atmosphere here should induce people, students and teachers alike, to go after the greatest of ideas (does not matter if all of them are not successful) and none to remain satisfied till the best is seen.

It is our failure if we cannot motivate the students enough collectively and their world gets divided into 'Load' and 'Peace'. On personal front, I need to work harder and be friendlier to explain students why quality is important for them, us and all and it is just not an obsession but an integral part of healthy way of living. Every step, small or big counts - even if it is switching off the fan before leaving the class room each day, everyday, not taking a right turn at a road island etc. In Tata Steel I heard: Do the right things right, the first time and every time. The external discipline is equally important to get internal discipline right else there always is a chance to get drifted which is not unheard of.

Enlightenment is not anything that will descend from the sky. We have to act like a one from today and now. This is not to say that we lack quality in IITs. We are unmatched at national level and IITs are pride of the nation. Our students are model before others in discipline, academic prowess and we enjoy the best teacher-student relationship here. But we cannot sit back and relax on the laurels of the past. The future will become more competitive. Also the aim is to get counted among top x institutions of the world. Let us, the teachers, the students, the alumni and all stake holders work together and we can make it happen.

Part III

One of my PhD student gave me this book to read - Affective Computing by Rosalind W. Picard of MIT Media Lab. (I can proudly proclaim that I learn more from my students than they learn from me - that is the dividend one can enjoy for being a part of a premier institution.) The books aims to develop a framework in giving emotional abilities to computer. One arm of our research group works on identifying emotion from speech which drew our interest into the title. The author writes  about popular notion on emotion - "Acting 'emotionally' implies acting irrationally, with poor judgement. Emotional response tend to be inappropriate, and even embarrassing. At first blush, emotion seems like the last thing we would want in an intelligent machine."

 In the preface she writes, " ...the new scientific evidence is that too little emotion can impair decision making. This conclusion is not obvious from introspection. It comes from studies of unusual patients who essentially have too little emotion. These patients, in rather eerie ways, are similar to today's computers - particularly in how they malfunction."

Part IV

We were in a party mood this afternoon after submission of grades of all subjects within deadline. It was a battle against time as I was averaging fifteen answer-script checking each day. In my letter to students where I arranged display of answer-script evaluation, I wrote " answer-script tells lots of things - the strength and weakness of a student as seen by a teacher. It won't be possible tomorrow to address each of you individually (needs 15-30 min. for each of the 113 students). If you are interested, you may visit day after tomorrow or later by taking an appointment (you may try without appointment too but I may be in some other meeting)." I was particularly happy that I could explain the students how the evaluation was done and also showed histogram of marks, grades etc. It appeared that the students appreciated the whole of it.

Therefore, was in a mood to disturb others!!! Who could be the best person but the faculty who never visits tea-shop, not seen in any adda and is always flocked with students! No wonder, he draws the maximum cheer from the students in farewell functions. He is always very kind to give his time for such adda when I bang his room and I must say that I have no hidden agenda to make him more involved with the Dept./Institute. There were three final year students and the adda became brainstorming on how we can improve, what we can do as an individual, what we can do collectively, what are our pain points, how can we structure ourselves to address those pain points and explain the students in an unambiguous manner the milestones to be reached at various timelines so that they have clarity from the very beginning.

We also discussed that the competitive environment is to bring the best out of us and not anything less noble to look for a win at any cost. We have to rise above personal/group/Dept./... interest and embrace superior human values. Others may or may not follow. There will be pain down the road, may be pain of a loner who does not find anybody by his side. But has anything been born without pain? What about us, ourselves, when we came out of mother's womb? In a facebook message, an ex-student, now a proud mother writes, "A human body can bear up to 45 del(unit) of pain. But at the time of giving birth, a woman feels up to 57 del of pain. This is similar to twenty bones getting fractured at a time." Today is Tagore's 151st birth anniversary. He wrote, "jakhan tumi bandchhile tar se je bhishan byatha" i.e. when you were tuning the string (of a musical instrument which was out of tune e.g. guitar, sitar) there was so much of pain! If we agree that there is a need to tune our instrument, we cannot avoid the pain in the process. But what should excite us is the symphony that will fill the air once the instruments are tuned.

Part V

To wind up the post, let me get back to the table in the eatery where we (me and outgoing batch of students - about ten of them) were having a sip at cold drink and discussing what had been their experience here and what they see for themselves in the future. I asked if they were challenged enough. They were in all praise of IIT system which takes their UG experience far and forward. The breadth, the depth, the assignments, the lab.s. Then there was a question if they explored something out of their own interest (not prompted by teacher). IIT provides huge infrastructure and each of us nurtures lot of questions from childhood - could be related to cosmos, say singularity associated with blackhole or graphology, making prediction from hand writing etc. Also, I asked if they discussed each others' projects, if there was cross-fertilization of ideas,  if there is a scope to combine the findings of two projects (we teachers are probably conditioned to think in a certain away, the out-of-box  solutions can be expected from fresh minds). I also requested to take their jobs seriously. My own industry experience says that there are so much of complementary knowledge to acquire there to complete another quadrant of personality development.

I cannot blame if some of them thought if they made the right decision to give a memento to me and get drawn into a discussion like this :-) After all, their would be job profiles are miles apart from all these. But the inquisitiveness, exploring solutions as a trait will add to the profile of any job. These days one may need to change jobs. Also the domain knowledge always comes handy in trying times. In IT jobs too, there is a gradual but certain shift from coding to more of domain knowledge based solutions. Finally, Sri Ma Sarada (Link) said, "Jake rakho, se rakhe." i.e. If you take care of some thing today, that will take care of you some other day.

Sometimes I wonder if there is too-muchness in all of these, if there is a potential of getting 'misunderstood' (as told by my colleague). The feeling of too-muchness is but relative. What is too much in some place may be very normal in another place. The question is, what sort of baseline we are targeting to?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Resume and Blog

Today morning received a mail from none less than, as a part of IEEE membership service, where the very first article is titled, 'How a Personal Blog Can Boost Your Career'. The article says, "What better way to introduce yourself to thousands of people than by giving them a window into how you think, how you write, whether you come up with good ideas, and how adept you are at marketing? That’s what a personal blog is, after all. “Some people have suggested that a personal blog will someday replace the resume,” says a article. For a potential employer, your posts—as well as your ability to cultivate an audience—provide concrete examples of what you might contribute to their firm. Bloggers can also benefit from the built-in avenue for relationship building: the comment section." and provides this link to read on.

This brings us to a fundamental question -Why blog? It is not mere philosophy to have an answer like - I blog because I exist. Didn't we hear much before the era of blogging - I think, therefore I am. Once blogging becomes a resume building exercise, we may have - I blog what I do not think, rather what I want others to think of me.

This gives me an opportunity to ask myself what exactly is the purpose of my blog. I did not and do not want to force myself to set any specific target to be achieved by this blog. I wanted to share with people, specially the youth, what I feel if I have the luxury :-) of spending sometime on the keyboard. A person near twenty may feel curious about what is there around forty. If I look back at the very first post dated Sept. 05, 2007 (Link), I felt that day that everybody should hear what I had heard from Chiranjeev Maharaj (Swami Satyabodhananda of Ramakrishna Mission) and felt the urge of starting this blog. The post remembering my father (Link) had been the closest to my heart and brings tears whenever I get an opportunity to go through it.

Having been brought up in an environment where organization discipline is the key (Link) and working in private sector for more than six years where discipline is the final word, I believe that the organization hierarchy is to be respected and the solution to a problem lies within the organization framework. However, no two organizations are same and it is an ever-learning process. The organization itself may find itself at a cross road at some point of time in history, searching for an identity, somewhat confused in defining role of its hierarchy and the command structure. As an individual's character is tested in trying times, the organization which has a persona of its own, gets tested during this period. This is the time to take everybody into confidence, to stick together as a unit, to contribute in a constructive manner through no-superficial engagement and meaningful dialogue, to ignore small blips and not being sarcastic about it, to look at bigger picture rather than settling old scores, to help the organization to evolve in a smooth way for the betterment of all.

Extending the existential issue further, if the organization / institution is the body and I am a part / limb, then when organization dies, me too. I exist because the institution exists. I am not standing on void without any support from anybody. A part of me dies if my family is ruined. A part of me dies of my work place is ruined. A part of me dies if the society around, the country is ruined. Let us make blood flow through all veins. Let us be a part of the big churning - the pain that makes the butterfly coming out of a caterpillar when the evolution goes in the right direction. Let us do our bit to set the direction of the evolution right. I again quote Mahatma Gandhi to end this post even if I sound repetitive (the previous post on IIT JEE) , "Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thoughts on IIT JEE

 Tried to make few changes based on inputs that I received later. I probably should have indicated  that the first one was only a beta version of the post :-)  .... A follow up post appears here (Link).

Thanks to all the contributors!

The decision making process for new IIT JEE appears more interesting to me than the proposals themselves. Each of the proposal I read in various forums has its own merit and all contributors deserve thanks from the IIT community. It shows the amount of concern people have for IITs and this goodwill, perhaps is the single most achievement of IIT system in 60 years of its existence. Contribution develops an ownership and when you own it, you care for its well being. Thank you all the contributors in various forums. You own us, you won us!

The dilemma

I tend to agree with almost all the proposals when I find how strongly the arguments are put in their favour, even if they contradict each other!! The decision makers need to take a final decision after weighing pluses and minuses of each proposal. The maxima and minima of different objectives being articulated may not converge to the same point. For example, the maxima for getting the best students to IIT and the minima to be achieved on coaching centre effect may not lie at the same point. There must be some cost-benefit analysis for this before it swings from one direction to other.

Should I, should I not?

Do I have an opinion of my own? I believe that I need NOT have an opinion on everything and comment on it. I may not have sufficient expertize. It could be so that I could not study the issue enough or I lack ground raw data to build an hypothesis. However, being a part of IIT system for long, taking IIT-JEE in 1986, graduating from Electronics and ECE of IITKGP in 1990, working for PhD here during 1994-1999 and serving as a faculty member for little less than 10 years now, I may share a few words not as an expert, but as a simple onlooker who is with the flow.I don't know what I say is in synch with the time - it may be ahead of or it may belong to the time we have left behind. But history repeats! Does it not? :-)

Not my cup of tea

It may not be easy to curb coaching class effect by introducing any change in IIT-JEE. This is more of a social issue. The parents who can afford, will go all out to give any extra edge, even if it is minuscule 1-2%, for their wards in a highly competitive examination like this so that the probability of getting admitted increases. Way back in 1986, I have seen parents who can afford, engaging three private tutors for single subject - each tutor was assumed to be expert in one aspect of the subject. The corporatization of coaching came to take advantage of this space where entrepreneurs saw an opportunity . If some benovalent group provides free but quality IIT-JEE coaching then there will be coaching centres to prepare students to get admission into those free coaching centres. I read in some post (Link) of Times of India that higher dowry associated with IITian label, is the motivation for some. I believe that with the single child family on the rise, the burgeoning and aspiring middle class creating an assertive space for itself and the high stake involved in clearing the exam. will not allow the coaching centres to close, even if you, I and they wish to. They will evolve to fit into any new paradigm to cater to the demand of you and me.

Core issue asking attention

We may speak ill of many things, but when our own turn comes we usually do not fall short of using it, to make our son / daughter reach an advantageous position relative to other children who may be equal or more meritorious. This is my take on the society which is yet to stress on man-making, character-building education and is trying to address the symptoms - not the cause. My little experience is that the young are very good, are more ready to embrace an egalitarian society, give people their due and they need to be nurtured well from early age. We elders inject selfishness into them to protect our interest and cry foul later when they become too selfish, more than what we wanted to make of them.We expect that all challenging jobs will be taken care of child of somebody else, not mine. All comforts and no hardship for my child in life's journey - after all, it is a competitive environment where other children are opponents! But, in this land of Mahabharata, a son goes to his mother to seek blessings before a do-or-die battle. Life's sadhana, tapasya made the mother so powerful that had she wished the son would have won. But in her lips came, "Yatha Dharma, Tatha Jay" i.e. whoever is fighting for the dharma (truth, justice) should win and she knew that the son was not exactly following dharma. I am talking about Mother Gandhari when son Duryodhana goes to her before the battle of Kurkshetra. And we know how Dhritarashtra's unfulfilled ambition was channelized through Duryodhana. I cannot help if it sounds idealistic, but we cannot achieve an ideal system (the motive behind IIT JEE or any reform) without adopting idealism ourselves, in our dealing with our children who are the future of the nation. It will be like pushing the garbage from one corner of the room to other corner and never getting rid of it. With reform in the education sector on the anvil, we can give a deep, hard look at the core issue without which the much discussed 'inclusive growth' will just be a matter of statistics obtained from parametric adjustment of few control variables. The future of the nation depends on how we educate our youngsters, how we educate ourselves before that.

More than ritual

If we try to go beyond ritualistic celebration of 150th birth anniversary of Vivekananda, it will do us a world of good to listen to him and direct policy implementation related to education on what he said as essence of education, "We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one's own feet." We need not interpret the last point of the sentence as making enough money. Standing on one's own feet goes much beyond that in making men out of boys. If we want to listen to Tagore who conceptualized Vishwa Bharati, we hear, "The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence". The very first point of Radhakrishnan Report (1949, Link) on education says, "The quality of a civilisation depends not on the material equipment or the political machinery but on the character of men. The major task of education is the improvement of character." He further says, "Education is the means by which we can tidy up our minds, acquire information, as well as a sense of values. Education should give us not only elements of general knowledge or technical skills but also impart to us that bent of mind, that attitude of reason , that spirit of democracy which will make us responsible citizens of our country. A true democracy is a community of citizens differing from one another but all bound to a common goal." It is high time to do what is necessary to benefit from the wisdom our greatest teachers. For us, the teachers, the Radhakrishnan's birthday should be more than the celebration of Teacher's Day to remember what he said, "The right kind of teacher... not only loves his subject, he loves also those whom he teaches. His success will be measured not in terms of percentage of passes alone... but equally through the quality of life and character of men and women whom he has taught." or "The real teacher is like the gardener who nurtures the plant and not a carpenter who cuts pieces of wood to fit into certain locations .... Unless the tutor stimulates thinking rather than mere memorizing, deeper intellectual interests rather than aversion to thought, better perception of values rather than in appreciation, he serves no useful purpose but may nourish wrong habits which will be difficult to eradicate. The tutor has to bear in mind that he is not merely teaching a subject, but is educating men and women to take their places as intelligent citizens of the nation." and ask ourselves how far we are conforming to this.
Back to specifics

IIT-JEE can focus on achieving what it is supposed to achieve i.e. getting the right kind of students for themselves. Will inclusion of board exam. marks solve the problem? It may. What about the concern of some that there may be issues with some board? The answer given is that this exercise will make those boards do better. To me, it is a risky proposition in a high voltage situation like this. But the proposer must have thought about a way else there may be litigation one after another. Will it give rise to state quota? Nothing wrong if we are talking about inclusive growth and it may not compromise with meritocracy too as we the top 1-2% of a board will be under consideration. But the smarter among the population may try to migrate to certain boards which may appear to provide some extra edge. Probably, higher board percentage (than 60%) or percentile as eligibility to IIT-JEE can be a middle ground.

Virtue of ISEET

I like the idea of the pan-India common test like ISEET which if treated as precursor to IIT-JEE, becomes important and gets proper recognition. I like it because this prepares some sort of national level merit list and takes away much of the load from All India Rank of IIT-JEE and obsession around it. AIEEE is there but it does not get that much of an attention as it is not linked to IIT. Whether IIT will conduct another test with top x percent student of ISEET etc. and with short and/or long answer type questions is another issue. Probably they should conduct such a test to decide and it should be a subjective type. I see all coaching centre executives seeing red in this proposition. I wonder if they worry more about something else than subjectivity of evaluation. People who talk about golden days of IIT-JEE where best of the best could be selected, are talking about those days where subjective test were held. Also when the nation keeps watching every move related to IIT-JEE there is no such scope. The debate we had before was not on evaluation of answer-script but arriving at cut-off marks. And now perhaps IIT-JEE is the most transparent of all. My interaction with students here show that they appreciate the importance of subjective test and not worried about subjectivity as part marks are well defined in the evaluation procedure. If we are talking about evaluation of scripts of top x% then it can certainly be ensured. On one hand we talk about incorporation of 40% marks from Board Exam., and on the other hand we doubt the credibility of examiners of the nation's most credible entrance exam. - it does not go together. That the coaching centres do not want it (if I could hear the noise) tells that this is the solution.

Importance of 1st Year

Those who are in IIT know that all Dept.s are not equal in demand. I would like to go with the suggestion where institute is chosen based on ISEET IIT-JEE rank and Dept. is chosen after 1st year based on 1st year rank. This will give a major incentive to study in the 1st year where students tend to relax after rigorous IIT-JEE preparation. Once they slip in 1st year, with no parental control and new found freedom with high bandwidth internet and LAN working on body and mind, it is very difficult to recover. If they get into the habit of studying once in IIT, a new environment (parents too will be watchful as a lot is at stake on 1st year result), they are expected to continue with it. The other rationale is that the students go through common curriculum, stay in same environment in 1st year and thus there is a 'level playing field' (Link). The best way to judge their relative merit is at that time which will reduce the noise in merit list due to wide diversity of their background when they enter IIT system.

Update: Had a discussion with a group of 2nd year IITKGP UG students this morning on various aspects of these. They do not like allocation of branch after 1st year. As a student they may want to go to a newer IIT to get a branch of their choice if rank is low and movement across IITs may be difficult. However, they fully subscribe to the idea of giving more incentive to 1st year result. Their suggestion is to increase the current 10% Dept. change (from a less preferred branch to a more preferred branch) option to 20% so that a larger number of students have a realistic chance to go for Dept. change and work for that. The students appear to have a more practical sense than me on this and I am sure on many other things too :-)

From the view point of a commoner

How does people unconnected to IIT-JEE, who outnumber IIT-JEE aspirants, look at all these? The common man in the street is entitled to think that these public funded institutions with huge capital and operational expenditure behind them, should do more than shaping the career of certain select individuals. How can the RoI (Return on Investment) for the country be improved? The Mission statement at IIT Madras website (Link) says,
The purpose of educational programmes in the IITs should be
  • to develop in each student mastery of fundamentals, versatility of mind, motivation for learning, intellectual discipline and self-reliance which provide the best foundation for continuing professional achievement;
  • to provide a liberal; as well as a professional education so that each student acquires a respect for moral values, a sense of their duties as a citizen, a feeling for taste and style, and a better human understanding. All these are required for leadership;
  • to send forth men and women of the highest professional competence with a breath of learning and a character to deal constructively with issues, and problems anticipated in the next decade relevant to the programmes of development of our country.
We need to ensure that we have the right ingredients in place to achieve this purpose in letter and spirit. Since the nation looks up to IITs as role model, such achievement will have a snow ball effect and will positively influence secondary and higher secondary education. The leaders i.e. IITs should show that its students acquire 'a respect for moral values, a sense of their duties as a citizen, a feeling for taste and style, and a better human understanding ... a character to deal constructively with issues, and problems anticipated in the next decade relevant to the programmes of development of our country'.

Maximizing RoI for the country

Is competence in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics enough to ensure right kind of human input to IITs? Is it possible to inculcate the character qualities at UG level at IIT or should it start earlier? Could there be any way to evaluate that? Could there be a personal interview of 2y (y = no. to be admitted) people, similar to current GATE interview which will look into extra-curricular, involvement in community service activity, attitude? Who will conduct these tests? The IIT faculty needs to be trained. Even if the student do not enter the IIT system with the above character qualities, it is the duty of IIT faculty to impart them and thus the training cannot be avoided. The more we empower, the more is our responsibility to see that a student is groomed as a responsible citizen of the country and a good human being. Each IIT has extra-curricular program at 1st year level like NCC, NSS etc. It can be revitalized as it provides the scope for the two worlds to meet - the privileged and the underprivileged. Due weightage can be given to participation to this which is to get counted in the Dept. selection.

The pitfalls

Doesn't the proposed flow chart contain flaws? Yes. But it may have less flaws and can be worked upon. My experience is following: In any two populations A and B of sufficiently large size (say 1000 or so), the top z% of B will always be better than bottom z% of A. Consider, A as the ones who clear IIT-JEE and B who do not clear IIT-JEE but some other exam. The aim of the selection process is to minimize z but it can never be made zero. Coming back to the flow chart, one possible criticism could be the increased stress level in a multi-tier test. Closer scrutinee will show addition of only one personal interview to get admitted and that carries only 10% of the weightage. This is to send a message that the attitude and extra-curricular are important and students should develop healthy life style in parallel. The offering of Dept. at the end of 1st year is to tell that getting into IIT is not enough - one has to work hard here too. If required, the end of 1st year ranking may consider x% weightage from 1st year score and (100-x)% from IIT-JEE.

Past projected to future

Let us see the genesis of IIT JEE and how students were admitted when it first came into being in the year 1955. We may see that it had a flavour of what is talked about here. I quote from one article of April, 2012 issue of Twastha, a journal of Technology Alumni Association, IIT Kharagpur. In this, a senior IIT KGP faculty pays tribute to the institute.

"Admission to the institute were on considerations of merit only. Till 1954 admissions were made on the basis of recommendations of Regional Interviewing Committees which met at 9 different centres throughout the country. On 3rd July, 1954 the Board of Governors resolved that from 1955 admission be made on the result of a competitive examination held at various centres at the country followed by an interview and medical examinations of candidates successful in the written examination. However, on the suggestion of the Ministry of Education, it was agreed that 15 percent of the seats be reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students and 37.5 percent of seats be reserved for backward sates. Under technical cooperation scheme of Colombo Plan some seats were reserved for students from Nepal, Burma and Indonesia."


Let me come back to the decision making process with which I started this post.  IITs should do what it needs to do to serve the country as a whole so that the benefit is accrued to the common man and not to select individuals. Today at the cross road, when decision is being made to get the finest manpower for the finest institution of the nation, it is worth remembering father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, "Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?"