Friday, November 25, 2005

Mama, I'm coming home.

Mother's Lap
(Incidently, this is my entry at this week's Photofriday contest)

Now that CAT's done and done decent enough, I'm going to visit my parents in Jaipur. I'm leaving Bangalore tomorrow (Saturday) and shall be back on 6th night after attending Pradeep's marriage in Jodhpur. The trip also includes one afternoon in Mumbai, hopefully my friends there will find time to catch up.

Its a short trip as it is, so I don't intend to access net during my stay there. Anyway, I don't think I'll get time - I'll have to meet our relatives, attend marriages and all. Hopefully it won't be too chilly there. I'm told the winter has just arrived, so it should be sooper! One more thing I'm hoping I'll get time for is photography. As many would be able to guess, Rajasthan is quite a "photogenic" place, hoping to catch some of the colors in my camera.

Chalo then,
- Varun

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Update: Suicide at IIT Bombay

The event might've ended as a mere ripple in the ocean, but the blogsphere is following it up promptly. Various IIT alumni have responded to the sorry event by writing about it on their blogs.

Nakula's close friend, Harsh Vardhan, writes about Nakula and events & situation which might have pushed him over the edge. Being a close friend, he provides an insight to the man, Nakula and the problems he was facing during his last days. The fact comes out that Nakula was a wrong guy in the wrong branch; while his passion lied in computers, he was a student of Engineering Physics branch which didn't give him any kicks.

BD talks about the ToI report and how insensitive & irresponsible it is on their part to make the identity public. Nikhil Jha, who appears to be a current student at IIT Bombay, tears apart the farcical ToI report. Not only the ToI folks are twisting stories to introduce a glamorous words like "hacking", they have stooped to such low levels as to misquote IIT professors! Shame on them! Desi Pundit has a small info-post.

Ritesh has done an analysis over the issue. Computers aren't to be blamed for such event - an introvert will be an introvert, be it among computers or books. Though computers certainly have provided the students with a whole lot of new options to kill time - FRIENDS episodes, movies and all. The system needs some shake-up, more on it later.

Vivek, an IITB alumni himself, draws parallels between Nakula's situation and his own final year. Further, he stresses upon the urgent issue, that is the need to find a solution for the problem.

Update: Inhas writes about the rat race prevalent in IITs. Its all so meaningless in the end, of course. Here's phoenix's take on the issue.


While, this particular case seems like a wrong impulsive decision on Nakula's part, it only brings forth a basic flaw in our education system. Last generation's middle class (including the parents of most IITians) have an impression, which was of course true, that very few professional courses can ensure a prosperous life for their children, e.g. Doctors, engineers, etc. Remember how the arts and commerece students were (are) scoffed in school? Only recently India has witnessed that success can come through many other unconventional ways; one need not be just a doctor or an engineer to be successful. Still, the examples are still very few but the wheel is set rolling. So, the pressure still exists to take up the conventional career path. Now, narrowing it down to the IITs - the IITs have come up as a huge brand in themselves over time. A degree from an IIT can gurantee one good job and prospects (preference in futher studies, great demand in industry). But the seats are limited and the number of aspirants has really gone through the roof - that means not all students willing to study in a particular branch can get admission in that branch. Nakula was such a case - he didn't get admission in the computer science department, so he took up what he could get - Engineering Physics. There was an inherent contradiction between what he wanted to do and what he had to do for good grades, better future.

One solution is to let them decide about their branch after spending some time (~ 1 year) studying basic engineering courses. Still what if there are more students willing to go in a particular branch? The numbers have reduced but the problem is the same. Another solution is to have huge number of electives, spread over different branches. Have something like a major-minor system. Students who feel they are more inclined towards some other branch can opt for the courses of their interest in other branches. As of now IITs, IITB atleast, allows students to apply for a branch change at the end of first year. Students can apply for a branch of their choice and if they fulfil the criteria (which is based on their academic performance in the first year) they are granted the branch change. Of course, there must be many more solutions, only if professors & authorities at IITs would stand up and face the issue constructively.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Suicide at IIT Bombay.

A very disturbing news has reached me - a 4th year student at IIT Bombay committed suicide after getting XX grades in three courses. XX is awarded when your attendance falls short. The news reached me via various IITB mailing groups, a bit of googling lead me to this TOI report. Excerpts -

Last week, fourth-year physics student Vijay Nukala, known on the campus as 'Nuke', committed suicide after being failed in three courses because of poor attendance. Regarded by all as the campus' networking wizard, Nukala had not scored high enough marks in his IIT-JEE entrance to get into computer engineering, his first love. Nukala had to make a presentation on the first stage of his project report the day he hanged himself in his room. His professors were aware of the stress the boy was under-as a precaution, they had asked his father to be in Mumbai last week.
This is definitely very sad but still worse is the attitude of admin@iitb. The mailing groups are circulating an email, supposed to be written by Sharmila, a professor at the humanities department. The content of the email -
A student dies under tragic circumstances on the 16th and we greet it with silence. There is no official announcement. No postings in IIT-general, in IIT-discuss, in discuss-faculty. No condolence meeting.

Any question we ask into this silence runs the danger of sounding melodramatic. And of disrupting the professionalism with which we go about the business of exams and evaluations. But let us run that risk. Was this boys life so dispensable, so forgettable that we do not even want to mourn him? Is ANY life dispensable?

When Bombay drowned earlier this year we as an institution looked the other way for the most part. (True, there were a few students who got together and organized relief work on the strength of their own will, but as an institution our only response was silence.) It could be argued that we cannot respond to every issue and tragedy out there. But this student was one of our own. I do not know why he felt so alone and lost that he thought he should end his life. We need to recognize however that by doing so he sent us a vote of no confidence. He told us that we, as an institution and as people he knew, did not offer him hope. This is a terrible indictment.

What is to be done? I do not quite know. But surely we need to mourn him. We do not seem to have paid him enough attention when he was alive. Surely we cannot ignore his death as well? We need to also actively explore ways in which we can establish support groups at all levels in hostels, departments. These have to be professional(from what I can gather we have one counselor for so many, many students and staff) and personal. From conversations I have had since yesterday I hear that there have been other attempts, that depression and stress is more present than one imagines. That students have dropped out of courses (at least one student has left this institution because he was maligned for his sexualitygood grief!). That students die in different ways. I do not of course know how to deal with all these issues. But I strongly think that it is not by institutional(ised) silence.

I don't know her personally and I can't vouch for the fact that it was she who penned it down, but I agree with each and every word above. We've two equally serious issues here - 1) the suicide and the events which depressed the young man to such levels and 2) the apathy shown by the IIT by not even acknowledging the disturbing event (as per the mail above).

As per this Mid-day report suggests, the stress in schools has risen to killing levels. The stress on an IITian can get even worse. Back at home they are hailed as if they came down from planet Krypton. Parents, relatives & peers expect them to keep outperforming just as they did in school or in IIT-JEE exam, what they don't consider that here the competition is many times tougher. Such expectations put a student under immense stress. For most of the students in IITs, IIT is the first place where they are challenged academically. Till then, during school, they were among the toppers - without breaking a sweat. But forced to work hard by the raised bar & dropping down to the lower half of the class can be a worry. I've seen all kinds of responses to this new challenge students face - some plainly give up, some take up the gauntlet and study harder. As such a semester can be stressful but an XX grade can be even worse. Typically it means that the student must take the classes again next year with junior students. It can cost one the jobs s/he might have bagged during campus placements, if awarded in the final year. Same thing might have led Nakula to this tragic decision. This isn't the first suicide at the campus, last year a girl student from hostel 10 killed herself and I've heard that there were few more attempts this year. Here I would like to state what one friend told me once - "When we look back at times when we were in trouble, those troubles look quite modest in the hindsight. That should teach us how to deal with problems & problematic times." My final year project was extended and I was supposed to stay there in summer and complete it, I was the last one to get a job in our batch - still when I look back now, all I remember is the good times Dev, Pankaj and me had in the lab that summer. I'm very sure if Nakula had waited and thought over the situation, he too would've came out of this mess. We've had some examples and all of them are doing good.

One trend that concerns me is the rise computer usage in IIT. I've witnessed the internet being brought to IIT Bombay. When we were in the first year, the net speed was just a little more than a crawl. Very few students had computers in their rooms, the computer center was the main resource center available to student to work on their projects and reports. Of course we CSE guys had separate labs in our department too, but the speed was not any better there. I remember when I bought a computer in my second year, we contributed money to the wing-router-fund which was utilized to buy a hub and students did the networking to get their machines on the LAN. In my third year every single room was provided an internet plug, the institute paid for the infrastructure. Additional bandwidth was bought and the net speed went zoom. In our fourth year the number of computers in a hostel were almost tripled when compared to the second year. According to the TOI report -
Students and faculty members admit that all-night (and sometimes 24/7) hacking competitions, gaming competitions, music downloading and file-sharing, chatting and blogging are taking a heavy toll at the elite campus-affecting attendance, grades and even personal lives. IIT-B authorities are now forced to admit that it's a problem. "It's a very big problem. For the last one or two years we've been seeing these guys sleep off in class or be present physically but not mentally. But now they're even not showing up for cultural activities or on the playing field,'' said Gopalan.
A loner in campus would've sounded like an oxymoron in our times, but it seems to be a matter of concern now. A pep-talk by a close friend might have saved Nakula's life.

Finally, the refusal of IIT authorities to take this issue up for discussion is baffling. They can't just brush it under the carpet. It is a very serious issue and has already taken lives. Authorities must come up with some solution for reducing the stress levels. While it depends on the individual for the most part how s/he deals with the stress, some counseling by peers and professors can help. Incidentally, IITB has one full-time counselor for students, two psychiatrists and one psychologist attached to the IIT Hospital, how easily reachable they were is another question. I understand that perhaps the family too didn't want much publicity about this unfortunate incident, neither did IIT. But the issue remains, they have to first acknowledge the problem to come up with a solution.

Update: Hindustan Times has an article about this here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Noteworthy feat

This photo was my entry to Photofriday's weekly contest last week. The theme was Warmth. This one was chosen to be among top 6 "noteworthy" photos in the contest by popular vote (My link is named "Buddies"). This photo appeared on my photoblog on 11th November. I clicked this one some time ago, wasn't very much pleased at first. The road was dusty, sun was too bright and colors not warm enough. But after little tinkering with GIMP, it came out good. Still, I won't say this is my best attempt.

I'd put this up at my Flickr account and monologist commented -
This is perhaps one of the best pictures I've seen on flickr or perhaps even in my life [and i've seen my share of interesting pictures]
But here is why I love this picture.
In the background there exists the busy and hectic life, people have no time for anything just going from point A to point B.
The temperature is so dried and arrid that it sort of addresses the mood of the people in the towm.
But yet its still lively in exicitement that you lose yourself within it all.
And there in the very corner of life, there exists too friends, perhaps even best friends that share a unique bond with each other.
The other friend doesn't have a bike, so the other actually gets off his bike and walks side by side, symbolically of how he would walk side by side through out life.
The other friend points to whatever amuses him, which is symbolical of how life is ammsuing for all of us, if only we would open our eyes.
And then it silences westerns etc, because no matter how 'poor' or 'poverty striken' we believe the developing countries are... there is something there that's so gut wrenching and so real, that we can't really ever fathom in our lives.
And this is why I love this picture.
I didn't think this deep while clicking this one, but that is quite an interpretation. My wishes are with her, she'd make a good photo-critic :-).

Needless to say I'm very happy and proud over this. Photofriday is a very reputed website when it comes to online photography contests and this was my first attempt there. I must be mighty lucky because the other pictures selected just took my breath off; beginner's luck they say :-). Hopefully the luck will stay with me, atleast till CAT this Sunday.

Ah, and this would be a good time to be a regular at my photoblog :-D.

Update: Thanks to Photofriday, my photoblog got 600+ hits during the day with about 190 unique visitors. I'm lurrrving it! :-)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Some Google Giri.

I don't exactly remember when I first found out about Google. Life has never been the same since then! Ego surfing became a fad; insignificant nonsensical webpages with ones names were indexed and used to pamper egos. I am not much into it tho', tried it sometime back - there just aren't many distinguished "Varun Singh"s out there. Then Raj published this tag thing on his blog - I need... So I'm posting some similar stuff here.

Varun Wants -

  • Varun wants to increase the salaries by 20% per year which is desirable, ...
    (Bull's Eye!)
  • Varun wants to work out details and expenditure plans for a community self ...
    (Money is life, rest is mere details)
  • varun wants to know y did Mp deal with Arjun.
    (OK, I'm all ears. Mp you come first. Arjun you're next.)
  • Varun wants the customers to stick to paranthas even for desserts.
    (Show me the desserts first)
  • Varun wants to emphasize that South Asian candidates are getting smarter and gaining momentum.
    (Yaay! Paheli for Oscars ;-)
Varun Needs -
  • Varun needs more than Varde's "exceptional" coaching.
    (Sona-Chandi Chavyanprash!)
  • If Varun needs it reopened he can re-open it ;)
    (Quite an offer, I'm honored!)
  • Varun needs college money :)
    (You're my mate!)
  • Varun needs highly scientific training to fulfil his dream of a medal in the Asiad.
    (Or just Sona-Chandi Chavyanprash)
  • Varun needs to shoot himself now! :D

Varun Likes -
  • varun likes to rock
    (Ah.. those were the times)
  • Varun likes music and is good at roller-skating too..
    (Yup I'm just brilliant at liking roller-skating)
  • varun likes me? ...
    (Show me the booty and I might!)
  • varun likes Running around naked
    (:-o But then its a little too chilly nowadays for that)
  • Varun likes Ron Weasley
    (Objection meeeelaaaaaard!)
Then there is Montage-a-google. It uses Google's image search to generate a large gridded montage of images based on keywords. This is what it generated for me (nothing *interesting*) -

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Happy Deepawali!

The nation celebrates Deepawali today. May this day bring boundless happiness to your family. (Also posted on my photoblog)