Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Prize at ETP!

Submit a B-plan. And them implement it! That's the basic idea behind the hugely successful event Enter-the-Preneur (think 'entrepreneur') at Cognizance Evolution '10, the annual Techfest of DPT, IITR.

OK, Rupika, Ipsita, Narayanan and I teamed up to form 'Self-Branding Inc.' We made nameplates (later modified to cardboard plates with anything written on it), tattoos, T-shirt graffiti and also sold fruit-and-ice-cream, jaljeera and nimbu paani.

Everyone was supposed to submit a B-plan for approval. Ours was initially rejected but we gave an updated one, which was accepted. Then came the bank loan, the deposit, the land-bidding and buying the start-up material.

Day 1 wasn't great, with some really lovely :) lady investors stealing 50% of our already-low profits. We weren't sure we wanted to do Day 2, but the girls managed to convince me. Day 2 was really great: we sold over Rs. 900 worth of stuff and made a great profit without any nosy venture capitalists to aid us (except Naveen of course). Our treasurer Vinod did a great job in fudging our accounts (everyone was doing it!)

It was great running around forcing people to buy our stuff. The seniors gave us a lot of help too, probably because the team had two girls (the others had none) and everyone was from first year.

The biggest achievement of all was selling melted ice cream to two professors... that was totally unexpected.

So, we win Rs. 500 + our final profits (calculated as per a formula, not the simple SP-CP), while another that tied with us gets Rs. 300 + their profit (I have no idea why the prize money is different!)

ETP was dead fun but also dead tiring... but it was all worth it. Incidentally, it was one of the few successful events at Evolution '10.

Flop Show!

Cognizance Evolution 2010, of the Department of Paper Technology, kicked off with an explosive start.

The inauguration ceremony, which I co-hosted, started off with a terrible series of speeches. Each of the three speakers was supposed to speak for five minutes; none of them took less than twenty! In fact, when the third speaker was about to begin yet another narrative, I got some calls and SMSes asking me to shut him up! That was followed by a cultural show, which was also a flop because the sound systems kept failing and the electricity kept going out.

90% of the audience left (both students and faculty) after the cultural show. It was pretty shocking as I witnessed the exit first-hand from the stage. Then, there was an even bigger shock as the faculty coordinator openly declared that students at DPT were idiots who only cared for naach-gaan (music and dance) and not techie stuff!

Cognizance itself was a great flop, the biggest flop being the so-called Cogni Fair. It was expected that this would be the game-changing event: a continuous stream of mind-bending challenges under a tent that would see maximum participation. Well, being in the middle of a hot round on a very hot afternoon, the event saw near-zero participation and was a complete flop.

The Polymer Expo was OK, while the Papex looked like a normal display of, well, paper. The guest lecture was very boring and the fact that only first years (who have almost no technical knowledge) were being made to fill the chairs meant that the other events were flops too.

The Cogni Wall, which was up for over a month except during Tarang '10, was pretty lonely with people refusing to even look at it.

The paper presentation wasn't that great because all the papers lacked any research and were just ideas. Junkyard Wars went badly, although Ripples and Enter-the-Prenuer were pretty good.

All-in-all, Evolution '10 was thoroughly avoidable. It left me with no new knowledge but gave me a bad stomach ache and a backlog of work. And, coming in just two weeks after Tarang, it's left me as a hollow shell. Damn it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cogni Calling

In three days, IIT Roorkee's Annual Tech Fest, Cognizance 2010, will begin. The fest is conducted department-wise, which each department naming the event uniquely under the common banner of Cognizance (like Dept of Chemistry calls it Helios while Dept of Paper Tech calls it Evolution).

This year, the theme is 'Technovating India.' Each Department comes up with events based on this theme. For example, DPT is holding a panel discussion on Institute-Industry Partnership and also looking at mobile rural banking.

The fest will last for three days and will see a host of technical events.

Danger Ahead

The next few years are undoubtedly going to be some of the most difficult for the Indian Diplomatic community and the Government and, indeed, for the country as a whole.

As former NSA Brijesh Mishra pointed out, rather fanatically, India has very few, if any, allies in the world. That's a consequence of our skewed foreign policy, devised originally by Nehru, under which foreign policy became an end unto itself without any national advantage. Because India's foreign policy was (is) so "idealistic," we were (are) left with almost no allies since the fall of the USSR.

However, in the next few years, the Americans will be leaving Afghanistan. It is an un-winnable war, one that can go on forever. Consequently, the Americans and the British are planning to do the hitherto unthinkable: reconcile with the Taliban and virtually hand them over vast tracts of Afghan territory, making the National Government more or less ceremonial.

Any resurgence of the Taliban will be a danger for India and other neighbouring countries: Russia, Iran and China in particular. Sadly, all the strings are in Washington and Pakistan pulls some of those strings. India gave up critical opportunities to change its foreign policy - whether it be with the US, the EU or Israel - and we are paying for that now. The only advantage is that we now enjoy a somewhat steady friendship with China post-COP15, but even that could wane.

Once the Americans leave, a great power-vacuum will be created and India must, at all costs, rush in to fill that space. If Pakistan gains the upper hand, the country will face imminent danger, while Pakistan itself will face extinction. However difficult it may be politically, we need to make quick changes. Afghanistan has been called the 'graveyard of empires,' but for India, it can be the 'crown jewel of foreign policy.'

The Curious Case of the Bees

The weather in North India tends to be pretty continental. What does that mean? It means that each season is distinct and, unlike in the South, you can actually 'feel' the difference.

One of the most astonishing consequences of this, as far as I have observed, are the bees. In summer, they're literally everywhere. In the buildings, in your room, on trees... everywhere!

In the rainy season, the bees are seen with ever grater regularity, so much so that you'll need need to manoeuvre to avoid bumping into one of them (ouch!). They're also seen making their hives at this time.

But come winter, they disappear completely. GONE. Not one in sight. Of course, the winter cold is so bitter that nobody would care to notice, but it is amazing how the bees suddenly disappear.

And come spring, they come back, albeit slowly. And thus, the bees are the beacons of the seasons. I wonder what they have to say about global warming!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Good Idea

A recent recommendation by the Planning Commission has asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to make in mandatory for Ph.D students to take up classes at the undergraduate level, and as an option, at the postgraduate level. This idea is quite good and will go a long way in helping Universities around India find the faculty that they so badly need.

In industrialized nations, it is mandatory for Ph.D students to take undergraduate classes. Indeed, there are many benefits to this: it helps the University to allocate its faculty members to more research, it's good for students who would be more comfortable studying under a younger person and it's good for the Ph.D students themselves, as it would help them refresh their basics.

However, it is a fact that in India, most Ph.D students do not take up classes but waste their free time (and get paid for doing that). This is an aberration that needs to be corrected. The Commission's recommendations will help in using the latent talent of Ph.D students o train young graduates. In fact, it might also go some way in inspiring them to take up teaching as a choice of career in the future, which is definitely good for the country.

In addition, the Commission has also recommended that all universities adopt the Lecture-Tutorial-Practical mode of teaching (as is the case in all the IITs) and that Ph.D students must take tutorials. Again, this is fully justified for the same reasons as mentioned above. Tutorial classes require good rapport between the student and the tutor, and the younger Ph.D students would be well-suited for this.

If accepted, the Commission's recommendations would go a long way in turning Indian education around for the better.

(This is the link to the relevant article)

End 'Khap' Panchayats Now

The system of caste ('khap') panchayats, followed in several north Indian states, is illegal and unconstitutional and must be stopped immediately.

These so-called panchayats are a mockery of India's democratic system. They often function with bias and dish out violent, dangerous 'decisions.' The case where a couple with a child was asked to live like 'brother and sister.' In other innumerable instances, these panchayats have flouted basic fundamental rights by asking peo0ple to leave villages and liquidate their property, or asking the entire village to boycott an individual or, in a recent Taliban-style decision, gouge out the eyes of an eloping couple!

The dominance of caste panchayats is not just dangerous to law and order but also enhance caste divisions, which is contrary to the ideals with which the Indian Republic was founded. THus, their very existence needs to be killed by the use of law and, if necessary, force. It is up to State Governments in the region to do this. This is a constitutional obligation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

GATE Scores

The IITs and IISc announced the results of GATE 2010 (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) on Sunday. The news is that the AIR 1 of Paper XE (Applied Engineering, including Polymer Sci & Tech) is from our own IIT Roorkee, Saharanpur Campus!

In fact, five students here got an AIR of less than 100! It's a great thing for everyone here and there are cheers everywhere. The local media even interviewed the topper to get his views.

Here's how GATE calculates its score:

GATE SCORE = 10[ag + sg {(m - a)/s}]

m = marks obtained by the candidate.

a = average of marks of all candidates who appeared in the paper mentioned on this scorecard in GATE 2010, with all marks less than zero, converted to zero.

s = standard deviation of marks of all candidates who appeared in the paper mentioned on this scorecard in GATE 2010, with all marks less than zero, converted to zero.

ag = average (global) of marks of all candidates who appeared across all papers and years 2007-2010, with all marks less than zero, converted to zero.

sg = standard deviation (global) of marks of all candidates who appeared across all papers and years 2007-2010, with all marks less than zero, converted to zero.

The GATE score is set to zero if the value calculated by the above formula is less than zero and the GATE score is set to 1000 if the value calculated by the above formula is more than 1000.


The Qualifying Score is the minimum mark that needs to be secured to become eligible for availing assistantships provided by MHRD, GOI. The qualifying score for general category in each paper is (a + s) or 25, whichever is higher, where a and s are the average and standard deviation of marks of all candidates in a particular paper, with all marks less than zero, converted to zero. The qualifying scores for SC/ST/PD/OBC categories would be 2/3, 2/3, 2/3 and 9/10, respectively, of the general category qualifying score.


The All India Rank of the candidate in a paper is determined based on the descending order of the marks obtained by the candidates in that paper.

(Source: http://www.gate.iitb.ac.in/gate2010_website/score.php)

Quite a Let down

Book Review: The Lost Symbol
Book by Dan Brown, bestselling author of The DaVinci Code

Dan Brown is someone who is known for writing things that are shocking and radical. That's what made m,e extremely curios to read his latest offering, The Lost Symbol.

Like all his novels, the story comes with a time limit and a lot of futuristic ideas. As always, the Masons are involved here, but the scene is different. This time, it's none other than the US Capitol and its maze of underground tunnels and symbology.

Robert Langdon is tricked into coming to the Capitol and must now decipher centuries-old code to stop a mad man from killing his great friend. This friend's sister also helps him out. The book goes into some interesting ideas like Noetic Sciences and 'water' that you can breathe in.

The Lost Symbol is extremely fast-paced and difficult to put down. The mysteries behind the Masonic Pyramid and its golden capstone will leave you shaking to turn the page.

However, the ending greatly disappoints. Unlike say, The DaVinci Code, in which the ending left you with a feeling of awe, The Lost Symbol leaves you with a sense that you have just wasted several hours. The ending was poorly written, as though the author had to write something but ran out of ideas.

The two most amazing parts of the book for me were the experiment to show that the soul has mass and the idea that 'The Kingdom of God is within you.' Truly inspiring.

Overall, this book is destined to be a bestseller, although Dan Brown should not take his readers for granted in his next one.

The 100,000 Mark

Opinions 24x7 started in January, 2007 with a few posts and a documentary on Euthanasia. In June 2007, we put up a hit counter that would count the hits as time flew by. And now, that counter has crossed a milestone: over 100,000 hits on OTFS!

This was something that I thought would never happen: so many blogs die within a few months, and most of the others are put on life-support (a few posts every few months). When I came to IITR, I thought that the blog must end at last: but I was wrong. It grew and became even bigger, with new and wonderful things to write about.

And finally, we reached this milestone. It's a moment to celebrate, but also one to look forward.

This blog will be active at the very least till I graduate in 2014, which means that 200,000 hits is a reasonable final target. So, the next long-term target is 2,000 posts with 200,000 hits. Can we do it? I certainly think so.

The marks come in

We've begun to get our marks for MTE-1.

First, we got EE-101. They had put up the marks on Channel-I ("iChannel"!) before, but we got to see the papers this time. 26/50... seems bad, but since the average is less than that, it's not. Then came BT-101: 31/35, extremely good. But the subject is pretty dry as such. Most people from DPT did badly in this one.

But yesterday came the big one, the subject that left half our seniors with a back: MA-102: Mathematic-II. The marks were really low here, some people scoring in single digits, with one scoring zero in the subjective paper. What's more, they decided to cut one mark from those who failed to mention their Batch, as a sort of revenge for the inconvenience caused. Except the zero guy, none was spared. Luckily, I had written my batch.

So, I got 6/10 in the quiz (good) and 20/25 in the subjective paper (very good... the highest in the class) for a grand total of 26/35, which made me a very happy person indeed (and also the senior who copied from me!)

Now, MI-102 is not a subject that worries me. In fact, with Smithy done in the lab, I'm cool about it. PH-101 is a very important subject, and it's my most-awaited mark as of now. After it comes EC-101A, which I hope will be much better than EC-101.

So, as the marks come in and we head towards MTE-2 and finally the ETE, first year is rolling to a close...

After the Storm

OK, before I begin, let me just express my sincere shock at seeing Tarang '10's website being listed on iitr.ernet.in. Thank you, for realising that the Saharanpur Campus does exist.

OK, so Tarang came and it was BIG and a lot of fun. Then, all of a sudden, I was told that Snigdha and I had to host the Presentation Ceremony. Normally, I would take that with a great deal of equanimity, but since the Director was supposed to come, I was nervous.

But all that passed and then came Monday. Monday brought with it the last EE-101 quiz. Ok, I ruined that one. I barely got any answers correct and there was negative marking to boot. At least I wasn't as bad as those two who bubbled each other's answers, realising later that they had different sets!

Then, we had to submit the PH-101 tutorial on Tuesday. That meant that on Monday night, people were running around and begging me for my book. Before that, we got a new MA-102 tutorial. And today, we got a new PH-101 tutorial! And of course, we were asked "why haven't you done the (EE-101) 6th tut yet?" Yeah, like we were a little busy!!!

Anyway, so it's raining tuts and there's loads of work. Cogni is coming soon, but honestly, I'm thoroughly uninterested. But, there's no rest for the weary here...

IITR-SC like never before

During Tarang '10, IIT Roorkee, Saharanpur Campus was totally transformed. From a big stage at one end of the ground, a food court at the other, an overflowing (literally) canteen to dancing and music... it was wild!

The hostels were cleaned up and all the empty rooms and common rooms, along with the former Girls' hostel, were prepared for accommodation. At the end though, even that was not enough, with the new Mess having to be used as well.

The old mess was pretty much unrecognizable: with a swarm of new people and nobody telling you where to sit (rather, you get a glass delivered to you).

There were people everywhere at all points of time, sleep became a rare commodity. Even the profs, maybe out of curiosity, were there. Some people were having their face painted, while some newly-created couples were advertising products! Tarang '10 was wild and extremely fun!

The Time of your Life

Tarang '10 came with a big bang, with over 300 people from other colleges coming into the campus on just the first day.

Podium - the literary events, which I co-organised - was a mixed bag. The debate, Crossfire, was sensational. We used a lot of topics,. some highly controversial. Sadly, given the judges, we couldn't use Homosexuality as a topic.

Now, we expected that 3-4 teams would come (we prayed for 7) and we were confident of pulling in 3 from DPT. However, we managed to pull in just one from DPT and got a whopping 19 from other colleges! We started at 8:00 PM expecting to end comfortably by 10:00 PM. It ended at 11:30 PM! The whole thing was quite tiring but a lot of fun. It was so good that we decided to hold the finals on Day 3.

Sadly, the quiz - Fundamentals - wasn't that great. The participation was thin, mainly because we had to start it late (the previous event - Euphony - took an hour and a half extra). Fundamentals now coincided with Razzmatazz, which nobody wanted to miss. TO top it all off, all the teams which qualified through the Prelims were from DPT: so people from other colleges didn't even stay for the main event, barring a few like-minded individuals.

The next day, we conducted the finals of Crossfire, much delayed mainly because we were very tired and most of the enthu was gone. Nonetheless, the finals were quite good with some really fiery speeches and rebuttals. The winners (including the best speakers) truly deserved it.

Sadly, given the lack of time, we couldn't conduct Shipwreck.Still, the fact that out events went on for all three days, and the praise I got for my hosting skills, made all the hardwork worthwhile.

This was the first year that literary events were held at Tarang/Rave. And this year, well over 600 official registrations were made during Tarang. That's just the official ones! Overall, Tarang '10 was truly bigger than ever before. Can't wait for the next one!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Back to DPT

Well, that was my week back home. I barely left, partly because I'm lazy, partly because nobody else is free and partly because of the extreme heat.

Now, I've got a long journey back to IIT Roorkee, Saharanpur campus, starting with my flight tomorrow. I've got a lot of work to do: I have to virtually build up all my knowledge of EE-101 again (yes, I forgot everything!) and I must complete my PH-101 tutorial tomorrow (tight schedule!)

Also, there's the new maths tutorial that might come out soon. Also that shameless EC Department that keeps dishing out new tutorials (I bet tut 9 has already come on Channel-i!). But the big news is that Tarang 2010 begins Friday, March 12 and it's going to be a rocker of an event! I'm co-organising the literary events PODIUM and, as a part of that, hosting Fundamentals: The Quiz. I'm also working for the in-house newsletter that we'll be bringing out during Tarang. And then there's Ren!

So much work, so little time! It feels so... normal :)

The last phase of freshman year is about to begin. And I can't wait.

Day 3: My Final Message to Fred

My day at St. Serpentine changed my life completely. I now see the human body differently as do I see the infinite power of the human mind.

And I hope you do too.

Day 2: The Final Report

The Board of Governors
St. Serpentine Military Hostel

A Report on the Inmates of St. Serpentine Military Hostel

St. Serpentine Military Hostel, created to rehabilitate orphans and help them lead a disciplined life, has been plagued with rumours about strange occurrences in the hostel, a supposed 'devilish' (sic) code of conduct that leads to torture and also rumours about mis-spending of funds for a soda vending machine.

This reports aims to clarify all the above points and make a few suggestions.

The Discipline
Overall, inmates at St. Serpentine live a highly disciplined life, engaging in 5 hours of compulsory community service and fitness training along with their regular schooling each day. Their system of electing a Leader is a fine example of self-governance and as such, the inmates are capable of handling themselves well.

The inmates are highly disciplined in the dining halls and I could find no trace of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, pornography or any other material banned by the Board. They have not soiled or in any way damaged Government material issued to them and treat their surroundings with great respect.

Way of Living
I found that the inmates there have a great deal of respect towards each other. They have found their own unique methods of recreation and ensure that it does not bother anyone else. Their leader effectively handles all issues that may arise.

Students there care a lot for their bodies and ensure their physical and mental well-being. Thus, they live like matured adults in most cases. Their code of conduct is neither 'devilish' (sic) nor does it deserve punishment of any kind.

Also, I have found that the soda vending machine in question is properly in place but over-stretched slightly. As an when the inmates request for a second one, it should be approved, finances allowing.

St. Serpentine's inmates presented an image of brave maturity in the face of great difficulties.

A suggestion that I would like to make is that a separate section be made for girls and the policy of discrimination in admitting girls (as has been the case so far) be revoked. This highly-disciplined system should not be marred by gender bias.

Also, as the children get older, I recommend that sexual education classes also be initiated to help them understand their bodies and their minds fully.

Apart from the above, I do not recommend any changes to the current system. The inmates of St. Serpentine have handled themselves well without their parents and will make fine citizens one day.

First Lt. Sam Willow

(To be continued...)

Day 1: Experience Counts

I decided to head towards the administrative area so that I could get away from the crazy things going on in the hostel rooms. The administrative area is a place where records are kept: old files about inmates, both past and present, as well as a log book of visitors.

There's also a noticeboard. I looked at it and saw that it had just one notice on it:

All inmates are hereby warned that any hint of cigarettes, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, pornography or any other prohibitive substance as outlined by the Board will invite severe punishment, both individual and collective. All inmates are expected to maintain high standards of behavior.

Fred Carlyle, Leader

This was another surprise to me. Although these kids seemed to live a pretty disciplined life as such, the kind of behavior I saw didn't substantiate that. But anyway, it was nearly dinner time and I'd think about all this after Fred's 'explanation.'


After dinner, Fred asked me to wait in my room while he prepared to 'explain.' It felt strange being sent to my room like a little troublemaker by someone like him. On my way back, I couldn't help looking into the inmates' rooms. They were all stripping down, some getting ready for a late night bath. And... some were at it again.

Fred came to my room in a little while. This time, he too seems to have let his super-disciplined look down as he was dressed just in his boxers.

"Yes, Fred, you wanted to tell me something?"
"Actually, Sir, I wasted to show you."

And in a matter of seconds they brought two beds into the corridor in front of my room. The girl, Jessica, appeared out of nowhere (she was also in her underwear) along with two other boys (naked). Fred and Jessica got onto the first bed and the other two on to the other. They began to have intercourse with each other. I shouted at them and told them that I was not interested in watching porn right now. They didn't stop and, for some reason, I couldn't stop them.

There was something different that was going on. Fred and Jessica were having sex like normal people, but the boys were doing something else. It's hard to explain... but the most distinctive thing was that they were not looking into each others eyes. They were kissing each other all over, but it really did seem like it was just for physical pleasure.

My mind began to numb after a few minutes, but thankfully, the boys climaxed, smiled at me and left. I was expressionless throughout. I had just witnessed something unbelievable, something that defied my knowledge. It seemed so wrong and yet... it didn't seem wrong at all. These kids were wrong if I looked at it from my point of view and yet, if I saw it from theirs, it seemed so... not wrong.

Fred and Jessica orgasmed in front of me. While they were finishing up (everything had stopped making sense to me at that point of time), I heard a loud bang from the next room. Fred got up immediately, naked, and went there angrily. He dragged another boy out and started beating him.

"I told you to shut the f*** up! You stupid a**hole! You'll starve tomorrow if you don't start crying!"

"What's the matter Fred?" I asked. He looked up at me with a look that suggested that he had forgotten that I was there. "This boy is really nuts, Sam. Nobody likes him and so he's trying to force himself on his roommate. He'll sleep in the corridor tonight for that."

And with that, Fred tossed the boy onto the floor, kicked him and wished me a good night. he walked away with Jessica.

The boy looked into my eyes. He was crying. I gestured him to come in. He told me that his name was Todd and that nobody liked him here. I tried to console him, but he was inconsolable. I think he was in depression, actually. I kissed him on his forehead, hoping to calm him down.

Then the boy began to do something unexpected: he pulled my zipper down and began jacking around! I resisted, but he looked at me again. I couldn't explain it: his eyes were blank and emotionless, yet we were doing this. I had no feelings (except pity for him) and yet I let him...


The next day, I packed my bags and thanked Fred for his hospitality.

He looked at me with an expression of fear... he was afraid of what my report contained. I gave him a hug to reassure him that it wasn't going to be all that bad as his spies has forewarned.

"Thank you..." he said hesitantly, like he wasn't sure what he was supposed to say. That's when I realised that the Leader was still a boy... (To be continued...)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 1: I Couldn't Believe What I Saw (Part 2)

All the boys at St. Serpentine live two-in-a-room. It's considered necessary for a variety of reasons.

But I never thought about that one girl (her name, according to my records, is Jessica Crosby). I always thought that she would be given a single room of her own. When Fred took me to his room, I realised that I was wrong. He knocked on his door (which was strange because all the other rooms I had seen in the hostel were always open) and it was that same girl who opened it.

She was beautiful... but very young. She was wearing some clothes (a light T-shirt and shorts). She smiled and Fred introduced us. "I'm so happy to meet you," she said to me with a big smile. I returned the pleasantry. And then Fred and Jessica proceeded to kiss themselves... quite passionately actually. They just about licked each others faces clean before I pretended to cough.

"Oh, sorry," Fred began, "I forgot you're not used to this yet." I took note of the "yet."
"Well, First Lt. you're free to have a look. Every one's been told why you're here and we'll be extending full cooperation. You're room is second in the next corridor. If you need anything, you can ask anybody."

"Just one question," I said. "Why do you and Ms. Crosby live in the same room?"
"Well," said Fred. "It's because I'm the Leader and the Leader gets to experience love. We're not gay, Sam, I told you that."

And with that, I went to my room. It was small, like any hostel. I didn't really care. Before I entered, however, I slipped over something. I bent down to pick it up and realised that it was a condom. A used one. I looked up and saw two boys cuddling up against each other in bed, with semen all over the floor. I went to my room quickly.

I wanted to stay in my room until somebody airlifted me out. But I had a duty: to review this crazy place. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that this place should be shut down. We seem to be creating emotionless kids here, prostitutes and gigolos in a sense.

But I decided to give it another chance. After lunch (everybody came smartly dressed, thankfully) I chalked out my strategy. it wasn't easy because of all the loud moaning coming from the other rooms. Nonetheless, i decided that I should take a few rounds of the place and stay in the common room for some time. That way, I could add some substance to my report.

I started on my rounds. The first thing I found in an adjacent corridor was a vending machine - a condom vending machine. Now who put that here? I got out my notes, which included expenditure from this place. Amazingly, there was a soda-vending machine included. This made no sense to me. I took a note to report this. I continued on my rounds. In every room it was almost the same sight: young boys having sex with each other. In some cases it was oral, anal in others. Some of them even smiled at me!

Bu the time I reached the Common Room, I was pretty much sure that I would have this place closed. Even in the common room, it was the same. Well, almost. Since there were no beds here, the kids were doing it solo. This was more like a masturbation room than a common room. I didn't even know where to stand because nearly the entire floor was covered in semen stains! I also noted that there was no pornography anywhere: everyone was doing it with their eyes closed. It reminded me of what Fred had said "not about love... physical pleasure..."

I returned to my room, dazed. a note had been left under my door. It was from Fred:

"First Lt. Sam Willow, I realise that you have not found our ways here appropriate. The inmates tell me that you wear a very angry, disgusted look on your face. I realise that, as Leader, it is my job to ensure that you understand what we're talking about before you write your final report. so, I would like to give you a full explanation tonight after dinner. In your room, preferably. Thank you. - Fred"

The little imp is spying on me! Lets see what explanation he can cook up this time!
(To be continued)

Unacceptable Sympathy

In a press conference held in New Delhi today, supporters and sympathizers of the CPI(Maoist) lined up to tell us just how horrible we all are and that we should not be using paramilitary forces against them. Why? Because they represent the people!

Do the so-called representatives of the people have the right to kill, behead, rape and extort the same people? This is a question they could not answer. Why don't these so-called Human Rights Organisations speak up against the rights violations of the Maoists? Why are they quiet about the outright terrorism that Maoist cadres use to quell are resistance?

Amongst the sympathizers was, of course, Arundhati Roy! This is a lady who has absolutely no answers but wants to talk - A LOT - so that the media constantly listens to her. To her, everybody but herself is wrong, the reasons for that are unimportant.

Enough with the sympathizers. They are blind elitists who cannot understand the needs of the nation. Union Home Secretary GK Pillai's warnings should come as a realisation that we must wage a long war against the Maoists: they represent terror. That's all.

Comments on the Women's Reservation Bill

The Union Government has decided that the Women's Reservation Bill, in cold storage for well over a decade now, will be introduced in Parliament on March 8, the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. As usual, a lot of political posturing has taken place and the people who have their reservations continue to declare 'war' against the Bill.

It's perfectly possible for the Bill yo be passed: the numbers add up perfectly. With the entire UPA deciding to vote in favour, the Bill has an instant simple majority. However, because a Constitutional Amendment is required, the Government needs other parties, and other parties have come. The BJP - with 116 seats in the Lok Sabha - and the Left parties have joined in, as have smaller parties. In total, the Government has some 410 votes to back the bill - well beyond two-thirds majority required to pass it. Moreover, necessary whips have been issued so that nothing can go wrong.

The problem is with the usual band of spoilsports: the RJD, LJP (ok, it has nil representation in the Lok Sabha), MIM, SP, BSP etc. All these little parties have one common feature: they depend heavily on caste, religion, money and muscle to win. And the Bill is detrimental to their future.

The problem is that these parties have always managed to kill the Bill. They do it by their own classic techniques: whether it's out-shouting every other member or tearing every copy of the Bill available in the house. Who knows, they might burn the Bill next!

If the Bill is, however unlikely it may sound, passed by both houses (the numbers are a bit shaky in the Rajya Sabha), it will not be perfect, The rotating constituency system will be detrimental to Indian politics and will further bring in nepotism (the "Pradhan-pati" idea). Don't be surprised if you see Rabri Devi as an MP representing you-know-who. But still, any more opposition to the bill will make it impossible to pass. Amendments to the Bill can be made later and the system can be corrected for any flaws, but it has to be passed in the first place.

Monday is going to be a very interesting day in Parliament. Do watch it!

Smart move by GHMC

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) just collected a huge stash of property tax arrears.

The technique was two-pronged: first, put up the names of the people/companies that have tax arrears on their website ghmc.gov.in. This sent shock waves and, thanks to keen interest shown by the press, caused a great deal of embarrassment. Then, came the other part of the strategy: they shut down the ultra-posh Hyderabad Central Mall. Now, people realised that if the GHMC people can shut down something that large, then they could do anything.

And viola! Crores of rupees coming in a few days as defaulters were quick to cough up cash now that the GHMC was taking their case seriously. and, as expected, the common refrain was 'Please take our name off your website!'

A masterstroke indeed, Mr. Commissioner.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 1: I Couldn't Believe What I Saw (Part 1)

25 July
Year: Undisclosed
Place: St. Serpentine Military Hostel
Somewhere in North America

When I was told of my assignment - to report on the inmates of St. Serpentine Military Hostel - I thought it was quite a simple job. How much trouble could little kids be? St. Serpentine was created as a sort of PR initiative of the Army: to take in underprivileged orphans, feed, them, shelter and clothe them and provide them with military training so that they can lead a disciplined life later.

We're not creating child soldiers here: there is no requirement that these kids join the Army later and they are not sent into war as minors; they just participate in community service.

My name is First Lt. Sam Willow and I was asked to write the report. I had heard that some strange things happen in St. Serpentine but, nonetheless, I was convinced that it couldn't be all that bad because these kids had a pretty good reputation among the local community and the Board.

I arrived at St. Serpentine this morning. The first thing I found here was that the entire hostel was run by the students: no adult had any control of the place except for the dining hall, which is in another building anyway. Another thing which I was told is that the kids here have created a 'leader' for themselves, a senior inmate who took care of most matters. I was supposed to meet him.

Oh, and another strange thing is that there's only one female inmate.

The 'Leader,' a teenage boy named Fred Carlyle met me once I arrived. He was quite handsome and confident and his welcome was warm. He asked some other boy, most likely his age, to take my things up to my room. This was a surprise to me as I was not aware that I was to live as an inmate myself. But, then again, I suppose that there's no better way to understand their 'habits.'

After making some small talk, he showed me around. And I found it impossible to believe what I saw. I must admit that it was a hot day, but seeing every single inmate moving around stark naked shocked me. And then came the next shock: the way they greeted each other. They kissed. And mind you, this was an all-boys-except-one hostel! And that except-one was nowhere in sight!

I asked Fred about what they were doing, roaming around naked and and kissing each other. He told me that it was normal here! "What, they're ALL gay?," I asked him. "Not gay," he replied, "it's not about love, it's just the physical feeling." I asked him to explain. He took me to a little balcony in the Common Room and explained:

"All of us here, First Lt., are orphans. We never knew love and we don't really care. But we need to be happy: we live a very disciplined life and we get virtually no rewards. Food (he continued after I tried to interrupt him) and shelter are no rewards. We need something else. We find that physical pleasure is that something. You'll find that we do much more than just kiss... you'll find out why we walk naked... you'll hate it at first but believe me, you'll understand. We're not strange, we're locked up and this is our only vent."

I listened in silence. All this was a lot for me. Finally, Fred ended his long speech and offered to show me his room. I accepted without even hearing his offer much, because I felt that I had seen just too much in a very short span of time.

When we reached his room, I wished we hadn't. (To be continued...)

A Story that will Shock You

Opinions 24x7 presents A REPORT ON THE INMATES OF ST. SERPENTINE MILITARY HOSTEL, a story based on a dream.

St. Serpentine Military Hostel is located somewhere in North America, where orphaned children are taken in and given military training as well as shelter and food. First Lieutenant Sam Willow is dispatched by the board that manages St. Serpentine to present a report on the inmates there, who reportedly have some 'queer' habits.

This story is narrated through the eyes of First Lt. Willow and promises to shock you, taking you to a new world where the human mind is closed out by the body. This work is entirely fictitious.

Filed under story.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coming Soon: The Story of IC-814

The story of IC-814, the Indian Airlines flight that was hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan, is one that must never be forgotten. It represents a collective failure of the Indian security establishment and also the Government of the day in protecting Indian citizens.

Later this year, OTFS will present a documentary on this.

Now Boarding: IC-814
The Story of the Kandahar Hijack
This May on OTFS under Documentary

I do hope you enjoyed the documentary Chernobyl just presented. I'm thinking of two or three more documentaries this year, apart from IC-814. One idea I have is a documentary on Kashmir in Bollywood. if you have any ideas, do tell me by leaving a comment!

The Most Dangerous Test in History

26 April, 1986 went down in history as the day when the world's worst nuclear accident - the only one to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale - took place in the little town of Prypiat, near Chernobyl city in the then Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of the Soviet Union.

But what caused this disaster that continues to haunt people even today? And what's left of Prypiat today? OTFS investigates...

The Experiment
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant consisted of four nuclear reactors, each of 1 GW capacity, equivalent to 10% of Ukraine's power production at the time.

On April 25, Reactor 4 was scheduled to be shut down for maintenance since it was nearly at the end of its first fuel cycle. To take advantage of it being shut down, an experiment was proposed to be conducted.

It is a fact that nuclear power plants demand a large amount of water to act as a coolant. This prevents the reactor from overheating. However, the pumps to run the water depended on external energy and if this energy failed, it would take at least a minute to start up three reserve diesel generators to run them. This time lag was considered unacceptable. So, although the reactor would be stopped automatically by control rods, it was proposed that the kinetic energy left in the turbine could be used to run the pumps for 45 seconds, thus shortening the time lag significantly. This was the proposed experiment. It had been carried out thrice before on different plants, but the results were inconclusive in all cases. Chernobyl Reactor 4 was to be the next experiment.

The reactor was prepared before the experiment. It was hoped that the day shift workers would conduct it with a team of engineers and the night shift workers would simply handle the coolant system. However, at 1:06 PM on April 25, when the power of the plant was reduced to 50%, the Kyiv grid controller requested it to be restored to meet the daytime requirements of the city. Thus, the experiment was delayed and the night shift staff were not given enough time to prepare for it.

The Error
Because of the inordinate delay (the experiment resumed only by 11:04 PM), most of the original staff had left and the only engineer left was a young and inexperienced man named Leonid Toptunov.

The test called for the power plant's output to be lowered from 3200 MW to 700-1000 MW. However, due to fuel poisoning on account of neutron absorber Xe-135, the output fell to below 500 MW. At this point of time, for reasons unknown, Toptunov lowered the control rods too deep, effectively shutting down the reactor (he died of radiation exposure after the accident).

The Control Room then decided to raise the control rods (instead of discontinuing the experiment). This led to the reactor stabilizing at around 200 MW. However, excess Xe-135 poisoned the fuel and the rods had to be raised even more. Then, as part of the test, at 1:05 AM on April 26, extra water pumps were activated. However, by 1:19 AM, too much water had flown in to the reactor. Now, water is also a neutron absorber, though not as good as graphite (which the control rods were made of). Thus, because of the additional water, neutrons were absorbed in excess and all the control rods had to be removed, ignoring warnings.

And so it began
At 1:23 AM, the actual experiment took off. The steam turbines were shut off and the generators were activated. The turbine's kinetic energy was used to power the pumps while the generators warmed up. However, as this kinetic energy decreased, the rate at which water cooled the reactor also fell. So, the output of the reactor began to increase (due to more unabsorbed neutrons) and a lot of water began to flash into steam.

At this point of time, a command came in from the control room to shut down the reactor. This is called a SCRAM command and there is no reason known today as to how this command was sent: whether it was manually sent or by the automatic safety controls. Either way, the SCRAM execution began with the slow insertion of the control rods at the rate of 0.4 m/s. However, the rods were so large that they would take upto 20 s to actually submerge completely. A flawed design also displaced coolant as the r0ds entered, thus increasing the power output.

This caused a spike in power to upto 30 GW (that's right: gigawatts!), which created so much steam pressure that it blew the lid of the reactor off. Three seconds later, another, much more powerful, explosion took place. The cause behind the second explosion is unknown, but it is thought that the hydrogen created from water due to the high temperature suddenly reacted with oxygen once the lid was blown off and caused a massive explosion.

Finally, oxygen reacted with the super hot graphite rods and set off a massive fire. Tons of material was blown off and fell all over the reactor site.

After the Explosion
The dangerous nuclear fuel and byproducts in the reactor core had made contact with air and radiation in lethal doses began to spread all over the town. Winds carried the radiation far and wide across borders, with some radiation being felt as far as Ireland.

Firefighters arrived to douse the fire but they had no idea that it was much more than an electrical fire. Most of them did not know about radiation exposure and died due to the fatal dosage. The fire was extinguished only on 10 May, 1986 after a massive effort that saw helicopters dropping sand, lead, clay and even boron onto the fire. The aim was to protect the other reactors, Reactor 3 in particular.

The Soviet Union faced the embarrassing situation of a nuclear explosion having occurred on its soil. Thus, they tried to hide it by telling everyone that it was localized. A team came to Prypiat on April 27 (two people had already died by then of radioactivity). The team concluded, rather unwillingly, that a massive nuclear accident had indeed taken place and ordered the town to be evacuated. Again, to prevent any embarrassment, people were told that it would be a temporary evacuation. That's why so many belongings can still be seen in the now sealed-off town.

The Sarcophagus
The Soviet Union constructed a thick layer of concrete, a shell if you may (often called a sarcophagus), around Reactor 4 to contain the nuclear waste within. A Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was designated around Chernobyl Power Plant, where people were forbidden to come. Eventually, the entire power plant began to fail and was decommissioned. It is estimated that it would take anywhere from 60 to 200 years before the exclusion zone could be safe again, and over 20,000 years before the actual site of Reactor 4 would return to near-normal.

Thousands of people from Prypriat, residents and workers alike, died of radiation exposure. More continue to die and it is becoming herder and harder to count the casualties.

Chernobyl today
Some 200 tons of highly radioactive material lies buried in the sarcophagus. It will be replaced by a more scientific, metallic 'capsule' by 2011, built with €810 million from donors.This is called the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, as the sarcophagus is officially called the Shelter. This was established at the Denver G7 summit (1997).

Down's syndrome, cancer and other genetic diseases continue to be reported from survivors and their kin. Deaths have also been seen in neighboring countries due to the nuclear cloud generated by the explosions.

A memorial was built in Luhansk as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy and the world's worst nuclear disaster, greater in magnitude than Nagasaki and Hiroshima put together.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Holi Hai!

This is Google's doodle for Holi, the festival of colours that is celebrated all over India.

The last time I really 'celebrated' Holi was in Mumbai. After that, life just changed so much that everything seemed so shallow to me.

So, while I saw no reason to celebrate Holi this year, I hope all of you did. I hope you had lots of fun and used organic colours. As for me well, lets just say that my heart still lies in Mumbai.

Happy Holi.

My Grades for the First Semester

Why the Liberal Arts fascinate me

I consider myself to be a strange paradox: I am a student of Engineering, someone who gets fairly good grades and does enjoy most engineering subjects (and I'm just starting to warm up to Physics). And yet, what interests me more than anything else is the liberal arts, the humanities and the social sciences. These subjects, long scorn off as those meant for "weaker students" bind me, entice me and enthrall me.

Many would say I'm a strange person. Why do the humanities entice me so? The reason is not some mystical answer that requires a great deal of thought, oh no, it's very simple. I want to see what I learn. I want to be able to understand how the complex theories that we study add up.

The problem with engineering, to me, is that it is so very theoretical. We studied diesel engines without ever seeing one; we performed complex mathematical derivations without ever understanding what they mean; we read about a variety of chemical phenomena but never saw them happen! Students who have completed engineering have no idea how a light bulb is replaced or where a car's spark plugs are.

How could I live in this ignorance? What sort of education is this?

In the humanities, I found freedom, I found the world. When I learned about different methods of conducting an interview, I found reality: I could relate what I had learned to an earlier experience (my NTSE interview). When I saw the mental ability questions, I recalled answering such questions in the NSO and NCO and I finally understood why they were asked. When I participated in a GD, I understood what leadership meant, and the importance of expressing an idea clearly and concisely. When I read a novel, I can feel myself, I experience reality. But when I read an engineering textbook, I feel nothing.

Humanities is what brings me back to the world. The last few years have seen me disappear into a bottomless pit of equations and problems which never made any sense, never meant anything at all. Only the humanities had ties to the world: they are real sciences, the study of us, all of us. What can be more exciting than that?