Monday, December 31, 2012

Could it be Legendary?

As the last few hours of one of the most crucial years of my life come to an end, it is worth thinking about what lies ahead. After my branch change, 2013 was preordained as a critical year for me, with my graduation from IIT Roorkee setting the ground for me to leapfrog into a new phase in my life. Anything could happen, really: the US Embassy could reject my application, the universities themselves could ask me to cough up too much money, I might join ITC and leave it soon, I might go on to become the CEO of ITC, I might get a PhD from IITB... who knows?!

For India, my country and pride, 2013 will be undoubtedly another difficult year. With the ineffectual UPA Government going into over-drive to save its sinking ship, there is imminent danger of reckless behaviour on the part of the Government. Then again, a series of Assembly Elections as we go on to the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls could prove to be just what the doctor prescribed to shake up the system.

For the Civil Engineering Department at IIT Roorkee, the coming of a new HOD will signal a change in way things work, hopefully for the better. For Kshitij, it will be time for another (hopefully peaceful) leadership transition and some hard decisions will have to be taken for the magazine's future. For LitSec, I will be hanging up my boots as Additional Secretary, hopefully leaving it better than I had received it, and hopefully my successor will do even better than me. And for DPT, Saharanpur, the year will finally allow me to leave behind the painful memory of my untimely separation from my friends and indeed, my entire life in first year. I do expect things at DPT to get better as they implement the Senate's decisions to trifurcate the Department and also finish the major civil works there.

On a personal note, it will be hard leaving my 'family' in IITR. Given how everything is going, it might actually be the last time in a long time that I will be meeting them, just as I have not been able to meet Akshay for the last four years. Such is life, I suppose.

But I have come to realize that you always belong with your seniors... they are your window into the future, a future that is ultimately yours. Fourth year was somewhat depressing because of the lack of seniors and it feels good to be able to go back to them, metaphorically speaking. Therefore, 2013 might just be a very happy year for me, depending on how things work out.

And of course, for OTFS, it will be more great posts, research, humor, commentary, IOTY and much more! I wish my readers a Happy New Year.

A Seminal Year

The year 2012 will surely go down in my personal history as a decisive year that would have a profound effect on the years to come. From the very beginning to the very end, it was an exciting journey full of new avenues that have helped me grow as an individual and take some concrete steps towards the future.

The first major event was, undoubtedly, IIT Roorkee MUN 2012, which was the largest event I ever organized. Much has been said about its success, and I learned many lessons from it (which I outlined in the Documentary this year as well). It will be hard to forget such a grand success, although the next one was equally fitting. In keeping with the tradition established by my friends and mentor (and actually outdoing him in the process), I clocked my first and only perfect 10.000, which pushed my CGPA to a level not seen in CED for years (although my juniors have already outdone me).

I often compare 3-2 to 1-2, both of which I can describe as Golden Semesters. But then came the best thing of all - the DAAD WISE Internship at TU Munich - which I can confidently say was the greatest experience I ever had in my life. I learned to live on my own, in an alien country, travel, cook, shop, manage expenses and much more while also doing some good research that helped me zero in on my future goals. As I usually remark, the best thing about Munich was that 'there was no past and no future, just that day, that moment.'

But once I was back in India, it proved to b a very challenging semester, as I have written before. Easily the most hectic, it was also supremely satisfying. I had planned out my future in third year, narrowed it down in Munich, and now finally taken some concrete steps to get there. My grand performance at GRE and TOEFL (of which I am really proud of my 5.5 AWA score) put me on a firm footing, even as I struggled to keep my marks in order. It was the ITC Placement that finally ended a very hectic schedule.

Of course, the flip-side has been a reduced number of blogposts, although I have tried to make that up in December, my first proper free month in the year (ironically, the last). Writing is, and will always remain, central to me as an individual, and I hope that the lack of posts was made up by the newer content and (I hope) variety.

So, there goes a year that will not leave my mind soon! 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

And There Goes Balanced Journalism


This is a video of Times Now's talk show featuring Congress MP and son of the President, Abhijit Mukherjee. It's been talked about greatly, with Faking News finding a way to bring Diggi Raja into it too! As always, another piece of shoddy journalism of the Arnab Goswami brand. Is this journalism? Certainly not - unfortunately, this channel chooses to turn its own journalists, led by their Chief Editor, into newsmakers themselves. Never will you see any balanced views here - it's always loud, pompous populism.

This episode showed that loud and clear - a presumably unprepared Mr. Mukherjee kept repeating his standard phrase while Mr. Editor-in-Chief mercilessly thrashed him, asking the same rhetorical question. And his extraordinarily biased 'panel,' all of whom either shared the same view or came just to nod and be seen, added fuel to the fire, with only Vrinda Grover making some sense.

And this is what passes off as journalism. Justice Katju, where art thou? 

A Notable Adaptation

A CHRISTMAS CAROL 3D (2009)
Producer: Walt Disney
Director: Robert Zemeckis

This Christmas season (which actually extends beyond Dec. 25, for those who know), among the many Christmas-themed movies available, I'd recommend this modern, 3D adaptation of Charles Dickens' timeless classic. A Christmas Carol is not a page-for-page adaption of the original however: here, the director has taken great freedom to reinterpret parts of the play and fit it in with modern technology. Indeed, this movie is as much a beautiful adaptation as it is a visual thriller.

Perhaps the best example of how well the director has interpreted the play is his depiction of the Three Spirits of Christmas. It is a pleasure seeing the innovative use of technology used to interpret the story - and true to any 3D rendition, the director adds several 'close-ups' to keep the audience on edge! Yet even in this rigmarole of innovation, the message of Christmas is not lost on us.

The movie adds some memorable moments to it, such as the image of Scrooge's corpse or the (rather long) chase around London by the third Spirit. But perhaps the most memorable of all is Tiny Tim - the moral angel of the story - who is given plenty of time to develop and grow on the audience. This stands as proof as to how the director did not merely make the movie with the intention of selling the technology, but made it with a heart.

Certainly, a perfect movie to watch with the family! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Time to Ditch Nitish?

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in today for the third time in a row, joining an elite club of Chief Ministers to have done that. But an evaluation of the audience present to witness the even says much about what Indian politics could look like in 2014. News channels have described in detail as to how Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha was present at the event, as were a host of other BJP and NDA honchos with the exception of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar or any representative of the JD(U).

The question beckons - with the JD(U) so dead against Modi being even a candidate for the position of PM of India, what is the future of the NDA? Let us consider an unorthodox answer - the BJP should kick the JD(U) out of the NDA, withdraw support to its Bihar Government and reassert itself as the leader of the NDA. After all, what is the JD(U)? Already, its influence in Bihar is beginning to wane. There is a clear disenchantment among the electorate, which also explains why the CM has been so feverishly appeasing minorities (read, Muslims) in the state to ensure that he does not face a massive anti-incumbency factor.

Still, in national politics or in fact politics of any other state apart from Bihar, it is the BJP that calls the shots. Look no farther than Jharkhand for an example. If NaMo were to navigate through the BJP's own internal politics (made more complicated by the RSS' interference), then he would be a compelling force for the electorate and could possibly bring the NDA back to power, especially given the massive disenchantment towards the Manmohan Singh-Government (and no, Rahul Gandhi is no substitute). In such a situation, there would be merit in ditching the JD(U), which would soon realise that the Congress is not exactly a reliable friend.

Modi's swearing-in ceremony demonstrated that he can indeed bring in useful allies to the NDA fold, particularly the MNS and the AIADMK, possibly even the TMC. The question is - will he be allowed to? 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The Poison Tree

Train to Pakistan
By Khushwant Singh

Partition - the very mention brings a reaction from anyone from South Asia. Whereas the old ones would recall memories for violence and blood, the younger lot would recall some answer they had to mug up for an exam. In any case, it was a seminal event in South Asia: something that has come to define us.

In his book Train To Pakistan however, the veteran writer presents Partition for what it really was - a senseless orgy of violence that had no meaning to the lives of everyday villagers. In the short span of a little under 200 pages, Singh presents an average border village where religion was just what it should be - a mere facet of life, certainly not the defining one.

Laced with witty commentary about society and just how far removed the politics of Delhi/Lahore was from the common man, the book is not really historical fiction, but rather social commentary. A myriad of peculiar characters guides the story forward, supported by a powerful narrative that only Singh can provide. Perhaps the most powerful of them all was the description of the first train of corpses: not only did it disturb the character but also went on to disturb the reader. In short, perfect!

Cold Alone

Another year, another Christmas. Given IIT Roorkee's brilliant academic schedule, I have generally spend Christmas Day either travelling to Roorkee or in it - in either case, alone, mostly. Most people just skip the registration and do it late, either by coughing up the fine or applying some jugaad. But true to a nice epithet I heard in a movie ("Bong saare phattu hote hai") I choose to return on time.

This year marks the second in a row spent in Roorkee during the winter break. And it's just as well - both have been rather momentous, one for Kshitij and the other for a whole host of things. It doesn't matter how useful the stay has been - the long journey is just too grueling. But one advantage is the chance to experience the December winter, something that I have come to love for all its cons. Yes, so joints tend to hurt and bathing daily can be a pain: but compare that to waking up soaked in your own sweat and bathing twice a day and you will get my point.

But then, what do I do? Well, as such, life at IITR teaches you what to do when alone, though without a laptop there is not much to learn. Anyway, I have never been alone in the strictest sense of the term: there has always been somebody or the other around with me. The worst situation would be eating alone in the mess, although the placements have prevented a recurrence of that for me.

But no, by alone I mean more philosophically. The most obvious thing would be a girlfriend - but given my history after that disastrous branch change, I am simply not up to it. Not to mention the looks factor. But even then, a friend, a companion, someone you can open your heart out to? Well, there are some who might qualify for that, but not quite. There is really no true friend I have been able to make from my own year here in Roorkee. In Saharanpur, I am quite sure I would've known who that was. But here - I draw a blank.

So, here's to another cold Christmas, spent alone, with my books, random thoughts and musings. 

A Roller-Coaster Semester

The penultimate semester here at IIT Roorkee was certainly the most hectic of all, full of ups and downs, politics and revelations. If on one hand there was the crowing glory of GRE and TOEFL, the academic crisis and great irritation with the entire system proved to be a dampener. But of course, first things first - the semester began with another great tragedy, the loss of my friend and mentor. It had to happen, of course, for that is the drawback of having a senior as such a good friend.

But there was little time to mourn that loss, for soon came the challenge of the GRE. It took quite a great deal of work to get over the Germany-hangover and return to a 'normal' lifestyle. Jawahar Bhawan proved to be ideal for that - it is much more student-friendly and lively than prison block-style RKB. However, it did remind me greatly of my first year in Old Malviya Bhawan.

In fact, memories of my first year were the recurring theme throughout - I cannot but stop to feel that, what I may have achieved, I am still so very far from where I belong. Well, times have changed: with the end of my tenure in Kshitij, culminating in a successful transition to power, I was left to handle the DebSoc. It has been very challenging, and the bureaucracy has made me extremely angry at the way things at IITR work, but the joy of seeing younger members improving with every passing debate drives me on.

The GRE proved to be a real challenge - speaking in English is one thing and writing an exam in it is another. For the first time since a failed attempt in first year, I spent hours and hours in the library pouring over books. And it eventually paid off - handsomely. With TOEFL proving to be as easy as the Lit crowd described it, the time had come to begin applying. A truly hellish process it is, mainly because some professors are thoroughly uncooperative when it comes to the LORs. Writing SOPs is another challenge - especially if all your friends declare your views as the gold standard of SOP-writing and ask you to read each and every one of theirs!

In all this, academics took a real beating, although my already-high CGPA will not take a great dent this time. Add to that the internship seminar (a complete waste of two hours per week), the major project and the minor project (wherein I even managed to write a paper) and you begin to see just why this was such a difficult semester.

And then came the placements - now that's when lady luck finally shone her beacon on me. Placed on the first day with the highest salary in core engineering - now that was one heck of an achievement. Now, with MS/PhD plans on a firm footing and this amazing backup to boot, Plan B (GATE) has been modified to requiring just a valid GATE score - meaning that the next semester should be cool and memorable!

I should add here that it would've been very difficult to get through this semester without my 'family' at IITR - Baridhi (who met me thrice this semester), Tarun (who continues to make me proud) and Shivank (who will face brighter days now that the HOD has changed). 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Talk About Mixed Reactions

VICKY DONOR (2012)

Producer: John Abraham
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Starring: Ayushmann Khurrana, Yami Gautam, Annu Kapoor and others
Pros: Excellent subtext, ever-engaging storyline, comes with a strong sense of romantic literature
Cons: Potholed storyline, extraordinarily simplistic portrayal, a little hard to follow for a non-linguist
Rating: We'll get to that in a bit

Before I begin, I must warn you that mindless comedies seeking to exploit the inherent sexual frustrations of the average Indian audience generally get a run down from me. Therefore, I will admit that I was not really too even-minded at the start of the movie. When it began with a string of Punjabi dialogues, I was even more sure that this was a waste of my time.

But things can change. And how! Vicky Donor is a movie that proved to be the most challenging yet to review. While on one level it is rather silly, immature even, with a rash, unconcerned Punjabi (coming over from Pakistan during partition, no less!) falling in love with an ambitious and confused Bengali, both carrying with them cartloads of stereotypes that amazingly vanish as the characters metamorphose over and over again. Phew!

But on a more philosophical level, this is a brilliant movie about two people, both children of a disastrous partition (an excellent choice of background), who change themselves and at the same time challenge the accepted social mores of society that seem to work towards making them unhappy, not happy, with their marriage. Add to that friendly jokes about soon-vanquished stereotypes and some excellent acting and you really have one great movie. And now do you see why it was so hard to review it?

Now, to come to the technical aspects - kudos to the writers who made a script that worked for the audience. It's never easy combining two cultures as diverse as Punjabi and Bengali, but they made very good work of it. True, the story has several loopholes and generalizations and as such tends to avoid finer aspects of the plot, but for those of us who believe that the first aim of movie-making is to entertain, that is excusable. Ayushmann's acting was quite good, though it could have been better, while Yami Gupta was more like stone. The real prize goes to Annu Kapoor, who did a fantastic job.

The best part about the movie is the underlying set of social messages involved - the modern generation does not mind marrying outside their community; that what is socially acceptable and what is not is not set in stone but more a matter of perception; that a mother and a son or a father and a daughter seemingly at war actually cannot live without each other; these and much more adorn this movie and make it a pleasure to watch. And so...

Rating: ***** (5 of 5)

I'm shocked myself. (OTFS)

A Thumping Victory?

Election results are out at last and in Gujarat, the BJP has registered its fifth straight victory and third under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Not that this is a big surprise - it was predicted by every single pollster. In fact, they were probably wrong because they had predicted that the BJP would face decimation in Saurashtra due to Keshubhai Patel's GPP, but nothing of that sort happened. The BJP won a majority there too.

But the question remains - what are the implications of this for national politics? Although Modi has made it clear in his victory speech that he would serve Gujarat, the rumour mills have already started churning. Although the victory margin is impressive, is it enough for Modi to have a go at being PM should the BJP rise to power? It seems from preliminary results that people cutting across caste and religion voted for the BJP, yet the party actually fell by one seat from last time.

Now, this does not necessarily mean that Modi cannot have a go - in fact, he will most surely try for it. But to silence all his critics, he needed to deliver at least a two-thirds, if not a three-fourths, majority, which he failed to do. This means that he has not become unassailable and that despite Sushma Swaraj's recent approval of him, Modi will face a tough time getting through the web of contenders in the party.

So, it seems that it would actually be better for Modi to stick to Gujarat for now and extend his support to some national leader - perhaps Sushma Swaraj was hoping for that?  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Support...

True, the Delhi gangrape case is making such headlines because it was in a rich area. But all the same, rape is a heinous crime that deserves no leniency at all.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ready-Set-Go!

Copyright © Sushobhan Sen, 2012
It has been over a year in the making, with preparations being done to ensure a grand success. The 48th Inter-IIT Sports Meet (which was preceded by the Inter-IIT Aquatics Meet) kicks off today in Asia's oldest technical institution, IIT Roorkee. With teams coming from all the 15 IITs (and possibly even the newest of the lot, IIT-BHU), it promises to be the biggest sporting event ever held in Roorkee.

Preparations for the event began over a year ago, with the campus getting a massive refurbishment. The old sewer system has been upgraded and the open-drain cutting right through the North Campus (aka, the Gaon) being covered up to double up as a new and improved footpath. LBS stadium has been greatly improved, as have the basketball courts and hockey field.

To coordinate the event, the Secretariat of the Institute Sports Council was roped in, with duties being assigned to students as well as faculty members associated with the Council. And finally, after a lot of work, the iconic Main Building was decked up for the major event.

The 48th Inter-IIT Sports meet would be the largest event held in Roorkee under the directorship of Prof. Banerjee and he has personally taken a great interest in making it a success. Prof. Banerjee is already known to be a patron of sports and cultural activities in IIT Roorkee and although the administration and bureaucracy makes life difficult for young, talented students, his interest is always greatly appreciated. 

Oh, those Mass-Recruiters

Mass-recruiters. An oh-so-Indian term that every engineering student would come across some time or the other. In the IITs of course, the traditional concept of mass-recruitment does not come into play - whereas in other colleges, a mass-recruiter might lift hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students, in the IITs, that is not allowed. No wonder than that the traditional mass-recruiters, the IT firms, open only for Computer Science graduates here.

So, in the absence of these kind of mass-recruiters, it is generally accepted that any company taking more than five people of the same branch becomes a mass-recruiter. Of course, sometimes, this number becomes obscenely large, in which case the part about the same branch is ignored. That means that Schlumberger's record 24 placements (+6 PPOs) from IITR marks the most severe case of mass-recruiting yet.

One great thing about a mass recruitment: so many people get placed at one go that it calls for a major chapo, and that means a Domi chapo in IITR. So when NHAI decided to take 6 civilians, pushing Civil's tally to 30 (a whisker short of overtaking Mech's 31), there was a major celebration. Starting with loads of pizzas and coke to large quantities of alcohol from the local outlet, the night was that of celebration, despite the fact that a massive three quarters of the class is yet to be placed.

Nonetheless, it had to end, giving way to more struggles. Placements is a unique season, one where you learn so much more about yourself and the people around you. Much, much more... 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

IOTY12: Documentary of the Year

The nominations are:

  • The Making of IITR MUN 2012
  • 1966: The Bombing of Aizawl 
  • World War 2: The Delhi Trials
Opinions 24x7
Indian of the Year 2012
Coming Soon...

An Eroded Bedrock

Such was the outrage over the Delhi Trials that a mutiny broke out in 1946 in the Royal Indian Navy at Bombay and Karachi - the first such major mutiny since 1857, which led to the end of Company Rule in India. This is popularly called the 'Bombay Mutiny.' The mutiny quickly spread to other naval centres including Vizag and Calcutta, involving about 78 ships and tens of thousands of Indian sailors. The massive revolt was crushed brutally by the Royal Navy of Great Britain.

Similarly, revolts in the Royal Indian Army broke out at Jabalpur. By the end of it, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee understood that the basic bedrock of the Raj i.e., the loyalty of the Royal Indian Army, Navy and Air Force could not be taken for granted anymore. The Delhi Trials of INA soldiers were, therefore, a catalyst for soldiers to break their oath of fealty to the King Emperor of British India and therefore set the stage for Independence.

Sadly, on the recommendation of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, who later became the first Governor General of the Dominion of India, the INA soldiers were not re-inducted into the Indian Army. Perhaps one reason for this was fear of coups staged by soldiers surcharged with revolutionary ideas, who had a history of breaking their oath (although it was to the King Emperor). Yet, the lack of a suitable memorial to them is a sharp sting for Indian nationalists.

The most prominent INA memorial was destroyed by the British in Singapore after it was recaptured from the Japanese. The site is today a designated historic site.

Although the Quit India Movement and the Pakistan Resolution were the major reasons for the withdrawal of the British from India, the Delhi Trials and their effect on Indian soldiers also played a major role in Her Majesty's decision. The coming together of the warring factions one last time was perhaps the most significant show of strength, a rejection of the Divide-and-Rule policy. Sadly, even that could not halt the Partition of India.

(Concluded)

Together, One Last Time

Following the defeat of Japan in WW2, the soldiers of the INA attempted to flee to Bangkok, but met with great resistance on way. Their leader apparently dead, most were captured. The number - about 43,000 - was so vast that it was necessary to divide them.

The Blacks were those with the most commitment to Bose and his ideology and they were to face a harsh trial; the Greys were less committed and would enjoy some leniency, while the Whites were simply victims of circumstances who would not be tried. Once in India again, they were kept in transit camps all over the subcontinent, with the Blacks preparing to face trial, with the punishment going as far as death. Although several courts martial were held, the first of these was the most prominent as it carried huge symbolism.

Three Religions
Col. Prem Sahgal, Col. Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Maj. Gen. Shah Nawaz Khan were to be tried in an open court at the historic Red Fort under the shadow of the Union Jack. Their selection was highly symbolic - each representing a different religion, their trial was meant to be a show of strength and subjugation of the Indian masses. They were to be tried, among other counts, for Waging War against the King Emperor, which is the equivalent of treason, a serious charge.

The trial of these three defendants saw, for the last time before Partition, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League coming together to defend the accused. In protest after protest, the two flags of the parties were held up together - a clear sign of an impending end to the British Raj. No less than Jawaharlal Nehru led the defense of the accused in the trials.

The Result
Despite the widespread opposition, the trial was successfully held and all three defendants were sentenced to deportation for life, to meet the same fate as the last Mughal Emperor. However, due to widespread protests, the punishment was never executed and all three were pardoned. Within three months, all 11,000 prisoners waiting trial were set free, albeit with some conditions banning their reintegration into the Indian Army. In fact, under extreme pressure, only the first trial was ever held at the Red Fort: the rest were shifted to a nearby building.

Next: The End of the Empire

Lessons Well-Learned

IIT Roorkee MUN 2012 was certainly a learning experience for all of us. Looking back, I can say that organizing too many committees on the back of a small team is not a good idea - each committee is special and needs as much attention as possible.

However, my biggest take-away from the event was the ability to multi-task. I was probably never so busy before, with a barrage of work including academics. I even used to take calls in SM's tut class while he was out! I also learned never to trust people on their word - the world is ruthless and you stand alone. Well, almost alone. For the third lesson I took was teamwork: to work in a team wherein everyone is as dedicated as you are and nobody is anybody's boss.

IITR MUN 2012 was a major event for all of the organizers. I managed to make many new friends and, on a personal note, raise my own profile in the Delhi-Dehra Dun circuit. To meet so many bright people and share ideas is an invigorating experience and I think that really made the event worth it.

IIT Roorkee MUN 2013? Well, lets see!

(Concluded)

Friday, December 14, 2012

IOTY12: Movie of the Year

The nominations are:

  • Gangs of Wasseypur: Parts 1 and 2
  • Vicky Donor
  • Barfi!
Although these were the final nominations, a special mention to English Vinglish and Paan Singh Tomar, which were good but just a little off. 

Opinions 24x7 
Indian of the Year 2012
Coming Soon...

What's going on?

Over the last few months, the media has highlighted some of the most atrocious cases of rape with alarming regularity. Whether it's a four-year-old being raped by a neighbour or a 65-year-old woman being raped by an elderly mad or even the ghastly incident of a son aping his own mother - all these point to some sort of perversion in society.

Now, as to why society has dipped so low is a profound discussion to be taken up by sociologists. But lets just accept that there is a strange perverse streak in society. Why then are they able to carry out their fantasies (?) with such impunity? The answer is our dysfunctional police system. Although it has been said hundreds of times before - that India's police system is colonial and not meant for a free society - nothing is being done about it.

What we need is police reforms so that such criminals cannot go on acting with impunity. Consider what potential criminal see the current situation as - rape anyone and then wriggle your way out of punishment using the pathetic police system and an overburdened judiciary. This would embolden them and others like them, wreaking havoc in society.

It is time that we seriously took up police reforms as well as judicial reforms so that India can grow into a modern, and more importantly a safe, society.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

IOTY12: Car of the Year


The nominations are:

  • New Maruti Alto 800
  • Volkswagen New Beetle
  • Mercedes Benz B-Class
  • Tata Safari Storme 
Opinions 24x7
Indian of the Year 2012
This March

The Truth of It

A recent comment by a very intelligent but rather introverted individual who recently got placed struck a cord with me: he was discussing the fact that he got placed in a financial job when he really wanted a core engineering job. And this is how he concluded it:

Desire for core job + communication skills = core job
Desire for core job + no communication skills + hard work + dedication = non-core job

I was rather interested with this idea, because it says quite a lot about the modern employment market. But I think the term 'communication skills' needs a clarification first: it's not merely about speaking confidently (in English, of course). Rather, it is about leadership and initiative. Talking (a lot) is a manifestation of those traits, or so believes modern HR.

What was the ideal employee of yesterday like? He would be ready to take orders and would not trouble his boss at all. He would follow his working hours to the T and not make a nuisance of himself after that. He would follow established procedures unquestioningly and speak as little as possible.

What is the ideal employee of today like? He would question procedures and always look out for new ways to improve productivity. He would focus more on finishing his work rather than meeting the requires number of working hours. He would look for every opportunity to make himself useful and grow as a professional. Most importantly, he would take initiative and keep his boss on his toes.

This, I think, sums up the "communication skills vs no communication skills" debate. Modern employers are not looking for robots who are technically competent but require instructions at every stage. This means showing innovation and leadership, which is what a GD is meant to test. Sadly, everyone brings this down to speaking nonsensically and then, when their long and pointless blabber or their stone-dead silence fails to bring them rewards, they blame it on extraneous factors.

The catch is, of course, that leadership is not made in a day. It is made over the three-and-a-half years of college preceding the placements season, and it is pretty hard to digest at that point that you missed the bus. That is the eternal tragedy of college. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Directionless

The UPA Government has managed to successfully sail through the Retail FDI Debate in both Houses of Parliament, ensuring that the Manmohan Singh government will not only go ahead with this path-breaking move but also with other economic reforms that the economy has been crying out for.

However, the substance and conclusion of the debate in both Houses made one thing amply clear - the UPA-II is a minority government not just in terms of numbers but also spirit, for several UPA constituents themselves spoke out against FDI but made it clear that they would vote against the resolution only on political grounds. In other words, their alliance is one based on power and not principle!

Then there are those two parties of UP - the SP and the BSP. I do not believe that in the entire history of Independent India has there ever been a duo that has changed its stance so often and has so successfully performed all sorts of political dealings as these two have. So directionless are these two that at times, they are bitter rivals and then they suddenly come out in support of the same cause. And how do they do that?

By means of the catch-all phrase of Indian politics - 'to keep communal forces at bay.' So ridiculous is this statement that nobody even cares to respond to it anymore, it just frustrates everyone to the point of ignoring it. However, the Congress has used this well to not just win such votes but indeed, to form the UPA-I Government way back in 2004.

However, this is a very unhealthy trend. Issues matter and nobody is untouchable in politics. How this will be taken by the electorate will be seen later, but as of now, this victory will help the UPA push its agenda, but will surely corrode its chances in 2014. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Saurashtra Challenge

The Gujarat Elections schedules to begin next week will probably be the toughest that Chief Minister Narendra Modi ever faced since he ousted Keshubhai Patel in his political coup of 2001. For, this is the first time that he has faced such open and powerful competition from his rival, who left the BJP to contest in the GPP, a regional outfit formed by another anti-Modi defector.

But the real worry this time is Keshubhai's clout among the agrarian Patels of Saurashtra, which sends the most MLAs to the Assembly. Already, huge rallies have been taken out in the region encouraging voters to oust the Modi regime.

Now, this does not necessarily mean that Modi will be defeated. Far from it - Saurashtra is big, but it does not constitute a majority and Modi is strong in just about every other region. It is still inevitable that he will gain a majority in the Assembly for a third time in a row. But the question is - what effect will he have on national politics, with Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj already declaring him a worth candidate for PM and the Congress itself having nothing more than Rahul Gandhi to fight up to him. The truth is that Saurashtra could very well decide the 2014 elections, because if the Patels can sufficiently dent Modi's majority, it will ensure that he is stuck in Gujarat. After all, in order to defeat the rival factions in the national BJP as well as dissenting NDA allies, he will need to prove that he can bolster sufficient numbers. 

Shifting Priorities

The preceding semester can very well be described as a forgettable one in terms of academics and an unforgettable one in everything else. By all metrics, it was the most difficult one ever, and the blame for that lies squarely on the Department of Civil Engineering. A Department completely out of touch with the modern world, without an iota of thought to why they are doing what they do. And so we had several hours wasted every week by forcing everyone to attend the Seminar classes, which were pathetically boring (except for a few comical incidents).

But back to the academics. After clocking a strong rising trend for six semesters in a row, my CGPA will finally be dipping this time. Perhaps it was meant to be - 4-1 is well-known as the CG-killer in CED. And perhaps it is just poetic justice: having expanded my limits so much in 3-2, it was perhaps right for me to discover them now. However, given the credit scheme, it won't be a precipitous fall. Yes, i could lose my Department Rank, but then, as well shall see later, that hardly matters.

But truly, with so many courses, including the utterly pointless Minor Project, the Deparyment truly jeopardized the future of its students. No wonder then that hardly any alumni give back, except those of UoR days long gone. The Civil Department desperately needs to reinvent itself, cut down on the bureaucracy and stop believing that just because it is the oldest, it is the best. It is not, not nearly.

This semester is better remembered for the perfection with which I executed my plans. MS/PhD and Placements were up for execution and it went perfectly: 330+5.5 in the GRE and 119 in TOEFL, I could not have asked for more. This, after an amazing two months in Munich. I also managed to gain the courage to apply to MIT: chances etc. aside, just applying to it makes you feel good about yourself. The actual applications part was the real challenge - getting all those LORs and filling up so many forms is a real challenge.

The placements season, otherwise a very hectic time for any IITian, went off unexpectedly well for me, being placed right on the first day in the first company that shortlisted me. I was of course budgeting Dec. 15 to be the date by which I would be placed, but it did not take that long. So now with just GATE left, I find myself, for the first time this semester, with ample free time to catch up on my reading and other hobbies. The cold is preventing me from attempting any more morning jogging sessions, but I will try again.

So from 2-1 through 3-1, when academics and CulSoc assumed the highest of priorities, to 3-2 where CulSoc took prominence to 4-1, where the future itself was at centrestage, one's priorities keep changing and one must learn to plan accordingly. 

Navy Day Discussion: On the South China Sea

Dec. 4 is celebrates annually in India as Navy Day, a day to celebrate one of the pillars of India's defense structure - the Indian Navy. From a small maritime unit created to bolster the imperial regime in British India, the Indian Navy has grown into the largest resident maritime power in the Indian Ocean, with a host of successes and challenges ahead.

With India's economic activity increasing exponentially in the last two decades, the Navy's field of view has increased significantly. If once it was a small force meant to protect our brown waters from Pakistani incursions, the Navy now looks at a broad spectrum covering the Gulf of Aden region to the Straits of Malacca and eventually the wider Indo-Pacific.

In this context, the question of India's economic interests in the South China Sea are a matter of concern. As a signatory to UNCLOS, India seeks a just usage of International waters for its economic activity. That means that whenever there is a violation of International Law harming India's interests, the Indian Navy must be present to neutralize the aggressor. Now, the SCS is not exactly a major factor for India yet - indeed, most of our activities are restricted to the Indian Ocean. Yet, with India's growing engagement with ASEAN, it is inevitable that the Pacific Ocean will appear on India's radar and with is, the SCS.

However, the question remains - is India ready to defend its interests in the region against the might PLA Navy (PLAN)? For now, the Indian Navy is not a blue water navy - it can sail the high seas, but not in a combat mode. Therefore, the first and foremost consideration on our mind must be that capability. In addition, the submarine fleet remains our Achilles' Heel and this just be corrected at all costs. Thirdly, the delay in the acquisition of INS Vikramaditya from the Russians and the development of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) will prove costly in the future.

During the time of the Mughals, India was a sea-blind nation. But today we know that to be safe on land, we must be supreme at sea. It is this guiding principle that must guide the Indian Navy forward in its constant endeavor to defend Indian interests in any part of the world. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Time for a Tougher Stand

The recent incidents in the Maldives, where a pro-China clique seems to have taken control and is out to destabilize Indian interests in the island nation, is the clearest indicator yet that India's wishy-washy, Nehruvian foreign policy is simply counterproductive. Following the coup against the pro-Indian President, India shockingly embraced the new regime despite its close links to the former Islamist dictator Md. Gayoom.

India made a crucial miscalculation by assuming that its interests in the Maldives would be protected no matter what regime it had to deal with. This is contrary to its experience in every single country it has diplomatic relations with - including the US. Yet, the continued toeing of the silly line that we can and will deal with any regime is a sign that the old Nehruvian guard in the MEA is still stuck in NAM-mania, so much so that when India was the only country that could have protected the previous regime, it decided to turn its back to it and now we have a situation where Indian investments and people are in danger.

And what has been the GoI's reply to this? External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid - who is still better than his predecessor - had no more words than to say that it was 'unfortunate' and that he 'hopes' that ties will not be damaged. Within days of that interview to CNN-IBN, India was forced to cut aid to the Maldives in response to the illegal expurgation of GMR. This points to a Government that is way out of touch with even its immediate neighbourhood and rooted in false Nehruvian foreign policy dicta.

India must work swiftly to reverse the losing tide in the Maldives. For one, the Maldivian High Commissioner must be immediately summoned and given a dressing-down. All aid must be suspended (as it already is) and pressure must be put on the Government there to toe the Indian line by means of increasing economic pressure. The incumbent regime in the island nation is not exactly popular in the West and India can use this to its advantage. In any case, it is necessary to control the Islamist regime there and prevent an ally from turning against us. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

IOTY 2012: Confidently Forward

Keeping with its tradition of recounting and honouring the greatest events and moments that have shaped this year, Opinions 24x7 presents the Indian of the Year 2012. Now in its sixth edition, this year's theme is 'Confidently Forward,' to exemplify the challenges ahead and the need to tackle them confidently without recourse to xenophobia.

The Logo
This year's logo is inspired from the National Animal - the tiger. The majestic wild cat moves forward in its territory with confidence and increasing strength - just as the nation should be. The logo also remind you of the wheels of a car on an axle: all moving forward together along the path of progress and growth. And finally, the font used for the text has a modern feeling to it, to represent the new and vibrant nation that we seek to build.

Join us as we celebrate a great nation, acknowledge its challenges and honour those who propelled it into the future.

Opinions 24x7 presents
Indian of the Year 2012
Coming Soon...

What would India do?

The recent Israeli 'war' in Gaza was roundly condemned by a large number of countries in the East for its aggression and the condemnation was mostly led by Islamic nations seeking to protect the Palestinians. In India too, a large proportion of the Muslim population, the second-largest in the world after Indonesia, also came out against Israel, using the usual adjectives - the devil, the Jewish state, the American satellite etc.

For all their rhetoric, we must desist from hypocrisy. We must remember that, despite the different origins, India and Israel face very similar problems. We are surrounded by Islamist regimes - Pakistan, Bangladesh and now the Maldives for India, and the entire Middle East for Israel - who see our very existence as a religious war.

It is ironical that so much of the rhetoric against Israel has come around the anniversary of 26/11, an incident after which Indians across the board called for broad retaliation against Pakistan and its jihadist army. Yet, we fail to realize that had India - the Indian heartland, not the border areas guarded by our jawans - been bombarded with rockets day in and day out and every neighbourhood had to be equipped with a bomb shelter and alarms, then governments that failed to take offensive action would have collapsed under the sheer weight of anger and protest from the populace.

The problem with us Indians is that we have, due to our size and population, become numb to out own suffering and are so easily fooled by propaganda that we have even put our own safety up for sale. One common refrain that is heard is that Israel's attacks are disproportionately savage. Well, that may be, but then is Israel supposed to wait for Hamas to acquire nuclear weapons before going out for a full-blown attack? This is sheer nonsense and even India's nuclear doctrine talks about unacceptable retaliation as a standard policy. So why blame Israel?

What we should remember is that Israel is one of India's largest trading partners, shares solidarity with India in International fora and cooperates with India in the transfer of expertise and exchange of tourists. We should not blindly chant 'Palestine' without forgetting how the Arab and Islamic nations of the world have time and against back-stabbed us on Kashmir and that appeasement of these forces is no answer any longer. In fact, we should be taking a firmer stand against neighbours who put our security at risk and remind them who exactly is the hegemon of the region. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Placed!

Well, it all happened so suddenly that it seemed much like a dream initially. Day (-1) is really an unofficial day when the really-high-paying companies come and take the very best before the rest can find out (however, since it's an open secret, it's not really that controversial). And so came ITC. Now, when the notice for it came, it wasn't even open for Civil, which is why my friends from other branches kept calling me to define 'mind over matter.' And then came the modified notice with Civil highlighted. And despite the looming Structures exam, I took the time to fill the form.

Now, a fact: placements are always hectic. The process really began right in the morning, when ITC released the job profile for Civil - so that meant a whole morning of studying Construction Planning & Management (which turned out to be very useful) and ITC itself (not so useful). And then came the ceremonial robing - or, as it is called in Roorkee, 'suit up.'

The actual process was three-tiered: a case-study based GD, which was pretty simple for me (the trick is to coordinate the GD instead of sticking to your stand). And then came a technical interview that I was very unsure of, but which I did manage to crack (I have no idea how). After hours and hours of waiting, the HR interview came, which was pretty light-hearted. After many more hours of waiting, they called the seven students who gave the HR interview inside and 'welcomed' all of us to the ITC family! And yes, we did get some goodies, in typical ITC fashion.

I was particularly happy that all this happened right on Day (-1), so that I could officially leave the process as fast as possible. The placement complex is a place almost every students of any IIT waits to enter, but once they realize what's inside, they desperately feel the need to get out. Placements are an excruciatingly long process, one in which, if you fail a few times, can become a major mental strain. With this over and sometime left before GATE becomes a major priority for me, I can rest, relax and live back those wonderful days from my first year!

Oh yes, Welcome to ITC :)

We Cannot Live in Fear

The recent spate of police action against users of social networking sites under Sec. 66(A) of the IT Act has come in for severe criticism from civil society because the actions are arbitrary and the section in question is written rather vaguely and is open to official misuse. Now, with a young student bringing in a PIL in the Supreme Court and the Centre tightening the rules, it is time to seriously wonder the implications of the "reasonable restrictions" clause of the Constitution.

What constitutes a reasonable restriction? A restriction made in the interest of peace, national unity and security would make a good answer. But strangely, the term "peace" seems to have metamorphosed to mean  deliberate, well-calculated violence. This is what we saw in the Palghar case, where the girls were arrested because the Shiv Sena threatened to spark off violence if they were not. Can any restriction be deemed to be reasonable if it comes not out of common sense but senseless violence?

We cannot live in fear in our democracy - that is a principle the Highest Court must consider. What constitutes a reasonable restriction? Fundamental Rights were inserted into the Constitution because it was believed that they are necessary to allow each and every citizen to grow to their full potential. How can this happen if they are curbed so arbitrarily on the basis of such a poorly-worded law that seems to border on the unconstitutional?

When can an offence be considered as causing grief? When anyone expresses as much? Can 'grief' actually be measured objectively enough for it to be put in law? In going through the case and Sec. 66(A), the Court must remember a legal principle set forth in the US Supreme Court - that freedom is of no use if it only exists when it is acceptable - indeed, freedom is almost always protected at the fringes, in those areas where there appears to be a need for some sort of restriction. Therefore, in case of ambiguity, such as in the Palghar case, the benefit of the doubt must always be on the side of freedom, because that is the stature granted to it by the Constitution.

Furthermore, in pursuance to the words of Justice (Retd.) Katju, the Supreme Court must take suo moto cognizance of the illegal arrest and detention of the two hapless girls and come down heavily on the erring policemen and the Maharashtra Government, which tried to protect them. Indeed, the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra is quickly taking the state on the path to becoming the worst-ruled state in India because of its dilly-dallying and constant search for opportunistic political gains.

It is imperative to recollect that the freedom we now enjoy was won through sweat and blood and anything that seeks to place a so-called reasonable restriction on it must not break away from those noble goals on the basis of which our Republic was founded. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Breaking the Silence

Breaking a de facto moratorium on death sentences, the Mumbai police finally executed judicial orders to hang 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab, after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy petition.

The last death sentence to be executed was way back in 2004, when Dhananjoy Chaterjee was hanged for the brutal rape and murder of a minor. Since then, several cases have ended with a death sentence, but this is the first one to have been actually executed. Over 20 mercy petitions now lie at the desk of the President of India, despite the Supreme Court insisting that they should be acted upon within 3 months (the President enjoys Constitutional immunity and cannot be forced to act on the Supreme Court's orders).

Kasab's death has been met on this side of the border with celebration - mostly, anyway. There is the small group of anti-capital punishment activists who lament the end of India's track record of not executing those on the death row. Ironically, just a few days back, India voted against a UNGA (GA3) resolution calling for a halt to death sentences.

Kasab's death does mark the end of a brutal history in maximum city, but with his accomplices and handlers still free in Pakistan, this is not the end. The PM has indicated that he will not visit that country till there is some movement on the case, a commendable stand. However, this might have repercussions on the death sentence of Sarabjit Singh in Pakistan. Still, Kasab's death evokes very little sympathy from a citizenry tired of terrorism.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Surprisingly Decent

The dust is beginning to settle in the UG Club, which played host to virtually all of IITR's once-great-fest, Thomso. Now, to be fair, the TOC faced a daunting challenge, given the microscopic time frame that they were looking it. Nothing exemplifies this more than the fact that Thomso 12 was probably the only "major" fest in India without a title sponsor!

Still, it was not bad. As WONA put it so well, LitSec and Music Section made good use of it by hosting and participating in their own events, even letting their own members win! But that was the point for both - to have simple fun. The participation was frustratingly low and the only people who failed to realize that were the first and second years, who had never seen a proper college fest.

For the fourth years, it was not a very big event, since the ETE is way too close. Still, nobody cam claim not to have had some fun, especially those who attended the Indian Ocean concert. There was the sad car accident involving a classmate, and that did cast some gloom over the place, but the show must go on.

So, my last Thomso might have been a shadow of my first, but it was still good fun. And it represents a lot too - at the first Thomso, I was a mere spectator, living in a stranger's room in RJB and attending 16 Frames (which did not happen this time, sadly). This time, I was a judge in the conventional debate and JAMmaster in the JAM. Perhaps that's a sign of how far I have come. Indeed.

PRCs

This semester can be aptly summed up in the abbreviation PRC:

P - Presentations
R - Reports
C - Codes

That basically explains where over 50% of our time went (30% for the CAT/GRE/IAS crowd). There were so many presentations this time that many who started with a fear of speaking in public are now ready to make a presentation at very short notice. It's not just the internship report or the major project or the minor project - even the humanities electives demanded presentations and reports!

As for codes, well, this sem has been a goldmine for the guy at the xerox shop: IRC: 21, 18, 112, 81, 37, 58, 44, 6 (how can we forget 6?), IS: 456, 1983, 15620, 3370. 1838, 875 and what-not codes were the order of the day. Learning a subject used to be about understanding concepts and the physical meaning of our calculations - now it just means reading a few codes and doing whatever they tell you too. And those IRC codes deserve a special mention for their badly-written content, wrong examples, inconsistencies and pathetic fonts.

So, as the PRC semester nears its end, and the last and final one in IITR begins, it's time to raise your hand and salute the great engineers who have actually made this stuff their careers!

The Acid Test

In about for days from now, I will be walking into what promises to be the hardest ETE yet. This is, of course, no real surprise, seeing as though 4-1 easily counts as the most difficult semester yet. And it's not as though the ETE is about to begin now - it already has, truthfully speaking. So CE-403 and CE-405 have already been evaluated, and I am not really very optimistic about the former, although the latter was good. In addition, with the only review of this semester for CE-402 having gone well, that's something else to cheer about.

But now come the real problems. First up is CE-451, the last and final course from the Structural Engineering Group that is proving to be impossible to handle. It stands as testimony to the pathetic state this course has left us in that not a single one of the top MS applicants has applied for pure structural engineering. However, my scores are somewhat on the higher side in this, not that I am running for an A+ (which is ruled out entirely). But if the ETE goes even decently, I should be fine. That's a big IF of course.

CE-461 is a subject that could have been divided into three subjects and spaced out, but is not one gargantuan course. The syllabus is so vast that even the Asst. Professor is shocked! But the course is not difficult, at least not the Railway Engineering part. Airport Engineering is not difficult per se but involves too much rote memorization and that too from an outdated textbook! Sadly, given my mediocre marks, I expect no more than a B+ in this.

CE-463 represents a contrast to that: with extraordinarily high marks in this, that despite the huge syllabus and funny question papers. With a good practical examination, I should be able to look for an A or an A+ here. Similar is the case with IHS-15, which has proved to be a course tailor-made for me. I can be assured of an A+ in this, an A in the worst of circumstances.

And lastly, there is CE-441, which is really very tragic, given that the professor met with an accident and the course was transferred to a professor who, by his own admission, did not know what he was teaching. That probably explains why the syllabus was terminated all of a sudden and all sessionals are to be distributed in proportion to MTE1 (since there is nobody to evaluate MTE2). It's now really about just finishing this course - surprisingly, my fourth from HEG - and those terrible summer afternoons in the practical seem a thing of another era!

So, as the thunder of Thomso passes away, it's time to write one more set of exams. It's getting tiring now, especially since my applications are nearly done. But then, just a few more months to liberation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mumbai Halts

Bal Keshav Thackeray
1926-2012

Long Mumbai's invincible rules, a man who could bring India's financial capital to its knees, Bal Thackeray passed away today in the city that he fought for and won during the Language Riots that divided Bombay State. The news was so shocking and evoked such fear that the entire metropolitan came to a grinding half within 30 minutes flat.

Bal Thackeray was no stranger to controversy. A cartoonist by profession,his political life was full of controversial incidents. With the purging of rich Gujaratis and South Indians from Mumbai, he established himself as a powerful regional player in Maharashtra. But the real breakthrough came when the Shiv Sena allied itself with the BJP and won the Maharashtra Assembly, setting the stage for the first right-wing government in the state.

But for all his regionalism, Thackeray was a nationalist as well - India's defense and unity were paramount concerns for him, although his definition of 'unity' was rather narrow. Indeed, Muslim-bashing was a favourite sport for him. In fact, he went so far as to say that Hindus should form suicide squads to fight Muslims!

But such idiosyncrasies aside, the truth remains that he was one of the few leaders who did not believe in Hindu-bashing and for whom, being Hindu was not the same as being "communal." He often, rightly, chided the Congress for its lack of principles and shameless minority-appeasement. Yet, he also chided his alliance partner the BJP whenever the latter showed any weakness or took a vague stance.

One of Thackeray's last moves was to endorse Sushma Swaraj as the NDA's common candidate - only time will tell whether he was right. Till then, here's bidding adieu to the Tiger of Maharashtra, a controversial figure who made friends and enemies across the political spectrum not just in India but in all of South Asia.

Bal Thackeray - staunch Marathi jingoist, lover of India and a gifted artist: his demise is greatly mourned.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Seven Social Sins


Many Challenges Ahead

The Communist Party of China completed its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, with Xi Jinping suceeding Hu Jintao as party General Secretary and President of the People's Republic of China as well as head of the Central Military Commission, which controls the all-powerful PLA.

Fortunately for China, Mr. Jinping, who was Vice-Premier in the previous regime, brings with him vast experience. China faces a daunting situation, one that could prove seminal for the Communist Party's tight control on the politics of the country. The economic crisis, which has hit China hard, is proving harder and harder to manage. China's blistering growth has already slowed down and unemployment is on the rise, raising fears of protests such as those seen in 2011.

On the International front, China's ties with Japan remain strained over the Senkaku Islands, while it has come across a new challenger, Vietnam, in the South China Sea. The latter is a particularly difficult issue because it involves several countries in the region and also some - such as the United States and India - from outside. Even with India itself, China faces a border issue that just refuses to go away. But the biggest International challenge will surely be Syria, where China and Russia have strongly backed the al-Bashir regime

President Jinping will also have the unenviable responsibility of seeing China through what many have called the Asian Century, in which the might of the world comes back to Asia or, as some commentators have been saying, the Indo-Pacific. This will involve increasing tensions with the US and Europe, particularly over the issue of the Chinese Yuan, as well as rivalries with Asian countries which seek to resist China's hegemony in the region.

For India, China is the single most important neighbour, far outstripping Pakistan. Scars of 1962 were revisited this year and as long as the border dispute continues, relations will be tense. Yet, cooperation between the two must continue, especially at the BRICS level. India expects China to back its candidature as a permanent member of the UNSC. Clearly, the next ten years will be hard and difficult for the incoming leadership.

A Historic Visit

Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to New Delhi can only be defined as a historic event for the greater South Asian region, when the democracy icon was reunited with the world's largest democracy, her former home. In the 1960s, when she was a student of political science at Lady Shri Ram College, she was inspired by the Indian experiment with democracy. Today, we are inspired by her.

Burma today is a country of change: under the leadership of President Thien Sien, political reforms have been initiated. India, which sadly allied itself to the military junta over a decade ago, must consider this change in the neighbourhood and understand the opportunities and risks it brings with it.

Suu Kyi represents the aspirations of millions in her impoverished nation for democracy. For long, she has complained that India had betrayed the principles of the Mahatma, allying itself with dictators around the world (Than Shwe, Musharaff, Gayoon, Qadhafi etc.). While some might call it pragmatism - encapsulated by the eternal quote, "India is not in the business of exporting democracy" - others would point to the universalism in Gandhi's teachings and rightly accuse India of treason against its own principles.

When Suu Kyi comes to LSR today, she will see a different country from the India of the 60s: a vastly richer country, but one with more inequality than before. She will see a young country standing on a thin rope between opportunity and doom. And she must take these sights to her homeland and remember them - for if India faces these challenges today, Burma will face them tomorrow.

Suu Kyi must also pay a visit to Burmese refugees in India, many of whom have now adopted this country as their own, as a sort of reversal of the Government of India Act 1935, which split Burma from British India. And she must learn from the enduring sense of welcome that India continues to provide.

This historic visit will reunite LSR with one of its greatest daughters, and India with one of its greatest Gandhian disciples. In her success lies ours.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some Freedom at Last

The Academic Calendar always lists the Mid-Term Break as being in October. But the truth is that the real break is in November: while Diwali is just one day, its combination with Bhai Duj and the general festive atmosphere make it a full week without classes. And the fact that I stay back in Roorkee makes it particularly important this year.

Let me be honest: I came to the wrong Department. After Sri Chaitanya, what I wanted was to be allowed to do things at my own pace. So when I discovered that I disliked Structural Engineering, I should be allowed to stay away from it and pursue my field of interest. And if I have a bunch of entrance and placement exams, I should be able to focus on that.

But this Department is a mass-control freak: they insist that they and they alone can take decisions for students, the people who are directly affected by its policies have no representation in the decision-making process. In the most crucial semester yet, we are burdened with unnecessary courses and an excess of tutorials and practicals.

The icing on the stale cake has to be the Minor Project: a relic from the past that has no value whatsoever today and should be dropped. And many professors do believe that: but nobody will do anything. So you have the Chairman asking students to devote "not much time" to the affair but it will remain in the curriculum. You have a silly Concrete Technology Lab that you have seen more times than you can count and where you keep doing one and the same thing, but which you must do because the Lord Almighty has decreed so. And there are many such labs and the dumbest tutorials imaginable to mankind.

But Diwali week makes it better: an unexpected holiday and this time (again), just before the exams. In fact, this ETE has come so soon after MTE2 that it seems more like MTE3 than otherwise (not that it will be any easier). But such are the strange ways of the great grand old department.

Fortunately, the free time has allowed me to finish writing my paper, which just needs some minor corrections now. And I have to complete a volume of tuts and practicals, but that is all doable. It's just a busy week, expect that you no longer need classes to be busy. Fourth year! 

Mission Application

It's been a rough ride, these last two weeks, because the time has come to prepare applications for applying to various American universities. So I have a list of seven universities, covering a diverse spectrum from MIT to Ohio State University.

The tough part was, of course, getting the SOPs done. It's pretty hard: my first draft was an amazing 1600 words long and the one that I finally submitted was 800 words longs: that's a 50% improvement in efficiency, so to say. But that wasn't enough: MIT had it's own set of requirements while while Purdue has to be contained to within 500 words (finished at 450 on that one). And OSU was another story, given that the field of application was different.

The transcripts and the resume were the easiest part, requiring just a few runs to the nearest scanner.

And now comes the hardest part, which also exemplifies why you do not want to take up higher studies in India: the LORs. Now, I agree that professors are busy people. But what exactly are they busy in... one should think that the future of their brightest students is a major concern for professors. But the ones here, though they never say no to an LOR request (especially to the guy with the highest CGPA), they keep it hanging till the very last moment. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, because they are professors and you are wretched beings.

This is unfortunately how everything works in India. There is this stifling hierarchy and bureaucracy. Everything has to come with multiple reminders and quite a lot of insults. Nobody cares about things because the Government pays for them (although that money comes from taxes, but people have short memories). Students, instead of being the focus of the education system, are the tiny insects that can be made to dance in fire till they die.

There is still time, of course: two weeks is the nearest deadline, two months the farthest. Yet, we all know that applying early is the key to getting funding. But what do profs in India care for funding - the Government pays them to sign on a register each morning and sing some lullabies in class. With the ETE looming large, I might just have to expand my scope to Assoc. Professors to get my job done.

Here come some more harrowing weeks... I can just see Jan. as the time when I will be free at last, till the I20s come in, that is.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

In the Dark

Another year, another Diwali. But like everything else, this one is special because it will be my last one in Roorkee - in fact, it might be the last one in India for some years. Diwali in Roorkee is especially nice because it generally marks the transition from autumn to winter. Already, it's getting colder with each passing day and the jackets and sweaters are already out.

People have left for home. Diwali is a really big deal in Northern India and everybody likes to spend it with their families. And rightly so - if not for festivals, when else would we able to indulge in such intangible pleasures? Back in Bombay, Diwali was a big celebration inside NOFRA too. Of course, since then, the enthusiasm has petered down. Given that my grandfather had passed away around Diwali, I would probably be unable to celebrate it with the same gusto as before. But still, it is a good season.

So, as I prepare to cover my steps at IITR and make a quick exit next semester, here's to a wonderful four Diwalis spent here! And while we're into nostalgia, here's a neat video from Pawan Tiwari, a senior from DPT (he's the singer and the guy in the video):

Monday, November 5, 2012

Shame, Shame!

Irom Sharmila's Gandhian fast enters its thirteenth year today, with the Indian state still unconcerned for her and the people of Manipur whose cause she stands for. The brave woman who has looked into the most cruel, undemocratic and violent face of Indian democracy is today locked up in the JLN Hospital in Imphal, he body dying ever so slowly but her spirit ever so ignited.

Opinions 24x7 stands solidly behind this messiah of peace. The Indian state will not be able to win Manipur through violence; it should not look at the state as some piece of land, but rather as a people who have been failed by India. The entire state lives in the stone age as far as infrastructure goes and the Indian state is solidly to blame. Corruption and abject neglect have left it in a shambles. Manipuris who do come out of the region are treated like foreigners in the rest of the country. Why would Manipur not want to secede then?

But secession is not the point - Sharmila is a proud patriot. Manipuris might not look like the average Indian but they are Indian at heart. Yet, why have they been subjected to this brutal regime, dubbed an 'emergency legislation'? Would it have been possible to subject a large, 'mainland' Indian state to martial law for fifty years and then talk about the 'vibrancy' of Indian democracy? AFSPA is a shame on the face of this nation, it is against the spirit on which this great Republic was founded, it is a blot on every proud Indian's face and a reminder of just how uncaring and ruthless we can be towards our own people.

This sad day, Opinions 24x7 remembers those boys who Sharmila saw being killed and prays that some day, their death will be avenged by the iron hand of justice. If there is any justice in this nation, that is. 

Could this be a Referendum?

Himachal Pradesh voted today despite the frigid climate in an election that is a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress. However, the question really is whether this election will be a referendum on the UPA-II Government.

As with the rest of the country, the recurring theme has been corruption, though in an alternate avatar: here, the Congress accuses the BJP Government of corruption and the latter merely points to the UPA, which is actually a pretty good strategy given that the UPA is widely seen as the most corrupt government in the history of the Republic.

However, the question that Aravind Kejriwal and others pose is who is the bigger crook of the two. A CNN-IBN survey showed that voters perceived both the parties to be corrupt, but gave the Dhumal-led BJP Government a thumbs up. And then came the gaffe from the Congress' Virbhadra Singh. In this election, the voters will have to choose between these two.

Which brings us to the question - could this be a referendum on the UPA? With the performance of the Central Government hogging the limelight, it very well could be. Even local issues are influenced here - FDI in retail and its benefits to farmers has been a hot topic. Therefore, HP might just lead the nation as it points to 2014. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Time for Turkey to Stop

The prolonged civil war in Syria, that has already seen thousands killed and a dangerous confrontation between powers has had one actor surreptitiously stoking the flames from behind - Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan, who has gone to great lengths to destroy the secular fabric of Turkey established since the time Kemal established the country, seems to be desperate for his country's entry into the EU and is ready to take innocent lives to that end.

According to the New York Times, the entire so-called Free Syrian Army is being funded and coordinated by Western powers from a secret base in Turkey with the consent as well as enthusiastic encouragement of Erdogan's government. This base has fueled the Syrian civil war and Syria and her allies are at the receiving end of Turkey's ambitions.

This is not the first time Turkey has done this. In hosting a conference on Afghanistan, it deliberately left out India in order to accommodate Pakistan, which would bolster Erdogan's Islamist credentials further. This, despite wide acceptance of the excellent work that India has done for Afghans in their war-torn country. Like the Syria affair, this demonstrates that Erdogan is hungry to be a major decision-maker in the world, despite the naked truth that Turkey is nowhere to being as influential as India and China and would end up as a vassal state of Europe and America if it continues with this policy.

A greater danger is if the Syrian Civil War tips over into Turkey, which would be disastrous. Erdogan, in his hunger for global limelight, seems to be ignoring this very real possibility, thus putting his own people in danger. In fact, he has not even resisted the temptation to engage Israel, again to please the Islamists in his party. The overall strategy seems to be to isolate Israel and then substitute Turkey as an American satellite, which is dangerous and nothing short of self-immolation.

Clearly, this trigger-happy Erdogan government is leading Turkey and the region towards doom and must stop immediately.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Personal

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has never been known for his political correcteness. From standing up to a media determined to force 2002 on him to taking on the Gandhi dynasty, Modi has used rather personal language to have his way. This time however, it doesn't seem to have worked.

The case in point being his language in a poll campaign in Shimla, where he described Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor as 'Rs. 50 crore girlfriend.' He was of course alluding to the shady IPL dealings which cost Tharoor to lose his post as MoS in the MEA. In that sordid affair, Tharoor claimed that he had nothing to do with Ms. Pushkar, but went on to marry her in a few months!

Well, getting back to the point, Modi's words have caused a political furore, mainly because of the sexist overtones. However, given that Mrs. Tharoor is not a politician, it was rather unnecessary to draw her into the debate, that too with such cheap language. Modi would do well to remember that perceptions matter in politics and although his place in Gujarat is secured, on a national level, he will have many more constituencies to address and a bit of political correctness would not do him harm. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Year's Last Contests

The winter has come upon the Indian subcontinent and in this cold season come the last bitter contests of the year. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP in majority governments, look to be a battleground for the Congress, whose credibility has taken a sharp plunge since the UPA-II Government was formed.

The two states are, however, a study in contrast. In Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi seems unstoppable, looking as he is for a fourth consecutive term, which could make history of sorts in the state. The Congress seems to lack are ammunition of its own, although the dissenting voice of Keshubhai Patel from the BJP is a ray of hope to at least dent Modi's victory margin.

The real battle is Himachal, which is still a cliffhanger. While allegations over corruption in the ruling regime have been made by the Congress State unit, can it seriously hope to stand up in the face of the massive corruption in the Union Government? CM-hopeful Virbhadra Singh's anger at journalists demonstrated just how close the competition really is, as Prem Kumar Dhumal struggles to convince the electorate on one side and manage factions within his own ranks on the other.

Certainly, an exciting contest is on the cards. OTFS brings you some of the top points of discussion in our final election special for the year. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Looking at Trouble

In my first semester, the mid-term break was scheduled right after the MTE - a perfect combination. This time, it's scheduled right before the MTE, an illustration of the precipitous decline of IIT Roorkee in terms of how it values its students. I have now realized that MTE2 is actually a bombshell: given the amount of syllabus it covers, it is as good as 75% of the ETE (or more) but because of the compact nature of it, the preparation is a lot harder.

This MTE2, I face the daunting possibility of a crushing blow to end my reign in CED. I know I always say that, but this time I am serious. Consider the most difficult subject in history - CE-451. Not only is it hard per se, the way it has been taught makes it much worse. It feels very much like EC-102 and with an average MTE1 mark, this is a fit case for a B, my lowest grade since first year.

The bright side is CE-441, which is very boring but comes with the standard advantage of all hydraulics courses - empirical formulas will not be tested, effectively eliminating a quarter of the syllabus. The other good news is CE-463, which I did much better than I had hoped to do in MTE1. Although the course is still a bit sketchy, thanks to the BTP, I am rather confident in this one.

CE-461 is a major problem and Batch B has an inherent disadvantage. Still, the course is somewhat more rational this time and I hope to improve my poor performance of MTE1. And the last worry is IHS-15, which is really not a subject worth discussing. Given how much the course coordinator seems to like me, I think this one is fir for an A+!

So, this is where we stand. How much could I study at home? More than expected, certainly, but not enough, I think. With a sudden reschedule of the exams, due to some tragic circumstances, it seems I might just have enough time to make up the shortcomings in Roorkee. Fingers crossed! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Birth of Rebellion

World War II was a singular phase in the history of colonialism. While the imperial powers waged many battles against indigenous peoples in the name of "the white man's burden," this time they were faced with a imperial enemies so powerful that the very order of the world was on the verge of collapse.

The Opponents
In Europe, Nazi Germany had all but vanquished the old European powers, now wreaking havoc upon the Jewish population there. After the fall of Paris, Great Britain was left the only imperial power in Europe, even as Nazi Germany conquered territories in Northern Africa. In the Far East, Hitler's ally, Imperial Japan, had occupied all of Manchuria and Korea and was not moving further to colonize Southeast Asia. With a ferocity never seen before in this part of the world, Japan occupied Malaysia, Singapore and finally Burma. And then came the biggest prize of all: British India.

However, even before he break out of hostilities in Asia, the Japanese were looking to push the British out and had established intelligence contacts for that. But who would lead the campaign?

The Coming of Bose
Subhash Chandra Bose was ousted as President of the Indian National Congress by Mahatma Gandhi for his call to arms against the British. He escaped his house arrest and made his way to Nazi Germany, where he met Hitler. In the further course of events, he used a U-Boat to reach the lands of Malaya, now occupied by Imperial Japan. The lighting conquest of Malaya and Singapore alone had yielded well over 100,000 Indian PoWs for Japan, but they refused to fight with Japan unless they were led by Bose.

And thus was formed the second Indian National Army, the primary military opponent to British India during WW2. After the Burma campaign, during which the joint Japanese-INA forces brought down Burma, Bose set his sights on British India. At Kohima, he established the provision Government of Free India. It was a difficult war for the British-Indian soldiers.

The Fall
However, with the coming of America into WW2, the tide reversed for Japan, which eventually lost all its Asian possessions and came under American Occupation. After the failed INA campaign, a large number of soldiers were arrested by the British. It was decided that they would be tried in courts martial. Bose dies under mysterious circumstances, but his loyal soldiers remained.

The INA Trials were to be a fitting response to aggressors against the Lord King of Great Britain. They were to be a symbol of eternal glory for the mightiest empire in the world. Instead, they became the stepping stones of the destruction of the British Empire in India.

Next: The Trials