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.