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.