Friday, May 31, 2013

Impending Battles

"And what of the Navy I had asked you to create, Secretary?"

It was an annual affair - the Royal Review - when the entire Cabinet would review the Landelian Army. From a ragtag, undisciplined force with no firepower, our Army had grown over the past decade into a strong, powerful force that could match Chymeria. As we instilled discipline into the forces, we also began to use the lodestones in copious amounts to fashion weapons - newer, deadlier weapons that our scientists and engineers had invented. It had alarmed our smaller neighbours, but the Secretary of Foreign Affairs had placated them through generous grants.

But the Navy was still my dream - a water-based force beyond the usual transportation ships. Fighting ships, swift and powerful, that could bring a whole city to its knees. The Empire of Rorankite was not a fighting machine beyond its de facto leader - Chymeria. And it was well-known that Chymeria needed enemies to keep its military complex running. What better enemy than Landeb? We could fight them to a stalemate but not defeat them. An asymmetric force was necessary for us to win.

"After much research," Valhalla began. "We are building the ships necessary. We already have some of them. But that does not mean we have a Navy - we will have to hold trials and exercises... we are far off from a Navy that van fight beyond our borders, my King."

Not the answer I was hoping for, but we had time. There was no impending war - since the Kingdoms Summit, the Director has been unable to hatch anymore military adventures, though he has found a new reason to despise Landeb - my Dolcian origins. Surprisingly, over the years, I had found that while Rorians as such do not dislike Syracuse, they do have a racist hatred for anything related to Dulsburg, which had created the outpost. It was linked to the Great Northern War and was a mix of jingoism over their victory and victim-hood over the fact that Dulsburg had actually caused the war.

And it was this hatred that the Director had used to keep the other Kingdoms off Syracuse. Nobody seemed to dislike Chymeria's colony - except perhaps Chymeria itself - but they were just not interested in a Dolcian creation. And now, with the Director marketing Landeb as being 'occupied' by Dolcian forces, it was important for us to be strong. The Navy was crucial to that.

"Double pace, Secretary, and do whatever it takes. We must have a blue water Navy," I instructed.

A blue water Navy - a force that could fight in waters far beyond our own. Rorankite was named after Rorio Kaiser, the glacier from where most of the river systems originate. Eight such systems - including the Isar and its tributaries - make up the rivers of this Empire, and were interconnected by a former Director. The interconnected systems are used only by the Mercantile Estates far north for trading goods, the whole system having been created for their large transport vessels. It would be perfect for our deadly fleet of smaller ships.

"Incidentally, my King," asked Valhalla. "Where is our young Prince?"

"He is in the Camp Kam'yakha. He goes there every now and then, his training is rather strenuous and he looks for a few breaks now and then."

"And have his bodyguards accompanied him there?"

"Why no, what's the need? He is perfectly safe in the Camp."

"Of course."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Mentor Lost

He was crying by the Isar, his favourite place. He had often done that since the great summit of the kingdoms, over a year ago. The sight of meeting his father and not being able to tear him apart had shattered him - he kept dreaming of his mother, burned at the stakes. I sat down next to him and put my arms around him. Tiverium was strong, but the memory of his mother haunted him. We were back in the Camp Kam'yakha, where I often came to meet the Keeper, my mentor.

"You will have to be stronger, Tiverium, you are now Prince of Landeb."

He did not reply but chose to stare into the water. I did not coax him further. He would come out of it, I knew.

"I am glad to see both of you together, here in the Camp." It was the Keeper. The two of us stood up instantly - over the years, he had become like a father to me. It had been nearly twenty years since that fateful day in Syracuse. Without him, I would have never been able to get out of the shock.

"And a fine day to be here, my mentor, with the Isar full with the cool spring waters of the highlands," I replied.

"A fine day, as will be tomorrow, and years to come, I'm sure," he replied.

I stared at him. Something was wrong with what he had said... and how he had said it. It was said with... finality. He smiled, having seen my question in my eyes.

"King Seleucus, since the day I met you, I was proud to have been able to raise someone as worthy as you like my own son. I taught you all I knew - including when to differentiate between your enemies and their enemies. Yes, when I stopped your campaign on the trade routes, it was to tell you that it is not wise to make your own future subjects suffer thus. Of course, I was sure you would win.

"But now, the time has come for me to take leave of you. I am not King, I am merely a Keeper, but what most people do not realise is that the tradition of the Journey that a King makes upon abdication is as much for gaining knowledge as it is for staying away from the affairs of the Kingdom and letting the new generation take control. Something Malus should have taken note of.

"And so I shall be leaving for my own journey, to find what was meant to be my final home. Seleucus, I leave you as Keeper of the Camp. And appropriately, it exists under the pleasure of the King of Landeb. When I came here, a wounded soldier escaping the wrath of Chymeria, I did not realise that I would see the day when we could live under the protection of not a foreign King, but one of our own."

For a moment, I thought it was a joke. It took Tiverium's cry to wake me.

"No, why do you need to do that? You are already so wise, what will you gain from any journey? The Camp need you, Keeper!" he said. A rather immature way to say it, but I agreed with what he said in the end.

"The Camp needs you, Keeper," I repeated. "Please, do not go."

He smiled again. It was almost irritating, his smile. He never seemed to have ever been angry at anything - except perhaps our aborted campaign. "It is in your safe hands, King Seleucus." He paused. "And Prince Tiverium."

And he walked away. I stood there - I wanted to run behind him, to grovel at his feet and beg him not to go. But my body would not move. What would I do without him? How would I make any decisions at all, without him being there to guide me? How could I take care of the Camp and Landeb at the same time? I wanted to ask him these questions, but I could not speak. I felt myself choking as I fought the tears.

Tiverium held my hand and helped me sit by the Isar. It was my turn to weep.

***

'WHAT! THE KEEPER IS GONE?"

She was wild with rage. It was just a few moments ago when she was merrily eating her fruits, and now she seemed to be enraged over such a small thing.

"Why are you so perturbed, my Queen? It is just a little refugee camp in faraway Landeb."

"DO NOT TELL ME HOW TO REACT!"

She always preferred to shout - it was one of the queer habits of our beautiful new Queen Selena. I wonder what the King was thinking.

"You do not know, oh Secretary, how important it was that the Keeper should remain. With him gone, Seleucus can do anything. He was the Keeper of not just the Camp, but of his conscience. Now, he knows no limits!"

I bowed my head. "Yes, my Queen." 

The New-Age Lynch Mob

As the IPL Fixing scandal continues to be investigated by both the police as well as a BCCI-appointed board, a disturbing trend is being reinforced in drawing rooms all across the nation - the new-age lynch mob, the media. True, the issue is serious, but what we see on television sets, what we have been seeing for the last week or more, has been a far cry from journalism. Every major news channels - CNN-IBN, NDTV, Times Now - and other not-so-major news channel is focusing almost exclusively on this, using almost all of its airtime on it.

This trend is not new, of course, and started with Times Now. The channel, which seems to have sidelined every principle of journalism, has turned it from a news item into a daily soap - aptly named 'Fixed!' - and uses language to that effect, the most glaring of which is: 'Breaking on Fixed!', which is all you can see now, flashing at the bottom. Sadly, this format seems to sell and every news channel is copying it, with CNN-IBN's soap named 'Sleaze, Lies and Fixing,' much like the old Love, Sex aur Dhokhaa!

If this format of 'news' is not bad enough, the way the media has been harassing BCCI President N Srinivasan to quit is perhaps the pinnacle of unprofessional conduct. Alright, so the man has a serious conflict of interest and for the sake of justice, should resign pending completion of investigation (which is not on him, at the moment at least). Now, he does not want to step down, for his own reasons. You tell him once, you tell him thrice, but each and every day, on each and every forum, to shout it to his face and also to that of millions of others on TV is too much. It almost seems as though the media itself is going through some sort of vested interest, a far cry from fair and balanced journalism.

The shrill talk shows do not make for much debate either. Once upon a better time, India@9 on CNN-IBN was the best news capsule you could ask for, integrating news and views to give you a full package in just one hour. Today, it has copied that horrendous The Newshour and is one and a half hours of 'Talking Point,' with poor Rajdeep Sardesai holding up sheets of paper like evidence in a court of law in an attempt to imitate you-know-who. Fortunately, he does not do too well at it and his inherent journalistic excellence does come out once in a while - but for how long?

The lynch mob that the Indian media has become is dangerous. During the standoff in the DBO Sector, this came to the fore with reckless news presenters (they can't be called journalists) calling for outright war with China, neither examining the facts (that we are no match for China) nor understanding the consequences (that it would cripple our economy for decades). Instead of providing reasoned discussion and shaping opinion accordingly, the media made a mess of the whole affair. And the IPL Scandal is turning into a repeat of that.

It's a sad day for journalism in India. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Best Left to the Imagination

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Produced by: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and others
Pros: Good special effects, engaging story
Cons: Slow, somewhat arbitrary
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Science Fiction is always a refreshing genre that most directors prefer to avoid because of how clumsy it can get. The poor director has to choose between an extremely simple plot where everything makes sense and a deep, psychological-thriller like plot which has a lot of loose ends. The choice is never easy and in Prometheus, Ridley Scott chooses the latter.

Based on the classic tale of man discovering his origins, the plot seems rather cliched at first but begins to pick up once the special effects kick in. With scenic shots of Scotland that quickly move to another world, the scenes are well thought-out. The story itself is fast-paced with a lot of things happening very quickly. And that's where it starts to go downhill. When a lot of things happen very quickly without making much sense, it leaves little reason for the viewer to remain engaged. It's almost as though the Director is trying to act like a school teacher, preaching to his students, insulting their common sense even.

The story is very arbitrary, engaging as it may be. A lot is left for the viewer to discern for himself, which would not be a very bad thing if not for the fact that the fast pace does not give enough time for it, so that the net effect is a final explanation of all the events after they have been forgotten. That is where Prometheus fails, despite its good premise and an honest attempt.

Perhaps next time, something better would come up. (OTFS)

Torture to Watch

GREEN LANTERN (2011)

Produced By: Warner Bros.
Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong and others
Pros: Good special effects
Cons: Don't even get me started
Rating: * of 5 (1 of 5)

Another one. Yes, another one of the many superheroes that we need to defend this world. From what? Well, from itself presumably. That's just about the gist of Green Lantern, a movie that was so boring it took all my energy to watch it till the end.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds, a plastic performance) is a troubled young man but that is unimportant - what matters is that he has been chosen, for no obvious reason, to be a member of the all-mighty Green Lantern Corps, which was created to defend the universe, all of its 3600 sectors. Of course, since he's human, he must be the stupidest of the lot. And the director does not disappoint in the realm of the obvious.

A novel invention of the movie is the ability of our superhero to reveal his identity to anyone he chooses without second thoughts - naturally, he is going to do that with his girlfriend first, but then he does that to his great enemy too. Superman, you fool. After much dilly-dallying, our hero conjures up enough guts willpower to save the world. And that's that. Really - that's it.

To be fair, the special effects were good - by the standards of the 90s. With today's level of special effects reaching new heights, what with Avatar and Life of Pi (which came after Green Lantern, true), this was a pretty staid affair really. And with that done, the acting was pathetic as was the cinematography. A really bore, you might consider buying a DVD and gifting it to your worst friend. It might just conjure up some fear in them. (OTFS)

Placements in Three Questions - 3

Question 3:
1      Apart from the above mentioned points, provide any other tips, guidance or information which you would like to share, if any.
>>If I haven’t made it clear yet, being an IITian is meaningless unless you have something to show after JEE. A high GPA is the best recommendation that you can get. If you have any backlogs, know that most PSUs are closed for you. Therefore, studying and getting high marks is important. These are the rules of the game, you might not like it but don’t expect to last here by ignoring it.
>>Projects and internships help, but only if you understand what you did. I recommend a site intern after 2nd year and either a site intern or a design/research intern after 3rd yr. And do one or two projects, it helps. First year internship is a waste of your time and also the company’s time – use it to improve your communication skills.
>>You must be well-groomed for the interview – neatly shaven (well kept facial hair, if any), clean hair, crisp suits, the old Parker Pen and everything. No company likes a slob, no matter how brilliant you may be. Take your time to suit up and have fun while you’re at it! And yes, next time you go home, ask your mom to teach you how to tie a tie! For girls, I can recommend to cool it with the very high heels since you generally have to wait a lot during placements and hence, walk to local shops/restaurants for a snack – so don’t inhibit your mobility.
>>Yes, there is something you would like to ask the interviewer about the company: ask about job growth, working environment, type of projects, anything, but show them that you are interested in the company. Do not leave that question!
>>Lastly, you can exaggerate in the interview, but keep it to a limit. There is a thin line between the great and the unrealistic – don’t cross it. And be patient – placements are a very testing time that demands your patience. You will get placed eventually, don’t lose hope and keep your best friends close. 

Placements in Three Questions - 2

Question 2:
1      Please give a detailed description of your Interviews in companies (questions asked, specific procedure of the companies you sat for interview(test GD case study , etc , everything))

>>I gave an interview for just one company – ITC Ltd. – which selected me and ended my tryst with the placement season. It began with a simple GPA-based shortlist; I believe the lower limit was 7.500. That was followed by a case study-based GD – that means that we had a case study to read for five minutes, which had some characters in a situation, and we had to discuss and come out with a ranking of the characters based on some criteria. You need to speak up in a GD with good points – you cannot dominate with nonsense and neither can you expect people to give you an opportunity to speak (if they do, they are scoring brownie points over you). Good understanding of the case, logical points and confidence will help you win. Nowadays, most GDs degenerate into arguments, so keeping your interventions logical is even more important. Do not fight, do not be rude. And practice beforehand with the best debaters in your friends circle, it will help.
>>The GD was followed by a Technical Interview. I admit, I was not very well-prepared here for certain reasons, but my impressive GPA helped (about 9.5). You need to speak confidently and understand that you are allowed to make mistakes – they do not expect you to know everything. That said, if you don’t know the basics, you are in trouble. That’s where the PPT and your preparation come in – work well on those. They also asked me whether I had any geographic preferences for my posting – it is best if you don’t have any, in this globalized world. Relax, if you can learn to love cheese burgers, you can learn to love idli-sambar too! Think of your long-term career and not your short-term comforts.
>>Being in Civil Engineering, my profile was Quality Control and CPM and I was asked to list out and explain every test on materials I had come across – no mean feat. I tried to do as well as I could, I made mistakes and the interviewer helped me out. They do not seek to humiliate you, but you need to know your basics. For example, I was asked what a concrete mix of 1:2:4 means – if you don’t know this, then you really don’t know much and should not expect any sympathy. CPM was challenging for me since I had not taken that elective, but I had read up about it and made quite a good job of it. I told them that I had not formally studied the course and that made them even happier. The questions covered the basic concepts of Planning and ended with PERT and some questions on software. It is always good to have some software skills in the field.
>>It ended with an HR interview that was just a formality – simple questions like “Tell me about yourself,” “what are your hobbies,” “where have you lived and which city did you like the most” etc. It was short and very easy – and everyone who gave the HR interview was hired, so it was not a determinant either.  But they did ask me my favourite question – “How did you get 98% in 12th?” The answer – “Sir, I took notes and listened even in boring classes, using my time to the best possible extent.” Real answer – “12th was a piece of cake for a JEE student.” You see my point about communication skills? 

Placements in Three Questions - 1

A reproduction of my answers to the Placement Journey Questionnaire for next year's Placement Guide, on Opinions 24x7 for the benefit of my larger audience.

Question 1:
1      Describe your Pre placement preparation (please include- building resume, resources for studying or preparing(videos, websites, etc) , knowing the company you are going to apply to, attending ppt , etc . improving communication skills, apart from other point which you like to mention)
>>The placement environment generally starts after the Mid-Term Exam, when companies begin to come for the PPT. Attending the PPT is very important because that’s when you get a first hand idea of what the company expects from you. With the PPT done, you should keep a note of the key takeaways from it – job profile being the most important thing, because that is what they are going to take your interview on. Read about the key people in the company and its various divisions from the Internet – it helps you in the key HR question: “Is there anything you’d like to ask us?”. It is a myth that they ask funny HR questions – here in IIT, they ask you very technical questions, which could be related to your specialization or mathematics/coding, depending on the profile.
>>Your resume needs to be short and sweet, so hide the things that are not related to what you are applying for. In particular, avoid over-filling the Extracurricular Activities section, being school Basketball captain will not help much. Try to limit it to what you did in college, that too only the most important things.
>>To study for the interview, your textbooks are the best resource, because they generally cover everything you are expected to know at a basic UG level and companies tend to focus on that. If you can, prepare one topic in-depth, because some interviewers ask you about your area of interest and take your case in that.
>>Since I was already an avid debater and blogger, I did not need to do anything with my communication skills, it came naturally. If you have a friend like that, try to have casual conversation with him/her to boost your performance – casual, because if you try to specifically change your speaking style for a 20-minute interview, you will probably forget it halfway. In case you have time, know that grades and GPA are important, they speak a lot for you without you having to say anything! Lastly, in case you are filling an application with some customized questions for the company, keep your answers short and sweet – and don’t try to impress them with GRE-level language, they will not be impressed, just irritated. 

An Ode to I

“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need. I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others." - Howard Roark” ― Ayn RandThe Fountainhead

What is the value of man? How does one measure a person? Does it require a scale, some sort of comparative formulation that tells us who is better than whom? Or is man an absolute by himself, to be judged by none but the best within him. This interesting theme is the backbone of Ayn Rand's first true bestseller, The Fountainhead

Set in the background of pre- and post-Depression New York in the tussle between Modern and Conservative Architecture, the book explores two contrasting kinds of people in Ayn Rand's objectivist world - Howard Roark, the perfect man who lives for himself by his own standards in the face of secret campaigns to destroy him; and Ellsworth M Toohey, a so-called second-hander who sees no worth in himself but the worth handed down to him by others and an unassailable desire to control that. 

Divided into four parts from the point of view of four characters, the style of writing is not too common, sometimes going at a virtual snail's pace as the author labours over her point and sometimes accelerating to bring in a rather unexpected result. The focal point of the book was certainly the final speech that Roark makes to the courtroom, by which he is ultimately acquitted of all charges. 

In a tale of what it means to be a free man, The Fountainhead takes us through a vast volume of worlds to help us rediscover ourselves, as we were born - pure of the mind and body. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Rebuke

It had all been timed so very well - the first contact that Landeb would have with the other Kingdoms, timed perfectly to coincide with the Director's invasion. Alabaster, as always, was a genius, he had developed an excellent spy network in the absence of a reliable army. With me leading the Army, we had double the forces. We could hold out against Chymeria for a few days.

The two Kings were holding their discussions in the palace hall - the level of politics among the kingdoms is astonishing. Despite having a full Secretariat to coordinate affairs, Kingdoms preferred to handle things on a bilateral basis. What kept them together in the same Empire only they knew - it seemed to be more of a racist reason. The Rorian blood, the pure blood that had defeated Dulsburg - you could hear it everywhere!

One of my spies approached me. I understood. I walked into the meeting hall and declared - "My Kings, I must interrupt you, for we are being invaded by forces loyal to Chymeria. We are in an emergency state of war."

The whole hall looked up. But even before King Seleucus could say anything, the Axtrian King roared - "Chymeria? Invade a brother-kingdom? What nonsense, it cannot be true!"

Just as I had expected. After some discussion, Seleucus managed to convince him to go to a safe area in the palace - by the Isar, where our nascent Navy was ready to hold away all invaders by the river. I accompanied Seleucus to the war room - we had to make sure the messenger of Axtria received free passage.

***

Never in decades had the entire royalty of Rorankite assembled in one place. At the Secretariat, all the invitees sat at a vast, semicircular table - with the Director at the center.

"How dare you use our forces to invade another Kingdom?"
"Do you intend to do that with the other Kingdoms as well?"
"Are you trying to ascend the throne of some Kingdom?"
"Why do you have political ambitions, the Director is supposed to be above those?"

For nearly an entire day, he was volleyed by such questions. It ended when the King of Landeb asked his one and only questions - "Why are you directing only Chymeria's army?"

The question was full of meaning - Chymeria was virtually all of Rorankite's army, but the others chipped in with whatever they could too. The Director was expected to use a proportionate mix, if for no other reason than to keep all the Kingdoms in the loop for any military actions. But of course, he had trusted only Chymeria - and that was a deadly mistake.

The delegates looked around at Seleucus - they had despised Landeb, the outlier of Rorankite, with its strange people and ways. But they were interested in this new King, many actually happy not to have to see Vivian, or worse, Malus. There were rumours that he was actually of Dolcian blood, but they kept that irritant aside for now. He seemed to know what he was doing - and that was rare.

In the end, it was decided that the Director would not issue any military orders without permission of all 18 Kings - in writing. Effectively, that meant that Chymeria's army would be paralyzed. It was a quiet victory for Landeb, for only three people knew the real reason behind the invasion - the Director himself, and the Kings of Chymeria and Landeb.

Once done, we participated in the usual socializing among the royals. It was strange to have so many at one place - but everyone just went to meet the Landelian King. I introduced myself to him - "With respect, I am King Ulysses II of Jacobia. I hail the new King of Landeb and... this would be his Prince?"

I looked down at the boy next to the King - young and handsome. And rather familiar, somehow. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Diplomatic Overtures

"If you permit me to say, I do not approve of the idea of handing over control to civilians, my King."

It was Commander Valhalla - as always, free thinking and ready to offer his opinions. That's what I liked the most about him. And I had called him here for a very special reason.

"That is non-negotiable, I am afraid," I began. "Giving control to an elected Assembly was a part of my vision for my kingdom. Nonetheless, I do take your opinion seriously; as you know, I have been confirmed King and therefore, the executive head of the kingdom. And by that power, I hereby appoint you Secretary of State. Be warned - you have large boots to fill in. You will have a confirmatory hearing before the Assembly tomorrow."

As expected, he was dumbstruck. Valhalla was good at strategic affairs, he did not like too many surprises though.

"But... who will lead the army? Who will command it?"

"You will. The Constitution gives the Secretary of State the power of the Army. Under my final command, of course."

He smiled - finally, he was pleased. He bowed - I stopped him. He deserved it.

"My King, if I may, I have a suggestion."

"Go ahead."

"Although we have now fully assimilated the lodestone weapons and made much progress in turning Landeb's army into a professional one, we should still look for a diplomatic solution to the impending invasion from the Director."

"What do you suggest?"

"To the west of Landeb is Axtria, a small constituent Kingdom of Rorankite. They have been observing the events here carefully and have sent a request for a meeting with the new leadership in Landeb. I suggest you invite their King for a formal meeting two days from now, when the Director's forces will strike."

It was a brilliant plan - the diplomatic consequences of invading Landeb while another King was on an official visit was too much even for the thick-skinned Director. The entire Empire would rise against him, halting the invasion. I nodded and he began to leave.

"Just a second, Secretary." He turned around to face me. "I have one command for you - you must develop a Navy. Not the transportation-based navy we used to invade Landeb, but a true, fighting Navy. The battle is not over and the Director will not rest as long as I am King. We need a Navy to fight asymmetrically."

He bowed and left. 

A Progressive Move

Delhi University's controversial Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) is an excellent step to lift India's premiere liberal arts university out of its complacency and bring it as close to International standards as possible. The move, resisted by a student body that has long lamented poor standards the the University but has no idea what to do about it, was approved by a special Congress called by the Vice Chancellor despite opposition from a shrill minority.

Although it is not perfect, the move will have a positive impact on higher education overall. The FC component will help bring everyone back to the basics, in a school environment that believes in compartmentalization. This, followed by the major DC-1 and the minor DC-2, will allow for a broader range of knowledge among students, unlike the current system that concentrates more in depth than breadth. Undoubtedly, having very superficial knowledge is a bad thing, but that does not mean it is necessary, at a Baccalaureate level, to have specialized knowledge. This is an error that is made in most fields of higher education in India and which is a leading reason for students to avoid higher education altogether - a very tiny fraction of undergraduates actually become postgraduates today. DU's move will hopefully be able to change that.

But perhaps the best feature of FYUP is its multiple exit point feature. Today's world is such that, particularly when it comes to a liberal arts degree, a mere theoretical understanding is of very little use and it is important to have some practical, work-based component in the curriculum itself. Many students do an internship for this, but a imagine a full year of working, perhaps as an apprentice, in the middle of your course and then resuming the theoretical component. The multiple exit option, with the 8-year re-entry option, is meant just for that and will go a long way in making education more meaningful.

An immediate advantage that students in the FYUP will gain will be the opportunity to apply to schools abroad for higher education. Since the international norm is a 10+2+4 system, this will enable DU students to compete with their global peers. And hopefully, they will return and enrich their own nation with the systems they have seen and learned. In short, students stand to gain immensely from this move and the university itself will now be able to offer a much better programme. A win-win situation indeed.

There is still the controversy over the way the system was introduced. True, it could have been handled better, but in India and particularly in DU, there is the concept of hiding behind discussion and consensus to avoid making tough choices. In that sense, the V-C has done well in holding limited but meaningful consultations, as was seen in the recent Academic Council meeting that overwhelmingly passed the new system. Improvements are possible, especially in the flaw that the DC-1 and DC-2 have to be selected in advance and not progressively, but it would be a gradual process or trial and error - as long as a start is made. The DUSU would do well to learn to stop opposing things for the sake of it and appreciate progressive moves that ultimately benefit students the most. 

A New Destiny


It had been three days since the fall of Landeb. The deposed King Vivian had been sent into exile on the Quiltian Island on the Isar. The former King Malus and Princess Selena had disappeared. We were all called to the royal square to see our new King. We could not believe it - it was just yesterday when the populace was so angry at the shortage of supplies and the behaviour of King Malus. And today, everything had changed.

He came to the balcony of the castle, in the robes of Landeb - our new King. King Seleucus, he was called. Many said that he looked like the Prince of Syracuse, famed for his knowledge of literature. Now we could see for ourselves.

"People of Landeb - your King is gone. Much has been said about our invasion. But somethings are still not clear - I intend to make those clear. Who am I? I am Seleucus, Prince of Syracuse, banished for wanting to empower my own people. Why am I here? Because once again, I saw a people who were taught to tolerate their royalty, to suspend their rationality and accept what was going on. And I did something about it.

"My people, I do not know if you will accept me. But let me tell you, there is no need. Landeb will not be the same. This is a land of people who love to think for themselves, to choose their own destiny. No King can reign absolutely over this land. Which is why I shall form a council - not a royal council, but a council of the people. The National Assembly shall be elected by you, your representatives shall decide your fate.

"As for me, I shall remain your guardian. If ever the Assembly forgets that it represents you but does not control you, I shall step in. And if ever I forget, the National Assembly shall remove me. My people, a new era is upon us. Landeb shall now live its destiny - the land of the free."

***

The Speaker of the newly-elected National Assembly looked at me as I stood in the grand hall in the palace. It had been nearly five hours since the questioning had begun - the new Constitution had been approved and as per its provisions, I would have to be confirmed King of Landeb by it. For these few days in between, Landeb was a true republic, without any royalty at all. But even the free-thinking Landelians were not ready to accept a Kingdom without a King.

The Speaker looked around - there were no more questions. He asked his own - the last one.

"The motion is to confirm Seleucus of Syracuse as King of Landeb, the defender of the Constitution and the Landelian way of life. All hose in favour, say 'aye'."

The hall broke out into a thunderous 'Aye' - it could be heard in all of Rorankite!

"Well, I think that's that - the Ayes have it. All hail King Seleucus of Landeb!"

Amid the thunderous applause, I made my way to the dais. It felt like the end of an era - from the day I was locked up in my home, Syracuse, to this grand hall in Landeb, the great empire in the East of Rorankite. The applause died down as I stood to speak.

"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Assemblymen, prepare for war, for we shall soon be invaded by Chymeria on the orders of the Director. And this will be a direct confrontation."

Silence engulfed the hall. The Second Battle of Landeb was coming. 

The Battle of Landeb

The Kingdom was supposed to be in a state of mourning - I had personally issued the decree. Alabaster, our greatest Secretary of State, had passed away. But Malus had cancelled the decree, he wanted Alabaster's body to be buried in secrecy. He was rather happy to see his end.

The royal commander entered just then, he looked worried, as I had expected.

"My King," he said, with a bow. "The insurgents have attacked us - not by land, but from the Isar. They come in boats, they have blocked all roads. My King, come with me, we shall help you flee. The castle cannot be defended anymore."

Just as I had expected. Scarcely had the sun risen had Seleucus' forces declared war on Landeb. They had been very clever with their new Navy - a river-based attack was the last thing anyone could have expected. Our forces, trying to restore the trade routes, were stuck far away from Debin. And of course, our small armies in other cities could make no dent at all at the swift attack.

"I cannot escape, Commander, I am King, I must stay here till the end."

"But my King, they could torture you and..."

"I will face my destiny. If Landeb is to fall, I will meet its new King."

He stared at me incredulously - and ran. Landelians were never good soldiers, they always used their own logic.

I walked out of the royal chamber - there was a great deal of battle. I was prepared to lose, but at least Malus would put up a fight. But it was of no use, a vast majority of our forces were stuck with the trade routes and in any case, after the death of Alabaster, there was no real leadership left.

From the window, I could see Valhalla leading his forces. They had mastered the use of the lodestones, becoming the only force to have done that after Chymeria. The Director had not intervened - clearly, we was looking for a more pliable leadership after this coup. He was mistaken - the Syrenicians hated nobody more than the Director.

"King Vivian IV of the Kingdom of Landeb, you are hereby arrested. Surrender or die."

I turned around, it was Seleucus himself, with his guards. Tiverium was at his side, his weapons ready. Finally, they had come.

"Where are King Malus and Princess Selena?" I asked. As long as they remained in the palace, there would be trouble, I knew.

"They have fled into the forests - we shall deal with them later. Do you surrender?"

I smiled - the moment had come at last. Landeb was free.

"I surrender."

Take the Kingdom

"Director, why have you not conducted an inquiry into the events in Landeb?"

I looked up to found that old fool, the Chymerian King, wearing his old, incredulous face. How many times I have explained this, I cannot say, but he never ceases to ask the same old question.

"I told you, King of mighty Chymeria, that it is an insurgency within Landeb. And that is a good thing - a pity Malus managed to control it. Those Landelians could do with a shake-up, they have become so pathetic."

"But why do you support the all of Malus? He is one of us, Rorian royalty."

"You might want to hold your tongue when you call him 'one of us,' oh King. Malus is a lascivious devil, a chameleon who can be bought by anyone, just as we bought him. It would be much better to deal with the leaders of this unorganized insurgency than with an idiot like him."

He kept quiet - obviously, he did not like the idea of a grand coup by some insurgents, rebel soldiers no doubt. But he did not understand - they were leaderless. They would go at each other's necks once they had won. And then Chymeria could come in and annex Landeb once and for all. It was a perfect opportunity!

***

Preparations were nearly ready. Tiverium's Navy was nearly complete - a flotilla of transport ships, disguised to be transport ships, but smaller and swifter. They would sail up the Isar. Debin was already in crisis, it's food supplies having fallen so low. Their soldiers tried to rebuild the routes, but most of them could not even make it there since we had destroyed their roads.

A sudden noise woke me up from my thoughts - it was Tiverium, and he had arrested an intruder.

"My King, this man tried to break into your home - no doubt to steal secrets of our plans. Shall I have him slayed?"

"Wait, Tiverium, he seems to have something to say."

I removed the hood that hid his face - King Vivian! Here, in the Camp Kam'yakha? Tiverium immediately released him to summon he guards. "Stop!" I instructed. I looked at the King - he was smiling back at me, a mischievous smile. Heaven knows what misfortune he has brought upon us.

"Good evening, King Seleucus, I see your young Prince here has quite a grip," he said, almost laughing. I help my dagger behind my back, prepared to strike.

"Why have you come here?"

"It is my territory, I can do what I want with it."

"You will not win, I will not let your Princess conquer the Camp."

"Whoever said I wanted to conquer the Camp? Actually, I want you to conquer Landeb instead - if you can."

I looked at his suspiciously - "What guile is this?"

He began to shout - he seemed to have lost his patience. "Guile? Guile! Do you not see it yet - Malus has broken all laws of royalty, he has overthrown my authority. I do not want Selena to succeed me and he knows it - I have been looking for a successor for years. And that is why he returned - to ensure that his love becomes Queen. Stop him, Seleucus! For heaven's sake, do not do what you did in Syracuse - run away. Fight and become King of Landeb!"

"You are asking me to fight your own forces - have you gone mad?"

He laughed hysterically. "Oh, you Syrenician. I cna see through your plans - how do you think Alabaster has been directing the spies from the dungeons? I know everything. And know this, oh Seleucus, I am still King of Landeb and I and only I have the power to declare surrender. Attack us, as quickly as you can, and I shall surrender. The Kingdom will be yours - take it!"

I looked at him, shocked. A King, asking for himself to be overthrown? Yet, he seemed earnest. Clearly, he saw in his own fall the defeat of Malus. Alabaster had done well, very well.

The door opened just then - it was the Keeper. I bowed. He looked grim. "Alabaster is dead," he said, his voice shaking slightly.

I looked at the three in front of me - King Vivian, the Keeper and Tiverium. Tomorrow, we would go to war. 

Unconventional Attacks

I admit, I never had much respect for Tiverium. He was a thief. True, he had a tough life - born an orphan, used as a slave by the uncouth inmates of the Camp, with kindness coming once in a while from only the Keeper. But none of that justified his ways - there was work, there was always work available in the Camp, that's how King Seleucus survived here. Instead, he chose to rob.

But I had to admit, he was tactically brilliant. When it seemed as though all was lost, he came up with the idea of the Navy. It was unheard of here, but it was so simple. The Landelians knew how to fight on land, at least within their own territory, but that was less because of their skill (they had none) than their knowledge of the area. On open ground, such as in the middle of Debin, they were of no match even to our small militia.

The soldiers who had joined us from the Landelian Army were very intelligent, proficient in the sort of engineering that an army required. But they were not good soldiers - they fought well, but they needed to be explained as to why they were fighting. A good soldier must not think too much, he must be ready to accept the orders of his superiors. Nonetheless, they were proficient at the art of shipmaking as well - Landeb did not use ships, but it created the science behind it. As I heard, only the reclusive Mercantile Settlements to the far north of Rorankite used ships to trade.

We would destroy all their roads out of Debin - Alabaster had told us that their defenses outside of the capital were next to nothing, given how these people were so averse to fighting. If our first offensive was to disrupt the trade routes, we were now looking to destroy them entirely. With their army unable to use the thick foliage for their tactics, we would invade by the River Isar. Never suspecting such warfare, the royal palace was built next to the river itself, unguarded on one side. It was a huge error that they had never prepared for.

The only fear was that Chymeria would send its forces. Alabaster, despite being locked in the dungeons, had ordered the spies to keep feeding falsehoods to Malus, who had now taken over Landeb's administration, with Vivian left as a mere puppet. But Alabaster was dying - he was old and could not survive the dungeons forever. We had to strike before he died, yet we did not know when that would be. Once dead, Chymeria would certainly learn of the Camp and intervene. We were already worried as to why the Director had not tried to find out about the attacks on the trade routes.

"Commander Valhalla," an officer called out. "The last of the trade routes has been disrupted - by next week, Landeb will face another crisis of supplies."

I nodded. We had to strike soon. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Pack of Half-Truths

The UPA Government's latest string of ads promoting its Bharat Nirman set of schemes can be summarized as a pack of lies that mislead and are certainly not going to raise India's most corrupt government's electoral prospects.

Among many, perhaps the most shocking and callous of these adds says that NREGA has vanquished bonded labour from India. This is nothing short of a lie, a case of an ostrich burying its head deep in the sand. Bonded labour has not escaped India, it is very much prevalent particularly in Punjab and Haryana.

Another piece of irony is the set of ads brandishing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as having wiped out illiteracy in India. This flies in the face of repeated Economic Surveys (tabled dutifully in Parliament), which quotes the ASER survey to show that while school enrollment is up, literacy is quite the same, if not worse, because teachers do not report to school and students are not learning the skills they are expected to learn. Staying on the topic of education, the UPA is boasting of its 'achievement' of increasing the number of IITs and simultaneously doubling, virtually overnight, the number of seats without looking into shortage of infrastructure and faculty, effectively wreaking havoc on quality and generating below average professionals, which is going to severely hold down the country for decades to come.

The UPA Government's policies are so comprehensively self-defeating, the entire Bharat Nirman campaign seems like an evolved and updated version of India Shining and the UPA will meet the same fate as the architects of that campaign. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Messenger from Keiyo

I shall never forget that rainy night by the river Isar. The blockade of the trade routes had been called off and with it, our fate had been sealed. My King, Seleucus, whom I loved so very much, had been struggling for months since then to fight the impending invasion of the Camp. The pressure now lifted, Landelians soon forgot their hardship and the conspiracy to overthrow Vivian had continued. Alabaster was made a scapegoat and arrested, declared the mastermind behind the attacks and sentenced to life in the dungeons. His health was failing.

There was gloom all around. It had been raining for days and the Isar had risen to dangerous levels - many of us had been forced to move to higher grounds. But I, Tiverium, who never knew any home away from the river, could not go. Nearly two decades ago, with my mother brutally burned at the stakes in Jacobia by their King, I was saved by the housekeeper. She put me on a trading ship, which sailed down the Isar. When the Captain discovered me, he had me thrown out. A little baby I was - set to die on the very land that I lay upon now. If not for the Keeper, I would never have known...

And then I saw it come - through the rapids, another ship. It was strange, for it was not a usual trading ship. It was much smaller, swifter. And it was not from Rorankite. Could it be a trick? Was nature playing games with me? I was soon relieved of my queries - the ship jerked violently and capsized. I stood in shock - I tried to scream out for help, but such was the roar of the winds and the thunder of the rapids that I could barely hear myself. The ship sank down the mighty Isar, almost as quickly as it had appeared.

And then, I saw one of its men who had managed to reach ashore. The Isar is the largest river in the East, miles across... you cannot see the other bank from one. And yet, this sailor had managed to reach the shore. I ran up to help him. He was bleeding profusely, large parts of his face burned. He would not survive for long.

"Who are you?" I asked, not expecting a reply, such was his pitiable condition. But he spoke, almost in a whisper.

"Our ship, it exploded! The boilers, destroyed! We sailed down the Shinano and lost control. We sailed into this river - the rapids! They were so strong, we lost control! My men, they have died. My men!"

I tried to calm him down. "But who are you? Where have you come from?"

"The Navy. The Navy of the Republic of Keiyo."

He died within moments - too much blood had oozed out of his body, he had suffered much. I understood it now - their ship had burned in an explosion and they had landed up in the torrential Isar from the Shinano, which flowed into it from Keiyo through Dulsburg and much of Rorankite. It was amazing how they had reached so far.

But this was a different sort of seaman - he wore a uniform. The Republic of Keiyo - our old ally. He called it a Navy - I had heard of that. An army on the high seas. It was an alien concept to Rorankite, we only believed in land-based battles. But perhaps, this is what we were looking for? 

The Roadblock

The plan had worked well - Landeb was thrown into crisis. Its trade routes were damaged by some unknown forces. Malus had pointed fingers at the Camp Kam'yakha, but few had believed him. Such was the palpable anger against the former King that virtually anything he said was rejected by his ragtag army. Malus then went on to blame the Chymeria and the Director, both of whom laughed it off. They were quite happy to see Landeb suffering. Strangely, even the famed Landelian spies, working under the Secretary of State, could not find the source of the attacks.

In the meantime, as Alabaster had predicted, a large number of fighters began coming to the camp secretly, We had reorganized its layout to make it difficult for the Landelian army to find us - they were no masters of their forests, not beyond the standard trails that they had made. No wonder the Chymerians treated them with such contempt, they really did not care about military preparedness! We began to assimilate the new fighters, growing our militia into an army. One day, we would invade Debin.

"King Selecus."

I turned around - it was the Keeper. My mentor, he had helped me get through this entire ordeal since the day I landed up in these forests. I smiled - he did not smile back. Something was wrong.

"What's wrong, Keeper?"

"Stop your attacks on the trade routes immediately."

I was stunned - it was almost as though he had ordered me to stop breathing! Such a successful campaign that we had devised in his own home... and now this?

"But Keeper,  I do not understand, why..."

"I order you to stop it. It is too cruel, it is starving children. Our Camp too cannot take such a burgeoning population for long."

"But if we stop, it will ease the pressure on Malus and pave the way for Selena's rise."

"You will have to live with that. I am Keeper here and I do not want you to continue with this."

I could not believe it. My mentor, who had been with me through thick and thin, had asked me to 'live with that.' I gave him the coldest stare I could and called out to Tiverium.

"Order Commander Valhalla to halt the operations immediately," I said, still looking at the Keeper. 

The Chicken's Neck

The forces were angry - we fought so hard, we lost so much, just to see our King thrown into jail. Never had we imagined this was how things worked in Landeb - to shoot down the very hand that feeds you! But all was not lost - King Seleucus had made it clear that he would not back down. And neither would we.

***

It was an exceptionally dark night, for there was no moonlight. The Camp was still, almost as though we were waiting for a great storm to overpower us. I walked through the undergrowth to the Keeper's home, where I was called to meet the King.

I knocked. Tiverium opened the door - it was amazing how this thief of a boy had changed under the tutelage of the King, now behaving in a far more dignified manner worthy of his royal, albeit illegitimate, birth. I took a seat in front of the King.

"Commander Valhalla," he said. "As you are aware, in a year's time, King Malus will begin his coup to topple Vivian and instate Selena as Queen of Landeb. That will mean the end of the Camp Kam'yakha and we cannot allow that to happen."

I was ready for this - since the day Malus had double crossed us, I had worked out a plan - but this matter of instating Selena was new.

"My King, I do not doubt that we will need to stop Selena from overthrowing Vivian, but one year is too little time. We are not prepared for that sort of war - we will need to create weapons, for which we have no expertise, and grow our Army, for which we have no resources. How will we fight?"

From the corner, in the shadows, a voice spoke up. It was familiar, but obviously the speaker did not want to be seen.

"Since Malus began calling the shots again," the voice said. "There has been a steady stream of desertions from the Landelian Army. They are not good soldiers, they are not used to obeying orders without logic. You will gain your resources from there. As for weapons - Landeb is the kingdom that devised the usage of the Lodestones, but did not apply it. Every former soldier of Chymeria and Landeb know how to turn those stones into weapons."

I looked at the voice in surprise - I knew who it was. Alabaster. He was on our side, he wanted war. But we still needed time to create our forces.

"My King," said Tiverium. I was surprised to still see him there, I never had a very high opinion of the thief. "Landeb and Chymeria lie in the Eastern Highlands, where there are few natural resources. Both are heavily dependent on trade through the limited trade routes. If we could block those routes, it would precipitate a crisis in Landeb that would hold up Malus, buying us time."

It was a brilliant plan, even though I would not accept it since it came from a thief. The trade routes were dependent on a small number of passes through the highlands, which could easily be blocked. The Camp had enough resources to last it for a long time, but Landeb would not be able to ration it out for too long. It was the perfect distraction to keep Malus' plans on hold.

I looked at King Seleucus - his eyes told me everything.

***

"Fire!" the marksmen shouted, their flaming arrows flying out of their bows. Another innovation from the Camp, arrows smeared in fat, burning, with the destructive power of ten. They hit the trading wagons with deathly precision, burning the goods in them Simultaneously, wagons across Landeb were destroyed.

Debin was running out of food, its royalty falling short of luxury goods. Rumour had it that Selena was asked to stop bathing in milk because the populace did not have enough to feed their young. The crisis had begun. 

Call for Realistic Laws

The Betting-cum-Spot Fixing scandal in IPL Season 6 has shaken Indian cricket, with each day bringing in new twists and turns in what appears to be a deep, well-organized racket. With this, it is becoming increasingly clear that the cricketers caught in this act will have to be handed down life bans, thus destroying their careers forever; and they have none to blame for this but themselves. At the same time, BCCI President N Sreenivasan could also be looking at an impending impeachment, more on moral grounds than anything else.

But all this brings into question the nature of betting in India. As per India law, betting is illegal in all sports except the Bombay Derby, but it is an open secret that cricket spawns a massive betting racket in India, perhaps even an industry, involving millions of fans and very large amounts of money. All of this is illegal but most people ignore it mainly because, much like prohibition, the law is unrealistic and out of touch with modern day realities. Betting is a reality - people do it, they like to do it because it gives them a kick and the entire liability for the bet lies with them alone. It can destroy lives but only of those who indulge in it. Therefore, the law is rather unimplementable because it does not enjoy popular support. Perhaps that is why FICCI wrote to the Government calling for regulation and not banning of the industry.

It must be kept in mind however, that while betting has a case to be made legal, fixing does not. That is a clear case of cheating the public. Fixing is however, also a reality in International cricket but it is not the same as betting because the result is not limited to those indulge in fixing but to the vast galaxy of fans for whom the game is next to religion. After all, cricket in the subcontinent is serious business, with billions of dollars dependent on fans remaining loyal to their teams or players. That loyalty is severely compromised because of fixing and that's why fixing is illegal - to protect the sport itself.

The crisis in cricket is sure to destroy some careers - we can only wait and hope that the law takes its own course. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Green Card (not that one)

Every year, thousands upon thousands of people from all over the world hope to obtain one of the most coveted documents in the world - the alien residence permit or the 'Green Card' from the US Government, giving them de facto citizenship. It is seen as a ticket to a better life - a necessary evil, for it is notoriously difficult to get.

Half the world away, in the quiet little town of Roorkee, another Green Card bears similar properties, though the final prize is not as grand. After a hellishly bureaucratic process that everyone seems to hate but nobody is willing to tweak, students in their final year are expected to obtain a vast number of No Dues Certificates from every imaginable office in Roorkee, with the peculiar exception of the Cultural Council. Once these are obtained, one must obtain the said card, which too needs to be signed and sealed by no less than three offices.

And the reward - to start with, the provisional degree, which, given how very late the Convocation is planned, is as good as the real thing for a lot of us. And then for the actual degree itself. Amazingly, to get the Card, you are required to throw yourself out of your Bhawan or cough up Rs. 50 for one night - quite a money-making enterprise, really! There's no point of students fighting it either - nobody cares.

Perhaps only HEC has done something novel by creating  a centralized list. All of us wish every office would do that - it would be easier and far more efficient. But alas, this modern institution of top-notch technical learning does not use its own technology! But for us final year students, virtually graduates now, the biggest lure of the Green Card is the ability to just leave this place. We're tired after so many years and extremely emotionally compromised seeing so many friends leaving. Therefore, the sooner out the better.

This was the last post from IIT Roorkee. 

End Year Review: The Year of Empire

It has ended - a journey of four years through the thick and thin of humanity. An extraordinary journey that began in a place like home; progressed into absolute ruin; was rebuilt on the back of conquest; and finally ended as an empire. A grand journey it has been, with much to learn. And a grander journey it will be in the future - life!

In our final End-Year Review, we look back at those key moments in this final year that eventually led to a glorious ending - the Silver Medal. Eternal Glory. And we diagnose the lessons learnt and their implications for the future. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Class Apart

BOMBAY TALKIES (2013)

Produced By: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures in association with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
Directors: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Rani Mukherjee, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amitabh Bacchan and plenty more
Pros: Engaging, mature stories, a great deal of variety and depth, no mindless song and dance sequences
Cons: No mindless song and dance sequences!
Rating: ***** of 5 (5 of 5)

Indian Cinema is now a hundred years old, and Indian storytelling is probably as old as the Himalayas. When the two events meet, it calls for a celebration. A commemorative anthology of four short stories in a format rarely seen on the silver screen, this collaborative project brings together four biggies from Bollywood, who give us two intense hours of some of their finest works.

As a movie, Bombay Talkies is not mainstream - no time is wasted on subplots and the format of four unrelated stories not converging to anything is rare in the industry. And the themes are worth their weight in gold - from Johar's tale of a homosexual in a deeply biased society (and thankfully an Indian society) to the pitiable cry of a man desperate to feed a movie star a murabba - it takes you through stories that you do not hear and brings life to them.

While all four stories were masterpieces in their own right, the first and last ones - Karan Johar's Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh and Anurag Kashyap's Murabba - stand as nearly equal inn terms of excellence. The former is characterized by wonderful acting, mixing bold and diverse views with a stereotypical past, while the latter is a tale so simple that it takes a master such as Kashyap to give it so much depth. In their own ways, both are inspiring and both encourage us to think beyond the usual - to see life as it is. Whether it is the young boy reacting instinctively to protect himself from being harmed further for being gay, or the young boy who begs the entire world to make Amitabh Bacchan taste his delicacy, both stories shake you out of your comfort zone.

That is not to say that Zoya Akhtar's Sheila Ki Jawaani or Dibakar Banerjee's Star (based on a short story by Satyajit Ray) are not good - they too stand as worthy commemorations of Indian cinema, with the former in particular giving is the most poignant line of all - 'ladki hone mein kya burai hai?' With excellent acting and a directing skill that demonstrates what it means to have a fine understanding of cinema, Bombay Talkies is a must watch not just for movie buffs but for everyone who believes that we, Indians, as a people, love to tell our stories! (OTFS)

Where's the Scriptwriter?

AURANGZEB (2013)

Produced By: Yash Raj Films
Director: Atul Sabharwal
Starring: Jackie Shroff, Arjun Kapoor, Amrita Singh, Rishi Kapoor and others
Pros: Fast-paced story keeps you on the edge of your seat
Cons: Incoherent and rather cheesy dialogues
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Another one of those Bollywood thrillers that come with great potential that dies out in the last half hour, Aurangzeb is a good story gone all wrong. A fast-paced story about the lives of two brothers separated by crime and politics, with an undercurrent of fate added in for good measure.

The acting does not disappoint, as Arjun Kapoor (in a double role) gives it his best both as a scheming hero-cum-villain and a deranged young man. But Rishi Kapoor takes the cake for a smooth, flawless performance. The story itself deserves credit because none of the characters are black or white - true to reality, there are plenty of shades of gray in between that helps you connect with the film.

Oh, but then came the scriptwriters. Oh wait, there was just one (the director himself)? Well, it felt as though every fifteen minutes, somebody else wrote the script. So you go from smooth phrases to very cheesy lines - ironically, almost seamlessly! Perhaps the worst of it was the failed attempt to weave the story around one single line (something is zyaada keemti than something, let me not repeat it here), which is repeated in various permutations and combinations ad infinitum creating a sense of nausea and irritation. Serious dialogues suddenly become lame jokes while some just make no sense at all.

The ending was textbook bad - a weak attempt to turn a thriller into a family drama that nearly drowned the movies with it. It is the perfect example of what not to do to a movie. Add to that a thoroughly under-developed, rather abrupt and pointless love story, and you can definitely see that this story tried to stitch together so much that it has burst. Not recommended unless you are a major Rishi Kapoor fan. (OTFS)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Job Well Done


A great battle, full of ups and downs and it finally ends with the ultimate prize: the Department Silver Medal. Yes, that illusive prize, which comes with a good deal of money and a permanent spot on the Civil Engineering Department's Roll of Honour, is finally mine. And that, despite the setback from IBM-06, which I say was a good subject but conducted very badly, almost unprofessionally. Anyway, even a perfect 10 (which I had already achieved once, in a much harder semester) would not have made much of a difference.

The big surprise was, of course, CE-402, in which a perfect 10 was clearly the decisive factor in order to push me well ahead of my nearest rival. While the report was good in comparison to the others, the final viva voce exam turned out to be better than expected, which is probably why I finished with an 'outstanding' grade. CE-406 and CE-462 were along expected lines, though a silly mistake in CE-406 did give me some troubled moments. PR-304 was not just along expected lines, it was along the very lines that I myself had laid, fulfilling my dream of giving myself the top grade in something!

Eternal glory awaits those who win the Department Medal. It's not about the money, it's about the ability to tell people, years and years later, that you finished on top in an IIT, the most comprehensive Civil Engineering programme in all of the IITs. The name on that Roll of Honour, permanently inscribed with other greats before you who have all crossed that path. Generations hence will read that name and know that you were there, you fought and you won.

And of course, the pleasure of seeing it for yourself in the end...

2012 BARIDHI MALAKAR
2013 SUSHOBHAN SEN

The games that history plays. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time for a General Election

After much saber-rattling and rather weak attempts to convince party workers to defend them, former Union ministers PK Bansal and Ashwini Kumar have finally resigned their posts and, if news reports are anything to go by, it happened mainly because Sonia Gandhi reminded Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as to who was the real boss.

It is now clear that the final keystone that was the basis for the UPA's existence - the working relationship between Sonia Gandhi and the PM - has been weakened significantly. According to media sources, there is a clamour among Congressman to ditch the PM and put a new face in his place by the Monsoon session of Parliament, effectively heaping the blame for all their troubles on him and throwing him off to some obscure Raj Bhavan. The only reason this has not happened, it seems, is because there does not seem to be an agreeable replacement, with the Cabinet's No. 2 AK Antony lacking any base or recognition in North India.

But how long this can last is questionable and critical if one is to imagine what the future of this country would be like. The UPA is clearly a sinking boat that is going from crisis to crisis every day, with the crises coming to a head in virtually all Parliament sessions. Because of the intransigence of the PM, the Budget session was wasted. And mind you, it is not because of the Opposition, but because, as Sushwa Swaraj rightly said, this is the most corrupt and inexcusable government post-Independence! Now, it seems the UPA is looking to call a special session of Parliament to pass important bills, but it is unlikely that the BJP will agree until they have Singh's head.

What is even more worrying is the next hearing over Coalgate, in which the Supreme Court could make some very critical remarks over the PM himself, who was also Coal Minister at the time of the scam. At the rate this is going, it would be wise for the Congress to just dissolve Parliament and go in for a mid-term election. 

What next for Pakistan?

Nawaz Sharif's return as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, as well as his party's strong showing in Baluchistan and Punjab, spells a new era for the country as the first elections held under civilian watch have yielded what seems to be a stable coalition at the federal level. But the question is - what does Nawaz Sharif have to offer?

On the domestic front, Pakistan's crippling economic crisis, with the electricity crisis being at the centre of it, will have to be tackled with steely resolve. Endemic corruption will be a major factor that the populace will look to ending. And most importantly, the unending militancy is the tribal areas that has now spread to Punjab will prove to be the greatest challenge on the home front, especially since the PTI has come to power in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and will keenly oppose any military action in the area.

Internationally, Sharif will have the not-so-enviable responsibility of leading Pakistan though the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaos that is sure to spread after it. If history is anything to go by, his PML-N will not leave any stone unturned to achieve 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan, thus bringing the country into direct confrontation with the retreating Americans, Iran and India and to some extent putting China at risk as well... in short, harming the entire region. Sharif has already spoken of continuing the peace talks that went quite well between him and the Vajpayee government before Musharraf's coup, but that will be easier said than done. Much water has flown below the bridge already.

Thus, the new government already has a heavy agenda at hand. The future of Pakistan itself could lie on the decision table. The pathetic performance by the PPP (except in Sindh) would provide some food for thought for Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the President, Asif Ali Zardari as to how they squandered a term that was given to them largely on the back of love and affection for the late Benazir.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

On a Silver Platter

The results of the Karnataka Assembly elections are in and they were beyond expectations, with a clear and strong anti-BJP vote bringing the Congress back to power in what used to be its southern bastion and relegating the BJP to a mere third of its original strength in the Vidhan Soudha.

A distinctive feature of the results is the showing by BSY's newly-formed Karnataka Janta Paksha (KJP), which won six seats but badly damaged the BJP in the Hyderabad Karnataka region. While BSY's dreams of playing kingmaker have fallen flat on his face, he has managed to get back at his former party. The BJP's central leadership going to have to seriously consider the implications of the way BSY was ousted and how it has dented the party.

However, there is one silver lining. Corruption seems to have been the dominant issue in these elections, as the electorate punished the BJP mercilessly for its five-year rule. Indeed, despite the pathetic show by the Congress as the main Opposition party, the electorate strongly favoured it, indicating that it was more of an anti-BJP vote. In poll after poll, Karnataka voters have stood out in saying that they perceive their state government as being more corrupt than the Central government. And therefore, it is highly likely that these very voters will now turn against the Congress in the next Lok Sabha elections. Interestingly, the state has a history of keeping idfferent parties at the state and centre.

As for the JD(S), its strategy of wooing urban voters seems to have failed and it is still seen as a party confined to the hinterlands of the Old Mysore region. Despite its best efforts, it could barely make a dent outside its pocket-borough. Clearly, whatever illusions it might have to join a mystic Third Front at the national level will fail to materialize given this debilitating weakness.

The Congress now has a majority government and the electorate craves a strong, stable government. One matter of urgency is to curb the right-wing vigilantism that has creeped into the Coastal Karnataka region and needs to be checked immediately. It might still have some time to save itself from a drubbing in 2014. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The BTP Quagmire

The last two weeks in IIT Roorkee, as juniors begin to leave and the campus begins to empty out, is characterized by the Bachelor's Thesis Project (BTP). Now, let me not generalize here. For most people, the BTP is as good as done and they're just sampling their last few breath of Roorkee air. But for us civilians, it's a different game altogether.

The Department of Civil Engineering prides itself on being the most rigorous and well-equipped department in IIT Roorkee, which is why its strength has been rising incessantly after Arjun Singh read out his farmaan. And this is the only department that does not differentiate between an MTP and a BTP... in fact, we've had many masters students expressing shock at the sheer scale and size of the project. And the final evaluation on May 15/16 is all set to mimic a PhD thesis defense!

Design of a Hydroelectric Power Project - sounds easy? It's not... for most people, this sounds like making a dam and forgetting about it. In our case, it includes everything from a geospatial hydrological analysis, a four-lane highway to a massive underground powerhouse! Oh, and before all this, a silly Environment Impact Assessment. And all this without ever having worked on a real practical project like this, and without even the theoretical knowledge needed for it i.e., learn as you go. On top of that, a hand-written report, laboratory trials for mix designs and a full-blown Finite Element Analysis. Welcome to the Department of Civil Engineering!

I can say with complete confidence that Civil has the most difficult of BTPs in all of IIT Roorkee and certainly one of the hardest in the IITs, perhaps in all of South Asia. The sheer scope and complexity, the amount of things to work on, the vast volumes of paper used for documentation bear testimony to that. Now, in the last few days, as we desperately look to finishing the final parts, I can't help but wait for the last moment when this too can be ticked off the checklist.

May 16, 2013
12 Noon
Freedom! 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book 3: Conquest


BOOK 3:
CONQUEST

Stand up and fight, for what you know is right;
Raise your sword, stay true to your word.
History has never been kind to those,
Who do not defend what they suppose.
Destiny is not written, as the angels gave;
Destiny is written by the blood of the brave. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Circle of Destiny

A massive victory rally had been organized in Landeb to mark the defeat of the surreptitious invasion force - the free people of Landeb had survived another attempt to trample on their liberal thoughts! And the guest of honour would be that unknown hero - the King from Kam'yakha, he was called - who had led the militia that defeated the Director's forces. A wave of cheer passed through Landeb on this great day.

We had assembled in the main grounds to see our beloved King Vivian raise the Landelian flag, a victorious and proud member of Rorankite that would not be put down by the Director and the King of Chymeria.

"My people," said the King amid wild applause, "rejoice, for we are free! The Chymerian forces who sought to invade us have been pushed back. And for that, we remain indebted to our hero. The proud leader of the militia..."

Something strange happened then. In the corner of the stage, we could see that stranger, his face covered in a hood, as though he were a prize waiting to be unwrapped. And interrupting the King's speech were the military police of Landeb, a feared force. They approached the stranger and, without warning, beat him with their batons. He fell, unconscious, unmoving.

A wave of protest erupted among the masses upon seeing this. How could the military police treat a hero like this?

"Calm down, calm down!" It was the former King Malus, whose actions had brought this fate upon us in the first place. We might be a liberal society, but such blatant disregard for customs and such uncivilized behaviour was not tolerable by even us. Most Landelians hated the former king and Princess Selena for their actions, but they being royalty, we could not do anything.

"Citizens of Rorankite" - that was a strange way to address Landelians - "the hero you are seeing is an impostor. He was banished from his Kingdom years ago for treason, in fact he was lucky to have not been hanged. I have received word from the Director that the force that came was meant to arrest him and bring him to justice, not to harm Landeb. How could the Director even think of harming our beautiful land? He has misled us and for that, he will be jailed!"

The crowd remained silent - perhaps we were indeed believing this stranger with too much generosity. But then, was Malus worth trusting?

"You liar!" screamed Alabaster, the respected Secretary of State, as he tried to prevent the guards from taking away the stranger's body. Malus turned to him and, with a swift blow, threw him off his feet.

"The Secretary of State will stick to his orders," he said, with contempt. We were stunned - why was King Vivian quiet even after all this?

"Arrest him," Malus said and walked away with Princess Selena in his arms.

***

He was beginning to regain consciousness - he had been bleeding after the dangerous escape we had made from Debin.

"Keeper... where am I?" Of course, Seleucus could not remember anything. After he was arrested, Tiverium and I used Alabaster's information to sneak him out of the dungeons in the royal palace, but we were caught at the last minute and had to flee on horseback with the young Prince's unconscious body bound to Tiverium's horse.

I told him the entire story. He listened quietly... I could not make out anything in his face. It was the same look that he wore when I first found him in the Camp Kam'yakha. "Prince, you must flee the Camp, your life is in danger here. Emperor Malus is preparing to overthrow Vivian and replace him with Princess Selena. With Vivian gone, the Camp would be attacked: it seems Malus has sold himself to the Director."

He looked at me and then turned to Tiverium, who was sitting next to him. He stared for quite sometime. Finally, he said, "No. Not again. Never again. Once before I was imprisoned for standing up for what I believe in. Once before I was made to suffer for a system that I do not accept. But I will not back down, no."

"But what will you do? You cannot stop Selena from destroying us once she rises to power," said Tiverium, a hint of desperation in his voice. He was clearly worried about the safety of Seleucus.

He turned to him, a fierce look in his face, a look that I had never seen before.

"Selena will not be Queen of Landeb. She will not rule - I will. There will be war."

(End of Book 2: Ruins)

Picking up the Pieces

It was a disaster - our finest forces, sent to end the illicit activities in Landeb, defeated, routed. What would the other kingdoms think - that the Secretariat could no longer enforce its writ? That the great Army of Rorankite, led by the mighty forces of Chymeria, could be so easily defeated by the clowns in Landeb?

"Director, the King of Chymeria has arrived," a guard said. "Let him in."

I stood to meet him - there were no greetings to exchange.

"Director, my spies have brought in word that we did not actually lose to Landeb, but to some other King over there, who seems to have established his own empire!"

Just the kind of stupid answer that I would expect from the Chymerian King. Worthy fighters, but with empty heads, ready to believe anything they hear. And this, their doddering King, it's a miracle how they've managed to stay together under him!

"That's enough - another king, a new empire... are you sure our army was even sent there, or was it a hallucination?"

He stayed quiet, having been put down by me. But now was not the time to keep quiet - grave damage had been done to Rorankite by the Landelians. If this news spread, there could be great trouble in the other kingdoms.

"You will say that a small force was badly hurt in an earthquake in the forests of Landeb," I instructed. His assistant began to take notes. "Say that they were on routine patrol and that the King of Landeb has expressed regret over the loss of Rorian lives. Do not utter anything about your silly new king and his empire from another universe - it is a figment of your imagination!"

He was clearly unsettled by that. "But Director, my spies have clearly said that something strange happened - they could not even reach Debin, they were destroyed at Lantwerp! You must at least investigate this affair!"

I gave it a thought - maybe something did happen there. After all, how could those silly Landelians defeat Rorankite's mighty army? They would not even use the lodestones to fashion weapons, despite the fact that apart from Chymeria, only they had vast quantities of it and certainly more technical know-how.

I turned to my secretary and gave him a message to send immediately to former King Malus - King Vivian would not lift a finger, he was too indecisive, but Malus could be managed, at least in all things not related to his love affair.

"King Malus, the Director regrets to inform you that  there is a false king in your kingdom who has appropriated your army and is out to overthrow your dynasty. Should you not act against him, you and Princess Selena will suffer the consequences."