May 17, 2010

Getting into BITS Pilani

Lately, I have read quite a lot of posts written by our batchmates reflecting on their stay at Pilani during the last four years. Reading through them reminded me of the wonderful days that we spent together at our little village. Four years zipped past us before we could realize it. That led me into thinking about the years that eventually led me into getting admission at BITS Pilani.

Well, here is how it goes. By the time I got into 10th grade, I was made to understand by the society in general that performing well in the board exam is a prerequisite for doing well later in life. I was made to believe that one’s percentage in boards forms the basis of comparison in determining how smart one is. And to make things worse, people used phrases like (I’m sure most of us must have heard it) “The first stepping stone” or “The first public examination”. For a normal 10th grader, all this can get quite intimidating. Therefore, I started studying quite a bit. I gave up the tennis that I had started playing a year back to save time to memorize some chemical equations. Reading for pleasure had gradually become a luxury and socializing had been curtailed to a great extent. All this went on for months before before the exams finally got over. When the results came out, I was quite elated to find out that my efforts had been rewarded well and I had crossed the 90% barrier. Not that I cared too much about the percentage but it sure made answering a lot of questions (about results) from officious acquaintances pretty easy.

That was the first turning point. The Indian society has quite a few in-built check points to direct kids towards their pre-determined careers. And the 10th board exam is the first out of those. Those kids who score decently are directed towards science (to pursue engineering/medical later) in their senior secondary and those who did not score that well are directed towards humanities /arts/commerce. (Things have started to change in the last few years though. I’ll admit candidly that Indian parents are less insistent nowadays and are starting to take their children more seriously hence we see a gradual shift towards people choosing streams other than science out of sheer interest.)

A lot of us blame the society in general (and parents in particular) for directing us towards their accepted goals. Kids often blame their parents for being adamant and not letting them choose their intended career paths. But the fault isn’t entirely theirs. How many of us had our career paths charted out right after class XII? Most of us would answer in the negative but of course, for the minority that can, forcing them towards something else should be completely denounced.

Later that year, I took up science+math in 11th grade. When you have taken that combination in higher secondary, preparing for engineering entrances is implicit. And when you are preparing for engineering entrances, you are preparing for the IIT JEE. No one prepares specifically for AIEEE or BITSAT. Those are things that we do in addition to (or not do at all) preparing for the JEE.

So here I was, aiming at the IIT Entrances without ever having a given a thought to the fact whether this is what I wanted to do. I just found solace in the fact that almost everyone around me was doing the same thing. So I thought, when so many people are aiming at it, it must be the right thing to do. The other problem was that at that age, I did not know the kind of options I had or what I really wanted to do. Plus there were many things that favored preparing for the IITs. These were probably the only set of colleges (at the undergrad level) that used to get unparallel coverage by the media and evoked a lot of awe from the society in general. The JEE results were highly publicized and the top rankers almost had a celebrity status for a few days after the results. All this gradually led me into deciding that preparing for the IITs would be the best thing to do at that stage.

Gradually, I got engrossed into the JEE preparations. Life had become far worse than I had ever imagined it to be. I thought class 10th would be the time when I would work the hardest and after that things would ease but it was quite the opposite. Till 10th grade, it had just been school. Now I had to juggle school with FIITJEE 4 to 5 days a week. A normal day for me would be spending 6 hours in school, coming back and having lunch and then spending another 4 hours at the coaching center. A workload of more than 10 hours a day! It’s hard to fathom how I managed to retain energy after all this. Along with this, one had to manage tests in school and test series at coaching. Most of the days, after coming back from coaching, I simply did not have the energy to do anything else. Above all this, free advices were available in plenty. Some kept reminding me how important the year was for my future whereas others reiterated the importance of using every second well in the crucial year. Statements like “ Those who work hard in these two years, enjoy later and those who enjoy now will struggle later” annoyed me the most.

This routine went on for almost two years. As most of you reading this have already gone through the same grind, I'll skip the details. Finally, the D-Day came. All the effort that we had put in for the last two years had to culminate in the 6 hour marathon (the IIT-JEE paper) that we faced. The sheer thought that these are the 6 hours for which we have prepared, for the last 2 years was enough to tense me up totally. When I got the question paper, I was so nervous that I lost the first few minutes just thinking about how important this was for me. And in a competitive examination in India, where seconds can decide whether you get through or not, wasting a few minutes was way too much. I was pretty disappointed with the way I had given the examination. Leaving that aside, I started gearing up for the remaining exams as I knew that I didn’t stand a decent chance at IIT this year. The Sunday on which I gave the IIT JEE was the first in a string of examinations that I was to give in the following weeks. So the weeks ahead saw me giving the AIEEE exam, the VITEEE(officially pronounced “Vity” :D), the BITS Admission Test(BITSAT) and the WBJEE( I have no clue why I gave that!).

The next stage was one filled with a lot of uncertainty about where I would be headed for the next four years. Finally the results started coming out and to my surprise, I did make it through JEE Merit List 2006. The rank that I got was not good enough to get the B.Tech degrees that I wanted to enroll for at the IITs (except for maybe mining and metallurgical engineering which I had no intention of taking up). I got through most of the other examinations as well that I had given earlier. As I had never had a great fascination for engineering, I did not have any preference of the branch of engineering that I wanted to enroll in. I just wanted to get into the best college. Finally after weighing all my options, I decided that the best bet would be taking up admission at BITS Pilani. That’s where this story ends! For those interested in reading a little further, here's the link.

P.S. After four years, I can vouch that I made the right choice. Thanks BITS Pilani!

March 08, 2010


It had been a long time since we had gone on a vacation. Every time a plan was made, someone had some engagement that thwarted the proposed plan. After a lot of deliberations & reschedules, we finally decided to go out during the last week of December. Though the dates were decided at the very end, the destination had been taken care of a long way back. All of us had unanimously decided on going to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Not that we thought of much while deciding, we just wanted to go to a place which was beautiful as well as serene. Scanning the internet for a few clicks of the islands helped us in finalizing on the Islands.

The next hurdle that we faced was booking the tickets. Something that is quite peculiar about the Andaman Islands is that despite it being a favorite tourist destination, the connectivity is still poor. You have direct flights only from Chennai and Calcutta and their number is inadequate when compared to the demand. Due to this, tourists have to book tickets months in advance. One of my dad’s friends posted in the A&N had once said (in a lighter vein) that he would be able to arrange for everything in the island except for the return tickets! Such is the pressure for tickets during the peak tourist season.

On the 25th afternoon, we left Patna for Calcutta. The next day, we had our flight early in the morning. The flight took off on time and within minutes we were soaring 32000 feet above the Bay of Bengal. I dozed off for a while and by the time I woke up, we were almost ready for touchdown. Looking out of the window, I could see little specks of green in the vast expanse of blue. There were almost a dozen islands of all possible shapes and sizes, dark green inside and almost white on the edge, which were clearly visible. After descending a few thousand feet, we could clearly see the South Andaman Island on which Port Blair is located. This island is the largest of the Andaman Islands and has the highest population. The Port Blair airstrip runs right through the middle of the town and it looks as if it divides the city into halves. After a while, we finally got off the plane at Veer Savarkar International Airport. We were sweating as soon as we alighted from the plane and this was Andaman's coldest season! Andaman has moderate climate throughout the year hence even in December days are quite hot. From the airport, we directly went to the South Point Circuit House, where we were supposed to stay for the next few days. Port Blair, for starters, is probably like any other town in the mainland but probably a lot cleaner and a lot more picturesque with tastefully done gardens and wide streets. South Point is located on the top of a hillock and is supposed to be best government accommodation the Andaman Islands. With the hills on one side and the clean azure blue waters of the Indian Ocean on the other, the view from our balcony was quite scenic.

After resting for a while, we took off for the Corbyn Cove’s, the beach that is closest to Port Blair. In Andamans, people say that the farther you go from Port Blair, the better the beaches get and after seeing the Corbyn Cove’s beach, I could vouch that. The beach is an average rocky beach with coconut trees lining the whole stretch, just like any other ordinary beach that one finds on the mainland. After strolling for a while and clicking a few snaps, we returned to South Point.

The same day after having lunch, we went to see the Ross Island, the island that is closest to Port Blair. Ross Island was the administrative center of the Andamans when the British controlled the islands. Rickety motor boats run frequently between Port Blair’s Phoenix Bay Jetty and Ross and it takes around half an hour to get there. Though the boat was old and slow, the journey was quite pleasant as it had become quite windy by evening. On the island, our tour guide took us to see to the various buildings that the British had built during their rule. We saw the ruins of quite a few old official bungalows and barracks which were used during the British rule. We walked around the whole island and also got down to check out the beaches. Most of the beaches of the island were totally ravaged after the tsunami. What you’ll see at the beaches is mostly, long coconut trees uprooted and lying flat on the white sand. We could almost imagine the kind of waves that would have brought down such huge trees and converted huge boulders into rubble. It is said that had Ross Island not been there, Port Blair would have bored the entire brunt of the tsunami which would have caused immense loss of life and property. The island acted a barrier and ensured that the high tides did not directly hit the shores of Port Blair.

Later that evening after returning from the Ross Island, we went to see the most important landmark of Port Blair, the Cellular Jail. Popularly known as “Kalapani” the construction of the jail started in 1896 and it took almost ten years to complete. The bricks required for the construction were brought all the way from Burma! The jail initially had a central tower and seven wings radiating from the center, each of which had three stories. Four of these wings were demolished during the World War II and the remaining three are the ones you get to see. After entering the jail premises, we first entered a hall where on display were various items which were used by the prisoners. We saw things like their manacles, the utensils that they used and the machines that they used to work on. Then we went on to see the various wings of the jail and the prisoner’s cells including the one where Veer Savarkar was incarcerated. The British officers were so scared of him breaking out of the prison that they kept him in a special cell which had an extra iron gate outside the cell. Later, we saw the light and sound show at the jail. It was quite informative and ran us through Cellular Jail’s history and highlighted the brutal torture that the British used to inflict on the prisoners jailed here. One’s patriotic spirit definitely gets charged up after hearing about the innumerable sacrifices our forefathers made for us.

The next morning we set out for the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, which is about 30 kilometers from Port Blair. The national park, probably the only marine national park in India, starts at the Wandoor coast line and extends a few nautical miles into the Indian Ocean. The drive from Port Blair to Wandoor where the national park is located is quite scenic as the national highway runs through thick forests. After reaching Wandoor, we took a speed boat to the Jolly Buoy Island nearby. What added to the thrill was that a 12 year old boy was in charge of the speed boat and he was racing it at a very high speed. Fortunately, we got to our destination unscathed! There, after taking a stroll on the beach, we took a glass bottom boat to see the corals. Just about a kilometer away from the island, the corals were completely visible. I was seeing it for the first time and trust me, it’s quite a sight. For the uninitiated, corals basically look like colored vegetation growing in the shallow sea beds. We saw quite a few types of corals such as brain corals, star corals, flower corals and the like. We also saw a quite a variety of fishes of various sizes and colors. Corals are one of the treasures of the Andamans and if you get a chance to visit the islands, don’t miss it. After that, we went snorkeling. Snorkeling enables one to have closer look at the corals and at times, even touch them. After that, in the evening, at Port Blair’s Phoenix Bay Jetty, we did water scootering. Though we did not get to drive the scooter (as the tide was high), the ride was exhilarating, especially because I was holding the grip on the scooter incorrectly! Therefore, each second of the 10 minutes that we zipped on the water surface, I was struggling to hold the grip tightly. The fact that I don’t know swimming did not make things easier either. The guy driving the scooter was totally enjoying out there taking sharp turns and jumping his scooter against the tide and my screams for reducing the speed went totally unheard. I still did manage to get back to the bay safely!

After returning from there, we left for Chidiya Tapu which is located at the southern most tip of the South Andaman Island. Getting there took us about forty minutes and the journey through the virgin forests was very relaxing. We reached just in time to get a glimpse of the sun setting at Chidiya Tapu. It is for sure the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. We could see the sun just over the hills that were present on the island adjacent to this. In the foreground, there were leafless trees that once were there on the coast but were now half submerged in the waters. The sight was breathtaking and I did not feel like budging from there. It was getting dark and we had to leave for the beach that was situated nearby. Even on the beach, the half submerged trees added to its beauty. The sand on the beach was white and the water was absolutely transparent. This is the beauty of the beaches in the Andamans. Wherever you go, you will find that the water is absolutely transparent. We could even see the roots of the trees quite clearly. From the sea shore, a small stream was going into the mangrove forests right behind the beach. This beach will always be etched in my memory for it stood out from the beaches that you get to see generally.
The next day, we left for the Baratang Island, which is situated in the Middle Andamans. We had to take the Grand Andaman Trunk Road [NH 223] to get to Baratang and the route that we took passed through the Jarava Tribal Reserve. The Jarawas are the native tribals of the Andaman Islands, who still for the most part, live isolated and far from civilization. Hence we were quite enthralled to catch a glimpse of the tribals. As vehicular movement is not freely allowed through the Jarawa Reserve Area, we had to catch a convoy that was to start at Jarkatang. Vehicles are not supposed to stop once inside the reserve area. Throughout our journey inside the reserve, we peeked out the window with utmost attention but could not spot any Jarawa [though when we were returning, we did spot quite a lot of them and they totally resembled the African tribes. A lot of them sit along the national highway these days looking for alms.] After leaving the reserve, we drove for another hour or so before we were forced to stop. Yes, that’s because the NH 223 ended there. Probably the only national highway in India where you have to take a ferry to continue your journey across a river! And that is exactly what we did. We got off the car and then waited for a ship to arrive. Then the car was loaded into it and whatever space was left was filled with the passengers waiting to cross over. There are regular ferry services that the local administration offers but the queue for cars to cross over gets quite big and hence one has to wait for hours. Thankfully, we did not have to wait that long as the local S.H.O. had been given prior instructions and hence we could cross over in less than half an hour. Now we were in Middle Andaman town of Baratang. From here, we took another boat which took us to the island which had the Limestone caves, one of the important tourist destinations of the Middle Andamans. The boat journey took more than 40 minutes and by the time we reached the caves, we were sweating profusely as it had become quite hot. The last few minutes of the boat journey was quite amazing as we passed through dense mangrove forests to get to the island. A fifteen minute trek through dense forests from there and we were at the limestone caves. Though not very huge, the caves were pretty decent and totally dark on the inside. The caves are still active and we could see water droplets falling off the limestone. From what I could make out of what the guide told us, these caves probably formed as the thick roots of the old trees with the action of sunlight and water gradually transformed wood to limestone. The guide showed us parts of the cave where formation was still going on. Though not very grand, it was still worth a visit. After that, we went to see to the Mud Volcano. Though I had heard from a friend that it’s not worth seeing, but having come so far, we decided to give it a shot. It turned out so bad that we left within a minute of seeing it. I could see quite a lot of mud around but couldn’t spot any volcano. The term Mud Volcano is a misnomer; the site is just another mud pool that you can recreate in your backyard! The rest of the day was spent in getting back to Port Blair.

On the 30th, we left for the Havelock Island, the most popular tourist destination in the Andamans. We got up early in the morning as our ship was to leave Port Blair early in the morning. The jetty was quite crowded as ships for all the other major islands start from here. There were quite a lot of ships parked in the bay but the M.V. Makruzz, the cruise ship that we were about to board stood apart. The luxury catamaran had a very modern look and a sleek design. Even the interiors were done up quite well. It almost gave the feeling of sitting in an airplane. The ship cruised noiselessly at over 25 nautical miles an hour and we reached the Havelock Islands in an hour and a half.

At the jetty, we took a taxi to the Dolphin Resort, the place where we had to put to put up that day. From the jetty to the Dolphin Resort, the road was lined with resorts. Most of the resorts are situated on the coast and hence they have beaches right in front of them. As soon as we checked in at Dolphin, we went to check out the beaches. We had a cottage to ourselves at the resort and the rooms were sea facing. The view from the room was splendid. Though it was quite hot outside, we still walked along the beach for quite some time.

Later that evening, we headed towards the Radhanagar Beach, the most popular beach of the Havelock Islands. We almost covered half the island while going from Dolphin to the Radhanagar beach and the single lane road took us through thick forests and sandy beaches. The first thing that you will notice about the Havelock Islands is that you don’t feel like you are in India as you’ll find more foreigners on the island than you’ll find Indians. Foreigners throng Havelock Island and most of them come here to stay for months at a stretch. The best part about Havelock is that the place is totally tranquil. If you are looking for a place to completely unwind for a few days, you should definitely put up here. Radhanagar Beach, once rated as the best beach in Asia by the TIME magazine, is definitely worth all the praise it is showered with. As we had gone there in the evening, we were expecting quite a lot of people out there, but fortunately we were wrong. Like the beaches at other places in the Andamans, even at the Radhanagar beach the water is crystal clear but what makes it stand out is that it's totally covered with white sand. The green from the woods in the background stood out in stark contrast to the white sand, painting a beautiful picture of the coastline. The next day, I hired a scooty and drove around the whole island. Driving around was tremendous fun as the roads were nearly empty and the drive along the coast was breathtaking. That evening, we returned to Port Blair as we had to catch a flight the next morning. After all this holidaying, I did not want to head back at all. I wanted some more time to enjoy the serenity of the Islands. Though the thought of leaving did make me a bit sad, the wonderful memories that the trip has given me still help me in admiring the beauty of the islands.

November 25, 2009

Psenti Article

This was the last article that I wrote for the "Fine Print" as a member of the English Press Club.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." This quote truly sums up my state of mind these days. It's quite difficult to believe that it is already time to bid adieu to the place that I called home for the last three and a half years. Though it's hard to digest, the sooner we come into terms with the fact that change is the only thing that is permanent in life, the better it is for us. These years spent at Pilani have immensely contributed in shaping who I am and have helped me understand what I stand for. College days truly stand out from the rest of our years as it is here where we are high on adrenalin as well as idealism, a combination which can work wonders if honed properly. It's in college where you identify your call and start working in that direction. I am happy to have made full use of most of the opportunities that came my way in college. One thing that truly makes BITS stand out is the kind of exposure we get not just from our very well structured pedagogy but also from the gamut of extra curricular activities that go on side by side where we get to explore our creative sides. It goes without saying that I'll miss this campus a lot and leaving Pilani would create a void, quite difficult to fill. What I would certainly miss the most would be my friends, people who have truly made every moment of my stay at college memorable. Not being able to see a lot of them for a long time to come is something that makes me feel sad. Clinging on these wonderful memories, I look forward to making use of all this wonderful place has endowed me with, to live up to the name of this esteemed institution

March 10, 2009

Education: The foundation for innovation

This was my entry for National Knowledge Commission’s online essay contest on the topic “ How can India unleash its innovation and entrepreneurship potential?” It’s a build up on one of my previous posts on the prevalent education system.

We keep on bloating about the fact that Indian students are among the brightest in the world. But have we ever thought how little our country benefits from that? India’s contribution to the world in terms of innovations & discoveries is miniscule. The sole reason for the above is that we are simply not creative enough. This is not innate in Indians, but the age-old education system here ensures that our creative abilities are put largely to rest. We see that many of our NRI’s are flourishing as leading scientists & entrepreneurs in universities abroad. How is it that the same person achieves great heights abroad while in India, he gets nowhere?

All this can be attributed largely to prevalent education system in our country today. Creativity and innovation are regarded today as the most valuable asset that a nation can possess. Despite this, we are still stuck in the world of cramming and coaching classes. Our education system stifles all our creativity through rote learning. Right from the junior classes, questioning facts is not encouraged. Children who ask questions are often scoffed at and labeled with derogatory tags rather than being called inquisitive. Gradually, children also become averse to questioning and start accepting facts. When you start accepting things as they are, you can never be very innovative. With this present system, what we are churning out is just a huge workforce and not creative minds. Our education system was modeled on the British system but the British have moved on by introducing huge reforms and we are still where we were decades ago.

Introducing reforms in our present education system is one of the most critical steps we need to take to inculcate innovation in the younger generation. The system of rote learning should be done away with and should be replaced by a system which tests one’s intelligence and not his/her memorizing ability. The whole system of our examinations should be changed to give way to one which focuses on understanding the basics rather than learning the formulas. Conventional methods of teaching should be replaced with something which is more interactive and interesting. Only when learning is made more interesting does it really arouse one’s quest to know more about it.

If India has to really progress fast, it needs innovation, be it in the sphere of infrastructure, nutrition, education, administration or for that matter any other sector. So if we don’t want to be called a “Call centre Giant” perpetually, we will have to totally overhaul the education sector. Research will have to be promoted because without it no country can progress. Not only does research lead to innovations, but also (though indirectly) to huge investments. Companies pay exorbitant sums as royalties for using patents. Our government has always neglected research. The number of Ph.D.s in our country is insignificant when we compare it the number of engineering graduates. Research is not given much value in institutes across the country. Even premier research labs in the country get paltry sums as research grants. There is no autonomy in the education sector. A college cannot decide what courses to teach, what fees to charge, and what salaries to pay to its teachers, thanks to the various UGC and AICTE norms. Even opening a new college or a technical institution can take more than a few years.

Another important step towards attaining our entrepreneurial potential would be a change in our mindset. Indians are generally considered as people who are risk averse. We need to change this and start taking risks. Its not like we are born to be risk averse but our society moulds us this way. The Indian style of parenting is to be partially blamed for this. Most parents want their children to take the oft-treaded path while making career choices. Hence most of us grow up to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and other steady 9-to-5 office goers rather than becoming entrepreneurs. The importance of entrepreneurship is still not understood totally in the country. Unless one makes it big in business, entrepreneurs still do not get the respect they deserve from the society in general. Entrepreneurship is still not considered a viable career option. Those who directly delve into this field are considered as people who couldn’t make their mark in the jobs that are considered “normal.” If enterprises have to flourish on our land, this mentality has to go. We need to educate people on the importance of entrepreneurship be it through seminars, organizations or publications. New enterprises not only contribute rising income levels but also increase employment opportunities for people. It is generally seen that there is a direct correlation between the entrepreneurial activity level and the standard of living of a nation hence it assumes greater importance for a developing country like ours.

Any step in the direction of encouraging entrepreneurship would not change much unless it is actively supported by the government. The government has to provide a conducive environment for businesses and enterprises to flourish. Today the situation is quite the opposite where it takes months if not longer for a firm to get the necessary approvals. In developed nations, a venture can get through the whole process in a matter of days. The government should see to it that red tapism doesn’t interfere in this process. A single window system of clearance of proposals would help quite a bit. Entrepreneurial ventures should also be given advantages such as tax breaks or relaxed taxation rates in their initial phases to give further boost to people who want to dive into it. This would promote a spirit of innovation and enterprise in our people and would lead to prosperity in our nation. Only when the government and our people realize these invaluable facts will our nation really unleash its innovation and entrepreneurial potential.

December 19, 2008

Direct Connect ++

If you conduct a survey to find out what we would least like to part with here at BITS Pilani, the overwhelming majority would vote for DC++. For the uninitiated (or for those outside the campus), Direct Connect is a free peer-to-peer file sharing software which we make optimum use of. The institute has Ethernet based LAN on which this software runs. The precursor of this software was the age-old IP Messenger, which was quite prevalent till our first semester. I still don’t get the reason why our seniors realized the value and ease of DC++ so late despite the fact that it was freely available way before 2006.

IP Messenger (for the benefit of future batches at BITS Pilani who might only hear about it in folklore) is basically a messenger service over the local area network (LAN). So for instance if you wanted a movie or a song, you had to either buzz a friend or if you did not care a fig about other people’s right to live peacefully, you would spam by flooding your request to all those who are signed in (though at the risk of getting memorable greetings from those on the other side). What people generally did was that they kept a movie list.doc which they would exchange among friends. Such a process was obviously tedious but did not act as a deterrent for mutual exchanges.

When you are residing in a place like Pilani, you don’t have much scope for entertainment that our peers in the urban areas take for granted. All this translates into no decent places to hangout. Talking about malls or multiplexes in such a place would be considered blasphemous. Hence the few popular sources of entertainment, besides hanging out with your friends at C'Not, would be attending lectures of some select professor of your department (I’m sure every department has at least a couple of them.) or making optimum use of your processor! But as we value the fact that attendance is not compulsory at our college, we generally stick to the second source (though for the last few semesters, I have made good use of the first source as well!).

From a humble beginning of just over a 1 TB, the popular hubs today boast of a share size ranging between 20-25 terabytes and enjoy patronage of hundreds of its loyal users. If there is something that keeps us going strong despite our incessant test series and tutorials, it has to be DC++. It is our source for the latest flicks, songs, games, sports and what not! Though most of us generally don’t watch television here, we don’t miss it much either. A lot of what we want to see can be easily tapped from DC within a few days of it being aired. Similarly, new movies are put up on DC within a few days of its release. There have been some cases where movies were put up even before its official release date! That speaks volumes about the efficiency of our hub and the people who contribute in its smooth running.

One cannot justify this post without giving due credit to these people who untiringly work behind the scenes ( & their screen names ) to make the hub bigger and better with every passing day. Using primarily Bit-Torrent along with download accelerator (fill me in if you guys use anything else. I am no Tech freak as my grades in CP would vouch.), these facilitators download the stuff and share it on our local hub. Kudos to them for being so large hearted. May God Bless Them! It is because of them that even in a godforsaken place like Pilani, time flies and before you know it another semester is down. Over the years, DC++ has truly earned its epithet of being the lifeline at BITS-Pilani.

P.S.:The next time some one says something vitriolic about the hamlet you live in, throw back the share size at him and watch his/her face turn red with jealously( unless your friend is at another college which boasts of a similar share space)!

October 19, 2008


It’s finally over. Ah, the inexplicable joy! The tutorials and the test series have all come to an end, although ephemerally. To wake up almost every morning to give a tutorial or a test when you sleep late into the night is a harrowing experience as many will tell you. I suddenly feel so liberated. I can safely bet that no one understands the value of a free day more than us here at BITS Pilani ! Only the incessant test series and tutorials designed to make students go haywire make you realize how invaluable a single free day is: a day without alarms, tutorials and classes.

If I were given the option of deleting two words from my life today, those would definitely be continuous evaluation. For those outside this village (or is it a town now?), continuous evaluation is a system of incessant pestering used by instructors against students, especially those who do not cram regularly, using various innovative techniques such as surprise quizzes, assignments and tutorials. Rumors have it that such a system was initiated here to keep students engaged in this isolated non-descript place which offered very little scope of whining away time. But now with the advent of the invaluable little port in our rooms, do we need to be kept busy? No points for answering that! What else can be the logic behind this highly unpopular way of evaluation? Some would defend the system by saying that regular evaluation moulds students into professionals who are well versed in their respective fields and have strong fundamentals. I don’t know how many people would buy that as many IIT (except our poor cousins at IIT-Kanpur) grads are doing just fine without going through the rigors of continuous evaluation. And if we go by that logic, why not just have four test series? I’m not even thinking that far! When you just get some hours to read scores of pages out of the various tomes prescribed for our CDCs, one starts cramming rather than comprehending. Enough about how bad things can get here but on the flipside, an important benefit of this system is that if you get out of Pilani alive, you would most probably never commit suicide!!

The chilly mid-October breeze not just marks the end of our tests but also brings along with it, as a panacea, yet another edition of our much anticipated annual cultural fest, Oasis 2008. The fest this year is set to scale new heights with the likes of K.K. and Euphoria (& the girls from Dilhi of course!) coming down to Pilani to enthrall the crowds. If that doesn’t satiate you, the rock bands performing during Rocktaves definitely will. Check out this link on what’s new this Oasis. Another blessing in disguise that Oasis brings with it is the opportunity to return back to modern civilization. Most of the creatures who call Pilani home make optimum use of this opportunity and so will I when I board the 2310 NDLS PNBE Rajdhani on 23.10. So until then, Au revoir!

October 02, 2008

The Road to Success

Success is something that we all clamour for throughout our lives. A sizable chunk of our efforts is directed towards this end. However, despite our zeal to succeed, success does remain quite elusive. What is it that makes some people click while others fail? A lot of people will tell you that the path to success is marked by the dint of sheer hard work and effort. They will tell you that you just have to put in your efforts and success will surely follow, sooner or later. That statement does hold true but just sheer hard work won’t do. What a lot of us don’t comprehend is that success is also a mind game. With same amount of effort, one person might succeed while another might fail miserably in his endeavour. If we set a few things straight in our minds, the path to success might not be all that excruciating.

The initial and most crucial step to success is to start believing in oneself. This is where a lot of us go awry and hence miss out on a lot of success in life. Almost all of us heavily underestimate our competence and intelligence. We have a predetermined attitude towards things and it is generally not in the affirmative. Quite often, we believe that we can’t achieve or attain something even before we embark on the journey to get it. When you already are asserting to yourself that you won’t be able to do it, you most probably would not. Hence our attitude and outlook towards our goals should the first thing to go for a makeover. Believing that you will be able to achieve something is the first step towards achieving it. So from the next time you embark on a mission, start in the affirmative rather than relying on pessimism. Yeah, it is a tad difficult to implement at first but gradually it becomes a part of our system. We need to understand that negative thoughts and pessimism will not lead us anywhere while it would definitely erode our chances of succeeding. Positive thoughts do not cost a thing but go a long way in aiding us in succeeding in our efforts.

So would just optimism be enough to take us all the way? Nah, one has move a step further. Now that one is moving in the right direction, one has to decide where he or she wants to go. Unless you know where you are going, you will definitely end up elsewhere. Not knowing where we are headed is another big drawback in most of us. Quite a few of us have a fatalistic approach to life and we believe that destiny will lead us to our destined fates. This approach to life is a result of going about life aimlessly because without targets, whatever we achieve is by the grace of god. A fixed quantified target helps us visualize and sail smoothly through the path to success. A vague target generally makes the journey much more arduous.

Another very important ingredient for success in life is creativity. Being creative goes a long way in helping us achieve difficult tasks. Every person deals with a situation in a unique way but generally it is seen that most of us take the oft-treaded path as it is the least risky. Treading on a new path requires a lot more effort and patience as there are no signs to show us the way out but a person who takes old paths can never discover new destinations. Similarly, getting to higher levels of achievement requires us to be extremely creative.

One might ponder why all this is so necessary. Obviously, success has no prerequisites as such and one can succeed without having a fixed goal or without much creativity. The old adage that “Success breeds success and failure breeds failure” still has a lot of relevance today. Once we learn to visualize our goals and start achieving them with a sense of optimism, success will slowly but surely become an integral part of our lives.

August 15, 2008

Bihar : On the Cusp of Change

22nd November, 2005 is a day that people from Bihar around the world would remember for a long time to come. It was on this day that the fifteen year misrule of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) finally came to an end in Bihar. The electoral result came as a shocker to political pundits who had calculated that Laloo would be back with a bang after his successful attempt to dissolve the former State Assembly (the infamous assembly dissolution case involving Buta Singh). Blaming them would not be fair, as nobody thought that a former Union minister not really engaged in state politics would be able to occupy the Chief Minister’s office. The RJD supremo had the caste equation intact and had played all his cards well but as luck would have it, NDA stormed into power.

I still remember the day the NDA government was sworn into power. The election results came had come out in the morning. While returning from school, I saw that Patna was flooded by saffron supporters shouting out the slogan “Naya Bihar, Nitish Kumar." Their excitement was contagious. Despite not being really interested in politics, I was really happy with the outcome of the election as governance in Bihar had reached its nadir and the new government gave its people new hope. A lot of credit for all the positive changes I see in Bihar today goes to the Election Commission for ensuring such a peaceful and fair election.

The elections is 2005 was a story in itself. The Election Commission left no stone unturned in making the huge democratic process a grand success. In the round up to the elections, in a special drive of the state police (under the President’s Rule), about 26,000 people against whom the police had issued non bailable warrants were arrested. About 90,000 police personnel including 72,000 men and officers of the 450 Central Paramilitary Forces were entrusted with the duty of conducting free and fair elections. Armed with shoot at sight orders, they discharged their duties with élan. Not a single election booth was left unguarded. As if this were not enough, the IAF helicopters undertook special aerial surveillance to thwart any untoward incident. The unprecedented security cover gave the state a war zone look but resulted in thousands of people lining up for exercising their fundamental right for the first time.

Three years down the line, I think the paramount effort put in by the Election Commission has not gone waste. Today the state, which is usually seen lagging in all developmental index and parameters, is getting back on track to economic progress and prosperity. The first change that the new government brought in place was instilling a sense of security amongst its people. Before this government took over, anarchy and lawlessness prevailed throughout the state. Not a day passed without some one getting kidnapped or some businessman getting an extortion threat. People almost stopped flaunting any items of wealth for inviting the wrath of extortionists. The fear etched in the minds of the people even translated into declining sales and footfalls across leading stores. Streets were almost deserted by 9 pm and few wanted to venture out at night. The last few years under the RJD rule, the state saw hordes of businessman, traders and industrialists migrating out of the state. Lots of business houses and industries shut down and the economy was almost in shambles. The officials under the former government were helpless as most of the criminal activities had the backing of the ruling party. Every time some policemen or administrator registered a case against a criminal, he would get a phone call from the higher ups and he would have to let the criminal go scot free. The politician-criminal nexus was inescapable. This led to a lot of frustration and angst among the officers and lowered their morale.

If you have been to Bihar in the recent past, what you would find in nothing short of a complete turnaround. The fear etched in the minds of the general public has almost disappeared and has made way for what I would call a “feel good factor.” Kidnapping, once rampant here, has almost been stalled due to the freedom given to the police officers under the present regime. Now even at night, shopping complexes, restaurants and theatres are brimming with activity. The once deserted streets now see vehicles jostling for space. Shops are open till late, sales have gone up and restaurants which were on the verge of closure are going in for expansion plans. Even flaunting wealth is no longer considered a taboo.

After instilling a sense of security among its people, the government is striving to develop all sectors of the economy. The public spending has increased manifold. The amount that the present government spent in its development activities in the last three years is more than entire amount spent in the last decade and a half by the previous regime. The average economic growth rate and its GDP have almost doubled. Ministers can now be seen at their offices and their chief talks of development rather than just about caste. New roads and highways are being built in every part of the state. Spending on building roads has gone up from Rs. 50 crores in 2003-04 to Rs. 2200 crores in 2007-08. The crumbing infrastructure is being redeveloped. Buoyed by the recent initiatives of the Government, major banks such as the World Bank, ADB, DFID and JBIC have shown keen interest in the redevelopment of Bihar.

The state is also getting favorable support from the private players and big business houses have shown great interest in promoting investments in Bihar. In recent years, Patna has seen many major business honchos flowing in to identify business opportunities. These include the likes of Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sunil Bharti Mittal and other corporate heads. Investments proposals worth thousands of crores have been cleared by the government. All major brands have ensured their presence in the state capital during the last few years. Many new shopping malls, multiplexes, hotels, retail majors and international restaurant chains are in the process of setting up shop in the state.

Even the education sector, once in shambles, is undergoing a transition. More than two lakh teachers were appointed recently. The drop out rate at the primary level has decreased to half its number few years back. In the last few years many national level institutes were established such as the Chanakya National Law University (CNLU), Changragupta Institute of Management (CIMP), BIT Mesra Patna campus, a National Institute of Technology (NIT), a National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and finally an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Patna. The process of setting up the Nalanda International University is also being expedited. Once completed, it is slated to attract global scholars for postgraduate and undergraduate academic pursuits in subjects such as Buddhism, philosophy and religion.

Although these institutes have just been setup, it will go a long way in giving a fillip to the academic environment of the state. Establishment of such colleges would also lead to sprouting of private colleges and will increase opportunity for higher studies in the state. More importantly, it will help Bihar immensely in its image makeover. When students from all over India come and study in Bihar, their impression of Bihar would certainly change and that would help improve the general perception of the state. I believe that people’s perception of Bihar has to change first to facilitate its rapid development. It will also help stop the exodus of Bihari students to other states for higher education. You will be startled to find out that until recently, every student with reasonable means took admission in a college outside the state due to dearth of any decent college within Bihar. That explains the huge number of students from Bihar in engineering colleges across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharastra. Bihar is losing hundreds of crores annually due to the annual migration of students for under graduate and post graduate studies.

Though Bihar is finally back on track, there is still a long way to go. Fifteen years of chaos and mismanagement cannot be undone overnight. Illiteracy and poverty are quite prevalent. The power generated in the state is not even a tenth of what it requires and hence power cuts are rampant. Floods are a recurring problem and the state has a huge debt riding its back. Only a fraction of the investment proposals have translated into industries being setup on the ground. Caste still dictates the terms in politics of Bihar. Though the man at the helm has a clean image, a lot of the ministers are more inclined towards politics rather than development. The huge task in front of administrators and rulers of Bihar would only be over when every person with roots in Bihar would proudly flaunt his origin and its people would venture out of their state only by choice and not by force. I’m eagerly waiting for that day.

July 25, 2008

The Kasauli Trip

It had been over a month into Practice School when things started to get slightly monotonous. Everyday had been the same schedule of traveling about an hour to and from Dwarka to Indraprastha and over that having absolutely no work at the training center. (Most of the journey was on the Delhi Metro, which in a lot of ways has changed the way Delhites commute. Had it not been for the Metro, it would have taken me more than double this time and exertion to get to my destination.) The only part of the day that I really looked forward to was the time we (trainees, were we?) spent at Connaught Place, which incidentally was just a few minutes away from Indraprastha.

It was to shrug off some of this monotony and to escape the hustle bustle of Delhi that I convinced my parents to plan a weekend getaway. After lengthy deliberations, we zeroed in upon Kasauli in Himachal. Kasauli is a hill station situated on the Lower Shivalik Range, about an hour's drive from Shimla. We preferred Kasauli over Shimla as it has lost much of its old soothing charm due to unplanned construction all over the town. In the wee hours of the following Sunday, we finally boarded the Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi Express. The glistening exteriors of the new LHB German-design coaches matched with comfortable interiors and the wide blinds-fitted glass panes on the sides gave the train a very modern look. Even the generally languishing Railway Police Force personnel on board surprised us by checking the entire luggage.

The All-New Shatabdi Express

The journey was quite comfortable and smooth and since we were in a group of about 10 people, time flew past. Winding through historically significant places such as Panipat and Kurukshetra, our train finally chugged into the Kalka station by noon. After alighting at the station, we took cabs for Subathu right away. Subathu, the place where we had put up, is a small cantonment town, home to the 14 Gorkha Training Command of the Indian Army.

Within a few minutes into the journey, we were already into the hills. The view of the pristine hills dotted with pine trees was totally breathtaking. Every few minutes, meandering through the hills, as if it were playing hide and seek, we would see narrow gauge tracks of the world renowned Kalka Shimla Rail ( it might be soon be accorded with a World Heritage Status). After a while, we stopped at Sanawar, a town on the Kalka-Shimla highway and had a sumptuous meal at a Punjabi Dhaba on the hills. Thereafter we took a detour from the main highway at Dharmpur towards Subathu. As we were approaching Subathu, we could see the army establishment looked quite like a resort from a distance. The place was far more gorgeous than what we had expected. The town on the one hand boasted of buildings dating back to the 1800s and on the other some buildings gave a modern look. The best part of this sleepy town was that it offered complete serenity and tranquility. The view of the surrounding hills from the cantonment is too beautiful to be penned down.

This quaint little town situated at an altitude 4500 ft also has quite a glorious history behind it. The main building of the erstwhile cantonment named Kennedy House, established in the early eighteen century (1822) is a national heritage building. Sharing the same honor is another building of equal significance known as the Vice Regal, an erstwhile summer retreat for the Governor Generals of British India. The 14 G.T.C. at Subathu, as I learnt later, is the training center for the 1st and the 4th Gorkha Regiments of the Indian Army. It is the only training command which is located at the place of birth of the Regiment. The Gorkha regiment, raised by the British Indian Army, way back in 1815 is one of the oldest in the country. It was quite surprising to find out that 40% of the posts in the Gorkha Regiment are reserved for citizens of Nepal ( Gorkhas have a considerable presence in Nepal).

The view of the surrounding hills from Subathu

In the evening, we took a stroll around the cantonment area. There are two popular trails in the town. One of them, called the Cheel Chakkar offered breathtaking views of the Kasauli and Shimla Hills. We watched the sun go down at the Sunset Point, another spot on the trail.

The next day we were off to Kasauli. The journey uphill from Subathu to Kasauli was quite exhausting. By the time, we reached Kasauli; we did not have the spirit for more adventure. So we just managed to touch Manki Point, the highest point at Kasauli, from where one can see the plains of Chandigarh as well as the Sutlej River. This hilltop is also the base for an Air Force Radar Station. On the way down, we took a stroll through the Upper and the Lower Mall Roads where the local market is located.

After having lunch on way back, we decided explore the toy train on the Kalka-Shimla route. For this, we then drove down to the nearest station, Dharampur. The station looked more like a small British bungalow than a railway station. As this part of the journey wasn’t on our initial itinerary, we asked the locals at the station about the next train. We just wanted to hop on even for a few minutes to experience the thrill of riding through the charming hills, tunnels and bridges and valleys which one encounters on the way. After enquiring, we found out that the reserved coaches are generally booked months in advance but we could try for the unreserved coaches. Not willing to miss a chance, we got tickets for Sanwara, the nearest station. The ticket cost us three rupees, the amount we pay for platform ticket these days! After waiting about two hours, we finally heard a faint whistle. We rushed to the platform, eager to grab the few vacant seats that we had expected but as luck would have it, we could not get in as there wasn’t even enough space to hop on. That was something that we really missed out upon.

A goods train @ the Dharampur Station

The remaining part of the evening was spent unwinding on the hills at Subathu. Every night at 14 GTC, we would hear the sound of a bagpiper being played at night. We later found out that playing of the bagpiper was an age old tradition that marked the end of day for the jawans and by that time the lights were put off in their barracks.

The next day, we had to catch our train back from Kalka so we didn’t have much time on our hands. We still managed to explore a small stream that day just a few minutes downhill from Subathu. The best part was that it was totally untouched and we had the whole stream to ourselves. The stream was just about knee deep and the flow was ideal. Despite being surrounded by hills on sides and an azure blue stream flowing right next to me, sorrow was slowly beginning to creep in when I realized that it was already time to bid adieu. What cheered me up eventually was the fact that the memories of the wonderful sojourn would be etched in my mind for a long time.

May 29, 2008

Play School I

The Pragati Power Station, New Delhi

It was with great enthusiasm that I boarded the metro from Dwarka towards Indraprasthra on the 22nd morning. It was the first day of our Practice School I (that is the internship we do after the 2nd year). Although it had started raining quite heavily by the time I got down at the I.P. metro station, it failed to dampen my spirits. Few minutes of wading through the waterlogged streets and I was finally at the IPGCL. The sight of some of my PS mates at the gate made me glad. We were not allowed inside by the C.I.S.F. guards as the permission letter was with our instructor who wasn’t there yet. Even his arrival could not ensure our entry as the person who was to accompany us inside had not come yet. It was finally about noon when we finally entered the power house. There was more in store for us even after we entered. The instructor told us that the we would have to wait for a few more minutes as there was no space to accommodate so many of us inside. Finally after wandering for another few minutes, we were finally seated in the “Training Institute,” a room on the 4th floor of the administrative block which had been lying defunct for months. The name gave me some hope that we would get to do something productive here. Here our instructor briefed the official who was accompanying us about our Practice School system. The official was taken by surprise when our instructor showed him a copy of the handout. He had wrongly inferred that the evaluative components were to be taken by the officials of the corporation and hence he was totally freaked out (He said it outright that all this wouldn’t be possible here). After some more deliberations, he summed up the conversation by an important revelation “After all, this is a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) so don’t expect to get much out of it.” This statement gave me a rough indication of what was in store for us for the next seven weeks. Thereafter, he gave us a brief description of the organization. He told us that there were two power generating companies namely the Indraprastha Power Generation Corporation Limited (IPGCL) and the Pragati Power Corporation Limited (PPCL). These companies had four power plants under them. We were given an option to choose where we wanted to work. All of us unanimously chose PPCL as we were apprised of the fact that it was the most modern plant among the four.

Our next stoppage was the Pragati Power Station. The C.I.S.F. guards were here to bug us again as we did not possess valid passes. Getting passes made was the first thing we did after entering the administrative block. Even this task wasn’t as simple as we thought it would be and took us hours. For this, an official memo was created first which required the authorization of five different officials before it could make its way to the Assistant Commandant, CISF. It is due to such useless laws and regulation that the pace of execution of work in the government sector is so slow. After completing these formalities, we were divided into groups according to our branches. An official took us to our reporting officer, the Assistant Manager (Civil). We had quite an amusing interaction with him, on subjects as varied as coaching for engineering entrances to the new 1500 MW power project coming up at Bawana(don’t ask me where that is). Gradually through the conversation, we could decipher that there was almost no work for us here. He told us that there isn’t any ongoing construction work in the power house except for a small fire station and some regular maintenance work. He was quite amused at the fact that we were doing our internship here at IPGCL rather than at some top notch real estate firm (He was unaware of the fact that it was our institute that allotted our PS centers). After a few more minutes, he called in his secretary and told him to show us our cubicle. That is where I have been whiling away afternoons ever since! I forgot to mention the most important benefit of having your PS station at a government or a quasi-government organization : the flexible time schedules. People (that includes us now) start to fill in by about 11: 30 am and within an hour, it is time for lunch (I am still in a fix about when it ends, even people around are not quite sure !) and by the time you feel like working, the clock strikes five. What more could you ask for?