Jul 25, 2011

The White Rat

Preamble: But how long can they allow this to happen? It has to stop right? Well, it did stop, but only after one more year was passed.

Her name is Sumathi. I liked her the first time I saw her.

During the summer holidays, a drift between the principal and a teacher forced the teacher to quit, who later started a school on her own. Being very close to the teacher, my mom decided to put me in the new school to continue with my studies, which few of my batch mates too joined along with me.

It was in that new school that Sumathi joined as a teacher.

It happened 25 years ago! It is now difficult for me to recall the reasons why I liked her, after all these years! But I liked her so much the first time I saw her, draped in a Saree, entering the upper kinder garden class (UKG) to which I recently got promoted after writing the annual exam sitting on my mom's lap.

She must have heard my stories from the new headmistress, or other teachers who came from my previous school, for the first day she came to my class, she made me to sit next to her and paid special attention to me. Soon, as if she was holding a magic wand, I started writing numbers, alphabet and words sitting next to her, ahead of everyone else.

Her special liking towards me earned a nick 'as fast as a rat', which later became 'the white rat', thanks to my milky white complexion that she liked (I am not trying to sound racial here!).

No wonder, she soon became the second person whom I wrote or recited the rhymes to. And she, in turn, never failed to praise me for my achievements, which made me to feel proud and instilled confidence in me, the necessary ingredient to overcome the fear I had of my taller and stronger classmates.

At last, the principal was so pleased to hear that the kid who once refused to write to any teachers, started to read/write in the class room, along with his batch mates.

In one life that we live, there are people who help us and later expects a favor in return. Some will help us because they are friends, while others help us because they are family/relatives. But there are few who comes in our life when we most wanted them to, help us in evolving in to a better person, and leave without a trace when their job is done.

Sumathi miss is one such person.

Not many of us will remember the troubles we had made during those innocent days, which, in addition to their other family issues, always handled it in the best of our interest.

It is hard to believe that the person who instilled confidence in me, helped me to overcome the shyness I had with my taller and stronger fellow mates, nurtured my curiosity and answered my questions, handled all the troubles I had made in those days, is no more in this world.

Dear Sumathi miss, this white rat will always remember you, for you are the reason behind "I am what I am".

Jul 23, 2011

Prof. Lakshmi Varahan

They say "First impression is the best".If I were to go with their sayings, the DAR Program would not have been meaningful at all for me!

When Prof. Varahan derived the expression for evaluating an optimum value of a function with arguments that used mathematical jargons, I thought to myself "Why don't mathematicians learn Occam's razor?"

However, it was after his first lecture that I realize how elegant the mathematics becomes when the topics are taught in mathematical language! It is for no simple reason they say "Mathematicians are smart people. They reduce complicated equations by replacing them with symbols".

I changed my mind during his second lecture to such an extent that I looked forward for his sessions. Not only to learn mathematics, but also for his way of teaching.

Prof. Lakshmi Varahan has a knack of keeping the class alive and engaged with his high energetic and dynamic method of teaching, asking "are you with me guys?", "all of you get an 'Aha!' here?", and with proverbial quotes suitable to the situation such as the Chinese proverb:
you hear, you forget
you read, you remember
you do, you understand
And he wanted us to do each and every step by ourselves to understand how the method works. If, for time constraint, we were not able to do it during the lecture hours, he will say "It's a homework problem for you guys!".

Though he gave us only five lectures, and conducted about three tutorial sections, he covered almost all the topics from his book "Dynamic Data Assimilation", and cleared all our doubts during coffee/lunch breaks.

Soon, he became the most sought after to converse with, during and after the sessions. At one point, I even bunked a day's sessions when I came to know that Prof. Varahan is not having any sessions on that day! (Me and my friend went to Vishveshwarya museum on that day. The museum is like a Mecca or Amarnath yatra for Mechanical Engineers. More on this later).

Born in India, Prof. Varahan did his Masters and Ph.D at Indian Institute of Science and worked at Indian Institute of Technology Madras before leaving to abroad for a career in computer science. It is my fortunate privilege to have met him personally during this program and got enlightened in one of the most important and advanced topics in which the whole world is working on.

Jul 15, 2011

A trip to Bangalore Palace

The lecture hall of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is packed full with audience who had come from various organizations and institutes across India to participate in the Data Assimilation Research Program. The audience has flavors; most of them were scientists graduated with physics or mathematics as their majors, while engineering was confined to a minority.

The language spoken during the DAR Program was mostly mathematics, whose slang version is what I understand and communicate. A professor from Okhlahoma University, who was a Comp Sci Engineer and later changed his area of interest to Mathematics, was giving a lecture on Least Square Errors technique.

"Let us minimize alpha/2 times the second norm of the vector X, where X is a vector in R^n, subject to the constraint Z = HX, where Z is the observations in R^m, H is the model matrix in R^(mxn)", he wrote the problem statement on the smart board. I started observing at other participant's reaction, and was depressed to see that majority of them understood what he was talking about!

Not loosing my hope, I translated phrase by phrase in to slang version, which is called as 'engineering mathematical language' as

"Minimize the surface area exposed to the atmosphere to reduce the heat transfer loss, subject to a volume constraint given by V = pi times square of radius times length of the pipe". I proceeded to translate and understand most of the jargons while at the same time wondering if Mathematicians have heard about the Occum's razor.

"Did you understand anything?", Chai asked during the coffee break that followed the session.

"Not much. But if you can somehow translate it in to our engineering language, perhaps you will get some progress", I replied.

"Ya dude, engineers rocks! We take up the complicated things stated by mathematicians, and present it to the layman", Vish, another engineer, added.

"I say, let us bunk the afternoon sessions today and go some place. We are new to Bangalore and so there are plenty of places to see around", said Chai.

"Guess what makes you to feel you are at home?" I asked the group, and added "Go to a new place and have a GPS". Saying this, I took my Galaxy Pop, opened up the Google map to check out nearby places to see.

"Have you been to Bangalore palace? GMaps says its near to IISc. We will catch a local bus from TIFR campus to Mekhri circle, and the palace is at walkable distance from there", I poured the information.

While others were not ready to give up their fight so early, Chai and myself left the campus to board a bus to Mekhri circle. We walked to the Yelahanka bus stand, had tea on the way, enquired the driver of the first bus which was about to leave the station, boarded in and occupied our seats. I opened up the Google Maps to track the route and know where to get down.

After about 45 minutes of travel, the bus dropped us at Mekhri circle from where I changed my GMaps settings to search for walk directions to the Bangalore palace. We went further from the Mekhri circle bus stop, took the left at Jaymahal road and walked along the military area. After about 15 minutes of walk, we found some shops nearby.

"Let us have a cup of tea and enquire the shop owner about the palace", said Chai.

"Bangalore palace? Idhe palace groundsu", the shop owner said pointing out in the opposite direction, where all we could see is a play ground and a fun park.

"Perhaps they have a local name for the palace which we did not know! GMaps says we will have to walk for one more km in the same direction", I reaffirmed Chai after looking at the GMaps.

"Let us ask the traffic police standing near that signal", said he.

"You want to go to club?", the traffic constable enquired with a gleam in his eyes.

"No sir, we are new to Bangalore. We heard there is a palace here. We just want to go there" explained Chai.

"I think its called as wodayar palace", I added a piece of info after googling for Bangalore palace meanwhile.

"There is no palace here. This is palace ground. Bangalore palace might have existed long ago, but now this is all that is left" the traffic constable said pointing in the opposite direction to the same open playground. "People come here, go to club and booze. You want to go there?", he asked us again.

"No sir, we are not interested in boozing", we said.

Understanding that our enquiry is genuine, he said "Palace are in Mysore. In Bangalore, there is no palace".

With both of us not in the mood to disappoint ourselves, we enquired bus route to the nearest landmark, took bus to Indian Express stop, walked to Cubbon park, spent about couple of hours enjoying the woods and the sparrows in the mild showery weather, had a cup of coffee at Indian Coffee House, looked at Chinnaswamy stadium from outside, took another bus from Vidhana Soudha to Mekhri circle and walked our way back to Kaveri.

Jul 7, 2011

A memorable trip to Winnie's house

"TIFR's bangalore campus? It is located in Yelahanka, very close to my house in Bangalore", said Winnie, my scholar friend when I told him about the DAR Program.

"I will probably come to your house then", I said casually, without giving a thought. Will I go to his house? Will I at least meet him at Bangalore? Or is there a plan B that I might opt for? Where does my other friends, Chan and Chai, who got selected in the program want to go? Do they have a plan and want me to join with them?" I asked these questions to myself until we all left from Chennai.

Once we got in to the train, I chipped in the idea to Chan and Chai, "guys, if you do not have a plan for Sunday, we will go to his house", I said. "He says its not far from Yelahanka, and he will pick us from our place in his car, and drop us back in the evening", I added. Apparently, nobody was having any plans and so I then thought that we kinda have a mutual consensus about the plan.

Upon our arrival at Bangalore, when Chai got separated to stay with his friend in one of the hostels at IISc, Chan and myself found that we were not accommodated at TIFR and were asked to go back to IISc, I thought things were not working according to our plan. So I decided to rang Winnie at his residence and tell him that we have no option, but to cancel our plan of visiting him at his house.

After about 7 or 8 rings, his father answered the call. "Uncle, this is Jam. Is Winnie there?", I asked him. "Oh yeah! He is here! How are you? I am hoping to meet you guys today", he asked with a smile in his voice. "We are fine Uncle", I said, without committing myself on the meeting part. "Give me a minute, I will call him", he said. After few minutes, I got my friend's sleepy voice on line saying "Hello!", to which I heard myself saying, "hey Winnie, we were put up in IISc, and not in the Yelahanka campus. So pick us up at 11AM from IISc".

We reached our hostel, refreshed, had light brunch at Nesara and waited for our friend to pick us up. Around noon, Winnie came with his bro who drove the car. We had a randezvous at the main gate, got in to his car and left for his house. On the way, he showed us the Ramiah's institutions, the airport road (also known as the Bellary Road), the Hebbal fly over where the airport road crosses the outer ring road, the border of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) campus, before we finally reached his house at the right time for lunch.

Me, Chan and Winnie at Winnie's residence

After lunch, we spent our time talking to each other, watching some sops in TV, and in the evening, we walked around his house. He took us to a couple of meditation centres, an awesome place where you will find peace if you just sit, close your eyes and observe silence for a few minutes. We then went to the open terrace on the top floor of his house, had a chat, observed sunset, took some photographs of the dynamic Bangalore sky.

When Nadal lost two sets in the slam we were having homemade Chapathi prepared by his mom for dinner (it was awesome!), and we left from his house just after dark, praying that Nadal should win the slam, all the way.

Jul 6, 2011

An official trip to Bangalore

"We are happy to inform you that you have been registered as a participant in the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) program on Data Assimilation Research Program (DARP)", reads the message from the program coordinator to me. The confirmation email was received about a month ago, and since it was jointly organized by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), me and two of my friends who were also selected for the program booked our railway tickets to Bangalore as soon as we got the mails.

We planned to catch the Saturday night train to Bangalore to reach there by Sunday morning and spend the rest of the day meeting and conversing with other participants/friends. Until 9pm on Saturday, every thing went fine. As if to remind us of the purpose of our visit, it started to rain in Chennai out of the blue, which caused traffic in several city roads and delayed our fast track call taxi which we booked to take us to the Chennai central railway station.

When the call taxi reached our hostels at 10.30pm, we almost believed in the chance of missing the train which was scheduled to depart at 11.15pm! Understanding the gravity of our problem, the taxi driver maneuvered the car in shortest possible route in maximum possible throttle to drop us in central at 11.10pm, enough time to read the platform number, locate the bogie and occupy our berths. Oh, by the way, we were punished for booking the AC tickets by walking all the way down to the end of the station, which ate few more ticking minutes.

We got in to our bogie, secured our baggages, settled down in our seats to find that the train already started moving. The movement of the train from platform number 5 relieved us from tension because we were praying for the train to depart late so that we will have enough time to catch. Now that we were in the train, we do not want God to grant our wish!

Though we were asked for a choice to have a pick up from the railway station, and though we had asked for the same, we got a notification on the day of our departure saying that pick up could not be arranged, which left us to manage our travel plan to reach the venue on our own. We got down at the Bangalore City railway station, took a pre paid taxi, paid a hefty sum of Rs.650 for 15km (the previous night, we paid Rs.200 for same 15km from our hostel to central railway station), used the GPS and Google maps on my Froyo to guide the driver and reached the venue after an hour and a half.

Upon our arrival, we were asked to report at the security section and collect our key to the accommodation. However, when we reached and reported to the present security, we were told that our accommodation has been arranged at IISc campus! When asked why we were not notified about this before, we got a reply that there is no one to collect our key in IISc and so they want us to come to TIFR to collect our key, go back to IISc! And that we did, however, we asked the program organizer to arrange for a cab to carry our baggages.

Jul 2, 2011

Jammy - The Observer

"Raghav pinched  Prabha. She slapped him back. Raghav pinched her again and slapped her as well. She started crying.

Teacher shouted at Ravi for shitting in the class room. Later, she took him somewhere and when they returned after a while, he was not wearing his trousers.

Abi lost her slate, took her friend's instead and argued it was hers. When her mother found the truth, she beats her for telling a lie", sitting under a shady tree in the school playground, little jammy was narrating the day to day's incidents to his mom.

It was a recess then. Kids were playing seesaw and other games while boys were being fed by their parents and were prepared for their next session.

"And what were you doing all the time, my son", asked his mom in reply.

"Observing them", he replied, his eyes gazed at a distance.

There could be two reasons for why I chose to be an observer from a distance, instead of being social from close. I was the youngest of all in my classroom and that made me to see my fellow students as the ones who are bigger and stronger than me!

The other reason which I think could be closer to truth is my wild card entry to my L.K.G. My teachers were so confident that I will learn everything from my mom's lap instead of from the class room and for that reason, they left me to be on my own.

Perhaps, I am the only student from my school to have written my annual examination from home, sitting on my mom's lap!

But how long can they allow this to happen? It has to stop right? Well, it did stop, but only after one more year was passed.