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R2Iyyo: Bin Gal U Ruined

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2011 by Glorfindel

And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Ted Stevens was prescient. Only those who have been deprived of the Internets for a week can appreciate how impossible life is without this intravenous drip of information. I can live without dining tables, televisions, microwaves, sofas and even my wife and kids. But give me Wi(red)Fi or give me death. The whole process of constructing the web at home is exactly like traversing a series of tubes. Never before have I had to call person after person, each claiming allegiance to AirTel, in order to (a) determine if the neighbourhood had a valid connection, (b) arrange a seemingly clandestine appointment to sign up for a plan AND ensure that another appointment would kinda-sorta be made by hurried, muffled telephone calls in the near future, (c) coordinate with technicians to finally secure the connection and forcing oneself to maintain dignity after it was established instead of breaking out into song and chasing them around trees laced with canine pee. So there you have it, endless tubes with an enormous amount of material stuffed into them separate man from beast. Ted Stevens, a posthumous Muad’Dib. The point is basically this: Stewart/Colbert have re-entered my life and the world looks like Meg Ryan’s Sleepless-in-Seattle face once again.

Which brings me to the cause of many a sleepless night in my own recent past. Even before shifting to Blore, I had nightmares about searching for apartments in this totally strange place. Boston and Boulder weren’t even in the same league, since I spent a few hours in each, saw 4 flats, settled on one and jetted out in style the next morning. Case closed. The same task grew more daunting every day in Blore what with rental opportunities petering out in the middle of the month and owners having strange fetishes about not leasing to bachelors. That was the first question that both brokers and owners fired my way: Sir, are you a family man or are you single? Singleness spells doom. Apparently, bachelors are stereotyped as party animals and are strangely addicted to having their friends move in with them after signing the lease. I was targeting this joint called AECS Layout, since it was ideally placed in terms of access to work and shopping facilities. However, it was also filled with filled apartments and landlords who had to be convinced and cajoled that this bachelor was not scum, did not drink/smoke, was a veggie, would have his mother visit him frequently and would not populate his rooms with terror babies just waiting to take over the country in the immediate future, give or take 25 years. The most controversial question was this: Do you plan on getting married soon? The cheesiest answer was this: I just started my job and would like to devote my life to it before making such [ill-fated] decisions. But one thing is for sure: I would have been lost without a broker, and it’s definitely recommended to play the field with them too. Committing to one might mean missing out on other juicy bites, since they seem to have location-specific intel. Plus, they know their way around the gullies and mohallas a hell of a lot better than newbies.

No one wants a completely empty apartment. Space has to be occupied by the flotsam of modern life, which ultimately has to be ordered off the shelf from the nearest mall. This leads to logistical issues of the type mentioned in the beginning and the fact that the world sees strange men with large packages entering the flat at odd hours, performing arcane services and leaving with slightly bulging wallets. After a week of such questionable activities, only a measly gas cylinder is required to complete me kitchen, Matey. Fortunately, the owner – old gentleman who lives above and therefore has a ring-side view of the occurrences below – has accepted my choice of lifestyle for now and will hopefully not spring a bridal exhibition on someone who is currently satiated with structures of all shapes, sizes, desired qualities and prices.

R2Iyyo: Be Knighted or Be Damed

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 by Glorfindel

Second installment of this potentially limitless series. I’m in the office on New Year’s Saturday for one reason alone: to avail of the net connection read papers. Since I’ve been staring at them all day and am now feeling the distinct manifestations of high jinks in the larynx (the layman’s “sore throat”), the need to blog assumes precedence despite the fact that I’m probably flouting a million rules by doing so. Nevertheless, I’ve seen folks surreptitiously glancing at ESPN CricInfo to follow some game called “Cricket” (seems to be really popular with the locals) so I have leverage in case of capture.

The last post dealt with the jump through hyperspace and the next will involve the dicey game of apartment hunting – a classic predator-prey situation where the roles are pretty much guessable. This little segue was inspired by all the salutations that I’ve been receiving from strangers which highlight my age and social standing (!) like no other. The “Sir” is quite ubiquitous, especially when doormen let you through with “Good morning Sir!” or janitors greet you with “Happy New Year Sir!” or women holler “Arrest this man Sir!” and “Sirves you right, you lewd jackass!” etc. etc. I’ve been hailed as such on certain occasions in the States but it never felt so genuine. So, to imbibe these good manners, I’ve taken to reciprocating the sentiment. Now there are “Sirs” flying all over the place in my immediate vicinity – the genesis of a truly classless and anonymous microsociety.

While the “Sir” is marginally tolerable, “Uncle” is downright jarring. This was from a kid in an apartment complex where I was listlessly waiting for a flat to be exhibited. “Uncle, this one is number 101,” was politely phrased and helpful information but mentally scarring. This tot had in all likelihood escaped the Ninny Nineties when something happened somewhere to someone. Remember that/those/then? Awesome stuff. Anyway, the point is that I’m apparently on my deathbed and my murky past is beginning to haunt me in hot flashes. I wasn’t kidding about the whole hyperspace-jump affair.

Oh, and the Ph.D. is meaningless. You’re either in a sea of similarly schooled fish or among people who don’t give a hoot. Case in point, no one gets up for you in local buses or allows you to travel free of charge in return for the obvious benefit to society that you represent. Mini-shorted women on Brigade (yes, at least 2 glimpses caught to date…India shinning) don’t swoon over you and gloriously ditch the slabs of beef in their company. 6 years of being cryogenically frozen and you emerge with the street being smarter than you. Existential angst, check.

R2Iyyo: 110*

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 by Glorfindel

I am depressed enough with the apartment hunt (more on that later) to start cataloging possibly the most dramatic alteration in my schedule. There are numerous blogs in the sphere that talk about the travails of the Newly-Returned Indian and his/her gradual/painful re-assimilation into the melting pot that is our naadu. But I am confident that you will not find one this erudite and so enjoyably legible. The experience starts in O’Hare’s Terminal 5, a Little India just waiting patiently (!) to board AI 126 for a 13.5-hour trip across Greenland, Scandinavia (whose lilting music reached the heavens too), Russia (where the winds of Putin’s wrath buffeted us for quite  a bit), Uzbek/Tajik/Afghan/Pakistan and finally Delhi where a grand total of 3 security check points were open to process a million weary and irascible passengers. Nothing tastes better than home-grown frugality. Actually, one thing did: a casual “Kuch paise do na, Sir” from the guard at the Hyd airport after taking my customs voucher. Any more courtesy on his part and I would have willingly parted with the 2 Amrikan dollars in my wallet. Do I hear an “India Sinning”?

Highly recommended activities even if you’re allowed just a couple of days at home before entering the belly of the MNC beast: get a prepaid cellphone (yes, I approve this ad and I assume that you lot are slightly savvier than self re sim-cards et al.), open a bank account although it will take 7 working days to get it running (just pray that no *jayanthi or *Day intrudes into your plans), and complete the company-mandated medical test. The latter was especially entertaining what with my very first ECG, HIV test (negative so Melinda, Lateesha and Rajasundaralechhmi, you can rest easy) and a thorough physical. Oh, not to mention the acclimatisation to road-crossing (a supreme challenge on RB Rd. in Hyd where traffic extends into the 3rd dimension), the general lack of sidewalks, the utter lack of Yield-to-the-Pedestrian-ness, and the tantalising omnipresence of swirling dust. Say what you may about the curmudgeonly NRI who curses the state of affairs during his/her judgmental vacation, it doesn’t take long to morph into one. Next stop, the city where my plunge into depression and heavy metal started circa 2004…and this time, it ain’t no measly 5-month stay.

*Biblical connection – pliss to decipher and report

The PostGraduate

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2010 by Glorfindel

Memoirs contiue, Tony Judt style. Thought I’d pen some words on the utility of a postdoc. This is obviously a highly subjective sentiment, since I was chided by some for pursuing one. It certainly isn’t something that should be attempted in lieu of a real job a la grad school. The typical progression is grad → ≥ 1 postdoc depending on the field → academia. I have and have never had the remotest intention of becoming a professor due to the inability of setting exam problems, an acute phobia of grading after a rather heavy TA assignment in 2007, and most of all, incomprehensible diction (I envy the character who plays me in Fellow Blogger’s skit). Anyway, despite being sartorially apt – tweed coat with elbow-patches etc. – for a faculty position, I chose the postdoc route. Why?

A postdoc is a 2nd PhD compressed into half the time taken for the first with no diploma as an incentive to boot. Ultimately, the desire to increase a paltry skill set and a grace period during which the next few steps in the career search would be hazily plotted out served as USPs. Grad research was definitely instructive but sorely needed the postdoc for fine-tuning. It helps even more to completely switch fields simply from the perspective of exploring strange territory, learning new modes of thought and encountering problems of varying natures. As with grad school, an ensemble average of the postdoc had an extremely positive value especially because of – and I’ve made this clear in a past post – the group I had joined. Group meetings took on an entirely different hue from what I was used to and were quite entertaining. The advisor-advisee relationship assumes an extra dimension, since the two of you are theoretically (or should I say diploma-tically) equally qualified although reality begs (or imperiously demands) to differ. You are now expected to handle multiple projects while at the same time performing social service as a role model for lower beings. Yes, I have generously clubbed grads & undergrads in the same category; boundaries blur with age and increased cerebral content.

It was heartening to note that industrial R&D joints don’t look askance at postdocs. Granted in Chem E, more than 1 postdoc sounds highly suspicious, since it reeks of the person not being competent enough to get a job. Questions about why you opted for one and why you are not taking the academic path might arise but the relevant answers should have been constructed by this point. Throw in corporate jargon for good measure: enhanced cognitive and behavioural skills (ECBS), magnified analytical prowess (MAP) etc. Demonstrate that students of science are just as adept at concocting racy acronyms and you’ll be ushered in as the next project manager.

Goodbye, bald one

Posted in Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 by thetobacconist

Thee* R2I Manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 by Glorfindel

Inspired by Moral Science classes in high school, I would like to perform an altruistic deed for society, especially for those people who are considering a 1-way trip to the Motherland in search of that elusive, mythical Eastern peace. The following points have been drawn from my own experience in gearing up for the impending jump through hyperspace. It is up to the reader to take them seriously but let it be known that he/she WILL DIE if he/she doesn’t adhere to the principles devoutly.

1. Financial Engineering: heads the list because I spent quite a bit of time today shuffling bank accounts and ensuring uninterrupted access to my considerable fortune from B’lore. Thank <insert random entity here> for “Chat Specialists” and e-mail requests, else the more reticent and telepho(no)bic among us would never get a chance to accomplish anything. It’s during stressful moments like these that one appreciates the value of Call/Chat Centres. Of course, the brief flashes of gratitude expressed just about compensate for the amount of flak later directed towards them so things are karmically balanced. Thank <same or different random entity> for wire transfers. I have no clue how they work but 10 years of technical training doesn’t stop me from advancing a supremely analytical guess: Bank A’s HQ is in the Netherlands, which we shall define as the “source”. The terminus or “destination” is an account in Bank B. When the wire is initiated, paper euros start funelling through a special channel that traverses the depth of the Atlantic. I’m assuming that some sort of suction device at the destination is responsible for the driving force. The sheer length of the cable leads to a pressure drop – hence gradually diminishing suction – which is why the transaction takes 2 business days. Once the euros cross the American shore, a Converter transforms them into dollars and that is how they reach the desired account. And then comes the challenge of slowly and quietly infusing the Indian economy with the said currency but that is a tale better left for later. The point I’d like to make here is that profligacy in bank accounts and credit cards might fetch memberships in elite clubs in the short term but will turn out to be migraine-generators at the most inopportune moments.

2. Social Engineering: People can’t help but deduce that highly educated, dashing eligible bachelors will return home only to be greeted with a red carpet flanked by the choicest potential brides that Mother India has to offer. For some reason, similar yet infinitely diluted assumptions have been fired my way by individuals who should know better – professors. GM stands for “General Motors” folks, not “Getting Married” or even “General Martyrs”. PhDs should return simply to raise the quality of science and intellectualism in India and leave this shaadi-waadi-ka-jhanjhat to Marital Business Administrators. Oh, it is also incumbent upon us to be humble. This blueprint of life wherein one secures a job and “settles down” with real estate, automobiles, wives and kids in tow must be avoided. There is only one routine that matters in life: arise, awake, head to work, return, ad infinitum. So tell all those uncles, aunties and ancillary industries at home to shove off your case and desist from forging unwanted connections. More interference from them directly translates into fewer gifts from phoren. Speaking of which, I will always be grateful for a mother whose only demand is that I bring home some nuts, aluminium foil and chocolate chips. Being a miserly rascal has its advantages.

3. Aeronautical Engineering: As the scions of Bharat’s dynasty, we are fortunate enough to be Air to India. Be Indian, fly Indian just so that you may arrive in style according to the rigorous precepts of IST. No other airline is even remotely qualified to serve you shuddh Bharatiya khaana. We don’t need Lufthansic Caucasians or Singaporean Hot-‘n-tauts (the genetically manufactured ethnicity of Singapore Airlines’ stewardesses) to serve us beverages or announce safety procedures. Sari-clad Valkyries are what we deserve and, indeed, what the price of the flight ticket bestows on the lucky passengers. For the hopelessly airsick, there is literally an ocean of alternative means of transportation. Your future employer may reimburse costs incurred in shipping cargo such as furniture or your favourite American-conceived-but-Chinese-made commode. Simply pack yourself up in the shipping crate and set sail through waters and maritime realms charted. It’s quite possible that confinement in a sealed container might prevent you from drinking in the sights of the sea but will you allow your imagination to be trammelled by mere walls, total darkness and exponentially growing claustrophobia, not to mention 100% humidity? I think not. At the very least, you’ll have your priceless commode for company.

That was just the preamble to a successful move back to the Mothership. Greater challenges lie ahead in terms of finding accommodation that’s slightly bigger than a cardboard box on the pavement, navigating R. Humanity with all its rapids and cataracts, and finally, not drawing attention to oneself as a newly-returned ex-NRI (or (NRI)’ in more technical language) because it’s evident where such flagrant behaviour will lead – higher autorickshaw charges. Stay tuned as this guinea pig willingly submits himself to the frisk of a lifetime.

* Ye Olde English for “You betcha** arse this is authoritative!”

** Example of a Palindrone

Countdown to Extinction

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2010 by Glorfindel

And so begins my last week in these United States – a culmination of 6 years of Grad & Advanced Grad School. 15 months ago, I expressed a good deal of grief on leaving Cambridge, and 2 years before that, Fellow Blogger mourned my exit from Cornland (caution: link highly sentimental). The essential goodbyes have been said, extraneous apparel have been dumped in the nearest recycling bin, the Last Lunches have been cooked, and most heartbreaking of all, the lease has been broken.

The last 3 years have taught me a valuable lesson, or rather, reinforced it: nostalgia is one hell of a vindictive bitch. No matter how much I crib and whine about life in a town/lab (one being interchangeable with the other) or about the general suckiness of the past present, the present past always attains a sunsettish glow in hindsight. Gone are the travails and frustrating troughs of grad school; vanished are the uncertainties of the postdoc; smoothed are the ubiquitous fluctuations of life with a mean field approximation. Although the immediate future encompasses everything that I have worked for since birth, inertia and the comfortable rut of the routine seductively beckon like sirens.

Ironically enough, the job I’m about to leave is intricately tied up with a boss I hate to desert. 2 years ago, I congratulated her on securing this professorship little realising that I would end up working for her. My gut told me that we would hit it off and that the experience would be enjoyable. Score oesophagus. Why? Very few people share my at-times morbid sense of humour or perennial foreboding of doom laced with dollops of pessimism. She is now one of the few females whom I’m quite fond of apart from A., A., A., and shall we say M. and E. too. Note to the doubt-ridden: yes, these people exist and no, not all of them are my mom and aunt. Through A., the rigours of Young Facultydom have revealed themselves to me in glorious technicolour, Hi-Def and Dolby-Supported Stereo, which makes me feel ridiculously guilty for all the complaints I had against my old advisor. With her help, I was able to revolutionise my PPT skills and morph from a sleep-inducing, stage-fearing geek into a veritable dynamo albeit with dying batteries. She exposed the beauty in extracurricular activities such as trekking, spelunking, rapelling and white-water rafting. In all fairness, the latter sentence was utter bullshit. Anyway, every meeting of late has been punctuated with a profound sense of sadness on my part. We start talking about slides and end up cataloging the end of days. I’m pretty much of a douchebag to most folks but in this one circumstance, I genuinely wish her well and am quite depressed that I won’t get to see her win the Nobel in Chemical Engineering Physics.