Friday, December 26, 2014

Kurukshetra: A book review

As such, I'm a huge fan of stories. The takeaway of the story Kurukshetra, by Krishna is a political, emotional and social issue, where everyone tries to do the right thing but end up hopelessly compromising the lives of those who trust in them.

The hero of this telling is Govinda and the heroine is Panchali. Govinda is life whereas Panchali signifies death. Govinda is a character I have always struggled to accept. In essence, how can someone so naughty and shrewd be so benign and wise? This is the first book that has appealed to me so much because Govinda here is a very possible and a very lovable person, a person who I might be insanely interested in. Govinda represents what I seek in life so badly and what gives me ultimate bliss - adventure, spontaneity, surprise, wit and wisdom. The unchanging change, the one who does exactly what he wants to change the world for better, a person who takes on the system and who acknowledges his transformations. He may stand for something and then the polar opposite, a person unafraid to change.

And then there is Panchali, the strength and uniqueness of her character is unparalleled. Through the books, her character is chiselled by tough incidents and she becomes darker and emerges more powerful and compelling. And in this story, she decided to let the world tear itself asunder on Kurukshetra to save Govinda. The journey of Panchali is portrayed to influence Govinda to understand that the system is flawed. A system that sat serenely and could not save Panchali is something that deeply unsettled Govinda.

While these are the pivotal characters, the books are a product of immense research and each character is fleshed out so beautifully. It felt like sheer poetry that at one point I had to remind myself that it was prose. Coming to Kurukshetra in particular, the book wastes no time in delving into the war within the first few pages, or at least that's how I felt. Each and every detail of the war was scientific, right from a concussion inducing Bhramastra to explosives. Honestly, I did not recognize that Vasusena was Karna and ostensibly that's my fault as my only knowledge of him was his excessive generosity. On a lighter note, I identified with Uttara the most, an adamant yet blunt person.

In all, it was a story that felt honest and even though it was tragic, it felt so strong. It felt like the final glorious legacy before the total collapse of excessive unnatural order. And it struck a common chord in so many ways.

The story of the system, the liquid nature of good and evil, the butterfly effect, the dangers of riding regardless of fear like Abhimanyu, the fact that a woman is still, in many ways, viewed as a belonging, the conflicting duties of heart and mind like Partha, the helpless feeling of being trapped by insecurities and duties like Syoddhan, the quietness of a few great souls like Shikandin, ah the list is endless, all of these are very relevant today.

Finally, like the in the book, I'd like to end by saying, there is a Govinda in all of us. That ember of inspiration, hope, change and the will to savour life exists in each and every beating heart.

Monday, December 8, 2014

You've got a problem?

I'm at that point in research where anyone and everyone who has an inkling of what research entails is highly curious on which problem am going devote my undivided attention in order to earn my PhD. And in true competitive exam style I give them any one of the following options :

a) stare weakly at them and say am working in AI which is true for 75% of the total scholars in department
b) say I am definitely better off than before
c) quote everyone else's work that I have read and appear to be well-informed
d) change the subject

That is because I feel awed by committing to a single problem for so long. Is it worth the effort? Am I wasting time? What if? What not?

Basically how does one "choose" a problem?

I think a problem is something akin to what Dr. Abdul Kalam said, a dream that isn't what you get when you sleep, but that which doesn't let you sleep. By that definition, several kinds of problems appeal to me - things that have wide applicability, things that require an elegant solution and things which are mysterious and you are curious how they work.

For example, Google was a pervasive solution. The safety pin was an elegant solution. And understanding the phases of the moon such that it fits all the observations is a mind blowing explosion of knowledge.

So yes, I haven't fixated on a problem. I haven't even decided what kind of problem to address. But I know it is one that is going to keep me excited for a long time to come.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I saw a post talking about what all they were thankful for. On a day with varied hues of emotion, I smiled serenely thinking of what all I'm grateful for.

I'm grateful that at this point in my life, I'm at the pinnacle of freedom, both in my job and life. After being surrounded by order and structure, truly now every day is an adventure, I know not what the forthcoming day brings forth. Sometimes small victories, other times abject miseries. Sometimes, leaps and bounds, sometimes a few crawls. It's all in the game! I'm grateful I can pursue all my passions with zeal and no regrets. I'm grateful to be in the cocoon of love from my family. I'm grateful for all the new experiences I've had this year. I'm grateful I finally go to wield a red pen :P I'm grateful I've become stronger and weaker at the same time. I'm grateful that I've finally started discovering who really is Sowmya S Sundaram. I'm grateful to see this world, to love and be loved. I'm grateful that I learnt there are two kinds of people - people who make you and people who break you, and in the end, you'll thank them both. I'm grateful for the beautiful forest I wake up in. I'm grateful for the warmth of friendships. I'm grateful to be able to savour music, dance, art, architecture and poetry.

In all, I'm blessed. Thank you. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014


MS are the initials of Dhoni.
MS are the initials of the great Carnatic singer MS Subbulakshmi.
MS are the initials of my dad.

To me MS means only one thing - Mood Swing :P

It is an open secret that women get mood swings left, right and center and I have read trillions of memes making fun of their illogical nature. But I thought, let me take you onto the other side, how it really feels to have a mood swing.

My father saw great potential in me as a thinker. He was adamant that I approach everything in life in a systematic and logical fashion. Tears and anger were both for weak people, he would say, and he painstakingly worked to remove all traces of such emotions. To give his due, he did succeed. There was a stage when nothing in the world would upset me and even if it did, not a single soul would know.

Until I was a teenager :P

Then came the storm of random tears, screams and bouts of self-pity with no clear logical reason. At the end of them, there would be rest and peace. And permanent embarrassment. Personally, it's not very frequent for me but when it is, it is the weirdest experience ever.

Symptom #1: Feeling either over-talkative or not talkative at all
I suddenly feel I need to talk about vital issues on the planet, like why curly hair is difficult to comb or why Harry Potter is nearly a religion and not just some figment of someone's imagination. Or, the diametric opposite, I want to keep calm and contemplate on the inner meaning of life. Why do I not like chocolate for example?

Symptom #2: My voice changes
Believe it or not, my voice truly changes when I have a mood swing. It becomes very high pitched suitable for both squealing and screaming.

Symptom #3: Tears
Whether I'm hungry, lonely, happy, sad, guilty, jealous, angry, scared, I cry. Irrespective of what emotion I'm feeling. An ant could bite me and make me feel like I'm the biggest loser on the planet.

Symptom #4: Over processing by the neurons
There are no longer seven colours in a rainbow, there are millions. There is a reason for everything yet there are none. There are expectations and yet there are none.

Symptom #5: I enjoy it
Strictly speaking, it is not enjoyment. However it is a slow building process where I repeatedly read things that make me angry for example and slowly build up the flame. To an outsider, it seems as if I enjoy being angry or sad and am increasing it. It is simply a way to escalate the emotion I am feeling to truly let it consume me in the end.

All the while, everything makes absolute perfect sense in some form that the story teller in me is quite proud. So much so that me realizing that I'm in a mood swing is probably how a schizophrenic wakes up to reality.

Once a mood swing is over, I feel extremely sheepish. The lack of logic painfully stabs the rising consciousness. And yet, I can't help but smile because once it is over, I feel like I've experienced emotion in the purest form, quite capable of instigating the poet in me to evoke the aesthetic sense from my most honourable reader.

To conclude, I offer two pieces of advice - to the one in a mood swing and to the one with the one in a mood swing. To the person in mood swing, don't hold back your tears. This is something I learnt the hard way, having been taught that tears are weak. It is a sign that your body wants to rest much like a baby does. And if you are lucky enough to realize you are in the middle of one, sleep or do something that makes you really happy. Happiness is also an emotion that your mood swing would greedily cast its form into. To the person who has realized that their friend is in a mood swing - mood swings are not a problem. I used to think they were a problem to address, they are not. It is simply a natural hormone rush that quite addles the brain. Best things to help your friend - patience, listening, chocolate and maybe some gentle persuasion to rest. The most important thing not to be done is to smirk in your supreme sense of normalcy. I have done that in the past, thinking I am some epitome of calmness until the mood swing bug bit me too and forced me to realize its power. Plus it would tip your friend to the worse, who is already teetering on the verge of  total emotional collapse.

In the end, it is a weird experience and what is life without weird experiences?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Rainy Day

Pellets of water reverberate on the asbestos roof,
on the metallic hood of the air conditioner,
resonating with the lost portion of my heart, aloof
from the remaining world. A sense of sure
misfortune spreads slowly as I lay encumbered
in my room, unable to meet my destiny.
As the forces of nature conspire unfettered
against me, my sadness swells to misery.
Yet a gentle misty breeze gently pats my cheek,
reminding me that this day too shall pass,
for life has everything and today what you seek,
may just be another hop away or alas,
locked away for eternity, in which case,
it truly never was your destiny. In any case,
relax, take a deep breath and smile.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Cosmic Dance and Physics

I was recently reminded of subatomic physics and its parallel with the Hindu philosophy. So, I read the relevant chapter in the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Captra and wanted to share the story. Disclaimer: this is not a religious post. I talk about science and stories, not religion because I believe religion is a personal choice quite unsuited for discussion. Philosophy and spirituality on the other hand are the underlying basis of humanity and quite open for debate. I digress here, what I mean to say is proceed reading for an interesting parallel between the cosmic dance of Nataraja and the sub-atomic particles.

From the dawn of recorded science, all forces in nature have been classified into four types alone. The strongest of these forces are those found within an atom. We have all learnt that an atom has three primary subatomic particles - protons, electrons and neutrons. The nucleus is comprised of protons and neutrons. We also know that like charges repel. The force of repulsion between two like charges is stronger as they come closer. Now imagine what you may have done as a kid, held two repelling magnets together. Imagine you had to wrestle a force much larger as two protons in a nucleus are unimaginably close together in the nucleus! And to top it off, you don't just have two protons in a typical nucleus but much more. The nuclear force holds all these protons that are struggling to release, together. This makes it extremely powerful. This is high energy physics.

Now inside this exciting nucleus where all these interactions are happening, the discussion of matter and anti-matter is inevitable. Thanks to Dan Brown, everyone has heard of anti-matter. It directly follows from the duality of mass and energy, how mass can be converted into energy and vice versa. Antimatter is a form of energy that is massless and may have charge. It is very difficult to visualize it as our notions of mass and charge are vague spherical bodies in our textbooks. Within a nucleus, collisions of particles lead to a cycle of creation and destruction of matter though the overall is stable at a macro view. It is an intricate and orderly chaos.

Indians are very familiar with the cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. The image of the dancing Nataraja is something I was very drawn to. In those yellowing history textbooks about the bronze images created by the Cholas, I saw something of a genius there that lay forgotten. Years later when my interest in dance was renewed, I could not help noticing the beautiful balance of grace and wildness, the masculine and the feminine. The Yin and the Yang.

The image of Nataraja signifies that Shiva is in an eternal cosmic dance to keep the universe in order. Again, chaos for order. In the midst of fire, the high energy and rhythm, the dance resonates with time and space. The drum signifies vibration as the source of all activity and eventually, life. His hands signify both creation and destruction. One of them also reassures us that all will be will in this endless activity as he stands on the head of ignorance. His face is the central point of focus, the detached calm point of equality.

The parallels are staggering. I do not claim that our ancestors discovered the God particle years ago, I believe their senses of science and observation were immaculate. Their reasoning about the world lead them to distil away all distractions and hone in on one simple unchanging truth - change and repetition are the only facts in this world - chaos and order.

We are merely elements of this spectacular dance.

Nataraja gifted by India to CERN

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Top Hacks for the Lazy Person

#1 The bus stalling hack

When you are too lazy to run to the bus that you could catch if you actually took the effort to increase your pace - make eye contact with the driver and frown and huff-and-puff and move your hands really fast and still walk at your normal pace. It works like a charm if used sparingly and run like an idiot.

#2 The skip chores hack

When you are home and all you want to do is see TV and sleep on the couch but you have 27 and a half a dozen chores to complete, yawn and say you're tired in the most convincing manner possible. It does get postponed a few hours, until you finish that Sandra Bullock movie.

#3 The clean your room routine

The trick to being lazy and still living in an inhabitable space lies in one thing - what the eye can't see, the world doesn't know. For example, my hostel room has a cupboard, bed and table. If I have created a pyramid of junk on bed - it shall be displaced to the table when I sleep and then progressively to the cupboard when I wake up. It will be eventually cleared because somewhere in my system my father's strict discipline is still resident.

#4 Getting others to do stuff for you

People think am a nice, helpful person because I'm naturally so. Maybe. But one of the biggest perks of being helpful is getting small favours ;) There you go, I'm not a saint :-P

#5 Doing homework

All lazy people are like this. We are meticulous planners. We have every single day planned for homework/exam. Don't be fooled, that is simply our intelligent excuse to procrastinate actually doing work!

#6 When you need to buy something

Nobody has time to do groceries. Wait till thy neighbour asks "Can I get you anything?" ;)

#7 When you are too lazy to blog
Blog about laziness!!!

Statutory Warning - Being lazy continually is hazardous to health and work. Moderate addiction will require stamina and adrenaline to get work done on time.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Bait 2014

I felt excited to go back to my school on July 18 2014. I was asked to judge two debates as a part of an inter-school debate "The Bait" and I had an awesome time there.

First off, there were many volunteers at school with a prominent T-shirt where they took the charge of the judges. I was taken to the auditorum and I was pleasantly surprised to see my favoutire teacher, Mr. Ravishankar there. He was also one of the judges. Immediately all my nervousness vanished. I then listened to my Principal give a speech after all these years. I was impressed they ran this event so nicely, with sponsors and everything. I can truly appreciate the staggering effort required to manage all the multiple simultaneous events, the judges, the food and every tiny detail.

I was escorted to the middle school block. The debates were going on in the rooms. The first thing that made me shy was that they asked me to submit an eighty-word profile about myself. That was certainly embarrasing. Then when I went there, all these volunteers saying "Sowmya Madam" was quite unnerving. Not to mention, my physics sir was giggling at my discomfort.

The first session was from 9:30 to 10:30 am. The moderators were good. The room was arranged so aesthetically that I forgot this was actually a classrom. It was about the accession of Jammu and Kashmir issue, whether the instrument of accession was legitimate or not. As a person who practically digested the book "Freedom at Midnight", this was a topic I was quite familiar with. It was very interesting to judge both the teams. Both of them were quite good, each with their own pros and cons. I gave a only 1 point edge over the other. It was an interesting exercise. As a person who got a severe case of stage fright in my 12th standard debate, I could relate to a person who spoke very fast and another who spoke very slow.

After that, I interacted with a few other judges. Then, met a couple of my old teachers and said a quick hello to my sister.

The next debate was quite different. The topic was "Does the hierarchical discrimination of a society based on economic strata lead to specialization of that group and outweigh the positive benefits of gross redistribution of wealth and assets?". First of all, it took me half and hour to understand the topic. I really pitied the teams who had to argue for this. The "for" and "against" isn't exactly established. The winner was clear but to be fair, I think an easier topic would've been fairer.

I had just two comments, one was that most topics spanned two or three lines that the idea of "for" and"against" was definitely difficult to establish. Another was, the students were given a brief that explained the topic, the judges should also have been given that as we would be able to judge better, we would know what the students who set the topics meant as well! :)

Then I just had lunch and went back home. It was a very nice experience and I will most certainly be back next year if I can.

Once a Bhavanite, always a Bhavanite.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tanjavur - the land of my ancestors

I have been to Tanjavur only once. Yet to me it is a romantic city, a city of long lost memories, a city that has transformed so many times. Today I attempt a different kind of post, let's see how it works out.

The city Thanjavur came into prominence with the rise of the medieval Cholas. It makes it not as old as Madurai and not as young as Chennai. It is a city that has faced plenty of changes. Cholas, Pandyas, Nayaks, the Delhi Sultanate, Krishna Deva Raya, Marathas and finally the British have all ruled this city. No wonder the city is so unique.

Any description of Thanjavur will begin with the Periya Kovil, the Brishadeeshwara temple. Celebrating Lord Shiva in this massive structure, the sheer mammoth size is astonishing. The striking difference is that the gopurams of the four gateways are small compared to the one above the sanctum sanctorium. With the plethora of details celebrating music, dance and the power of Gods, it's an enjoyable piece of art. As a tourist however, I was infinitely more charmed by the much smaller Airavateeshwar temple on the outskirts of Thanjavur. Every stone was intricately carved, it is said for eternal celestial pleasure. I could not help standing transfixed in the Ratha (chariot type architecture), for hours on end. The temple with its gallery surronding it seemed almost alive with how it would have been when it was built, a piece of time frozen in granite.

Apart from it's architectural wonders, it's a melting pot of cultures. Tanjor Veena, Tanjore painting, you name it, Thanjavur is the centre of evolution. It did not allow art to stagnate, and remix was considered appropriate. A gentle reminder of how arts are always evolving and there is beauty in every from of music, painting and dance. The Tanjavur Quartet were four people instrumental in the propagation of Bharatnatyam and Carnatic Music. Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the trinities in Carnatic music was from Tanjavur. An amusing thought occured to me, how he might have considered the horizontal position of playing the veena much more comfortable than the vertical. There is a Tanjore Painting in the Saraswati Mahal library (which incidentally houses centuries old manuscripts) with Saraswati playing the Veena vertically as was the norm before him. The 108 karanas of Bharatnatyam have said to have been adapted to the four limbed Siva and carved on the Brihadeeshwara temple. Muthuswami Dikshitar also had British influences in his works. For example, a standard Geetham, Sakthi Sahita Ganapathim is based on a Celtic folk song! Painters who restricted themselves to the Cholan art adapted to the Maratha styles. Also, I had heard of Kanchipuram silk sarees alone. Another famous style, Thirubhuvanam is from Thanjavur. When I studied history, the bronze statues of Nataraja were attributed to the medieval Cholas. While there is no doubt they were popular in that period, the invention is now credited to the Pallavas. Nevertheless, the staggering number of broze statues in the Thanjavur Palace is a sight to behold.

In popular folklore of course, the magnum opus, Ponniyan Selvan brings audiences alive to what might've been the past glory of Thanjavur.

From a travel perspective, I found the city quite refreshing. I found a hotel with wi-fi! It was neatly maintained and the locals were well aware of their attractions. Souveneirs are plenty from the classic Thanjavur round bottomed doll to the poscards outside Srawathi Mahal Library. At Airavateeshwara Temple especially, I found a priest enthusiastic enough to answer all my questions and was a delightful guide. Food was great in hotel, not that great en-route. Stay was exceedingly comfortable and luxurious. You can have a world class experience with a medium budget and loads of planning.

All in all, I found Thanjavur a crucible of change. Change is something Indian Society seems to frown upon, we take pride in belittling Western influences and not knowing about our history as well. I am not a religious person per se, I believe in keeping my options open. I believe in faith and love in humanity. And I am sure, a societally different girl like me would've fitted very well in the forever changing landscapes of the land of dreams.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why I Remember The Time

June 25 is a beautiful date. But on 2009, the world was extremely shocked at the untimely death of a legend, Michael Jackson. At that time, I wasn't such a great fan. The overpowering grief of the world swept over me like a tsunami and I was curious to explore the story of his life.

The extraordinary story of resilience, from an ordinary family to a star par competition, whose dance was reflected in so many cultures, the sheer brilliance in that age.

But what made me a huge fan was the song 'Black or White'. The dance was so subtle, complete and so interpretive. A cultural pot-pourri, I was surprised to see a bit of Odissi (at least I think it's Odissi). And the message of unity in diversity was so compelling.

I've seen countless videos since, interviews galore, recorded performances, he lived for his dance. Needless to say, he inspired millions. No matter how he felt in his life, many a times, he may have been distraught but once he began to dance, it was love and passion encapsulated physically in his movements.

Words fail me as I try to explain the complex ways in which I was stunned. And that is my highly inadequate ode to a legend the world lost.

P.S The title was a pun on the song 'Remember the Time'

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Experience with Tamil Weddings

This is a record of how I spent my time before, during and after weddings across the years.

Ages 3 - 8

I was and always will be a lazy kid. What I did every wedding is this.

I would ask any immediate adult to carry me and frown imperiously until my feet were off the ground. In fact, my mom can never stop talking about how I would beg her to carry her and I would stand so impossibly so close to her legs right in front that she would have no choice but to dislodge me and finally give in.

I'm sorry!

During these stages, all I could ascertain is that the scenes were similar to the wedding photos of my parents.

Ages 8 - 11

This was the age I was discovering my personality. And there was absolutely nothing to do in a wedding as a socially awkward kid like me. I didn't find many kids my age, I am among the oldest cousins in my family. My favourite cousins were not even born at this stage and my very own sister was a babbling baby.

So I devised this fool proof method to keep myself occupied!

I had no clue what was going on and just tucked myself in a corner.

The size of the books increased linearly with time.

Ages 11 - 14

Now this was the time I became more involved with weddings. Sleepless nights of "plate decoration", chatting and what not. This is a custom where we decorate plates with glitter and food stuff. Plenty of picasso'ish moments later I'd make something like this.

This is a stainless steel plate with food stuck on it
That's a diya lamp (?)
The bottom is made of peas and the flame is made of bengal gram!
The plate was worse than the drawing!!!

We got paid for it too!
The dress selection, the accessory selection and gold jewellery. Gold is an absolute essential. I may be wearing a Victoria style gown for the wedding but that would be complemented by a gold twisted chain that no English lady would have dared sport.

Victorian dress with ruff and a pencil skirt with slit!

I enjoyed weddings most in this period. There were hide and seek games in the lawns, endless games of word builder, dance offs, races and dares. Word Builder games lasted all night with me and my cousin furiously saying words that both begin and end with 'e'. And keeping track of previous words, like you did say ellipse right?, not eclipse?

Ages 19 onward

Obviously took a long break from weddings.

Here is a handy guide for the lost nerd to Tamil weddings.
Warning : This list is girly stuff - warning my uninterested readers.

#1 Plan early

Most probably you might be wearing a saree for either wedding or reception. Please try that damn thing. The blouse won't fit in the last minute, you may not have enough safety pins, your hair may get stuck in the stone work on your blouse (True Story).

#2 Learn to not give a damn

You might have just spent thousands in terms of money or time on this one day look. It doesn't matter because people are going to find thousand faults with it. I find this mostly in the same age group do this. See if there is a genuine concern and mentally take notes. Else dispose of the opinions immediately. A smile is your biggest ornament. Funnily ever since I adopted this approach, I seem to not receive much negativity. And dressing up is something I've found fun contrary to what nerds have been led to believe.

#3 Gold Matters

Statistically, nerds hate gold, myself included. The colour is despicable, the shine is practically imagined and you feel like reminding your mom that it is one of the most non-reactive metals when your mom tries to tell you its atoms are good for you ?! ("Thangam odambula ottuna nallathu"). After wasting loads of time and negotiations, this is the handy guide I have reached.

 - Try to get gold toned clothes so that it doesn't stick out so garishly.
 - Communicate that you do not want to look like a jewellery advertisement.

#4 Photographs

I just adore both taking photos and being photographed during weddings. What more to celebrate than capture these moments for posterity.

#5 Engaging younger cousins

This is a rudimentary skill. I usually off-load these requests to my ever-engaging sister. In the small matters of teaching kids how to play musical chairs (you do not sing and run around it endlessly!), or carrying a kid after my own footsteps, you could be mentally prepared for it.

#6 Enjoy yourself

This is a period of no responsibilities! Except for a smattering of rituals, you can devote yourself to the photographs, talk endlessly with people, Instagram, Facebook and show off generally. Your mom will drishti-sutthify/nazar-utharify when everything is done, enjoy.

#7 Take time to deconstruct your costume

The day would end anti-climatically if you poke yourself with a rusted safety pin. The particular wedding that prompted me to write this culminated with me extracting a safety pin from my hair the next day and imagining headaches.

All said and done, weddings have been most enjoyable and fun events that have intrigued me.

P.S To the nerds who realized I used continuous class intervals, take whichever limit you want!
P.P.S Yes, I grew up with Hindu Pillai Tamil weddings, there are vast differences between Tamil Weddings themselves. Just that a convoluted heading like 'My Experience with Hindu Chozhia Vellalar Pillai Tamil Weddings' sounds crazy!
P.P.P.S. I just illustrated my own post :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Entrance Exams?

God knows how many competitive exams I've written, the entire experience excites me to no end. I could be writhing in pain one moment, but the moment I'm in an exam, it's my playing field, the adrenaline is intense and the pain lies long forgotten.

For the first time in life, I was on the other side. I was the invigilator. The imposing person? Surprisingly I was also nervous. I wanted to make the experience as calm as possible.

Me and my friend were discussing so many things. How to stagger the distribution of question papers and answer sheets. There were no bells, that's another matter.  How to give instructions, how to ensure the OMR's are filled, not to forget to get their attendance signed, what to write on the board. Frankly, it's a confusing procedure and it's nerve wracking to speak to an audience that is looking up to you with a mixture of fear and anticipation.

There were two exams, objective and subjective. The objective paper was for one hour, one guy was anxiously asking about the time, another came late, another wanted water. That was one serious drawback, no water was there. We tried getting some but to no avail. We were walking back and forth with so much enthusiasm

As I walked, I made such interesting observations. Some students were trained to solve aptitude questions faster, I saw remnants of my CAT coaching shine on some rough sheets, some students were just genius solving unconventionally. I took care not to stand at any place and obviously look into any paper, just glances because all our epic fails are when an invigilator stares at you and gives you goosebumps.

And then, it started to get fun and boring when the subjective examination started. It was a two hours exam; me and my friend started solving the aptitude paper out of sheer boredom. This policing business is totally against my nature because am inherently very trusting. Still, there are many things that made my worth, apart from the incessant whispers with my friend ;) For example, the types of students:

 #1 The tension party

I've always been told I look ridiculous in exams. Pursed lips, deep frowns and scratching head would be me. There was one guy just like that. This student probably sports thick glasses and has millions of doubts on how to fill the paper, whether a calculator can be used, whether you can tick the question paper and capable of invoking sympathy in the invigilator.

#2 The cool dude

This guy had his calculator right beside him even after I said not to use it. He looked at me so quizzically daring me to ask him to keep it inside considering he's not using it. His replies consisted of grunts and basically a look that said I don't care about what you think. Left the hall early like a boss.

#3 The expressive guy

This guy was perfectly normal throughout the exam. Except when he begins to think deeply, then he'll wink at the ceiling (?!). Not look at the ceiling, scrunch up all his muscles and wink at the ceiling. Like, stop, you are freaking me out. Casually ignoring yet trying to define his weird expression.

#4 The office drone

This guy probably had a very boring job, middle aged, didn't like English and had to have every instruction translated to Hindi. Fell asleep promptly in the middle of the exam. Basically had the air of "I'm bored" stuck in an infinite loop.

#5 The pretty mistakes

This girl was completely confident, not nervous, poised and carried herself with a grace I could never attain in light years. Pretty impressed, I was wondering how she would've done the exam. And then when I collected her question paper, she had completely disregarded my instructions on not writing on the question paper and when I questioned her about it she had the audacity to look at me and say, "I'll erase the pencil marks" leaving some inked up portions that I had no clue how to report to my seniors. God willing nothing happened, why these people take such risks, I do not understand.

#6 The dumb smart guy

This fellow was looking all around the room and never at his paper. I wondered how he even managed to finish the paper. Then he will ask such small harmless questions that you cannot answer without giving away the answer. It took me full five minutes to realize the ploy, I don't know if it was intentional or not, and keep my cool and say answer the question how he feels.

#7 The confused polite

This guy is silent, polite, well-mannered and made me feel like I'm doing such a wonderful job. Until he grabbed my water bottle - being thirsty turns him from teddy bear to King Kong :P

I was involved with the corrections also. Three people from this list made it to the interviews. Comment below who you think made it ;)

Apart from that, it was wonderful. When you're invigilating, time moves very slowly contrary to how every student feels within the exam hall. Getting masala vada breaks the monotony.

Now all I can say is, learning, teaching and evaluating are all art forms in their own rights and best wishes to all of them.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Female Vote

The historic period of the Homo Sapiens is around 2500 years. It was only a mere 100 years ago, that women got the right to vote. Being a proud voter, I thought I would share some thoughts with you.

200 years ago, a portly highly respectable Englishman gave rational explanations on why married women cannot be allowed to engage in any form of trade.

"By marriage, the personal identity of the woman is lost. Her person is completely sunk in that of her husband, and he acquires an absolute mastery over her person and effects. Hence her complete disability to contract legal obligations; and except in the event of separation by divorce, or other causes, a married woman in the United Kingdom cannot engage in trade"

I am not finding fault with this respectable gentleman, He was an astute business man and a highly practical and in sync with his times. Even today when women are thought to be unadjusting and selfish if they do not subscribe to the views of their parents/husband/in-laws, one can only imagine how subservient women must've been 150 odd years ago, even the wealthy jewels residing in the glorious imperial capital of the world at the time.

The very beginning of recorded English feminism I personally feel is with the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women". She argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. (Source: Wikipedia, I've read the book, was too easy to cut-copy-paste :P)

The 1800's were a tumultous time for women. For example,

This handsome man on the right is none other than one of the most prolific physicists of England, Michael Faraday. His contributions and his ability to think out of the box is examplary. He was particularly drawn to Science by the elementary textbook written by the lady on the left Marcet Jane called "Conversations in Chemistry" where she extolled young women to spend time understanding Science.

This is a rather curious example stored in my head that I wanted to share at this point. Women were "daring" to say things other than what they had been taught, what they had been raised to perform. Another example, Elizabeth Garett Anderson became the first female physician. She had to fight an uphill task, no company whatsoever, hiring private tutors, becoming a nurse and slowly convincing people of her abilities and really the necessity to study medicine.

One baby step at a time, education, graduation, jobs and elf respect were improving.

I believe every woman, at some point of her life or the other, will truly and desperately wish she was a man. And that is the seed of feminism, to fight against this "guilt" of being who we are. Similarly, women almost exactly 100 years ago, started aggressively fighting for rights as education for women became more widespread. Both slow passive approaches and massively militant approaches were also tried by women to fight for their rights.

This was really the golden era, the blooming Industrial Revoultion, the age of the Titanic. Women realized they do not have a fundamental right, the right to vote. The French Revolution, for example, established a democracy in 1789 that awarded male adult franchise. This, when half the people who stormed Bastille were hungry ladies who were tired of seeing their babies die. The right to vote was a long drawn battle, notably led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters alongside Milicent Fawcett. They were known as the suffragettes.

And just like every other person who tries to do something different, these women recieved a lot of flak.


What really helped women push the tide of patriarchy was in some twisted sense, the First World War. As men were conscripted to participate in the army, women unassumedly took over all major occupations at home. With increased movement and exposure, many were able to see the appalling conditions of female factory workers. As the war culminated in 1918, women in the US and UK got the right the vote.

They are by no means the first countries to grant the right.  New Zealand is the first country. However, the movements in these two countries have been greatly recorded. And, the English Suffragettes were directly in touch with our own women in India and helped us get the right to vote right from the Montagu Chemlsford Reforms in 1919.

Women's day is a day whose genesis lies in this movement overall movement across the world.

Why I have gone on this long winded history is because I want to show my fellow women that we have got this right to vote, that we now take for granted, with great difficulty. While it is important for any citizen to vote rationally, it is essential we use our 10 million neurons to rationally and personally vote. Today when I hear things like, I vote for this party because my family said so, my heart cringes. I don't mean rationally if you happen to follow your families choices it is bad. I mean, without giving a moment's thought and subscribing to somebody's views is not acceptable, Are we going back to the old ages? Let us not put this effort and pain and struggle in vain. We fought for the nation's independence, and coupled with this, it is our highest obligation that we do our jobs well, ladies. It is invigorating to vote because it is a personification of your individuality.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Things people say that frustrate me

Presenting without further ado, stuff that bother me.

#1 Hmmm/Maybe

This is simply the most irritating statement I have ever heard. Here I am, spending all my energy and creativity and deploying sarcasm and wit and all you can contribute is a Hmmm?! At least say, "what can I reply to that?" or "I've lost you there" or just a smiley, you know "Hmmm :-)". Now you've given me this one word and I have no idea whether you're angry-yet-restraining/mad/sad/plain-stupid/awkwardly-typing-something-to-fill-gap-in-conversation. Now while I reason between my choices, you get bored and walk away. Typical.

Or I ask, "What was that?", politely and pretend to be stupid and ask you to explain.

#2 No signal/Transaction failed/All phone lines on this route are busy

Look, life in general is not pretty 24x7. DO NOT take away the tiny things in life that are capable of bringing a smile to my heart or at least have the courtesy to give me a bubble blower. Then, you are forgiven.

#3 I will cut only this much hair

I confess I really like my wild, unmanageably curly and moderate length hair. Yes, I am a feminist who likes pink and curly hair, moving on. And then when you when I ask for a trim, you say you're going to trim and leave me with nearly a military shave(writers take note, exaggeration is known as hyperbole). I mean why do you do this to me? That fallen hair is not going to benefit any of you, I will anyway pay you the preposterous amount of money you asked. It is not directly proportional to the amount you cut. Why. Why. And then you will proceed to lecture me how much easier it will be to maintain. Oh I see, why don't you shave your head :P

P.S. Yes, I know hair isn't important, insert politically correct statement here.

#4 You ought to eat more and put on more weight

Yes thank you for your pearls of wisdom. In general, people who want me to change how I eat/dress/talk, I say thank you, hoping that'll forever stem further pearls from your vast indexed database of unsolicited advice because no matter how I am, you will always have an opinion that we lowly human beings are incapable of following with the ease you practise them .

#5 Why don't you know how to cook?

Oh don't have the need, pay my mess bill myself and have awesome home food.

#6 You are afraid of pain, which is so weird for girls ( while convincing me to try some gruesome wax for example),

I am beautiful the way I am. I will wash my face, comb my hair, apply some makeup because that makes me feel good for myself and I like the way I look in the mirror that way. Imperfection is perfection. I will not stoop so low so as to inflict pain on my body to attain some surreal ideology of beauty that is defined by this complex evolution of society. And, it is independent of any gender.

#7 You should take care of your health more

This statement is the worst thing you can hear when you're sick. You want to get better, not be told off!

#8 I'm really proud of your achievements. Only thing is, it'll be so difficult to find a guy for you who is more qualified than you.

Dear aunty, I am an equality-demanding non-homely non-stereotypical nightmare. Please, my qualification is the least of your groom hunting problems.

These are answers that always pop into my head, but I believe in being polite so most unfortunately I never voice them and smile sheepishly. That way, the irritation only lasts a second. I believe in being optimistic because life is short. Enjoy it, don't waste it on being frustrated. And, hopefully I shouldn't ask such things ;)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Men Empowerment

Today I attended a "women" event. It was wonderful to meet techie, intelligent and diverse women from various fields.

One of the organizers said we organized this to empower women. We wanted to bring this on Women's Day, but overshot it by a week. He was curious about what we do on Women's Day.

And then he started being true to himself. He started saying how no one remembers Men's Day and how no one remembers it and he asked when it is. Well of course I answered it was on November 19 ;)

And then I thought, this guy is whining to whatever degree societal norm allowed. He really truly believed misrepresented and underprivileged and I thought it would be fun if I tried to empower him. You know, returning a favour.

#1 We don't celebrate Men's Day as much as Women's Day, that's sad

It is true that nobody celebrates Men's Day as much as Women's Day. Nobody creates Men's only events to discuss your problems and issues. It is so difficult for you to find a like minded man to talk about that girl you sighted, that game you played, that code you developed.

Women's Day, as I've said earlier, was first observed in 1911 so as to spread a message for equal rights for women including the fundamental right to vote. Men's day was started because Men felt bad they had to work on a holiday, felt unequal and reverse discriminated.

Women's Day is a day of celebrating one day of achievements. Men's day is yet another day of celebration.

It's only a matter of time before Men's Day gets hyped and you'd have offers on all your favourite products. The UN has acknowledged that it will lead to better gender diversity. And economy.

#2. Men have to be responsible for the family.

That is absolutely true. I am doing a PhD and I know if I were a Man, people would have advised me to not take it up, there is no money while studying, how will I support a family and so on. So, I'd have assured them I will mint money after the degree either here or if need be, abroad.

I'm so happy I don't have that burden, all I have to deal with are questions on how I'm going to get married if I study so much, how will I get married if I'm going to marry after four years, you will get an old guy, get random advice telling me don't get carried about your success or you will not learn about how to adjust in a relationship(actually should be plural because they sometimes refer to the relations of the 'relationee'), and how if I want to go abroad, they will have to find a 'foreign mappillai'.

#3 Men need jobs. Women who are going to quit them when they get married need not take them. This is taking away jobs for men who might actually need it to support their family.

I quite understand this is how a Man who didn't get a job would feel. A bread winner is more important than a hobbyist. Knowing how important this job is for you, you worked so hard and didn't get a job because somebody who didn't need the job was motivated and talented to be hired for the job than you. And Women take jobs because they want to earn, feel good, save up and then quit to spend time with family and make others feel good. Man, find solace, a Woman gets married way earlier than the time your parents realize a daughter in law would be a great addition, you'll have plenty of time to get that job she quits and start an empire by the time you have a family. Be strong.

#4 Men are always the bad guys

I understand with increasing awareness of atrocities against Women, Men feel uncomfortable being stared at as evil guys, being feared. Men have become clueless whether being gentlemanly is good or demeaning.

I really empathize with you. I really do know about uncomfortable stares. Stares that make you feel guilty of breathing. Stares that you perceive but don't dare meet in case that might signal acknowledgement. Stares of wonder. Stares of disbelief. Stares of disgust. Stares of expectation.

#5 Men take responsibility for Women. Men are responsible for themselves. It is unfair.

The burden of responsibility is huge. Men need to take care of parents and future family, need to provide for them. I totally agree this is completely true and unfair. Today's society is not driven by physical protection at least in civilised parts of it. Sometimes, you need a day off, you need to feel taken care of, I don't mean the nursing-kind of taking care that only moms have, the real care where you need not worry and divide the burden with somebody else. I empathize with you, I really would like that to change, no sarcasm here.

Ok, I've had my fun. Real talks, the issues that affect women have a totally different dimension to it. As society changes so dynamically and vibrantly to accommodate them, there are unique issues for men that need to be addressed.

In today's society empowering a man, would be to relieve him of massive societal obligations, to tell him it is alright to share his burdens, his responsibilities, to tell him it is ok to cry sometimes. Empowering a man should make him feel comfortable about women, somebody who can listen and contribute equally. Empowering men would eliminate the absolute call of duty, the pressure to lead. Empowering men, will be to make minds broader, will allow him to pursue his passion to his zenith. Empowering men is not to make men weak, it is to make men not pretend to be stronger and macho than they are.

What I'm trying to say is,
Empowering Men and Empowering Women will lead to an honest acceptance of two wonderfully different and diverse people for who we are on an equal footing.

Personally, I'm a feminist, I believe women's rights are neglected and very important. Somewhere down the line, I realize we cannot expect these changes suddenly in a jiffy. But I feel, men are being empowered too in our society to handle this change. Let us come together. One for all, and all for one.