Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looking back at 2006

The year began on a high note with a lot of commitments and duties to fulfill. The whole month of January was a busy schedule, preparing for the event named CIVERE-06 at IIT Kanpur, a paper presentation contest in Civil Engineering, to be held in mid-February. I was the chief coordinator of the organising team along with Anand Hingway and Mayank Jain (popularly called Manjan). Pre-event preparations, list of invitees and coordinating the judge panel were all in the fray. In one of the meetings of the organising team, I met Manali Singh, a kid from Saharanpur and a student of CE, IITK, who was initially reluctant but somehow agreed to compère the inaugural function of CIVERE. Anand. Mayank and I gave it our best shot to make it the most successful event of the year for the department of Civil Engineering.

In the month of March, my thesis supervisor Dr. Bharat Lohani, started worrying about my state-of-the-art presentation. Fortunately, I had already worked upon some material and it was only the trimming of some material with the help of my supervisor, that made the presentation work fluently.

The month of May saw me reach Kalpakkam along with my parents, at my younger brother Suddhasattwa's residence. It was for the first time in my life, that I went so close to the sea, so as to collect sea shells and cowries from the beach and to let the waters of the Indian Ocean cover my feet while I stood capturing the seascape with my digital camera. I also took the advantage of the free time to write some code and work on my research proposal. When with family, I took every chance to tease my younger brother.

Back at IITK, I engaged myself part time, with the summer camp of the Department of Civil Engineering as one of the volunteers, with the approval of Dr. Amit Prashant. Like the last year, I was ready again to run with the participants during the morning exercises. I presented myself to them, as a sample who goes through the same set of exercises, so as to show them the remarkable changes in my living style, through the month. The summer camp ended after 28 days, and it was notable that some of the volunteers were wistful seeing the participants depart.

My father became seriously ill in the month of September and he was admitted to the intensive care unit of Anant Hospital in Jabalpur. Our ex-neighbour Mr. Venkat handled all the formalities in the hospital thus making matters easier for my mother. While I was at Jabalpur attending to my father at the hospital, Kaushik Choudhury kept up my link with IITK, thus communicating all information from my hometown to Kanpur. Bijit Dasgupta and his wife Mrs Soma Dasgupta also took time off from their busy schedules to visit the hospital and keep up our spirits. My mother had been a very brave woman to handle all the troubles successfully during this crisis. Although I missed two weeks of my French classes during this period, Eugenie (the French teacher) and my classmates helped me cope up with the lessons.

My younger brother came over to visit IITK, for some official work, and his host and I were virtually at loggerheads on the fact, whether he would stay at the students' hostel or the visitors' hostel. My brother however took my side. While he was here for around six days, we could rarely meet, because he maintained a very tight schedule with visiting laboratories and libraries. However he could take the Sunday lunch with me.

Kaushik left IITK in the month of November although I tried hard to convince him. Perhaps my magic did not work this time., and I was annoyed at Kaushik for leaving the institute. I wish him the best for his life and future, and hope that he finds his soul mate which he has been unsuccessfully trying for.

This year our family had good times and the sad ones, and at all moments, I believe, GOD was with us with His support. I surely know that you all have been supporting us with your good wishes and I gratefully express my words of thanks to you.

My hostel is gearing up to celebrating the new years eve and as the music flows in the background, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

पियाजी तो री तीखी तीखी बतियां मोको ना भाये ...

The commercial channels rarely transmit or promote Indian Classical Music or traditional folk music. I say this with the exception of ETV Bangla (the only bangla channel I have access to in my hometown), which regularly airs programmes on Rabindra Sangeet. But it is the only type of cultural music being promoted by the channel. The channel does not even show programmes of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan or their sons who are Sarod maestros in their own right.

I am also sometimes surprised at the policies of Doordarshan (DD) and All-India Radio (AIR). Since my childhood I have always seen that programmes which correspond to the Indian Cultural music or dance are transmitted either at late night or at times when there is the least possibility of viewers being present. The young generation, which has to carry the flag of India forward, is in deep sleep by the end of the day, and never gets to listen to classical music or appreciate dance forms.

I cannot be called a great connoisseur of music. In my schooldays, I considered myself to be lucky if I got to see some quiz shows, science programmes, the sunday movie, and maybe Spiderman. I have been usually listening to film songs, English pop and classical music and some French music over the last few years. My mother, on the other hand, was interested in listening to classical music and usually stayed up late, when the ragas sung by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi or Pt. Jasraj surrounded the environment in a soft volume.

I decided to take a break this year from the chores of Society of Civil Engineers at IITK and join the SPIC-MACAY group at IITK. The interest was to establish new contacts, expand the horizons and have intellectual discussions with motivated people across the disciplines. I therefore volunteered to offer some of my time to the SPIC MACAY group. In the last six months, I have had a lot of discussions about art and dance forms, had the opportunity to hear Ms Kalapini Komakali, dine with Ms. Kiran Segal and listen to the pillars of Indian classical music namely Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan and Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma at the banks of the river ganges at Saraswati Ghat, Allahabad.

It was on the second of December, when Srinath made a move to collect people to go to Allahabad for two purposes, first to hear Ustad sahib and Panditji sing and play respectively, and second to visit the Sangam. The semester had already finished, the teaching assistantship work was already over, and I decided to give it a try. I am well known in the campus for my over endowed appearance and as obvious I insisted upon having lunch and then depart for the destination. Thirteen group members assembled at the gates of our hostel. To my surprise, I saw Eugenie, a young french lady who works at a project and teaches us the French language. She, I was told, was keen to get a brush of the Indian culture, as she had heard heard so much about our country. We started at about 1300 hrs.

I, as usual, switched to the PJ mode, quipping at every statement and trying hard to invoke laughter, as the vehicle made its way through the traffic and crowd of the Kanpur city. We were more bothered about making Eugenie feel comfortable with us, so at times I also dabbled with my half polished Indianised french lingo. At mid way, we saw two shops which were named Mohan Pedaa and Sohan Pedaa and thought it was the right time to purchase some sweets. Uma, in the meantime kept getting calls from her supervisor, and Mayank kept in touch with his mates in the campus curious about his grades. But for most of the time, it was Srinath who kept on talking about the various experiences and feelings he had when he witnessed Indian maestros at their performances.

The programme was to commence at 1800 hrs, and the traffic and the lack of knowledge about Allahabad's routes had us a bit perplexed. We however managed to ask a police constable for the route and he guided us in the right direction.

Ustad ji's performance had already begun. We wanted to be fully immersed in it and therefore decided to have some snacks and tea before entering the venue. But, it seemed that the magic had already started working. The Alaap was already mesmerising us by the magic of a frail 99 year old man, who could barely walk. I felt a magnetic pull towards the stage, and in a moment we all were inside, silent and deeply immersed in the alaap. The surroundings were perfect, the banks of the ganges, a moonless sky, the reflection of the street lights in water, pindrop silence from the audience and the sounds weaving their spell through Ustadji's voice. Ustad sahib performed for two hours continuously and ended with a bhajan scripted by Meerabai.

We were still deeply lost, when the name of Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma was announced. I had only heard Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma till now, watched him occasionally on the television, and heard his name as one of the music composer duos of the Shiv-Hari. As some of the people had taken the advantage of the interval for a quick break, we silently went down two steps to see the maestro more closely. He appeared, as I had seen him, but with white hair, his charismatic personality, the smile on his face. He reminded me of the poem by Robert Browning titled Pied Piper of Hamlin (1888),

... Into the street, the piper stepped,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what music slept,
In his quite pipe, the while...

Panditji took a humble bow before Ustad ji, who by now was sitting on a chair in front of the stage, and sat down quietly, tuning his instrument. Then he raised up his face, and asked the school children if they were tired. The children answered that they were not. He advised the children, that if they wanted to preserve their energy, they should keep quite and this also helps the performer to concentrate.

Panditji started playing on the santoor with the announcement that he would be playing rag Jhinjhoti. I closed my eyes and just imagined the pit-pit-patter of the rain drops and heard the santoor playing, and I was bathed in music from all sides. I managed to record a part of the santoor recital on my handycam.

The SPIC MACAY organisers at SMC GHOORPUR were rather kind to ask us for dinner as it was really late in the night. We clicked photos with the team at Allahabad and as we departed from the place, Ustad sahib's song “Piyaji tori teekhi teekhi batiyaan moke na bhaaye”, along with the Santoor kept going on and on in my mind as we rode the Qualis back to IIT Kanpur. What made me happier was Eugenie's smile and the twinkle in her eyes, after she heard the recitals patiently for about 4 hours.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Crazy Kiya Re ...!

The Kanpur edition of the Times of India reports on the bottom of the first page, “Ash sizzles, Bacchans fuming?” ( The report was about the Hrithik – Aishwarya on-screen kiss in Dhoom2 that allegedly earned the displeasure of the “first family of Bollywood”. The background of the story is the hypothesis that Abhishek Bachchan is going to marry Aishwarya pretty soon. The report gives the following lines “...Abhishek was 'very, very upset' on seeing the finished product. The full impact hit him only when he saw it on screen, says the friend, and he made his objection clear to Ash....”. My question to the press is, if Abhishek really loved Ash, he should have had a confidence on her; and therefore a question of being annoyed at her does not arise. To add to the woes, this article was based on the comments of a supposedly close friend of the family.

“First family!” and my eyebrows went up! The early days of Indian cinema were dominated by the Kapoors. Starting right from Prithiviraj Kapoor, it has been four generations that have made the Indian cinema proud in the mainland and abroad. I have read innumerable reports about them and never were they called the first family! How come the Bachchans are the “first family” which is just two generations old by now? Why can't the families of Roshans' or the Khans' be the first family instead?

Jaya Bachchan is an exception, a lady who carries herself with extreme grace and reflects the rich bengali culture embedded within her. The same is displayed in all of her films which stereotyped her as mostly timid and sometimes exuberant roles. Her objection may be justified. Amitabh on the other hand, reflects the Uttar Pradesh culture, especially Allahabad, with literary richness. He is a man of the masses. However, we have often heard about him being involved with Parveen Babi and Bhanurekha Ganeshan (Rekha) and even seen scenes (on the big screen) where Amitabh was on the bed with the lady. This was post marriage. In a recent interview Amitabh said he had no objections to the fact the Abhishek was moving arround with the ladies, as his own mother had none when he himself was doing so. Amitabh objecting? Is he being too gender biased? A big surprise.

Abhishek, a ladies man. Hunk, slim and attractive. He knows how to dress, carry himself and impress people. Howver, we cannot forget your kissing scenes with Antara Mali in Naach, and with Rani Mukherjee in Yuva. I have not yet seen Dhoom2, but I was able to find the onscreen kiss on YouTube and was convinced that it was a mere brush of lips and not a kiss per se. Abshishek you are objecting too, et tu brute?

Aishwarya, who had previously been linked and involved with Salman Khan, Viveik Oberoi and now Abhishek is, according to the report, maintaining perfect silence and giving no clues to the press whatsoever. Yes, Aishwarya that is what we expected from you. You linked yourself with people at the top of their careers and left them when they were in the slump. I find myself pitying Abhishek Bacchan. Hritik on the other hand laughed it off and refused to comment.

The press succeeds to amuse me. It has begun speculating marriage and even tensions before marriage. In a recent report by the Kanpur Times (The Times of India supplement in the Kanpur edition), the astrologers have started saying that the couple is incompatible. Cheap Publicity for the astrologers? The couple recently performed Managala Arti in the Kashi Vishwanath temple. A secret marriage, they say, has been solemnised at the Sankatamochan (Hanumanji) temple! Puhleeeeeze ....! the press has to excercise some common sense, I guess.

Press ne crazy kar diya ghalib, varna hum bhi aadmi they kaam ke...!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

L'histoire d'un amour...

L'homme qui était jeune,

L'homme qui était amoureux,

La femme qui a eu de beaux yeux,

L'homme qui est allés à une terre étrangère ,

La femme qui s'est mariée,

Le mari qui était méchant

La femme qui était triste,

Le mari qui battent la femme,

La femme qui a cherché son amour,

La mère qui était fâchée,

L'homme qui était triste,

L'homme qui regarde une feuille de papier blanche,

L'homme qui a un crayon dans sa main.

Friday, October 20, 2006


बस एक चांद को पाने की ख्वाहिश ही तो की थी मैंने,
तेरे लिये आज वह भी कुर्बान कर दी मां

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hall 4: IIT Kanpur: The State of the Mess

One of my former colleagues at Bhopal, who was a degree holder in computer science and engineering, was asked during her days of 'introduction', “Why is the mess called a mess?”. “Because, it is always in a mess!”, came the pert reply. While she told me this joke, I was not really aware then, how a student feels while eating in a mess, pun intended!

I have been pretty interested and inclined to write about this whole issue about mess management, its affairs and the general response of the people towards it. I would be however, putting my words to limit owing to a lack of space.

It has been two years and more since I joined IIT Kanpur as a PhD student, and since then I have seen five mess secretaries. Imagine five of them in a span of 2 years! What is so special about this year is that it is the third time a mess secretary has been elected! I must acknowledge the fact that each of the mess secretaries made an attempt to improvise, innovate and please the junta by bringing in variety in the food items. Recently, as an attempt to appease regional taste buds, Shela rice was introduced. It would be prudent to comment that we have ended up paying more for the Shela rice than the original plain rice served in the mess.

While the mess secretaries attempted their best to improvise the quality of the food and the menu, I guess the employees in the mess have contributed at large to make a big difference. Be it the mess manager, be it cooks or be it those who wait on the tables, it seems that all of them have put on a big placard on their chests saying “Hum nahi sudhrenge!”.

I would like to specially mention the dinner on Friday, when we have “special” food in the mess. By the name of God, I promise you that you would find it really special, and eligible to be quoted amongst the worst meals of the week. Whether it is Kadhai Paneer or Shahi Paneer, it looks the same, it tastes the same. I sometimes strongly feel that all government mess employees should be exposed to a training programme coordinated by IRCTC at Kanpur Central. Even their food tastes better! They even serve better.

Whenever I go to eat and I take my seat, I would never find the salt, salad or jug of water at the proper place on the table. Sometimes, either there would be no salt on the table, or there would be two containers of pepper at the same place. Sometimes, there would be an empty container of salt or pepper even!

As a special mention, I would like to quote the name of Mr. Deepak who serves and waits on the tables. In addition, he thinks he is lean, mean, smart and handsome, and thinks he has the right to play with the music system in the mess. He takes away the plates in front of you without even asking you and there you are, left grappling for the plate! He would make a point hitting you with the large plate with which he is serving. Mr. Sharma, who I feel is the leader of the lot, thinks it is more important to put sabji on the tables where people are not even sitting than providing spoons to the people who are eating on the tables. One of my colleagues was eating at the table and he had no spoon with him and he asked him 2-3 times and then he was angry, Mr. Sharma coolly said “App kahein to sabji na lagayein!”

In my opinion, I strongly feel that if you want to really make somebody angry, invite him/her to the Hall 4 mess, and voila you have a new enemy!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bengali Ghetto-ism: A non-resident bengali's perspective

Before I commence writing on this topic and series, let me introduce what is a resident Bengali and a non-resident Bengali. Well, the definition is simple, a person with mother tongue a Bangla, who has been born, brought up and a domicile and resident of West Bengal, is termed as a resident Bengali. A non-resident Bengali or Probashi Bangali is one who has mother tongue as Bangla, may or may not be born in Bengal, may or may not be educated in Bengal, and definitely not a resident of West Bengal for a long time. In short the definition of a non-resident bengali is parallel to the definition of a non-resident Indian. Yours truly, for an example, was born in Kolkata, but educated in Madhya Pradesh and is a resident of Madhya Pradesh and therefore a non-resident Bengali.

Before I proceed to say things, let me produce some things before you, which are very general:
(1)It seems that Indians in general believe that “If you can't beat them or understand them, hit them” instead of the well known English saying “If you can't beat them, join them”. Stories in support of this statement would be coming soon.
(2)The sample size which I use to produce this article is too small and it is therefore difficult to make or derive any public opinion out of it. This article is therefore only a perspective view and thus not intended to harm or cause embarrassment to any group or individual.

When I took admission to the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, I had the privilege to listen to the senior professors and the director of IITK. One of the important statements that Prof. Sanjay G. Dhande made, was to go across regional boundaries and to interact and mix with other cultures.

Let me go back to my childhood days, when I was in Jabalpur. Owing to the geographical location of Jabalpur in India, it holds tremendous importance in terms of defence. As a result, the city is a mix of cultures from all regions. Aptly therefore, the city is also called “Sanskaardhaani”. Although, I was born in Kolkata, I was educated in Christ Church Boy's Higher Secondary School (now called Christ Church Senior Secondary School), one of the popular schools in Jabalpur and St. Aloysius College. I did my mathematics post-graducation in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department of Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyala (RDVV), Jabalpur. In short I have spent most of my life till date in Jabalpur.

Bangaali baabu... sari macchi khaabu... (Bengali clerk, eats rotten fish)”, “Sari macchi ... pulpula bhaat (Rotten fish and fermented rice)”, were some of the regular phrases which I, as a child, had to hear often from my schoolmates, apart from the occasional “Chashmukdeen... ghorepadeen, gharee mein baj gaye saare teen... (Hey specko, the one who farts like a horse, it is half past three) !” owing to yours truly being a specko. Interestingly enough, as a side observation, the people who often said this, had their roots in UP and Bihar. On a probe, it was found out they had an opinion that Bengalies are super-intelligent and their intelligence is spurred by their voracity for fish. Many people have even asked me “Macchli khane se to dimag tez hota hai, tum kaise bangali ho? (You develop a sharp brain if you feed on fish, why kind of a bengali are you?)” owing to the fact that I am a vegetarian.

Let me go further back in the early 50s of the last century, when a decision was being taken in the Parliament regarding the national language of the country. There was a major contest between English and Hindi, which obtained equal preferences in the Parliament. The then Hon'ble President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad used his veto power to vote Hindi as the national language of India. The people from Bengal and the south were mostly in favour of the English language. As a consequence (which I feel was devoid of common-sense, rationale and intellect), there were sad jokes spoken about the then Hon'ble President.1 (Also refer to pt. 1 which I made in the second para of my article!) The lack of financial support from the centre to West Bengal and the south might have been an after effect of this incident. Interestingly Southern India has been able to self-sustain their development. Comparatively, the situation of West Bengal is well before the reader's eyes.

I have full respects for Hindi as a language, and I often feel surprised that how a renowned educationist and academician from West Bengal (name withheld owing to lack of reference), who held an important academic post for more than two decades, could say that he did not want to learn that language in which the moustache was a female gender!

As an aside, I would also like to tell you that most of my acquaintances who reside in Kolkata, have strongly believed and still believe that anything outside West Bengal is “dirt”. They often use words like “Khotta”, “Khotua”, “Mero” and “Maowra” for Non-bengalis and non-resident bengalis like us. Resident bengalies have even often accused us of being non-cultured and being lesser intellectuals. But alas! They seldom realise that they have never studied the likes of Makanlal Chaturvedi, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Mahadevi Verma, Ramdhaari Singh Dinkar, Munshi Premchand, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Subhramanyam Bharti, Kabeer, Raskhan, Tulsidas and the list continues...! I often wonder, how many of them have even heard these names. It seems therefore, that the resident bengalies have never attempted to see beyond their roots and make a propaganda on the negative points without even evaluating the others' cultures. Further, to my dismay, the people from Orissa who are referred to as “Oorey” by the people from West Bengal, are considered to be either cooks or nincompoops by the resident bengalies. “Oorey choley maatite paa ... (here 'Oorey' can refer to flying, or an oriya guy)” is a puzzle with intended pun, often asked to Bengali children.

Let us now talk and reason about the typical accusation of bengalies forming a “ghetto” at educational institutes. I will try to reason this out. Firstly, there is a famous English proverb, “Birds of the same feather, flock together”. Come what may, we bengalies love our mother tongue, and love to chat in the language which comes naturally to us. Secondly, whenever an Indian goes abroad, whom does he search for? Obviously other Indians! He does so because he seeks support, love and also loves to talk in a language which comes naturally to him. So, if a guy from UP, Bihar or any other part of India for that matter, searches for other Indians when abroad, why can't they realise that the same scenario prevails when a Bengali from Kolkata arrives at these institutes? Thirdly, bengalies practice Adda, a so-called intellectual discussion session, where all decisions, ranging from personal to national level, are taken, regardless of the case whether sufficient knowledge about the matter being discussed, exists or not! In an interesting incident, I remember a resident bengali gentleman frowning at my mathematics post graduate degree from RDVV without having the knowledge that the Mathematics Department was among the 10 nodal centres of National Board for Higher Mathematics, Department of Atomic Energy.

Further, given the fact that bengalies are jeered at, using phrases like “Bangaali baabu... sari macchi khaabu...”, “Sari macchi ... pulpula bhaat”, it forms reason enough to be ignorant about other people and form a group.

Fortunately or unfortunately, one or two non-bengalies who enter the group, are forced to learn or adapt the bengali language because they are often communicated to, in Bangla. In the colony where I live in Jabalpur, there has been several instances where a bevy of bengali ladies have enriched the Bangla vocabulary of non-bengali women! I have often heard the term “Boudi (sister-in-law)” being used by them to address my mother. In another interesting case, one resident bengali who came to visit my father when he was seriously ill, started talking to a rickshawala in Bangla arguing about the fare and the destination, and kept on continuing the discussion until it was loud enough to seek my attention, and I had to save the embarrassing moment for my family.

I do not know about other people, but my bengali parents have always taught me that whenever I am in a group, I should converse in the common language which everybody knows. They have taught me the first rule of communication, “If you have to converse with a person, converse in the language that the other guy knows.” After all, if I have a joke, I can make everybody laugh by sharing it with all. I still haven't been able to realise why most of the resident bengalis don't seem to understand this fact.2

I often cherish the bright smile on the face of some of my Telugu friends, when I say some Telugu words!