Jun 29, 2011

The other side of the road

A need had never arisen for him to cross the road. Some four years ago, when he somehow landed at Mylapore, the land of Kapaleeshwara, he claimed a small piece of land for himself in the platform adjoining the bus shelter, and there was never a dispute since. The sweet stall, a juice corner, an ice cream parlor, the textile showroom and the supermarket on the other side of the road were never an attraction for him.

The platform served him as a sitting area in the daytime, a sleeping cot at nights, while the cement slab left unutilized while the bus shelter was erected served him as a pillow. The bus shelter itself protected him from rain and hot sun, while the plastic sheet he got it from somewhere protected him from harsh weather, a rare occurrence in Chennai.

His square meal consisted of a bun and a cup of tea, which he relished twice a day. He never moved his muscle to need more than the bun and tea. A tea vendor nearby, a philanthropist himself, served him the square meals twice; every morning when he opened the shop, and when he was about to close. When the vendor tried to serve him more, sometimes a plate of hot samosa or bajji, he refused to take it.

One day, the old man decided to cross the road, to feel what life is like on the other side of the road. There was no motivation behind his decision for the idea struck him out of the blue. Having made a decision, he slowly tried to get up from his place. He stretched his arms and legs to increase the circulation, much needed to support himself. From the corner of the bus shelter, he found a log which he used as a walking stick.

His immobile and fragile body made his crossing the road an arduous task, while the road was buzzing with traffic. He made his step watchfully, slowly, avoiding any chance of letting himself down. The speeding bike, few impatient autos, never-care government bus and some pedestrians felt their blood pressure rise when they saw an old man with soiled clothes, tanned skin, long and white beard trying to cross the road, haplessly.

His first destination, the sweet stall was confined to a small office space about the same size of the bus shelter he was in. In that small confinement, even fewer people looked like a crowd. Apparently irritated by his presence, the shop owner yelled, "Here, take this two rupees and leave this place. More customers are coming now and I do not want to lose my business due to your presence", he said.

"Sir, I do not want your two rupees. I am not here for begging. I just want to feel what it is like to be in your shop", he wanted to say. But for some odd reason, he found no words came out of his mouth.

He walked out slowly and went to the juice corner. A kid was trying to read the name of different fruits labeled in the chart. Starfruit, Kiwi, apricot and few other names he read, which our man had never heard in his life! The kid's father, sensing the presence of an old and shabby man, clutched his son closer to himself. His eyes spoke the unspoken, "Son, beware of that old man, he is a man-eater waiting for an opportunity to kidnap and eat you".

The old man could not understand the sudden withdrawal of the kid he was watching. Feeling something odd, he moved to the next shop, the textile showroom. Cars were wrooming at the entrance and exit, bringing more customers in and letting those who made a purchase out. The old man was walking slowly across the in-gate to reach the shop entrance.

A Maruti swift came to a screeching halt, inside was an old lady clad in a rich dress. "Hey you old *******, move now. Do not walk on my path you filthy son of a *****" she yelled at him through the window. The old man could not understand many of her shouting and was bewildered at the scene she had created. Sensing the situation, the security came at the rescue of the customer, manhandled the old man to the other side of the gate and said "Go! Do not come near this shop again or you will be crushed to death like an insect".

He could not fathom what just happened! Maybe he does not belong to their world. He slowly walked towards the supermarket. There at the entrance, he found an old man like himself, begging for money from the customers. For a minute he was happy to find someone like himself, but his happiness did not last when he heard him say, "This is my area. Go to some other place to beg".

The old man gave him a pitied glance, dropped the two rupees coin at his plate, crossed the road and walked back to his home.

Jun 28, 2011

Obituary for MT-pc

A month ago, my office computer had a peaceful death. It was suffering from a problem unknown even to the manufacturer right from its birth. My office pc, which I nicked as MT-pc (after MeghaTropiques, ISRO's ambitious project for improving the rainfall estimation, and not empty pc) endured a lot since it was put to use.

The doctor did his best to find the issue and improve the health of MT. He transplanted various organs, serviced some, replaced others with new, but the issue still remained. He even tried the heart transplant, but of no use. MT did not show much of the symptoms, unlike other computers. It did not hang, crash or freeze. It showed only one symptom every time it suffered a blow, it simply restarted.

We shifted MT from one hospital to another, but there was no specialist available to find and resolve the issue. And then, one fine day, about a month ago, when I was in the middle of the work of an ambitious project, MT had a severe setback. It turned off as usual to restart, but did not start again!

I now realize that I should have talked to MT one last time before it breathed last. There is no way to enter its brain now! Fortunately, it has made quite a few friends from whom I was able to talk and recover some of the precious data it had stored all along.

May its soul rest in peace!

A better companion, Dell Optiplex 990, has replaced my MT now. It did show some issue at first that it did not detect the network interface card, a necessary hardware that enables a computer to connect to the Internet. I had installed Ubuntu Lucid version then, however, the model is released only recently from Dell. Natty, the latest release from Ubuntu solved the issue and now all the vital parameters of my computer are stable.

Jun 25, 2011

Water water water

A group of about twenty students gathered around a hall (which will be called as the mess hall in future), in the summer of '78 to discuss one of the most important issues that were affecting their day-to-day life. The issue: even though the water tank is located opposite to one of the research scholars hostels, the pipeline takes a circuitous route and hence, the water gets dried up even before it reaches their hostel.

"We must protest", shouted one of the young research scholar assuming the leadership position. "Our problem must be heard by the administrators and we must demand an immediate action", he added.

All the scholars acknowledged the speech, and there was a unanimous agreement to the resolution just passed.

"But how to protest such that our problem gets the right attention?", a voice was raised from one of the inquisitive minds. 

"A strike alone will not do. In the worst case, they will ask us to formally write a complaint letter and it will take months before our problem gets noticed!", said another.

"We must call on strike, but with a difference", the leader announced. "Gentlemen, I have a plan".

In the next morning, scholars from the Cauvery and Krishna hostels assembled at the same place where they gathered previous night, all dressed up in their towels and briefs. A few courageous ones were to be found without the latter. There was an empty bucket in everyone's hands indicating the reason for protest and were shouting the slogan "water water water" in unison.

Shouting thus, the protest group slowly started to march towards the director's bungalow, some drumming the buckets, while others raising the slogan in a rhythm. That the leader's novel idea was getting attention became evident with the presence of curious onlookers, who joined the group at a distance to witness the happening.

It was when the group arrived near the central library that the unexpected incident happened. One of the student got carried away with the rhythm, and added four more words to the slogan which totally changed the incident!

"Water water water...water or your daughter" shouted a mischievous scholar, and the new slogan was caught like a wildfire by others in less than a minute! Coincidentally, the then director of IIT Madras had two daughters, both were of marriageable age!

The group marched past the Gajendra circle to reach the director's bungalow, shouting "water water water, water or your daughter" all the while. Fortunately, the director had gone out for shopping along with his family when the protest group reached.

The protest group waited for a while until they saw an approaching car of the director who was returning with his wife and daughters. He saw the group, heard their slogan, asked his wife to take their daughters inside, came outside and stood on an elevated platform, thus making himself visible to the group. There was a rapt attention, and everyone, including the curious onlookers, were waiting to see the director's response.

"Gentlemen", the director addressed the gathering, " the second one can be done. Now, who among you is ready to marry", he asked.

The unexpected direct question startled everyone present. It took a while for the crowd to regain themselves, and burst into laughter appreciating the director's sense of humor.

That the director later promised the group to look into the issue as soon as possible was totally expected then. But what was not expected by most of them was the fact that one of the young research scholars will go on to become a professor in future in the same institute.

Even so, only fewer would have imagined then that after he becomes a professor, he will be invited to preside the Cauvery hostel night as a chief guest, whence he will be recalling this incident to the present batch of students, after 32 years since it happened!

Jun 22, 2011

A help that didn't really help!

That about 80% of the students have gone home on vacation was evident when I stepped into the campus restaurant today to have my regular cup of filter coffee. When IIT Madras is in session, the restaurant would be buzzing with activities serving food, beverages, soft drinks, hosting birthday parties, having group studies/discussion, planning events, or just chilling out.

I ordered my coffee, grabbed it from the counter, took up a seat at an unoccupied table and started sipping it when I saw him. He is working as a coffee master in the restaurant, and, thanks to my love of coffee, is my friend too.

"We are having a problem. I have bought a DVD version of a Tamil movie, but we do not know how to play it on the computer", he said with his computer illiterate accent.

"I will finish my coffee and will take a look at it" I replied to him.

The restaurant had undergone a change recently with the installation of a new computer to print bills using an accounting software. Earlier, they were using the obsolete coded machine for this job. It was on this computer that they were trying to watch the film.

"The shift ends at 1 AM and the next shift starts only at 7 in the morning. The servers who worked in the night shift will come to work only at 4 PM the next day. They want to stay awake until morning so that they can have their breakfast before they go to sleep", explained the cashier to me. "Now that we have a computer", he continued, "we thought of watching a film to spend the night".

After inspection, I found that the movie is stored in VOB format which the default movie player, Windows media player, could not understand. I downloaded the VLC player, installed it and gave a short lecture on how to run the movie using the new player.

"Open 'My computer', right click on the DVD icon, and hit on 'Open with VLC media player' to watch the movie", I explained to him. Previously, he was trained only to run the software for producing cash bills.

He closed all the windows and started from the desktop to make sure he had learned it properly. Satisfied with the result, I wished them a good night and left for my lab to continue with my work.

The next evening, I went to the restaurant to have my regular cup of coffee. When I stepped inside, I noticed that they were all in smiles, making it obvious to me that they had a good time. Those smiles made me feel very happy.

"So, how was the movie last night?", I asked the cashier while he was billing my coffee.

"Very good I must say! By the way, thank you so much for your help. We did not know to whom we should ask for, and we are happy that you came last night and helped us with this", he said that in a tone filled with gratitude.

I smiled at him, collected my coffee at the counter and found a seat again at an unoccupied table. When I was sipping my cup of coffee, he came again. "Thanks for your help yesterday. If you don't mind, could you please help us with the audio too?"

It took some time for me to realize that there were no speakers yesterday!

Jun 19, 2011


Tejas took his eyes off the monitor, focused it on his keyboard, used his index finger to carefully type the letters gulmohar, making sure he does not press the wrong key. The letters will give him the access to his girlfriend Shreya's Gmail account. He got pissed off when he saw the error message appearing in bold red font saying "The username or password you entered is incorrect".

"Damn! What the hell is going on? How could I possibly type the password wrong ten times in a row? Not even when I am drunk!", he muttered to himself. He wanted to try for one last time, to convince his yet-to-get-convinced heart that she had indeed changed her password.

"Sharing our mail passwords", Tejas once said to Shreya, " is a symbol of our love, that it means we trust each other and we have nothing to hide".

"That is the newest definition of love I suppose!", said Shreya while she happily texts her password to him. It happened the next day after she had accepted his proposal.

Tejas decided to try one last time, and this time he wanted to use a foolproof method. Ya, it's a method to prove his foolish belief that his mind thinks the right password, but his fingers are pressing the wrong keys instead. He opened a notepad, typed the letters, selected them using his mouse, copied them to memory, opened up his browser again, went to www.gmail.com, typed her username, and pasted the password. Somehow, he felt sure that this time Gmail will let him in.

Instead, he starred at the red letters with disbelief.

"How could she do this to me? We didn't even have a fight recently! There is no reason for her to get angry with me! What wrong did I do?"

Was he drunk last night? Did something happen last night which he could not recollect now during which he abused her or did something terribly wrong which pissed her off to sever their relationship?

He got up from the chair, went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. Through the window, he could see a table and a couple of chairs still kept in the lawn, neatly arranged. On the table was placed a candle stand, aesthetically designed. He could remember the previous night very well. How could he forget it?

Shreya returned from her office to find the house dark inside when opened.

"Tejas, aren't you home yet?", she asked while groping for the switches in the dark. She could see the back door open, which opens up to the lawn. There in the lawn, she found Tejas, holding a lit candle in his hand, arranging a romantic candlelight dinner outside.

"Wow! That was very romantic, isn't it" he asked her after making love the same night.

"I loved it! It was a surprise to me" she replied ecstatically.

Fast forward to now, Tejas could not believe that she had changed her password after all the romantic evening they enjoyed together! Didn't she say she enjoyed it as much as he did, later in the morning?

He was going crazy with the passage of every minute. He could not wait until Shreya returns from her office to find about the change in password, or worse, change in her mind perhaps! No, he does not have the guts to ask her. After all, it's not even 24 hours yet since they made their first love!

"How will I confront her? What is the strategy to make her tell the truth? Well, I need to compose myself first. Let me check my mail now" saying this, he typed his password, this time very carefully.

It was such a great relief for him to see the website opening up the inbox for the first time, after all the unsuccessful attempts he made earlier. He was so eager to check for the unread messages appearing in bold font. But it was only after a while that he cognized the welcome message "Hi Shreya!" that appeared on top of the inbox.

Jun 17, 2011

Review of A Thousand Splendid Suns

"Suggest me a book to read", I asked my friend.

"A thousand splendid suns", came the reply in a blink! "But, its not for a light reading", he warned me after. I googled for the title, went through the reviews, opened flipkart and placed an order in an impulse. After receiving the book a couple of days later, I placed it in my shelf amidst a number of books in "to read" shelf, and I totally forgot about it.

The reason why I hesitated to read this book has to do with the way I chose the books to buy/read. Instead of selecting a book based on the reviews or the story, I select them based on the authors whose writing I like. Though I had watched Kite Runner from the same author, I had not read any of his work yet!

It was in a spur of the moment my curiosity sparked and drove me to the first page. The opening line of the book added fuel to my curiosity and then I felt myself saying, "I think I like this book!"

I soon realized that a thousand splendid suns is indeed not for a light reading, and so I paid more attention in reading it whenever I got some time to spare. Caught on with the positive feedback as I flipped through the pages, I finally finished reading this book in a week since I started.

No, its not the story that I was obsessed with. Nor the writing style of the author. I could not believe for a second that I am reading a story! While reading, I found myself transported to Afghanistan, and as a mute spectator, I felt as if I was living with the characters and observing them from up close.

I felt like I played with Mariam during her childhood days, comforted her when her father deserted her, mourned with her when her mother hanged herself, pitied her when she was married off to an elderly widower, was concerned about Laila when she joined her, agitated when she tried to escape along with Laila from the clutches of Rasheed, tempered when Rasheed treated her badly, and finally felt peace when Mariam gave a blow on Rasheed's face with a shovel.

None of the books that I had  read so far had made me to feel connected with a character this way!

Jun 16, 2011

Weird wired connections

When my sister-in-law was preparing coffee for me, she was also boiling water in a pot to prepare kanji, a nutritional mixture, for her two year old daughter. I was playing with Snigdha meanwhile to keep her engaged so that she does not disturb her mother while preparing her food.

Sniffing the aroma of kanji through the air, Snigdha understood what her mother is preparing. When I picked up my cup of coffee, she ran towards her room, lied down in the cot pretending to be asleep. I could not figure out what was happening!

What happened da? I asked her.

"Thachi", said she, in her sweet mazhalai voice. A cute innocent smile was spreading over her face.

"Is she all right? She is feeling sleepy all of a sudden!", I went to the kitchen to ask my sis-in-law.

"This is her usual tactics to avoid drinking kanji", she explained to me. "I do not know how to feed this girl! She keeps avoiding all nutritious food. But her immunity is too low. She catches cold/fever in a blink, or chew something that she picks from floor in her mouth causing diarrhea", she whined in a concerned tone.

Well, its not her fault after all. Unfortunately, the tasty food are generally not good for health, and the converse is also true! She just happen to be yet another victim for taste, I was thinking aloud to myself. But what concerned me the most is her tactics to keep her mom from feeding her the kanji.

The aroma in the air quickly alarmed her about what is coming next, and she quickly devised a plan to avoid it. And all this was happening in an infant's brain! I took a sip from my cup of coffee while wondering about the mysterious weird wired connection of a two year old kid!

Jun 5, 2011

IIT Madras - a treasure hunt

The legend is that Buddha got enlightened when he sat under a Bodhi tree. Whether the shade provided by the tree assisted Budha to get enlightened, or did he just happen to sit under the tree while he was on his way towards attaining Nirvana, is not known.

Following my chain of thoughts, I reasoned out that the shady tree at the bus stop near the Gajendra circle, popular landmark at IIT Madras, is what made me to think about the Buddha and the Bodhi tree.

"It is called as the golden shower tree", I recollected what my friend once said. I thought he just coined a name to that tree because its flowers look like the golden shower.

Later, when I wikied golden shower, I came to know that the name is indeed an alias to the tree whose name is Cassia Fistula

The flowers from the tree, that appears like the golden shower, is the state flower of Kerala where, the tree and its flower are being used since ages to extract herbal medicines that was known to cure a lot of diseases.

My sudden enlightenment under the golden shower tree made me to wonder how many treasures like the golden tree are hidden in IIT Madras, waiting to enlighten me with their traditional values!

Jun 3, 2011

Little Jammy went to school

My life did not have a perfect start. In fact, had it not been for my mom's observative eyes and ears, I would not have been ended up here in IIT Madras, working on one of the most challenging problems of my time.

It was in the winter of '84 when my mom took me to the nearby church school for admission. I was two years and one month old then!

"We don't have a separate classroom for Pre.K.G students, ma'am. But your son is too young to be put in with the L.K.G students", said the sister, a nun, who is also the headmistress of the school.

She knows I do not have many kids to play around near my home, and so I had to be put up in school so that I get to play and socialize with new friends of my age. But that just did not happen! Dejected, my mom held my hand and took me back home.

Back at home, I was left to play on my own, while my mom went on to mind her cooking and housekeeping business. Sitting in the room's corner where I was allowed to play under watchful eyes from my mom, I mumbled something which I think was A, B, C, D...

"You recited all the alphabets, numbers from 1 to 100 and most of the Tamil and English nursery rhymes in the next 6 months", recalled my mom, when I met her recently and was discussing my brother's two-year-old daughter's education. "However, you were not given an admission even in the following April of '85!"

"Your son did not write any alphabet today and does not seem to know any numbers at all ma'am" complained the sister to my mom. "Maybe", she continued, "it's too early for him. I would suggest you wait for one more year before you can put him in school. He is just two and a half years old now!"

"We do not have a choice but to turn down your application once again. We are sorry for your kid, but we will surely admit him next year", the sister said that in an assured voice.

There were about 25 to 30 parents then, waiting to get their kids admitted to the school on that day, recalled my mom. And she did not like the idea of asking me to wait for one more year.

"Why should you be asked to wait for one more year, when you are able to recite all the alphabets and numbers and most of the rhymes which even the L.K.G kids are not capable of?" My mom must have asked me that question then.

I do not exactly remember what happened then, but my mom recalled the following:
"I know you would not let me down. I know you will write all the alphabets and numbers to me. Son, will you do it now? In front of all these people who think that you do not know anything?"
Asking me thus, my mom took a slate and a chalk, made me sit on her lap and told me to write. Like a magic, I started writing A, B, C till Z, and then 1,2,3 till 20 and recited some rhymes in English, enough to impress everyone out there.

And that's how I was taken into L.K.G, while I was only two and a half year old!