Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to find good faculty members and post-graduate students?

How to find good faculty members? Although this question is faced by all institutions across the world, I am discussing here the Indian academia.
Probably a more important question is how to find good graduate students motivated for research?

Here are some of my thoughts.

I believe there is a huge potential in the so-called "next-level" colleges in India. May be the best is to tap them, go to their institutes, invite them to spend a summer or the last year with the "top-level" institutes, and hopefully show them and convince them the advantages of pursuing research in India.

How to retain the bachelor students of the "top-level" institutes themselves? May be money in the foreign universities is not the only concern. May be our curriculum is too rigid, too fixed with rules and bureaucratic, and in the process not so interesting. May be the colonialism has left us to derive a system where we don't believe anyone and try to guard against all possible mis-actions.
If we believe the graduate students more in letting them choose what they really want, the faculty members more in letting them design courses and conduct classes the way they want, things will only change towards better.

In any case, it cannot become much worse.

Reverse colonization

Now an European president is seeking to meet an Indian businessman to decide how the Indian company will operate in the European country! The tables have turned, is it?
However, I fail to get satisfaction as much as I would have wanted.
In the end, this is still humans portraying their ultimate greed.

Capital punishment

The hanging of Ajmal Kasab is a welcome news.
If he along with his mates dared to do this to our country, it is only right that he is hanged. Yes, this is revenge, but then what is wrong in it?
Why should we be chicken-hearted about ending the life of a hard-core terrorist? Why should we keep on feeding him from the state exchequer, filled from our taxes, when we are killed by him mercilessly? For than 100 deaths happened on that day, and the media is only worried about the human rights angle to the capital punishment!
Should we wait for another terrorist attack that hijacks a plane and demands Ajmal to be freed, only for him to return and create more havoc?
These kind of people have no right to live in our society, especially when it has been proved beyond doubt that he was responsible for his actions.
The only thing I dislike about the whole thing is that it took 4 years.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Whatever is going on in this country in the name of governance is too obnoxious. How can police arrest a girl for posting on facebook? More ridiculously, how can they arrest some other girl for "liking" that post? The morality of the law-keepers in this country has never been highly thought of, but this is too much to ignore, too much to not condemn in the strictest possible words.
The post was way too innocuous and is very very reasonable. Holding up an entire city is not worthwhile; but the more important point is hunting down someone for a perfectly nice post in the cyber world, and claiming it incites hatred, etc. is a perfect example of what wrong is.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My country

The situation in this country is just way too depressing. I don't even know where to start, what to say. Too many events -- CWG, 2G, CAG shunning, Coal Allocation, Petroleum Ministry, Education, Law and Order, Khap -- the list is too depressing and too endless.
It is easy to blame the Congress or the UPA-II for this, but what about the Opposition -- BJP or NDA? They give some press conferences and that's all. I guess the whole political system is just rotten from the core.
However, this is not the most frustrating part. It is the failure of the entire country in either individual capacities or NGO-level or some group level to fight this wide-spread corruption. In fact, it seems that no body really hates corruption. They hate it when they can't do it themselves, and when the chance comes, they just scrape the cream as well. And I am one of them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Faculty member caught posing as R-1 officer

In a startling revelation, one of the faculty members of an IIT near a remote village has been caught masquerading as an R-1 officer.  He was exposed while setting up a coaching center for IIT-JEE exam where he put up a hoarding mentioning himself as a faculty member.

When our reporter caught up with him, Dr. Robin Vada (real name changed only a bit) put up a brave face, and said this is to protect himself and his family against discrimination.  He argued, "Who wants to be a faculty member from an R-1 officer? While it seems a promotion, it actually is quite the reverse," and after adding an expletive towards one of his uncles who advised him for this, went on, "Look at all the things a faculty member has to go through -- taking regular classes, conducting exams, grading large number of papers, explaining to authorities why his/her students did not work, etc., etc.  And on top of it, they get houses that have been rejected by all R-1 officers, even those who are around 10 years junior.  On the other hand, we, R-1 officers, enjoy all the perks, and have much less responsibilities.  It was a grave mistake to apply for a faculty position.  And while I was offered a position, I never accepted it." While our reporter pointed out that 'no communication' means an acceptance and he had to send a formal rejection letter, Dr. Vada broke into another feat, "You journalists don't understand the situation of the aam aadmi in this country.  We need to worry about gas cylinders and banana prices every day and not some official bureaucratic rejection letter."

The IIT authorities has also decided to pass on the buck to, well, it is not clear whom, as they are still deciding.  However, one of the faculty members, on conditions of anonymity, told us that he is sure that the buck will be passed to the faculty community, "I am waiting for an office order that will reprimand us for not welcoming a new member of our community.  Sadly, the truth remains that we had no idea he was part of us.  In fact, we felt jealous looking at his big house, big car, etc."

Dr. Vada's wife, Mrs. Sonali, refused to talk to our reporter.  One of the neighbors, however, was gracious enough to pitch in, "How can she now come out? She always called us to her house on one pretext or another to show how good and how big it was.  Her nagging about what to do with so many rooms and so much garden space was becoming intolerable.  Now that she will be forced to stay in a two-room apartment like us and wait for 5-7 years for a bigger house, she is simply heart-broken."

The faculty members in Dr. Vada's department were also morose about this development, "This now means our average class size will go down from 76 to 74. With a cut-off of 75 students, we could have got one more extra day of grading."

Some members even saw a sinister motive in revealing Dr. Vada as a faculty member just when the IIT senate passed the rule of allowing one less day for grading with courses less than 75 students.  "You have to question the timing of this.  I mean, this guy has been enjoying this house for more than a year now. Why have the authorities woken up so late?"

The whole matter has been referred to the ministry of human resources and development.  Apparently, the reaction from there is that a little dishonesty doesn't hurt anyone.  In fact, it has helped the country by distorting the statistics of available faculty members in IIT, thereby paving the way for setting up foreign institutes.

The reaction from the Board of Governors of the IIT is awaited.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The frightening pace of destruction

What is the real price of the coal allocation scam?

Can it just be measured in monetary terms? What about the destruction that it will lead to -- the destruction of forests, the destruction of habitat, the destruction of indigenous culture, the destruction of wildlife?

Can everything be justified simply in the name of "development"?

And who will really benefit from that? The big companies, their CEOs, the industrial giants, but never the people who will be displaced, never the flora and fauna that will be destroyed and possibly made extinct, never the local simple art and craft that will make way to "made in china" stuff.

The argument that this is the only alternative is just not debated enough.

And this is where as modern humans, we have failed. We just don't realise, we just don't question, we just don't care. We have failed collectively on a basis that is becoming too important to circumscribe, too large to ignore.

Frightening, disturbing, depressing?

Doesn't matter -- we are too happy to kick-start our daily journey with a different type of "colgate".

Monday, August 20, 2012

Violence and SMS curfew

The Indian government's latest move to not allow more than 5 sms per person per day to arrest the violence against North-East Indians is a nuisance at best.

It not only fringes on the citizens' right to communicate, but also squarely puts the blame on to interactions through sms. This is a law-and-order situation and should be treated as such.

Instead of focusing attention on sms and social networks, the government should rather spend its energy on stopping the riots in Assam in the first place and then curbing the violence in the South Indian cities.

As Einstein once pithily remarked, "I've little sympathy for all those who find the thinnest part of the wood and then proceed to make a great many holes in it."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Independence Day

"Happy Independence Day" -- this phrase has been hitting us more and more in recent years. This is more like happy mother's day, happy valentine's day, happy new year, etc. Indeed, consumerism has brought everything down to the same level.However, there is a more important issue about happy independence day.

What is so "happy" about it? Have we forgotten our history completely? Don't we remember anything about the circumstances in which our country gainedher independence? Don't we remember the partition? The breaking up of our country, for the sole benefit of some foreigners and some-worse-than-foreigners-businessmen-and-politicians? The riots that followed? The millions that died? The more-than-millions that were forced to flee their homes overnight without so much as even a paise or a change of clothes?

No, we don't. We only remember a footnote of history that India got its first Indian prime minister? Note that still Mountbatten was in the country. And instead of booting the British out, we welcomed them.
But what is it to us, a generation far removed from the practicalities of hardship and nation building. We have inherited a free country and a more-than-useful holiday. Let it be that.

Jai Hind!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mahan Maharaj

Mahan Maharaj (Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award winner for Mathematics in 2011) is simply one of the great wonders of this world. A student, so brilliant, with a chance to stay back in foreign countries, not only returns but embraces monkhood! However, his love and sense of duty for what he is good at (i.e., mathematics) leads him to continue doing research at the highest level.

Indeed, I feel one of his comments to be so apt -- when asked why he chose to be a monk, he replies "Perhaps because I wanted to find the peace to work away at mathematical problems!"

With this fast world around, are we giving yourselves enough time and peace to work towards what we are good at?

Monday, August 6, 2012

E-filing of income tax

While the Indian government's effort to get all income taxes over ₹10 lakhs to be filed online compulsorily must be lauded, we are still really myopic about the way to do it.

The website requires one to first create an account (a regulation step), and then submit an XML file as the tax return. The use of XML is a great step as (i) it is really just a text format, (ii) it is free and not under any copyright, etc.

However, as soon as one starts thinking of how to create the XML file, trouble ensues. The website asks one to use a spreadsheet file (that also after unzipping). Note that while spreadsheet is an open (and free) format, the file that the website provides issues macros and ActiveX controls which, unfortunately, cannot be run without Microsoft Excel. I have tried different Openoffice versions and confirmed this.

This is where my real complaint is. Why force an entire population to use a paid (and if I may add, quite heavily so) software? Does the Indian government assume that all users have access to such a pricey software? Or as is the current wisdom, have access to one with such a privilege or worse have access to a pirated version? Is this really promoting piracy?

I must re-emphasize the fact that the final output is just an XML file. Some other software (not a spreadsheet) could have been used to generate it only if the website also provided the document structure for it. But why bother when the open secret is that M$Office is freely pirated.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


A time comes when you do everything, listen to everyone, attend every detail, find every joy, feel every pain, but yet you feel something missing, something not right. You can't pinpoint, or worse, you can't correct it.
What can you do then? Your ego won't let you apologize to people you have hurt, your selfishness won't let you stop manipulating the world for yourself, your humanity won't let you go evil without remorse, your fellow-feeling pains you when you hurt people -- in a sense, you are the most confused creature. You wish you break a few barriers, take a few bold decisions, blurt out some truth, bleed, cry, run crazy. But alas, there are so many conflicting emotions that you just don't do anything, you just let yourself rot -- rot to the point when there's no coming back, rot in a way where even the most rotten state doesn't seem to matter.
And then? You don't know -- you're not yet there, but as is said, "worse than war is the fear of war" -- you're pretty scared of what to come, you're not even sure it's coming, you just suffer! Mind you, this suffering is not like your daily dose of pains and depressions, this is different. This is rotting of the soul, disintegration of yourself, where there is no sympathy, no reason even -- just the suffering!