Thursday, December 12, 2013

Life at IITM

The purpose of this post is two-fold.


Shameless celebration. My grandma's home and can perform powerful warding-off-evil-eye with the "drishti-suthifying" salt. Hence, I'm allowed to indulge myself in this act.

(from Red I guess, it goes very well with the colour theme of my blog!)
I made it to IIT - Madras :) :) :) PhD Scholar, Computer Science.


To try and make sense of what's been happening the past six months. Trying to find out if what I experienced was anything like what I wished for on my sweet sixteen. (Honestly :P I remember I rushed to IIT class in my birthday dress!)

So, I'm sure countless people want to know what it's like to be at IIT-M. I can only speak from the perspective of a member of the steadily growing research community, though Insti is famous as an undergraduate institution.

1. IIT Madras is beautiful

The first impression I had was, I am going to be in an institution that was built within a forest. Every single day, seeing the deer and the banyan trees and the glorious sunsets was a constant source of wonder. Even yesterday, I was able to spot a beautiful rainbow against a backdrop of trees. However upset you are, a walk in the 600-odd acre campus is the best therapy you can get in searing hot Chennai.

2) Everything has a lot of procedures!

From admissions to solemn written oaths to be ecologically responsible, you will wish you had a better signature than spelling out your name on all those documents! Not to mention the dreaded medical tests, my face was so downcast when I saw the number of medical tests I had to pass and as my close friends know, I'd rather write another entrance exam! All went well and nothing was amiss and I was finally, finally a part of IIT-M after I received my ID card.

3) I became a lot more independent.

Being in hostel for the first time was something I always wanted to experience; to be able to care for oneself to the extent possible. It took some time for an early bird like me to put up with the fact breakfast won't be ready till seven when you have an eight o' clock class, the inability to bicycle will lead you to eventually plan to be ready by 7:30 in case you miss the 7:30 shuttle, you'll catch the 7:45 one. What will take most time, is to drag your feet on a day when you have no class to simply put attendance. After some rounds of locking doors, leaving doors wide open, getting stuck in lift experiences, missing food in mess, I gradually fell into a rhythm of attending classes, working in lab, calling for the late night shuttle if needed, eating midnight snacks and studying in groups during quiz week, gearing up for a few disappointments, watching movies with friends and having fun!

4) New friends, new experiences

From room mates to batch mates to lab mates, I have a plethora of people to depend upon and share my time happily. Most of them are older than me, yet it is with ease that I'm able to talk to them and have made some best friends. Plus, my 22nd birthday was a riot at hostel!

5) I worked

I won't say I worked academically like never before. I definitely put more effort in high school. But I worked very very hard. It took me a lot of time to get adjusted to the system of continuous evaluation with programming assignments and lab talks and things I hardly even remember. Here, classes are course based, so you make another set of friends for practically each subject. I didn't celebrate most of the festivals this season , except thankfully Deepavali, and then went on to get a C in the subject I sacrificed these aforementioned festivals! Of which feat I am still very proud no matter ;) My grades were good, and as every student says, I will do better next semester, start research and study well :D

6) I got interested in research, big time!

Apart from savouring freedom in the social front, the anticipation of one of the most unrestrained academic journeys with the highest degree has swelled like a bubble within me, thanks to the countless orientations. I hope I can make a significant contribution to the field of computer science.

7) The bee syndrome

Apart from the total stillness of sound on some nights, there is always a perpetual buzz here. Be it talks with friends, or activities, or clubs, or magazine editing, or nature walks, or cricket (that's another story!), there is always so very much to participate in. Eagerly looking forward to my first mega fest experience!

I think it is definitely better than anything I dreamed it would be like.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Google Google

You don't search things anymore, you google them. Ever since I began pursuing my higher studies, I've been hearing about the landmark paper - Brin and Page [1998] - sometimes in context, sometimes in jest that its effectiveness was not realised at that time. The fundamental idea - PageRank - found many applications thereafter. The point I'm trying to make is, Google is extremely good at discovering data that its user wants - and as personalised as possible.

One of the more charming aspects of Google, autocomplete, caught my attention. As always, autocomplete is a reflection of popularity of searches with the typed words of your query.

Today is United Nations Day. In the few weeks preceding, United Nations Women had an interesting ad campaign.

These results are region specific. I tried "women should" from my region and a very interesting gem I unearthed was "women should not be educated". Guffawing loudly, I spent an hour reading arguments that convinced me that feminism is very much necessary in this day and age as well. At least, to acknowledge that sexism and a sense of telling women what to do or even discuss what they should be allowed to do pervades global society.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Agony and Ecstasy

A beautiful baby was born,
In the early hours of the morn.
The arrival of a bright new life was
Heard by the waking world. The cause
Of joy delighted the mother,
Father, aunt, uncle, grand mother.
Merry Mother Nature lent her hand,
And helped the robust child land
In a bed of roses and see
Three lovely pleasant summers. She
Then plummeted into the abyss
Of sorrow. Something was amiss.
She lay quite still, quivering and
Ill. She seemed poised between life and
Death. Worried faces appeared above
Her eyes, which did not see the tender love
Nor anything else. But God had
No intention of nipping this bud,
And saved her. It made her see
That she had been given a chance
To prove her worth. All day she pranced
Along with her joyous family.
Six years and six days, a medley
Of medicines, vegetables,
Courage, willpower turned the tables
And removed the vestiges of
Disease. After that, success oft
Came her way. Jubilantly, she
Steadily climbed the happiness tree.
Happiness is a golden gift.
But to find it, you need to sift
Through the mud of misery
One again, a blow struck her revelry.
Incidents piled on the carefree
Shoulders that uttered a quite plea,
And broke her confidence, self esteem
And immunity. Her soul seemed
To cry in exasperation.
Again, her courage, desperation
Ultimately made her win the
The ultimate battle that her
Eyes would witness, the battle
With herself. This had taken a toll which
Could not be easily recovered but
Eventually, she did it. The cut
Healed and Dame Fortune once again smiled
On her. She is today, a mild
Tempered young adult who knows that
The all-consuming agony always sat
Back to back with sheer ecstasy.
She now knows that when she sees agony,
Ecstasy is not far behind.
Thus she has registered in her mind
That the inseparable closely
Linked, agony and ecstasy,
Lead to the necessary rise
Of the very powerful ‘LIFE‘

....Written in Std. XII

Monday, July 8, 2013


Born on the ninth month of the year, I write
nine lines each about the nine rasas and bring light
to our traditional drama aesthetics.

Love is infinite like the stretching sky,
precious, as the stars that bedeck it. By
virtue, the mother of emotions,
nurturing and caring like the notions 
of the trees and sweet rain. The only one,
beautiful, like the day that had begun
soft among the dewdrops, where the other
is more than self and yet, like a flower,
blooms. This is the first rasa, Sringara.

Laughter breaks the silence like the chirpy
birds that rouse one from a deep sleep. Happy
thoughts make one buoyant like those wisps of cloud
that float on a wind stream. This mirth is loud,
extinguishing awkward pauses, as those
crashing waves of ocean as the wind blows
on a quiet beach. The happy heart glows
with the warmth of a firefly on a rose.
Thus, this is the second rasa, Hasyam.

Anger rises in one's soul uncoiling,
like the snake towards light, from unending
depths of sorrow. It snaps like a strong twig
trodden by infinite ants, then, a big
explosion ensues, as thunder thunders
across a rainy night. Mother Nature's
fury, at times, can be a sight of plight,
unleashing storms from her heavenly height.
This is the fiery third rasa, Raudram.

Mercy soothes the ailing heart as the rain 
does to the cracked lands of a desert. Pain
vanishes as those tiny birds that fly
into the horizon. It is quite nigh
impossible to find a state divine
as this. It is the rainbow coloured line,
that describes the need for both sun and rain,
both the giver and the taker do gain.
Thus, this is the fourtrasa, Karunyam.

Disgust turns one away like scalded tongues
from hot food, like stars from the day. One's lungs
turn away from smoke, the nose from ill smell.
This feeling contorts the face and can tell
others the displeasure. The heart does yearn
to correct it, like the bud does want to learn
the world beyond and blooms. Yet, it consoles
itself as it cannot make all the souls
happy. This is the fifth rasa, Bibhatsam.

Horror engulfs the heart like an eclipse
in the midst of day. Have to come to grips
with the reality and yet, go away,
far away, like the deer runs from lion's way.
The heart does pick up a lightning fast pace,
like the birds that scatter from a fast chase.
The howling winds among the cackling leaves
on a dark night horrifies even thieves.
This is the sixtrasa, Bhayanakam.

Heroism is a rare emotion.
It rises in the time of need, a notion
of duty, like the bird that saved the ant.
The bravery that rises, like a plant,
growing towards sunlight, searches for honour,
saving people in distress. The valour
protecting all, like the spread canopy
of the forest sheltering its city.
Thus, this is the seventh rasa, Viram.
Wonder expands inside one, like ripples
move away so beautifully, riddles
and mysteries of life bring it about.
The star-studded night sky showering doubt
on one's place in God's plan, the sun nestled
among the mountains, dew drops that settled
from nowhere on the grass at breaking dawn;
everything's a wonder from doe to fawn.
Thus, this is the eighth rasa, Adbhutham.

Peace is the queen of all the emotions,
a state like no other, the one relation
to true self-discovery. The tranquil seas
on a quiet day, the waves that do tease
the ear from conch, the simultaneous
stillness of the soul along with the radiance
of understanding. The height of victory
achieved by the emotions' liberty.
Thus, the very last rasa is Santam.

I hope I have fulfilled my earnest wish,
my new take on thNavarasa list.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Beach Portfolio of Poems

A Fable of Folly

“Long Long ago”, said Aesop in the court,
“there was a donkey led by his master,
across the slippery sands to the port.
The poor beast was made to go much faster
by the merciless merchant, finally
the donkey collapsed beside the seashore
and the salt bundles tumbled towards sea.
As it stood struggling, prepared for some more,
to its surprise, the few bundles weighed less,
not understanding that salt was gone.
The over-worked animal did feel blessed
by God, unlike the disgruntled and wronged
master. The crafty donkey looked forward
to the smell of the fresh salty sea air.
With precise timing, it sauntered toward
the water and slipped. There was less to bear
once again. Elated, and with elan,
it did it again. However, this time,
when the panting sweating merchant began
to reload the bundles, wiping all the grime
away from his face, the surprised donkey
collapsed for there were wet clothes now on its
back. It learned, along with us, that the key
is not to repeat tricks”, thus he proved his wits.

On Cloud Nine

In the morning where glistens the moist dew,
her effort made me awake. With no clue
about my new journey, I lay there hovering
uncertainly on the bed. Shivering
in the dawn, my mother gently took me
in her warm hands and walked towards the sea.
She held me firmly yet she set me free.
Afraid to stray far and with a silent plea,
I took some halfhearted steps with her hand.
Yet, she kept tugging, running on the sand,
encouraged me and reassured by
the pull, I relaxed and few to the sky.
As I embraced the wind and accepted
it, I soared higher, I was excepted
from accidents by the slight force that kept
me grounded and strong. I dreamed big and leapt
among the silver clouds and then looked down.
I drank the exquisite scene, from the brown
sands to the blue sea. As I saw the black
birds, I remembered the black paper back
at home that was brought alive by one whose
sublime joy was seen even amidst those
vast expanses of land, by this kite here.
Though on land, on cloud nine, was mother dear.

The Beach

I walk across the soft slippery sands,
then sit in front of the calm sea. My hands
caress the golden grains. I look ahead.

I see the waves rise gracefully, akin
ti the nice burgeoning hopes within
my heart. I see the crown of pearly foam.
I see those hopes blossom. My mind does roam
into pleasant places. Alas! The waves
bow their heads and crash. I wake up. This paves
the way to acknowledge my aching heart.
Slowly, the refreshing breeze does its part
to blow far away, my unhappiness.
The waves wash away, nevertheless,
and their rhythm further calms my sober
soul. With my anger stilled, I am better.
I raise my head and see the royal sun
dip beneath the horizon and summon
the queen of the night, the celestial moon
to grace the heavens. Bathed in its light soon,
I see the brightness in all times dark.

I see the infinite jewels of this queen,
the stars that bedeck the night sky. Its seen
to take me from my life to my special
place. Wiser. Stronger. Among the sea shells.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fidèle Féministe

Bleary eyed in the wake of dawn, actually just the eve of noon, I see some frantic attempts to contact me on my cell phone. Half-asleep and a tooth-brush in one hand, I call up my best friend to ask what the matter was. He was half-amused at my sleepy tone and half-annoyed he had to call me so much. Then he told me that 5 members of the ACM team had to go to IIT-Madras tomorrow. It was an ACM-Women event and as there are exactly five girls in the ACM team, everyone was waiting for my confirmation. I was in a state of resistance simply at the fact that I was enjoying a nice day off and had to wake up early the next day.  When you have a job in hand and are in the final semester, the tendrils of complacency tend to sneak their way into you and I washed them off and said yes. I thought I had nothing better to do that particular day and might as well see what's in store. I wasn't very excited because it involved a lot of planning and I was even less excited at the though I may be chaperoning the juniors who were to accompany me.

How very wrong I was!*

IIT-Madras is basically built in the middle of a forest, you'll see stags crossing the road and what not. It's also very huge and easy to get lost. I had done some research on the event and my feminist soul already had a few misgivings at the thought of an exclusive ACM-W event. Nevertheless, I was prepared to go to the venue, IC and SR auditorium. The event began at 9 am. The five us settled in the cozy air-conditioned auditorium at the back. So I thought this is going to be a nice girls hangout, already I began chatting with them and everything was warm and fun.

The first person to give their presentation was Ms. Reyyan Ayfer.

She came up on stage and she is obviously at ease and comfort and she squeals "Oh, I'm short!". As a person who values the 3 inches over the 5 feet mark, I could very well connect with her. She gave a talk about the ACM-W student chapter, how the first meeting was held on 12/12/12, how they wanted to bring awareness and create more ACM-W chapters to bring about a healthier gender diversity ratio for Computer Engineers. She said she knew what minority meant as she was in a family where her husband and her two grown sons were engineers and she was the only female. Gender-diversity at Chennai colleges are quite 50-50 but even then there is an unsettling feeling of minority that I had experienced from school.

Next on stage was Ms. Wendy Hall. 

She was so bubbly and fun!
Now she wanted to try something different, apart from just talking about ACM - W. She wanted to take us on a journey travelling back in time and experience her major milestones and hurdles in her path right from her first baby steps. Her parents had lived during the World War and she belonged to the "Baby Boomer" era where her parents strove to give the best in life. As an avid historian, my instant connect with someone who is culturally different but having read their history, it made me feel, "Oh, ya I know where she's coming from!". I won't know exactly how it feels but I had a fair idea. And she began.

And the rest is history.

To take that half century journey was mind-blowing. From math to computers, from Tim Berners Lee to hyertext, from multimedia to semantic web, the story was mesmerising. As she displayed the skewed gender ratio, I thought this representation problem is truly global. She mentioned lot of tales, the gender ratio in Qatar and so on. But what really piqued my interest was when she explained the process that took place when she became a member of the Royal Society of London, signing the same book which had been signed centuries ago by Newton! That's like... wow!!! She mentioned a lot of things, about how women got the right to something as fundamental as a vote only a century ago. The talk really did stir up those pangs of feminism that are always resident in the background somewhere.

There was question and answer session and I was itching to ask a question. Only problem is I have this stage fear, my heart starts pounding and my mouth goes dry even though I have spoken on countless occasions. A new audience is a new challenge and by the time I could muster the courage to ask a question, the time was up and we were asked to take a break for tea.

At tea, I asked my HOD to introduce us so that we can take a picture with them and I finally mustered the courage to ask Ms. Wendy Hall the question. I told her how I found it odd that the main ACM event has no women and all the women are here. Doesn't it give a subtle image that famous professionals are male? And she was surprised and agreed with me pronto and held my shoulders and said "Men just don't get it! Are you brave enough to ask that?". Now this was another mind-blowing experience. Not only did she echo my sentiments, but she really like the fact I asked it and encouraged me too. Again, the wonderful connect I felt even though culturally, geographically we were separated, at that moment we just two women who had experienced being a minority, who understood that women should not be selected simply by virtue of the fact they are women but simply that even the deserving women are not getting fair representation as the interest is not there to involve them, or that it is a new experience to invite women or because women are changing too fast for the scientific community to adapt.

So I walk in with more confidence. The next speaker was Ms. Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer of Xerox. She introduced us to the many many interesting technical problems that Xerox has addressed, variable pricing as an example, dispelling theories of the lone synonym for photocopy. Xerox is actually gearing itself to a paperless future and she gave a compelling talk about the principles, the innovation, the sheer quality of technical expertise they take, nurture, support and harness. Yet again, as fascinating as this was, what drew me was, of course, her life story, as a single mom with three kids. She said with a twinkle, managers let you get away with nursing your child at the meeting if your efficiency is indispensable. And by God, the way she walked,so confident and erect, like a woman who was running the show and more importantly a woman who knew she was running the show. It was charisma par anything I had seen. Then, she shows a family photo and am wondering, are they her cousins and she says those grown people are her children! Two sons and a daughter if I remember right. As I was in the very last row, I could not make out the few lines in her face but her agility and bearing gave me an impression of a far more energetic and young woman.

After that was a technical talk on classifications that may be used for applications such as biometrics by a professor in IIT, and an old student of the same. She emphasised the need for more girls to take up IIT. As a student who did not make it to those hallowed halls, it hardened my resolve to conduct a coaching class to give girls the confidence to tackle the IIT-JEE head on and  with self-belief.

Then, post lunch we had a panel discussion. As a feminist, this session, further post-lunch, was quite old talk, arguments about . I had heard all these stories before. Once again, it was not the issue but their life stories, struggles and triumphs that struck a chord. Indeed, they were inspiring people, Ms. Rashmi Mohan from Yahoo, the youngest, mother of two daughters, Anupama, one of the directors at IBM who had grown from a traditional roots to a bold outlook, Meenakshi, a hard-core academic, again juggling kids and work, Akila, a corporate representative who unfortunately  chaired the discussion and could not give much insight into her own life story, Gayatri, the senior most corporate member, adventurous and always travelling. Each person gave so many little anecdotes that I cannot honestly quote. Recurring themes were resilience, spirit, determination, motherhood and dedication.

Please do visit this site to see their exhaustive achievements. For the mountain of achievements, they were all very down-to-earth. The question and answer session was back. However I couldn't see Ms. Wendy Hall who said she'd back me up. My friend was whispering proper ways of framing it and my throat was still rasping. I asked the question and they said all the wonderful women are here today and the organisers said we'll include women. I thought my question was dealt with rather quickly and was feeling miffed. I wanted to know what everyone felt about it. So that tea break, I went around talking. I met Anupama and she said we were losing out statistically because there were very few women in top corporate society. I was not personally convinced because quality will speak out but I guess the statistics is over-whelming. Then I met Rashmi and she said that was a fantabulous question and my spirits started to rise again. After that I met Ms. Sophie Vanderbroek and she was excited by the question too and I was pouring out my enthusiasm and admiration of her talk and promised her I will write good stuff about Xerox. I'm sure I've at least established the quality of people at Xerox. Last I met Ms. Reyyan Ayfer, who was very excited about the whole blogging scenario and then asked me so many questions about my culture that enthralled me.

The ACM-W event wrapped up by then and the lecture by the legendary Vint Cerf followed. As I let the events of the day seep, I realised that so many cultures, languages, lifestyles apart, so many women, all over the world feel the way I do. I call them loyal femisists, Fidèle Féministe, by virtue of their work and committment and their eagerness to reach out to like minded women.

The journey I have charted out for myself is no doubt going to be rigorous but there has been a re-kindling of hope in my soul. This event helped me find an inner strength and sense of logic that I had allowed to be dormant and I thank everyone from the organisers, my HOD, the speakers and my best friend for waking me up that Wednesday Morning on January 24 2013.

*taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone