Comfortably Numb...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

PhD = Piled Higher n Deeper...

The topic should sound real familiar to all the "Phd comics" aficionados...Jorge Cham the brilliant author of the comic strip apparently got that from a famous joke:
BS=Bull Shit
MS=More Shit
PHD=shit Piled Higher n Deeper

Jorge Cham was on a cross-country trip promoting his comics and happened to stop by at UIUC sometime back. His 'presentation' was a hilarious parody of a typical scientific seminar incorporating all the time-honored elements i.e. Introduction slide, Objective, Methods, Results and Discussion, Future directions, Conclusion etc. The auditorium was packed to the rafters with wannabe PhDs who religiously devour all his offerings!

I thoroughly enjoyed his 'exposition' and highly recommend sitting through one of his talks if you get a chance. The modus operandi of these comics is the delectable art of "Procrastination". The dictionary definition of procrastination is "To postpone or delay needlessly"... so Jorge claims that if we can eliminate the term "needlessly" or find a suitable need ... wink wink!! Now, is that a brilliant observation or what?

Sitting through that talk got me very nostalgic!! I sat there reminiscing about my wondrous journey that has been Grad school. I still remember the first year, when getting an "A" in every course was the piece-de-resistance of my very existence. Decked up in the finest regalia that my dad's rather generous budget could buy me in the finest shopping malls of Chennai, stumbling from one class to the other...finding time only to share my academic travails with my equally obsessed fellow desi grad students, seldom caring about sleep and nutrition with the flame of academic excellence burning bright in my eyes. Struggling to establish a cooking schedule with my roomies, the sheer ineptitude of our culinary skills leading to many near-miss catastrophes! Weekends packed with exciting activities like laundry, grocery shopping and homework; a welcome break from our otherwise egalitarian lifestyle, eh!

Jostling with phone cards to catch the faintest whiff of home in the sad voices of our parents and loved ones, conjuring up visions of grandeur and future excellence in all our frantic conversations lest our loved ones feel the desperation in our over-worked lives! Settling down to an alien culture, coming to terms with complete strangers wishing you on random streets, washing your own clothes and doing your dirty dishes! Gaping at every pretty undergrad hottie during that rare instant when our hyper-tuned minds are not grappling complex mathematical/chemical/physical equations from our next homework set. Cursing friday nights for populating the streets with party animals who seem to be God's own sadistic reminder of the better side of life!

The second year progressing into a more balanced struggle…a year of existence arming me with the arrogance of familiarity! Deceiving me into a false sense of security and tempting me to the lush pastures of banal existence. The leviathan burden of coursework taken care off spurned me into many worthless pursuits. Rapidly accruing proficiency in many useful facets of life: professional and otherwise, completely revised my outlook to life. The world was not completely martian anymore; I could prop my feet up and soak in the ambience now. Laptops and the internet made the world a slightly smaller place. Cooking was not quantum physics anymore, recipes were not the sole preserve of moms and aunts! Supplies of frozen foods and Indian stores were not a weekly compulsion, nor were the illegal DVDs of Indian movies.

Indian cricket team wasn’t the only source/drain of passion, nor was ‘Friends’ the only show that I could laugh at! Seinfields and college sports were pervading into my existence with reckless abandon! Trips to local restaurants weren’t a blatant transgression of my religious resolve nor would they bamboozle me into consuming animal parts in subterfuge! Long gone were the 'Bata' shoes and the 'Action' sneakers, displaced by the finest apparel that Walmarts and Old navies could offer esp. during thanksgiving sale!! American football and Baseball were the 'in-thing', though it still didn’t make sense why they couldn’t punt on a second down or keep running after each at-bat! Eh…who cared, this is America baby! Yo, thas what I am talking about!

Phone calls evolved into voice chats with webcams! Long weekends were spent traveling and not cooking food supplies for the next three weeks while doing the month’s laundry parallely! It didn’t matter that a coke cost 55 rupees from the vending machine and the better ice cream always cost 300 rupees more than the regular ones! Lab meetings made more sense and I could actually interject to comment on my lab mate’s results! It was okay to have a CG less than 4.0 and call your profs by their first names! 'Daal chawal' and 'Thayir sadam' appeared less frequently on the weekly menu and nightly escapades to Taco bells and pizza deliveries increased exponentially! Visiting malls was not merely to gape at chicks, but to actually buy stuff too! You felt naked to step out without chewing gum in your pockets, especially after that delicious “extra-spicy” Kung pau tofu you had for lunch with your lab mates!

Sorority girls weren’t born smelling that way but actually bought those perfumes from the stores! Frat boys could burp and fart too! Sweatshirts and fleece replaced those sentimentally knit sweaters that mom told you to wear coz’ it gets really cold out there. Gone were the monkey caps and those ‘super-tight crotch’ Shah Rukh jeans to be replaced by Nautica skull caps and Gap loose-fit jeans! You didn’t have to risk losing your passports to get into bars and actually knew beers not named Budweiser, Bud light and Heineken! Nutrition facts on the cover mattered more than the cost on the shelf itself! Cricket tournaments weren’t restricted to your apt parking lots and Indian functions were more than just tasty dinner opportunities!

It was better to refer to excrements and acts of reproduction when venting your anger than refer to other family members and their anatomical specificities! When outlet malls were savoir-faire compared to walmarts and old navies! When Comedy Central was the most brilliant channel on the face of the planet and ESPN sportscenter was a must watch coz’ you were in your lab shutting down your experiment during the end of the game! Coffee at Starbucks meant more than just a 4$ debasement to your hard-earned savings, it was okay to pass up on free food for a quick bite at Chipotle...

Ahh...those were the times...when water turned to beer and Life rocked dude!!

Fast-forward to the present and I look up my weekly schedule and it reads something like this:

Monday: Grading lab reports and grocery shopping with my roomie
Tuesday: Swimming classes
Wednesday: Soccer practice
Thursday: Play touch football in the quad with buddies
Friday: Lab sessions and cricket practice
Saturday: Cricket match at 9, Ugadi function at 6pm
Sunday: Cricket match at 11, Basketball in the gym at 3pm I missing something here? Oh wait, Research. Holy shit!! So little time and so much to do. Damn you Jorge, you have brainwashed me into your school of thought! I have inadvertently eluded the blame of procrastination! Gone are those days when existential angst was just another GRE word and professional betterment was the ONLY reason for my 'unwilling transplantation' to the US of A. America can be such a wonderful thing you know, embracing you warmly and serving you fries and donuts! Too much fun never seems a crime, snuggling in your comforter that extra half hour doesn’t instill the same sense of guilt as before!

Ah, well! Back to work then my friends! Grad School unfortunately cannot be a way of life, it has to end somewhere and my erudite ancestors have always preached me one thing: “You are much better off finishing grad school in your own terms than letting someone else do it for you!” So, work it is for now.

Pssstt...hey! Baseball season starts this Monday and it will be Friday tomorrow!!

u know wat I am sayin bro?? ;)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

An Ode to the 'Performing Spirit'

Music is the fuel that powers my soul...From the mellifluous brilliance of Hindustani and Carnatic music to the lilting rhythm and bass of Hip-hop, from the playful delight of Western classical to the relentless exuberance of Rock, Music unfailingly fits your mood and elevates you to a higher plane.

In fact, the experience of a 'live' performance is something else altogether, an exalted state of enjoyment that mere words can never capture or begin to describe. Each form of concert or exposition offers a nuance very distinct from the other. A Carnatic music kutcheri with its typical exploratory style can open your eyes to the wondrous complexity of this art form! A Bharatnatyam performance can coax you to empathize with the performer’s emotions and draw you into their Elysium! Many a time, I have been transplanted into such empyrean realms, romancing the gopikas alongside a frivolous Lord Krishna, felt the pangs of Yashoda as she comes to terms with the challenges of maternity, borne the rage of Lord Shiva as he arbitrates over the existence of the mortal world!!

There are few experiences that can match the sheer resplendence of a musical symphony! The venerable Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performed in Urbana-Champaign this Friday. Amongst the many amazing things that I can brag about in Chambana (Urbana-Champaign) is the magnificent art complex "Krannert center". Its legacy and grandeur a testimony to the tireless crusaders of art who dared to dream, its program schedules a delectable who-is-who of music, dance and theater!

The celebrated orchestra performed Schubert and Mozart during its program. Their initial offering, "the Overture to Rosamunde" composed by Franz Schubert during 1823 was an enchanting concoction intermeshing wind instruments like the Oboe, flute, bassoon, trumpet and the clarinet in delightful measure with the staple string instruments i.e. the violin, viola and the cello. A mellifluous orgy of an Allegro performed with clockwork precision by the virtuosos who adorned the stage!

The 'piece de resistance' of the performance was the "Sinfonia Concertante" in E-flat Major composed by the peerless Maestro Mozart during the summer of 1779. This composition places particular emphasis on the violin (generally not the preferred string instrument of the Master, Viola and Cello occupy that exalted pedestal). For a tyro that I am, brandishing rudimentary skills with the violin, this composition is sheer ecstasy. An Ambrosia served by the choicest connoisseurs to satiate my senses, tingle my spine and levitate me into a joyous delirium!! The first movement, 'Allegro maestoso', a marvelously subtle and elegant dialogue. The second movement, 'Andante', a succession of glorious question-and-answer phrases in which the soloists strive to surpass each other in beauty and profundity of expression. The two soloists wielding their magic with their violin and viola left me spellbound! Imagine a conversation with violins…

The whole experience instilled in me a new-found respect for the performing spirit! There is a well-deserved aura of nobility associated to the artistic clan! Any art form is a means of expression that is learnt and mastered after many an hour of ‘sadhana’! To invest the time and effort into it and then muster the courage to perform though takes more than just practice. It takes gumption and passion, a love for the art that transcends avarice and a thirst for fame. A performance is the culmination of talent and confidence that stems from a deep cognition of the art. It takes passion and zest to meet the adulation or the indifference that the world will throw at you!

I pay obeisance to thee, oh adventurous spirit coz’ tis the joy of exposition that you seek! I doff my hat for your passion that is willing to endure the hurdles! The hurdles of indifference, of critique and vitriol, of the dearth of equipage, of more pressing commitments that life might demand! I salute thee for transporting me to worlds I did not know could exist but for your fertile enterprise...