Comfortably Numb...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The PhD Symphony

A PhD is a labor of love sustained purely by desire and annealed by the most arduous of tests! Many a sleepless night, I have pondered over the ebbs and flows that this career choice has taken me through! The mélange of emotions that I have experienced can be likened to a glorious symphony.

[ For an exhaustive listing of all the musical terms referred to in this blog, click on this Wikipedia's Musical terminlogy link ]

It begins with a mercurial accelerando for an opening act, fueled by grand visions of academic ascendancy and economic prosperity only to be quelled rather abruptly by 'growing up' pangs. Your thesis now stutters along much akin to an allegretto with your courses and evolution weighing down your ebullience! The pace quickens with the completion of your qualifiers when your research fervor soars into an allegro...your ideas interplay like violins and cellos exploring the mystical elegance of F-flat! Your group members chime in with their oboes and harps making the coda i.e. the first act an exotic cocktail of verve and promise.

The Second act opens with an allegro that in real life is ‘termed’ literature search, preliminary discussions, feasibility study etc! Your advisor (read Conductor) perched atop his academic pedestal brandishes his baton; sheperding your group (read orchestra) through passages of sustained brilliance, only for your 'post qual slump' to break the tempo and lull the pace. Your research is now a mere adagio, barely engaging your creative genius while actually building up for a lively interlude. Days become weeks, weeks become months before the conductor senses your stupor and waves his baton frantically, reminding you of an approaching conference deadline...the string quartet (read 1st n 2nd year group members) are galvanized into action building up into a crescendo signifying the submission deadline while the wind quartet (the 3rd and 4th year grad students) go through the motions regurgitating their old results to chime in with their submissions! The post deadline phase is a coda...decelerating into a break before you resume your third act...

The Third act opens rather tentatively; a juxtaposition of your new found research proficiency and your shocking realization of all the far-superior brains operating in your chosen domain of research! Your first conference presentation is a curious staccato of false bravado and hidden angst. This interlude is rewarded with a tempered applause that the audience deigns appropriate for your debut performance! This feeling of joy dissipates rapidly upon sitting through other plenary lectures where multiple virtuosos display their talent with consummate ease! But then, confidence is a contagious fuel that refuses to extinguish itself! So you carry on in a vivace till the end of the act, soaking in the generous applause that you have now managed to coax from the audience!

The final act opens playfully with your content grad-school existence coruscating through every note! Your ease with research empowering you to scale heights you dared not aspire before...the conductor’s baton swaying ever-so gently, according you the freedom to explore and improvise! The string quartet teasing the wind quartet to match its profligacy...drawing plaudits from the crowd till the conductor accelerates the tempo and firms his grip on the baton, reigning in your blithe spirit. His movements are now more deliberate, instructing you to prepare for your preliminary exam (prelim), tempering your ebullience to a measured pesante. The prelim is a staccato of violin and cello, a complex interplay of notes not very familiar to your research faculties. The sophistication of the notes, squeezing out the last iota of experience and confidence that you had accrued over copious hours of labor!

The ‘post-prelim’ phase is an adagio where you tie up the loose ends and prepare for the crescendo that will be your thesis defense. The approach to the defense is very hectic, the tempo turns mercurial, and all the components of the orchestra contribute to building up the tempo. The final crescendo is a violent outburst of all your results, much akin to a dam bursting through to flood the audience with your complete body of work i.e. your thesis. The audience is held in awe and forced to live through your research life span! Traversing dark labyrinths, scaling azure peaks, treading lush meadows, swimming tempestuous oceans...experiencing vicariuosly the multitude of emotions that you were subjected to during the course of your PhD. The cataclysm i.e. your defense sweeps them of their feet and leaves them spellbound!! The cognoscenti slowly recovering to their feet...applauding you with a thunderous ovation and conferring your PhD!! Wow, what a feeling of joy and relief it will be to bequeath the title, a perfect jewel to account for all those acts of varying complexity you had to labor through!

Disclaimer: The afore-mentioned description might sound rather grandiose and mostly fictitious; an ironic cocktail of apocryphal glory and insignificant esteem! But then, what else is a PhD after all?

Friday, April 07, 2006

What is it with Formula1 and today's youth?

Why is Velayudham (an auto driver) so fixated on advertising the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro Formula1 (F1) team? Puzzled??…well, why else has he adorned the maximum available surface area of his auto with the choicest of Marlboro ads? So is the paraphernalia that he has swathed his auto with, (by the remotest of possibilities) a reflection of his taste for the classiest choice of tobacco in this world? The chances are that his knowledge of tobacco might not be too far-fetched than the very ethnic, desi-bred cousin of the western cigarette, the Beedi! The afore-mentioned trend one would more readily associate with the alpine dwellers of the societal hierarchy i.e. the teeny-bopper college crowd and the cash-strapped 20-something corporate fraternity.

Is this the parity, the striking similarity that our conniving politicians have been seeking between these vastly diverse social groups? The current day backpack clad, low-hip boot-cut clad, urban youth worth his salt must follow the diktat "Thou shalt own a vehicle" to even qualify for the ‘cool’ and ‘hep’ adjectives in his resume….. But this diktat now comes tagged with a disturbing new corollary to it…"Thou shalt adorn the vehicle with ads of the leading tobacco cartels in the world". Don’t get it? F1 has become a rage amongst the youth today, thanks to the heady concoction of ultra-modern technical gizmos, cutting edge technology, charismatic drivers and the most intoxicating of all the ingredients, speed! But the expression of this rage has not been in the best of means.

The youth spend hard-earned cash adorning every available inch of their vehicle exterior with stickers that advertise the brands of some of the biggest tobacco cartels in the world! This fashionable exercise has recklessly pervaded even the 15" by 10" real estate so carefully earmarked by the Indian govt for the ‘Number/Registration plate’, much to the chagrin of traffic cops all over the country. The point here is that majority of the enthusiastic participants of this bizarre exercise have hardly any clue of what the stickers advertise. It is a trend cruelly juxtaposed with the fact that most of the F1 teams could hardly afford their stay in the highest echelon of motor racing without generous contributions from the major tobacco cartels in the world.

But, the sheer magnitude of marketing space and mileage that these tobacco cartels are achieving in one of the most populous and potent markets in the world, especially within its niche audience is shocking! The sad irony being that most of the brands that adorn bikes, cars, t-shirts, shirts and even school bags and water bottles are not even available in India! So, now that the tobacco cartels have already pulled off the biggest marketing coup in the history of advertising all that is left for them is to do is to ‘actually’ start selling the brands!! Here’s a hypothetical many of these ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ youngsters would like to exchange the stickers for more close-to-home brands like Charms, Scissors filter or Panama?

Urgh…what a despicable idea! How on earth could any sane person commit such acts of ludicrous inanity, right? So, what is it that makes sporting clothes and automobile paraphernalia that advertise "foreign" brands, so meaningful and fashionable? It is the sheer ignorance and naiveté of actually embracing a trend without any serious effort of comprehension that is appalling. One can now see the wisdom behind most of the countries in the European Union phasing out tobacco ads since 2004. It would at least prevent the illicit and subterranean embezzlement of puerile minds.

The fault lies not in the hands of the tobacco cartels alone; after all in this world of quicksilver advertising and aggressive marketing, they can hardly be blamed for associating themselves with the most appealing of pastimes! F1 definitely has a lot of influence on the young and gullible minds of the Indian youth. But it is the expression of one’s appreciation for this exciting sport that has gone totally awry in India. The infiltration has indeed reached subcutaneous depths, with school bags and water bottles designed for tiny-tots sporting an assortment of tobacco ads. While most of the impact has been cosmetic, it can turn malignant with the introduction of many new brands of cigarettes manufactured by these giant tobacco conglomerates that have already been sponsoring F1 teams. It is time for the youth to take a stand! To choose between fostering this debilitating fad or exercising restraint in their fashion choices...

Whither goest thou, Generation 'Z'??

Monday, April 03, 2006

STOP!! Don't let Life pass you by...

It is amazing how much life has changed since the Aug of '02 when I landed in Champaign as a dreamy eyed, awestruck madrasi grad student! That journey was heart-wrenching in so many ways! First time ever that I was flying in an airplane (wanted it to be like that!!), first time ever that I was not going to see my parents for more than a month a time, first time ever that I was not going to be able to eat Dosa/Idly when I needed to and the first time ever that I couldn't stop my bike near a roadside chaiwallah at 2am and have the best tea ever in the world in his time-worn and aft-stained, semi-clean glass of joy!

It was a journey into the unknown albeit one that I had always dreamt of! So, would dreaming about something very intensely count as experience enough?? Coz' if it would, then life should be a breeze for me,
- Romance... a walk in a tree lined park during fall morphing into an orange-yellow canvas of falling leaves and unfathomable beauty!!!
- Research... a meticulously construed Rolex watch, ticking away to perfection for the rest of its desired life!! Each gear intermeshing precisely with its complement, the machinery ever so-smooth...the execution like clockwork!!
- Career... a plot so masterfully conceived that it would put the collective brilliance of Gulzar, Javed Akthar, Spielberg and George Lucas to shame!! The denouement of the plot like a fast-paced Dan Brown novel, a thrill-a-minute joy ride into the azure zeniths of success!!
- Family... a recipe straight out of a Johar/Chopra movie, littered with cute nieces/bratty nephews, funny uncles and frivolous aunts, revered grandmas and intimidating Grandpas, parents as supportive as the Rock of Gibraltar...wife an exotic cocktail of Dominique Francon and Sonali Bendre, kids like a million rays of sunshine brightening every facet of life they pervade!!

But it is funny how life has this uncanny ability of perennially surmounting even the most fertile of fantasies, throwing up the most unexpected of surprises when you least expect it! That is exactly how life in Chambana has been for me! If my dreams were as close as I could imagine to perfection...then Life these three years has been more than just that! It has left me longing for more like a wide-eyed kid at a candy store...completely usurping my feelings of loss and pain! The inexplicable pain of separation from our loved ones back home, which can creep on us more unexpectedly than a masked serial killer would in a ‘teenage slasher flick’! The insurmountable feeling of loss for all things Indian and mine when I grew up!

Life has been a journey too wonderful to even stop and enjoy! Stop and enjoy is what I exactly did today when I was walking on Green street! I could remember my first impressions of the US as a complete FOB desi! The sights, smells and sounds...almost like a baby getting to feel this earth for the first time! It is kinda sad that I have gotten so used to this place now, so much so that beautiful foliage of fall barely registers in my pre-occupied mind! The whiff of that very "blonde-girl" perfume barely reaches my nostril and forces me to turn and salute the girl for passing on that iota of joy!! The beauty of this historic campus with its brick-lined edifices, towering spires and teeming hordes of students barely do I appreciate!!

Alas! What a sad thing getting used to can be sometimes!! A travesty almost, to be impervious to the sheer magnitude of life that is gushing thru every facet of our surroundings! It is perhaps during such moments of clarity that I appreciate how fortunate I am to be living the life I am!! And it is during these transient, surreal moments such as these that I appreciate the joy of life!

So, STOP and smell the beauty of life that surrounds you! Don’t let it pass you by…lest you not revisit them!!