Look Ma, No IIT background!

So this morning, I am sitting at the dining table, sipping chai from my favorite yellow cup, half-asleep, dreading work, when my phone rings. It was Dad. This was the conversation-

Dad: “Shrijee! Did you read the newspaper today?”
Me: “No. I get my news online at work.”
Dad: “You know that Nadella guy… the CEO of Microsoft?”
Me: “Uhuh.”
Dad: “Do you know his salary?”
Me: “Erm. No?”
Dad: “It’s 100 crores.”
Me (almost dropping my cup, eyes wide open): “WHAT?”
Dad (laughing like a mad man): “Nice na?!”
Me: “That’s like the net worth of a small company!”
Dad: “YEAH!”
Me: “Par sala itne paise ka karega kya?

When Bill Gates announced Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, all of India felt emotions ranging from joy and pride to jealousy and “Look at him! You also have to be like him!” (the latter being felt by our dear Indian parents, of course). I am pretty sure the 100-crore figure caused at least a few thousand (read: lac) parents to say “You have to work hard and crack the JEE!” or “If only you had worked hard and cracked the JEE!”. My own parents are guilty of the latter.

Incidentally, I couldn’t believe the salary amount. So I checked, and guess what. It IS a fucking 108 crores a year!

This is all well and good, but the catch is that Satya Nadella never went to an IIT. Yes, that’s right. He got his BE in Electronics and Telecommunications from the Manipal Insititute of Technology, and later did an MS in Computer Science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What’s that? So a person who did NOT have a degree from one of the IITs (and did not even have an undergrad degree in Computer Science, for that matter) became the CEO of the world’s biggest software company? Yup. Suck on that, crazy-competitive Indian education system and overly ambitious, pushy parents.

Dad really pissed me off this morning by saying “If only you had worked a little harder in 11th… blah blah blah”. As if the only way to succeed in life is by getting an admission into the IIT. Granted, it’ll remain one of my biggest regrets- not because an IIT-education guarantees (or almost guarantees) a ticket to ‘the good life’ (a seven-figure starting salary), but because I  missed out on the whole “IIT-experience”. Okay, I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I have two very good friends who’ve passed out from there, and from what they’ve told me and/or put up oh-so-modestly on their Facebook timelines, their four years of college seemed pretty damning good to me.

I don’t think my blog is read by any adults (read: people with teenage kids), I think it’s mostly 20-somethings (read: my bored college friends who are nice enough to humour my little blogging habit), but if you’re reading this, and you’re a parent with a kid in 8th/9th/10th std, please, please don’t bully him into studying for the JEE. Let him decide. IITs are not the only way to succeed in life. And how do you even measure success? My mum is 50 years old, works in a bank and earns a modest salary of 45k per month. And she’s happy. Sure, the 100-crore sum made her eyeballs pop out for a second, but she wouldn’t trade her quiet life with one loving husband and one sweet (and a little cranky) mother-in-law for it. So the question is, how do you measure success? Is it by the number of loved ones around you or by the number of crores saved up in your bank account?

Like I said, sala itne paise ka karega kya?

Of Grades, Laddoos, and Life

So a popular educational website’s advertisement on national television goes something like this: A harried father (let’s call him Dad 1) trails his finger down an exam result notice to find that his son has scored 90 percent, thanks God in an obligatory namaste, yells “YEAH!” and rushes over to feed his son a motichoorladdoo. The son, happy with his score, his mouth wide open with an ‘Aaaaaa…’ is shocked when the same laddoo is pulled right out of his mouth (cue ‘Naaaaa…’ in the background) by Dad 2 and given to his eager nerdy kid, who with a deft robot-like move opens up his mouth. Dad 2 now looks at Dad 1 and says haughtily, “92 percent!”, while wiggling his eyebrows in an extremely non-creepy manner. Dad 1 is absolutely crushed and casts a dark, disappointed look at his harrowed son who hangs his neck in shame- obviously… what is 90 percent aaj ke zamane mein?  However, the laddoo trail doesn’t end here.

The bichara nerdy kid also loses the damn laddoo as it is grabbed by a lady- let’s call her Mom 1- and given to her nonchalant yawning son, who stands up straight with almost military-like discipline on seeing the approaching laddoo, while Mom 1 says with thinly veiled contempt, “94 percent!”, leaving Dad 2 traumatized. Of course, you’d think at least the 94 percent walawill get to eat the laddoo– which has by now seen the insides on two other mouths (ew)- but heck, no! Indians are overachievers, na? The laddoo again makes a move and goes to Mom 2, whose driver pitches in from behind her with a, “96 percent!” Mom 1 smiles with an axe-murderer look in her eyes, and her son looks down, probably thinking, “Shit yaar. Kash aur padhai kia hota!” The laddoo finally goes to Mom 2’s daughter, who rolls her eyes in a not-so-subtle manner, and the ad goes to featuring the website content. Of course, the Kaun Banega Laddoopati winner is revealed towards the end: a kid with a giant-ass trophy in his hand, who munches on the laddoo with such happiness on his face, one would think he achieved nirvana.

So I’m going to list down the things I learnt from this ever-so-enlightening advertisement:

a) If you score anything less than 95 percent in your exams, you don’t get the laddoo… But what does the laddoo stand for? We’ll come to that later.
b) Indian moms and dads LOVE to compare their kid’s scores with their sister’s/neighbour’s/ kitty-party aunty’s/ colleague’s/ random-parent-they-run-into-in-school-corridor’s kid’s scores.
c) If you spend thousands on your kid’s future and make sure he scores 95-percent plus, life toh set hai, boss. Nothing can go wrong after that!

Note: The score has to be above 95 percent. Anything below that and he is doomed to a life of ignominy.

These aren’t my views, of course. Like I said, this is what I’ve learnt from the advertisement.

So what does this laddoo stand for? Why does everyone want it, and why does that stupid kid in the end look so happy on having it? I think it means different things for different people. For a low income, middle-class family, it stands for the prospect of a better college, and consequently, a better paying job. For a rich family with plenty of equally rich friends to prove a point to, it stands for an opportunity to show-off. Besides, parents do tend to use kids as trophies for flaunting purposes. What else can that silly laddoo stand for? The fact that your parents are happy, that you haven’t disappointed them? Whatever it may be, the laddoo stands for all the good things in life, which you aren’t entitled to, or will not get if you do not score well.

I’d have no issues with this rather bizarre advertisement if it did not promote the corrupt ideology that good marks lead to a good life, while bad marks lead to a bad one. While the first statement might be somewhat true, the second is fallacious on so many levels. I am done with my basic education. 10th, 12th, IIT, AIEEE, CET, BITS, and college. I’ve jumped all the hoops there are to jump, and I can tell you there’s absolutely no relation between marks and success. Hardwork and success, hell yes. But marks don’t mean a damn thing, especially in the backdrop of our Indian education system. Being the class topper in all my school years, my smug, overconfidence-bubble burst when I failed to clear the IIT, while those who used to score way below me in school led a glorious four years at IIT-B. Right there. That’s proof enough to negate everything this ad stands for.

Let’s think of what the last kid does in life-

Since he’s scored like 96 or 98 or whatever overachieving score, he’s forced into taking up Science in 11thand 12th. Of course, post 12th, he’s told he has to take up engineering since the degree stands for great job prospects after four years of college. There’s a little part of him that would rather pursue a degree in English maybe, since he enjoys writing enormously, but come on, that won’t pay the bills, right? Let’s say he gets into a good college. He enjoys the course and does well.  He later goes for Masters abroad, scores a good job, sticks to it for 20-25 years, and thinks he’s made it in life. But of course, there’s a tiny vestige of disappointment that he could never truly pursue what he really wanted to: writing.

No points for guessing who the kid stands for.

Take it from the one who knows!

College started two days ago. Not for me, obviously. I saw a few kids at the station, wearing Somaiya IDs, wearily trudging up the stairs at platform 1, saying- probably- “God. College started again… this sucks!” Two months ago, I’d have probably pointed at them and said “HA-HA” to their faces, like Nelson from The Simpsons. I can’t do that now. Anyway, I am not going to whine about college again, I am guessing you guys are bored out of your minds listening me do that, but if you’re just starting college, or even in the middle of it, read on.

So now that I am a nice, piping-hot, freshly-out-of-college graduate, I like to think of myself as a sort of MU-veteran… you know, a know-it-all when it comes to surviving Mumbai University. Believe you me, it really is no walk in the park, however studious/ grade A class-topper/ alpha-nerd you may have been. So, here’s a list of dos and don’ts I’ve made (keeping my extremely busy after-office chores like sleeping, TV, etc. aside) considering you are:
a) a decent student (not too ambitious, not too we-don’t-need-no-education type… somewhere in the middle)
b) and in a fair college- not too strict with attendance, that is.

1. Get involved with college activities. That is not to say get into every little club that is present in your college, instead, choose a council that you like, and stick with them till your final year. You’d learn a lot in this way.
2. Do attend lectures. Granted, most of us slip through each semester, sitting when our hearts fancy it, but really, it is not possible that you hate every subject in your semester. There has to be something you like. Attend those regularly, and do pay attention.
3. Bunk if there’s something really fun to do. No, my alter ego did not take over in the last five seconds. I really mean it. College isn’t measured in the number of lectures you attended. In the end, all you’ll remember is the crazy shit you did when you bunked these lectures.
4. STUDY for the tests during the semester! If your college is anything like mine, you’ll have tests during the semester too, the marks for which will be added to your internals. And I’ll let you in on a secret: those class-toppers of yours, whose marks make you go, “Wtf! Who gets marks like that?!“, score that much only because they score more in these tests, not because of some out-of-world brilliance during theory exams.
5. When it’s placement season, do brush up on everything that you claim to know on your résumé. Don’t say you know JSP only because you had one measly experiment in your 4th semester, a year ago. (The dos for this topic would probably be an exhaustive list, so I’ll save it for some other day.)
6. It’s okay if you sleep through most of your lectures- you’re going to do that without me telling this to you, anyway- my point is, do your experiments diligently. Because really, the industry couldn’t care less if you didn’t know the principles of software design, or some such really arcane topic, but they’d like you to know how to make a state chart or a class diagram for a software. Anyway, point is, don’t goof off in the practicals, do them sincerely. 


You should know why I wrote the above line in caps. I’ve said this time and again, and I’ll say it again. No kind of obscene salary figure can get you job satisfaction. In the end, it boils down to what YOU like, and what your interests are. So make your decisions wisely.
2. Don’t waste four years of your college on the first bench of your class. Be silly, be crazy, break a few rules, be with your friends, keep the books aside for a while- they aren’t going anywhere.
3. Don’t be too smart-alecky with your teachers. Be in their good books as far as possible. Believe me, good relations with teachers go a long way in helping you. 
4. For final year students, don’t give the GRE only because your friend is giving it. Honestly, I know a bunch of people who did it for this fucktard reason (as I like to call it). Come on guys, it’s a 10 grand exam. Put some thought into it before you register for the test. 
5. Don’t waste vacations lazying around. I know, you’re going to end up doing that nevertheless, but in case, just in case you get a vacation longer than a month (extremely rare for us poor MU students), do something worthwhile… write a paper, maybe? Or get an internship. Trust me, when you reach 4th year, and you’ve to scratch your head for ten minutes, thinking what to write in your CV, you’ll think of me!
6. Don’t be depressed if you fail an exam. Study and clear it the next time. Really, all these things reduce to nothing once you pass out. So don’t pull too many hairs thinking how bad your score-card’s going to look. No one cares. 

Hmm. That’s all I can think of for now, fellow MU students. If you can think of something, feel free to add! I hope that for now, this helps. 

P.S. Honestly, no dos and don’ts are going to help you. The university WILL give you a hard time, and you will screw up on more than one occasion, but it’ll all be worth it!

Note: Sagar Gala has helped me compile this list, and has given me ideas about a lot of my other posts! So here’s your credit, Sagar! Now quit complaining! And thank you for helping me out 🙂

same old, same old

Just came home, and got to my blog immediately, because… well, I don’t know. I just wanted to write down what happened today.

I was travelling from Vikhroli to Dadar in the General 2nd class compartment with my friend Sagar, when I saw a guy staring at me. He had dishevelled hair, dirty clothes, and was drunk too, I guess. I avoided eye contact, but noticed that he had started leering, flicking his tongue continuously. Sagar noticed that I was uncomfortable and shifted to his right to obstruct his view. That wasn’t of much help because he moved a bit too, and kept up with the vulgar gestures. I didn’t know what to do. I avoided eye contact as long as I could, but I was angry, very angry inside. And when I could take it no longer, I looked up, and asked in the rudest way possible what the hell his problem was. That shut him up for a bit, and he looked away. Thankfully, he got down at Kurla, thus ending what could’ve possibly turned very ugly.

I admit the experience wasn’t extraordinarily traumatic, or unique even. I bet at any given time, things like these- much, much worse things- happen all over India to girls of all ages. But for those few minutes, it was all that for me. What if Sagar hadn’t been there with me? What if I had shown him the finger, and started spouting expletives? I do that, you know. I am hot-headed. And with very little tolerance for bullshit. Especially bullshit like this. And that’s exactly why my parents don’t like my attitude. When I told my dad about this, he told me to not travel in the General compartment any more. I don’t see how that’s the solution. I guess this seems like a repetition of everything I had said for the Nirbhaya post. It is. Except, of course, it is nothing like the Nirbhaya case.

I was out with friends for dinner some time back, when the same thing happened, but to my friend. The guy sitting on the table right behind us kept staring at her. That made her uncomfortable, to the point that she decided to switch her place. I told her to not change her place, to just tell the guy to mind his own bloody business, but she told me that there was no need to create a scene, and that she was right in doing what she did. Was she? I don’t know. Is it better to avoid the whole situation, or to speak up, fight and make it worse? By speaking your mind, are you making it worse? What if the train scene had turned into a full-blown fight? Haven’t we heard of similar cases that quickly spiralled into violence, rape, or even murder?

I don’t know what I am trying to say. My apologies if you think this is all pointless rambling. In a country like India, which is rife with lawlessness, and no concept of chivalry, accountability, or even compassion for a fellow citizen, what are women supposed to do? Bow down, look away, walk home faster? Or glare, curse, fight back? I remember someone saying there’s a thin line between bravery and stupidity. Is it true here?

I’ve had a very easy life. What happened today is a thing girls face on an everyday basis. So why am I making such a big deal about this? Why am I talking about this even after three paragraphs? Whining about it in front of you guys? To ask you what the right thing to do would be. I honestly don’t know.

We talk about how men’s mentality must be changed, that women dressing modestly, and not going out too late is not the answer. But deep down, what do you really feel about it? What would you do in such a situation? What would you want your mother/sister/ friend to do? Are we, as women, really free to stand up for ourselves, or even say, “Dekh kya raha hai?” Or should we just mind our own business, and go home, congratulating ourselves, thinking, “Thank God, kuch bura nahi hua“? 

A New Life- continued

Today is a glorious, historic day. Well, it’s 4 am actually, and I don’t even know what I am doing being up at this hour, but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, today is a glorious, historic day. Because I FINALLY finished reading Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower– a book I took up reading SIX MONTHS ago (Terrible book, FYI. Don’t even bother). Yes, now that I work, I can make time for things like reading.

Alright, before you start thinking, ‘Is she really going to talk about reading? Yeesh!’, I’d like to say, no, this post isn’t about that, my slightly bored amigo.

I’ve completed three weeks and two days at work. And in this time, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve learnt stuff that took almost two years to learn in college. Yes. I code in Linux- the merits of which I never understood in the least when I was in college, and usually found it more than mildly annoying to work with. And all my C++ (the basics of which I had conveniently forgotten and replaced with Java), has surprisingly, come back. So yeah, if you’re a first year student thinking, “Why the hell are we even doing C++? Nobody uses it anymore!”-my exact thoughts back then- well, think again. And more importantly, learn your basics well.

And, oh, how could I forget about data structures? I DON’T like data structures. I’ll admit it here. I mean, I can live with a nice little array or even a linked list. But of course, in the real world, your ‘nice little array’ isn’t of size ten. It’s more like ten thousand. So you have to think of time and space complexity- all the silly things you’ll find in the first chapter of your Analysis of Algorithm Design. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, seriously, go open your textbook, man!) And of course, it doesn’t end there. We have trees to work with too. Stupid* trees. With stupid* thousand nodes. And stupid* operations like insertion and deletion somewhere in the bloody middle.

*For better effect, replace with a certain four-letter word you use all too often.

We also work with databases. The database for one of the company’s products, in fact, has close to a 100 tables, each with around a 1000 rows. Yeah. Also, complex, disgustingly-nested SQL queries are a part of my life now. Give me a convoluted query, and I’ll look at it with nothing but nonchalance. And maybe I’ll look at you with a little condescension too.

Three weeks and two days, with two-hour training sessions every alternate day. And by training, I don’t mean teaching. No, sirree. It’s all application, and thinking differently, and the complete opposite of textbook-learning. Think out of the box, think aloud, but think. Come up with a solution that you did not read in a textbook somewhere.

It’s tiring too, by the way. Our working hours are from 9:30 am to 7 pm. So it’s hellishly tiring. I don’t understand it at all. All we do is sit in a chair in front of a computer, but still get tired towards the end of the day. What is this mystery? Somebody please explain. Oh, and needless to say, my diet has gone to hell. If you ask me if I exercise daily, I might chase after you with a stick.

So, yeah. I guess I can say that college was fun, and there’s absolutely nothing like it. Don’t waste your four years on the first bench of a class, alright? Have fun, too. Because work is tiring, frustrating, and honestly, there are days when I think, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’. But it is all worth it when I think calmly about how much I am learning daily, and I guess it’ll be even better when I actually start contributing to the company.

Ooh, by the way, paycheck coming up in 4 days… anyone up for a celebration? 

A New Life and an Apology

God, Mom, you have no idea how it feels to work 10 hours a day, okay?” -this brilliant line was said by none other than yours truly second day into my job. Yes. I said this to my mom… who’s been working in a bank for 29 years now. And takes care of a very old mother-in-law. And apparently, an ungrateful daughter.

Oh, in case you guys don’t follow, I graduated a month ago. And started working as a Software Developer last week. Yes. A lot has passed. Guess I sort of gave up on blogging for a while. But I am back. And hopefully, this’ll last longer than the occasional post every other month.

So anyway, as I was saying, work is difficult. It is no walk in the park. It is no college either. There are no lectures I can bunk at will, no “Oh, let’s go to Lonavla!” whenever we feel like it, or just a half-hour flight back home to meet my parents. Life is all about following a schedule now. Sleep at 11, max 12, or you won’t get up at 7. Are your clothes ironed? Do you know what your senior is asking you to do? We’re still at the trainee phase right now, and I already find it difficult. Okay, the work itself isn’t difficult… following the discipline it requires is.

Our college farewell was around two months ago. We all cried towards the end. No, really, we did. The girls cried, the guys cried, the teachers cried. (Okay, I was kidding about the last bit.) And all of us consoled each other with, “This is not the end! We still have our practicals, and our exams. A long time to go, baba.” That was a lie. There is no “long time to go”, it is all over now. Some are doing their Visa prep, others are updating their Facebook statuses to “Visa approved! USA calling!”, others are just lazying around at home- waiting for their DOJs, while others are busy working. I am in the last category.

God, everything feels different. I haven’t worn my college ID or seen my dear college Amphitheatre, or my friends and teachers in two weeks. Believe it or not, it’s been only two weeks and I am whining like I am 30, and on my way to my ten-year college reunion. I guess that’s life. Partitioned into phases. Good phases or bad phases- all end some day.

Oh, one new thing about me: I need coffee at least twice a day now. Yeah, weird. It’s hard to function without a decent amount of caffeine in me. I guess now I understand my mom and dad going, “Chaha banavala, ka?” (Is the tea ready?) in the morning to each other.

People ask me how it feels to be working, to be contributing to a living, breathing company. I say, I don’t know. I don’t feel it yet. Someday I will. Someday.

In the meantime, I’d like to say this to my mom: I am really very sorry for yelling at you the other day. I understand now what you feel, but what I don’t understand is how you manage to go to work, be a housewife, and a mother all at the same time, when all I can do when I come home from work is lie in front of the TV till I go to bed. I hope I do one day.

(Alright, I admit it is cheesy to put up an apology online on my blog, but I know my mom will love it.)

P.S. It feels pretty good to be blogging again. If there is someone out there reading this, I hope you missed me.           

Missed Opportunities

A certain senior of mine from school is now a postgrad student in University of California-Berkeley. He is HUGE. Not size-wise. Brain-wise. Really, I don’t know anyone smarter than him; granted, I haven’t met a lot of my-research-is-so-complex-you-won’t-even-understand-the-title type intelligent people, but I am sure, even if I do, I am still ready to stand on one leg and bet that he’s the smartest of all. And yes, I am so enamored by his limitless, umm, braininess/ coolness, that I am dedicating this entire post to him.

The person I am talking about is Nishant Totla. Eight years ago, he was Nishant bhaiya to all of us. And even then we knew that he was going to be someone really awesome. Even in our small lives in small Aurangabad, in our not-so-small, awesome school, we knew. Me and Gayatree knew he would be someone extraordinary. And eight years later, look at him. Start to google ‘nish…’, and Google provides a hoard of options like ‘nishant totla cv’, ‘nishant totla blog’… You know, secretly, that has been a secret dream of mine. Being Googled extensively. And Google completing the search before one can finish typing my name (-which is admittedly quite long).

Anyway, coming back to Nishant bhaiya. If ever you happen to see his resume, I would advice you to NOT see it. Please don’t. Unless you are also equally extraordinary. Because his resume seems like something that’d put even Sheldon Cooper to shame. Or at least make Sheldon Cooper shut up. So you can imagine what happened when I saw it. My self-esteem shrunk to the size of a pea and then committed suicide. God. The things he has done, and the things I have done. Lol. Sorry, no comparison at all. Even in a lifetime. In ten lifetimes.

I did not clear the IIT. That’s the first biggest regret of my life. Yes, if you are a true follower of my blog, you might as well know. This is all straight from the heart. I still regret not taking a drop and making a second attempt. I know I was good enough. Still am. But I was too chicken. Afraid to watch my friends go ahead with their lives, while I get left out.

So if you are in 11th right now, an IIT-aspirant, like I was six years ago, please, please don’t take it lightly. Study hard. Yes, even if it means locking yourself up in a room for two years straight. It’s a small sacrifice paid for the amazing college life you will have in case you crack JEE. I am in no way saying that getting into an IIT is the only way for a successful career, but if you really want to be an engineer, really want to be the geek who understands what is Greek for normal people, don’t give up. You must have heard of the “10 ghanta padhai” that IIT aspirants are supposed to do. It is all true. But nothing is free in life. Especially not a seat in the best engineering college in India.

I am not an IITian, and I understand what I have missed out on. I hope you understand, too.