Thursday, December 15, 2005

Blasphemy Inc.

A few days ago, we all witnessed how a 'godman' was harassed into submitting his stick at the airport. The uproar that followed at Mumbai and Aurangabad airport is also remembered by all.

Incidentally, the godman claimed that seizure of the 'dharm-dand' started a period of repentance during which he will be expected to maintain strict discipline by not doing either travelling, eating food, drinking water or speak. What confuses me is that this was realized by him after he travelled from Lucknow to Mumbai and sprouted angry sentences from his mouth.

I had never heard about the particular godman before, but was told by the media channels that he is very acclaimed by many people. However after witnessing a conduct that befits only politicians, I dispelled all doubts in my mind about his being a saint. A real saint in his place would have either refused to travel or tried to calm the people as soon as he would have heard about the angry response of the people. It should be noted that it was not a police raid in which his stick was taken away, but due to a security requirement that forbids people from carrying any dangerous articles inside the aircraft. Had the godman decided not to travel, there wasn't any question of having his stick taken away.

Now let us discuss the issue of disrespecting the godman's right to travel with his stick. As far as I remember, the government doesn't mantain any list of approved godmen, which in fact makes sense as they don't require government's approval for their sainthood. But this creates a problem as to who should be considered a godman and who not. What I mean to say is that if a saffron-clad person comes to the airport carrying a trident and having a hundred supporters behind him, does this qualify him to carry his weapon with him? What seems most obvious to me is that the security officer at the Lucknow airport was as ignorant as me about the godman's support base. He was just doing his duty by not allowing any unscrupeless thing onboard. Even if being aware of such a thing, one should avoid personal convictions while following duties.

Here I remember the famous tale of King Harishchandra who did not allow his wife to use the 'shamshan' for burning the dead body of his own son. Even though the person in concern was his own son, he didn't waver from his responsibilities. I have always laughed at his mixing truth with hallucinations (giving his kingdom to a saint based on a dream), which create serious doubts in my mind about his saneness, as a ruler is expected to work for the welfare of his subjects. What prompted him to hand over the future of a vast kingdom into incompetent hands (the saint wasn't an established 'good' ruler) is beyond me. But I have always regarded him for his decision at the graveyard.

Also, we shouldn't forget that a belief for one means blasphemy for the other. I am sure that the saints/godman who frequently travel abroad for sermons (ignoring the warnings that going overseas will debar them from being a Hindu, leave alone godman status) have to face similar treatments but keep quite as they know they are powerless there.

Now let us take a broader perspective of the whole issue. These things happen when people prefer 'idol worship' over 'ideal worship'. What is surprising is that it is prevalent in even the religions that ridicule 'idol worship'. When we are expected to worship hard work and dedication, we start worshiping Hansie Cronje and Md. Azharuddin instead. No wonder when idols betray, we either assume that the ideal has betrayed us or start seeing it as mirage; both of which are not the truth. What I mean to say is that instead of idolizing Mahatma Gandhi, we should idealize non-violence; instead of idolizing George Washington as a champion of freedom, we should idolize the spirit of the never-say-die attitude. People should only be a source of inspiration, not the source of ideology. It is easy to change whom you want to draw inspiration from, but difficult to change the ideology. When one attains such wisdom, it will be possible to draw inspiration from even the likes of Adolf Hitler.

Let us look back at the primary incident now. A quick look at the profile of the godman indicates that he was earlier absconding for a forgery and later emerged as a godman by preaching peace. There is nothing wrong in idealizing peace. Also that he was a (suspected) conman before cannot be held against him as history is full of such people who have raised from being conman/dacoits/plunderers to saints. But definitely, the manner in which he had reacted to the incident makes me feel that this shows a weakness in personality. This let-down wouldn't have taken place if instead of idolizing a person, his supporters would have idolized the ideals set forth by him. Of course belief is a personal issue and I am not asking anyone to change it, and am merely expressing my views. On similar lines, they should also understand this and have a distinction between holding one's views and forcing their views (the airport incident).

Freedom of speech is very different from right to harass.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Economics for Idiots

Till the time I passed out from my CBSE affiliated school, Economics was taught as a compulsory course for two years. But looks like in the good old days this was not the case. I am discounting the fact that either none of the policy makes of CBSE had ever studied in CBSE affiliated schools or they never took their economics class seriously, and am hoping that this is not a blunder. But the fact remains that the recent CBSE directive that requires all CBSE affiliated schools to provide free education to a single girl child and equivalent concessions to multiple girls without any provision of compensation to the schools does not make any economic sense. Moreover, it is all set to hurt most whom it was meant to help, that is single girls.

While the schools have already formed a group and filed petition seeking to quash this order, it will be interesting to note the implications of this order, if it gets implemented.

The first option that many schools are contemplating is to switch either to ICSE or some other board. I believe that only those schools will opt for it for whose students fees is a major concern and a marginal increase in fees would mean changing schools or dropping off, i.e. loss of business (as after all, establishing schools is also an example of entrepreneurship and money matters). This is because such a switch would be a blow to school's reputation and credibility.

Let us now have a look into the schools that will stay with CBSE and implement its directive. Let's first get rid of the trivial case of boys' schools that will continue to function as usual. Now let's consider the case of co-educational schools. These schools will definitely conclude that in order to retain its students, they will have to keep a higher percentage of risk-free students, namely boys. They would also have to counter the psychology of boys' parents that making them studying in co-ed school will be costlier as compared to an equivalent boys school (considering that the cost of education is proportional to the quality of the education in the absence of such economic incentives/disincentives). So the co-ed schools will have to do more than enough to tackle this problem. Hopefully for them, the plight of girls' schools will offer them a way out. This will become clear after we take a look into the economics of running a girls school.

The girl's school will unarguably be the hardest hit. It will be highly foolish to think that the schools will try to absorb the deficit owing to their already premium fee structure, as some sections of the society feel. Even a simple hand calculation shows that the cost per student will show super linear growth and for moderately high percentage of single girls, it is a rectangular hyperbola. For example if in a girl's school (urban), there are 35% equivalent single girls studying, it will translate to a 54% increase in fees that will have to be paid by the rest of the students. From a girl's parent point of view (those who will not benefit from this scheme), the economic implications would be drastic and they would be forced to admit their wards in co-ed schools, which will openly embrace them owing to their own economic considerations. The reluctance of such parents to allow their children to continue in girl's school would mean the problem of girl's school compounding as the quality schools will be flooded with admission applications from girl's parents cutting across economic spectrum.

In plain English, girl's school will have an economic disincentive to admit or to continue with single girl students. One doesn't have to be an expert in Economics to conclude that if an incentive exists, it will be exploited. Consequently girl's schools will device ways to keep off single girl child students. On the admission front they would be discriminated heavily against. The most effective way would be to introduce interview basis of selection, as the decision on the basis of written tests can always be challenged owing to the deterministic nature of written tests. Even those students already inside the school will face discrimination, enough to force them out or provide some 'defense'.

Imagine you are a father of a single girl child and are seeing your child being discriminated against. Naturally you would want to provide some protection for your child. This logically would be an undertaking that you will not claim the aforementioned benefit from the school if your child is admitted/allowed to continue in the school. Definitely this will be implied not explicitly asked for by the schools, as doing it openly would invite prosecution on the basis of discrimination. The schools will also not forget to add a little milk to the coffee so that it doesn't get too dark. The schools, of course are not idiots and don't even need an article like this to implement such decisions.

Let us now talk about the lower economic strata of society for whom this directive is originally meant to address. Most of such girls study in government schools, which will definitely not discriminate against them. But in such societies, the proportion of single girls is nominal. Even most of the single girls are so by chance as their parents get prepared to welcome another child in their family. Incidentally having another child won't affect them. If the next child were a girl, they would still get an equivalent of one girl's education fees waiver. On the other hand, if 'fortunately' it is a boy, it will not be reported to schools. Even if the school authorities find it out, which teacher or principal (whose priority is education of the masses) will cancel such waiver knowing that the parents are already burdened by the expenses of another child and an additional burden of a girl's fees may result in her dropping out. So in most of the cases, they will also remain mum. In reality, all this economics won't even reach out to the rural population for whom, an additional child means an additional working hand. Education unfortunately has a trickling down effect, not a trickling up effect. Whom does this directive propose to benefit is unclear, as it is clearly against single girl child. Boys on the other hand have nothing to loose if they keep safe distance from single girls (i.e. join boy's schools).

What Women Want

"Tall, dark and handsome".

That's it, not a word more, and not a word less. I often wonder how this wonder-line made inroads into the minds of a majority of girls (at least amongst those I know). Of all the girls I could ask what they looked for in a man, this was the answer I always got. Even inquiring from my friends who have asked this question to their (girl) friends, this quote has been overwhelmingly quoted.

I must say that I was surprised, even a bit shocked to learn this some one year back for the first time. It meant changing the way I perceive girls. I had previously thought that girls look for rich, smart and caring men (in the preference order stated). But alas, my beliefs have been rubbished comprehensively. But thankfully, as the cliché goes "Men will never understand women", I needn't worry. I don't know whether this statement is a sufficient condition for being a man or just necessary. I mean, if a woman doesn't understand other women, is she a man?

Coming back to the point, I decided to check whether this is just an escape-out sentence (read: proxy statement), or whether women really practice what they preach (I know they didn't preach as I forced them to tell, but never mind). So out of those whom I could genuinely ask to show a snap of their boyfriend, I was again surprised by their identical responses: "I don't have any photograph right now, but anyway you will be disappointed to see how he looks like". I am not sure if the first part is correct, but the second definitely came from the heart. So this leaves me with another surprising question: Why do women keep boyfriends they would be ashamed off to show others?

To find an answer to this question, I again asked some of my friends. Thankfully one of them had an answer.

The aspirations of women root from their sub-conscience insecurity. All women want to be fair and lovely (read: beautiful). Which is reasonable as this is what men advertise for (read: matrimonial columns). But not all achieve this. So from their understanding of the theory of relativity, they conclude that if they can get men in whose comparison they are fairer and more beautiful, they need not seek any further. Also, to avoid "Main, Meri Patni aur Woh", they want men who are taller by at least by a couple of inches. The word handsome is just to give them a veto power; otherwise all the tall and dark men will start claiming to be their dream-man. It is always advisable to keep a vague discretionary power like this with oneself.

Speaking the word "rich" in public is considered taboo. That's why if you want a woman say that that she wants to marry a rich man, you will perhaps have to eavesdrop into their girl-talk.

I know my sample was neither representative (as it comprised entirely of girls with similar socio-economic status as mine) not sufficient (not even a dozen), but still it was sufficient to convince me owing to the overwhelming nature of the responses. But some people are not convinced....

'Fair and Handsome', are you listening?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ilu Ilu

I know, I know, this is Illu and not Ilu. But there are two reasons for which I chose this title.

  1. Ilu Ilu is already established song that everyone can identify with.
  2. And the second is that it looks like a short form of Lallu.

Let's get back to the story. After a long time, the Illumination festival was won by a Hall other than RP/RK. It was won by LLR Hall. And on second place was Nehru. RP came at a distant third and RK was nowhere in picture. But the message is clear. The league has been broken. This reminds me of the Miss Universe/Miss World Beauty Pageants where after the Indian princesses ruled year after year, started coming allegations that it was done as a part of conspiracy by the sponsors who allegedly promoted the Miss India's to create a market for their products in India. And within a little time came another news that in order to counter this false rumor, Miss India's will not be declared as a winner in years to come. The Illumination competition is a lot alike the Beauty Contest where there is no way to 'measure' the goodness, only guidelines that are too vague. With year after year the prize going to either of the neighbours, there was a chance that the others may stop doing it if they start seeing foul. As I was myself not present during that time (this being the first Illumination I missed being on vacation) I can't present on my own views on this conspiracy theory. But anyway, I feel happy that even if for an year, there is a change.

And with this came to an end another year of unmindful spending and wastage. The world of IIT Kharagpur has entered into a vicious cycle. Every year the hall that loses pushes up its expenditure on this to get the prize and other halls follow suit. This has led to a steady increase in the Illumination budget even after considering the inflation. Currently it stands at around Rs. 250 per head and is steadily climbing. Read my previous blog to know about other hidden expenses. The figure makes me dizzy. If I ask myself how much would I be willing to pay in order to get a ticket to see such an art, I would not consider anything over Rs. 20! Even if we take Rs. 25, there's still a whooping margin of ten times the perceived cost. And if I add the factor that I will not be able to see it, there's no way I would be willing to shell out that amount. And to add to my woes, I have to compulsorily pay this ransom money even after knowing a lot more things.

While the whole of India joins hand in this festival cutting across communities and even religion, here in the IITs (regarded by many as the institute with best intellect) it has been reduced to a competition where its Diwali for one and Diwala for all (Yes. Including the winners). Those who lose are equivalent to lankawasi and those who win, wanarsena!

Question: Which is the only place in the world where there is a scheduled power cut especially on Diwali night?
Answer: No prizes for guessing, its IIT Kharagpur.

Even so much is the irony that people are not allowed to lighten up their rooms because it will interfere with the competition process. And when the world comes out in the open to celebrate, we are forced to go into hiding. If you are not a part of IIT, don't get surprised. It is 100% true. For these and many more reasons, I consider Illumination as anti-Diwali.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Great Indian Railways

No, I didn't go to Dhanbad again this time. And this being my Socio-political views' blog, I will anyway not do it here. So let's come to the point straightaway.

Over the last few years, the Indian Railways has gone a long way, boasting an achievement one too often. Let's have a look into how the Great Indian Railways has evolved since its conception 150 years back.

Back then when the first train started from "Boree Bunder" (Victoria Terminus, later changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) to "Tannah" (Thane) on 16th April 1853, nobody had imagined the big system it would grow into over the years. Back then, we had only royal steam engines and it was sight to watch as they zoomed past the village landscape. For the people who wanted to travel, choices were very less and the only source of excitement was whenever a new train was commissioned or a new railway line was started. But the journey to progress literally stopped with the Britishers leaving the country. The railways became plagued with corruption as many cases came forward of nepotism and bribery in getting railways job and as a result the whole system suffered. Add to it the damage done by politicians who tried to appease the masses with the power of this portfolio, making the railways as inefficient as as ever. This mindset is still present as the politicians still 'fight' to get this portfolio, sometimes even exceeding the fight to become the Prime Minister.

In the background, the railways continued their slow progress to betterment by converting narrow-gauge to meter-guage and meter-guage to broad-guage, adding new trains to the system and increasing the frequency of the existing. The only news railways made was when there were train accidents, something that haunts the railways still now. Most of the people from today's generation wouldn't know that the trains like Howrah-Mumbai Mail are names so as they were the prime post carrying trains of the past, and have decided not to change name when literally all of the Express trains started carrying them.

The railways were notorious for being late and this was a big deterrent for people to trust the railways, but in the absence of better alternatives, they were forced to stay loyal. The people of India have a lot of nightmares associated with the emergency of 1975, but ask anyone about any positive side of emergency and 9 out of 10 would reply that the trains then ran on time! With such sorry state of affairs, the railway ran till in the late 90's. computerized reservation was started, and was hailed as a major achievement of the railways. With this started an era of improvement that continues even till today.

The next major news was the inauguration of Railways website that allowed people to check their ticket status and plan their travel by getting first hand information about the available train with their reservation status. Soon, more websites came up that even allowed passengers to book their tickets online and get them via a courier. Another unheard of website is of the Central Railways that somehow didn't get much attention. It offered online train status and offered support by either SMS (on mobile) or E-mail. Currently, the railways are also planning to extend the online reservation facility to allow passengers to print their tickets sitting at their home and not having to travel to the reservation counters. But of these things that have made news have very low trickling down effect in terms of benefit to the common man. But fortunately for him, there were good news for him too. Three of such stories that didn't made much news were the computerized train inquiry on phone (allowing railways to open more lines for train inquiry without having to employ more people), the Tatkal facility(keeping aside a few seats for passengers having to travel in emergency, set aside to be filled only on the last day) and the coach position/location panels on the platforms. These things were actually of most utility but sadly didn't get much attention from Mainstream Media. And while such big success stories were enough to give a 'Pass' grade to the Railways, they have much more to their pride. The conditions of railway stations in the country have improved overall. And we even hear that Habibganj station in Bhopal has became an ISO 9000 certified railway station. And (Shan-E-Bhopal) Bhopal Express became the first ISO 9001 certified train. This train even has a webpage! of its own that gives details about the train. I have also heard that Malwa Express has also got the ISO certification, but haven't been able to confirm it from reliable sources. My gut feeling is that its not true as the two times I have travelled in that train, once it reached 12 hours late, and the other time 25 hours late!

The coaches in the trains have also improved with even the Sleeper coaches having mirrors and mobile phone charging points keeping in view of the changing face of the Railways customers. Pantry services are also on upbeat with quality of food improving as compared to the last decade. The railways have also allowed fast-food joints to start operating inside the railway stations, and much more space is being given for retail outlets. Anti-pollution drive or social gimmick, the railways also started to serve tea in kulhads, which though wasn't very successful.We even hear that the railways plan to take a big step towards modernizing the station on the lines of airports, though some feel its impractical and is only tried to face the threat of revenue loss owing to the advent of Low-cost airlines like Deccan Airways and Spice Jet.

But even with all these, the railways still have a long way to go before they can get an 'A+' grade. Let us take a look into what the railways can do to make themselves trustworthy.

Firstly, the railways must do much more to stop the high accident rate that is a hallmark of the Indian Railways since a long time. Though people say that railways are going to introduce automated systems that will enable trains to operate even driver-free(!), I believe it will still take more that 20 years to get implemented on major routes even if it starts today.

The second major problem that the railways face is security. This is a multi-dimensional problem. There are still numerous cases being reported frequently about cases of theft and robbery from passengers. Though the railways have done sufficient work in educating the people (with notices urging people not to accept eatables from strangers), very less seems to be have done in order to actually stop these cases by improving the efficiency of Railway Police. Another dimension of the problem is the problem faced by the employees of the railway staff themselves, the engine drivers. Even now it is reported that there are hundreds of unauthorized halts in parts of Bihar and adjoining places that engine drivers are forced to halt at for the fear of getting beaten up by the locals. In order to avoid punishment from the authorities, they have to even cook up faults like 'vacuum failure', etc. This causes much problem for the rest of the passengers travelling in the trains. With all the railway ministers coming from this state over and over again, there is little hope that the situation will improve.

The next major challenge in front of railways is corruption. Be it the admission into the railways, or the ticketing, corruption is rampant everywhere. There's hardly an year in which we don't get to hear stories of how corrupt the system of railways gets when it comes to taking in new people. The aspiring candidates sometimes even pay up Rs. 2 lakh as bribe to secure a job as it is considered very safe job. Instances of nepotism are also widely reported. As the majority of the system seems to get corrupt, it would be a good idea of the railways try to outsource the recruitment process to some reliable third party. Now, let us see the corruption in ticketing services. All of us are aware how much black-marketing is done on railway tickets between two important destinations or for a particular train. With regards to this, I remember a true story that was told to me by my cousin. This was the case with a lady who wanted to book a ticket for a train from Delhi to some destination(I don't remember the details of the ticket). She got in line early in the morning 60 days ahead of the journey (when the booking opens). She got the ticket in her hand at 8:03 am, which was a Wait-List ticket. She was shocked. She then filed a case in the court claiming widespread corruption in the railways, daring the Railways to provide details of how hundreds of tickets got issued within three minutes time of opening of the ticket sales. I haven't got any further information of what went on in the case, and I would request anyone who has been following the case to tell me the details of the proceedings. Anyways, coming back to the point, most people believe that while ticketing counters open at 8 am every morning, automated scripts run on the computers inside booking hundreds of tickets in seconds, which are later sold through black-marketing. I feel that the solution to this problem is very simple to implement if one has the willingness to stop it. The Railway administration should implement a check on tickets before they are issued, in a sense that a same host (reservation counter) can't book a next ticket say 30 seconds before the first one was issued. And also, to catch the culprits, they can study the data of booking made in the past to check for such fraud by using software that would be very easy to make.

There can be many more ticketing reforms. The ones that I suggest now are debatable and suggestions are welcome for more inputs or a discussion of the existing.

In order to be more unbiased towards travelling passengers, the Railways should set aside a larger portion for last day/week bookings. Most of the people who book their tickets 2 months ahead of travel are usually the people who travel for pleasure/holiday making. While there is another class of passengers that are more deserving than the previous are the ones who need to travel urgently because of business work or some serious personal work. But they suffer from the fact that they are usually not aware of such travels much in advance and come to know only a week in advance (a liberal estimate). The railways need to considerate to them also and set aside a portion of tickets for booking in the last week (say 20% of all the tickets). This is a bit different from Tatkal quota that caters to the last minute reservations and has very less quota. A better solution will be to increase the number of coaches in case of over booking of tickets on priority, i.e. if there is over booking of tickets so much that all RAC's can't be accommodated, then new coaches will be added to make room for more people. But this will require the railways to maintain extra coaches whose utility will be uncertain.

The next problem faced by railways is the menace created by huge rallies that amount to gathering people from large distances. These people not only don't buy tickets, they create nuisance for the bona fide passengers. The railways need to come down heavily on such activities and move over politics to work for the betterment of the nation.

Another suggestion that I believe might work is to create a new class of travelling between Sleeper Class and AC Sleeper Class. Such a class, though will be similar to Sleeper Class in terms of coaches (though arrangements can be made that they get better/new coaches), the facilities will be better than the Sleeper Class. This may include an attendant to keep off beggars and unscrupulous people to enter the cabin, and maybe even offer bedding to the travelling passengers. This can be priced between the Sleeper and AC coaches and I believe will be a success as there will not be the extra cost of AC but the comfort will be a lot more than the Sleeper Class, especially for the long distance travellers. We may call it Exclusive Sleeper Class (suggestions for better name welcome).

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The IIT Dream

A couple of weeks back, Prof. Gautam Sinha (Training and Placement-In-charge of IIT Kharagpur) held a meeting with the students to discuss the changes in the the Training and Placement schedule commencing this year. As major changes have been introduced, he wanted to take the students in confidence by meeting them in person.

Here's the jist of the change...Starting this year, the training and placement process of all IITs will begin in December.

Definitely, if there's smoke there had to be a fire. So what was the collective 'fire' in all the IITs that resulted in this collective decision? The answer is obvious to the insiders, but hardly guessable to any outsider.

It was observed that IIT students (regardless of the IIT they study in) have been making the T&P process an excuse to miss classes. Regulations allow students to miss classes provided the timing of the Test/GD/Interview of any company clashed with the lecture hours. But it was observed that many a times the students start skipping classes even a day before the event, and missing all classes on the day in question is considered a birth-right. If the students were really serious, there would have been no problem, but the truth is that the students hardly utilized this time to prepare. What most of them do is spend the time on their computers, looking for new movies to watch, or just spend it playing LAN games.

And this wasn't difficult for the T&P section to find it out. With a majority of students flunking the tests, one doesn't need a sixth sense to guess. There is one very famous incident about the student's attitude that many of us know. It so happened that Tata Motors came for an interview last year for jobs, and majority of the students (including the department topper) flunked scoring less than a score (20) per cent. And what more, the guy in question argued that its not possible for him to get so bad marks and challenged the integrity of the Tata Motors selection panel. What happened next brought shame to all of us. Tata Motors sent back his copy to show that his answer-script has been graded according to the established norms and standards. What more, they pulled up the T&P section for having such mediocre and arrogant students, and claimed that the same question paper in other colleges like Jadhavpur had plenty of students scoring well above 80. The reprimanding trickled down the level and our Head of Department scolded us for being similar to him.

And this was another issue that Prof. Gautam Sinha discussed with us in the meeting. He told us how the times are changing and the IIT stamp is losing ground to the NITs faster than expected. He told is how the other colleges have started scoring better than IIT Kharagpur in the placements.

Companies are fast realizing that the IIT stamp is fame and no longer valuable as it used to be. Many companies have even started to avoid coming to IITs as they believe that IIT students are usually aloof, don't work hard enough, expect higher salaries and leave companies early. Even those who come to the IIT campuses have felt that the IITians are no longer the material they used to be.

But what has changed over the last few years that has spelt doom on the IIT dream? Here's the things that have changed.

IITs have emerged like a brand, brought popularity by the strong alumni, and over-hyped by the media. But IITs are not soap-making factories that can churn out good soaps given the quality of the raw material remains the same. The IITs have been based on discipline that has been inculcated in successive batches given the competition they faced from their peers. Getting into the IITs was tough and then competing with the 'chosen few' made the IITians strong as a rock when they went on to face the world. All the IITs strived to keep themselves out of politics and set aspirations for higher standards. This created the IIT brand as we know it and the recruiting organizations knew they would get the gold if they came to recruitment here. But what the media did was a doomsday spell. It created an atmosphere that made people feel that cracking the JEE was the final frontier, and failed to account for the IIT system and the real value addition. This had a very bad effect. People who aspired for IIT felt that once inside, the IIT will take the trouble of giving them good jobs regardless of whether they are serious or not. And this was apparent from my very first year in IIT Kharagpur and the same experience continues till date. And it has been this attitude that has spelled doom. As years pass by, more and more companies are realizing that judging a batch based on its predecessor is getting more and more illogical.

Even the assumption that the raw material is the same is no longer valid. With centres like Bansal's that make the student mug their way into the IIT, the proportion of mediocre students in the IITs is increasing.

Another major change that the IIT system has seen is the introduction of free internet facility for the students. While originally meant for education, it is hardly used for what it was originally established. This started some four years back in most of the IITs, and the result is obvious. Instead of reading in libraries and playing outdoors (read:enhancing their personality), people glue onto their computers and do all sorts of activities, even bringing their IIT into the news for the wrong reasons. And today, the LAN of IIT Kharagpur boasts of 10 TeraBytes of data, most of which is pirated softwares/videos obtained from the net.

A person who joins an XYZ college knows that the world is tough. And throughout his education, he is reminded that if he has to survive, he will have to improve himself. Its a different story about those who don't have any inclination to succeed, but those who want good, do good. And at the end when they emerge out of the college, they are prepared to handle the world. An IITian on the other hand, feels that he already has success stamped on his back and need not stress himself any further. In the IITs, there are many people who want good results but refuse to stress it out. And the trouble is, this tribe is fast increasing.

Then how come we still have IITians among the successful in business world and even in IIMs, etc. The reason is similar to the gambler's world. Only those who make it big make the news. Only the alumni who are successful will come back to his alma mater with a head held high, giving us the false impression that all IITians are successful.

So is it the end of the story? The end of hope for all those who pursue IIT as a brand? Thankfully, the answer is "No". And there are enough reasons for this.

Ironically, it will be the media again who will bring back the glory to the IITs. And this process has already started. One regularly gets to see news that a certain college student has achieved something big and then the newspaper claim "and he isn't an IITian!". The stories of NITs and other colleges doing well will also find welcome approval with the media as this is "News". Slowly the horror of these details will trickle into the minds of the IITians and they will stop seeing themselves as special. The technologies that made the IITs elite (like the internet) will reach these colleges pretty soon and establish a level playing field. And this will happen before a student freshly out of school starts to choose an NIT over an IIT giving the IITs an edge with a better raw material. Amen.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Treatise On Mess Food

For those who have had the fortune to eat mess food, it is an unforgettable experience. And moreover if you belong to a place where mess workers are government employees and not contract laborers, the experience is moreover linked with nightmares that you will try to forget as soon as you step in the world outside. But for us who still live in the hostels, eating lunch or dinner is the last thing that can be looked forward to.

In IIT Kharagpur, most of us feel the situation is as worse as it can get. With the mess workers being government employees, backed by CPI(M), there is hardly anything that we students can do to improve the situation. As the mess workers are neither willing nor bound to cook well, the situation goes from worse to worst. But unfortunately this topic has been so thoroughly talked upon, I feel that you will have no inclination to read any further without any incentive. So I hope to enrich this with my assortment of PJs.

When debating on whether Dual Degrees (B.Tech+M.Tech in 5 years) are better or the traditional B.Tech(4 years), I am usually confident of my success. We save 1 year of studying time by stressing a bit more for a couple of years. And on top of that, we get to sit in for interviews of companies that are here to take B.Tech as well as for those here for M.Tech. Without losing much modesty, I can claim that in M.Tech batch, those coming through JEE (the Dual Degrees) fare a lot better that those from GATE. This leaves us with an extra edge over our M.Tech friends. And even while comparing to the B.Tech batch with which we will be competing, the fact that there are very few people in my junior batch ahead of me as compared to my own batch leaves me with a sense of satisfaction that I took Dual Degree (as though I had any choice). But this brings us back to the topic that we were supposed to be discussing. While I try and convince my batchmates of the advantages of being a Dual Degree, there is always a guy who smiles and says:

"We won't have to eat mess food for one extra year (in KGP)."

This leaves my arguments shattered. I have to skillfully change the topic as I hate to admit that this truth hurts.

But interestingly, the mess food inspires in us creative language talents. During the dinner, the wingmates take turns to compare the food with different types of shits. And if someone says that the mess workers can do a PhD in making shit out of mess food, someone quips that they actually guide researchers in doing doctorate in Shit-making. The source of this observation is also an interesting tale.

It is said that initially an unemployed person enters the R.P. Hall as a cobbler. Then he goes on to be a cycle stand worker, followed by mess helper, then mess worker and finally a cook. As you can see there is no qualification required by a person to be a cook in R.P. Hall. We have seen the rise of people who worked as cycle stand worker into becoming cooks here. And to see the person who had just been cleaning grease off the bicycles to make rotis for you is a horror tale that you can never forget. Things had been easy for me, though. In the first semester itself, the doctor at the local hospital diagnosed my frequent stomachache to be caused my uncooked rotis. So she suggested me not to eat rotis in mess. And from that day onwards, I have lived on rice. For those whose stomach are fit enough to eat the rotis so uncooked that flapping two such rotis would create so much suspended-particulate-matter to block vision and enough to make another roti out of it, the only respite is in remembering the days in M.S. Hall where we got coloured! rotis even two days after holi.

The problem of hopeless mess food can be divided into two parts, one the procurement and other the processing (it would be derogatory to call the process 'cooking'). Unfortunately for us, there is suffering from both sides.

The problem of procurement can be felt be consuming food that are usually not cooked when they are served. These include breads, onions, etc. With breads whose ends show signs of fungus ever so often and which is as rubbery as rubber itself, it doesn't require an expert to conclude that the bread that is served is at least 4 days old. The only theory that can explain it is that once after two days the unsold bread arrives back in the bakeries, they are sent to R.P. Hall and served the next day. The situation is worse for things like onions. The onions served during the lunch are extremely dry and have patches of black colour on them indicating clearly that they are from a stock several months old and/or maybe the stock left unsold as no sane minded person would buy them. The cottage cheese bought for the special dinners is also rubbery as it is not made from cow milk, but soy-milk, which is cheaper. And the same story continues for other such products.

When a guy in Desperate Housewives claims that no-one can screw up Macaroni and cheese (before eating the hopelessly cooked Macaroni made by Susan Meyer), he seemed to have missed the fact that in a far corner of the world stands the mess workers of IIT Kharagpur. Let alone the dexterity in cooking, even the place where things are cooked are as unhygienic as the sewer line out of hell. Seeing the pieces of food that fell down on the floor being taken up and served to us, seeing that a mess worker using the same knife to cut vegetables from which he has just scraped the sweat out of his skin, are all common observations. And the most frustrating part is that we can't do anything about it. At least as long as there is a communist government ruling in West Bengal.

Now I remember another tit-bit that emerged from the talks between my wingmates.

I once noted that even if we bring the suffering hungry people of Somalia to R.P. Hall, they would plead to go back than eat this (so called) food. But then I remember that these people are suffering and to bring them into such cheap conversation is very improper. But then I also realize that we too are suffering and the same thing goes for us too. So such a comparison is improper for both sides. I was about to delete this paragraph as I concluded it to be improper, but then realized that as a whole it showed well what kind of emotions we typically feel during having our food. Many people take it as part of the grooming that goes on to make IITians.

If you can eat this food, you will never have any problem with eating habits at any point in life.

When I see people praying before eating food, I know that they are praying from the bottom of their hearts imploring God to give them the strength to let this pass. Leaving food on the plate is not something I relish, but many times they manage to make it so bad that my initial estimate of how much I can suffer goes waste. It is said that leaving food in the plate is considered an insult to food. But I believe that it is applicable only when the thing in question fulfills the criteria as being labeled as 'food'. I feel that cooking something so badly is even more insult to the food.

Another incident that comes to my mind while eating in the mess is an experience with Ankur (my brother). While we were in M.S. Hall, one day during lunch a guy comes over and sits opposite to us. After looking at the container on the table, he asked: "Yeh daal hai kya? (Is this a cereal?)". To this Ankur replied: "Banane se pehle thi. (It was, before it was cooked)".

Its just by stories and anecdotes like this are we going about in our life, facing lunch and dinner one at a time.

"Just one next time....just one more day...."

And living here I start thinking about the qualities that I will seek in my wife. Cooking skills will definitely be high among my priorities.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sploggers and Sploggents

Just now I finished reading an article by Rashmi Bansal on the "Spam on her blogs". I too had similar problems a few days back and had to turn on the word verification feature of blogger. This ensures that no automated script can post comments on your blog. I hope that this will be a good deterrent to spam comments, referred henceforth as Sploggents.

But it is worth noting how far can this technology help. On the bloggers side, assuming most of them are intellectually alert to activate this feature, the Sploggers will have a tough time breaking into the popular blog domains. But as e-mail spamming and phishing, they won't have to sweat much in order to look for fresh victims.

Taking analogy from e-mails, let us assume that we get the feature of marking Sploggenters as Spam, disallowing them to comment on our blog any further. Another advantage could be for people who don't want obscene comments on their blogs and can block people whom they are apprehensive about. (The feature currently available on Blogger is that one can "Flag as objectionable" a blog indicating that the content of the blog is questionable/objectionable. But it does not help in preventing spam comments, nor does it do anything to take the blog out of the web.)

But as we have seen in e-mails, the spammers take refuge in the powers of world wide web by always using a different ID or many a times phoney ID. A new feature that aims to counter this is "Domain Keys". But the trouble again is that people can create new blogs on trusted sites such as Blogger which will lead to passing them as authentic as they have actually been created. On the e-mail world, the feature used to counter this is again Word Verification. So the problem boils down to this.

If with the advent of new technologies, smarter software and hacks, if it becomes possible to pass the Word Verification step by automating it, what will be the future course of action of the Anti-spam regime.

The day is not far as there are many software available that can identify the written alphabet in lot twisted forms. I give the deadline of three years from now. That is, by 2008, the World Wide Web will again become vulnerable to massive spamming because people will be able to move past the Word Verification.

Fortunately for the e-mail community, a solution is already available-The Address Guard (TM by Yahoo!). In a jist, it will allow you to create disposable email addressed that you can give to people you are not sure are trust-worthy. If you start receiving spam from them, you can delete them and as a feedback mechanism know who had sold them, preventing future mistakes. Although this service still requires payment, as soon as one of the service providers will start giving it for free, others will be forced to follow.

The blog service providers will soon be forced to offer tools similar to those already mentioned in order to keep their users happy. As blogging is still in its infancy, it will be easier to enforce radical changes without hurting anyone. I feel that by 2007 the features to block bloggers, posts with certain words will become available. But as we have seen in nature that even after years of advancement, there are evils still incurable; Spammers and Sploggers will be around till eternity.

With the new generation of mobile phones coming, even the GSM/CDMA service providers will have to give an option to maintain block sender list, etc. to prevent harassment and ensure customer satisfaction.

Trivia: courtesy Yahoo! Anti-Spam Resource Center

Why is junk email called spam? The history of spam…

Unsolicited email earned the name "spam" because it resembled a Monty Python skit where a chorus of Vikings drowned out other sounds by singing "spam, spam, spam."

Early digital marketing pioneers contend that spam is actually an acronym for Simultaneously Posted Advertising Message.

The first spam email may have been sent in 1978 by a Digital Equipment Corporation salesperson to announce a product presentation. Source: The New York Times, February 9, 2003.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Being the Black Sheep

I read a few very interesting articles today. The first one was a blog by Don Blohowiak about the people's mentality to make them look different. It was said that many of the law and order problem arise because some people want to look different. I am not talking about Salman Khans and Amisha Patel sorts, but those among the commoners who proclaim that "Rules are meant to be broken". By breaking rules they simply want to be different from the crowd. Just after I read this blog, I stumbled upon another one by Ian that went...

"This was a great reminder for me that too often our conflicts and mis-communications are about holding our position and being right. Wouldn't it be better to seek out the point of divergence or confusion and work on that?"

Although they look quite different in message, I got a line of thought on people's mentality. Here's how I perceive it.

Man is a social animal. This explains the "Herd" mentality that people develop over the years. This is seen abundantly in Indian context. People vote for people of their own caste no matter how worthless they may be and how worthy the opponent be. This "ghettoism" has plagued our society for a long time since for thousands of years, there was discrimination on the basis of caste in the society. People believe that of all people, the one that belong to their caste will hold them for the longest time. The caste offers them something equivalent to a Social Security Number. Instead of being a person, they are reduced to just "Baniya" or "Aiyer". But the story starts here. Now that they are reduced to a tag, they find it difficult to stand out. And not just in caste system, this thing is applicable everywhere.

After finding security in rules, people want to be famous. And they do it by being the "black sheep" of the herd. As is aptly put in one Hindi saying "Badnaam honge to kya naam nahi hoga", which when translated to English means "By getting a bad name, aren't we getting a name". This satisfies their ego. After joining a school (read: "Institution run by rules"), although people will always cheer for their team, they will also plant crackers in the toilets. The former gives them security and the latter, identity.

Now comes the importance of the second blog I read. We will find that there are always people who will never leave their point and keep on arguing even if they realize that they are wrong. This is because by conceding they are wrong, they run the risk of not being taken seriously. "Would people care for a person who goes wrong every time". This even holds good for boys who don't cry. To always appear right seems to be the key hold the head high.

Another aspect of this social behavior is the "Pull-Down Mentality". Seems like a big coincidence, I had written about it at length in one of my other blogs today itself. I will take the relevant sections from it to ease the reading.

The two things I hate most about the student culture I have seen are GPLs and forced treats. For those not into any Indian Colleges, GPL refers to the practice of kicking the butt of a person using all the force you can gather, doing it in a group big enough so that by the time you are finished giving GPLs, the guy on the receiving side (howsoever sturdy and with cushioned buttocks) is also finished. GPLs are usually given to people who have recently got a reason to be happy, like a birthday or an appointment/promotion. No sooner than a person has got a reason to be happy, is he reduced to a limping and weaning lump.

Of similar nature are the treats that I see around. Treats are usually asked when a person gets success in doing something big, which usually amounts to money. So no sooner does the person gets the money, he is hounded to part with it by giving lavish treats at the place the receiving group finds suitable. So the happiness comes at a cost. This aptly looks to me as the pull down mentality of the masses.

"If you don't get success, scare the others from success by punishing them for it."

Though working on an unconscious level, this mentality has telling effects on the way people behave. "Jealousy" is the word I feel apt to describe this phenomenon. That's why we will always have Teacher's chamchas (feet-lickers) telling them who put the crackers in, and Shiv-sainiks who will never allow youths to celebrate Valentine's Day. At this point of time, many of you will be pointing a finger at me that Shiv Sainiks aren't showcasing jealousy by burning down Archie's Galleries. But I will beg to differ. Most of them are not jealous of youths celebrating. They are jealous of America's progress. They perceive Valentine's Day as an American Festival, something whose celebration undermines the pride of being and Indian. Inferiority complex is the twin sister of jealousy.

People will always try to kill the black sheep.

To be a hero.

To be the whitest sheep.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Vision For A Developed India-Part 1

This is the first article on the series that I will be writing on my ideas of progress for India.

In this first part, I will concentrate on the Tax Regime.

As we all know that the Income Tax Regime in India is a failed regime. On the first hand, not even 10% of the people who should come under the net pay their taxes. If I remember correctly, the figure was in fact 4%. Apart from that, even for people paying the taxes, things have never been easy. First is the outrageous feeling that what they earn is being forcibly taken from them. And second is the hassle of filing an Income Tax return, and the guilt of lying for many. But when it comes to hard-earned money, who wants to part with it. So as it is a problem for both the government and the population as a whole, it should be scrapped!

In the first look, it seems like an outrageous idea. A big part of government revenues is generated by the Income Tax. Doing away with it will cripple the government's finances. So we must have a way to keep the balance, and in fact for being tempted to change over, the new regime should be at lest twice as better. What I propose as solution is: only indirect taxes should be levied. Here's how it will work.

The biggest problem for the government is that many people who should pay their taxes don't do it honestly. Either they grossly under-value their earnings or not even pay their taxes. The way the judiciary works, people know that its very easy to come out clean. Instead of this, if there are only indirect taxes, those who should, will be forced to pay it. For example, the government can have very little (or naught) tax on agricultural goods like, wheat, rice, sugar, etc. This way the daily laborers who earn only to get a square meal a day can be exempted very easily. On the other hand, the government can adopt a differential taxing policy for different products. For example a higher tax for the lesser basic needs like common electrical appliances (bulbs, tube lights, etc) and a higher for bigger luxuries (mobile phones, TVs, etc.). It will be up to the policy makers to decide what is more luxurious; And mind you, debating this is far more easy than debating whether a particular person needs the subsidy or not. This way, the poor people, with lesser purchasing capacity (for example those living on rotis, onion, milk, etc.) can be exempted while those living on McDonald's French Fries can be taxed suitably. If this system is put into place, more than 80% of those who should pay taxes would be paying accordingly. The rest 20% (a guesstimate) will be those who either by some means will get their products for lower prices or the industries which will not report their profits completely.

Once this system is put in to place, the workforce of the Tax department can be deployed more effectively to look into the industries making it difficult to fake the figures. Also, there would be no hassle for the government for keeping track of tax benefits like purchase of NSCs (as there will be no tax on their purchase) and to those extended to poor farmers, widows of army personnel, etc. Obviously a person who goes to multiplexes won't need tax exemption for it.

Also, there can be differential taxing policy for different regions depending on the need (like air-fare can be taxed less in the north-east).

Another big advantage would be that this system would be psychologically easier to handle. People don't make too much fuss when the many goods are taxed even over 100%, but cry if 2% educational cess is levied.

So far so good, but this system also will have its faults. Let's take a look into them. Firstly, we run the risk of losing the grip on black money. As there won't be any income tax return to keep track of how much a person earns, the amount of black/illegal money will increase in volumes. For this, what seems to be a viable idea is that people should fill in their income returns (please note its NOT Tax returns). This way the Tax Department will have a knowledge of how the money is flowing if they want to conduct raids, etc. Also, for the general population, it won't be a big problem as unless they have black money, of which they can't report the origins, they can fill the returns very easily and honestly. They would rather use their minds on choosing the lifestyle that suits best their need.

The next problem will come from the corporate world which would fight to make its products as less taxable as possible (to boost the sales). But a panel of economists won't have much problem in arriving at conclusion as to what level of taxes are suitable for the particular product. As the number of industries is far lesser than the number of individuals, they can be brought easily under the tax net and taxed for their profits. Any ambiguity can be resolved as and when encountered and even media can play a big role in highlighting whether their is any discrepancy in the taxing policy.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Illuminating minds...

After reading this article of mine, some of my friends complained that it is a bit too long. So I have decided on this way to help the readers. I have demarcated the portions that deal with my story and the one that deals with my views on Illumination Festival. The first part, beginning the next paragraph is the story. Look for a change in style if you want to read my views only.


In the winter vacations of our first year, one of my friends, proud of our accomplishments at Illumination that year went back home to tell his parents all about the marvelous competition. After hearing him speak, his father said, "Did I send you to the IIT to do such things?". He was dumbstruck.

Do we agree with his father, or we do not? Obviously we can't agree as his father knows nothing about Illumination; the team-work, the passion, the elixiration, and what not. We can't agree to anything unless we think for ourselves about it. After all, this is what we have learnt while our JEE preparations, and being into IIT is an ample proof that we can think by ourselves.

My tryst with Illumination(or 'illu', as they say it) dates back 3 years from now when I was in first year. I knew it then as the heart and soul of KGP life. Winning it was the goal of everybody around. It had so much at stake that I can't resist the adrenaline pumping and worked for as much time as I can spare to make my hall win. Being in MS hall wasn't an excuse after all. We were all JCBinas and there was unity among the first years. I recollect working 5~6 hours a day for Illumination work and the figures doubled two days before the finals. On the D-day, when we got the final signal, I started lighting the lamps assigned to me at the roof of HJB Hall. As soon as I was about to finish 80% of the work(we had a pretty tight schedule), we heard the final call saying that we should all stop lighting the lamps and go to hiding as the Jury has come.

"Oh! I couldn't see how well the chataiis were lit by the "Chatai Team" as they are the centre of the attraction of the whole Illumination fest".

"Never mind", I said to myself. "Lets wait for the Jury to finish".

It seemed like a long wait. And when it was announced that the Jury has left, we came out only to find that half of the lamps on the chataiis went out, and more importantly, two of the chataiis caught fire.

"Oh dear! This reduces our chance of winning it this time."

I don't remember exactly what prize we won, was it the consolation prize or the third prize, it was always a consolation prize for the first years who showed so much tempo with so little funda.

This I am sure is the outline of most other "First Illumination" stories that you will hear. All the memories I had of it were the official Gymkhana's or Hall's Photography secy's photographs. I cheered myself with the fact that in addition to Illumination, we also had made a Rangoli for Rangoli competition which stands the wrath of time for two days, and hence we could see to in its original glory after the Jury went. Of course we couldn't see it before as it will leak the theme and somehow damage the prospects of winning the competition.

In comes second year and after a brief period in which we got accustomed to the ways and means of my our abode, THE RAJENDRA PRASAD HALL OF RESIDENCE, comes the time to tighten our seat belts for Illumination. We are told about the glorious past RP Hall has in Illumination competition. It is a prestige issue to win it.

"The winners can hold their chins high for the next one year, and the losers will even avoid making an eye contact with you", we were told by an overly enthusiast office-bearer of our Hall.

This and many such motivating speeches infused in me patriotism type of feelings and I became a warrior in the name of my country, RP Hall. No wonder, RP Hall(and I believe most other Halls) spends a greater percentage of its budget on Illumination competition than India spends percent of its GDP on defense. I got introduced to the professional way of preparing for Illumination. With so much funda pouring in and the element of secrecy that we have to maintain about it, made it look like a commando operation. A story similar to the first year experience ensued and I remember bidding good-bye to our master-pieces as the Judges kept pouring in. Later I learnt that we won the competition! But it didn't give me the happiness I wanted. Because I had freed my mind and started to think on my own about Illumination.


Lets first talk about the nature of the competition. It is an Inter-Hall competition, kept under the GCHA(General Championship Hall Affairs) with 100 points. As half of you are already crying foul, as you thought it to be under Soc-n-cult GC, you are mistaken. It is rightly put under the GCHA as unlike other competitions in which a small team representing the Hall participates, here the whole Hall is a participant. Any competition that is organized, is organized with the aim of improving certain quality of the participant. Be it a soc-n-cult event like extempore, debate, collaging, etc. or a sports event like 100m sprint, golf(sorry! not yet in IITKGP), hammer throw, or even weight lifting. All the events require the contestants to sharpen up their skills in one or more ways to become the champion. Let's see what our good old Illumination has to offer. As far as I remember, I have learnt how to make loops out of metallic wires, and then mechanically tie them up(thousands in number) to the black marks on the chataiis. I don't think that it requires, or for that matter develops any special skill on our part. It doesn't give us anything new to learn that we will require or get pleasure out of in rest of our lives. But wait a minute, don't you think that designing the chataiis require art skills. Also, even arranging for the chataiis for Illumination or gathering people to work requires management skill. Sure they do, and I can't agree even more to you, but does it really matter. The Chatai Design Team as they are called are the well established people of Hall in arts, and they are limited to a dozen in number. Of course they benefit out of Illumination, but not us. Same is the case with the "Management" guys. Most of the work force of Illumination competition is the sophomore population that gains nothing out of the competition. They just work like bulls in an oil-churning mill working day and night to bring glory to their Hall. Many of them stop going to the lectures of their respective discipline(for which they were actually sent to IIT by their parents!). They take night-outs tying the same old loops to the hardly different chataiis, and when the twilight sets on, climb up to the roof of the mess to curse their RK counterparts, taking enjoyment out of the backfire.

Now back to Finance Ministry. Typically, the Illumination budget of any year varies between Rs.60~80 thousand. Unconfirmed sources say that approximately 75 percent of this amount actually gets spent on Illumination activity, while the rest is hogged up by the organizers(OMG, this is exactly like our defense Ministry). As this is not a gossip column, we need not worry what's true and what's not and lets just concentrate on the aggregate figure that actually costs us. Our halls PLF list says there are approximately 400 boarders. And this competition costs us somewhere around Rs.200 per head. This is an enormous amount considering the number of people paying it. Such an amount if had been saved earlier would have led to the making of a new Basketball court some ten years back, that we RPians wanted for so long. Also unlike the Basketball court that gives returns year after year, amount spent on Illumination Competition just vanishes into thin air. The value of the remains become zero even the very next morning. Now comes the hidden costs. As one of our Professors told us, the IIT pays Rs.50 per hour to students doing official work. Although official estimates are always under-estimated, we still take it as a benchmark of the value of time of an IIT student. Considering that on an average, 30 people work for 3 hours daily for 25 days and on the last two days, a total of 150 people give 18 hours, we get the net value of the work as 30*3+150*18=2790 man-hours. This equals a total of Rs.1,40,000 approx. per hall. Assuming an equivalent of 9~10 hall with such tempo, are there, the cost goes up to Rs.10,00,000! This amount is staggeringly high as compared to the direct cost. Even if we don't convert the time into money, what right do we have to force people to waste their time on such activities. I use the term force as the second years are actually forced to do the work.

This now brings us to the part where we discuss Principles, Tradition, Morality and Values. Most supporters of Illumination say that it has been our tradition since long back and therefore we should continue it. I totally disagree with the conclusion. On the same lines, Child Marriages, Sati System and Caste system have been our tradition. So do we need to continue them just because they are our tradition? At least I don't think so. What's rotten must be thrown away. In ways similar to the evils of our society, the Illumination competition has its evils. Firstly, it is not based on competition spirit, but on hatred and misplaced patriotism infused by our seniors. The students are forced to part away with their time, money and belongings. Yes, as you all will now be remembering, that many of us have to part away with our furniture. These are soaked in oil and returned on first-come-first-serve basis. As many people take multiple servings, many of the people have to return with a horrible piece of furniture or even no furniture at all! I remember that during our second year I gave away one bucket for filling oil and an umbrella to protect the lamps. Although I expected them to be returned in bad condition owing to rough handling, I didn't expect that they both will be stolen. Same case was there with my compatriots as all the 7 buckets and 3 umbrellas were stolen! When I went to inquire this from a 'Illu Head', he said "Do you think we haven't lost anything in our second year during illu". This confirmed my belief that ours was not a one-off case. There are many more incidents of theft as people are forced to work in the front lawn while the power is deliberately cut-off! Don't you think that by holding this competition we are encouraging such thieves?

Another thing I came to know about illumination is that it is the biggest reason behind the pathetic state of R.P. Hall's garden; Even so much that we were forced to opt out of the Inter-hall gardening competition. Here's the story for the uninitiated. R.P. Hall had to pull out of Inter-hall Gardening competition as during illumination, the ground is defaced so much that its not possible to hold a gardening competition. Also, due to oil spill, the capacity of the soil to support good garden is tremendously reduced.

Also, I don't think that this competition gives us any satisfaction it ought to give even in this ugly shape. This is because we the people who make it are hardly given any chance to see and enjoy what we have achieved. Instead, we are forced to go into hiding when people belonging to the families of Jury admire the hard-work. Does Illumination comes under social service that first we allow other to reap the benefits then take what is left over? So we see (Sorry, "I see" as you are still free to think on your own) that Illumination competition gives us nothing but a chance to catch Tetanus(as at least five injuries due to contact with metal parts happen everyday) and get our grades screwed up(as it is usually around Mid-Semester Exams).

Even illumination goes against the spirit of Diwali festival. When all of India is illuminating with diyas, flickering lights, etc, we (the KGPians) have our power cut-off and are not allowed to light even a single match-stick. And what's more, we are forced to go into hiding! Is this not infringement of religious freedom as provided by the Indian Constitution? If someone would have asked me in my school days giving description of how it is celebrated, Diwali is the last day I would have suggested.

But I am not allowed to stop here. How can I just babble about the problem and not propose a solution! As you might have guessed, the only solution is to stop this with immediate effect. (People note that I have nothing against the Rangoli Competition. It draws participation from a dozen people who represent a hostel. It has lower budget, people improve their personality by participating in it, and everyone gets to see the benefit.) For how long will we go along the same Mahabharat or Ramayan theme and wondering if we can keep it a secret? I have spent 2 hours writing it, and if this can stop Illumination even an year earlier, I feel that this Rs.100 investment was invested well. After all, it helped me improve my creative writing skills!

-Ambuj Saxena

PS: Your comments and constructive criticism are most welcome.