Sunday, 7 December 2014

Food Indians miss living abroad.

Samosa
It has been just 3 months for me since I moved out of India, but it seems like forever since I savored these delicacies from back home. So, here I am again, sharing what I dearly miss from my country the most and it's nothing else than just food!

Pani Puri
Made with fried Indian bread, spiced water and tamarind chutney this was the first thing that I was warned of not finding in Europe. Indeed the worst of my fears materialized and I am still hell bent on trying to get my hands on these tangy lip smackers .



Butter Chicken
Moving onto to the specialties of North India, this is the ultimate signature dish of Punjabi Cuisine. With variants in different parts of the country this dish boasts of a huge international acclaim. Marinated fried/roasted chicken cooked in tomato-onion gravy with a plethora of spices, my taste-buds yearn for this delicacy since the day I stepped here. There might be some wannabe 'Indian Restaurants' in the US and Europe serving it but the original taste can be experienced in India only.

Maggi Noodles
From the most exotic time-consuming preparations to these simple 2 minute Maggi noodles. Although, presently battling allegations of lead contaminants in it, the plasticy Chinese noodles available in markets here sans the spices mix (Maggi masala) are no match for delicious Maggi.   

Chai
Hitting a more simpler note, the famous Cut Chai (tea) is THE official hangout drink for the average Indian. Americans/Europeans may call it Tea Latte, Russians call it Chai itself, Indians certainly indigenized the British culture of drinking tea by adding Cardamom/Cinnamon and/or Ginger/Cloves with half portion of sweetened milk.


Amul- The Taste of India
I realize the value of this tagline after coming to Belgium. No matter what you cook, Aloo Parathas, Butter Chicken or any simple curry the taste is incomplete and never the same without this salted butter found exclusively in India. This is the one thing apart from drugs/explosives that is not allowed in International travel otherwise I would love to load my bag with a couple of these packs.                      
                     
Dosa
Born and brought up in Central part of India, I find this blog about Indian food getting biased towards North Indian cuisines. Restoring the balance is the staple food of South India, Dosa/ Rice Pancakes (as my International friend said while I was trying to make them here!). Served with Coconut chutney, Sambhar and Potatoes this would be the penultimate desire to fulfill once I am back home.

http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/thumblarge_648/1321932620KRCHrO.jpg
Poha Jalebi


Well, this is a sentiment only my fellow Indoreans (from city of Indore) can comprehend. Batata Poha/ Poha Usal/ Poha Jalebi with Sev being the staple breakfast for children's school tiffins, the morning walkers and the office workers, I miss waking upto a plate of this sumptuous ricemeal.

Paan
Chewing the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition, custom or ritual which dates back thousands of years from India to the Pacific. Paan is chewed and finally spat out or swallowed, the main reason we find sidewalls in shady buildings and government establishments painted red! Mainly acts as a mouth freshener after meals if taken without tobacco. Available throughout India in small roadside shops selling cigarettes and tobacco but impossible to find outside the South Asian subcontinent.

To sum up, writing this blog turned out to be a masochistic task rather than a mild remembrance. Left totally mouth watered and famished searching for the appropriate pictures and making correct descriptions. I have also added links to the preparations in the caption of the photos.
Hope you enjoyed reminiscing the food heritage of India with me :) 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Interstellar: Movie Review from a physicist's point of view


Copyright- Interstellar
Finally, I get to do the one cool thing I can do with my knowledge in Physics. A movie review. And why not, it's Nolan who deserves it all!

Yes, I am real kiddish when it comes to movies like The Prestige, Inception , Memento and The Dark Knight trilogy.

The film has a slow beginning with Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey) wandering in his farms with his kids Tom and Murph. Being a pilot and an engineer, the idea of farming bores him the most. Murph is always on the lookout for something unusual and mysterious and keeps asking questions to Cooper regarding Science and ghosts and the resemblance of her name to Murphy's Law (Anything that can go wrong, will.) to which he gives a very optimistic response.
They live in a world of drought and famine where military is non-existent. As humanity is facing extinction, they find a mysterious wormhole near Saturn from where they need to explore possibilities of human survival in other solar systems. 

The plot develops from this point on-wards and Coop is set for a space-time odyssey into the unknown where he is constantly at war with the ideas of returning back to his children as promised or keep searching for systems that can harbor humans.

Blackholes, wormholes, relativity!! Well, the movie describes them both theoretically and physically in a much more beautiful way than I could express or even the great Stephen Hawking could mention in his book "A Brief History of Time". The very fact that team Interstellar went to the lengths of publishing scientific papers for a physical description of a wormhole and a blackhole is astounding. One may imagine Christopher Nolan's dedication and sincerity in writing and directing a sci-fi movie when world renowned theorist and astro-physicist Kip Thorne is seen as an executive producer and scientific consultant for the movie! Initially, the script was written by Jonathan Nolan and Steven Spielberg was supposed to direct it, but he dropped out, only to our amusement of finding the movie in Chris's basket. There was no going back from then.

Nolan's favourite set of actors are to be seen, as always, in their best of-course. The wits and annotations of the eccentric Michael Caine (as Professor Brand) perfectly complement the background score of the ingenious Hans Zimmer (who provided music for Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Rush and so on). The Devil wears Prada famed actress Anne Hathaway does not disappoint at all for her first sci-fi movie and Matthew McConnaughey with all his brilliance totally justifies his previous Academy Award over Leonardo DiCaprio for the Dallas buyer's club with his immaculate and exceptional role as a son, a father, an astronaut in the movie. Human emotions and the knowledge of pragmatism are always  at war separated by a thin line without one clouding the other.

Nolan perfectly uses the concepts of wormholes (space-time warping), space travel (time dilation due to relativity) without compromising on any laws of Physics and exploits the mystery behind the black holes to give a wild dramatical twist to the plot, opening a gate for debate and cynicism. Some online news agencies and numbnuts may argue it is a long shot for the human race and a plain 3 hours long advertisement for the NASA for whom I have simply two words, "F Y".

In a nutshell, the 169 minutes long movie has much more to offer than the three trailers showed to you and is worth every penny you would spend in Dollars, Euros or Rupees. Rush to a Dolby-Digital theater near you ASAP and grab the complete package of a wild journey in space with creativity and emotions running amok!! And definitely this is not a movie where couples should go to satisfy their physical needs, because Nolan and Physics enthusiasts would not tolerate that!! 

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Some basic notes and videos for those oblivious to the terms like singularity, relativity, wormholes, black-holes and higher dimensions:

Singularity is a theoretical concept where the general laws of nature (Newton's laws and relativity) and matter cease to exist. What happens inside is still unknown.

Apart from the three physical dimensions that human brain can perceive, time is considered a fourth dimension where 3-D objects like us move linearly. The curving of 4th dimension or moving non-linearly in time is taken to be fifth dimension which is the concept of a wormhole, where the space time is curved. Or simply imagine a 1-D wire that is bent to form a 2-D ring. That is just adding an dimension. Wormholes are actually 3-D holes (spheres) that connect different points in space-time. (Analogous to crossing a tunnel made in a mountain, serving as a shortcut, instead of going around the mountain or over it!) It is tough for us to digest this fact because our brain is limited to see and perceive three dimensions. But just because an ant can't fly or move in more than 2-dimensions at the same time, doesn't mean that birds cannot fly and move around in 3-dimensions.

Black hole is a region in space-time from which nothing can escape, even light! Therefore the name. It is the ultimate stage in the lifetime of a star having enormous mass and gravitational forces. Various scientists have given theoretical proofs of singularity in black holes but after all it's all on the paper. As it cannot be seen, the only way to detect a black hole in space is by it's gravitational effects. Stars revolving around a point mysteriously are considered revolving round a black hole.
Time dilation curve

Another non-trivial fact that one would need in comprehending space travel is time dilation. Time does not work at same pace for different points in space simultaneously. Time is relative after all. This can be understood by a equation from special theory of relativity as time in a reference frame moving at some velocity 'v' with respect to a fixed frame. In simple words, passage of time for a moving object slows down as it approaches the speed of light. 

Below I have added a video to understand the higher dimensions and the second one is about the scientific research undergone in making of the movie. Enjoy!



 
















***I would recommend not reading the comments/discussions unless one has seen the movie***


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Empowering Women - The less privileged gender


Women, in India and all over the world have long fought for their identity and dignity in the social scenario. With relentless media coverage and outspoken social websites, attention has finally shifted to the other half in an otherwise male dominated society.

Hollywood and Bollywood, which have been largely responsible for portraying women as mere sex objects and crowd pullers are now routing to show them on a higher pedestal; a place of respect, a place where they have roles more than just a helpless homemaker, a servile mother or an eye candy in a useless item song! Recently, I saw the movie Mardaani featuring Rani Mukherjee as a brave IPS officer who  fights against child trafficking and the prejudice of women being the weaker sex. On the likes of Bollywood films like 'No one killed Jessica', 'Chak De' and the upcoming Mary Kom biopic, various roles of women have been displayed which aim at overthrowing the orthodoxy of India's patriarchal culture.

In reference to my article on Gang rapes, we have observed that when women start making a mark in the society, it is envied by many and the male ego's first stance is to suppress their voice. When that practice fails they try to express their superiority by taunting and harassment. Although attempts like reservation of office posts to maintain gender ratio and bring out equality are made, gender bias, unfortunately is still seen in many corporate and government offices. Unequal wages, bias in promotions, lack of recognition to the female staff and much more.

This is not problem of a single country or a certain class and not just a fight of the women. These thoughts were reflected in the speech by the Harry Potter fame Emma Watson at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, "If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Feminism does not equal man-hating. It stands for equality It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes."

A daily news reader must have surely come across the much debated Deepika Padukone -Times of India conflict. I respect Deepika for taking a stand against the print daily for publishing sleazy candid pictures as entertainment. Surely, the paper had no business focusing into a celebrity's cleavage and making a headline out of it. But at the same time the hypocrisy of the actor comes into question. Promoting her new film Happy New Year with Shahrukh Khan, in which she plays a bar dancer, voluntarily being half-naked, I was amazed as to why an year old headline itched her so much. It's a different story from a different perspective. What I personally feel is that celebrated actors like her need not go flaunting their bodies for box-office collections and crowd pulling. Doing this in reel life maybe justified for them, but in reality it's blatant objectification of women.

This problem can only be solved by a collective effort. Blaming males for being aggressive or females for their dressing style is just circling around. Men need to start respecting a woman's freedom and women too need to practice healthy feminism. After all, Men aren't from Mars neither the Women from Venus. We were born together on this very planet and must learn to embrace each other!

Monday, 22 September 2014

From Ghent, with love.


A typical sunset in the city of Ghent

Hallo! A sabbatical of packing and prepping for the Belgium visa to finally settling here, I write back  from the cockpit of Europe (mostly for the fear of becoming the owner of a dead blog).

Been here two weeks, there are many stories to tell from the beautiful memories exploring the city, meeting new people, lip-smacking street food and of course the Belgian beer and chocolates.

I landed in Brussels, with some 60 kgs of luggage (a typical Indian carrying all homely food and spices) and thankfully to my rescue was my colleague Kyle who landed a day before and came to receive me at the airport. Ghent, 60 kms from Brussels, a city in the Flemish region of Belgium is also the capital of the East Flanders province. The city is known for it's historical architecture, beautiful churches and the University. The 60,000 students enrolled in Ghent University alone make up for one-fourth of the city's population.

Panoramic shot of the Ghent City Center











Travel fatigue could not deter us from stepping out in the beautiful neighborhood the moment we kept our bags in the hostel. Seeing a lot of Frituur (Fries) outlets in the streets we couldn't stop wondering, and to our surprise we learnt that French fries actually originated from Belgium. Yes you read it correct! History says that when British and American soldiers came to Belgium during World War I and tasted their fries, they called them 'French' because French was the official language of the Belgian army at that time. Beers can be found in any shop or grocery store! That too for just 1 euro/liter if you are looking for locally brewed canned beers. Crunchy waffles with nutella, strawberry and whipped cream is the most common dessert here. Well, too many calories for even a foodie like me to handle. Contrary to high calorie diet of fries and beer people consume here, obesity is not at all an issue here. You would find majority of people cycling their way between home and work.

Well, coming to language part, the northern part speaks Dutch and the southern French given the borders they share with Netherlands and France respectively. Initially we students had problems in pronouncing and even street names but the mandatory Dutch language classes were a boon for our survival here. Two weeks of intensive three hour classes was a lot of fun. Learning a new language gives you that extra confidence to strike a conversation with the locals and helps a great deal in basic shopping and travelling. Although the local people are bilingual and are very friendly with English speaking people, they are very proud about their culture and language. Festivals and music shows happen almost every weekend around the city center. Nightlife is crazy with pubs and bars open till sunrise even though everything from banks, offices and shops close by 5 pm.

My colleagues at UGent 
The best part about studying here is the diversity we are exposed to. The language class has 22 students from 20 different countries. Albania, Syria, Serbia, Australia, USA, Russia, Mexico, Ukraine, Canada, Czech, Taiwan, Indonesia, Norway, Venezuela, Spain, Colombia, Nigeria, Nepal and more. The national boundaries and the tensions between the world's superpowers and the so called third world countries play no role in the friends we make here. Music, football and food unite everyone. So much to learn, so much to explore, so many languages and cultures to absorb, one would never miss home! This academic voyage in Europe is bound to be a memorable one. Tot ziens!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Impounding GAZA

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."- Martin Luther King

The Parliament of India and powerful African-European nations may be hesitant to debate on Gaza and pick sides between Israel and Palestine; pensive minds would not keep their itchy fingers simply crossed. Millions of people have come forward on social networking sites and many have staged public protests all over the world to demand complete ceasefire and indefinite truce in the land of Gaza.

Preaching "Save Gaza" does not mean taking side of the Hamas and justifying their actions. Acts of violence should be condemned irrespective of the religious beliefs and the country one belongs to. While over 1600 Palestinian lives are lost in Gaza as compared to a handful in Israel, global sympathy is bound to swing in Gaza's direction. And these lives are not of the so called militants of Hamas, they are civilian casualties. Israel may accuse Hamas of operating in densely populated areas and using Human shields but that is no excuse for mass slaughter of women and children. I am reminded of a famous quote by Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and political activist, "War does not determine who is right - only who is left."

My opinion is largely based on the content international news media provides. But the Gaza civilian death toll raises severe questions about Israeli tactics and military training. Whilst their aim is to cleanse out the bunkers and tunnels allegedly made by Hamas militants, firing air to land missiles over residential areas is highly questionable and scorn-worthy. Thousands of rockets launched from the pro-Palestine militants have caused minimal damage thanks to Iron Domes and bomb shelters in Israel. On the contrary, when Israeli missiles head towards Gaza, Hamas tells civilians to stay in their homes and face them.

The popular explanation for this is that Hamas is poor and lacks the resources to protect its people like Israel does. The real reason, however, seems to have more to do with disordered priorities than deficient resources. This is about will, not ability. All those rockets, missiles, and tunnels aren't cheap to build or acquire. But they are priorities. And it's not like Palestinians don't have a handful of oil-rich neighbors to help them the way Israel has the US.

The problem is, if civilian casualties in Gaza drop, Hamas loses the only weapon it has in its incredibly effective PR war. It is in Israel's national interest to protect its civilians and minimize the deaths of those in Gaza. It is in Hamas' interest to do exactly the opposite on both fronts.

It is highly irrational that Jews must support Israel and Muslims must support Palestine. To write it off by terming it as a tribal conflict would mean taking a step back in a free thinking world. 

So you really don't have to choose between being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine." If you support secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution -- and you oppose Hamas, settlement expansion, and the occupation -- you can be both.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Gang rapes - and the failure to stop them

RAPE. CASTE KILLS. MUTILATES. GANG RAPES. 

Picture taken from hinduhumanrights.info
And add to it the callous political statements made by the state ombudsmen. Lately, social, print and the broadcasting media are brimming with fresh cases of violence against women and rising anger of the masses against it.

Our country is being hit by such nerve chilling incidents on a daily basis now. In the past four decades, the number of reported rape cases in India shot tenfold from 2500 to 24,923 in 2012, according to the statistics from National Crime Records Bureau. Since many rapes go unreported, the problem may be worse. There’s family pressure to keep quiet about the crime, and it’s difficult to know whether the increase means more rapes have occurred or shows a growing willingness among victims to come forward.

Barely had the nation recovered from the brutality of Delhi gang rape before 2013 New years eve, we heard about the Shakti mills gangrape in Mumbai in August 2013. Even after implementation of stricter laws and harsher punishments to the accused, Badaun rape case in the remote village of Uttar Pradesh shocked us again. Incidents like these are like mealtime news for the state of UP where 60 million out of the 200 million inhabitants survive on less than a dollar per day. Clearly the problem lies in unemployment and poverty. As men from these patriarchal backgrounds are unable to make a mark in their society they turn to misogyny and sexual violence for inflicting their dominance over the weaker sex. Upper caste men suppressing the lower caste women; in a country already marred by caste and gender discrimination, a woman Dalit becomes a double Dalit. Mostly the rape victims are minors from lower castes.

The gravity of the situation lies in realizing the root cause of these gang rapes. Men with similar criminal instincts at same place, same time making them hunt like a pack of dogs. These incessant incests are brought up in our less privileged neighborhood itself. Put yourselves in their shoes; living in a small tattered hut with 8 plus people where domestic violence is so prevalent that it seems totally normal. Drunken husband and father beating up his wife and kids. Forced sexual intercourse infront of their kids, molestation, is a day-to-day affair. Education needs to be given from the grass-root level with sex education and law awareness. Better environments will only bring up better individuals.

Even after relentless media coverage and public outrage to such incidents, the rape of a six year old girl in Bangalore added to the horror and shame of the citizens of India. The accused may have been caught and will prosecuted too but will a death penalty to them end the rapist mentality epidemic? Personally, I feel the death penalty is an easy escape for the criminal from the crime he committed. While, the victim, if survives, is mentally and physically scarred for life why hang the guilty and let him escape his deeds. Punishments like Physical/Chemical castrations with life imprisonment need to be put in ordinances and law awareness must be spread to the remotest of the villages and cities. Only then shall the better halves of India breathe freely and lead a life of peace and dignity.

Also, we need to sensitize the political class to refrain from passing irresponsible comments on the national platform. Comments like "Boys will be boys", "Uttar Pradesh has least number of rape cases in India" by the state Chief Minister are deterrents to our society and also paint a sorry picture of India in the world. Karnataka CM also faced heavy criticism after he snapped back at the reporters saying, "Except that, don't you have any other issue? Is this the only news you have?". This justifies that the mindset of the common and ruling class needs to be changed exigently or Indian women will keep paying the price!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Education system of India: What has gone wrong ?

After clearing the 10th board exams the immediate worry of every student is to choose the stream that would decide his future. Having done that they recklessly start preparing for IIT-JEE, AIPMT, CA exams without even being sure of where their interest actually lies. This article addresses that student and questions the impetuous college admission rat race.

Completing my Undergraduate education from an IIT, I have experienced that 80% of my colleagues including me were unsure of what we would be doing after graduation. Rather we were uncertain to even our areas of interest. This happens when one jumps into studying for a competitive exams just because they got good grades in the 10th boards. Moreover, their parents consider that their child conquered Mt. Everest by achieving the magic figure of 99/100 in Maths and Science.

Will achieving a cent percent in these insignificant exams keep you happy for life?
The answer is certainly NO.

Most students jump for a college education just because that is the easiest option they see. While their parents slog days and nights to furnish those hefty tuition fees the student enjoys a life oblivious to the daily hassles of life unperturbed to the idea of survival in the world. If Indians are so much in awe of the western culture, why can’t we adopt some of their principles of financial freedom of teenagers stepping into adolescence rather than blindly following their consumer base of branded clothing and electronic gadgets?

One doesn’t need the stamp of an IIT or IIM to be a writer, politician or an IAS officer. Yes, you better know the people I am talking about here! Motto should be to strive for originality rather than banality; simply clearing competitive exams for piling up degrees in your name.

If you really want to start a business, beginning after your high school is not a bad idea. What’s the point of enrolling yourself in an engineering college? Kids graduate college with an atrophied idea muscle. Starting a business forces you to exercise that muscle every day! Entrepreneuring teaches you how to do business, not an MBA degree!

Like travelling? Go explore the world after your high school! Taking a drop year after failing to clear the JEE’s can be very frustrating. Instead meet new people. You will learn how important the education you crave for is actually worth? You will learn the value of how to stretch a dollar!
Like arts or sports? Spend a year in professional painting or photography or simply learn a musical instrument. Creation does not happen from inspiration. It happens from perspiration, discipline and passion. Mastering a game teaches you sportsmanship, socializing, helps develop that killing instinct obviously without having to kill anyone! A pair of footballing shoes or a DSLR would cost you much less than a college education. Dare to think beyond IIT’s and IIM’s!!
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However, a counterview would say these things can’t be applied to an Indian scenario. As social and financial security cannot be granted by the govt. of a population of 125 crores unlike the US, parents invest a great deal of money and effort into college admission of their kids. This may apply to the lower middle class but what about the wealthy ones? Govt. invests thousands of crores into IIT’s, NIT’s and IIM’s only to see that more than half go abroad to study further and settle there. Hardly 20 percent of the remaining actually get a job in core industries of their discipline. Eventually the tax payer’s money is only wasted. So why not us, the middle and upper class think before what we really want to do before rushing for easier options and let the poor and deserving benefit from these govt. institutions and funds.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Inertia

I may be a Physics geek to many but this piece is certainly not about Newton’s first law of motion. In layman terms, Inertia is the tendency of a body to resist change. In a truly Indian scenario inertia can be seen as the huge pile of files in government offices, dug-up roads and open potholes with garbage all around (waiting for the stray dogs and monsoon to clean it up) or even the cow sitting in the middle of a busy road. Inertia is the reason we need change in age-old constitutional govt. policies, amends in laws for dealing crime and rape cases. And inertia is the reason people like me just write and do not work on such matters.

Nevertheless, I needed to get my college certificates attested for visa purposes. So, I went to the District Magistrates office for his signature and stamp. I was directed to his clerk for completing the required paperwork. When I asked him to make a file for my work, the babu looked furiously at me for disrupting his untimely chai session. As usual, I was told to wait until further notification. I realized my naiveness when another clerk came forward and signaled me to offer some moolah. Hence, I learned ‘Gandhi’ was the external driving force to set a babu in motion. I did the needful. In between he slipped out saying “Saab se mil ke aata hun”. I was stranded for two hours with only half the work done. Later, I also learned that the speed of his working was directly proportional to the weight I laid on the file. With a lot of persuasion and obviously a hundred bucks more to break his Inertia I was barely able to get my work done before the Magistrate left. 

Well, this was inertia of rest. Bikers and car drivers reluctant to pause on a red light signal around busy crossings is inertia of motion; traffic violations being the most common reasons for accidents. Inertia for us humans is, therefore, our mentality and approach towards life. The habits we don’t want to change. The routine we don’t want to break apart from. Everyone wants change to happen around them. But very few actually want to be the change! 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

IIT ROORKEE - The Nostalgia


Main Building of IITR
The news of my selection at Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee came as a surprise to my family members they never expected a positive result in an exam (JEE) which has a cruel selection ratio of just 1% (among 5 lakh candidates)!

Roorkee, a small yet congested town in Haridwar district, juxtaposed beside the Ganga canal (built by the British in 1800's) lies in the foothills of Himalayas. Also famous for one of the oldest Army Cantonment in country with headquarters of the Bengal Engineer group (remnants of British Indian Bengal Army) Roorkee hasn't grown much around the IIT despite harboring almost 10,000 students in the small green campus.

Spanned across 450 acres the clean and green campus of IIT Roorkee is protected from city pollution and highway traffic. Previously known as Thomason College of Civil Engineering (founded in 1845 to help train engineers for the construction of the Ganges Canal) and then University of Roorkee, this main building dates back to the British era.

My first steps in the city were on a sweltering summer afternoon. Admission procedures ate up the whole day due to unnecessary paperwork. Even after a decade gone by converting into an IIT, the antediluvian standards of University functioning still prevails.

Sacrificing my afternoon naps and attending classes in those 45 degrees days of July August were equally excruciating as getting up those foggy 4 degrees bone chilling winters in December January. 

Situated in a small town, we students wandered a lot in the food streets Uttarakhand to satisfy our taste buds and quench the homesickness. Sipping cheap awful beers (realization after coming to Belgium) near the Solani river Ghats watching the serene sunsets, lip-smacking chai pakoras at Alpahar and University Canteen whilst bunking classes were some of the best moments I remember.

Lectures, assignments, tests, practicals, facing neurotic professors was a daily affair but all that never became a defining venture during my college life. The cycling trips besides the canal, evening jogs around campus, afternoon football with friends in hostel lobbies or gardens, the late-night hunger hunger driven trips to the Bus-T, the unforgettable exclusive cheese-maggi of Govind Bhawan were the things that kept me sane for the 5 whole years.

Having explored all nuances around the R-land, be it River rafting and Bungee jumping at Rishikesh, snow escapades in Auli and Shimla, hiking around the ethereal woods or trekking in the lush green mountains of Mussorie, time flew by with ease.

5 years, 10, semesters, 72 courses, 198 exams and innumerable night-outs for those mundane procrastinated assignments were a journey I would not have completed without my friends. In a nutshell, this campus gave me much more practical life lessons than my course on Physics, leaving me with a constant desire to excel among the best.

With this note, I bid adieu to my Alma Mater with high regards and respect for everyone and everything that shaped and influenced me in this chapter of life.

(currently pursuing my Masters in Nuclear Fusion at Ghent University, you can reach me via Gaurav.Shroff@UGent.be)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Oblivion

Oblivion - The state of being unaware of the surroundings. 

http://www.thegrandsarachis.com/projects/disconnect/
With the social media talking about almost everything from politics, sports, business takeovers, celeb gossips and what not, the average internet user is no longer oblivious to his surroundings. Unless you are a Alia Bhatt who manages to be in public spotlight with the 'reel' tag of 'Student of the year' and an 'IIM Graduate'. Well, it is rightly said, "Ignorance is bliss''.

But on a closer look we would find that we have become blind to our own self. Why ? 

We wake up in the morning and the first thing we do is check our 'smartphone' for notifications and Whatsapp messages !! We don't bother how we sleep but we surely make sure our phone is on charging and goes to sleep before we do !! Ours is the generation suffering from hyper-consciousness coupled with acute self-unawareness. The age group 15-45 has become too much tech savvy and internet dependent. 

When was the last time you went for a peaceful jog at the stroke of dawn leaving your 'extended organ' behind? When was the last time you flipped a dictionary for a tricky word instead of just 'Googling it' ? Catching up with your old friends rather than just liking their Facebook statuses !

We have become too much socio-savvy and have lost touch with ourselves. I maybe me called a hypocrite for using the same social media for preaching against its overuse but where else can I spread the message.

Gaining social acceptance has gained greater importance over self-realization and personality development. One feels the need to share his holiday trip pics, coffee hangouts, movie outings and even the daily moods and meals ! The need to be heard. The need for recognition. The need for appraisal. Family time now means all the members sitting together with their heads down scrolling down their notifications after a busy day. We really need to disconnect in order to connect in real sense. Disconnect from these gadgets. Disconnect from the ostentatious virtual profiles of people. Disconnect from the messaging services.

Write a postcard to your distant loved ones. Dump your i-pads and buy an actual book. Give a surprise visit to your college friends. Plan a trip with your family members. Do some social service - Teach some poor kids instead of just pointing fingers at the government. Just break apart from these wireless shackles and take a plunge into the pool of reality. And feel the difference of Being Human than being a texting robot. Break free because the world is yours to explore ! Think about that !!



Friday, 20 June 2014

An Obituary to Spain.

Witnessing a shambolic 5-1 defeat handed by the vendetta seeking Dutch, it appeared as if the Spanish football team had already booked their return tickets. And to the dismay of millions of fans their worst nightmare came true when Chile- The South American Underdogs took out the Defending Champions in the 'Life or Death' group stage match.

Dumped out of the World Cup after just two group games on the same day that King Juan Carlos abdicated his throne and signed it over to Prince Felipe, the nation's footballers have now relinquished the crown they once wore with distinction. 

The winds of change were evident when star players Xavi and Piqué were benched for the match against Chile. An ineffective and lackluster Xabi Alonso was also replaced by his young and rightful successor Koke after half time. But Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aránguiz of Chile had already done the damage.

An era of footballing supremacy coming to an end, La Roja's may well have to reinvent their tiki-taka style of play. The national team comprised of players from the top English and Spanish leagues, but this immiscible admixture of players with contrasting playing styles proved suicidal for the country. Although, being hailed as the best team on paper with 3 players from it in the World XI, the on-field performance was equally embarrassing. The possession based gameplay of Barcelona and the Counter-attacking tactics of Real Madrid put together made a total curry. It was clearly evident that Del Bosque's men were confused, low spirited and had no proper strategy against both Netherlands and Chile. No more so than veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas -- the captain, the man who despite having not featured regularly for club side Real Madrid kept his place in the team.

For the past six years, this Spanish side has thrilled those who marveled at its tiki-taka passing and ability to make the game look so effortless. For so long a perennial failure, its victory at the 2008 European Championship finals ushered in a period of almost flawless football. Victory at the 2010 World Cup was secured courtesy of a win over the Netherlands, while it retained its European crown comfortably two years later. But the signs of weakness have been growing ever since it was swept aside in last year's Confederations Cup in Brazil. The 3-0 defeat by the host nation in the final shocked not only seasoned observers but also those who had believed Spain's domination would surely continue. The loss certainly puts the future of the illustrious Del Bosque's reign into a precarious state.

Gone are days for the likes of Casillas, Alonso, Xavi, Torres and Villa, the ones who ruled the world football for almost 6 years. With more than 100 caps each, I think these veterans need to hang their boots and pass on the baton to the young players who are determined and hungry for glory. As a diehard Spanish football fan myself, I hope that this eclipse marks the heralding of a new dawn with the ushering of fresh talent to carry the legacy forward. And with the U-21 national team winning 2011 and 2013 UEFA European Championships there is no denial that La Rojita's (The Little Red ones) have it in them to take the Spanish flag on top again.

2016 edit: 100+ caps for Iniesta, Ramos, Piqué and Fabregas for nothing. Over dependence on De Gea. Players failed to display their international club level playing ability. Lackluster defending. Euro 2012 scorer, Mata not even in the squad! Time for Del Bosque to part. How the hell is he still there!? Full marks to Buffon - A living legend. Unarguably the safest 8 yards are  the one he guards.

PS: Spain's Home ELEVEN.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Memoirs of Kashmir

"Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast",
wrote by a famous Sufi mystic, poet, composer and musician Amir Khusro, belonging to medieval period which means;
"If there is Paradise on face of the Earth it is this, it is this, it is this (Kashmir)".


With reignition of the debate on Article 370, the constitutional clause that gives special status to the disputed land of Jammu & Kashmir, the contemplative self prompted me to pen down the childhood memories of a family holiday visit to Kashmir exactly 10 years in the past. This was the time when Shahrukh Khan starrer Main Hoon Naa, featuring Indo-Pakistani conflict gained tremendous box-office success. Considering the relatively amicable Indo-Pak relations and absence of any militant activity for a while, we found it an ideal window to tick off Kashmir from our annual summer vacations checklist.

Getting there

We set off from Indore to Delhi via a train journey with our family friends. To keep a balance between budget and time, we took a flight for Jammu thereafter. (I recall complaining about landing amidst a vast barren land as opposed to the idea of a lush green mountain view. My father tapped me on the head telling we were yet to go to the Kashmir valley.) We were fortunate to get a friendly driver for road trip to Srinagar. I don’t remember his name but frequent parleys regarding tourist footfalls on the controversial and terrorized land revealed that his own elder brother was forcefully taken into a militant training camp. This shocker was a routine affair for the Kashmiri localites. As alleged by the driver a person of the family had to be involved in such groups in order to preserve his family. To our horror we came for a leisure trip to a place where people are unsure of seeing the Sun the next day. My friends and I started playing Antakshari to ease the sudden eerie that gripped our wagon. We witnessed a long convoy of Army vehicles before passing through the Jawahar tunnel. The One and half a mile tunnel pierced through the heart of a mountain isolates you from the world gripping you into its serene darkness. The two-way tunnel facilitating round the year connectivity from Jammu to Srinagar is heavily guarded by military round the clock.

Things to do

On reaching Srinagar, we headed out in Shikaras for the search of House boats at the famous Dal Lake. However, we found them quite unhygienic and over-pricey as opposed to hype created around them. So we settled to lodge in Hotel Zabarvan, a mid-segment lakeside hotel located in the Boulevard area. Taking a good night’s rest we went on to see the Mughal gardens the next day. The ambrosial array of flowers were reminiscent of God’s own platter of colours. One may try the mouth-watering Kashmiri cuisines just outside these gardens. These local delicacies can knockout any connoisseur be it the sizzling kebabs, the exuberantly spiced Rogan josh, meat-loaded rishta-gushtaba and Dum Aloo, Hakh (spinach like leaf) with Zafran (saffron) rice for the green eaters. 

Next day we reached Sonamarg, driving by the spectacular country side facet of Kashmir. Sonamarg, which means 'meadow of gold' has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. Situated on the banks of Nallah Sindh, tributary of Jhelum River, the river snakes amidst the imposing Himalayas. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier but I would recommend a trek to enjoy the view. Gulmarg boasts Asia's highest and longest cable car project, the Gulmarg Gondola, spanning from Gulmarg resort at 8500 ft to Knogdoori Mountains at an altitude of 12000 ft. The mile long serpentine queue for the ride seemed as if the Gondola’s offering a stairway to heaven. Unrehearsed of the weather conditions at the Kongdoori station, we were hit by bone chilling winds and we rushed back for the down-station. Nevertheless, the view from the cable car was absolutely breath-taking as if God himself descended on Earth to paint on a life-size canvas. For those who are still wondering, Gulmarg has been the location of shooting of superhit Bollywood Films like Bobby, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Highway to name a few.

Pahalgam, our next destination offers an unforgettable horse ride up a fairly steep mountainside leading to a magnificent meadow ringed by trees and snow-capped peaks. We also visited Chandanwari which is the starting point of the holy Amarnath Yatra that takes place every year in the month of Sawan (July to August). We stayed there for two days in JKTDC guest houses, popularly known as Pahalgaon Huts. We had a sumptuous lunch of Rajma and Chole at the famous Purnima hotel. Yes, the unfortunate June 12, 2004 grenade blasts that killed 5 and injured 29 people in that dining hall happened just two days after our visit!! Both our evening dinners were at some Chicken and Tea stall in the market place. I fail to recall the exact place but that exquisite Roasted chicken is something I still crave for. For those shopaholics, this market offers a wide range of exclusive Cashmere shawls handcrafted to perfection.

Patnitop, the last chapter to our escapade to the paradise on earth, is perched on a plateau in the Shiwalik belt of the Himalayas across which the Jammu-Srinagar Highway passes. Paragliding at Patnitop offers stunning views of the mountains cape enveloped by thickly wooded Cedar/Deodhar forests in the Chenab basin. Encompassing such beautiful destinations we were rejuvenated yet reluctant for our return journey. We could not go to Ladakh, which is 250 km from Srinagar, but that would be another must-see place if you are an adventure freak and relish the adrenaline pumping high altitude treks. 

Altogether, the journey was truthfully mesmerizing and although we had a lucky escape from the blasts, it’s sad to see such a beautiful place being guarded by army personnel at every point. Let’s pray that Kashmir is peaceful again with the efforts of new central govt. for strengthening the Indo-Pak ties as even the average Kashmiri simply wants peace and freedom.

Friday, 30 May 2014

A run around my campus.

On a calm sunday evening with nothing in plan for the day I reluctantly put on my nike running shoes for their actual purpose. Tired of my daily gym routine I wanted to try something new. So, I went on for a run around my college campus. Just to encourage myself I started off from the main building side which faces the LBS (Lal Bahadur Shastri) ground where the Inter IIT athletes practice. I was just aiming to complete one full round of the 450 acre campus and be back to my hostel. I kept a steady pace and ran across Cautley Bhawan (my old hostel), then climbed the slope towards the main building maintaining my breath. Running through the dramatics and music section I kept going on towards the downhill route to Sarojini Bhawan (girls hostel) hoping to see some pretty faces in the male dominated estrogen starved campus. And I was bewildered to see a couple kissing right infront of the watchman near the hostel gate !! Trying to erase that sight from my head I started running faster towards the backside of sports complex. Passing by the new Kasturba Bhawan I saw some fellow students running with the motive to catch a glimpse of the beautiful weather. Crossing by the Saraswati temple I closed my eyes for a bit and paced up to steer past the crowd there. Again climbing the uphill part, I realized I had run 2 kms with total ease.

Donning a smug face I went for another round. This time I felt really free with all the muscles loosened up from the gym routine. Talking to myself throughout the run I enjoyed each and every view of the clean and green campus. With little stamina left to climb the slope again, I decided to take a longer but straighter route. Crossing the convocation hall I patted myself for surviving half a decade in such a small town away from home. Passing by Azad, Ravindra and Govind Bhawan I kept going at a slow pace until I started sweating thoroughly.

Ultimately my under-trained abs gave up and I walked my way to the LBS ground for some cooling down exercises. It was dark now but still many students were training under the flood lights owing to the upcoming athletic meet. In order to relax I took off my shoes only to see a blister on my left foot. I suddenly felt the pain and all the sense of accomplishment vanished right away. Paradise lost. Having no clue how to deal with it I stepped barefoot into the lush green ground. Paradise regained. The dew of the dusk took away all the discomfort instantly.

I sat in the field after some stretching. Observing the local athletes running barefoot I got up to join them for a 400 meter dash. Sprinting the inner circle of the ground barefooted with them gave me a sudden adrenaline rush. With every step on the wet grass my soul was meditating. Running was never so liberating. The Herculean feeling was back but this time I chose to lie down and not push myself anymore. The night sky never seemed so brilliant. With hardly a dozen of stars visible I gazed upon each of them like a toddler. I think I ran more than I ever did in my entire life, not to escape anything but to find myself.

Staring at the brightest star among the lot I vowed to kill the lackadaisical self and start afresh. The tiny twinkling dots from the infinitude of space instilled a new energy in me. I was once again ALIVE.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Arvind Kejriwal: The pr-oxyMORON

On 8th December 2013, an antiquated muffler-topi wearing, spectacle bearing gentleman, who referred to himself as the ‘Mango Man’ (Aam Aadmi), also sporting a persistent bronchitis became the Chief Minister of the capital of the world’s largest democracy. The stronghold and arrogance of Congress was decimated with the shocking loss of then CM Sheila Dikshit. Winning an unpredictable 28/70 seats in its debut election the Aam Aadmi Party took the world’s largest democracy by a surprise. Mr. Kejriwal rocketed to fame overnight with all the print and social media abuzz with the turnaround of the Delhi State Assembly elections. On December 28, the ‘Mango Man’ took over as the CM of a minority government with the unexpected ‘unconditional support’ of the Congress.

Taking the oath of working against corruption during his swearing-in ceremony he mentioned, “Aaj main nahi, Dilli ki janta CM bani hai”. The main agenda was to clear the Jan Lokpal Bill that included setting up of an independent organisation to probe into the working of politicians and even the top office of Govt. of India. He clearly failed to practise what he preached when he defended Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti by staging a dharna against the central govt. in order to prohibit an independent probe into his minister’s dogmatic moral policing of the Ugandan women.

AAP tried to bulldoze the Jan Lokpal Bill through the assembly with both BJP and Congress in strong opposition over the question of due process and constitutional decorum. The bill was manoeuvred in such a way as to invite opposition for the already minority govt. and not in view of getting it passed in the assembly. With such unexpected success in the state polls Kejriwal had already set his eye on the Raisina Hills. Delhi assembly was a mere stage of theatrics and histrionics. He must have seen dismissal of the Jan Lokpal Bill an ideal circumstantial exit window from the imbroglio he put himself into. He must have thought of gaining public sympathy by quitting as the leader of a minority govt. which was thwarted by political rivals rather than being criticised as a CM who was unable to deliver on his promises. On the contrary, the decision invited a colossal public dissent.

The Aam Aadmi party took this uproar on the offensive and fielded its candidates in 434 constituencies for the Lok Sabha elections, the highest by any party on the national level. Kejriwal in his daft over-ambitious attempt took on the deft and humongously popular PM candidate of the NDA, Mr. Narendra Modi in the city of Varanasi. As anticipated by the exit polls and being totally obvious, the masses refused to ride along with the whims of the broom bearer, whose govt. lasted just 49 days, ironically akin to the lifespan of a Jhaadu and Kejriwal suffered a brutal defeat and was swept clear by the Modi wave. AAP managed to carve out a meagre 4 seats, that too in Punjab only where anti-Congress voters considered AAP to be a better alternative to the BJP. The record-breaking public mandate of the BJP is hugely attributable to the political and administrative blunders that intensified the prevalent Modi wave into a Tsunami.

The matters worsened for the AAP with HC ordering to put him behind bars for the defamation case filed by former BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Mr. Kejriwal refused to furnish the bail bond of Rs 10,000 taking this as a matter of prestige with hopes of getting political gains. The spotlight hungry iconoclast further embarrassed himself with a failed attempt to reform the govt. with Congress sternly refusing to support him after the debacle. This also contradicted the party’s claims of seeking a fresh polls because minus Congress, a fresh referendum was out of the question. The very next day Mr. Kejriwal announced that fresh polls were an only option and apologized to the people of Delhi for quitting without a proper explanation. Eventually after spending a week breathing the air of Tihar Jail he had to give in to the judicial system after being reprimanded by the court for creating a mountain of a molehill. Aptly, the word U-turn is now slanged as ‘Kejri-turn’ after his humdrum dramatics.

Unfolding of such political upheavals clearly demonstrates that the main agenda of the AAP rather Mr. Kejriwal lies only in criticizing exposing inadequacies of the govt. Instead of functioning in-situ and providing a viable alternative to the BJP and Congress as predicted earlier, the party is limited to creating insurgency and anarchy. The mockery of the Delhi assembly polls that was made evidently exposes Mr. Kejriwal as a libel and an inefficient leader relentlessly seeking public spotlight to gain public sympathy and political marginalization. The ingenious opportunist soon turned out to be a desperate escapist.

Nevertheless, political pundits and press intelligentsia would argue that he is not power hungry and is playing a bigger game that India has not foreseen. Hitherto, my opinion would stand on the fact that he clearly failed to apprehend the sentiments of the common voter and exigently needs to reinvent his game-plan to emerge out of this predicament, essentially for the existence of his fledgling party. The Aam Aadmi Party, jocularly known as the most successful start-up in this recession by an IITian now shoulders a past imperfect with the future tense.