Kernel of kindness

Somewhere deep within me, sits a cynical personality that is looking for traces of evil in this world to substantiate my beliefs. Of the many failures I’ve had, I have, and will enjoy the failure to be a cynical thread of thought. And if you think books can be of no use to alter your beliefs, think about it again, for now I am going to talk about my experience with poignant books.

Yes, of course you know the second world war and the atrocities. I also know that you will have different views of that period, depending on whether, at heart, you are a humanist, a historian, a pessimist, or an information monger. I want to present the human side to you, but before that, shall we really quickly look at Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? You’ll soon know why I brought up this book. The book is in some way the urge of mankind to have their conscience disconnected from their want to hurt, to feel the unbridled joy of sadism. The distilling of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde alludes us to one dangerous idea, that we humans are innately belligerent at heart, and that a bizarre internal or external force keeps us from doing anything violent. Now it seems the majority of the wars fought were along similar lines. The leaders were unleashing their wrath of ideas on commoners. Commoners were unleashing their wrath of hatred on other commoners. Soldiers were stuck in a playground of blood and violence. When leaders or soldiers do it, perhaps we can conclude that it’s either the crushed humanity in the leaders or the following of orders in soldiers. But the most disheartening part is when a commoner inflicts damage on another commoner, with words, weapons or whatever that can do the damage.

I lost my faith. Or was I not focusing well enough? Was I selectively looking for the bad in the world and not even considering that there was good? Let’s get one thing out of our way, this world isn’t black or white. It’s shades of gray (and yes, far more than 50). But it seemed my spectrum was biased towards the black, keenly looking for the black blotches. I am wrong. My cynicism is ill found, or at the least, not useful. “Man’s search for meaning” said so. “The book thief” said so. “Schindler’s list” said so. My friend’s stories have said so.

Every story you read has a crux to it, something we both agree to. But there is also a dual crux to it, either in agreement or in contrast to the original crux. Books on humanity always have a contrasting crux to them, and it is up to you to choose the crux. I have chosen the bad side of humans so far, but I wish to change. I wish to see the good side, even if it means the rarer one.  Perhaps it doesn’t mean world is a rainbow town with sunshine for ice cream. But it at least means that I can look for a ray of sunshine in the merciless cold and rainy weather. Here is a quote to explain what I mean:

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer — Vasily Grossmann

Yes, it’s the kernel of kindness that the keeps the world going.



Exhausted and revitalized

I biked 75 miles from Ohiopyle on a rather hot Sunday back to Pittsburgh. I think almost till 50 miles I was fairly energetic, but after that, the heat took a toll. I was biking very slowly over the last 10 miles, constantly drinking water and panting to get rid of the heat in my body. I reached Pittsburgh, but decided to bike back home. Now the route from Southside (where the trail ended) to my home is almost invariably uphill, which meant that it would be awfully exhausting. At some point, I was wondering if I would faint due to exhaustion.

Nevertheless, I decided to do the “start from home and hence end at home” exercise and at a snail pace, biked the uphill slope. No surprises,  it was really daunting and in between, I halted for five minutes, as my mind went blank. The heat was still oppressive. I was at the junction just before the last leg of the journey, which was a bit shy of one tenth of a mile. Even this short stretch was uphill and hence exasperating.

Just as I was feeling like giving up and sit on the pavement for half an hour, I see this tiny booth with three children selling ice cold tea. It was twenty five cents, but because I was exhilarated to the prospect of drinking something cold, I urged them to take a dollar for it. Those cute kids slowly tilted the jar with great effort and gave me a glass of that ambrosia. I drank with great taste and thanked those kids profusely. Till that point, I was annoyed with the heat, exhausted like never before and to the point of hating my life. Suddenly after the drink, I loved my life, admired those kids, thanked the nature and was enthusiastically ready for the last and now the most fulfilling of journeys.

Sometimes, you wish to believe that coincidences are rare, or that life is always going against you. However, once in a while, a metaphorical angel steps in just before you give up to revitalize your journey. To the kids who gave me the ice cold tea, thanks a lot guys, and I will return the favour to more travellers like me.

5,4,3,2,1 — contact! — Frolic/Frisk! — Oh no!

Of course we like adding a tinge of drama to either the very first paragraph of a post or the title itself. I flipped a completely biased coin and decided to add drama to the title. So here we are, a tiny string of what happened in my trip to Niagara and Washington DC.

After a long time, my friend from Austin visited me for a road trip in the North East of USA. There was lots of planning over three weeks, so much so that people stopped studying for exams and were planning instead. Leaving out the gory details of how we forgot sleeping bag, playing cards, blah blah blah but managed to get everything in place blah blah blah because we are resourceful and all that stuff, let’s quickly jump into what was interesting in the trip. Oh no, I am not going to tell you, “From Niagara we went to DC in 7 hours” and such stuff which you can simply google for yourself. I would rather tell you what stood out in each tiny episode of this trip.

Canada stole all the good parts of Niagara. The horseshoe falls is on Canadian side. Sure you can kind of see it from USA side and the ferry ride which takes you close to the falls is exhilarating, but it’s no way close to what it looks like from the Canadian side. And also the walk behind the falls? It’s so envious to see people walking through that area, closely listening to the falls. I am not even going to talk about … okay fine, yes the lighting in the night after sunset from the Canadian side is incredible.  One final rant and we will switch topics. There was a sweet and delicious smell of waffles all the while when we were around the falls. We decided to play dogs and find out if we could savour some of those tasty waffles. Again! Canada at it again! That sweet smell was from across the falls on the other side. Some kind of a wheat factory, as said by a guard. This only angered us further for not spending $100 to go to Canada. Setting drama aside, It was a nice trip with all the strong gurgling sound of the river, the raging and mighty fall, the tiny rainbows formed due to mist of water, and of course, the nice sunset.

Hershey’s chocolate world (Did you know that Hershey is a place?) has too much of chocolates. What did I expect? Well, you are right, it’s not fair to even state this. I wish they took us through an actual factory instead of a dingy tunnel with fancy and paste chocolate robots which were hardly audible. I learned that Hershey is famous for the dark chocolate, which I liked a lot. “Yuck! It tastes like tobaco!” — exclaimed my friend. Well, it’s true to an extent but I liked it nevertheless. “Did you consider starting smoking? You might like it” — no dear friend, not going to that area.

Library/Art/Capitol/Natural history/Aerospace — “I’ve seen enough fallen chairs in Parliament. Let’s go to see something else” — I like these rather interesting comparisons between congregation places of various countries. Anyway, we skipped capitol and went to see the Library of Congress instead. Yes it’s beautiful and there are umpteen books of Thomas Jefferson, but I wish I could see other wings of the library. Ah yes, noise. I can’t disagree. It was awfully noisy for a library. Oh well. I liked it though.

Can we have less of Madonna please? Of the plethora of paintings we saw, 10% were noteworthy, 10% was interesting, 10% really stood out and the rest was Madonna and variants of Madonna! Makes me name it Madonnart instead of Modern art museum. It is incredible to notice the evolution of painting across the medieval age in terms of forms, expressions, and subject. I think I am a new fan of Rembrandt. His juxtaposition of characters against black background and the easily discernible facial features was commendable. Introduced to impressionist paintings for the first time, I immediately liked it. The idea of talking about the subject more than the details appealed to me a lot. Don’t be in a hurry to see these paintings. Worth your time if you like art.

Standing tall and gracious and eerily simple, the obelisk was a sight to see. We decided to sleep on our back and see the monument. “Hey it seems like a footpath. Well lit”, “I would say it’s a walk into space. Suddenly you fall into abyss.”, “We set a trend here. Everyone is look at the monument the same way now”. Essentially that’s about it. To tire our legs towards the end of the day, we decided to give the massive and silently sitting statue of Lincoln. I was mighty impressed by the demeanour of the statue. The reflection pool is not symmetric! Why didn’t they take care of this!

Did you know that a Homo Erectus female is taller than 5’9″? And that Neanderthals were shorter and broader than us to counter cold? Yes, the humans and mummies section of Natural history museum was incredible. I must admit that they did a really good job of laying down the roots of our ancestry along with reasons for each fact. Should we be freaked out or be amazed by the fact that that blob of brown carbon was once a living being? Mummies confuse me but never fail to enthral me.

Right, as if I could go to space if I was physically fit. As it always happens, visiting the air and space museum created an urge to go to space. How cliched? Come on! The space modules, rockets and satellites were so well presented! And because I can’t go to space, I instead bought some metal models to make at home. How very unapologetically boring.

So what does the title mean? Half of the trip was spent in the car transiting from place to place. So we decided to play contact almost invariably every time, and every time someone thought they got what the other person was thinking, there would be a gush of excitement, haste, counting, shouting and finally, slump with disappointment. It’s an incredibly fun game though. And that’s what occupied all the car ride times. Other times? I was busy judging. Judging what? Hey did you even read this article? Please go up and restart then ;).

Treading slow and steady

Date is not something that matters to me, unless I am so worn out that I might as well belong to the dump yard. But my friend above says that it has been quite a while. He says that with certain pride. Yeah, I know it’s he, don’t ask me how. I used to silently sit in a store room and judge people who used to come to see the shows, thinking how superficial they must be to dismiss me with a quick cursory glance. Oh yes, I was eager to leave the showroom. For all the cosiness that I enjoyed, I wanted to stamp the earth and tread the snow and kick the mud. Okay, enough drama, let’s get back.

So this guy saw me, and it almost seemed like he was in a trance. Love at first sight I believe, but it’s nice to know that you can be of use to someone, at the same time, getting out to do what you wanted. He perused me a bit too much along with his dad. Yeah fine! I am smarter than you think. Through the people at showroom and with a tinge of my own intelligence, I can understand everything that humans can understand. My future narrative, as it beautifully unfolds, is thanks to my friend above, who keeps blabbering about his travels to his friends and foes alike. Don’t you think I digress a lot? Yeah, so coming back, my good friend above. Let’s call him the stick. Moderately tall and awfully thin. So the stick took me along with him.

I thought life will jump excitingly at me. Bummer. Totally a bummer. He hardly took me out. Utterly lazy person he was. I thought that I might have made a bad choice. Oh wait. I never had a choice. Oh well. I was just cursing my life I guess. Events unfolded and luckily, the stick got an offer to go to Germany in the summer of 2013 (Stop questioning my intelligence and assume I am a smart teenager!). Got to admit, I was excited and I could see that the stick was excited too. And boy, we did have some real fun.

I will keep the trip details very short. It seems like he did document somewhere. I don’t care much though. So over three months, I roamed a total of nine countries. Yeah, he brags about it a bit too much. I tread the medieval streets of German down town, the romance filled streets of Paris, the historically exciting places of Italy, the poignant places of Dachau and so on. Oh one of the trips was a chilling experience for me. No, I am not serious here. I tread the snow filled mountains of Titlis in Zurich. Quite an experience I must admit, particularly with that slide down the mountain and getting wet in the snow for the first time.

For all that exciting trip, the stick kept me aside for an year, because he was going through some tense times. I tell you, this stick takes a lot of tension for things don’t matter in life. So almost an year later, he left his home country again for a long time to USA in August 2014. With a bit of maturity, I was excited to see new places again. Not much activity for an year almost, but I can’t blame him. As usual, tension filled person and he seemed to be figuring out some important things in his life. But come the summer of 2015 and it was an incredible experience for me. Starting all the way from biking uphills towards LBNL and till the day he bought books for second hand, it was an amazing ride. Oh yes, he bought a nice bike which gave me a strong competition for his first love, but oh well, I personally felt that me and the bike got along well eventually. Nice lady she is. Beautiful, sleek, strong and menacing. Kind of dreamy. So yes, my trip in California. I was particularly exhilirated when I went to Yosemite mountains. Oh the nature there. I was glad the stick went there and I am sure he felt that too. At times, I’ve seen that the stick has apprehensions about doing things out of his way, but when he does it, he is happy. He will grow up. I was taken for trekking over 1500ft, which was quite an experience. I felt myself tested to my limit for the first time and it was an experience I will hold dear. Not just Yosemite, the long bike rides, the bike rides up hills, the beach trips, the whale watching and everything. I think the stick gave me whatever I bargained for (okay yes, I didn’t have an option, but it’s nice to believe that it was a marriage between me and the stick).

Over the past four years, I’ve treaded a lot with the stick. I’ve seen him run, seen him slow down because of me, hold on to the road because of me and fall down because of me. At the risk of being obnoxious, I think the stick will stick with me for a while longer.

Four years ago, I bought a pair of boots from Woodland (Gosh! I am getting old!) From that time till date, they have served as a faithful friend of mine and has seen places far more than me (Yeah, my brother sneaked away with my boots at times when I was home, so the boots saw more than me). I thought, for a change, I would write about my travel experiences through the perspective of my boots. So, in this article was about my boots speaking.

The end of his revolution around the sun

“Dream is not that which you will see while sleeping, it is something that does not let you sleep.”

Every once in a while, a man is born who doesn’t conform to societal thinking. He has a humble beginnings, a strict childhood, a passionate youth, and yet, achievements which make everyone proud. Every once in a while, a man stands on his character, and not on his laurels. He is know for his compassion, his kindness, his passion for achievement, his far sight, and more than anything, his humbleness. And yet, like everything, what begins has to end. Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam died on 27th of July 2015. A day when I knew that the death of a person I am not at all related to can wrench my heart.

I have heard about stories of Kekule, where perseverance has lead to the discovery of Benzene structure. Or that of Da Vinci, where the very idea of invention and creative thinking were redefined. But of that of a person whose humbleness shames you? Not always. I have learned about Dr. Kalam for a long time now. My dad told me three of his stories. The first one was about how he was sitting alone outside the office of a Junior Technical Manager, when he was in a high position at ISRO. When asked if he would like to come in and take some tea, he refused saying he is totally comfortable outside on the humble seat he was sitting ( I would complain about sitting on the same seat! ). The second one of how he created panic among the security, as he slipped the guard and was found playing with a bunch of children. And the third, which is a bit on the geeky side, was about how he woke up the whole technical wing of a hotel, as his computer stopped working.

Yet, we learn more of his stories, where he never takes credit for the missiles of India, or his role in some of the space missions. In his book, “The wings of fire”, he talks about how Dr. Sarabhai protected him when he goofed up. For me, it is a sign that he always gives credit where it is due. I don’t know any of his relatives, because he never showed them. I hardly know his religion, because he never talked about it. He always addressed us as friends. The subject of this blog is inspired from his talk in my undergrad school, “Friends, I completed 81 revolutions around the sun a couple of months ago”. A tiny man struggling on the stage and asking no one to bother about him.

I am aware of the fact that a person has to die eventually. I am aware of the fact that what starts has to end. I am aware of the fact, that an inspirational figure will eventually turn into a quote by an inspirational person in the history. Suddenly, his story has become history. It still saddens me, that one of my most inspirational character can’t revolve the sun any more.

I am writing this article to promise to myself to be a micro-fraction of his dream and vision. “Each one teach one”. I have grown to believe in education and that it is one of the greatest ways to up lift the society. It only makes sense that everyone who is willing to study should get all the opportunities to study. I hope that I will earn enough one day to fund a kid’s education every year. I hope that this post will constantly remind me of my promise. That is how I want to remember Dr. Kalam.

On a finishing note, I hope these quotes inspire anyone who reads them. It inspired me:

A new place, a new life

A post after a long time. I must thank my college friend, who has an amazing hold on literature and I feel good when I talk to her. So I was wondering what to write about and I thought I might as well write about what I am doing currently. Yup, get ready to hear me rant and boast about myself.

On July 18th, I graduated from Indian Institute of Technology Madras, with flying colors. Thus ended a brilliant chapter in my life called undergraduate studies. I think what I am today has been significantly influenced by my life at IITM. I write this often and will state it here again, “IITM taught me to teach myself”. I have also made some really close friends, who have tolerated me all through the four years and have been my source of joy, information and inspiration. Not to mention the fights we had at times, but the number of such events is countable on my fingers. The convocation was a memorable event. With me reuniting with my friends for two days, spending both the days like we never did before. We went to a movie, ate a nice dinner, talked all through the night and bubbled with energy during the seminar itself. Typical human emotions I guess. The guest of honor was Dr. Devi Shetty, who is the head of Narayana Hrudayala hospital chain in India. He is a pioneer in heart operations and has devised smart and low cost methods for the same. I was wondering what a doctor was doing in an Engineering college’s convocation. Boy, I was never so wrong in my life. He was not there as a doctor. He was there are a successful industrialist. Of many words which inspired me, the one sentence was the show stealer, “Money is like oxygen. It is not the purpose of life but you can’t live without it.”.

And thus, after four years in my second home, I was preparing for my new journey called graduate studies. I was fortunate enough to be selected by Carnegie Mellon University for my doctorate studies (Fun fact: Harvey Specter in the serial Suites is from CMU school of drama. Oh, and the last fighting scene of dark knight rises was shot in front of the Mellon building). And thus, after a lot of typical Indian errands for leaving to USA, I boarded the Air India flight to New York and then to Pittsburgh. Not much interesting the flight journey, except that I made friends with a bunch of other Indians who were going to do their masters in Syracuse University.

Now Carnegie Mellon University is an absolutely amazing place. It is what I like to call the nerd’s paradise. An extreme example is that the students fly drones with banners during concerts in the campus. Some of the other amazing features are the Andrew File System, which is a unified file system across a cluster of computers and the Andrew printing services, which enables you to print from any computer and collect it from the nearest printing station. It is quite a small place but it is quite beautiful. I feel that I have come to the right place, since I feel that CMU is an engineer’s place.

For my PhD, I am working with Prof. Aswin Sankaranarayana on topics related to compressive sensing. Since I am a “noob” in this field, I am currently reading up theory to come the same level of state of the art research work. It looks like fun, since it is a good mix of linear algebra, optimization, statistics and signal processing.

The above paragraph may mislead you to believing that research is my primary occupation currently. Nope. My current occupation is primarily made up of keeping my house clean, cooking food, cleaning utensils and buying groceries. When time permits, I then attend classes and try reading up for my research work.

Apart from my physical and mental activities, I met some really nice people here. My lab mates and teaching assistants of my courses are amazing people. Though I am sure they are tired of my puns all the time (What is a box full of puns called? pundora’s box of troubles. Whoa whoa! I won’t crack another. Please continue reading my article.). I also met some really nice Indians here. Oh yes, of course, my adviser himself is an Indian. He is a cool and nice guy.

There are a couple of other things I observed here. The PhD students are surprisingly passionate about their work or learning. I thought they will crib about heavy load, but everyone seems happy around. I found that quite encouraging. They are also quite open to discussions about random topics. Also, we run into discussions when a group of people from various IITs meet in our lounge. Oh did I tell you about free food? One of my school mate asked me what was so great about free food. I said that there are two things which are great about free food. It is free. It is food.

Another thing I observed is that I don’t recollect the last time I felt like an intelligent person after coming to CMU. People around me are damn smart. I guess I should happily accept the fact that I am living among some really smart people.

That was the not so short article about my life so far. Before I end the article, I wanted to mention that I bought a 1950s German typewriter by the company Optima, which is the most complex mechanical contraption I have seen in my life. It should be fun to clean it and get it running.


It has been a long while since I spent even fifteen minutes writing a post on my blog. The last time I wanted to write a post was around 4 months back, when I was extremely angry with the posts on Quora questioning the IITians and their contribution to the society. I wrote and article, but immediately found out from the same set of posts that there are people who think similar to me. They answered back and that made me pull back my post(Added to this was my laziness to post). So today morning, inspired by my sudden surge in enthusiasm, I decided to write a post on what has been going in my mind for the past six or so months.

I have been to Germany in the summer, for an internship at Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen, a company which manufactures transformers and high voltage regulators. The internship was one of the most memorable experiences I ever had. Apart from an unforgettable trip of European countries, I got to learn a lot culturally. Before that, check the details of my European trip at Coming back to my experiences, I never expected that I would ever see a country like Germany( I haven’t seen any other non-European country as such). The discipline there astonished me. People were amazingly friendly and my work place was a joy. I was in the Bavarian state, known for their hospitality and beer :).

During my internship period, I happened to get a lot of free time during and after my work hours. I have pondered on a lot of things. First one was religion. I happened to read God delusion by Richard Dawkins. I will not be presenting any of my views here, since it may raise a heated argument. However, the book made me think a lot. Secondly, I have been wondering about what I wanted to do in the future. I got no definite answer. There were multiple reasons which were simultaneously attacking me. A job, I considered was lucrative, since there won’t be much of a load after work hours and it was a safe path. But life stops in the company. I am not sure how much of an impact I can bring. Perhaps if I rise to the position of a CEO, I could make an impact. And then there was this idea of getting into teaching. Teaching in India is financially not a exciting option. But I think teaching will give that solace I have looked for many times. Further, excluding the times when I have to correct exam papers( Which I may very well get rid of by removing the exams) I think there will be ample time to think for myself and tinker with some research work. Why would I love to teach? For a simple reason that two things have always delighted me, innovating on my own( Even if it meant reinventing the wheel) and teaching what I know. I am very notorious for giving analogies, but that is the way I like teaching. I like to express my intuition of the subject and involve the opposite person in an awe inspiring session, appreciating the intricacies of the subject. Perhaps that is the reason I write a few technical articles on my blog.

Apart from the above two ideas, there is another mammoth task I was considering. A company to change the economy of my country. Don’t laugh and my childishness. With the recent degradation of the Indian economy, I have wondered( and for a very short sporadic times) what would drastically change the Indian market. I ( being an electrical engineer and a fan of gadgets) could think of two such commodities. Mobiles and personal computers. The country needs a defacto brand for these two devices. And what I wish to target is not a low price solution but an solution which defines perfection. A solution which will set the standards. A solution, which one day will make people say, “There is no competition to xyz company’s products. Their reliability is unquestionable. They always work on the cutting edge products”. One thing is clear though, I don’t yet know my path.

After giving a little time to introspecting myself, I have pondered about the political scenario in my country. Every small solution I have thought could bring about some change seemed to back fire. This is a vicious cycle. I realized that we, and not the politicians have to change. I trust only one way, education. I believe that education will change the way people think. Further, I feel that the word politics should get back it’s original meaning. The educated should not shun politics. They should be a part of it. My opinion is that politicians themselves should be educated. May be M.A in administration to say the least. In fact, someone like a health minister should have a degree in any field related to health. This will help making informed decisions easier. Apart from this, we need a sense of pride. We need to create a brand called India. I remember reading an article long ago which was talking about why the person likes Indian tradition but hates Indian culture. In an attempt to make ourselves feel better, we have created an unnecessary shield around us, preventing us from making rational decisions. Don’t mistake me for a western culture harbinger. I have always been fascinated by the Indian tradition. What I would like is to respect this and at the same time, always look ahead to rational changes. For example, the very concept of dowry frustrates me. How does a man gain the right to demand money from a woman? When I had presented this fact to my German friends, they first mistook my statement thinking that the boy pays the girl and thought that it was a fair deal. However, when I corrected them, they were astonished. I don’t blame them. This needs to change. But yet again, this is a vicious cycle. The man sees it as his right to demand dowry. The woman’s parents consider it prestige to give it. And the value only increases with the increase in woman’s education. Which means this is a positive feedback, with nothing positive about it. The parents of both the man and the woman need to realize that marriage is a two sided activity and not an auction. I believe that generation after me at least will completely get rid of dowry system.

Added to these, I ponder over elementary education in my country. Apart from the fact that many schools( especially in my home state) encourage rote education, a vast majority don’t even have the privilege of education, forget good education. What is the problem? Money. Ignorance. Parents don’t have money, parents are ignorant about education. How do you deal with the first one? I wish to do the following in the future when I start earning for myself. I will completely fund the education of one child an year. And if necessary, every year for the same child. I will fund only one child( He could be studying anything between 1st standard to Medical 4th year). Don’t ask me what is my selection criteria, I have no clue. All my co-IITians who may be reading this, perhaps we all could do this. Considering what we may earn, paying around 50-60k per year for a student may not be a large amount, if not paltry. Coming back to ignorance, this is a more serious issue. I have done no ground work whatsoever but I am sure many NGOs work on this.

I have come to not believe in charity. If you wish to do something, do it on your own, but do it to empower them, not to satisfy their hunger or sleep. Make them an asset if you wish to. Don’t make them a parasite on the society. Empowering them, in my view is not charity. It is a selfish motive to see perfection in the society. To see a society where a vast majority work everyday diligently with sense of satisfaction and pride in their work.

I think I have been a little dramatic in my post this time :). This post is not for motivating anyone. It is just a small summary of what I have been thinking over the past six months. And trust me, I have been thinking a way too much :).