Orienting to Grad School

I have been in the US for almost 3 weeks now. Getting used to the american way of life is very easy, its just about doing things opposite to the way we do them in India. Light switches are to be flicked up, not down; people drive on the right side of the road instead of the left...It is all upside down!

Life in Grad School always starts with orientation. Orientation (like the way it was for me) is mostly about attending boring faculty presentations where they use scientific jargon to the hilt to impress you with the research prowess of their labs not realising that most of the terms in their presentation mean as much a course in advanced english to a chinese student.

The rest of orientation meanders along, with the department chairs giving sermons on the importance of dedication in grad school and perseverence as an essential attribute in reasearch. Once you are sound asleep, they have sessions on handling stress, seeking counselling and some tips on study skills.

By the time the orientation comes to an end on friday, all you want to do is start classes and find out what the big deal about grad school is...I am hoping I will figure it out starting monday!

Us of A

After a month of preparations, making lists and last minute frantic packing, I was finally at Mumbai CSI airport. I was on my way to the big apple, the land of dreams, off to get myself education, and a head-start in life. My immediately family saw me off at the airport and I headed towards immigration with mixed emotions. After a brief wait at the departure terminal, I was boarded into the flight that would take me to Paris. The flight took off as scheduled at 0215 and I, almost immediately fell into blissful sleep. When I woke up about 7 hours later, breakfast was being served aboard the aircraft. I launched into a quick heavy meal consisting of a piece of buttered bread, some paneer, cooked omlette style served with bread tempered with corriander leaves. The crew quickly cleared the empty trays and minutes later the captain announced that we would land at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport in quarter of an hour. The flight finally landed at Paris at 0735 local time, 40 minutes before scheduled arrival. The gates were quickly docked against the airplane doors and we embarked to find a couple of french immigration officials who examined our passport, visa and boarding passes of the connecting flight. The signboards at the airport quickly lead me to a large waiting area with a 20ft long LCD screen flashing the time and departure gate of all flights arriving and departing from that particular terminal. A helpful airport official took a look at my boarding pass and directed me to security check for my flight to Houston.
The officer at security check said 'bon jour' and I replied with a 'hello', she reminded me that I was in France and wen on to teach me 'bon jour', 'oui', 'merci' and 'bon voyage'. My hand baggage was x-rayed and the officer at the x-ray machine thought my box of lemon pickle was actually hair gel! Having walked through security, I was given directions to my departure gate. The whole 2E arrival and departure terminal has over 72 gates. It has a large shopping arena and an even bigger waiting arena! The waiting arena has a number of playstation 3 terminals that sony has set up for free, there are number of computer terminals that let you access the internet for a fee of 5 euros/hr. The airport has a large glass facade that allows plenty of sun light to stream in. There are a large number of coffee shops placed close to the waiting arena. I walked up to one of them and asked for a cappuccino. As the my coffee was being brewed, I chatted up with the guy. He didn't know much english and I didn't know any french, but we managed to talk about the weather and the rather deserted looking terminal. We quickly became acquaintances and he asked me to come by if I needed water (a bottle of water costs 3.7 euros at the airport). I had 7 hours to kill and I walked around to find a desolated place, away from the sun, to sit down & relax in. I plugged in my mp3 player and picked up the copy of reader's digest I was carrying. I read till I finished the reader's digest. The time was now 1130, I was hungry and sleepy. I quickly removed the paranthas my mother had lovingly packed and gobbled them up with a dash of lemon pickle. I was too apprehensive to catch some sleep at the airport, though loads of waiting passengers were sleeping. The airport has long sofas that let you lie down & sleep! I kept walking up and down the terminal each time I felt drowsy. I finally heard the announcement calling for passengers to board the flight to Houston.
Once through the line and into my flight, I quickly settled down hoping to go to sleep right away and make up for all the sleep I couldn't get at Paris airport. However, the crew decided to keep the windows open till they finished serving a light meal and my co-passenger, who happened to be carrying caviar kept getting up every half hour to get ice for storing his caviar. I finally got so frustrated, I asked him to take my seat on the aisle and jumped into his window seat, within minutes I was leaning on the window and enjoying much needed sleep. When I finally woke up, we were an hour from landing and instructions were being issued on how to fill up the customs forms. After circling around the airport waiting for a landing slot, we finally landed at 1935 local time. It took me a few minutes to get through immigration. I walked to baggage claim, collected my bags. I was directed to surprise baggage inspection. The officer asked me if I had 'jeera' or 'mirchi powder' in my bag. I lied with a no and he couldn't find any. After he cleared all my bags, I walked out into fresh american air!!

P.S: This blog is too long for me to re-read and look for typo or grammatical errors, forgive me for any!

The HighTea Industry

A few weeks ago, when inflation seemed to spiral out of control and home loan interest rates threatened to chase your income way beyond retirement, the RBI announced that the rupee was beginning to grow stronger against foreign currencies. Students and tourists heading west (including me) rejoiced, they could save lakhs of rupees thanks to a strong Indian rupee. Last week, I met a few of my friends who were angry at the appreciation of the rupee, naturally I asked them to explain their anti-"India Shinning" sentiment. The BSE was surging ahead like a bull with its tail on fire, industry was doing great, salaries were on the rise, economy was "booming", and they had all recently found jobs in the high paying IT industry. I couldn't fathom reasons for their discontent. Slowly, my friends spilt the beans, they were asked to put in more hours of work every week. Increased work hours meant manic deadlines (added to the already tough deadlines) and lesser peace of mind and even lesser time with family. The best I could do was sympathize with them. Here's a story I heard from a Project Manager in Infy. He had recently hired this guy, lets call him ramu for the standard 3,00,000 package, for a new pilot project. The project did not really take off and an unhappy ramu (it must be mentioned here that he was no extra-ordinary employee, nor did he handle a lot of responsibility in the pilot project) sent his resume to the HR at CTS. He told them that he had handled a "major" part of the pilot project at Infy and that it had crashed due to lack of finances. CTS wanted to set up a rival project and poach Infy's clients and who better to kick start their own pilot than ramu himself. They were more than happy to double his salary and entrusted him with the responsibility of kick starting the project. Ramu had only been a part of the team that started the project at Infy and struggled to figure out an action plan, get a team together and move forward with the project. Within a year, he was frustrated with his job and he wanted out. This time, he sent his resume back to the HR at Infy, told them of his "role" and "responsibilities" at CTS and was more than willing to settle back into his old seat, but at 9,00,000 a year. What is more bizzare is Infy hired him immediately and met all his demands. This is the story of an average employee who started his career at 3,00,000 and jumped to 9,00,000 in 2 years. Who do we blame for such idiosyncrasy? If the IT industry weren't paying such hefty salaries, I'm sure they would have been able to manage a sustained 30-40% growth, without the rupee being such a variable in their balance sheets. Are we living in fool's paradise where the IT industry will keep growing endlessly accomodating 70,000 employees every year? Even if a half of them enjoy a ramu like experience, can the industry survive by tripling (thanks to mindless business poaching and squabbling) the salaries of 35,000 employees? Are the companies ready to wake up from deep slumber and grasp ground realities? Too many questions and too little answers available, anyone care to contribute?

Bordering on the Borde

There was modern Indian cricket and then there was an endorsement spree! The 'Men in Blue' flew into Trinidad & Tobago, waiting to beat the living day lights out of the minnows. Not only were the men shamed to a blue but their pride too was tamed like Willy's shew. A fat politician with big glasses and an ugly look on his face promised to take India out of the dumps and put Indian cricket back where it belongs. It hadn't been months since the world cup ended and it began, the search for a firang who will set all desi problems right. The firangs came, ready to be interviewed to take on the challenge of changing the fortunes of a floundering team that believes largely in product endorsements rather than performance. The 'One' appointed by the BCCI shunned his post and shamed the richest board in the world. The BCCI, now lost for options, looked to 'The Man' for the job, Chandu Borde! 72 and still going strong with not a single fit muscle in his body, he took on the job of coaching the Indian team with glee and elan. Will grand dad turn the Indian endorsement trend around and help the team learn cricket?? Only England will tell...