Thursday, May 25, 2017

MAKING A MARK

The memories of the state board chemistry public exam of March 1986 and the period from when the results were announced till the time I stepped into college, are still fresh in my mind.  My daughter has just finished with her 12th CBSE board exams and it’s interesting to see, how so many patterns still remain the same, when we see the situation that students are into, across the years. In the month of September in 1985, when the quarterly exams results were being declared by the teachers for the 12th standard, each student was called up and a feedback was given on his or her performance in front of the whole class. We were just 70 students and this was a batch that had been picked up after a lot of weaning out of the non performers in the 9th standard. The state board scores were out of 200 and the toppers reached a maximum of 175 in the main subjects like maths, physics, chemistry and biology. It was not that scoring much higher was difficult but I think the best students were yet to get into the preparations with a killer mode, as the final public examination was still a good 6 months away.


Our chemistry teacher was distributing the answer sheets and giving her feedback while my heart kept pounding. I wanted to remain calm but marks were everything for me and I just waited without being able to thinking about anything else. The top students in the class collected their papers and the maximum score stood at 174 so far. And then I heard my name being called. “I just kept this paper for the last. Can anyone imagine how much Roy has scored?” asked my teacher. There was pin drop silence and my heart kept beating faster. “He has scored 193. I am really happy with his performance. Give him a big hand. Please maintain this momentum Roy, keep scoring higher and finish with a centum”, she said with a warm smile. It took time for this to sink in as I just could not hear the sustained claps and thumping on the desks from my classmates, while I walked back and sat at my place. I felt very special that day. Many classmates had just joined the 11th standard from other schools and in their eyes I created an impression. I was already a serial first ranker right through most of the years at school and my old mates knew that, but this was something special.  And so, in addition to the topping the class and a centum in maths, there came in another expectation to score a centum in chemistry too. Each expectation grew every day in me like within a huge pressure vessel, slowly building the pressure inside, every day.

In the days that went by, I developed special strategies for attacking the chemistry question paper. There was a ten marks organic chemistry question right at the end and I always cracked that first and then with the huge momentum that I gained out of it, I raced through the entire paper and finished in pretty well each time. I was getting a rhythm and success was smiling at me each time in chemistry. I really felt that I would get the centum that I was so keen to. But then, on the day of the public exam, my plans did not fall in place. The ten marks question just did not give in and I had to skip it and finish the rest of the paper and then get back and try it again. It never came through. I could not enjoy the examination and I was not relaxed right through. When the results came, my score was again just 193. On the whole my scores were pretty good and it got me a mechanical engineering seat at the College of Engineering, Guindy, the top college in the Anna University that day, but still I was crest fallen that I had not got a centum in chemistry. What hurt me more was when I faced the questions that my classmates, my chemistry teacher and other teachers asked me as they had huge expectations from me. My Dad’s friends and our relatives had expected me to top the state. It was an irony that I carried this pain inside me for several years although I had admission offers from six engineering colleges and three medical colleges that year. The root to this pain was in my trying to satisfy what others were expecting from me. It was more to do with questions such as “How will I face them?”, “What will I answer them?” that was running inside me.

Our society and our external world is still the same and they are always keen when it comes to 10th or 12th standard results. On the day the results were announced for my daughter, I had a large number of calls and messages on my phone. A few of these were from those who were genuinely interested in the progress of my child, but the rest I believe were just those who wanted to quench their inquisitiveness and gather some news to talk about it elsewhere. I responded to a few and left the rest as I could not at that point in time. I responded to them later. There were a variety of questions like “Any centums?”, “What is her MPC score?”, “Has she got into Anna University?”, “Why did she take Computer Science when the computer industry is in doldrums?”, “What is her total and percentage?” and “Why is she not going for medicine. It’s evergreen?” and so on. At one point I thought it would be sensible to hire an exclusive person for a month to handle public relations. A week before the results were announced, I noticed a number of people calling my daughter while at church to ask her about the results. It was an intimidating experience for her and it was very similar to what I had gone through. This has become like some kind of malignancy that has affected our society. From my experience, I have seen how communication skills, presentation skills, monitoring skills and other soft skills have really helped individuals move up the ladder. The marks scored just becomes one minuscule element in our career journey.

Now, let me place some interesting statistics in front of you. An MPC score of 197.85 that I had scored in 1986 is a pretty high score. But I have several friends who scored much lesser than me and who had to study in colleges which were not as highly rated as the one where I had studied, but have raced to very high positions in their career. Three of them are vice presidents in multinational companies. A lot of my classmates and school mates, who could never score the marks that I could, have made a lot more money than what I could and have lot more assets in their possession than what I could buy. So if it’s just money, assets and position, even then only a few in the circle enquire about it. In the twenty four years that I have been out of college, this society who has been after me on my marks has hardly asked me anything on what I am doing in my job. They will probably surface again with their questions if I sit at home without a job and as long as I pick up my office bag and leave every day morning and go somewhere and come back in the evening, they are fine. I have not had one person in this circle who has asked me “What did you do with the engineering you studied?” or something like “Did you develop anything new that relieves the common man from the suffering he is going through every day?” These are questions that really ponder around making a mark in the field and not just the number game and rat race. The best that you could get from a few would be “What is your salary there?” or “What is your position there?” It does not really matter to them about what you do in that position or job.

In 2005, I was into an assignment as a contractor with a leading aircraft manufacturer in the USA. A elder relative of mine derived a lot of pride in sharing the news with a lot of his friends that I was in the USA and that too with this leading company, the name of which was known to every common man. In 2007, I told him that I preferred to take a change in my assignment as there was nothing new that I was learning or doing. I could sit there and continue but that would be a vegetating exercise. “Be there itself. That brand is known to people here. I don’t know anything about the new company where you are heading for.”, was the advice I got from him.

Even today, we tend to take career decisions or decisions on what area to pursue in our studies based on how society looks at it. Even if it's not that way, we face stiff resistance from different quarters due to our choice. That decides our market value for marriages and our face in the society in general. The earlier we break it, the better, but in India, this will continue to be in vogue.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

ALBUM EXTRACTS - MOUNTAINS OF YERCAUD

I had a funny situation with our guide who took us around in Yercaud. He took us to different viewing spots and showed us the mountains. At some point I asked him, that something was similar in the mountain that I was seeing with the one that I had seen just before. He told me then that it was the same mountain and that we were going around it :)



The pictures that you see above has so much resemblance in shape to the forehead and neck of an elephant and even the colour has a close match.







I loved this piece written on the rock. A nice way of saying that the place was dangerous.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

IN LOVE WITH TIME

I recall the dialogue of the famous method actor Shri. Nana Patekar from the movie Ab Tak Chappan when he, the leader of an encounter police squad, sets out for an encounter with a person who is a tyro in the team. He describes to him, the profile of their work, about being patient and how to go about with their job. He tells him "When we have information, we kill people. When we don't have information, we kill time. Don't be desperate. Be patient". He was only describing how to get into a job and focus when things fell in place and then get out of it and wait patiently when there was nothing to do. This waiting patiently is something all of us go through almost everyday in our life. If we are able to focus on something in that waiting time, then we can reap a lot of benefits out of it. We will not have to fight with time to spend it, but on the contrary we will love time and love spending it that way.


Over the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to spend some time inside two college campuses around Chennai, as my daughter had to take up some academic challenge encounters which are popularly known as entrance exams. For the first one, I went there pretty early in the morning, following exactly the rules as spelt out in the admit card. For the second one also, we were there pretty early, although the college had not specified any time that was abnormally early, by which students should be there at the centre. So, in both cases, me and my daughter had almost one hour to spend together, after we located the examination centre along with the building and floor where it was located. 

I think, the colleges assume that even if the students are going to be accompanied by their parents, they could still end up being irresponsible and check in for the exam at the last moment. That way, the academia puts the students and the children together under the same umbrella of irresponsibility. I have experienced this at my daughter's school where for a prize distribution ceremony, parents were called in at such a time, that I witnessed a stage being built right from scratch for about an hour and a half. And so the actual function started thereafter and went on for another three hours.And believe me, this was on a working day and at peak noon. Since then, I have been very protective of my time and I try and anticipate such waiting times coming up and then plan with things that could be done in that time space, as far as possibble.

Each test that my daughter took up, ran for two and half hours on an average and so I had almost three hours time at my disposal at each centre. I had some plans in mind and I executed them very well while waiting there. I felt satisfied at the end of the few hours spent there. I also took some time to observe how the others who accompanied their children spent their time. Some of these were parents, some siblings and some were individuals sent by the parents to accompany the children.

A large part of the crowd was busy with their mobile phones. Most of the people in the crowd, came as a family. Some of these spent their time sitting out under the shades of trees and chatting while having some snacks. It was a good time for them to spend as a couple while their child was away at the test. For some it was a time as a family as the second child had also joined them. I believe, as a family, they would have loved spending their time that way.

There was one family sitting inside the waiting hall that caught my attention. The mother had a plaster on her left leg and she had it lifted and placed on a chair. But even though she was in that state, she was repeatedly writing the same one line prayer in a diary and I saw her turning several pages in those three hours. This prayer would possibly have been for her other child taking up the exam. For her, her time was well spent. Her husband and daughter though, were busy meanwhile with their smart phones. Unless we have something to really focus on in a smartphone, it would be a wandering journey and that would finally make us a mentally tired person at the end of the wandering.

There was one person sitting near me and laughing out so loud while watching a movie on his mobile with his earpieces on, that people sitting around often turned around to understand what was happening. Although he was on his smart phone, he had something to focus on and that way it would have been pretty satisfying for him.

There was a young lady, possibly the sibling of someone taking the test, sitting with her laptop. She was working with such killer focus that not once did she take her eyes off her laptop to view the people who were sitting all around her. Another person near her had to literally walk up to her and tell her about a centipede that was making its way up the laptop charger cable onto her lap. Her focus was so inspiring and her time according to me was well spent.

I spent some time with my mobile phone camera and shot some pictures of the setting sun and the green stretches. I spotted a lot others who were doing the same. There were a few who kept walking randomly within the campus for a while. They stopped and took pictures at random spots as a family.  Even this according to me is an activity that gives the satisfaction of having done something.

When my daughter stepped out of the second exam, she asked me "How did you kill time?".  I was happy I didn't have to kill. If we have some plans listed out, I believe we don't have to really kill time. We can romance time and use it on things we love to do.

Monday, March 20, 2017

THE TREES WILL REMEMBER

When I was into my early years at school, Dad would take me to our ancestral home in Kerala during my summer holidays and leave me there with my cousins for almost a month. I have witnessed mid summer rains and the ensuing floods that would fill up the paddy fields and come up to the steps of our house. Sometimes it would come into the house too.


My cousins were so good at climbing trees and they would do it in a jiffy. I would struggle but finally make it with their help. Many times I have sat on very nice seating trunks and watched the flood water below me, so full with fishes, frogs, water snakes and tortoises. We would buy a fishing hook and a nylon string from a shop close to our home and then catch a few innocent tadpoles and use them our as our baits. We would tie a thin banana stem that would be the float indicator giving us the signal when the bait was being taken. I have caught a few fishes and my cousins were really good at it. We have caught several varieties like the stone sucker (referred to as  kalle mutti in Malayalam), the banded snakehead (referred to  as varaal in Malayalam) and the catfish (referred to as kaari in Malayalam). The sizes of these were pretty big and we could either keep them in a vessel of water or keep them bound in a wet cloth and they would still be alive for a while. I am sure that the trees in my ancestral home will remember the company I gave them during these times.



As soon as I would see the floating banana stem getting disturbed and pulled I would become a shade desperate. Timing was a problem for me but my cousins would time it very well. I would either pull it up too early or too late after the fish had dragged it far into some thick bush from where it would be almost impossible to pull it out. Once when I thought I had timed it well and pulled it up, what came up was a fresh water snake (referred to as pulavan in Malayalam).



My daughter will be into college soon God willing and am still over protective of her. We have never let her stay alone with her cousins in Kerala so far. All that has happened till today has been just a few days with her cousins, with my wife giving her company. On the flip side, I doubt whether the children in Kerala today, affected like everybody else world over with the invasion of the digital devices into daily life, really venture out for these natural adventures. I feel so sad for my daughter as she may never get to experience this anytime in her life. Maybe we as parents could simulate it for her in some holiday resort but nothing comes so close to a beautiful natural package gifted by Mother Nature.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

GREEN AND PRISTINE MEMORIES

When I was a little boy, my father took me and my sister to Vakathanam every year during our school holidays. This is the town in Kerala where my mother's home is located. Being a person following very staunch principles, he would always prefer to visit the place and leave on the same day. My mother also was very particular that he did so in order to keep up his dignity. I could not understand how anyone could leave such a beautiful and rustic country in less than a day. It took real time for me to decipher the nuances of this dignity concept.



At this very spot where you see me sitting in this snap, my Dad would stand and point to the farmers who would be busy with their work in the fields and several rafts of ducks slowly making their way in the water. We would watch the fishes, the frogs and the tadpoles. It was such a beautiful sight with the air so fresh all around. He would ask me whether I would be able to paint this landscape. I would stay silent without giving a response. After the few minutes of silence between us, he would point to the trees in the distance and tell me "That place so faraway may seem far and unreachable. But you can reach there if you will try and walk towards it. So try to paint this scenery. You will be able to do it".

Today, the place still remains green and pristine. The seat where I am seated is probably the only new thing that has come up over several years. The greenery is still young but Dad is no more. But his memories still remain so fresh always.

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