Being a student at JNC

I was asked to write up about half a page of something to go into the JNC brochure for 2011-12. I took more than one pass at this, the second one because the  first would’ve been impossible to publish in a JNC brochure. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be put up here. Below are the two half-page blurbs I wrote.

First, the version I think will get published in the brochure:

Being a student at JNC – Croor Singh, Engineering Mechanics unit

 I joined JNC two months after I graduated, having spent the five most formative years of my life at IIT Madras. It wasn’t hard, ill-advised as it may have been – as it may yet be, to compare and contrast the campuses, the milieus, the people.

 The most obvious observation which can be made is that the campus at JNCASR is well cared-for. A lot of money and effort goes into maintaining the infrastructure, and it shows. (Ask somebody from IITM how the hostels that were built not four years ago have fared.) Oscar Wilde might point out that living in an aesthetically pleasing environment can do only good things to how much people care about their surroundings, and how they treat fellow inhabitants.

 There are other differences too: a smaller community means that everybody knows everybody else at JNC; it is very easy to get a reputation, and very hard to get rid of one. The average person here is also easier to impress (shock?) than at IITM. Or perhaps nonchalance (indifference?) is just an emergent property with a higher threshold number.

 There are also similarities. As at IITM, the admission forms include one that asks parents to declare that they will be responsible for what their children do. Even if said children happen to have children of their own. Internet content is filtered through the url-filter from hell. Because graduate research students are too dumb to understand what sexual harrassment is, I guess. The hostel’s internet connection is switched off at 8 am. Because people need to be told when to wake up; again, I guess. And that drink you were having with your friends on Friday? That had better have been Coke.

 These similarities are but symptoms of a broader underlying condition, but that is a different, and much longer, essay.

That ‘different, and much longer, essay’ is something I hope to get back to; I’ll put it up here when I do.The second version was more critical, it was a rant:

Being a student at JNCASR – Croor Singh, Engineering Mechanics Unit

I joined JNCASR in August 2010 as an R&D assistant, and as a PhD student later that year. I work with Rama Govindarajan (who insists on that preposition rather than ‘for’), who is unobtrusive to a fault. My presence at JNCASR is her doing.

In the very early days, something I wrote for my blog got blocked because the url contained the word ‘sex’ [1]. I pointed out to the webmasters that not everything of that description is pornography, and that I saw little reason why content should be filtered at all in a post-graduate research institution. I hear this is still talked about as being the raving of a rabble-rousing libertine.

There is, among the forms for admission into the Centre, one that asks parents to declare that they may be held responsible for the conduct of their ‘wards’. I thought it odd that somebody else could be held responsible for my actions, and said so. In an email. Copied to several people. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth followed. A group of people empowered to change the status quo met, and decided to do… nothing. The student guidelines now state explicitly that the parental-consent form may not be signed by the student [2]. Well, duh.

This treatment of enfranchised adults like children is by no means an aberration. There is an upper limit on the number of courses a student can take. Because the student and her advisor are not to be trusted with that decision. Alcohol is banned in the student residence. Not really, of course, but the rule exists and has been advertised. The hostel’s internet connection is switched off between 8am and 7pm, because, one may assume, graduate-research students need to be told when to wake up.

Perhaps the worst part is that JNC is nearer the present-century end of the scale when it comes to this sort of thing.

[1] https://croor.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/olfaction-and-nocturnal-sex-drive-in-drosophila/

[2] JNCASR Student Guidelines, page 22.

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Of Bongs and Tams

Stephen Fry has a characteristically witty and self-effacing take on people who write regularly for a column of some sort, out of compulsion – monetary or otherwise […] So what of Bongs and Tams, you ask? Completely mindful of the fact that this is going to sound like the dickishness of an absolute pillock, here it is.

Stephen Fry has a characteristically witty and self-effacing take on people who write regularly for a column of some sort out of compulsion – monetary or otherwise. When you get lazy or simply have nothing else to talk about, or both, there is a tendency to fall into this trap of venting about something that just happened to irk you. Stephen Fry calls it pining for the milkman’s cheery whistle – it’s the sort of article that practically writes itself.

It’s the easiest thing to do, is to angrily rant about something trivial, that seems to trouble nobody but you, and which even you might find silly on a less-worked-up day. I am not being lazy here, but I am trying to get something written and to get on with studying StatMech for, well, for StatMech. I’ve always wanted to read StatMech and I’m finally getting to do it now. Anyway, back to the rant: What of Bongs and Tams, you ask? Completely mindful of the fact that this is going to sound like the dickishness of an absolute pillock, here it is.

I was on the (crowded) bus back to IISc from JNC, and there was this portly Bong fellow who bobbed on into the bus and to the seat right behind me. While this in itself would’ve been no problem but for the five seconds the bus shook a bit when he performed said bobbing-about, something else was. The fellow can’t be shut up. He has a million things to say. And he has absolutely no concept of an indoor voice*.

He’s twenty-five years old, for crying out loud. How old do you think somebody has to be before they learn that 100 dB is not how loud conversations inside a closed tin box have to be? How hard can it be to understand that not everybody on the fucking bus wants to know how much you liked the chicken curry? The moron has all the sense of privacy of a raw potato. Not only does he not care about you listening in on his conversation, he practically makes you listen.

I’ve seen this often enough with Bongs that I am going to make the (patently silly) generalisation that all Bongs are indoor-voice* impaired. The only other people who seem to be this way are Tams. They have no concept of an inside voice either. None. Adult men and women talking about things that nobody but they could possibly be interested in, at the top of their voices.

And to top it all, the traffic was murderous. I endured a full forty-five minutes of nonsense yelled in a voice that can’t charitably be compared with a frog’s croaking.

‘Double damn with an extra side-order of damn!’.

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* This is what happens when you let an article write itself. I meant ‘indoor’ voice, as in speech in a volume appropriate for an enclosed space, not ‘inside’ voice, as in schizophrenia.

The Festival of ‘Lights’ strikes again.

The JNC campus is, I have always thought, quite some distance from anything. My parents’ house, on the other hand, is slap-bang in the middle of a proper locality. By which of course I mean that the idiot-brigade is well staffed – the temple-goers are in full-strength. There are three temples within a few hundred feet of the house. A festival – any hindu festival – is a bad time to be there.

This was the only reason I decided to not go home for this extended weekend, distended due to the occurrence of Diwali on a Friday. I’d take the peace and quiet of JNC, minus home-food and sweets, any day over the madness that will accompany said food and sweets at home. Oh, how my calculations seem to have gone wrong!

The festival of ‘lights’ has struck again.

Could somebody, for the love of all that is bright and colourful, ask the good people of Jakkur what pleasure they get by filling the air with all sorts of pollutants and the most dissonant of broadband noise, and disturbing the lives of every animal and bird around them?

It’s like these people have no power over their dopamine circuits. Sheesh.

No Cellphones

Have you any idea how painful the rules for even pre-paid mobile subscriptions have been made, of late? They want to basically know everything about you before they let you have a cellphone. I thought Tata Docomo was hopeless. It turns out that this is the norm these days. The cellphone company is required by the TRAI, presumably under threat of punitive action, to pain the shit out of people before they are allowed cellphones.

It’s not even enough that I have valid ID, for example. They also need to know where I live, who my parents are, what my residential phone number is, and sundry other things. Why? Why on Earth should I tell Docomo, Airtel, or the government anything about myself, other than that I want a phone, and that I’m willing to pay for it? If I choose to participate in some statistical data-gathering that they do, I would understand. But this is ridiculous.

I was in Berlin for three months, and both Muggu and I got local phone numbers. It was about the same amount of trouble – I had to walk all the way to the store, and get my wallet out and pay the guy. Wait. That doesn’t sound right. No, it’s definitely easier to get a phone in Germany.

The worst part of all this is that Airtel let me use the SIM card I bought for about a week before they thought that a copy of my passport (which has my old address on it – hence all this misery) wasn’t enough to let me have  a phone. So let’s get this straight: If I was up to trouble, and going to use the phone to do something bad, I am assumed to be kind enough to wait seven days before I start doing this? What fucking logic is that? And if they let me use the phone because they assumed I wasn’t going to blow up the planet using (cue apocalyptic music) a cellphone, what’s changed, suddenly?

I’m surprised the telecom companies went along with the legislation that led to this stupendous increase in the amount of paperwork necessary to get a phone. One would think that with the kind of money involved, they would have been more willing to pay somebody off.

Save the language, not the script

There’s something irritating about living in Bangalore, especially if you’ve learnt Kannada for the better part of grade school, which is this: every signboard in Bangalore has to also be in Kannada.

Of course, when I say ‘has’, I mean that these businesses would rather suffer this stupidity than risk being attacked by the Kannada brigade – that ragtag bunch of know-nothings that thinks that the language that is Kannada will wither away without these great motherfuckers to prop it up.

Here’s what I’m on about: a software solutions company that calls itself ‘Omega Data Management’ will be nudged, plodded, told, forced to put up a signboard in Kannada (One of the ways this is done is for the thugs running this circus to spray black paint on any property of the company that they can reach). Now, the request itself is not silly or impossible. Surely, Kannada is rich enough to have words for ‘data’ and ‘management’, and a board to that effect can be put up in front of the company. But no. That’s not what the Kannada-or-bust brigade wants. They want ‘data’ and ‘management’ to be written down in Kannada script. Kannada, like other Indian languages, doesn’t have a symbol for the nasal ‘A’.  The board in question will read ‘Myaa-nage-ment’, in Kannada script.

‘Discounts’, for example, is a simple, efficient word to put on a signboard. If somebody were to opine that a signboard could also contain the Kannada equivalent for ‘discounts’, one might even agree. What is done, however, is to write down the sound – ‘discounts’ – in Kannada script. If you know something of the Kannada script, you’ll know that that looks hideous.

What these morons want to do, then, is to save the script, not the language. I am told that this is mostly because nobody knows or understands Kannada words for ‘data’ or ‘management’ or ‘discount’. Which is precisely my point. The language is as rich and deserving of patronage as any other language – there have been seven Jnanapitha awards for literature for work in Kannada. The script is incidental, and is used by languages that aren’t Kannada.

You can’t save the language by making people use the script. All you would be doing by this is to enable some bums who are too lazy to learn to spell in English, and too stupid to learn their own language properly. That, and you’ll be making some empty political noise. Especially if you can show photographs of signboards in ‘Kannada’ to packs of the aforementioned stupid lazy bums, and claim that you’ve made an ‘impact’.

Stupid fucking gits. (I’m tempted to write that down in ‘Kannada’ as well.)

I’ve seen one exception, though. I had to go to KC General Hospital in Malleswaram to get cleared for a position at JNCASR (I haven’t been able to figure out why, though; all the doctor, the superintendent of the hospital, did was to ask me if I was healthy, sign the form, and get 150 bucks from me. How does that qualify me for employment?) Anyway, KC General Hospital has boards in Kannada that are actually boards in Kannada.

Freshies and their Parents

This is freshie season at most colleges in the country. Being a residential institution, it’s also open hunting season on freshies at IITM. Sure, seniors here will wait till the parents of these freshies are gone before they begin having ‘interactions’ with them, but hunting season it is, and I kinda think it should be.

Something I saw today makes me even surer that these entrants into an adult world need to be jolted out of their ensconced existences. I saw not one but three idiot-freshies at Saras getting their mothers to do their cleaning for them; sometimes the father joined in, which meant the idiot-freshie joined in too, making it a joyous family event.

What the heck are these morons doing getting their mothers to clean their crap for them? Surely they’re old enough to do this themselves. Or old enough to realise that paying somebody 50 bucks will get this done. I felt like slapping one or two of them and asking them if they planned to hold their mother’s hand when they crossed the big-bad road.

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I have, since writing this, been told that the fellows I saw weren’t freshies. They were second-years. I gave up.

Dear Tata Docomo,

I bought a SIM (#abcdefgh) from a retailer at IISc, Bangalore – I believe there’s only one on campus – on 25 July, which is three days ago now. I paid the retailer the money for the SIM and money for the first recharge. I also gave him a copy of my passport and a current photo.

My number hasn’t been activated yet. The retailer tells me he hasn’t received the SMS telling him that my number’s been activated. He also tells me that someone from Tata Docomo complained that the photo on my passport doesn’t match my current photo, and that this is a problem.

I got my passport more than five years ago, and the photo on the passport is obviously from before that. Does Tata Docomo expect people to retain their faces for decades together so that they may have the pleasure of using a Tata Docomo phone? Do you expect me to get a new passport with a new photo because I want a SIM from Docomo? Or is it perhaps that my passport isn’t enough proof of identity for you? Does the Indian Government know about this? You should tell them, and get back to me with what they say.

Oh, and your customer care number is a joke. You have people who can’t string the simplest of sentences together working as your public liaisons. I’ve called your customer care number four times already. The only suggestion I get is to talk to my retailer. Because I couldn’t have thought of that idea from particle physics by myself, I guess.

Yours,

A pissed off customer who is going to tell everybody he knows never to buy a Tata Docomo phone.

PS: I wrote this on 28th July. I’ve since returned the SIM to the retailer, who’ll probably return it to you; bought a SIM from another provider, and had the number activated within 20 minutes of paying for it.