Monday, March 14, 2011

e-Love Story

Genre: Fiction

It was a calm night in New Delhi. Earlier in the day, hundreds of workers of the city's public transit company had gone on a pre-declared strike complaining about some of their long pending demands, forcing thousands of commuters to look for alternative means. Surya, a final year engineering student at IIT Delhi posted his views about the strike on Facebook. Nisha, an Aerospace Engineering student from the same institute ranted about the troubles she had to face due to the strike in comments to Surya's post. Half way across the world, sitting in his lab on a sunny morning, Aryan was glancing through his Facebook feed when he chanced upon this conversation. An IIT Delhi alumni, now pursuing his PhD in Computer Science at Harvard, he got slightly annoyed with Nisha's comments. Although coming from the same college, he had hardly ever interacted with Surya, and never known Nisha, yet he decided to jump into the discussion with his two cents. Not the one to give up, Nisha replied with more arguments, and Aryan countered them with more of his. Eventually the discussion died down but impressed with Nisha's in-depth analysis, he sent her a Facebook Friend Request, which Nisha promptly accepted.    

As it happens with all online friendships, the next step was exchanging email addresses and adding each other on GTalk. A casual conversation at first, they soon realised they share more passions in common than just analysis of Delhi's current affairs. As time passed, Aryan and Nisha started chatting online frequently, about random things under the sun. A month later, Aryan came to Delhi in his summer vacations, and that's when they finally saw each other in person and heard each other's voice. By then, they had already hit off well online, so phone numbers were exchanged and for the time Aryan was in Delhi, they interacted a lot over text messages, rarely talked on the phone, and never met again in person during the remainder of Aryan's stay in Delhi. Once back to Harvard, medium of interaction between Aryan and Nisha went back to GTalk chats. A few months later, it was that time of the year when thousands of engineering students across India apply to colleges in USA for higher education, and look for students already in US to get free career counselling. 

Enter Myra, Nisha's best friend and one of those counselling candidates. Nisha introduced her to Aryan and they hit it off right from Day 1. A little counselling, a little timepass, sometimes with Myra, sometimes with Nisha, and often with both, Aryan had now found two new buddies from his alma mater whom he never knew earlier. Between counselling Myra and pursuing his own PhD, with every passing day Aryan started spending more and more time with Nisha, chatting at odd hours about anything and everything from sports to politics to movies to happenings in their personal lives. Come December and Aryan went back to Delhi, and met Nisha at one of IIT Delhi's favorite hangouts, and this time it was Myra whom he met for the first time in person, after extensively interacting via GTalk. The three of them met a couple of times more before Aryan had to return to Harvard. By now the friendship between them had grown strong.

Was it just friendship? Between Aryan and Myra, yes. Between Aryan and Nisha, nobody could tell, including themselves. Engrossed in his love for robotics, drawing and football, Aryan had never dated a girl all his life, never knew what first signs of love feel, and had no idea how to ask a girl out if ever that moment came. Nisha was no different, intellectual and enthusiastic about dancing and painting, but single all through college, with some of her friends even ridiculing her that she was not programmed to be normal and think about guys from a romantic point of view. Meanwhile, the bond between the two had grown so strong that Aryan would wake up to a Good Morning ping from Nisha, and she would sleep only after a Good Night chat from Aryan. All this time, without letting Aryan know, Myra, herself in a steady relationship since three years, was trying to gather hints and nudge Nisha to listen to her instincts. On the other hand, Aryan was confused. He had had momentary crushes on several girls during his college days and none of those girls had shown any interest in response to his hints, and although he was feeling the same about Nisha, he had no idea if this was just one of those one-sided feelings or something more. 

One fine day next Spring, Aryan was working in his computer lab, simultaneously chatting with Nisha, as was the usual routine now. Between some random conversations, Nisha asked Aryan casually if he considered her as a girlfriend. Not knowing how to react, Aryan instinctively typed out his inner feelings. Turned out, this is exactly what Nisha was waiting to hear, just not willing to take the first step herself. And so it was done. No candle-light dinner, no romantic proposal, no well-planned dates. All it took was some courage. And GTalk.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rest In Pieces

Genre: Current Affairs

So far in my life, there have been only two people for whom I have wished instant death, because they just don't deserve to be alive. One of the wishes got fulfilled today, so it is time to celebrate. Yes, I am happy Arjun Singh died, and I am not the only one saying this. I was following Twitter updates in the hours after the news of his death broke out, and the ratio of celebratory to condolence messages was almost 100:1. Never before have I seen so many educated Indians celebrate a death. So, why this strange reaction now? Because the man deserved it.

For the uninitiated, Arjun Singh was the Human Resource Development minister in the Indian government and besides other cases of corruption and manipulative politics including mishandling of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, he was a vehemant supporter of caste-based reservations in admissions to presitigious engineering and management colleges of India. Now, per se, it is a good thing to promote education for all, and I am all for it, having myself participated in Teach India program teaching street kids who cannot afford school fees. But the method adopted by Arjun Singh was downright wrong, unfair and implemented for the sole purpose of gaining political mileage. Providing education to backward caste kids is one thing, but keeping aside seats in premier institutes and handing them on a platter to certain students simply because they have a paper that says they belong to a certain caste is outright stupid.

The caste-based reservation system must have spoilt the careers of millions of Indian kids over the years, and I will narrate a couple of examples how- when I applied for admission to VJTI in 2005, out of 60 seats available for Electronics Engineering, only 19 (yes, nineteen only) seats were offered to students on the basis of their merit. A whopping 68% seats were reserved for students under various quotas- female quote, Scheduled Caste quota, Scheduled Tribes quote, Other Backward Class quota and so on. How does this affect a student's career? This is how- the admission to VJTI was through Maharashtra state Common Entrance Test (CET). The cut-off for Open category male students was 191/200. My friend who had scored a healthy 188/200 in CET could not get admission to his course of choice. However, a common friend of ours, with a mediocre score of 110/200 made his way in to the said class. How? Because he held a piece of paper that proclaimed he belongs to the "backward caste". So, was he indeed poor, backward and oppressed? Well, he used to come to college on a swanky bike, armed with an iPod and an expensive cellphone. Imagine yourself in the shoes of that friend whose dream of studying at a premier educational institute, for which he had studied day and night for 2 years, was crushed and several relatively undeserving students walked in, because they had a certain piece of paper. So, if there was no reservation, would he have made it? Quite easily, considering his rank among applicants to the said course was 43. If all the 60 seats were available on the basis of merit alone, he would have accomplished his dream of getting a B Tech degree from VJTI. This is just one example. Cases like this happen every year with students aspiring admission to the presitigious IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and other institutes seeing their dreams crushed, thanks to one man- Arjun Singh.

So, if this was unfair, did the students not protest? They did, we all did. Coming together under the banner of Youth for Equality (YFE), a non-commercial non-politically aligned group, comprising of college students and their parents asking for appreciation of merit. Unlike some political groups who resort to violence, demage to public property and vandalism to protest, we chose the democratic way. YFE conducted protest rallies (one of which me and my friends attended in the middle of our final exams), organized awareness drives (in one of which, me and a friend stood a whole day in heavy rain explaining new college applicants the consequences of reservation system), several students at AIIMS went on a hunger strike and YFE submitted petitions in court. And what happened? On orders by the government, students in Mumbai were treated like criminals and beaten up in the middle of the road and the petition in Supreme Court was quashed by Arjun Singh's ministry, and this is when the Chief Justice handling the case famously said "if this is how the government wants to function, why don't we just put a lock on the court?". Having seen all this, it is natural that the news of death of the man responsible for it is received with cheer and happiness.

So here it is, to the man who screwed up India's education system- Rest in Pieces in Hell, and if you plan to go to Heaven, make sure to carry your reservation certificate, because for sure you do not have enough marks to make it through on Merit. *

* Last line courtesy my friend Pranay Karwa
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