Monday, June 9, 2008

Bus travel

Shambhu was traveling back to IIT Bombay after attending a marriage. BEST buses are a convenient means for travel in Mumbai.
The marriage venue was close to a bus station and a bus stop was just outside the IIT Market gate. So he boarded a bus and quietly occupied a window seat.
People trickled in, some traveling to distant places, some to relatively nearby ones and it was not long before all the seats were occupied.
The driver had just occupied his seat, the bus conductor took charge and rang the bell twice, signaling the driver to leave. The driver oblidged and the bus began yet another journey towards its destination. The conductor prided himself on timeliness and
discipline and started collecting fares from the passengers seated on the front side.

Just then, a group of young boys boarded the bus from the rear side. It was summer and the tenth standard board exams were over a few days back.
Naturally, 'What to
do next?' was a popular topic of discussion among those who had appeared for the exams such as the boys who had just boarded the bus.
Shambhu was curiously observing them from his seat. "My father says that you should either become an engineer or a chartered accountant", said one.
"My parents are doctors, if I become a doctor I will inherit their professional legacy",
said another. "I would rather become an engineer", said the third, "My parents say that medical education is too costly these days".
"What do you want to become?" asked the boys
to the fourth. "I don't know", said the dreamy eyed boy, "Perhaps a poet, however, my parents do not appreciate the idea", said he, with a sigh.
"Parental pressure", muttered Shambhu to himself.
"Oh, he wants to become a Ratna in Emperor Akbar's court", ridiculed the others.

The conversation reminded him of his own days as a school going student. His family was full of
engineers; uncles, cousins -- everybody was an engineer.
He had always looked up to them as his heroes and had eventually taken up the engineering profession.
After working for a couple of years with a renowned multi-national company as a software engineer, he had realized that academics was his forte.
And now, here he was, nearing the end of his doctoral studies.

A slight noise brought his attention back to the boys in the bus.
"Let us get down quickly", said one, "Before the conductor notices, that will save us the fare".
"No, I would rather pay the fare", said the boy who wanted to become a poet. "Oh, you and your ways",
scolded the others, dragging him along with them as they got down hurriedly. "Peer pressure", observed Shambhu.

The bus stared its journey again as Shambhu peered outside the window. He noticed a boy running furiously towards another bus that was about to
leave. The boy was a few meters away from the bus when it departed from the stop.
The boy had to avoid the traffic and the people standing on the bus stop while running, and the bus was gathering momentum;
it seemed to be getting away from him. A sudden burst of energy enabled him to reduce the distance between himself and the bus and then
board it. "Grit and determination", mumbled Shambhu, "Wonder what he wants to become in life. Will he be able to do what he really wants?",
Shambhu was lost in these thoughts when the conductor brought him out of his stupor.

"Where do you want to go?", asked the conductor. "Thats the question each and every individual needs to ask himself/herself", said Shambhu. The conductor
gave him a puzzled look. "Presently, IIT Bombay", said Shambhu, and the conductor issued him an appropriate ticket.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


In a village called Shrirampur, there lived a wise old man - a 'pujari' of an old Hanuman temple situated on the recess of a small hill. As is common with Hanuman temples, there was a huge Pipal tree adjoining it. Most of the village was located on the foot of the hill below the temple.

Lord Hanuman was considered the patron deity of the village. He rewarded the pious and punished the evil. During the day, scores of devotees visited the temple to pray to their beloved deity. The pujari, however, was the only inhabitant of the place at night.

Legend had it that the great Maratha warrior Bajirao Sarnaik had built the temple centuries ago. Bajirao was a brave warrior. Once, his legion had defeated the powerful Mughals with twice the number of soldiers. As a gesture of gratitude to Lord Hanuman, he had built the temple.

The Mughals had amassed tremendous wealth by looting the villagers. And now they wished to loot Bajirao and the village of Shrirampur. They made elaborate plans to defeat him the next time. Wealth can buy anything, they say, even loyalty. What the Mughals could not do in many a battle, Bajirao's own men did. He was on the verge of being captured, tired and injured, he somehow managed to escape to the temple on the hill. There, he buried a treasure and planted a Pipal sapling on top of the treasure. Unfortunately, his wounds were too deep, superficial physical wounds and deeper mental wounds, inflicted by treachery. And there he died with only the pujari accompanying him at the time of his death. The pujari was a God fearing man who had renounced the material world and never cared for the treasure. And so, the Pipal tree grew, from a tiny sapling to a massive tree. The story of Bajirao became a legend over time and it was believed till quite recently that a treasure - "the treasure of Shrirampur" existed below the Pipal tree in the Hanuman temple.

Right below the temple, on the foot of the hill, lived the once wealthy Patil family. Vikramrao Patil the scion of the family was largely responsible for the family's destitute state of affairs. Ganpatrao Patil, his grand father had earned a large fortune, which was squandered away by Vikramrao in gambling. His situation was desperate, he was under a large debt, and the financiers were vying for his blood. The idea of looting the treasure was looming large in his evil mind.

It was the month of July, the rain Gods were pleased with Shrirampur and showered their blessings aplenty on the hill side village. The soil was moist and it was therefore the right time to dig. On the new moon night, Vikramrao along with his coterie, armed with axes, spades and shovel, reached the temple with the intention of uprooting the tree in order to recover the treasure. The noise created by the merciless axes falling on the helpless tree waked the pujari. "Stop", said he, "There is no real treasure beneath the tree". However, his fervent requests fell on deaf ears. The Patil got him tied to a pillar in the temple. The tree was cut, and uprooted to a large extent and the digging continued till dawn. However, no treasure was to be found. The frustrated coterie left early in the morning without freeing the pujari.

Next morning, the devotees visiting the temple came to know about the sorry state of affairs, freed the pujari and cursed the Patil for his misdeeds. It rained quite heavily the whole day and by night, it was pouring. It was as if the Gods had unleashed their fury on the hill. The Pipal tree had held together soil and rocks of the hill in its strong roots. The massive downpour caused a landslide and a big boulder came tumbling down the hill and fell on the roof of the Patil mansion. Down came the roof, killing the entire family.

"Lord Hanuman punished the family for Vikramrao's misdeeds", said one devotee to the pujari. "Why did he not find the treasure?" asked another. "My son", said the wise old man, "Vikramrao did not realize what the real treasure was. The treasure of Shrirampur was not beneath the tree, it was the tree itself".

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Shambhu had always been academically inclined. This enthusiasm for academics had compelled him to relinquish his comfortable job as a software engineer and pursue a doctoral degree in Computer Science at IITB, Mumbai.

Last few days had been very hectic for him -- he was nearing his thesis submission and was working almost unceasingly to get the thesis into a proper shape. It was long since he had started writing his thesis; there had been umpteen iterations; painful discussions on minute details regarding figures, tables, captions, chapter titles, thesis title and so on. He had invariably found himself on the losing side of most of these discussions with this advisor.

It was the month of May and the weather had been unrelenting - severely hot and treacherously humid. Shambhu had lived in the interior regions of the country for a major part of his life. Academic pursuits had brought him to the coastal town of Mumbai and he particularly abhorred the weather there.

Today was an unusually taxing day, not only physically but also mentally. He had given another draft to his advisor the previous evening, and today, since morning, he was busy with other official work such as obtaining clearance from various sections in the institute. Constantly walking in the summer heat and unpleasant interactions with the querulous academic staff had left him exhausted.

It was five o'clock in the evening and the office hours were over. Shambhu slowly entered his lab, silently frustrated that some of the work that he had planned for the day could not be done. Tired as he was, he quietly slipped into a chair in a corner of the lab. And then, the fairy called sleep embraced him.

Strange are the ways of the mind. Shambhu suddenly found himself in the stifling heat in the middle of a desert. He remembered that he had been walking in there for the past few days. His storage of food was long over, he had even run out of water last evening. His only hope of surviving was finding an oasis somewhere, or may be, if it rained. Presently, he could not even see a cactus; leave alone the greenery of an oasis. The skies too looked devoid of any clouds. He had a strong desire to live and so he walked. The body, however, has its limitations. Will can drive it, but how long? And so while walking, his body finally gave up and he fell unconscious. When he woke up, he found that it had started drizzling a bit. Monsoon is here, he thought.

Just then Shambhu woke up, his advisor was sprinkling water on him. "I have read your draft, Shambhu", the advisor said in an authoritative manner. "Things look in pretty good shape, why don't we submit tomorrow?". "Strange are the ways of the mind", Shambhu muttered to himself. "Monsoon is really here".

Monday, May 12, 2008


I am an Infosys fellow at IITB. Every semester, my fees for the semester is directly deducted from my fellowship fund. This semester, however, due to some 'technical' reasons, this could not happen. I, therefore, had to pay the fees on my own and get it reimbursed. As luck would have it, I managed to lose my fee receipt. Therein started my struggle with bureaucracy at the main building, IITB.

The main building is supposed to be a black hole, even light does not have hope against the very epitome of darkness created by the 'babus' in various sections. The accounts section is supposed to be the worst. The indifferent behavior, the perennial scoffing and stinking bureaucracy of the accounts section is almost legendary.

Today, I had another one of those very 'cherished' experiences of visits to the accounts section. Last time I went there, I had a big fight regarding payment of my scholarship. I had not been paid scholarship for three months, times were desperate because I did not have any money and the accounts section had refused to do anything about it; it being the year ending week. I had lost my cool, complained to the Dean about the 'misdeeds'. Nothing happened.

This time I was aware that some such thing was on the cards. However, men live on hope. They say that the last thing we lose is hope. So, hopeful that my job would be done quickly, I went to the accounts section to ask for a duplicate receipt. I was first sent to the cash section, then again to the accounts section and after talking to a few 'babus' I finally landed at the correct person's desk -- who unfortunately was on leave. So my job was handed over to another 'babu'. But this person was 'extremely busy' and did not want to take the responsibility of issuing a duplicate receipt -- what if I misused it? So he asked me to come the next day.

Frustrated as I was, I returned to my lab and started writing this blog on bureaucracy, wondering whether it is one of the biggest problems plaguing the government organizations in India and world over.

Why Blog?

Sandy has recently started blogging and so has Amitabh Bachchan. Read Sandy's blog on social issues recently; and also that of Mr. Bachchan who writes primarily about his daily routine.

I guess blogging serves as a vent to one's feelings; things which one would like to share with friends: in Sandy's case, with fans: Mr. Bachchan's case or may be even with other unknown people who are neither fans nor friends can be put up on one's blog. That brings me to the point -- why did I start blogging?

Recent experience related to thesis writing has taught me an important lesson -- writing clears one's mind. Moreover, blogging serves as an archive to one's experiences. Enough reasons to start blogging, are'nt they?