I have always wanted to be a computer scientist. I got my first computer when I was all of four years old and I loved it to bits. I was fascinated by it, and I would spend hours on it trying to see what each and every application that came installed on it did. That was the beginning of my fascination with computers. I picked up LOGO at school and I would spend my evening trying to draw the weirdest shapes possible. BASIC and C followed, and I would try to solve as many problems as I could get my hands on. String manipulation problems were my favourite, most of my classmates struggled with them and I enjoyed the feeling of being the first person in the class to successfully tackle them.
It was only when I started my formal education in Computer Science that I realised that there was much more to CS than the quirky problems that I enjoyed and I appreciated it all the more for it. I enjoyed constructing database schemas, I enjoyed my initial struggles with functional programming and first order logic, I enjoyed my bewilderment when I first heard of the halting problem and I enjoyed the many hours I spent in trying to solve all the assignments that we were set. Oh, and I definitely enjoyed the weeks and months that I spent in configuring my Gentoo installation exactly the way I wanted it to be.
I am glad that I could fulfil my dream of being a computer scientist. I am glad that I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do and I still love it. I am now fascinated by databases and the process of designing an efficient one. I am interested in recommender systems. I keenly follow the recent developments in mobile technology. Software engineering excites me, and I would love to contribute towards a challenging project that solves a tangible problem. I am sure that I’ll find something that suits me, that is good for me. Sooner or later.
But the best part is that there is still so much to learn, still so many new avenues to explore, all in the field of computer science. That makes me happy.
I woke up to the soft sunlight falling across my face and the sound of construction workers hammering away. The internet had predicted a perfect summer’s day. Clear skies, a pleasant light breeze and temperatures around the 25ºC mark. For once, it seemed, Zürich had allowed it’s weather to be predicted accurately. In spite of the cacophony of metallic sounds jarring the atmosphere, it was a beautiful morning. Reluctance to put down “A Suitable Boy” the previous night however meant that nearly 8 hours of the day had already gone and I couldn’t afford to admire the enchanting Alps from my window. Jumping out of the bed, taking a quick shower and skipping breakfast as usual, I began my journey to my workplace. Given the fact that it takes me an hour and a half to reach there, I grabbed for “A Suitable Boy” and stuffed it into my backpack (making a mental note to not attempt to lift the book with one hand again).
Too engrossed in Mahesh Kapoor’s election campaign, I reached my office rather too soon (the counting for votes had not even begun). Somewhere along the way, I managed to change from a tram to a train and then to a bus, but I didn’t have any memory of it. I reached my desk, put my mobile there, took off my watch and set myself up for coding. While the computer was booting, I had a feeling that there was something that I have missed but I put it down to my anxiety in not knowing what happened next in the Kapoor household (and I used to not understand why people back home enjoy watching soap operas, I am no better when it comes to books). Tearing my mind away from “A Suitable Boy,” I forced myself to concentrate on the lines of code in front of me. To aid myself, I plugged in my headphones and put my library on shuffle. Not the same songs again, should have synced this thing last night. Tried asking last.fm to play me some recommended tracks, but nothing unheard was to be found there as well. To make matters worse, there seemed to be no circle-jerk going on at r/India where I could indulge in some pointless banter. Meanwhile, the sun was shining outside and the sky was bereft of clouds.
When the application I was working on refused to establish a connection to the remote machine, I decided to take a coffee break. Thankfully, I was not the only Indian working there. I called up my friend, we drank some coffee and abused the Indian cricket team for their performance in the ongoing test series against England. Little did we know then that the same cycle would repeat, against a supposedly weaker opposition.
Surprisingly, the coffee did not agree with the application. It still refused to see the remote machine. Here was a case of slumber that was not even cured by coffee; truly stubborn. I ploughed on, trying different combinations but to no avail. Lunch hour came, and after one disgusted look at what the cafeteria had on offer for a mere grass eater like me, I decided to head to an Indian restaurant near by. At least I would find something edible there, which I did.
Feeling drowsy after the rather heavy lunch, I was wondering how I would manage to stay awake. I need not have bothered. Being the cricket addicted freak that I am, the first site I opened when I came back was cricinfo and the score read: England – 90/6. After what had happened in the first test at Lords, this was completely unexpected. With visions of the famous Indian comeback (a la the South Africa series) firmly entrenched in my mind, I resumed my coding work. 90/6 soon became 124/8 and I was transported to a fantasy land. A 3-1 scoreline for the test series seemed the only logical conclusion at that stage.
Satisfied and happy with everything around me, I immersed myself in C#. After an hour or so of debugging the application managed to establish a connection to the remote machine, and I decided it was an opportune time to check the score again. Alas, what did I know? I am treated to the spectacle of Swann and Broad, of all people, taking apart the Indian attack. England finally dismissed for 221 when they should not have been allowed to cross 150. To top it off, I realise that the identification string that I had passed to the application was for the local machine. The connection to the remote machine was never established.
I decided to call it a day and headed home. It was then that I realised why I had that nagging feeling that I had missed something. Somewhere between my house and my office, I had dropped my keys. The possibilities were endless and I was too tired to explore them any further. I reached home, asked my house master for a spare set of keys, and entered my room. She (my house master) told me that if I did not find my keys soon, I would have to pay a fine.
Reluctant to pay any fine (but still overtly lazy) I made some perfunctory enquiries the following day regarding the whereabouts of my keys. I made enquiries at the lost and found offices of ZVV (Zurich Transport) and SBB (Swiss Trains) but did not find any help. I thought about asking the folks at RVBW (Baden Transport) but I did not know where their office was and I did not bother finding out. Laziness, by now, had completely overruled my reluctance to pay the fine. I headed home and decided that whenever the house master asks, I will pay the fine.
Almost a week later, when all thoughts of the fine had vanished from my head, the house master informs me that they have received a letter from SBB on my behalf. Apparently, someone found my keys, turned them in to SBB and by some hocus-pocus (or big brother style wizardry) SBB tracked those keys to me. More surprised than relieved, I made my way to the SBB “Fundbüro,” paid them CHF 10 to get my keys back, made my way back to my house and returned the duplicates to the house master.
More than six months have passed since the incident. A lot has happened. I finished my internship, managing to do a rather decent job. India got whitewashed in England (in spite of my belief to the contrary till the last day of the last test match) and in Australia (where my belief could not carry on till the last day, deciding to call it quits on the day before that instead). I managed to finish “A Suitable Boy” (which I would recommend to everyone, especially Indians). However, I still do not know how to feel about the effectiveness of the Swiss Human Tracking System.
In this piece Sambit Bal highlights the very thought that I have been trying to avoid throughout India’s shambolic performance down under. However, considering the fact that India do not play another test match for almost 8 months, and the clamour for change in the test side, it is now impossible to now avoid this thought.
This is probably the last test match that Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman will play together.
Ever since I understood the intricacies of test cricket, ever since I started watching test cricket seriously, these guys have been around. Around to carry the immense expectations that surrounds the Indian team, and how well did they carry those expectations! Until Gambhir and Sehwag came together at the top of the order, we never had an opening pair worth comparing to the other test teams. Yet, our batting was lauded as one of the strongest. We didn’t flinch when both our openers would make their way back to the pavilion even before the team had crossed the fifty run mark. We might have even looked forward to that, for then we could see Dravid and Tendulkar bat together. They did enjoy batting together, and they did well too. They are the most prolific batting pair in the history of test cricket (barring openers). Laxman was always the man for a crisis, taking the team to victory from situations from where even a draw was not imaginable.
Winning test matches in India was never a problem for us. However, when Australia came calling in 2001 on the back of an impressive run in test cricket and thrashed us inside three days in Mumbai, it looked like we would lose at home as well. But then, Kolkata happened. Batting again after a follow-on, Laxman and Dravid came up with a flawless batting display and took the team to a victory that not even the most ardent fans would have dreamt of on day three. That match was the turning point. To the Indian fans, it gave belief that the Indian team is also capable of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (before, often it was the opposite that came true). From that time on, each time “India were in a dire straits” we had a reference point to fall back on. We believed that we could get out of jail, and we did. Tendulkar’s cover drives, Dravid’s cut towards backward point and Laxman’s flicks to the leg side all invariably found the boundary rope. Everything started to fall in place, we suddenly had fast bowlers who could bowl on friendly pitches, we had batsmen who could score run on them. Heck, we even got openers who could give us an opening stand. And we became the highest ranked test side in the world. Lest we forget, dreams of such an achievement would have been considered lunatic at the start of the decade.
Everything might have become pear-shaped in our last two overseas test series. We stand at the brink of losing 8 consecutive away test matches. I don’t remember when was the last time we achieved this feat. And yes, the infallible three are the blame. They are to blame because over the course of these two series they have failed to live up to the impossibly high standards they have set. They are to blame, because they have failed to paper over the cracks of the rest of the team. Now that they have failed, the failings of others have been magnified and the resulting scene is not pretty.
As the realisation that this might very well be the last time I see them representing India, I understand what they gave me. Hope. Over a period of a decade and a half, these men provided me hope. The impossible hope that redemption is possible, The hope that tomorrow will be a better day, a better performance. More often than not, it came true. Hopefully, the new crop of cricketers can provide the same hope, can show the same resilience. Watching India play test cricket without these three will be a lot less involving experience for some time, until the new players can start filling the shoes left behind.
The probability that these three play again is remote (but it is there), however the probability that we will see another set of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman play in the same Indian team is zero.
“Damn, damn, damn. I need to get out of this damned place and get to that damned Seilbahn or else I will have to climb all the damn way up to get home”. With catastrophic images of me panting and climbing up the accursed path to get home, I quickly dump everything into my bag, put on my jacket, and rush out of the lab. The indicator at the tram stop tells me that the next tram is in 9 minutes. Of course, why should the wait be any less? I decide to walk to Seilbahn Rigiblick. As I am nearing the tram stop, I see a van pulling away from the stop. The van – of course. The Seilbahn is not working, the van serves as the replacement. How could I have forgotten that? Murphy’s law at work maybe? “But all was not lost, the last van goes at 12:40. There is enough time.” The wonderfully lazy person that I am, I sat down to wait 20 minutes for the van to take me up rather than attempt a climb that would take me 15 minutes. Yawn upon yawn and stretch upon stretch, the minutes passed by. I almost doze off only to be woken up the sound of the van. I quickly jump in, and before I know it I am at front of my house. I quickly jump out and since it has started raining, I run up to the front steps, fumble for my keys, open the door and hurry up to my room. Before I know it, I am fast asleep with my last thought being that Murphy could have done a lot worse.
09:00 AM, Haus Justinus, Zero Day + 1
“MMmmmm, time to get up and get ready for another day at school”. With the morning routines and a shower out of the way, it was time to pack my stuff. Ah, the bag is already packed from last night. How good is life? Get the wallet, and get the mobile. Mobile? “Now where did I put it last night?” Not on the table, not in the cupboard, not in shelves. Somewhere on the bed, maybe? No, apparently not. The pocket of the jacket – yes, of course, it must be there. Alas, no! All right, time to go over this room with a fine toothed comb. Many minutes later, and after a visibly more arranged room, there is no sign of the mobile. What now? What now? Of course, call it. So I ask a house mate, use his phone and call my phone. No answer. Damn it, where could it be? The mental machinery goes in top gear, reconstructing the events of the past night. I had it when I was in the lab. I had it when I was walking to the tram stop. I had it when I was sitting there waiting for the van. The van, must have dropped it in the van. Yes, Holmes himself would not have come at a different conclusion. Time to get cracking on the case then.
12:00 PM, To the Fundbüro and back again, Zero Day + 1
“The van service is not part of Zurich Public transport. You need to contact them directly. Have a nice day”. Minor setback. I was pretty sure. Where else could the mobile be. My reasoning was scientific, and my deduction definitely accurate. I get back to the Seilbahn Rigiblick tram stop, get in to the van and ask the driver “Sprechen sie Englisch?”. “Nein”, says the driver. Another setback. Undeterred, I assaulted the driver with my rudimentary German skills. Somehow, I managed to get my point across that I had lost my “handy” in the van last night and was searching for it. And from what I understood, the driver knew nothing about it. But there were other drivers as well, one of whom might have been on duty last night. So he gave me the contact information for his company and asked me to get my answers from them.
2:00 PM, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, Haus Justinus, Zero Day + 1
Knowing enough about my German skills, and even more about my Swiss German capabilities, I was sure that I would not be able to talk to the person who would respond to my call at the transporter company. So, I asked the lady working in the office at our student house to help me out. She willingly agreed to do so, and soon a call was placed to the company. I could almost feel the mobile in my grasp. The conversation was held entirely in Swiss German, so I was obviously not able to understand even a word of it. But I was pretty sure of the positive outcome. The phone was soon put down, and the lady turned towards me. “They don’t have your phone”, she told me. “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall”.
5:00 PM, Not giving up on being Holmes, Haus Justinus, Zero Day + 1
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. So the great Holmes used to say. Having exhausted all possibilities, the only answer that remained was that I must have dropped the phone on the way from the van to my room. It was not found in the hostel. A quick search of the grounds outside revealed no treasure either. Ergo, someone has picked up my precious and is keeping it against its will in his/her possession. This person must be found, and the phone returned to its despairing owner. Since my room mate was back, he was apprised of the crisis situation. After much deliberation, a decision was arrived at. To call the phone once again. The call was made, and a welcome ring was heard. Long, melodious chimes, that were suddenly cut short in their prime. “Lo, and behold!”. Someone had answered the phone.
7:00 PM, We learn of strange lands, Haus Justinus, Zero Day + 1
A voice was heard at the other end. She told us of finding the phone abandoned outside the house in the morning. Her son had picked it up, and it was soaked in the overnight rain. Erroneously jumping to the conclusion that the phone had been discarded, her son had claimed it as a toy and taken it home. And where was home? A village unheard of by us, going by the name of Einsiedeln. The woman told me her address, and asked me to come and pick up the phone from her house. Travelling to Zurich was not part of their daily routine, and if I wanted the phone before their next sporadic trip materializes I would have to make the trip to their abode. A quick search at Google Maps revealed that there were no options available for a round trip at that late hour. An appointment to pick up the phone was then made for the next day at 09;30 AM.
06:00 AM, The Journey, CH, Zero Day + 2
Woke up early, finished the morning routines, and headed to the Hauptbahnhof. Stopped in the way at ETH, and printed the directions to the lady’s house from the Einsiedeln train station using google maps. Got my train tickets, and after changing trains at Wädenswil, arrived at Einsideln without any major incident. Now, most of you might not know, but Geography was one of my “strongest” subjects at high school. When it came to reading maps, I could read them as well as I can see my nose. After taking the wrong turn at every conceivable corner, I seemed to be headed on the right way to her house. On the way, I did run into an old man who complimented me for being Indian. Why I deserved any credit for that, I am still figuring out. After walking for a good half an hour, I took what seemed to be the right turn only to end up at a ranch where a quite attractive young lady was tending to a stable full of horses (I think they were, never took a proper look at the beasts, my eyes were reserved for the young lady wearing cowboy boots). With my German skills having suffered an amazing dip in the past few seconds, it was quite difficult to get her to understand me. However, after some moments of incoherent mumblings, she did manage to understand me and pointed out the right way to me. Had she taken a few more minutes to understand me, I don’t think I would have had a reason to complain.
Thanks to her amazingly accurate directions, and thanks to my surprising level of attentiveness when listening to these directions, I did manage to get the house where my mobile phone lay. And to top it off, I managed to reach the house at exactly 09:30 AM. The woman answered the door bell with my phone in her hand. A quick word from her, some words from thankfulness from me, and the mobile was mine and I was on my way back to Zurich.
P.S. The poor mobile involved in this escapade was a battle hardened, 4 year old, Sony Ericsson W810i.
Behold the time of clouds surcharged with rain,
Like to a furious elephant they rise;
Or mighty monarch hurrying to the war;
In place of standards see the lightning’s flash,
And rolling thunder answers to the drum.
– Kalidas in Ritusamhara
Most people always seem baffled by my love for rains. They fail to comprehend how a wonderful sunny day with temperatures in the mid 20s can be topped by an overcast, windy and rainy day. Alas, they have never experienced the monsoons. They know zilch about the scorching heat of the summer that precedes the monsoons in India. The unforgiving heat, the long days, made longer by the fact that there was no school to attend. The saving graces – it never was too hot in Dehradun. Temperatures touching 40 were unheard of when I was growing up. And I could catch “Chhuti Chhuti” on Doordarshan. Duck Tales and Talespin are a lot more fun in Hindi, even now. But still, venturing outside the house before 5:30 was almost impossible. “You are going to fall sick in this heat”, mom would chide and like the obedient little kid that I was I would scurry back in the house with my bat over my shoulder.
You see, that was my main gripe with the summer. Countless hours of cricket lost, because it was too hot to play. The summer homework we got during those days was not much either, I definitely don’t remember doing that “one page of Hindi writing daily” that the teacher asked us to do. 60 pages? Duh! That is easily achievable in a couple of weeks. Why waste the whole holidays on something so mundane? However, living in the Indian Institute of Petroleum Colony during the summer had its benefits. Mango and litchi trees were plentiful, and plucking raw mangoes from the trees and eating them was quite common for us. If there is anything that makes the Indian summer worthwhile, it is the amazing fruits you get during that time – Mangoes, Litchis, Watermelons and Muskmelons. My stomach rumbles and my mouth waters even at the thought of these delicacies. I would willingly bear the heat of a thousand suns to savour them. As an aside, I was never a fan of the “Dussehra” Mango, always preferring the “Langra”. “Dussehra” was so overrated.
Another thing that the summer holidays were perfect for was for reading books. With no cable television in the house, there was never anything much to watch on TV. Dehradun did not even get the DD Metro channel those days. All we had was DD1 and there was only so much one could watch on it. But I am not complaining. “Champak”, “Nanhe Samrat” and “Nandan” were devoured the same day that “Sharmaji” (our news paper vendor) delivered them. In addition to these, there were always Enid Blytons, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drews to finish. Quite a lot to do then. But it was always getting hotter, and power cuts, though wonderfully infrequent (IIP used to have its own power backup) were still there. This was IIP in the 90s – 35C was too hot and a hour long power cut too much. Air conditioners were unheard of, and even putting the fan at full speed in the night was frowned upon. I used to keep the fan at full speed, and I think my parents used to drop in on me in the night to reduce the speed. It was hot, and then the rains would come.
You know, in the summers I could still play cricket. In the monsoon season, it was all relative. Rains, heavy rains, continuous rains, were the norm in Dehradun and I probably lost a lot more cricketing hours to rain that I did to the summer sun. But I still loved rains, and love them to death even today.
I would sit in the verandah of the house, with a bag of chips in one hand, and a story book in the other. With the wind blowing, and the heavy rain falling all around me (not on me though) I would proceed to read the book all the while munching on that bag of chips. There never was a better way to read a book. There never was a better season to eat “Aloo Pakoras” or “Pataurs”. Sometimes it would rain continuously for a week, and there would be nothing to do. But it never occurred to me that this was a week of holidays wasted. It was raining, the temperatures were down, there were books to read and chips/pakoras/pataurs to eat and it used to be enough. And if the books were finished, which they invariably were, there was always Dangerous Dave and Prince of Persia (which was way more fun in 2D). There was also DOOM (iddqd anyone?). I still don’t know of anyone who finished that game without cheat codes.
Though the best part about the rains arrived when the summer vacations got over. The rains were always heavy on the first day of the school after the summer break. Me, with my big yellow duck shaped umbrella, would go to the bus stop. There used to be a lot of kids there, IIP had a lot of school going kids in my days. All with multi-coloured umbrellas. And each one had the same thought – rain more, rain harder. You know why? Because we all wanted a holiday for “rainy day”. Not in many places outside lawyers for workers Dehradun do I think this concept exists. School getting cancelled because it is raining too heavily. And we would get to know it when we were already at the school. Not everyone had a telephone connection back then, so it would have been difficult for the school to inform us. And how jolly was the bus ride back home. The whole EC road would be flooded because of the overflowing sewer (they have since covered it), our shoes, socks and uniforms would be soaked through – but it felt so good to celebrate that unexpected holiday.
The monsoon season was also not supposed to a good time to eat street food. However, it was always difficult to keep me away from “Dulara’s” Chowmein, and after some cajoling and tantrum-throwing I usually got my way.
Now, studying in Europe, I miss those rains. I miss the flooding of the EC road, I miss the Rispana bursting to its seams with muddy rain water. I miss riding on a scooter in this rain and getting wet, I miss eating “Bhutta” when it is drizzling. I miss the sound – the sound of thunder, the sound of the rain drops pattering on the roof and the streets. And I miss the chaos, the pure chaos that rains seemed to cause, how they would throw a spanner in everyone’s work and how everyone still loved them.
सूचना – यह कहानी सत्य घटनायों पर आधारित है। किरदारों की गोपनीयता बरक़रार रखने के लिए उनके नाम बदल दिए गयें हैं।
हमारी एक मित्र हैं। समझ लीजिये उनका नाम फुलवंती है। आज जब हम उनसे “चैट” कर रहे थे तो वो हमें बता रही थी की वो आजकल सुबह जल्दी उठ जाती हैं। यह सुनकर हमें तनिक आश्चर्य हुआ। फुलवंती को तो रात को देर तक जागने की आदत थी, फिर यह परिवर्तन कैसे? हमनें इसका कारण जानना चाहा तो उन्होंने हमें बताया की इसका कारण उनका अपने नव विवाहित जीवन में कदम रखना है। उन्ही के शब्दों में:
आजकल में ०६:३० बजे उठकर अपने पति को नाश्ता देती हूँ,
फिर बर्तन धोती हूँ और झाड़ू लगाती हूँ ।
उनके इस रूप से हम वाकिफ न थे, इसीलिए हमनें इस सत्य को जग जाहिर करना अपना कर्त्तव्य समझा।
So, in view of the last post here is what I did manage to miss out on at home:
Yes, I missed out on 3 Idiots and Avatar.
OK, there was no way I was missing out anything food related, was I? I gobbled lots of it. Should last me for a long time – till I go home again, that is.
Couldn’t get to Mahavirji – the train was delayed by more than 6 hours thanks to the legendary Delhi fog. Andaman, however was everything that I had imagined it to be and a lot more. Paradise on earth.
Yeah, I enjoyed lots of senseless TV, managed to catch cricket on TV (why did India have to lose that damned final to Sri Lanka?).
I enjoyed every day of my stay at home. There is no other place like it …