My stay at Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

I just came back from the IMSc after giving my interview. There, I met with some of the professors and researchers. Some of them turn out to be alumni of the IIT-B so the feeling for fraternity was quite obvious there. I was staying in the institute and had some conversation with faculty, students and other students who came here for interview. Then One day I went to IIT Madras to check out the facilities which I can use during my doctorate here at IMSc.

Day 01 : Saturday morning.

I took auto from the central. It was nice to be back in Chennai after two years. I love this place. Its hot and humid. And water is salty. You have to shampoo your hair everyday. But there are lot of things about this city I love. Specially people. Majority of them have two qualities. One, they are very nice and second, they don’t care.  I took a prepaid auto. I asked him during the journey. “Anna, DMK aur AIDMK?”.. He said in his mixed Hindi, English and Tamil, “I think DMK, clean sweep.”  I asked whether he voted for AIDMK. He nodded positively. After 40-45 minutes I reached IMSc. Very Very small campus compared to IIT. Three main building and hostel cum guest house. It is located in CIT campus and does not have the campus of its own. After getting clearance from security, I entered the lounge and unpacked there. The whole day I slept. Later I took dinner and visited the library and main building, Quite nice. Then elections results came out and surprisingly UP, Bengal gave the most unpredicted mandate. It was nice to see that BJP did not capitalize on divisive politics. Then I met Gaurav, very charming guy. He was so excited about election results. He was teasing everyone. ” Hey dada, your Left is out” “What happend to Mayavati in UP, Shankar.”. best part, there is a coffee machine, its 24×7 service and payment is voluntarily :-) and someone is always available for a cup. :-)

In evening, I met a guy from Goa. he was here for summer school. As a typical Goa guy, He was way too much formal and polite. Smiley face and all. We did not talk much. I just asked him about Goa’s elections.

I was having breakfast. Idli and tea (Idly + tea = Italy, I told it to Simon who is from Italy and was working in my lab). Here comes a man in shorts on his old cycle. I didn’t know he was faculty here, neither he looked like. Seems he did not care what the hell he is wearing. So I asked him how is the institute. And he starts talking.
“Which field you are interested in?”
“Particle physics and/or condensed matter physics.”
“See condensed matter physics is best here, Mr. Ghosh here is superstar in that area. For particle physics you should try TIFR. ”
“Actually, most importantly, i want to know how is the student culture here. I was having some chat with one of the student and It seems quite satisfying. Does this campus seen cases for suicides?”
“Haha. no no.. no suicides. But some students can not cope with the time. Its a long commitment. 5-6 years. And keeping yourself motivated is a tough thing. till your first paper is out you are not that much excited. Anyway It depends on person. Nothing is guaranteed in science. After doc, you’ll be chasing some post doc positions. till a tenure position is not available you live like a nomad. You don’t mind money but when you have family you mind financial security. I joined this institute, cause there is freedom. Freedom is costly. Anyway at the end of the day things do not matter as much but anyway ask the student here. Faculty is pretty cool here.”

I don’t remember anything else he said. He came in the lunch too, in the same clothes on the 80’s style Hero Jet cycle generally seen the villages and towns. It was nice seeing simple people.

Monday (Interview day)

In breakfast. I was having uthpam and tea. Someone came and took a cup of tea. I did not know he is prof here. “Are you student here?” “No sir, I am here for JRF interview.” “Oh, which place?” “native-place or institute?” I asked. “Lets start with native?” with a smile. He has a very small eyes. ” I am from western UP.”
“I know UP. which part?”
“Oh! congress won there, Azharuddin was the candidate.”
I was surprised with the political interest of a prof. of the physics. “Yes, actually I am born in a small village Nichalpur, That is sixty km from Moradabad in Nijnor District on the Moradabad-Haridwar highway.”
“Ok. I am from Patna.”
“You are here for interview too?”
“Nah, i am faculty here in theoretical physics division.” and of-course i was a bit amazed.
(then mode of conversation changed into Hindi)
“Whats you name”
“Are you a Rajput ot or Bhoomihaar?”
I was bit surprised and educated people tends to do when matter of caste is pops-up in front of them. I said, “yes, but I don’t believe in cast”.
“Oh, see! over the century people behavior changed their mental tuning. I am not saying its in your genes, but somehow its in you brain. I can not trust a Bhoomihaar but i can trust a Rajput. Now you have to be adventurous and risk taker. Afterall you have to conquer, A Brahmin has to control you to hold to his position so he has to be cunning. So you are Thakur?”
“Chauhan. But anyway, hows the institute.”
“Your area of interest?”
“Condensed matter physics and/or elementary particle physics.”
“Oh, both of the discipline are diagonally opposite. See anytime IISc is far better. They have a lot of department so your thinking is not that narrow, what is your background?”
“Microelectronics and control theory. I worked on MEMS fabrication in my PG”
“Ya. so in IISc you can talk with a microelectronics guy, same time with the physics guy and math guy.”
“I used to measure IMSc, IISc, TIFR at the same level”
“See when it comes to research, IISc and TIFR are better than this place. Although some departments of TIFR are just hype. But in Math and string theory they are superstar. In semiconductor, IMsc is the best. IISc and TiFR has the advantage of having their own campus. They have a lot of thinking roads where you can walk while thinking. IMSc does not have it. Anyway its a nice place. And you’ll do very good you have a wide spectrum of knowledge.”
then I asked him about his own research which i did not get into.
“So from which Institute”
“M. Tech from IIT Bombay”
Suddenly he eyes shone. “Oh. I am also from there. I did integrated M.Sc. from there. then i went to IISc for Ph.D and my classmate went to study microelectronics under the prof.. uh.. his name is like Muslim.’
“Jezer vasi”
“Ya Vasi.. now he is Netherlands. He bought BMW and 1 million pound home. You think before you join the institute. You might become envious about your classmates later. Microelectronics is the best engineering dept in India, you might be getting a good job.”

“Yea, I am offered a pretty good job as VLSI designer. Some more blah blah..”
I was little bit ashamed of showing off! anyway, that is why Prof Sharma told me,  “Go sit in placement, later you can say .. sab kuch chor kar aaya huin research karne (with his both hands in the air)”

“yeah, so you’d like to think again. Anyway a paper in Nature is anytime batter that millions of pounds. But think, may be success of your classmate in finance will trouble you later if you can not keep up with yourself”
“Nah, I don’t have friends. Second It doesn’t matter. I am not used to luxuries. My father is farmer. Nobody in my village passed high-school before someone in my generation did. How much time I have to think. I am 23. I should have figured out it by now what I wanted to do in my life. Anyway How is situation of science in India? I know recently there are really nice papers from India, that is also going up. Apart from Indus script paper, any other paper came out from this institute of that significance?”
“Yeah, some very nice papers came out of the institute especially in semiconductors. You might like to study those since you are from microelectronics. Science in India is getting better, but we never going to rule. To rule, we need conquering spirit. Indian go along with the most optimized path. There is a mountain, lets climb it and die on the way. This is spirit needed to rule. They say India is going to rule in 21st century. No! Indian is going to be prosperous. but it’ll never rule. The spirit was there in the old time. Now the same area has become BIMARU states, in the old time they were the ruler, from the time of the Kamsutra and Lilavati now we are reduced to some back-offices. China has improved because it does not do its science by caste. All is homogeneous there. India has plethora of attitude problems. Anyway things are certainly improving.” (Not verbatim)

“Ya,, even in my generation there are really very nice researcher I have seen. Mr. Ghosh, i forgot his first name, that nano-tube sensor guy and prof Mandar Deshmukh.”

“Madar was my classmate in IITB and Ghosh was my junior at IISc. Presidency college controls the science in India. See the interview list, 80% are from Bengal. there is a geographic divide. Students from BIMARU states have fertile mind, but again all is lost.”
“Deshmukh is a very charming guy.”
“Yes he is. In IITs I liked his company.”

“So my advise is, come and join our institute. Do serve science. Its a long commitment and success does not come as early as in engineering. In interview, you’ll do nice. Meet me after interview.

(There were other things also which I shouldn’t say here in public domain. Regional intolerance in already on new hight in this time in India. This time elections did not have any national issues. It was reduced to regional chauvinism.)

then I went to the interview. It was a pleasing experience, They too delightfully wondered why I am coming to pure science from engineering. In my interview, as usual, I struggles with details. But on the abstract level I performed. Lets see, what will happen.

After interview, when I was leaving for IIT-B. I met some guys from IIT delhi. He was happy to see fellow IITian. Again, after exchanging our degree details, which i was reluctant to reveal, He asked why from microelectronics to theoretical physics.

“May be I got the problem with my chromosome.”
He chuckled  and went to his classmate to discuss what they are asking in interview.

(Result was disappointing. I did not get the seat. My parents were happy. So the I can do the job and pay back the loan they have taken for my education. I was little disappointed but anyway, the happiness quotient of the world did not come down).

PC lab
IIT Bombay
1229Hrs, May 21, 2009


Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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