A Lilavati’s Grand-daughter

 Lilavatis Daughter is a book by Indian Academy of Science about 100 women scientists of India (on the line of ‘100 reasons to be a scientist‘). The name is drawn from The Lilavati, a twelfth century treatise in which the mathematician Bhaskaracharya addresses a number of problems to his daughter, Lilavati. Although legend has it that Lilavati never married, her intellectual legacy lives on in the form of her daughters – the women scientists of India. But she belongs to the next generation of these daughters – a grand daughter. Go ahead read few chapters of this book. Drop me an email if you want a copy by email.

The class of Microelectronics and VLSI at IIT Bombay in 2007 had few remarkable specimens – as far as I can see them. Actually, EE department of IIT Bombay has been blessed with a lot of remarkable humans. The person concerned here is special for me, as well as for India. On personal lines, blogging, which is like a vocation for me; she was the first one to read my first blog, first one to comment on my first blog. So, in oder to express my gratitude, I though let me be the first one to blog about her. :-)

Oh! the introduction, on her blog, She introduces herself, “I am a 24 year old Indian ..and belong to the rare species of Indian women pursuing higher studies in engineering (or atleast trying to do so :P . I come from Kolkata..and as is expected ..am a Bengali. One of my IITB friends (That’s me) think most of the bengalis are chauvinists..I might be one of them..being a sincere devout of Tagore and Swami Vivekananda (if you do not who they are..there are wiki links)..almost  worshiping both of them! currently in Italy..I am constantly trying not to feel like a fish out of the water (writing blogs is one of those  attempts… to solve the problem of dearth of people to talk to).  And not only that..I am planning to buy a keyboard or a digital piano too to fill  my empty and lonely and quiet hours up with some sound and hopefully with some music too :D you see.. I had brought a flute (an Indian one) from India..but attempts to learn to play it has not been too successful so far..with only youtube videos to help me :(

Well, her name is Urmimala. She was my classmate during my post-graduation. And since she misses a brother (she has none) and I, a sister (I have none), she made me her little brother (That inflated my already long-list of sisters, much to my mother disappointment, “Ye to bhaiya bol rahi hai” She said to my father when Priti called me up first time). At home, When I told my grandmother that I have a Bengali classmate, she said, “Bete, Bengali logo ko kala jaadu aata hai. Unse door rahte hai. Ek laundo ko laundiya bana diya tha ek baar ek jadoogar be”(Beta! Stay away from Bengalis, they know Black Magic. Once a Jadogaar turned a boy into a girl.” Well, ‘madari’, who used to visit my village, were used to frighten us that they know ‘Begal ka Kala Jadoo’ and if you did’t bring them something (money or grains) they we get turned into a girl in the night. Sight of a Bengali, sometime brings back my childhood memories. 

First time I saw her in EE office. We knew each other through Orkut and Gtalk. Ashish, her UG time classmate, and now our PG classmate, had told me that Urmi got admission here. We exchanged hand-shakes and hello. First impression, She has too sweet and too soft a voice to be in engineering.   

Our age, it is said, is the age of equality even though the practices are otherwise. Gender inequality forms a significant part of it. In our dept, we have only two (one) female professors. It is well known fact that in electrical engineering, it is hard to find girl-students on campuses (still single digit enrollment, she pointed out from a news report!). As she wrote on her blog, she belongs to a rare species. In the fields like engineering and mathematics that has been male bastions, female are proving their presence. Amazingly, while in much-maligned politics, male politicians have granted female a larger space, on my then-campus (IIT Bombay), they are still tagged as ‘non-males‘ by supposedly brightest-brains of India. It seems like the pattern is same on other IIT’s. 

Whenever I passed by her hostel and she could spot me, she would send a sms, “I‘ve seen you :-)” Using smilies is her trademark. So when she replied to Facebook Social Interviewer that, “She might tell a truth rather than a lie even it’d hurt someone.” I doubted, “No! you’ll keep quiet.” Well, my stupid observation is that people who use smilies too much in their chat or sms are generally do not confront people who matters. Using gestures (smilies) means that they want to compensate their non-verbal communications with every possible gesture, possibly to make sure that other person don’t misunderstand or feel offended. They do care!

She is very hardworking student, most of the time she’d not reply to my chat after joining PG. “I am in lab x-(“, she would say. She gets easily amused so If I tell her, “Look, at the first day of placement everyone shaved, now today (3 days after) everyone is having same amount of beard.” or “Look, that guy mustache is shiny than his hair, Well they are 16 year younger!”  She’d laugh. Every time we met on the way, she would start smiling and I had to ask, “I am cartoon network or what? :-)” Whenever she came to FabLab, her slippers Velcro were always unstrapped. And When she talks, she does a simple harmonic motion, twist herself 30 degree at either side about an vertical axis passing through her center of mass.

Without her, time at campus might have been a bit tougher. Along with Gaurav, I could share with her most of the things – like, “She is the girl I like.” Sometimes she would give advice, “You should be sporty when it comes to girls.” If at home, I’d tell her, “Today I made flats for Sparrows and all of them are occupied in 30 minutes.” She’d ask me for photographs. She wants to come to my village (why only on my marriage, I don’t understand!) so I can introduce her to that calf who eats biscuits from me and other calves also. And of course the mustard fields.

Geographically also we share some heritage. Her state, Bengal, has a long and rich tradition of producing finest scholars and visionaries of India. Mine, Uttar Pradesh, has given this land eight prime ministers, mostly good enough.  But in her State, while Bill Gates is supplanting Karl Marx and in my state, Nehru has been supplanted by Guru Gowalkar;  It’s now us to witness the future of our home states. Ironically, Chacha Nehru seems to be respected only in intellectual circles of Bengal, a person whom they hated when He was alive. 

On a more personal level, I admire her courage. While people gets timid leaving their homes, she could go to the other extreme to pursue what she always loved, engineering. And being Bengali means that the romance of Physics is in her blood, so her chosen field is ‘Physics of MOS-FET’s‘.

According to her Facebook profile, she has planned to be a student for next 10 years. While she struggles to make up her mind on Stanford University or University of Texas and I on Mathematics, Engineering or Sociology; She asks me to come to  US for higher studies so that ‘We’d go to Atlanta to see Martin Luther king and say hi to him :) he was a great man.’ For this I have to say no, I live on the land of Gandhi, and King was influenced by him. But saying to him ‘Hi’ is a tempting idea. May be sometimes later I’d go with her and crack a PJ on his grave. 

Both of us share a common temptation, to serve our motherland. While my way is to study here (so that I do not have to tune my nature of work in academics to suit the foreign review process) and then teach in Indian university; hers is, to go to US (for gaining advance technical knowledge) and come back – much harder path, I guess!.

Whenever I visit my Village, my mother asks me how many girls are there in my class/office. When I talk about them her face lights up. She says, “Dekha, ladkiya bhi kisi se kam nahi hai.’ She was allowed to study up to 4th standard even though she liked her studies so much. And claims that she could’ve topped All-India if was allowed to study. She takes immense pride in any girl’s achievements and never misses a radio program for women. When I tell my mother about her, she promised me to pray for her well-being. Being an Atheist does not allow me this for my sister, I am happy to blog about a Lilavati’s grand-daughter. 


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