Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why this Kotagiri di?

Okay, the title may sound funny and mislead you, but nothing seems apt after visiting the Nilgiris again after 4 years (The Nilgiris Revisited sounds a tad too commonplace).  My college life has been full of industrial visits (IVs) to different places. All of them have been like picnics for socializing rather than going to visit industries. But it doesn't matter for a student who has to complete 26 credits(8 subjects). Some classes in the morning and others in the afternoon, apart from seminars, assignments, quizzes and reviews-Aargh!! Give me a break from this hectic routine! When my (I'll use 'our' from now)class representative, Samuel announced about the confirmation of the trip to Kotagiri, many students were thrilled. Barring the IV to Pasteur Institute, Coonoor in 2008 (we were freshers then), all others were one-day trips from Vellore. Moreover, the IVs to Pondicherry(2010) and Yercaud (2011) lacked the charm of the first IV to Coonoor. It's probably because we were younger and got to know each other pretty well during those 3-4 days of fun and frolic in October 2008. Ahh, nostalgic memories keep haunting us, but we sadly decided to move on and be less adventurous, settling for one day trips instead. There were other formalities like getting permission letters from professors (ask any VITian, it's a Herculean task!)

Anyway, it came as a pleasant surprise when Samuel announced about our trip to Kotagiri. It was at the right time-we MSItes were bogged down by the academic workload as I had mentioned earlier. Kotagiri, nestled in the Nilgiris at an elevation of 1793m, could offer respite from the sweltering heat of Vellore as well.
The 3-day IV is described as follows:

September 20, 2012: Two buses were booked for the IV, as train tickets weren't available. We were told to assemble at VIT's All Mart gate at 7 pm. Getting a seat was initially a problem, but it was sorted out. We departed at around 8:30 pm. We crossed the outskirts of Vellore, and the music player was turned on. The experience of frenetic dancing to several Bollywood numbers cannot be described in words. We stopped at a roadside shack somewhere near Krishnagiri for a late dinner at around 11 pm. We fell asleep shortly after midnight, with those melodious tunes reverberating in our ears.

September 21, 2012:  We woke up near Mettupalayam at around 6 am. We were at the foothills of the Nilgiris. After a break for refreshments, we began our ascent up the winding roads of the Nilgiris. After 3 hours, we reached Kotagiri and checked into to Bel Air Cottages. The cottages were well-furnished and comfortable. After the long, tiring bus journey from Vellore, we decided to rest for a few hours there. In the afternoon, we decided to visit a tea estate. It was nice to see how tea leaves were picked and processed. The transition from green to brown was interesting to note and other processes like sorting and packaging were clearly explained. Though the main purpose of the IV had been fulfilled, there was more to look forward to.  We had a very light lunch at Kodanadu View Point. We could see the entire stretch of hills around Kotagiri from there. Not very impressed, we clicked pics and decided to return to Bel Air. As it was dark by then, we kept ourselves occupied by playing Frisbee and Dumb Charades in the garden. At dinnertime, we enjoyed playing 'Passing the Parcel' around the campfire. Prior to hitting the sack, we had a session of 'Truth or Dare' . It was fun getting to know one's deepest desires with no offence, or the expression on one's face after having performed an arduous yet hilarious task.

September 22, 2012:  After a good night's slumber, we had breakfast at Bel Air and decided to visit Doddabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiri range at 2637 m. We had to change from buses to jeeps in the vicinity of the peak (to handle the narrow, winding roads with steep gradients well). The coniferous trees and the mist made the location seem picturesque. Lots of pictures were clicked, while we munched on carrots and purchased souvenirs. We had lunch at a restaurant in Ooty. After a while, we went to Pykara Lake . The place was water-starved despite the clouds and rainfall, but verdant and picturesque. Those clad in green seemed to blend in with the surroundings. After the visit to the tea estate, we could see shades of green and brown in action again! It seemed like an exotic locale in Europe ! Lots of pictures were clicked, amidst logs, bogs and meadows. I feel Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or Twilight could have been filmed at Pykara, rather than Europe or North America. No castle or mansion could be seen though! We went back to Ooty after sunset and had dinner at a Dominos Pizza outlet. We purchased home-made chocolates (Ooty is famous for them) and reached Kotagiri at around 9 pm. Dinner was served for those who didn't have anything in Ooty. As we were tired, we went to bed a little earlier than the previous night.

September 23, 2012: Most of us woke up after 8 am. After breakfast, we packed our bags and decided to bid adieu to Kotagiri. We left in the afternoon at around 1 pm, when it started raining cats and dogs . A picture of our group was clicked, amidst the downpour. We reached Mettupalayam at around 4 pm and had a light lunch. The eateries didn't appeal to us much-most of them were tea-stalls or roadside cafes (dhabas). After a while, we proceeded towards Vellore, halting at Bhavani Sagar Dam on the way. There was a park in the vicinity, where we played games like kabbadi and lock-and-key. We left Bhavani Sagar at around 6:30 pm. We decided to have dinner at an Adyar Ananda Bhavan outlet near Dharmapuri. We departed at around 11pm and finally reached VIT Vellore at 2:45 am ( September 24, 2012). We were exhausted after the 13 hour journey, so we feel asleep after reaching our respective hostel blocks. We probably missed some classes in the morning, but some were cancelled too! :)

We were back to the routine of Continuous Assessment Tests, quizzes, assignments, reviews and seminars, but rejuvenated after the trip to the Nilgiris! I have visited Himalayan hill resorts like Dhanolti (Uttarakhand), Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir), Gangtok (Sikkim) and Darjeeling (West Bengal) with my family. But visiting a quaint town like Kotagiri with my friends in VIT is an experience in itself! It's an unforgettable trip, etched in the sands of time. After all a thing (or a place) of beauty is a joy for ever. :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What I feel about friendship

'A man is judged by the company he keeps.' This is a true saying. Apart from the place you grow up in and your family, friends have a profound effect on your psyche. For instance, if you socialize with the crowd you meet in church every Sunday, you'll probably think like them and abhor evil. You can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Choose them wisely.

I've always liked the Harry Potter series for showing what true friendship is about. We have a lot to learn from Harry and Ron. They were depicted as polar opposites, yet managed to become the best of friends. Harry could have chosen to be with Draco Malfoy, but decided to remain with Ron. The friendship between Harry and Ron wasn't bereft of problems either. They quarreled several times, but were ready to forgive each other. Anyway, I feel Hermione was there as a neutralizing factor. It's amazing to note that Harry and Ron remained best friends even after marriage (generally, friendships aren't strong after marriage.)

Let's come back to the Muggle world I grew up in. I was an introvert, with very few friends in school. I regret not having socialized much. In college, I regret having made many mistakes while choosing friends. It was stupid of me to choose friends who weren't right for me. I went out of the way to be friendly and caring towards people. But I realized that it was futile to expect them to reciprocate the same.

There is no such thing as true friendship in college. In a materialistic world of make-believe, people change with time and so do their friends. It really hurts when people ignore other friends when they get into relationships. Come on! Think of the plight of single people too! The campus is supposed to be cosmopolitan, but there's apparently no unity among students! Groups divided on a linguistic basis seem sickening. I agree that it's important to preserve and promote the cultures of different states, but not at the cost of becoming clannish.  This is a major impediment to friendship. During college farewell parties, students realize that they may never meet their friends in the future. It's really hard to say goodbye, isn't it?

If someone asks me the number of friends I have, 545 seems unrealistic, considering I merely know 20 really well. Even those 20 are not met on a regular basis (Thank you, FFCS-Fully Flexible Credit System!). Poking,tagging and liking does not give the same feeling as listening to a friend's dulcet tones in person (Or at least, over the phone).

Hanging out can foster better understanding among people. I've never had a friend or a group with whom I could plan a trip to Spain (Like the 3 guys in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara). Forget Spain, a visit to Apna Dhaba (an eatery near the VIT campus) seems to be a big ordeal!

Friends, get out of your comfort zones. Your cocoons become your limitations. Go out and make new friends!

J.K. Rowling
“Harry - you're a great wizard, you know."
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - friendship and bravery and - oh Harry - be careful!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

“True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.”
― Charles Caleb Colton

Muhammad Ali
“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.”
― Muhammad Ali

Abraham Lincoln
“Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” 

Mahatma Gandhi
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Mark Twain
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

Bob Marley
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
― Bob Marley

William Shakespeare
“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
― William Shakespeare

Jess C. Scott
“Friends are the family you choose (~ Nin/Ithilnin, Elven rogue).”
― Jess C. ScottThe Other Side of Life

C.J. Langenhoven
“Friends should be like books, few, but hand-selected. ”
― C.J. Langenhoven

Benjamin Franklin
“Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Culture shock: Ahmedabad and Bangalore blues :)

There's a famous saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." One always takes things for granted back home-such as good food at home or in restaurants, multiplexes where one can watch a variety of movies, other hang-out spots and above all, the security, comforts and conveniences of home(as opposed to a hostel) and Mother's love (Yes Papa, you too!). Only when one moves away does one realize how much one misses them-small things, but magnified in importance with time. Truly, home is where the heart is.
The city you are born or brought up in will assume prime importance,as it tends to grow on you. Moving to another place is bound to result in culture shock, as people do not act the same everywhere. Habits such as food, clothing, tastes in music and literature, vary from place to place as a manifestation of cultural differences.Culture shock may occur because of differences between expectations and reality as well; for an alien, a new place is not the same as what it looks like on TV or in books. Experience is the best teacher one can get. I did experience culture shock when I moved from Ahmedabad to Vellore in 2008, for pursuing a five year integrated Master's degree after school. Though I am a Tamilian, I have a special affinity for Gujarat rather than Tamil Nadu. I prefer vada pav, farsan and aamras to idli sambar and lemon rice! You can say I am a 'Gujaratified' Tamilian. But I didn't feel like that earlier. It's surprising to note that my favorite city was Madras(sorry, I have a fondness for old names of cities) before I went to study in VIT Vellore. I took everything in Ahmedabad for granted. I never liked it when I was living there, thinking Madras was great while Ahmedabad was hot, dusty and polluted, a medieval city of crumbling monuments, congested streets,pols and nothing more. One year in Vellore changed that opinion: Ahmedabad became my favorite city all of a sudden, and I started liking Bangalore more than Madras too. I probably thought Madras was a bigger version of Vellore.

Ahmedabad is a major city of India. It's a gourmet's paradise, a hub for gastronomy.People are fond of eating and are willing to experiment with different cuisines. They celebrate with food-it's more than just for nutrition or filling the belly. Seasons change and so do food items available to eat. Dalwada is for the rains, Aamras for summer, fafda-jalebi for Dusshera, and oondiya or sev-tamatar for winter. On the other hand, Vellore is a small town, merely known for its private university-VIT, missionary hospital-CMC, and for being the hottest place in Tamil Nadu :) I know it's stupid comparing the two, which are as different as apples and oranges, but let's see what Vellore needs to learn from bigger cities like Ahmedabad and Bangalore. I have been to many states in India, but Gujarat offers the most mind-boggling variety of food, at least in terms of vegetarian items. It's easy to get the food of Tamil Nadu(like dosas and idlies) in Gujarat, but the converse is not true. Try getting vada pav, dabeli, gota, buffvada, other farsan items and aamras in Tamil Nadu. You may not get them anywhere in Tamil Nadu, and even if you do, they'll be ridiculously overpriced! A dabeli costs Rs 10 in Ahmedabad, while it's available for Rs 75 (gasp!) at a high-end mall in Madras. Ahmedabad offers a better variety of ice-creams too. There's more than just vanilla, strawberry, mango, chocolate or pineapple available at any ice-cream joint in Ahmedabad. Arun is a poor equivalent of Vadilal,Havmor or Amul.  A glass of soda is available at any branch of Gandhi Soda Shop for just Rs 5. Served under hygienic conditions, many flavors are available, apart from ice-cream soda for just Rs 15. 
RK or Jay Bhavani vada pav, Karnavati dabeli, Dakor gota, farali buff vada, Honest bhaji pav,Continental/Indian/Chinese food at Choice, Havmor ice-creams, juice and snacks at Shambhu's Coffee Bar, Gandhi soda, Astodia/Raipur/Sabarmati jail bhajia and the exquisite Gujarati thalis served at Vishala, Rajwadu and Gordhan Thal-these are a few of my favorite items I can't resist having when in Ahmedabad and which I miss in Vellore. Not the best of Vellore food served at Darling and Baby (these are funny names of so-called top-notch restaurants in Vellore) can appease my taste buds. I have also noticed that food in Vellore is a tad too spicy for comfort (cooks in Vellore have a habit of adding red chillies to everything.) That's probably because people in Ahmedabad love food which tends to be on the sweeter side; Gujarati food is known for its sweetness.  
If one needs to watch a movie in Ahmedabad, one is spoilt for choice in terms of multiplexes-PVR, Cinepolis, Cinemax, Big Cinemas, Wide Angle, City Pulse, City Gold and more. Vellore, on the other hand, struggles with single screen cinema halls like Raghavendra. It's rare to see English films being shown in Vellore without being dubbed in Tamil. One may have to go all the way to Madras to watch the latest one. Moreover, Vellore does not have a single outlet of McDonalds, Dominos, US Pizza or Pizza Hut, which we take for granted elsewhere. I hope it gets at least one of them soon.

 Another city I like a lot is Bangalore, the city I was born in. People generally don't like the dosas of darshinis served with sweet sambar, but I think otherwise. Masala dosas served at Shanti Sagar, MTR (Lalbagh Road), Adigas or Chalukya (Race Course Road) seem to taste better than the same served at Saravana Bhavan or Sangeeta. I probably prefer the Karnataka (Udupi) style to the Tamil Nadu style dosas because I want them golden-brown, thick, crispy and served with sweet sambar. The Tamil Nadu style sambar's a bit too insipid for my liking.

I don't hate Vellore, but I just can't like it as much as Ahmedabad or Bangalore. People may consider this blog post to be 'Vellore bashing' but whatever has been mentioned is straight from the heart. I hope I like a city more than Ahmedabad or Bangalore in the future. By the way, it's time for me to go to Vastrapur lake and have my evening quota of vada pav and Gandhi soda! Aavjo (Goodbye)! :)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

M.Sc Biotechnology students-sob for a job! :)

“What do you want to do on completion of this course?” is a question asked by many. It’s very difficult to answer that question! It’s because there’s always a difference between what we want to do, what we end up doing and what we actually get. If you ask a kid what he or she wants to become in life, the answer will be clear (doctor, engineer or pilot) initially, but will change with time. Situations can make one change one’s goals suddenly. For instance, one might have had a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, being fascinated by stars and wanting to explore outer space. But with time and growing levels of sense, practicality and maturity, one becomes down-to-earth and probably settles for a more attainable, softer option such as investment banking. It’s been no different for me. I have had wacky goals of becoming a teacher of social science, then an astronomer and a bike racer! J

But I gave up on those dreams, as they were not feasible to be followed considering my impulsive temperament and my awareness levels those days. I became interested in life sciences when I was in the eleventh grade (as I did well in a nationwide Biotechnology Olympiad). I decided that biotechnology would be a suitable career option for me. The thought of modifying DNA to heal the world seemed amazing to me. My dream company was Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotech firm. I thought biotechnology could make a better impact than information technology in any way. I wanted to join VIT University and pursue its well-known B.Tech programme in biotechnology. But sadly, my VITEEE-2008 rank (5327) wasn’t enough, though I had been called for counselling. I had done better in VITEEE compared to other engineering entrance exams. I was left with 2 options: To pursue a B.Sc in life sciences at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad or the newly introduced 5-year integrated M.Sc programme in Biotechnology offered by VIT University, Vellore. I opted for the latter, thinking it’d be an excellent alternative to the B.Tech programme offered by VIT.

Three and a half years later, looking at the final year B.Tech Biotechnology students getting placed or coming to Vellore for their reviews, I feel a better VITEEE rank would have made a significant difference. Placements are assured for B.Tech Biotechnology students, as the course is well-known and established. It’d have been really different if Maaruthy, Mayur and Anchit had been my classmates, though there’s no shortage of creative people in my class such as Deeptiman, a fellow blogger. I can’t understand why M.Sc Biotechnology students aren’t given priority for placements. I feel a plethora of subjects, ranging from modern physics to environmental health, is covered in the curriculum. But why we can’t intern at ISRO or a pollution control agency (just because it’s mentioned that M.Sc Biotechnology students are not eligible?) Not everyone can pursue a PhD after an M.Sc, owing to financial or other constraints. Pursuing an MBA after an M.Sc may raise a lot of questions, as an additional investment has to be made, for yet another Masters degree! Cognizant can hire M.Sc Chemistry graduates but why not M.Sc Biotechnology graduates (in the life-sciences department)? This was something I got to know from a classmate of mine, Kshitija. What do M.Sc Biotechnology students lack which other graduates apparently have? Nothing! It’s not industry-specific skills (M.Sc Biotechnology students have had more rigorous laboratory sessions than B.Tech students-who have readymade culture media provided for ease in performing experiments and reporting results.) It’s really sad, considering M.Sc Biotechnology students spend 5 years learning and trying to apply what’s been learnt, yet falter when it comes to employability in the global scenario.

I agree it’s a competitive world out there, where the ascent up the corporate ladder is full of people waiting to pull you down. So go ahead, do what it takes to get that dream job, as you are different from others. Looking at your CV, recruiters should feel you're different. You can be a successful person with a good job amidst a crowd of others. It is sad that engineering and medicine rule the roost as the most popular careers in India, apart from management, civil services, chartered accountancy and banking. There are other options in sectors like hospitality and hotel management, but they’re not popular owing to lack of awareness. Moreover, a doctor or engineer still commands respect in society, as pay packets are good despite the recession. I got to know from today’s newspaper that a B.Tech student of NIT-Allahabad got a mind-boggling offer from Facebook. No wonder M.Sc students turn green with envy. Now I feel it’s worth dropping a year after school, to pursue a B.Tech degree after slogging for engineering entrance tests. Siddhant (a B.Tech Biotechnology student) couldn’t pursue a career in medicine. But he decided to make the best of whatever he got. He stood first in his batch and went to Imperial College, London for his final semester project.

I hope an apparently underestimated course such as M.Sc Biotechnology gets recognized not merely in society, but in terms of employability as well. It’ll be justified if some people such as professors dare to venture into entrepreneurship and generate new avenues (in terms of employment) in different sectors for M.Sc Biotechnology students.    

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


We often pine for the days of yore,
Lost in the sands of time, shut from the present like a slammed door,
With regrets expressed as tears that can fill many a pore,
It’s as futile as murder for revenge with gore;
Feelings of guilt in an individual, expressed to the core,
Are as normal as getting a bedsore;
Something that can retard is fear,
As making mistakes is inevitable, and no one’s really a Seer,
Who can introspect and know your own self better than you;
Risks have to be taken and thus emerge a successful few,
Who’ve realized their true potential and believed in their dreams;
They don’t need to crib about not having lived well, as their enthusiasm bursts at its seams;
They don’t yearn for memories in the past, as life for them is never as bad as it seems;
Breaking the shackles of the past that can equally haunt or please, is an ordeal,
But they live in the present and work for the future, what else do they feel?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Crossbreed- this was the topic given to me for the creative writing event of Riviera'12

The term is self-explanatory. It literally means ‘a living entity which is a cross between two different breeds.’ As I am a student of biotechnology, it is easy to give an elaborate description of the term. A crossbreed can be interspecific, such as Durum wheat. The process involved is interspecific hybridization to give rise to an improved variant, as different traits are combined and expressed. It is easier to manipulate plants rather than animals, as their genomes are less complex. Hence, most of the applications of crossbreeding are confined to agriculture.

Healthy plant variants could be selected based on natural genetic engineering, which was done with partial human interference of choosing and crossing different breeds. The foundation was laid for the development of modern biotechnology involving highly mechanized manipulation of plants at the genetic level.  Crossbreeding wasn’t just confined to breeds between different species but between different genera as well. For instance, the ‘pomato’ is an intergeneric cross between the potato and the tomato, combining the best traits of each.

However, crossbreeding hasn’t been successful in the case of animals. Certain defects are probably formed during crossing over of genetic material. This leads to organ rejection, malfunctioning of systems and ultimately death. Humans may have 98% genetic similarity with chimpanzees, but merely that will not ensure the formation of a crossbreeds called ‘chimpumans’ or ‘humanzees’! After all, who’d like to have progeny who’re neither humans nor chimpanzees? Hardly a few, who are crazy, wacky enough to experiment with no regard for their personal ethics. It’s a waste of time and money into this research which is futile, rather than investing on more immediate issues of the global economy and the environment. Millions of people don’t get two square meals a day to consume and this is more pronounced in today’s era of fiscal recession. The globe is confronted with environmental issues such as global warming and the rapid depletion of exhaustible resources too. Therefore, in a nutshell, let nature take its own course for genetic engineering and the evolution of organisms due to variation in traits. Human beings need not play God. Nature has given us plenty to meet our needs. Our greed may not have a so-called panacea by the name of biotechnology. In a nutshell, the idea of human beings trying to create hybrids of animals seems fine for science fiction books such as Frankenstein or mythological stories depicting a chimera or a unicorn, but not in real life.     

(February 4, 2012)   

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Green over red

This is the fast-paced era of worry and haste,
Playing God shouldn’t interfere with taste,
And nutritional value, of dire need during the period of recession;
As there’s disparity, which makes it difficult to realize a vision,
Of happiness, which is a relative concept;
It takes a lot of effort to satisfy the needy,
And the same, if not more, for the few who are greedy;

Therefore we ought to provide something for the generations to come,
And not usurp exhaustible resources mindlessly without leaving behind some;
Sustainable development is the only probable panacea,
For giving back what we owe our descendants so that they can see;
For combating unusual seasonal variations, which can also result due to pollution,
Knowing about the solution is easy, but it’s not so for the execution;
 It begins from within, a deep desire to change for the better,
Even a small step taken by each of the seven billion inhabitants of this planet,
Towards recognizing the wonders of Mother Nature, whose requirements man hasn’t met.
At his own cost, ignoring the five elements that have sustained him in the past,
But whom he has to sustain in return, if they don’t last.