Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Age of Pencils

I find the American practice involved in writing out the homework very funny. For one, you can turn in homework by tearing the sheets from your notebook. Better, you can write in pencil- even in grad school.

I find this funny because we typically quit the pencil business at about fourth class. Starting to write with pens is a sort of coming of age ritual in India. The pencil hangover continues for a year or two, mainly as a back up to the "Hero Pens". The pencils are usually spotted as sidekicks nestled alongside an array consisting of a primary pen & back ups including a ball point pen.  Ball point pens have always been looked down upon with an unjustified derision. The anti-ball point league comprising of admonishing mothers and caring fathers criticize that these pens encourage their offsprings to write fast and thereby symbolize their inattention to important stuff like handwriting. Work, like worship should be painstaking and it ain't work if not written with a well tempered Camelin ink pen.

 The school days progress and before we know it, life thrusts us upon us, a geometry box. Multiple times during this phase, we fathom the use of the oddly shaped triangular things in the geometry boxes.

Mysterious triangular component

After this, science gets split into Botany, Zoology, Physics and Chemistry. Social becomes History and Geography. We start prefering bags that are more vertical than horizontal. Then comes the denouncement of lunch bag/box and the ubiquitous "snack boxes". As a direct result, all of us have had at least one instance of our tiffin boxes leaking their contents in our school bags. One can almost always catch a whiff of stale curry or curd when a friend opens his/her bag. Note that these are bygone days. Odor free school bags are marketing tag-lines for Tupperware "Executive lunchboxes".

After this phase, cometh the log books. We then start using the mysterious triangular objects in the geometry box, the way the Lord meant them to be used. This almost signs the end of school and perhaps the wisdom obtained from the swathe of colored pens we carry to our board exams, makes us feel enormously ready for the world.

Then, all of us enter an engineering college and acquire a drafter.

I remember these drafters distinctly because I had borrowed a discarded one from a senior  and arrived to the Engineering Graphics class, quite pleased with myself, about the amount of money I had saved on the drafter. It so happened that the drafter had been discarded for a reason. The handle and pretty much anything that was supposed to move was rusted and jammed tight. I tried so hard to unscrew the rusty handle and irked everyone in the vicinity with my loud  grunts. The professor was not pleased. The next day, in a sudden stroke of inspiration, I thought of pouring coconut oil over the screw hoping that it would lubricate the parts better. It did help me move the handle but I ended up having huge circles of oil stains all over my A2 sheet. It is a miracle I passed the subject.

Engineering education also ensures that we get to feel self important by using grown up instruments like  "polar" and log graph sheets, "pro-circles", Z and star transform tables not to mention the multitude of HB pencils.

That's pretty much all the stationery we typically use, sans the boring ruled and unruled notebooks. Maybe later we all buy a file for our job interview and a "harmonium folder" for a visa interview.

Stationery usage in Indian schools emphasized on presentation & handwriting which is tied to the probability of scoring better in tests. Here, I see that the emphasis is on organization. I have never seen such a selection of tools. There are page tabs, file tabs, filler papers, folders in various forms- much fancier than the "harmonium" ones. I was fascinated to see a lot of multicolored paper sticking out of a classmate's book. It looks like these guys mark the important pages with different colored papers which are made especially for the purpose of marking important pages! There are label makers and rolls of labels for the label makes. There is stationery for purposes that you would not have imagined existed before.

After all, necessity is the mother of invention. In all the days of using a geometry box, have you ever thought that life will one day unravel the mystery of those triangular things in the geometry box? We should all live in the hope that maybe, one day, we will discover the purpose of ink erasers that never erased anything as much as tear out our beautifully scripted homework. 

Here is to cooler stationery and huge discounts at the local Staples.

This post was written on a coffee induced vigor.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Zen Pencils

In the recent days, I have become a big fan of Zen Pencils. This is basically a comic which takes up quotes, speeches, songs, poems as its themes and gives a wonderful interpretation in the modern day context.

This week's comic is particularly close to heart because it has taken up Bill Watterson's commencement address at Kenyon College and has converted the speech into a beautiful, poignant comic with Calvin and Hobbes evoked very subtly in all the boxes. For a person who can quote Calvin and Hobbes verbatim, it is a carnal sin when people attempt to create a modern day version. It sullies the collective wisdom of a five year old and his tiger and worse it makes Calvin to grow up. However, I was completely blown away by Zen Pencil's interpretation which while quoting Watterson, takes us through his life hinting Calvin all along but never saying so.

It is beautiful. Do check it out here. Do look out for the Dinosaur & the author's daughter holding up a gun. I definitely know the sheepish look.

There were two pieces so profound that it worth adding them here.

Finding what you like is definitely not easy but is definitely allowed. It just reminds me of a day this February when I went to buy milk and returned home devastated that I had been buying the same milk at the same super market every weekend and nothing in my life was changing the way it should be. Just to figure out what I really wanted to do took me so much time and to get there, and to "will" things to happen was a brutal, masochistic process. Whenever I sit in some awesome class chuckling at what the witty professor just said to get his point across, I tell myself that it was worth it.

When people ask me why I didn't start my PhD right after college, I often wonder what I can tell them.  How do I explain that these things cannot be planned. I cannot really explain why I like doing certain things in a certain way leveraging what I can do best instead of trying to be good at something I don't like but people expect me to be. I cannot explain how important it is for me to be excited about what I do and even now, I feel it is okay to go back and forth until I get it right.

Sometimes I don't even know who or what we are running up against. When I see some of my classmates from middle or high school on Facebook, I wonder why we all squabbled over who got the first rank or won a stupid Math quiz. Life averages us out eventually. Our definitions of happiness varies so much that it is stupid to make us all stick to arbitrary timelines and measure us all with the same success metric. After a point, the value of 12th standard marks, CTC, GRE/GMAT score diminishes to insignificance. At this point, I see people envying each other only on the quality of life apparent on their social media feed- the fun things that they get to do after work, the biking trips, exotic vacations and so forth (given the assumption that most people consider all work to be boring as everyone codes for someone else) - which is rather sad.

Ok, time to get back to work. Hope you enjoyed the comic as much as I did!