Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Tonight, after my usual game of racquetball I headed to Lovekesh and Aditya's place (Ashish is currently not around, so is discounted for the moment ;)). Apart from the usual catching up, the conversation veered to politics.

Currently, India is in the throes of civil agitation and political turmoil over the proposed "affirmative action" legislation. And as in India, the issue has divided Indians in the US as well. It has struck a chord and a nerve in equal measure. Sure enough Lovekesh had something to say. Not just to me, or to his room-mates, but to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.

I'm including his poignant letter below. The ideas and language are solely his and are reproduced below with his permission.

--------------- begin letter ----------
Letter to the Prime Minister, from Indian students abroad

I write this letter on behalf of my fellow students, scientists and research scholars who are currently studying/conducting research abroad.

Sir, having studied abroad yourself you would be very aware of the difficult choices Indian students are faced with towards the end of their studies, often they are torn between whether to spend their working years serving a foreign country which in most cases would afford them a brighter career, a higher standard of living and a more conducive work environment, or to serve India, the country we call home.

When someone with your esteemed qualifications and track record took over the office of Prime Minister, our hearts were filled with hope for our nation. Fingers crossed, we were hopeful your government would be the guiding force that would usher
India into the 21st century. Some of us even dared to dream of a developed India. Alas, as has been the norm with promising Indian policiticians, you have flattered to decieve. Your administrations pro-quota decisions are such a huge regressive step that nothing else your administration does will be able to make up for it. Initially, the rumours about you being a puppet in the Sonia regime were dismissed as baseless attempts at defamation, however your reluctance to stand up to men like Arjun Singh speaks volumes for your spineless leadership, and has served to reinforce those rumours.

Having spent the majority of your career as an academician, we naturally assumed that the standard of education nationwide would be one area that would be enhanced under your leadership. We were not naive, we knew that once in public office, you were more politician than academic, but not even the most ardent pessimist anticipated that you would value the collection of votes over the dessimation of knowledge.

Some of us still believe that you are personally not in favor of reservations. However, your personal convictions are irrelevant if you dont have the courage to stand up for them. Very rarely do honest academicians get a chance to influence national policy, to use their intellect to lead and serve their country. Sir, by allowing populist quota policies to prevail in your administration, by not standing up and taking a stand on the issue, by not even expressing your own views on the matter, and by diluting educational standards everywhere, you have disgraced the office of the Prime Minister, you have disgraced yourself as an academic and have betrayed the lot of deserving students nationwide.

I dont expect you will react to this letter, or even read it, it would be too much of a political inconvenience. But writing this was the least I could do in support of the poor students who have to go on strikes to catch the governments attention.

I leave you with one final thought: Universities in developed countries offer many things that India for the most part cannot, a brilliant intellectual atmosphere, laboratory facilities, work environment, infrastructure to name a few. However, one hoped that the very least one could expect from one's own country is not to be treated like a second rate citizen, not to be discriminated against on the basis of caste and most importantly, respect for merit and academic achievement. It seems that was asking for too much.

As I mentioned earlier, Indian researchers abroad have always had a tough choice to make when it comes to deciding which country to pursue their career paths in. Thank you Honorable Prime Minister for making that choice a lot easier.

An Indian Scientist

Lovekesh Vig

--------------- end letter ------------

Monday, May 22, 2006

Life in the fast lane

Life is about making memories. I logged some memorable moments last weekend when I took my car to an auto-cross. I had never done this before and so was a little apprehensive about it: since i don't own another car, if i screwed up my car, i was, well, screwed. Also, I had no idea who I was running against. Being competitive by nature (and having read "The Art of War") I didn't want to get into a competition without any hopes of doing well (let alone winning).

But I let Steve and Kurt talk me into driving my car up there (a part of me wanted to anyways). So once I was at the track and smelt the rubber and the excitement in the air, I knew I was going to sign on the dotted line.

So before you could say "2002 Special Edition Stock Mazda Miata with street tires" I was lined up with the novices and ready to go. And since this was my first time, I requested that an experienced driver (put his life and well-being in the hands of a complete stranger) ride with me. Sure enough, Brandon Vincent (who drives a hot Corvette) volunteered.

In the next few seconds, a few things became apparent:
1. the car is usually in two modes: "full throttle" and "standing on the brakes"
2. my car has way too much horse-power for its weight
3. making the car drift and correcting it, seems to come naturally to me
4. where lesser cars would slide and lose control, the Miata shines effortlessly
5. "them dang cones are doggone difficult to spot"
6. experience alone doesn't trump talent
7. talent alone doesn't trump experience
8. you compete not against others, but against time, physics and yourself
9. Sun Tzu said a whole bunch of things which have nothing to do with auto-cross

So in all, I had about 8 runs. I DNFed (did not finish) my very first run because I completely missed a "gate", but subsequently, with Brandon's help, improved considerably. Of course the fact that the rain stopped and the course began to dry out also helped.

So how did I do overall? Out of 14 novice drivers (some with more experience than I) I finished 12th!