Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Travails continued....

We left the previous post where the protagonist was undergoing training at a coaching class to appear for various entrance examinations. Objective: to gain admission to an engineering degree course at a "decent" college / institute. Normal ambition of a very normal Indian lad with stars in his eyes and with an above average intellect.

Mind you, all this is in addition to attending college + practicals for the State Board HSC examinations. Now you get an idea of "moving the mountain" phase in the life of a sixteen year old.

Let us see how the year progresses..

Coaching Class:

One thing I missed adding. Sixty students crammed on uncomfortable benches for six - seven hours at a stretch. Hey they are cattle but humans with simple goal in life. But commerce is supreme and an extra dozen students is obviously good for the bottom line.

Life is good. Anyway, there is no guarantee on results and it does not matter whether students pass or fail. Many of these institutes just pay obscene money and some students may be tempted to endorse them.


Mercifully exams are a one day affair but the filling up of examination forms, online / manual submission and getting the examination hall admit card is a trying affair. The whole process is meant to wear your patience thin.

You also have to be lucky to get an examination center near your place of residence or else a twenty - thirty kilometre trudge to the examination centre is guaranteed. The wretched may be allotted an examination centre at Pune / Nashik....and both are atleast 200 kms away.

The list of examinations is also impressively long....IIT-JEE, AIEEE, BITS, Maharashtra CET, Vellore, Coimbatore, Manipal, unaided colleges, and I do not know the rest...as the nephew did not bother about many of them.

Fortunately, there is enough time between two competitive entrance exams. BITS even gives you the flexibility of choosing a date of your choice and it is an online test. You actually leave the place knowing your marks and also, perhaps, whether your fate is sealed or whether there is still hope.

Results Stage:

Yipee....its results time and an end to a long year of hard work...or..is it just the begining of a new tense phase. The toppers and failures are the most peaceful, whilst the "in-betweens" are tossed around like veggies in a salad.

All results are online which means you save face if the results are poor. One can buy half a day by saying access to servers is very slow but not much beyond that.

This settles once for where you are in the rat race. Extended Merit Lists and scores beyond 10,000 means very little scope.

Admissions Stage:

Most likely a student would stand a good chance in multiple institutions and it would be unwise to close the doors on any opportunity just yet.

This means one has to keep track of all schedules running in parallel. This would put any Operation Research specialist to shame.

Online submissions, mock counselling, trial placements, merit lists, counselling lists, first list, second list and so on form part of an elaborate process. I understand this has been streamlined and tweaked over the last couple of years. It is not so much a problem now. Great use of technology...I must say.

Once your name appears in one or more lists, factors like stream allotted, institute and location become important. Ragging is another factor playing on minds and I was wily nily drawn into an animated discussion on this subject.

This phase is currently on and should play itself out in the next two weeks.

More on this as the days pass on. This whole drama that is being played out tends to get more complex every year. There are many questions that arise in my mind and I am disturbed that such an important area has been dealt with in a very lackadaisical way.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Travails of an Aspiring Engineer

This holds true of any student aspiring to a decent higher education in any field. Engineering is the subject matter of this post because I have a ring side view of the struggle my nephew and all those around him undergo to get admission to an engineering course in a decent college this season.

We, in India, accord a very high priority to education and millions view it as a passport to a better life. We have grown up in trying circumstances and frugality has been a way of life and this is a chance to break some ceilings. We have nearly a million plus students wanting to opt for specialised education

Now let us pan back to the life of a student who has opted for a science stream education with an intent to become an engineer.

After completing the FYJC (First Year Junior College - 11th standard to us old foggies) exams, life is lived in defined phases and I will attempt to recount this momentous journey.

Pre-Coaching Class Stage:

Ahh...comparing notes to see which class would be best. The early planners were relocating to Kota (Rajasthan) which seems to have acquired an awesome reputation to get you straight into IIT or so is all-round popular belief.

The others - nephew included - were left with the home choice. Discussions with some distant relative of a neighbour's office colleague's friend were carried out in right earnest. Cousins, family doctor, college professor and "The Uncle" added their two bits of sagely advice.

The net result was complete confusion and a sense of helplessness. "Which coaching class should I join?" was a loud cry of anguish. Everbody seemed so logical and convincing. Every coaching class seems to have mentored the top 50 students who cracked the IIT entrance exams only to be followed by the student refuting these claims.

Oh God!!!...is there anyone out there who can be trusted and whose advice I should follow....was a prayer on my nephew's lips and probably also on thousands of young aspirants'.

Coaching Class - Studying Phase:

Having successfully navigated the turbulence and survived the avalanche of information and advice in the pre-admission stage, it is time to begin a year long tryst with long hours of coaching and tomes of data-information-knowledge.

It is surprising that no one bothers about the quality of education dished out by these coaching classes. They have de-facto become the new "Temples of Knowledge" which have the secret keys to the open some tough locks of the various entrance exams.

The nephew wades through all this with a grim face and needs to be reminded to smile once in a while. You have online tests, simulated tests, special coaching sessions, intensive camps, refreshers, subscribing to independent test series, counselling, interactive sessions with senior faculty on "Tips and Tricks", sample papers and what not. There are a hundred websites which claim to give that additional edge to the diligent aspirant.

Phew...!!! My head is reeling and I guess it shows as the previous para seems completely jumbled and definitely not in an logical order.

We also have to contend with memory enhancing pills, stress relievers and meditation techniques tweaked to suit the tired and over burdened teenager.

I now understand that with all this around we forget to smile once in a while. After all, this struggle is to lay foundation for a brilliant future. I guess "Momentary Pain for Lifelong Success" philosophy comes to the rescue and we rationalise our paranoia during that period.

I am already exhausted (now I know why I was not cut out to be an Engineer in the first place) and hope to gather my wits and resume on another rainy day with bhajias and hot tea.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Swinging between Extremes

It has been an amazing month that has passed us and what strikes me is our tendency to embrace the extreme at every possible opportunity on every possible matter.

Let me list a few of these extremes:

Election results:

The results were a surprise to every one including those in the Congress Party. Anybody who claims that he had foreseen this would be lying.

- We went around town screaming about the decisive mandate. Decisive Mandate???? The government is in a precarious situation and depending on the support of a couple of allies.

- We shouted from the roof tops about the maturity of the Indian voter. Maturity???? The votes were divided as never before.

- An impressive showing in UP was touted as the master strategy of Rahul Gandhi and how he had arrived on the scene.

- The orchestrated chorus in which every one joined to plead with the PM to include RG in the cabinet
- That this was the demise of regional parties

Stock Market:

Post the election results, the stock market decided to join this celebration and achieved what no other stock exchange has achieved in the world. We saw exuberance in its wildest form as the indices hit, what is known in stock market parlance, the upper circuit and we saw a 30 - 40% jump in prices of almost every share. Some exceeded even this.

Nobody has been able to fathom what had changed between April and May. Economic indicators seem as buoyant or lacklustre as earlier. The clouds have vanished and investors feeling left out of this rally are furiously buying as if there is no tomorrow.

Our instant switch from irrational pessimism to exuberance has no explanations, but such extreme swings seem very normal.

Reservation Bill for Women:

This is classic. One section behaved as if this was manna from heaven and would have us believe that womenfolk was on the verge of deliverance. All the oppression, prejudice and age-old rigidities seemed to have vanished like clouds on a windy day. That this enabling platform would deliver us women confident of taking the bull by horns overnight.

The other extreme were the menfolk who felt threatened by this expected onslaught and were compelled to resort to theatrics.

Tokenism...zindabad!!! Tapping potential gene pool ...zindabad!!!


Let us look at cricket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the perfect cool headed captain who could do no wrong. He was the best in the world and the T-20 world cup was as good as bagged.

What a fall from grace in just two weeks....I understand his effigy was burnt today and the media lampooned him for his "mistakes".

It is plain that none of the positions we took or none of our reactions were based in reality nor were they representing a sense of proportion.

Are we a nation of "extremists". I am amazed at our continued tendency to take extreme positions. We seem to have forgotten that there exists a middle path. Irrationality takes over and we react emotionally to all matters of social and national importance. There is then no hope for a proper debate.

Is it a trick to throw the real issues off-balance? or are we just hard wired in this fashion?

Either way, I note this characteristic with a sense of amusement and just wave it away. Should I also adopt the maxim - "If you can't convince them, confuse them" and add to the chaos. A tempting thought......I must say.