Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Proud of you Sri Lanka

Yes, it was not a non-violent operation. Yes, there were civilian casualties. Yes, there might have been human rights violation. But what needed to be done, simply had to be done and was done.

Sri Lanka is officially free of LTTE!

It was a war against terrorists; whatever their cause might be, LTTE is (was) not a peaceful outfit. It killed innocent people, created a local parallel government by force thereby causing political instability and other than their brainwashed members, hardly had any popular support. Their official agenda was to create a separate state; such separatist movements are immediately counter productive to a better Sri Lanka (the geographical territory, not the political state).

Kudos to Sri Lanka. Some years ago, no one would have believed this was possible. This is probably the first complete de-terrorisation in recent times and the most peaceful one. Sri Lanka army and government took every measure to ensure minimum civilian casualties and other disruption. Politics and keen warfare insight ensured large public support among general mass. No major human right violation was reported till now. From what media reports, everything possible was done to minimise stray damage and get the job done, finally, after more than a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to ensure peace.

A peaceful non-violent tactic is always welcome. But that might not be an optiob. And then, behold the rest of the world, then this is how to do it. And this is exactly how you do it. Salut!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Just came back from the 27th convocation of the Department of Computer Sc., BU. I try to attend ceremonies like this. All these bright minds in even brighter red gowns remind me what persistence and optimism can achieve and kindle hope for the future. Maybe there is a tomorrow. Maybe the world will be a better place sometime.

Being a theory student meant I had to be supported as a teaching fellow for most of the semesters. As a result, over the last I_won't_disclose years I have seen two batches of students arrive and leave. I have seen most of them when they were sophomore. It is really a wonderful feeling to see these minds develop and grow and transform over the years, proudly and successfully. They deserve all the claps and kudos showered on them today but a part of me wants to feel proud too. When Bob, who gave the undergraduate speech, mentioned that computer science is all about solving puzzles, I remembered how many times I have mentioned this to my class. Glad someone at least got it right!

Being a smallish department has its advantages, the primary one in my opinion being the camaraderie that develops between the students and the acquaintance developed between the teachers (including us) and the students. Most of the students (including masters students) present today were my students for some course during their 4 years here. And a fair amount of them were in multiple 3 or 4 courses. Wow! I have an embarrassingly poor face memory but still I hung around and tried to meet as many of them as possible. Some of them even came and shook hands with me themselves; that is a nice feeling. Maybe I was not that bad a TF after all.

Computer science is not a hot field any more, not in this country and even not in India. People have realised, little late but still, that the return is not immediate and easy but that it is equally competitive and laborious as other fields. These 40 or so graduates of today will hopefully rise and shine in their career, whatever they might be doing, and spread the message that computer science is still useful, that it may not immediately shelter the homeless but a CS major will not be without home, that it can get you a decent challenging job and that it has a fair role to play in modern day technology, which is necessary whether you aim for world peace or conquest! Although, CS may not be quite helpful in fixing your Internet Explorer trouble.

Sigh... only if the future was equally rosy for PhDs - now that would require some serious brain washing of the industry.

I asked most of the students their future plans. One of the smartest kids is joining a PhD program, in Brown, in crypto ... I am very impressed. Good job, James. Andy took up a job with Infosys and will be training in India for sometime; he wanted to do something different. A brave decision but he has that something in him to go forward and accomplish. Several of the students have jobs in defence companies so they could not really tell me much except that whatever they are doing will not directly kill people. Good feeling.

A biG bIg BIg bIG BIG congratulations to Dr Kyle for graduating with the department research award, finding a wonderful teaching job and and and (yes, you got it) getting engaged! The perfect finish.

Also congratulations to all other graduates as well. This is the usual graduation month ... I saw graduation tent set up at MIT. Universities nowadays provide webcasts for people like us who want to but cannot attend commencement ceremonies. I plan to make full use of them. It is very inspiring to see milestones being reached and dreams getting fulfilled and of course get to see famous honored guests and hear great speeches.

Well... congratulations to BU CS class of 2009! Good luck on your journey. And remember ... quicksort is quick only on average.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A little drop of delirium

Morns and eves are when time plays cruel jokes with souls in solitude. On their journey to earth, the rays of dawn also drag me down from the clouds where I am merrily sojourned. And after hours of being occupied with work, as night approaches, the dark corner of my room brings me back to reality. Enough to drive me mad.

My revolting mind critiques my own actions. Sometimes my actions resemble those who are certified mad. Yet at other times, when I am teaching, window shopping..., my thoughts and actions are cohesive and consistent. Does this make me a mad person? Don't we all act inconsistently in some way or the other? Can I be both a rational and a lunatic? What about the drastic optimistic view ... everyone is out of their minds but me? Questions of life ... the answer maybe 42 yet our ignorance can worst a toddler. My actions make perfect sense to me, and not an iota is without a reason yet I feel I am rowing the oars of insanity to cross this stream of rationality. Could it be that the logic inherent in human heart, the one that we are born with, is different than the one we invented where 2+2 is mechanically always 4.

One evening several months ago, I exchanged a $10-bill for a student rush ticket to a Tennesse Williams' play Cat on a hot tin roof. I was looking forward to a temporary relief from solitariety. Peace remained elusive but I was hooked to the play nonetheless. So much that the next day I watched its movie version and during the next few months, watched all the famous Tennesse Williams' movies. Reading the plays would have been better but I was in a haste to seek answers to certain questions about how our mental state morphs when stressed. In his own life, the master playwriter himself and his dear ones underwent abnormal mental condition. He seemed to possess an unmatched insight to human mind in this regard and I desperately wanted a share of his wisdom.

Maggie (played by Elizabeth Taylor) in Cat on a hot tin roof" was obsessive and impulsive. She was desperately trying to win the struggle of life with a remarkable resistance against surrender. There is life in the character; her gait, her flamboyant statements, her persistence ... she had an halo around her enough to charm Big Daddy and me alike. She was at times almost hysteric, frightened by insecurity, of loneliness, of being "old without money". So she directed all her energy in living, as simple as that. She could be misthought as fragile but to me, she is the strongest among everyone in this play.

On the other side of the bed, Brick her husband, presented a contrasting character. After his best friend died, he developed a complex in himself which was partly fueled by Maggie's constant endeavour to grab his attention. His agonized self countered bereavement and depression by drenching his mind and soul in alcohol till he heard "the click!" in his head which he claimed was followed by eternal silence and peace.

In A streetcar names desire, Blanche (played by Vivian Leigh) unfortunately ended up isolated from the world and was desperate to reach out to people, to any bosom that welcomed her. She came to find a shelter at her sister's place. It was interesting to watch the rawness of her sister's husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), trying to uncover a very deceitful Blanche. Out of fear of seclusion, she was permanently in a mixed state of illusion and reality. Not really hallucinating, but still it is hard to blame her for the "virtual memories" she created for herself. She gave us a sneak peek of what goes on in her mind "I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that's sinful, then let me be damned for it!"

Katherine Hepburn was stunning as the aged mother Amanda Wingfield whose mystic world consisted only herself and her two children in The glass menagerie . They were both adult yet her obsession for their happiness made her turn a blind eye to pragmatism. Her daughter Laura at first seemed mentally under-developed - always in her own fantasies, playing with glass toys and skipping typing lessons to walk in a park. But as the movie unfolded, her actions seemed perfectly normal to me. Amanda's obsessions, for her son's well being and her daughter's marriage and future, was due to failed aspirations of her own life. She saw her life go from riches to shambles, more spiritually than in a monetary sense, and was terrified of a similarly abject future for Laura. Williams created a magnificent character in her, who wanted to "create truth" the way she though it would be the best. Bravo!

Suddenly, Last Summer calls for a separate ovation because of its dual heroine - Katherine Hepburn (Violet) and Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine). But that aside, this is indeed a strange play about "power and passion" involving characters with, for the lack of better words, a strange view of life. Extremely rich widow Violet created a separate world for herself and her son, Sebastian. An actually separate world, where People didn't speak of Sebastian and his mother or Mrs. Venable and her son, they said 'Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian are staying at the Lido...'. What an audacity towards loneliness. Sebastian died on a trip where for only once, he took his cousin Catherine instead of his mother. Catherine saw his death, which was dreadful enough to make her "mad" and Violet, out of agony, despair and shy shadow of jealousy, planned out a risky brain surgery for Catherine to erase her memory of Sebastian. The story ended with Violet became insane, probably medically. Earlier in the play Catherine tried to ward-off the visiting doctor by listing the gruesome things she could do to him since she was mad; a fantastic enactment of the classical catch-22 situation involving mad people ... Does a mad person realise he is mad?

The Rose Tattoo is probably the only one with a happy ending. Serafina loved her husband more than probably she could bear; after his death she began living on his memories - rarely leaving the house or dressing appropriately. Call it devotion, call it passion, call it stupidity, call it whatever you like, Tennessee Williams used extremism to his credit to show how some people breast agony. She wanted to protect his memories like her own child and at times, it was not clear whom she is more protective of, her feelings or her daughter Rosa, whom she loved very dearly too. The Sicilian household where the play is set at, has a punctilious air of sentiment, very unlike the traditional western family usually portrayed in literature and movies.

All the "abnormal", if you pardon my usage, women were as much justified in their actions as a dying man in banging on my door at high noon of the night. Their idiosyncrasies were desperate measures for their survival, be it physically or emotionally. Yet, they would not conform to the rules of social behaviour that we have set for ourselves. Rules are general principles, and hence they fail miserably in confronting specific cases. One can choose to abide by the laws or be brave to be branded a madman. The latter group would not be the first to be accused of heresy; they will certainly feel proud to find Galileo Gallili among them.

It is sometimes natural to want to lose our mind. Sometimes nothing makes sense and the world seems mechanical. And if world refuses to grant us the dose of delirium, the only options left are what Brick said in the Cat on a hot tin roof

Mendacity is a system that we live in. Liquor is one way out an'death's the other.