What is the point of education?

I am blessed to have grown up in an environment where education has always been highly valued. It led me to push myself to learn and grow in school and then in one of the most reputed engineering schools in India.

People always asked me what it is about IITs that made them special. For me and majority of the folks there, it was never about the superior technical education. Most of us never cared much about it. However, I always knew and told people that it is the people we are surrounded with that pushed our mindsets to aspire and achieve success.

It was always the ideas, the discussions about every possible topic in the world that germinated new insights and perspectives in our minds, without any discrimination of any kind. Thoughts of our backgrounds – cultural, geographical, caste, religion – never ever as much as crossed our minds.

That is what education is all about.

To be able to understand different perspectives and create your own self. Not to be bogged down by age-old customs and traditions. Respect them but do not chain yourself to them.

And hold them close to your chest so they becomes your self-religion or spiritual self or whatever hipster term you would like to use. It could be a combination of a belief from Quantum mechanics, another one from Quran, another one from Newton’s law, another one from Bhagwad Gita and so on. Religion and science will not be differentiated in that enlightened self. In fact those terms should not exist in the purest sense of spirituality. The ability to approach ideas with a reasoned open mindset would create calm and peace within yourself.

Again, that is what would be education. Learning and appreciating the different perspectives on the same issue within their respective contexts. That is why I believe education is the only solution to several issues facing the world – whether it is global warming or terrorism. My past self would probably just hope for such an ideal future – however, my present self wants to make a difference, in whatever way I can. I need to explore and contribute. I hope I can. Amen!

Year 2015 – Phew!!

2015 has been the wildest roller coaster of my life so far. Just incredible. Considering that my current state is a relatively happy one, the year is worth a storied post on this blog. I am not sure where to start or end – should I put it chronologically or through the wavy ride of emotions?

The start of the year was gut wrenching bleak. When I look back at what I was going through, I am amazed at my own inner belief and strength. I wasn’t brought up to deal with such tough times. I hurt a lot of people during that time period, none more than myself. I felt and still feel guilty of hurting my loved ones. However, I was mostly alone in that period. I still don’t know if I could have done anything better to handle the situation. I still shiver remembering the pain I suffered then and somehow I dealt with it. Books and music were my closest friends. They didn’t suppress my emotions but let me swim through the emotional waves.

The experience changed me. For better or worse remains to be seen. I was always an independent living life on my terms – but the experience walled me inside even further. Very few people remain in my life now to whom I can open up completely. I am blessed to have such 4am friends in my life, however few they are.

One final failed attempt in January allowed me to finally close the chapter, however, heart breaking it was. I did not have any more energy left to deal with the craziness. I finally steered my life ship around after numerous failed attempts. I hurt a couple more people before I finally met someone truly nice and special. Just a gem of a person. I feel so lucky to have her in my life now. Touchwood!

Even that wasn’t smooth sailing for a long stretch of the year. Somehow, possibly due to my past  experiences and more so because of my trust in her, I never panicked. I was silently confident that things would work out when they could have easily fallen apart. Things were quite tense at times. But her courage and love showed the way. It is kind of funny – she believes in destiny while I do not. However, she is not the one to just sit on the side and let destiny play itself out – she stood up for our love time and again; and even more so when even I thought she would succumb to the pressure. I feel like just applauding her efforts. She handled the tense situations incredibly well. I trust her and love her more than anything now. I would do my best to never hurt her and always keep her happy.

Obviously, I have to thank my parents as well. I haven’t been the best son to them over these tough times, but they have been incredibly supportive and patient especially in the last six months. I hope things to settle down and get better in the future. Another round of thanks to my bhaiya and bhabhi – they are always there for me. No words would suffice or do justice to their love and support.

The story has moved forward very quickly in the last couple of months, and things now finalized between the families as well. I have been communicating with her family now over the last one month and it has been just great. They have made me feel so comfortable. I am so much looking forward to this new phase of my life. Again touchwood!

While all this was going on, I realized with my half baked application from last year, I could have a shot at applying to INSEAD MBA for 2016 entry. I thought the timing could probably work out well as we both would then graduate in 2017. Frankly, the idea was to stay busy outside work. I never gave myself much of a chance.

Before the application, I had started spending lot of time to create more structure in my life to stay productive. For example, the idea of flexing the idea muscle. Or even reading ‘waitbutwhy’ posts.

So when I started the application process, those examples gave me frameworks to apply and go to the bottom of my heart and mind. I believe that effort poured out into the essays to some extent. It led me to the interviews. The whole time I was immersing myself in productive activities such as reading about exciting futuristic technologies or TEDTalks etc. The research on the interviewers and the significant interview preparation gave me enough self confidence and belief to ace the interviews. The whole journey began with a half-wish but when on December 16th, I saw a call from +33 number, my heart skipped a beat. I rushed to end the meeting I was in, and when I got another call from that number, I rushed to pick it up. I do not remember listening anything after CT said ‘congratulations’. I was elated. After the heart breaks from 2013-2014, I finally have an offer to a business school. Touchwood, again!

Last but not the least, I should definitely mention the work at Pfizer. It has really been a great learning experience for me with all its ups and downs. The mundane cubical life definitely pales in comparison to my outside work activities this year, where I have not even talked about tennis, hiking, skiing, Lake saranac camping and the best of all, the backpacking trip.

2016 is going to be a crazy year. Hopefully all good for a change. While my finances are expected to take a major hit due to the MBA, I expect it to be worth the intangible experience and the fascinating people I would meet from all over the world. More importantly, I will not be a bachelor by next summer. I am incredibly excited!

Rambling

It has been a busy past couple of weeks. After hitting rock-bottom in January this year, it has taken a lot of effort to put things back on track. Reading a ton load of blogs, articles and podcasts has helped in the perseverance to even try and make sense of life and its meaning and purpose.
Having the right partner is an important choice and factor in one’s happiness. Hopefully I am on the right track there. Having met her earlier this year and knowing her more every day, I feel incredibly lucky that she would be my life partner. She is just too nice a person. The fact that she is so beautiful is just like the slight hint of delicious icing on an already perfect cake. I frankly do not seem like good enough for her but I am glad that she picked me as it allows me the opportunity to grow as a person and become wiser. I consciously try to be aware of when I get irritated or angry, and that process should make me recognize the stupidity of such measures.
Anyways, with all the uncertainty around our relationship, things have taken a turn for the better in the last couple of weeks. The families have agreed to take things forward and hopefully 2016 will be THE year (keeping fingers crossed).
On the other hand, I have been trying to find what excited me. Reading a lot about the futuristic technologies in conjunction with the ancient history is captivating. Virtual reality is the next big frontier on the cusp of changing the landscape of how humans perceive the world. Space is another key frontier that people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos are ready to explode into. Artificial intelligence and the questions surrounding the origins of life, once answered, are set to change the destiny of the human race. Tremendous research and advancements in our understanding of the human brain, the field of neuroscience, is so fascinating. Especially since the majority of the people with my background are focused on app building and startup phases, I have the opportunity to jump over the hoop and try to play a role in these exciting technologies. There is a very limited probability that I would do that but I really need to step up and do it for a change.
It is just an incredible time to be as a human not withstanding the terrible happenings around the world due to terrorists wrecking havoc in some places. Such events are so sad. Just imagining the hardships being faced by such a large population in terms of refugees and the people facing such grim life situations in the Middle East, I should feel incredibly lucky. However, it does lead to discussions around the possible solutions and it hurts to hear the often intolerant views on religion. But then, it is introspective as well. If I do not want others to have such strict opinions on these very complex issues, how am I in any way qualified to pass judgements on their opinions? I just wish media realizes its importance in shaping the opinions of the world and make efforts to develop feelings of love, empathy and compassion amongst everyone. People have to start considering religion as a personal rather than cultural phenomenon. The goal of a person’s life should be to grow wiser and not just old – by growing the ‘good’ feelings of love and compassion while trying to get rid of negative emotions like anger, jealousy and hatred. Or should it? Solutions cannot be generic – they should be customized for every individual but overall, they should lead to peace and prosperity. But then, who am I to even say anything? Just wish a peaceful future for humanity. Amen!

#CulturalDiversity

Living in US for last five years and traveling around the world should allow me to describe multiple experiences where I faced and handled cultural diversity. However, I can’t fucking think of one.

Let’s brainstorm.

Diversity could be in many ways – food, language, time differences, style of communication etc.

First experiences
First time I came to US on my internship, what did I feel working here? One of the biggest moments I remember is the sign of respect. Even greeting people however old with first name seemed a very big deal. The other was food. I entered delis ordering cheese burger, only to realize that a cheese burger is not just cheese, but also has beef in it! Ordering a vegetarian burger was not really a concept many delis understood at that time.

Again that is not one remarkable experience that shows “my” approach to cultural diversity and how I handle it well. Plus they are too old and naïve to discuss in an essay.

Volunteer experiences
So far, I have been thinking about the enriching experience at Udayan Care, with volunteers from all over the world creating a melting pot of diverse backgrounds, not just culturally but also education.

Traveling
Dinner with family of a tuk-tuk driver at his home?

Professional experiences
Translating quarterback reference leveraged from American culture into a professional setting.

Working on a project across multiple time zones – US, India and Germany. It was difficult setting up meetings due to time differences.

Where is the ultimate energy source?

Our every day energy is provided through various resources such as coal, water, solar etc. All can be traced to the sun’s energy.

Why and how is sun producing energy?
– The ‘how’ is straightforward: Nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms to produce Helium. Since there is less energy required to hold Helium proton/neutron together as compared to the energy required to hold them in hydrogen atoms, the energy difference is released as photon energy that reaches earth at some point. So as long as there are sufficient hydrogen atoms in the sun to keep this fusion process going, we should expect to continue to have solar energy as a source.

– The ‘why’ is the hard part for me right now. Fusion takes place only at extremely high temperatures (like at millions of kelvin); and that temperature is reached at sun’s core due to its very strong gravitational force. Whenever gravity comes into picture, I always pause myself as I frankly do not understand gravity much. I know what gravity is but why there is gravity is something I do not understand. We attribute so much of our understanding to gravitational forces, but not really sure how it plays. Are there magnetic forces acting as gravity or is there a field in another dimension that is acting as gravity etc.?

Anyways, without digressing further, the next question is ‘how did those hydrogen atoms come together into the sun’ or basically ‘how did that hydrogen fuel with that huge amounts of energy get stored in the sun’?

The answer is probably ‘big bang’, when all energy exploded out into the universe and a tiny fractions of it got together to form matter as we understand it.

The next obvious question is ‘was all the energy currently in universe present at that point of big bang?’ And how did that big bang contain so much energy?