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The Amazing Race


It’s been a while since my fingers have touched this keyboard, at least to write something creatively creative (pardon the alliteration). I do write scientifically creative things on a regular basis- or I’d be out of a job! I guess it was last June when I posted something on the blog- as a promise made to Sakshi. Well, it’s been a while. Somehow the will; that youthful exuberance to attempt the more artistic things in life has gone. Recently, replying to an e-mail from Mann., I noticed the mail was far too long for any sort of standard reply. I was trying to put thoughts and reality into words- explaining the fairly mundane existence (to those not in the field) of an academic. I realised that though I probably did tell you’ll briefly what I do here as a grad student, I never fully explained what goals I am working towards. Hence, I will attempt a fairly non-scientific piece here (more creative writing than a simple statement of the facts of what I do), detailing how I see myself in the future, what I need to do to get there and how my past has influenced it). Now, this may or may not be interesting to you’ll, so if you feel the urge of the latter feeling/intention welling up inside, suck it up and read on- you’re stuck with it! The story comes in three parts and follows a fairly chronological manner. There may be references to obscure literature, movies, cartoons (Tintin is and always has been a favourite) for which I make no apologies- the web and Google are valuable assets! However, I do apologise for the sudden thoughts that may run off in tangents from time to time. The writing may seem a little disjointed (well it is disjointed), moving from creative writing to reporting fact and back. I’ve written this over a period of two to three weeks and this post has gone wild (it is four pages long!). So sit back, pick your favourite beverage and pleasant reading (Caution: do not read this at work!)

Part 1 – Prologue: Humble beginnings?

Most likely 6-7 years old, in the 2nd grade, I am sitting with Jonathan, my best friend at that time, (I truly cannot say that I have had a best friend around my age group for a year or two now) on the dais/stage of the quadrangle that is in the middle of my school, (Loyola High School, Margao). This is during a break/recess in the middle of the school day. We were looking at all the bigger kids playing whatever made-up and imaginary (but always fun) game that caught their fancy that week. I vividly remember discussing a sort of ambition that we had and a promise that was made. We saw these kids in grey shirts and navy shorts. They had a funny scarf (around their necks), and a roll of rope and a knife in a scabbard on their waists. They were part of the Boy Scouts at the school. We made a promise to join the Scouts that day (Be Prepared!). Unbeknownist to my friend I made another promise to myself. There were these two boys in white shirts and black long pants/slacks. You see, they stood out from the rest (our school uniform was a light blue shirt and navy shorts/pants)! Those two kids were the Head Boy and Dy. Head Boy! I promised myself that I’d be the one wearing that uniform in roughly 7 – 8 years time. These were the first two goals I ever set for myself.

Humble beginnings?

Part 2 – The Middle: So close, yet so far. I definitely have miles to go before I sleep

Fast-forward a good six years. I am now in the 8th std. and cannot think of anything significant that happened in my life except that I was captain of my junior basketball team and also played on the senior team (quite an accomplishment - at the time, I hadn’t heard of any one who had played for both teams in the 3-4 years that I had been playing for the school). This year I accomplished my first goal. I applied to join the ‘Scouts’ and was accepted. Almost everyone who applied got accepted, so I can’t count that as the accomplishment of a major goal. More importantly (to the story at hand), I set my next big goal (one that I have yet to achieve completely). This was the year I decided I wanted to be a scientist. This accomplishment would be the culmination of two separate goals. First, I had to get into an IIT or a NIT (this part would be realised a few years down the line) so that I could take the second/next step to a postgraduate degree (more precisely, a Ph.D.). It’s strange when you think about it, not many people know what they want to be at the age of 13!

Another year goes by and I find myself close to accomplishing goal number two. I have been nominated by my class teacher (Tr. Mulla) to be a candidate for Head Boy. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her or met her since I left school in 2001 – I must make an effort to meet her this December. I go around the school visiting various classes (8th, 9th and 10th) with the rest of the candidates. Campaigning is not allowed for the post (the priests were wise to the fact that politics can rear its ugly head even at a young age)! The four of us introduce ourselves to each class and wait while the ballots are cast. After introducing myself, I don’t make eye contact, nor smile or wink at any of the students, some of whom I’ve known for a long time, lest I influence their decision. After all, they are voting for the next Head Boy- a person who needs to be above reproach and beyond corruption! Time has definitely taught me how naive and foolish I was. A smile here and there would have shown them I was human and may have swayed a couple of votes! Maybe, just maybe. That was my first and likely last election. I may now never know.

The stage is set. I am at the head of the assembly with the school band. The results are being announced. I have just been elected to the post of Dy. Head Boy! I lost the top position by 60-100 votes (I can’t remember the exact number, it’s been a while). I told myself, that I couldn’t have lost out among the student vote (again, hindsight is 20/20) and the teacher vote (each of whom had two votes) lost me the election (after all, the guy I lost to had an envious academic record). A few months later (talking to one of my teachers) I found out I was wrong (that human touch or lack of it did lose me that election)! It is strange how one tends to expect the worst of others, when it is you alone who messes up! Anyway, I had accomplished goal number two.

The next few years went by uneventfully! I represented Goa at the U-19 National Championships and returned home with a sense of accomplishment (even though we lost). I joined Chowgule College (Junior College) and made new friends (with whom I’m fairly close - as close as I will/can be, even today), ran track for the first time for my class and realized I was decently good at it- a 13 – 15 sec. 100 m dash is not bad, learned to throw a javelin, bunked classes to play basketball or go home (yes, I bunked classes and went home to watch TV, while others went biking and roaming all over Goa), was even told that my English was rotten (because I used the word ‘gotten’). At the end of those 2 years, I joined Goa Engineering College for a few weeks before my 105107 rank (Goa #119) got me into the National Institute of Technology in Jamshedpur. Now that last part was one of the few instances in my life when I had lady luck smiling on me (and my parent’s hard work- they kept checking the website to see whether I got the call or not).

We now get to the middle of the innings; it was all about the 3rd button, the ‘sirs’, ‘bosses’ and ‘super-bosses’. Playing basketball on what was definitely a sorry excuse for a court, riding the ‘dubba’ that was bursting at the seams. This was a period when I was known simply as ‘Goa’- supposedly the guy who had the best life, living in the Pearl of the Orient (amchi Goa) with all the booze, dope and women a college guy could ever want! How wrong was that assumption? If they only knew! Anyway, the years spent at NIT, Jam. need no introduction to you fine folk. But for those un-acquainted with my life here, the story “For Queen and Country” should give a brief, but definitely entertaining (if you enjoy satire) overview of what four glorious years spent in the armpit (dry at times, mostly hot and humid, but always stinky!) of India felt like. Most of you reading this have been prominent characters in this Odyssey. While I may not be Odysseus (let’s call me Dionysius), these years proved to be the most trying, yet fun-filled times of this great and ongoing epic. May I call it an epic without being seen as conceited? Well, think what you may, but I’ve decided to call it an epic.

Fast-forward through all the time spent running around campus with a file searching those absconding rascals who promised me recommendations, but could never be found! The end result was that I was close to achieving my next goal. I got admission to Drexel University- and if I am honest, definitely not my first choice. The Big Guy upstairs works in mysterious ways! I arrived in the USA and turned down an offer for funding (a research assistant position) when I first got here. It was not an area I liked working in (Solid Mechanics), on retrospection, rejecting that offer was a fairly risky thing to do. Again, life took a fortunate turn. I was walking down the corridor of my department, when a professor stops me and asks if I’ve found an advisor (I met with him a couple of weeks earlier during my search to find someone). I said I hadn’t and then he told me he may have an opening for me! Well, as they say “the rest is history”! That professor is my current advisor. He has introduced me to some of the best researchers in the field of Plasma Science, through him I met the person who became my best friend here in the US and most importantly, he took a chance on me. For all that I cannot thank him enough and as I said earlier, the ‘Big Guy’ works in mysterious ways.

Life in the lab is busy as usual, but I'll go into a bit of detail! I still come to the lab at 08:00 – 09:00 and leave anywhere between 17:30 and 20:00. So my whole day goes there. I'm so tired by the evening that I don't even feel like going to the gym or playing a sport. I can feel the fat growing on me, but mentally I am too tired to do anything about it - I acknowledge that these excuses are wearing thin and I am going to have to bite the bullet soon. Life sucks in a way, but I've got to do what needs to be done (especially where my goals are concerned!). So close, yet so far. I feel like taking a nap, but the story of the ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ comes to mind. So close, yet so far!

Let me further elaborate on that last sentence. I'd like to get a job in academia (teaching and research), but those jobs are the toughest to come by. The best academic job is a 'Tenure Track' position. This means you're on probation for 5-7 years after which you're confirmed and then no one can take that job from you ever (now that's job security!). But you've got to slog your arse off in those 5-7 years and even then you may not get tenure! But that's not even the start of it all. To even get a call for an interview, you've got to have great credentials, one of which is journal publications. You may know this (or may not), but journal publications are rated highly because they go through a peer review process in which your work is scrutinised by a person (usually a knowledgeable person in that field). Only after approval and many changes later (though not always, as your paper could be great from the start), does the paper get published. But once it gets published, it’s an accomplishment (you’ve done something novel). You typically need ~ 3-7 papers to get that interview call. I've got 2 and another in the review stage. So that's one reason why I'm so busy.
So close, yet so far!

Well, I do other stuff too. I play football for a team in the grad football league here. We play on average once a week, so that's some form of exercise! I've also joined the choir at my church, for that we practice every Tuesday evening and sing for the mass on Saturday evening. The choir experience is really good. There’s a structured way to operating a choir here, we have to read out of a book that has music notations. The learning curve is steep, but I am learning something new. This brings to mind something my mum said when I started learning at the Royal Music School in Goa and would never practice (I was ~ 5 – 6 years then and that sort of music was down right boring and stiff, you can’t blame a kid for that now, can you?). She said “I hope you never regret not learning to read music later in life”. Well, no regrets, but it’s pretty close to that point. Every alternate week is laundry day! That means washing stuff (albeit in a washer and dryer) and then folding/ironing everything before it's placed back in the cupboard/drawer! How I miss the ‘dhobhi’! All this leaves no time to cook and even write a blog post (but those things are definitely affected to some extent by some form of my ever present laziness!).

Part 3 – Epilogue: My kingdom, for the future! Anyone?

How will this story end? Your guess is as good as mine. I would like to have written a happy ending. Alas, my writing may never reach heights of the famed Kipling or Tagore, nor may the rosy future pan out to be the way I want it. But let me for a moment imagine that it all does. Let me dream of a fairytale culmination (and I don’t mean fairies and ponies) to this human beginning.

Will it ever end, will I be satisfied with what I have accomplished or will I be greedy for more. Will my human ambition know no bounds? Will my imperfect need to be perfect ever cease to exist? Will I ever finish my Babel? Or will the wax melt away, all the feathers fall apart and the wings that propelled me so high crumble as I plunge to my fate. Were Daedalus’s cautions well founded?
How will this story end?

Well, it would be neat to have me standing on the platform somewhere (maybe 9-¾, I see a smile of Karma’s face!), anywhere, maybe back to the place where it all began. Standing there, waiting for the next train, reminiscing about the past and apprehensive about where this new journey will lead me.
So close, yet so far!

This is probably not the greatest story that has ever been told, nor may it be the greatest that ever will (I recall suggesting the word epic!). But there is one thing that is certain, it is the only story that I have ever lived.

How will this story end?

My kingdom, for the future! Anyone?

– The constant runner (CL, Numero Uno)


Ok, there's something weird about the formatting (especially with spaces between paragraphs), so try to read the content!


Unknown said…
You know, it's funny how despite you being pretty close to me, I never really got the chance to know you that well. I understand you aren't the kind of guy either who goes around sharing nuggets from his life. Frankly, I was pretty surprised when you mentioned your plan to publish a post, and that too about yourself.

Till date, I remember meeting the guy in a goatee, with a not-so-heavy accent, and his mother, answering their queries about the college, the hostels, and how things worked out there. Somehow, I had taken a liking for you then and there. You were a sense of fresh breath among all the muck that I had already seen, around that area. You were closer to the surrounding I had left back home, than the one I had jumped into. One thing I liked immediately was that you were extremely courteous. And that was something surely rare to come by.

Okay, I have no intentions of orgasming over you. But the fact remains that every time I get reminiscing about the engg college I had barely passed out from, I'd always end up remembering you. While you were always pretty meek and receptive when with friends, I had also seen you as the big brother, or the father figure if I may, when you took care of Vasco, after his drinking binge during the freshers. And I also remember how you had handled the likes of George and Maddy when it was their time to take the throne.

Okay, there is a confession in order, here. Right since the very first Bando had told me I was in LDS, I had nurtured a hope to be the G.Sec. of LDS. Right from DD, Bando to Ani, I was biding for my time. But the day you became the GSec, I knew I lost the chance. Not that I blame anybody other than myself. All 4 years of my college life, I spent trying to fit in since, unlike others, I didn't know where I belonged. Every time I needed to pose for a batch photograph (during freshers, farewells and the likes), I was always confused who to stand with. It took me a while to realize that I was more of an 'individual' rather than a student that belongs to a particular batch. And I guess I came to terms with it only around the final years when I told you that I wasn't the right guy to succeed you, in LDS. I wasn't because I belonged to nobody. Because nobody considered me their own. And you can't lead anybody who isn't your own. And despite realizing that, I couldn't give up my dream of being right at the top, and agreed to play the part for a day. Sadistic, maybe. Desperate, for sure. A human, I sure was.

Anyway, getting back to the focus of this comment, I think you had a pretty normal childhood. And a fun one at that, in your own way. The very fact that you inculcated a personality for yourself, is a luxury that not many enjoy. Albeit your hailing from Goa gave everyone a glorified sense of your existence. But then, who could we blame since just because I was from Mumbai, I was expected to introduce our peers to the so-called Bollywood movie stars! I was expected to be able to, just by the virtue of the fact that I was from Bombay! Life, I say.

Anyway, I won't hijack your blog post by writing a comment longer than that. All I'll say is today I learnt a bit more about you. And I am glad you took the effort and time to write this out. Appreciate it. Maybe some day even I'll write a few words on how losing a whole academic year turned my very existence upside down. It changed the very identity of mine!

Until then, adios! And, something I had never told you. I love you! :)
Sakshi said…
I read till the end of the preface came to your warning and left it there! Coz, I am at work as I write this comment!
Then I came to comment to tell you that, I will write a detailed comment on this once I read it when I am back home! But then I saw Shayon's comment and became all 'awwwwww' and mushed up-
So- A detailed comment coming up soon!
And I agree with Shayon!
I love you too!
Unknown said…
Gah! What an orgy it's turning out to be...
@ Shayon,
Thanks a lot for the memories and that little snippet into you! Maybe I'll learn more about you over the years and vice versa!
I believe that you shouldn't be an open book from the start (there should be some mystery to a person- which is revealed ever so often in bits and pieces. But that's a whole post in itself!
My intention was to reveal a little bit about myself, but I've had two comments already, that the post lacks 'heart' at times. Maybe in my next post, I'll take a different approach.

@ Sakshi,
Take your time and read it at your leisure.
I'll expect a comment/thought from you.


Unknown said…
@Dino: This post was more of a narration than a story. So 'lack of heart' should be excused. But then again, I thought it was exactly how you were. Characterizing yourself pretty well. You don't need to bring in 'heart' so as to appeal to the masses. As for myself, things keep changing as time moves on :)
@ Shayon,
Don't beat yourself about the past, we've got the big grey unknown infront of us. And, the past always affects how we behave in the future. So it was a learning experience, albeit a harsh one, but then most learning/teaching moments are harsh to the person.

And I'll never forget meeting you the first day. You were wearing a white shirt and beige pants. You were the only one not following the 3rd button rule when talking to my mum and me. I respect that courage of yours, because it is polite and common courtesy to look a person in the eye and talk to them. You comment about Vasco, brought memories of Kapil with the camera!
And you'll always be part of the 2K3! Never forget that!

Unknown said…
@Dino: Umm...I don't really beat myself up about the past. As a matter of fact, I am happy things happened the way it did. Otherwise, I am sure right now even I would have been in UK, with Karma & Rathz, slogging away for TCS. Not that I would have minded the trip or their company, but the year loss helped me reinvent myself. It even played a huge part in Sakshi and I being together :) Okay, I am giving out a lot of dope. Will reserve a bit for a full fledged post.

I can't believe people would look at their third buttons to even talk to you and your mom. Why would someone do that? The only problem was the seniors, not peers' parents! Strange.

Speaking of Kapil, I am so tempted to upload that particular video. And then countless videos of Rai crying over you-know-who. But then, I know if I do any of them there's gonna be a reward on my head :-p I still remember how much Rai had freaked out when I told him I had uploaded the video on Orkut. Speaking of him, has anyone of us kept touch with him, other than Alex?
Ankit said…
@Dion: Amazing post've put ur heart dil se!! I wish the world could become so clean & so true in their thoughts & deeds.
Andrea said…
Hey D..

Awesome has a soul and i see it...I think creative writing is in the genes ( hehe ;-) )

On a serious note...I know your story will take you to great heights and give you the opportunity to travel to wonderful new places that you will always treasure ..

Your story has just begun...Good luck on the are special..I love you too!! Muahhhhhhhh!!!
Sakshi said…
Dino darling!
At the outset, first let me tell you that yours and Shayon's conversation is totally cute! :P

About the post now,
This is totally heartfelt, you know, it is an awesome trait to look back to your life and pick out the incidents that helped you shape your life, and goals that you set up and worked so very hard to reach those goals!

And since we are talking about first meetings, I remember, the one that I had with you, not too explosive but then it did leave me with wanting to meet you again and just chat with you. It was a tad bit formal!

The story of your life, is at its peak, don't think about how it will end, but think about how would you like it to shape! You looked back to all those things that have enabled you to write this post, I am sure there will be more such incidents that would shape up a life that would be nothing short of Beautiful!

Thanks for this beautiful post Dino! Thanks for making us a part of your past :)

Hugs :)
Unknown said…
Thoroughly liked your journey, I have been on this page the longest in recent times..beautiful portrayal of your life so far..may be you have concealed some bits and pieces to give us such lovely surprises further down the years..hope all your hard work take you to delightful destinations..

cheers.. :))
Unknown said…
You can be here, there or anywhere and still have a **wildcard** life..

And I ONLY slog sometimes in a game of cricket.. :))
@ Ankit,
Thanks for the comment. How have you been?
@ Andy,
Thanks for the wishes! And, you're the second person to say that it runs in the genes (Noelle included), but I've not seen any writing from either of you'll. I think it's safe to say 'self-praise' and 'overconfidence' run in most of the genes (ha ha ha ha ha!).
@ Sakshi,
Thank-you for the advice about me controlling the future! And I too remember Jazz by the Bay with you and Shayon!
The story is not over, and hopefully it has just begun. You'll may get more surprises down the line, someday.
How is England/Leeds so far?

@ Shayon,
I spoke to Rai when I was down in December. We called him on Raj's phone. But he seemed tired/bored when he was talking to us.
And do you have all those videos and pics? I can't seem to find them!

raj alakshendra said…
First of all I would like to shout on Shayon ... U jack ass , after 3.5 fucking years now u r saying that u felt alone in college thinking which group or batch u belong ... Let me remind u ,u have always been the heart of wall mag , u were there in every party of Mathus n i still have that last pic of 2k3 mathus of final fareweLl in which u r with us ... U r the legendary Shayon who is always remembered in every mathu party till date in the slogan - yo pal ***** ka **** ...

I am having all those censored pics n videos ... U can have it anytime ... I remember that night , rai crying n repeating the same line - "Abe tu mujhe bhulega to nahi" ...m in constant touch with him n I had met him last month during holi ...

@ Dion
Coming back to post , I'll comment on it latter on !!!
shastha said…
Awesome post... You have portayed things wonderfully .. Hope you suceed in ur mission..
samik said…
Wonderful post Dion..enjoyed reading every line of it..keep them coming
Unknown said…
@ Raj,
I'm waiting!

@ Shastha,
Thanks man!

@ Sam,
How are you? Did you get my e-mail for your birthday? What news about your MBA stuff?

atri said…
As I was going through your post, I remembered how badly I was preoccupied with the same thoughts few months ago. The lines towards the end of the article “……..Will it ever end, will I be satisfied with what I have accomplished or will I be greedy for more. Will my human ambition know no bounds?....” aptly articulates the random thoughts that haunted my mind. In fact I am pretty much surprised that you are also having the same question.
Great to know that at least I am not the only one who is in such a confused mind, I have a companion too. 
...@ish@... said…
Now i can say i know you better than before (well earlier just know you in bits n pieces anyway)..
Somewhere sometime i cud relate myself in your epic :)
i found it great in the way you expressed yourself specially to them who are non-NIT.
All the best for rest of the papers.
Mainak said…
Great reading your thought compilation and my best wishes for you and your dreams.

At least there is someone who is chasing his dreams unlike many who compromise with their dreams :)
Seems like the whole world has posted its comment here except for me. Had gone on a 12 day vacation to Uttarkhand. Went to a couple of hill stations.

About the post,it was incredibly well written. The choice of words and the construction of sentences in some places made me read them again.

Anyway,who could have thought in college that you'd be this serious about pursuing a career in Academia ? Now both of us, in a way, belong to the same fraternity, the only difference is that you deal with the "knowledge" part of education and I deal with the business part of education.
The process you have mentioned for becoming a professor in a university seems to be a really daunting task. I think,out of all the professions,only doctors have to study so extensively.
The funny thing in life is we're all curious and anxious about what is in store in future and when we look back at the past everything we have done or accomplished seem tiny in comparison to what we want to achieve. This very thing,probably,is the driving force behind how the human civilization has extended to this level.
Anyway,loved reading the long post and the comments here especially Shayon's!
P.S.-Had you been in front of Shayon,he'd have probably kissed you by the time he finished his first comment .Hahaha
Sakshi said…
@Mannu JI
Aako samay mil gaya, comment karne ko!
Any ways, glad that you had a vacation...
And I especially liked the line about- how you deal in the 'business' of education.
It has literally become a business!

Hope to see a post from you soon- if nothing else then atleast we deserve some pictures!
This comment has been removed by the author.
I could see sarcasm in your statement about the "business" of education. My statement ,I think,was a little amaeturish that I was in the "business" of education. I'd rather say that we couple knowledge with business. I think as long as we,or for that matter any company,creat products that didn't exist,add value to the world and make people's lives better and asier,earning revenues is well deserved. And at the end of the day,as long as a company doesn't earn revenues, you can't really call a company-for it doesn't have the money,resources,infrastructure,and brand recognition to scale up, diversify and provide something even better and get into new areas.
Anyway,don't know when I will be able to write a post but will try to put the pics soon!

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