Why more Indians can start following their passion, now!

I know the title of this post seems cliché in many ways, but I promise I have a different perspective on this. I’m sure you’ve read enough articles about the importance of following your passion. I agree with some of those articles (most suck), but no one seems to address why urban middle-class India is at a point in time when it has never been easier or more necessary to actually execute on these dreams.

Pre-2005, there was much less talk of following your dreams and what not, because the generation which grew up in the liberalized economy was still thinking about buying Archie’s greeting cards for their crush rather than about what excited them (apart from their hormones). You never heard our parents or grandparents talking about following passion. They somehow understood that money is the most important ingredient for survival and happiness, and we turned out ok despite their being in jobs they didn’t always enjoy. So what’s our problem? Surely we can do the same considering we had far more comfortable childhoods right?


We can’t struggle through our careers precisely because of our comfort in childhood. The human psyche is an amazing thing, and as we begin to understand it better, we realize that struggle is an important component which leads us to self-actuation. In our parents’ case, they had crippling responsibilities when they entered the job market such as having to pay for sisters’ weddings, and our grandparents were completely dependent on their children financially in retirement. Our parents’ resolve to work hard through the week and save a good portion of their income came not from their genetic programming but due to external circumstances beyond their control. After decades of struggle, they’ve removed the necessity for us to go through that horrendous phase in life.

And yet, they expect us to work hard at our careers just like they did, because the end result of that struggle is a financially stable life and emotionally happy family. Fair enough, but what if our easy lives have removed our ability to work hard for money, because we’ve always had enough of it to meet our basic needs even if we weren’t rolling in luxury.

That’s why even if we’re not rich presently, we save a much smaller portion of our incomes than our parents, eat out more often than we cook, and go on expensive vacations.

If you’re an urban middle-class Indian who’s below 30 and debt-free, your parents probably don’t need your income, and won’t for another decade (if you’re really well-off, for their entire lives). They had enough to take care of the education, upkeep and weddings of you as well as all your siblings, and have some left over for a rainy day.

If the above paragraph is true for you, you have no business not taking risks in your career. You should constantly be questioning yourself about whether or not you’re enjoying what you’re doing, and think about what you feel strongly about. Once you do find that elusive object of your passion, you need to take the necessary steps to execute and make money. That’s when you’ll find the grit to struggle like your parents once did.

You can obviously choose not to do that for a number of valid reasons as well as excuses. However, when you find yourself to be 40 years old and laden with responsibilities, your family will actually need the money and playing with your cash-flow will be extremely irresponsible. That’s when you’ll finally gain the motivation to struggle through your career, and by then it will be too late to build the life our parents built for us and themselves (you’ll have two decades of struggle left in you as opposed to your parents who had four). You’ll be the parent who has to depend on their children in retirement, taking your family back two generations financially.

So remember, the obstacle is the way. Ironically, if you have no obstacles preventing you from moving forward, you’re going to remain stuck where you are.


How to choose your graduate program in engineering

The fall semester is the time hundreds of thousands of engineering undergrads around the world think about higher education. If you ask me, everyone should work for at least a year before they start an MS or PhD, but no one ever listens to that kind of advice. So here’s what I would do to make an informed choice while joining a graduate program. That’s 1-5 years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses. You better be absolutely sure that this is what you want to do, so it’s wise if you invest the time to figure out if you’re making the right decision. Let this be one among the hundreds of articles you read before you take the plunge.

So how to you choose the graduate program that’s right for you?

It’s hard to answer that question and people struggle with it because there is no straight answer. The “top 10” universities are rated on metrics which range from number of research papers, number of citations, quality of cafeteria food and happiness level of the students.

I know of professors who would write three research papers where one would suffice because their performance metrics are based on volume of research, and they can get grant money and tenure faster and easier.

Happiness level of students will vary based on a number of irrelevant factors like the weather. Students living in Tampa are probably happier than students in Minneapolis during the months of October to January, all other factors remaining the same.

So what should you look at when you decide if a university is good for you? I’ve answered it here with a mechanical engineering focus as that’s my background, but it can apply to just about anyone in science and technology.

First of all, you need to get more specific. You’re not an undergrad who’s choosing mechanical engineering because you like physics or working with cars. You’re looking for MS programs, and based on how you do there, you may decide to pursue a PhD. The top 10 or top 100 university rankings for a program are tailored towards undergrads who have simple needs. Your needs are narrower and more complex.

Create a framework with which you can vet a university before you send in an application. Ideally, you should be in your third year of college because it will take you at least one full year to narrow down on your dream universities. If you’re in your fourth year, spend your free time doing research. Take up a job next year in which time you can start the application process. You will then also have an idea of what it will be like working in the industry, and that will always help you with your higher education.

The vetting process:

a) For candidates pursuing employment as the main goal:

If you are interested in getting a Master’s purely for employment opportunities, then you’re better off going to one of the top 10 universities which have a better brand name. If this is your goal, you don’t have any justification looking for a specialized focus during your program. That will hurt you more than it will help you. Get your grades up during undergrad, do a bunch of internships, get a good GRE score and get to the best school you can afford.

If you cannot afford to pay hefty tuition fees, there are some universities which also have a guaranteed co-op program for one semester, allowing you to get work experience during your tenure at school. This is definitely worth considering. I’ve heard that Rochester Institute of Technology has one such MS program, while the university I went to (North Carolina State University) prohibits all MS and PhD Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering students from pursuing internships (students of other engineering graduate programs can pursue internships). American students can bypass this rule, but if you’re an international student, you need the department director’s signature to get valid work authorization, and you will not be able to go. If employment is your only aim, don’t go to NC State University for your MS.

Once you’re there, you’ll need to take courses which balance out all academic areas. Take courses in design, manufacturing, analysis and a couple of business courses too. When you’re looking for a job, try and get into a graduate development and rotational program. This will give you all round experience in an industry and you can move up the ranks quickly.

So your needs are a university which offers courses in a wide range of topics and makes it easy for you to gain work experience through career fairs, internships, and co-op programs.

Good luck.

b) For research candidates:

Go to the mechanical engineering web pages of 10 universities. It could be the top 10 universities or second tier universities, but make sure they are universities which have PhD programs in Mechanical Engineering. In the “research” tab, you’ll see their research split up into various categories, such as in the link below for NC State University (we have a lot of excellent research going on in cutting edge areas of engineering and technology).

Research, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

In the above page, you’ll see the key areas are:
1. Aerodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Propulsion and Space Exploration Systems
2. Dynamics, Vibrations, Controls, and System Design
3. Structural Mechanics, Materials and Manufacturing
4. Thermal Sciences and Energy Systems

For undergrads who don’t know anything about what a real engineer does, the first one will look a lot more attractive and you’ll decide to focus on one of them. Don’t be that guy. Like Feynman says, there’s a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. Space Exploration or Aerodynamics will look really cool, but when you actually get to work, it’s just as boring or interesting as anything else. There are numbers and ways to manipulate them. That’s what engineering problems are at a low level. At a high level, the impact you create might be different, but when you’re working on a problem every day for a few years, the big picture doesn’t matter as much as how you feel about the grunt work.

I’m not talking about the tools you use. It doesn’t matter whether you’re clicking buttons on Ansys or coding on Matlab. You should be interested in the new progress you’re making this week. Only then will you have results at the end of your program.

So how do you find out if you’ll like it? By actually working on it.

Once you’ve gone through 10 research webpages, you’ll have a high level idea of the various areas of research in academia.

Now, start eliminating them one by one. It’s more important at this stage to figure out what you don’t want rather than what you want. Start with something a lot of people find dry, like Heat Transfer. You want to eliminate it, but first you must put in the effort to find out if you can end up liking it after getting good at it.

Do this over the next 2 months:
Borrow a Heat Transfer text book from your college library. Read through the fundamentals, and start solving the problems in the advanced chapters after REALLY understanding concepts. Once you’ve solved a really difficult problem, see if it makes you happy. It likely will. See if you have the motivation to solve an even more difficult problem. If no, move on to the next topic, say Fluid Mechanics or Vibrations.

If yes, get a graduate level Heat Transfer text book and try to solve those problems. If this doesn’t excite you, move on to the next topic. If it does, get to more advanced problems which cannot be solved by hand and requires algorithms to be written. This is the only thing you will be doing if you are solving MS or PhD level problems. Using just a laptop and a few books, you can do the same thing at home.

Spend a few days to a few weeks like this on each topic listed in the research areas you find on university webpages. You might find that none of the problems excite you. If that’s the case, find a job or pursue an MS for better employment prospects. Or you might find that multiple topics excite you. If so, then you have multiple options for higher education.

Do this over the next 6-8 months:
Once you’ve solved a particularly challenging algorithm based problem in your chosen area of interest, read one full graduate level book on that area. And I don’t mean read it like a novel. Understand the equations and every single derivation. Then read another book on a different area of the same field. And a third book on a third area. Do NOT skip this step. This will allow you to understand the landscape in that field, and form an opinion on the subject. Now is when you can call yourself a serious contender for a research based program.

After you’ve finished reading three books in the research area, you can move to research papers.

The authors of the three books will be from various universities in the US most likely. Go through the webpages of professors working in this area of research in each of those universities.

You have strength in numbers. If there is a university which has five or more professors who are currently working in your chosen field(s), it’s a safe bet.

note: a Professor Emeritus is a fancy way of saying retired professor. If you want to apply to a university’s program because one of the books you read was written by a professor emeritus from there, don’t. He’s already gone.

Your next step must be to read through the research papers of each of these professors. This will suddenly become interesting because you’ve already read three graduate level books on the area, and you’re now looking at the frontiers of human knowledge in this area.

Your first step will be to read through the research description of each professor’s webpage. If you’ve done all the previously listed work, you’ve earned the right to go by what sounds fun and interesting. You’re no longer being superficial.

Find 3-5 such professors (each from a different university) and start reading.

Sometimes you’ll find that 2 different papers are minor variations of the same thing. That’s because the professor split up his results into 2 parts for grant money. Don’t waste too much time rereading once you figure out it’s just a split.

After you’ve read all the papers written by a professor in the last 3 years, write an email to him/her explaining your perspective of their work, and let it show in your language that you’ve actually put in the work. Mention that you may be interested in working with their research group (if you really are).

I guarantee you’ll receive a reply if you put in the above work. They will either encourage you to apply, or they will say that they don’t have funding at the moment and will let you know when they are expecting to receive funding. You can now even ask them for advice on which universities/professors are doing good work in their field. They may personally introduce you to them. Repeat process with these professors as well.

Based on what these professors say, you can add another 5-7 universities to your list.

Final step:
Now comes the easy part. Write the GRE and apply to these universities. Make sure you write about the work you did over the past year, and heavily name-drop in your essays. Mention that you read such-and-such paper by Professor X from that university, and you are interested in working with them. The admissions committee will consult with that professor and decide whether or not you should be awarded an admit. Funding will be the next step.

With the above process, I can guarantee you’ll have at least 3-4 admits, even if you’ve got no experience and haven’t done any internships. You will be a rock star among the other grad students who came in without putting in thiswork. Plus, you’ll know for sure that you made the right choice by pursuing this program, instead of grappling with the self-doubt that other students struggle with.

If you ask me, that’s worth a year of effort.

Good luck!

Edit: I’m planning on building a structured course around this and will be taking on students. Comment here if you’re interested and I’ll send you an email.

The Tamil movement: a global perspective

Recently, this post has been circulating on my Facebook feed, and while I’m on the same side of the fence as the guy who wrote it, I found his post a little hostile. For decades, Indians have been debating the national language issue, and there’s hyper linguistic fervor on both ends. I’ve tried to approach it from a nuanced perspective, but I’m not going to kid myself into believing this will silence all critics.

Chennai won’t speak Hindi. Not entirely true, but it’s truer than saying that of Bangalore or Hyderabad or Bombay. All three cities belong to states which use languages other than Hindi and English for official and government purposes. Are we fanatics for doing so? Not really, but to address this question, we need to look outside our own borders, because humans are capable of looking at other people’s problems more objectively than their own.

First, some facts: Hindi is not recognized by the Indian government as the national language of India. No language is. The official languages of India are Hindi and English, one of which have to be compulsorily used by all central government officials as well as Members of Parliament. States are allowed to add or remove any language of their choosing for state government work as well as in their Legislative Assemblies.

Language is an issue in every country whose citizens speak more than one language and/or are required to adopt global languages to improve their economy and standard of living. India’s linguistic issues are more volatile than many of these countries, but the problem itself is the same by definition: A more dominant language (by number of speakers or soft power) is required to be adopted by speakers of a less dominant language, and this causes disenchantment. Let’s take a look at some of these countries (note that my knowledge comes only from reading many many articles online, and I haven’t been to most of the countries below), but be warned, this will take a while.

U.K.: The country is composed of four states/nationalities, each of which has its own linguistic identity- England which speaks English, Scotland which speaks Scots and Scottish Gaelic apart from Scottish English, Wales which speaks Cymraeg (known to us as Welsh), and Northern Ireland which speaks Irish Gaelic. There are intense political movements for separatism in each of these regions, but they’ve only been able to put up a resistance against the government of England, and not the language of England. This is because English is far too dominant a language for anyone to resist, and so these regional languages have a low number of native speakers who can speak them fluently, and most people have switched to a standard regional form of English which borrows words from their respective languages. Not a desirable situation for the promotion of regional languages, but the political movements have received considerable success. All four regions are autonomous, and the U.K. is a weird combination of nation states. You’ll find separatist sentiments in each region but the linguistic identities of the regions are questionable.

Spain: There are at least six languages with roots in Spain, but only two apart from Spanish have considerable political backing- Catalan and Basque, so I’ll talk only about them here. Catalan is spoken in the Catalonia region of Spain, where the capital city is Barcelona, as well as the Catalonia region of France, where there isn’t much support for the movement. Catalonia in Spain, too, is an autonomous entity, and the Basque independence movement is clamoring for more autonomy as well. The difference between here and the U.K. is that these two regions have preserved the linguistic identities of their cities. The differences between these two regions are the means they used to achieve their ends and the degree to which they’ve been successful. The flag of Spain is routinely burned in Basque region, and they have a hostile attitude towards anyone from Spain or speaking the Spanish language, sort of like Kashmir in India I guess. On the other hand, you can be a Spanish speaking person in Barcelona and live a comfortable life. After various political movements, Catalan is an integral part of the local culture. You cannot be entirely assimilated as a citizen until you learn the language. Has this affected them adversely? Not really. Barcelona is a huge contributor to Spain’s economy, it has a high standard of living, and while the people are demanding a separate country, they don’t resort to violence in order to achieve their ends. They’ve also become a little more benign towards Spain. An indicator of this is that many of the players in the Spanish football team are from FC Barcelona. If you think that’s a laughable indicator, look at how important cricket is to India’s culture. Football is the same thing in Spain. If the region proudly sends its citizens to wear the country’s colors, they’re assimilating at least to some extent. Scotland and Wales both have their own Olympic teams, so that tells you something as well. Also, go read up about the contributions of this football club towards Catalan culture. It’s a huge part of the Barcelona and Catalan identity.

Switzerland: It’s when I look at the Swiss that I get really riled up about the mess in India. The majority of the populace speaks French, German, and Italian. All three languages have equal official status in the central government, and the states are mostly divided on the basis of language. There is near zero friction, and most people are multi-lingual. Each region has its own linguistic identity, and the local governments are free to govern themselves using ONLY the regional language or additional nationally recognized official languages IF THEY WANT TO. In parliament, a member representing a region is allowed to talk in any one of these three languages, and no bones are made about it. If you’re a tourist in Switzerland, English works just fine. If you move to Zurich on a permanent basis though, you will be expected to learn German if you want to assimilate, but you can get by without French or Italian. If you move to Geneva, the same can be said about French.

Here’s what will surprise you about Switzerland. The number of native speakers of German is 64%. Contrast that with 39% for Hindi in India, and you begin to wonder why the huge amount of push to make it a national language was necessary. Switzerland is one of the most peaceful countries in the world because of their neutrality, but it doesn’t have any internal issues either, because despite its linguistic diversity, the members of the major linguistic community did not force their language on everyone else.

Oil rich Arab nations in the Gulf: These countries don’t have much linguistic diversity, but they have huge numbers of expatriates who stay there for a few years and leave, making it impossible for the country to function with Arabic alone. For a majority of these countries, Arabic is the sole official language for governmental work, and that’s fine because that’s the only language their citizens speak. However, if you’re an Arab living in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, it’s impossible for you to get around with only Arabic. Literally everyone in the service industry is an expat who doesn’t speak Arabic. If an Arab goes to a shopping mall or grocery store in his own country, he’ll probably need English to communicate. If he takes a taxi, chances are the taxi driver comes from Pakistan and he might even have to know a little Urdu. There isn’t a political movement behind this as far as I know, but most Arabs are very pissed off that they need to know a foreign language to survive in their own country.

If you’re a middle-class Indian, chances are you have a friend or relative who’s lived in the Gulf for decades and yet can’t speak any Arabic. Contrast that with an Indian who moves to France or Germany to complete his Master’s degree, and you’ll find he speaks at least broken French or German within a year, despite the fact that his course is in English, and the fact that the French and Germans speak excellent English. This is what the soft power of a language is. It doesn’t threaten you, but it makes you feel left out of society at large if you don’t speak it. What you see in The Gulf and Western Europe are completely natural human tendencies. You don’t do something unless you want/have to.

Hindi’s soft power is much greater than Tamil’s, and yet you won’t find it spoken much in Tamil Nadu. This is because while its soft power in Uttar Pradesh is much greater than Tamil’s in Tamil Nadu, Hindi’s soft power doesn’t extend into Tamil Nadu. When people tried in the past to force us to speak Hindi, that wasn’t soft power. That was a harsh move which would’ve resulted in increased soft power in the future. We didn’t let them extend that soft power into the state, because that would’ve reduced the soft power of Tamil. Allow me to explain how. Today, just like western Europe, we’ve made ourselves a society where you can be a tourist and survive with languages spoken in other states and countries, but if you want to live a full life and be regarded a “local” of the land, you need to know the local language. That wouldn’t be the case if everyone spoke Hindi. The debate that goes on is whether such a society is good for the nation at large and the region in particular.

Israel: This is a relatively young country, and their culture and language was developed artificially rather than organically. In 1948, Jews from across the world moved to Israel after the holocaust. A large number spoke Arabic and Yiddish, but many also spoke Russian, French, German, Polish, and English. Since it was a country formed on the basis of religion, they decided to take their religious language, Hebrew (their equivalent of Sanskrit), and make it their native and official language. There was a political movement where the government told the people to stop speaking their native languages and switch over to Hebrew, raise their children solely on Hebrew, and use it for all official work, private or government. The movement was very successful, and a language which had near zero native speakers now has over seven million native speakers in less than 70 years. They went as far as to invent words for complex modern concepts like radar, electrostatics and fluid dynamics and added it to this ancient language. Now Israelis can study university level science and technology in their native tongues.

However, here’s why it wasn’t entirely a good idea, and why it won’t work in India. There are a huge number of native speakers of Arabic in Palestine, and many of them have taken up Israeli citizenship (20% of the country’s total population) and some are members of parliament. They don’t share the same religious sentiments towards Hebrew, so both Arabic and Hebrew are recognized as official languages which can be used in parliament and government, even though Hebrew is the more dominant language in the region. Also, the present day leaders have realized the importance of diversity, so they’ve taken a u-turn and are telling citizens to speak their native tongues at home and use Hebrew in social interactions.

For those of you toying with the idea of making Sanskrit our national language and starting a movement to Sanskritize the nation so our culture is preserved, stop. Israel and India stand for two completely different things. Our country wasn’t formed on the basis of religion. It wasn’t formed on the basis of caste, language, ethnicity or ideology either. It’s a giant piece of land which over a billion human beings call their home, and that’s all we have in common with each other. No uniform rule will work in the entire country, so we might as well go with the diversity preservation option which we pay lip service to and Switzerland successfully implemented.

After this mini tour of the world, what do we see in common among all the differences and chaos? People aren’t content with hearing their language spoken ONLY at home. They want to be able to speak it on the streets, in the shopping mall and restaurants, in their kids’ playgrounds and parks, in schools and colleges, gossip at the office water cooler and strike up a casual conversation with a fellow traveler in a train or bus. They want magazines, newspapers, TV shows and movies, music and literature which can be consumed in their own language. If it didn’t affect their fortunes, they would even read and write research papers and conduct official transactions in that language. Most of all, they want their cities, towns, and villages to be associated with that language. There are different methods people in various parts of the world used to achieve it, and the Tamil way was to keep Hindi as an option, and not a compulsion.

The lesson to be learnt is, if you push a language on another linguistic group, expect them to push back. And push back we did. Now, let’s address the cause and effects of many of the problems people say originate because of this attitude of Tamilians.

1) Chennai makes me feel unwelcome because no one speaks Hindi

There’s a problem with your attitude, not ours. You can very easily survive in Chennai without speaking Tamil, and I have friends who’ve lived here for decades without speaking a word of Tamil. The only trouble they face is that they’re never truly regarded as belonging to Chennai despite living here all their lives, because they don’t speak the language, and they complain about that no end. If you belong to that category, here’s some news for you: the ultimate test of whether or not you belong to any city in India is how well you speak the lingo. People try to prove they’re Mumbaikars by speaking the tapori Hindi of Bombay, and they show-off their Delhi-ness by speaking the Punjabified Hindi of the capital. They show they’re Hyderabadi by speaking Deccani Hindi, and they prove they’re Bangaloreans by inserting a few words like chumma and da while speaking English/Hindi, and some Kannada swear words.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Madras Tamil. If you claim to be from Chennai, we will test your knowledge of this dialect mercilessly to see if you’re really one of our own. It’s got borrowed words from Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Urdu, and has grown completely organically. Chennai isn’t unique in having its own lingo as a metric to measure how “born and raised” you are. We just use the indigenous language instead of borrowing another language, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

In addition, I maintain that Madras Tamil, a dialect we’ve grown to love, developed to the extent it has now mainly because the city doesn’t speak much Hindi. If we had made Hindi compulsory, the same thing which happened in Bangalore and Hyderabad would’ve probably happened in Chennai too, and the lingo would’ve been a southern version of Hindi with a few borrowed words from Tamil. That’s not good enough for us.

2) If you’re not a Tamilian by birth, you aren’t treated as an equal because they’re linguistic fanatics

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If there’s one thing I can absolutely vouch for about Chennai, it’s that they don’t care where you’ve come from as long as you make an effort to assimilate. The Marwaris of Sowcarpet, the Sardars who own auto spare part shops in Pudupet, and the Gujarati businessmen who own clothing and jewellery stores are an integral part of Chennai, and are considered true blue citizens, even if we address them as “Seth-u” or “Singh-u”. We also call Tamil Muslims “Bai” even though they’re Tamilians, so it’s not a mark of disrespect or xenophobia. It’s just a community identity, which sadly everyone has in India.

It’s also amazing when you see a Sardar speaking Tamil fluently, and they’re one of us as soon as they start learning Tamil. Those who’ve been around for a couple of generations marry into their own community like everyone else in India, but they prefer other members of their community who were born and raised in Chennai, because they’ve become Tamilized to some extent and aren’t comfortable marrying someone from the other end of the country. Most of them love Chennai and consider it their permanent home rather than a stopgap, and they’re able to do so because they speak Tamil fluently.

That was Chennai, now if you look at the rest of Tamil Nadu, you also have members of linguistic groups living in the towns and villages since god-knows-when. Cuddalore Telugus, Coimbatore Malayalis, Tanjore Marathis, and Madurai Saurashtrians have been around since before living memory, and while they continue to speak their native tongues with family, they don’t expect us to bend to their will and speak their language. You won’t find any difference between their Tamil and the Tamil spoken by a Tamilian living in their city. Walk into their houses and you’ll find Tamil newspapers and magazines on the coffee table, and Tamil serials running on their TVs. Their kids even study Tamil as a second language in school. Ask one of them innocently, “Are you from (insert state)?”, and the indignant reply will be “No! I’m from (insert city in Tamil Nadu).” Now THAT is assimilation.

If you still need any more proof, you can look up our political big-wigs and actors. MGR was a Malayali who migrated to Tamil Nadu to become an actor, and he served as our Chief Minister for ten years! In present day, Vijayakanth is a politician who comes from a Telugu speaking family in Madurai, and he heads the third largest party in Tamil Nadu which has created huge waves in the political sphere. Jayalalithaa, the present CM, is from a Tamil Family but she was born in Mysore and raised in Bangalore before she moved to Tamil Nadu. Need I even mention Rajnikanth?

So we don’t just make you one of us; we’ll actually let you rule over us and decide our futures if you learn our language and become one with the local population. If that’s not good enough for you, nothing ever will be.

3) Auto drivers cheat you in Chennai if you don’t know Tamil

We apologize for our auto drivers. No one should be made to go through that, and we will not defend them for even a second. However, their Tamil identity is not the reason they cheat you; they’re just crooks in general. We’re not much better off with them just because we know Tamil. A hapless soul from Trichy can get off a train in Egmore station and climb on to an auto without asking for the going price, and that itself is a sure fire way to get cheated. In addition, if he says Anna, naan oorukku pudhusu” (brother, I’m new to the city) in perfectly good Tamil, he’s not going to receive any brotherly love from the auto driver. He’s going to be taken for a spin around the city and charged four times the regular price, just like you.

The only way out of being cheated is asking someone who knows the going rate for that distance, and drive a hard bargain before you get into the vehicle. There are people I know who don’t speak any Tamil but know their way around Chennai, and they manage to avoid getting cheated.

Any reform attempted by the government against the autos fails, and Chennai’s autos will continue to be horrible in the foreseeable future. If you’re planning on moving to Chennai and want a fast means of transport without getting into crowded buses, I would seriously suggest getting your own scooter or bike. It’s the best investment you’ll make when you’re around.

4) I work in the service industry in Tamil Nadu and I’m being forced to learn Tamil

First of all, no one is forcing you. It’s just a necessity for you because it’s your duty to make your customers happy. Secondly, Good for you. You’re learning a new language, and your assimilation process just sped up 10x. You’ll also make more money, and I’m sure you’re not complaining about that. We’ve grown the soft power of Tamil within our region and we’re proud of it.

A Tamilian at home happily speaks Tamil, and he’ll learn English and Hindi if he wants to or needs to. If he moves to any other state, he doesn’t expect Tamil to be spoken there, and he surrenders completely to the local culture. On the other hand, a Kannadiga in Bangalore, a Maharashtrian in Mumbai, or a Telugu in Hyderabad just can’t survive knowing only his native tongue. He’ll keep finding himself in situations where he needs Hindi, and he’s as pissed off as the Arabs in Dubai. When I studied engineering in Karnataka, I learnt Kannada purely out of an academic interest. Otherwise, I could live a perfectly comfortable life knowing Hindi and English. In Chennai though, I can walk up to a U.P. or Bihari employee at Adyar Ananda Bhavan (a fast food chain in Tamil Nadu) and place an order for pani puri in Hindi, and he’ll reply in Tamil, because he knows he needs to learn the language. North-Eastern Indians can be found in huge numbers in Tamil Nadu, and many of them pick up Tamil within a year or two.

5) Tamilians are anti-national

No, you’re a hyper-nationalist who thinks being Indian means speaking Hindi, and that was the exact reason for the anti-Hindi movement in the first place. In 1946, R.V. Dhulekar, who later became a Member of Parliament representing Jhansi in U.P., declared in the Indian Constituent Assembly (drafting board of the constitution): “People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in the House to fashion a constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this assembly. They had better leave.” Statements of this sort were what elicited strong reactions from Tamil Nadu and its leaders, and could’ve avoided a lot of trouble for all of us.

We are a very patriotic people, and we are 100% Indian, but we will not let anyone hold us hostage to calling ourselves Indian only if we learn another language. If you don’t consider us Indian, you’re the separationist, not us. We hoist the flag high and sing the national anthem proudly, even though it’s in Bengali. Talk to your friends who are in the armed forces and you’ll find that we have significant representation in the Indian Navy. Politicians in Maharashtra and Karnataka both have a history of beating up and abusing migrant laborers or other immigrants from neighboring states for “taking away their jobs”. We don’t do that and hopefully never will, because we’re secure knowing that Tamil lives strong.

6) India has 22 recognized languages. How will we communicate without a common language?

We are aware of that issue. We’re a small region and our economy isn’t self-sufficient. That is exactly why we’ve accepted English to a large extent (the difference being WE chose English whereas Hindi was chosen for us by someone else). You can go to small towns in Tamil Nadu and get by with very little difficulty if you know English. The only people who find it impossible to navigate the state are the ones who know neither English nor Tamil. They tend to be from states which are in the hinterland of central India where there isn’t much penetration of English and the attitude is that everyone should speak Hindi. I’ll be ok because I can speak Hindi, but someone who knows only English and Tamil will not be able to navigate Gwalior, Allahabad or Patna. The onus is on the citizens of these parts to learn English, not because it’s their duty to help us (we’ll manage) or because they’ll need to come to Tamil Nadu at some point (they may not), but because they need it for themselves if they want to live a fuller life in today’s technology oriented world. No one can stop the force that English is right now.

7) But what is your problem with Hindi?

Nothing at all, as long as it isn’t forced upon us. I can speak for myself and many of my friends when I say that we know just how beautiful a language Hindustani is, and how much it has contributed to art in India. Apart from Hindi, there are three regional languages in India which are also known for their literature and poetry: Malayalam, Bengali, and Tamil. They are also found in the three states of India where you’ll find lesser Hindi, to varying degrees, compared to other states. Bengalis are a very intellectual crowd, and are not opposed to Hindi, but their language is very rich in literature, so there’s a “pull” factor for them to learn it. Life isn’t difficult in West Bengal without Bengali, but it makes things a lot easier if you know it. Malayalis also have a history of prolific writers, and they write powerful philosophical tomes in their native tongues. It’s more difficult for them to learn Hindi compared to Bengalis. They didn’t have any political movements against it, but it’s still very difficult to get by in Kerala without knowing either Malayalam or English. Tamil is one of the oldest surviving languages in the country, and it has a body of work that rivals Greek and Latin. I’ve already explained in detail about the state of Hindi in Tamil Nadu. Despite being so rich in heritage, not many people who aren’t native speakers try to learn any of the three because they are regional languages. The only thing we can do is try and make the migrant population at home speak our language by whatever ethical and legal means possible, and all three regions have achieved considerable success with the same.

So you may ask, why can’t we be like Malayalis or Bengalis? They’ve promoted their languages without opposing Hindi. My answer is a question: how many Indians look at Kerala or West Bengal as viable destinations to immigrate to? They have a history of governments which opposed industry and development, and large numbers of their own populace have left home for greener pastures because they couldn’t find jobs. Their languages continue to be a large part of their cities’ identities because there aren’t too many Indians from other states living there. Tamil Nadu is unique that way. We have very strong manufacturing, IT, and service industries despite the fact that Hindi isn’t spoken here, and the same model can be implemented elsewhere if they try. If you graduated from a decent engineering college in India with quality campus placements, chances are at least a few of your friends were posted to Chennai/Tamil Nadu, which shows how many jobs are available and continue to be created here.

In short, we succeeded where the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Arabs, Kannadigas, Telugus and Maharashtrians have all failed, and we avoided the side effects which the Basque, Malayalis and Bengalis are suffering. You can’t expect us to apologize for being successful, and we won’t. The only other place in the world which has achieved this more successfully is Catalonia in Spain, and even they did it only by threatening to form a new country. Chennai is no Barcelona, but that’s only because India is no Spain. The reason we succeeded was because we faced the problem head-on before it got out of hand. Political parties in Maharashtra and Karnataka resort to violence against immigrants to achieve the same end, and fail. These parties only lose the vote of their own linguistic groups and get a tarnished image with the media because while the people want to promote their language, they don’t condone violence. In any case, violence doesn’t get the language to be spoken more often in their cities. Tamil Nadu’s power-houses tackled the problem at the centre as well as the state, and formed a strong opposition to the national language brigade which said Hindi alone should be used as an official language in India, and rightly so. Our leaders are the main reason why you still have the option of carrying out government work in English instead of Hindi, and I’m sure many of you agree that’s for the best. Imagine the nightmare of filling out a driving license form or bank document in Hindi.

So move to Chennai, and we’ll welcome you with open arms*.

*subject to terms and conditions.

The poonal poem

Ode to the threads which straddle my left shoulder

Three threads for the Elephant king riding his mouse,

Six for the protector of the universe on his giant snake.

Nine for mortal men doomed to die,

None for the kshatriya kings on their golden thrones.

In the land of TamBram, where the kudumis lie.

Three threads for celibacy, nine threads for family,

One day to hold them all, and in the temple, don them.

In the land of TamBram, where the kudumis lie.


Brahmins wear the sacred thread, which is called the poonal. When unmarried, they wear 3 threads, after marrying it becomes six, and finally, depending on the sub-sect they belong to, they wear nine either when they become fathers or when their own father passes away.

The elephant king refers to Ganesh, who is a brahmachari, i.e, he is unmarried.His vehicle is a mouse.

Vishnu is the protector of the universe who resides on a giant snake with his wife Lakshmi, and he doesn’t have kids. Hence the six threads.

On the day of Avani-Avittam, Tamil brahmins perform a ceremony to cast off their old thread and don a new one.

Kudumi is the Tamil word which refers to the bun Brahmins in the olden days used to tie their hair in.

TamBram- Tamil Brahmin

Education was wasted on those who haven’t seen the original:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Communism tends to Capitalism

Being brought up in a family which was dead against communism and anything to do with it, I grew up thinking it was a dirty word, and thought it was pronounced “Khamyouneesam!” forcing itself out of the throat with saliva and hatred.

It was only recently, when I came across the Communist Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels, did I realize there was more to it than everyone made it out to be. Obviously, I won’t be able to give you a neutral person’s point of view in this regard. Nevertheless, I endeavor to list out both the pros and cons of this ideology, and how it has impacted the world.

“Communism is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of ownership and property in general.

Communism attempts to offer an alternative to the problems with the capitalist market economy and the legacy of imperialism and nationalism. Marx states that the only way to solve these problems is for the working class (proletariat), who according to Marx are the main producers of wealth in society and are exploited by the Capitalist-class (bourgeoisie), to replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class in order to establish a free society, without class or racial divisions.”

Source: Wiki

It is a noble concept, really, when you think about it, but how far is it practicable in today’s world,we have seen. Not one pure Communist regime in world history has kept its people happy for long, be it Cuba, China, Cambodia, or the erstwhile Soviet Union (which was Socialist, but Communism is a branch of Socialism).

A communist regime has only limited benefits, with the cons greatly outnumbering the pros.Capitalism is an evil by itself, but it is the better of the to evils.When the British left India, we were the twenty first most industrialized nation in the world.By 1967, when we were staunch socialist, we were reeling under poverty,and the Rupee value was a joke.Forty years we invested in socialism,to what avail?It was only in the liberalisation phase that we saw our country develop to an extent.What the administrators didn’t realise was, Socialism needs a vast amount of money beforehand.Its ideals states that the cost of expansion will be shared by the masses, but that’s only bad economics.You cannot expect Ratan Tata to share his money with a populous of lazy people who aren’t willing to work hard for the development of the nation.

A perfect example of this is Air India.Indira Gandhi took it over from the Tatas and nationalised it.It became a failure soon after because like anything government,it was horrible and had low standards.

Just like thermodynamics,politics too has an ideal situation.Ideally, after independence,if we had embraced strict Marxist communism for ten years, and then shifted to capitalism,we could have eradicated poverty,and then focused on development.But reality would differ.Politicians would be power hungry.A permanent emergency would have been set up in the country, just as in Pakistan.Resources remain the same,Economics differ.Capitalism makes the rich richer, and the poor-poorer.Communism gives everyone a middle class lifestyle.Which is better?Debatable.

The main problem with communism is that it goes against human nature.Man will work only if he sees the carrot at the end of a stick.If you tell a man to work,telling him he will be rewarded with a carrot irrespective of whether he manages to complete his job,he will not bother.In the erstwhile Soviet,a Doctor and a Sweeper were paid the same salary.If I had lived at that time and place,I wouldn’t have bothered studying for the decade it takes to become a doctor,when I could have just as lavish a lifestyle by picking up a broom.

Communist nations have managed to develop,but only by using capitalist ideals.China realised, as early as 1971(after the death of Mao),that liberalisation is the way forward.The method of working of the entire politburo changed,and they overtook most nations in terms of development.Kerala and West Bengal, too, are now following capitalist ideals in the name of communism.Only the party name is Communist.That explains why Kolkata now has Israeli electronics,American IT ,and an Indian automobile company(which was driven out by the people) setting up base.

The main difference between Communism in India and that abroad is that we have the only two democratically elected communist governments in the world. First, was Kerala, followed by West Bengal.There exist vast differences between these two governments as well, such as;

Update: Tripura is also ruled by the Marxists,so that makes it three democratically elected communist governments.

The West Bengal communists are a group of elitists who were educated in the most sought after universities in the west, and are driven by strong Marxist principles. The Kerala communists, on the other hand are a bunch of labourers who turned to politics as a means to make money and enjoy a sense of power, and aren’t aware of any of Marx and Engel’s thoughts. This is clearly seen from the fact that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee continues to live in a single bedroom apartment,even after becoming Chief Minister.A kerala Communist leader, on the other hand, will move into a mansion,complete with a swimming pool, two dogs and a dozen coconut trees.

Also, in West Bengal, the party has been sitting tight since 1977,with Jyoti Basu being the longest serving CM(23 years) in the country,and was succeeded by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a member of the same party.Meanwhile in Kerala, there has been an alternating of power since 1982 between CPI-M and the Congress, neither party managing to get re-elected even once.

Yet, Kerala is in better shape than Bengal. The Communists gave them literacy.Free books were provided,reading rooms opened all over the state, and Malayalam newspapers were made available.The money lenders and landlords could no longer cheat the public.

If Kerala has a high GDP right now, no credit goes to the politicians.It happened because the Mallus are an industrious lot.They went abroad,and brought back a lot of foreign currency.

If Kolkata is a great city, it’s because the British developed it,and once development happens, it continues even if the bureaucrats aren’t doing anything about it.Outside of Kolkata, the state has nothing worth mention.

An inside source of the SFI(Student Federation of India) who does not wish to be named(I have to thank him profusely.Without him, this post wouldn’t have been possible at all), confided to me the main reason why the CPI-M in Bengal manages to win elections every time, though this cannot be confirmed.In the Bengal countryside, when a girl child is born, Communist goons plant a teak sapling in the house.When the girl is old enough to get married, the father can cut the tree,sell the wood,and pay off her dowry.This is the sole reason why they have such a strong presence in the villages, though they might soon lose it due to the Nandigram incident,and the salt-lake land allotments.

In the end, I would say this: Marx was a genius.The kind of genius who is born into this world only once every millennium.Communism is an ideal which can serve the people better than any other can ever hope to,but humanity hasn’t matured enough to make good use of it.Man won’t work for the greater good of humanity, and hasn’t learnt to use power responsibly.

With this, I would say, that the country had best vote out the communist government.Communism came to places where people asked for change, but the change they got, was not the change they wanted.It is very easy to get seduced into communism, but impossible to follow its ideals.If we knew how to use it,the Tiananmen massacre in China,the killing of 10 million people in Gulags by Stalin, and  the Nandigram incident wouldn’t have happened.

In the upcoming elections, I ask you, no wait, I IMPLORE you all to vote out the communists.They are being ousted from positions of power all over the world, and it’s high time India followed suit.


Never Returning Indians

Have a pleasant stay in the cultural capital of India Sir”
“Virgin mobiles welcomes you to Chennai. For details on international roaming tariffs, text “BILL” to customer help”
“Neenga kettukittu irukkirathu 98.3 FM Radio Mirchi…Ithu semma hot machi”
“Ayya…ethavathu dharmam pannunga ayya”
“Moonu pathu rooba sir.Moonu pathu rooba”
“Meter-ku mela ethavathu pottu kudunga sir”
“Kausalya supraja Ramapoorva sandhya…”

The air hostess, my cell phone’s operator service message, a hyperactive RJ, a beggar at a traffic signal en route to my destination, a kid selling god knows what , the taxi driver, a sharp reminder that it was morning and I was to suffer the symptoms of jet lag. My journey from the airport every year hasn’t been any different. It’s like those deranged VJs say “Same place, same time, we’ll meet, next week.” Not this time…

I reach the doorstep of my ancestral home. My grandmother no longer stands at the doorstep, clad in saree of 9 yards, awaiting my arrival. A temporary hire received me at the airport with a placard, my name plastered on it impersonally. No longer a feeling of belonging. Just the previous year, her (my grandmother’s) long life ended, and she was finally reunited with her husband after a gap of seventeen years.

I walk across the familiar house, where I’d spent a major part of my childhood. Nostalgia, I now realise, is the best feeling in the world. I smile as always, on seeing the well where my mother used to bathe me when I was a toddler. Memories of the time when I used to run into the kitchen when the ladies were cooking, grab the first utensil I could, and throw it into the well before anyone could catch up with me, flood my mind now. It’s like a cinematographer is working inside my brain, as I picture the agraharam styled house back in its prime, when there was always something good cooking in the kitchen, the sight of a well maintained Tulsi plant in the inner courtyard, and the smell of incense from the pooja area.

My mind now jerks me back to the present, where just looking at the place, sans granny’s touch, gives me a feeling of gloom.

I ask myself, “Why did I come back this year?”Was there really any point? Who is here for me now? All kith and kin have shifted out of the homeland, and the only one who didn’t, was not in any land now.
I now sit cross legged on the straw mat in the middle of the living room, while the maid serves me coffee and breakfast, both lacking the rich flavour which only my grandmother’s hands could produce.

I reminisce all the preceding visits we made. The first few years were normal, when I was more than happy to be reunited with my childhood playmates, spending afternoons playing cricket in the neighbouring street, and they used to sit, awe eyed, listening with rapt attention as I told them stories about America, the land of dreams.
Then, one fine day, back at “home” in the U.S, my father brings the happy news to us that our family has been considered for American citizenship. Both my parents were overjoyed, while I was too young to realise all the implications of the news my old man had brought to us.

It was the next year that I noticed some change in the treatment we received when we came home. We were no longer in the “Indians” waiting line when we awaited our baggage. Instead, we were made to sit with Whites, blacks, and Orientals in the lounge labelled “foreigners”. Mom wasn’t at all happy with this. She kept telling papa that we should be given different treatment as we were born of this soil, while the poor man patiently tried to explain to her that in order to enjoy the benefits of being citizens of America, we must accept the fact that we aren’t Indians anymore.

Why this happened, I did not, and still do not understand. Ever since this episode, during our annual visit, she used to cry herself to sleep the first few days. I thought it unnecessary and showed no sympathy to her, and even rebuked her for the same on a few occasions.

This year, no one accompanied me on my yearly visit. I came alone, traveled my city alone, and left alone. And yes, I cried, finally understanding how my mother felt. I cried for having lost my grandmother. For having lost my homeland. For being treated a foreigner here as well as there. For not having the courage to come back. For being so materialistic.For being lost between two worlds, both of which I cannot rightfully call my own.

Ode to Bessi

This is my 1st and best attempt at poetry.I still haven’t got tired of reading it and I don’t think I will be anytime soon.For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bessi, its a beach in Besant nagar, chennai, officially Elliot’s beach, fondly called “Bessi” by the locals.And yes, I wrote it during one of my homesick spells and have posted it in quite a few communities on Orkut and forced all my friends to read it whether they liked it or not [:D].Anyway, before I start rambling,(oops! I think I already have :D) here it is…


All Elliot’s a stage…
The Vettis and Bandhas mere players
They all have hangouts which they call their own
In the beach consisting seven stretches

First comes the legendary broken bridge,
Unknown to the naive and innocent.
Only those brave at heart or crude as cavemen
Enter this realm of illicit ecstasy

Forward to the forbidden strips
If you stray here, go with finger on lips
Not a place for a man with a car
Oorur and Olcott, forever at war

After this comes no man’s land,
Walk not here with slippers in hand.
Strewn with dirt and glass and spike,
Territory of cows and rabid alike.

Now to the area favoured by all;
Gym, cafes, and our own short wall.
This is the place where figures be
Dressed in their Sunday best for the jobless to see.

Close is the stretch with cleaner sand
Where the young play, old walk hand in hand
Shoreward here couples show off their youth,
Not caring at all that it seems uncouth.

Moving on you shall see a half buried road
Serves its purpose as a cricketer’s abode
Right in the midst is the monument of piss
The place where you get a fifty rupee kiss.

Last is the place where food’s aplenty
Lots of MNCs and our own kaiyanthi
All working hard to keep you full
This place has its very own pull

Thus ends this eventful besantful history
All play and no work, naturally no dull boys
Holding memories of friends, adventure and mid afternoon swims
Life has moved us on, sans bessi, sans Cozee, sans everything

Anirudh Ramachandran

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