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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Faux Pas in London!

It's been close to a year since I last posted.  Guess it's time to remind you that I can never avoid being gauche, in case you started wondering otherwise.  Got a chance to visit London on a very short trip recently, and had a cracker of time: a) walking around London at night for 5 hours  (and  seeing places like Big Bang, London Eye, Bank of England, St. Paul's Cathedral, London School of Economics, Shard Tower, London Bridge, Trafalgar Square, British Museum etc.),  b) making acquaintances with renowned researchers, and becoming friends with several nice people, besides  c) searching madly for a loo in suburbs at midnight, only to end up in a bar, d) drinking gallons of water in a Mexican restaurant under the disguise of enjoying food, and e) almost missing the flight both en-route London and back with rebukes from several people including a cab driver and a flight attendant! :D :P  However for brevity,  let me just handpick a few of the incidents for you:

1) Over-smartness at the Heathrow:  I learned from my hosts that the Piccadilly tube provided the most convenient means to commute to their place. The old lady at the counter gave me the ticket besides telling me the directions to the underground station. However, I ignored most of what she said (showing a brazen attitude, "You think I am so stupid, I can't even find that!"). Result: I kept wandering at the airport like a zombie for close to 20 minutes before good sense prevailed and I asked someone politely. However, the misery was anything but over. Somehow, despite numerous trials, my ticket failed to be detected in the automated pass-through machine prompting me to attempt sheer force to pass through! Only to realize later that I had not been inserting the ticket according to the written instructions. By then, I was already a laughing stock! :(

2) The Elevator Screw-up: After getting off the tube, I had to go up the station (the tube is an underground service). However, the elevator I got into failed to move even after 5 minutes. So, most of the other people switched to an adjacent one, however, taking great pride in my athletic physique and thinking, "These firangs are so lazy and stupid: what if the other elevator also fails to move up? Can't they just walk a little?".  I decided to take the stairs with my bag and suitcase.  1, 2, 3... so on, I had to climb close to 60 stairs at the end of which, needless to say, I was totally out of my breath! :-o

3) Embarrassment at the hotel: Somehow, huffed and puffed, I managed to reach my hotel. After checking in, I realized that the door of my rest room was locked. I came back to the receptionist complaining (rather mocking) that their hyped "4-star accommodation" did not even have an accessible toilet (and thinking why the hell would someone need to lock a rest room inside a suite, surely there must be no hidden treasures lying inside!). The guy gave me such a smirk while letting me know they had sliders and not push/pull doors! :( :-o  I just gathered myself, and headed back to my room, only to find that my laptop's pin (even with the conversion plug I had) could not fit in the UK compliant socket. So, again, I rushed to the receptionist and told him, "Look boss, even the sockets here don't work despite me having a universal conversion plug". That guy could not stop laughing seeing my plug leaving me totally puzzled (it took me a while to realize that I had got an India compliant plug (which was as good as not having one at all)!  That guy was in total splits...  

4) The Restaurant Medley:  Next morning, I reached the lavish dining hall, and was told to feel free to help myself to whatever I would like to have. I asked for the plate, and was pointed to some corner, but I could not find anything there. Since asking twice has always felt so stupid to me, I just took a bowl and poured in everything into it: cereals, dry fruits, strawberries, fruits, cream and milk, only to realize later that I had made a complete mess of the food. But poor me, with people around, I could not dump the food into some trash and had no option but to pretend that I savored it! As I came out of the hall, I felt like vomiting!   

5) Wrong address: I came to know that I was supposed to report at a nearby place, which barely required a 5 minute walk from the hotel.  I entered a building with the tag "University College London" thinking it to be my destination. Confidently, I headed inside till I reached a dead end, where I politely asked a lady if she knew where the Gatsby (the intended venue) was. Amazed, she told me she did not think there was any such department in the building. But never the one to give up, I insisted that it must be there (I had to come to UCL) and that it was okay if she was not aware. This was too much to handle for the old lady, who quipped, "Young man, I have been working at this place for over 25 years, and I think you have no f*****g clue that there is no such place as Gatsby here".  The guys standing nearby were having an absolute blast, and I literally ran away from there.

6) Presentation discomfort: Ultimately I reached the venue, where I was scheduled to make a presentation immediately after lunch. So, with all these stalwarts around (five of them), I started with my slides. However, as luck would have it, after every two minutes or so, my screen would get locked. This frustrated the audience, who asked me to change the settings of my machine. However, I had absolutely no idea how to do that (now you know how much capable we boastful researchers are! :P). I just made an excuse that since we were already running late (which we weren't!!), I would try to finish my presentation as early as possible. How could I tell them that this locking was some God-sent help to distract them from pestering me with their esoteric questions that I bet no one in my seven generations had any clue whatsoever! :D :P

7) Accent Blues: It was bound to happen, wasn't it? At the end of the first day, they took us to a famous Mexican restaurant named Labito. So, a professor of Chinese origin who was seated next to me, told me that he had been to Mumbai once and so on (I could not parse the remaining sentence except the word "rich"). In reply, I handed him a 3-4 minute speech on the economic disparity in India: how the rich continue to grow richer, and the poor poorer... he waited patiently for a while, before intervening with a laughter, "I was  only inquiring about the richness of Indian food! :P". It was so, so embarrassing! :( 

8) Rooh-Afza: Next day, after interviews with each faculty member, they took us to an Indian restaurant, Mela. I obviously enjoyed the food a lot more than the Mexican experience the day before. At the end, they asked us for desserts, when I persuaded several guys (mostly non-Indians) to go for kulfi. They seemed to like it, and asked me about the red syrup topping. I told them it is called Rooh-Afza in India (I did not know what they call it in English). One of the faculty members, who is of Indian origin but has been brought up in the West, interpreted my words as "Rose water" (he seemed to have parsed my phrase like "Roz (rose) Jal"), to which I nodded in the affirmative. A current Indian student at Gatsby gave a wry smile to me, as if to convey, "Lucky b*****d, you somehow escaped this time!". :D ;)   

9) The Queen Remark: One of the things that really struck me on this visit was how much the English seem to revere their Queen (reminded me instantly of India, where every darn thing has a Nehru-Gandhi stamp on it!!).  By the day of my return, I was nauseated with this obsession. So, it was too much to handle for me when I witnessed a strong Queen presence at the Bristish Museum. I could not stop myself from commenting that these firangs have looted the entire world and filled their coffers, all at the behest of their Queen!  Suddenly there seemed to be a silence around, only for my German friend to push me to a side as if to say, "Have you gone nuts! Do you know where you are standing?" :P :D

I've got this feeling: someday, in not so distant future, someone is going to blast me off! :P however, until then, I hope to continue living this dream, of incessant stupidity,  and of unbridled boldness. Believe me, being a dork is quite a delightful experience! :)



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Embarrassing moments at NSIT

Ok... been 7-8 months since I last tortured you ( so guess it's high time I struck back again. Moreover, I am fondly reminded of my University-of-Delhi (DCE/NSIT) days today and the nostalgia is too overwhelming to curb! Those were the days... (sigh!). In the interest of brevity, (and more importantly for saving whatever precious little prestige I, if ever had any :P, can manage, once you reach the end of this post), I would just offer you a glimpse into how stupid I've been right from the very beginning! :D

1) The "JAT" Nickname: Not exactly sure when someone first referred to me by that name, but in no time, it just got stuck; so much so that even some good friends didn't know my true name :P (much like "DUDE" at IISc later). I used to think the "nomenclature" might have roots in a) my native state, Haryana, b) my strong physique, c) my total abstinence from drinks, non-veg etc. and love for milk and dairy products, or d) my Hindi accent with a palpable Haryanvi flavor; all the attributes you'll typically associate with Jaats. The myth was shattered when one day during the final semester, a very close friend plainly commented, "You are JAT: Just Animal Type. Totally Ganwar (foolish, dumb)" :-( Case closed!!                   

2) Embryo Formation:  This had been one of my longest unresolved curiosities, something that originated way back in my eighth standard. During a preliminary lecture on reproduction, our science teacher noted how the sperm and the ovum would "fuse" together to form an embryo that would be subsequently fertilized. The topic at once seemed very interesting to me, and after the class period got over, I asked my friend, Aditya, how did this whole process of fusion take place! :P I specifically asked him, "Do the sperms and ova come close to each other in the open and then the embryo is transferred to the womb?", to which he smilingly replied, "Gandi baat hai, rehne de (leave it, we should not discuss this filthy stuff)". Years went by, but somehow I could not figure out a convincing answer to this mystery on my own, nor could I dare ask someone about it (because my friend had out-rightly rejected any conversation on that topic, so it must have been inherently bad!). Finally, one fine day in second semester at NSIT (roughly 5-6 years after the query first popped up), I mustered enough courage to ask one of my flatmates. His reaction wavered between utter disbelief one moment to absolute mock the very next! But, thankfully!, he did the wise thing of immediately taking me to a PC and screening a movie of completely new genre... :-) The first time I got to know clearly, how this divine/mystical/mysterious process transpires! :P :D                

3) Side-effects of acting Over-smart: As they say, you should exercise moderation in everything and not get overboard. However, believe me (if you don't know this already!) bunking classes is an addiction bar none. All my school life, I rarely missed any class despite being ill at times; but now that the seeds had been sown during first semester at DCE, I became a master bunker... to the extent that by fourth semester, I had easily overtaken the current record holder (the inimitable Distu), and some of my friends clapped whenever they got a chance to see me in the class once in a blue moon! So, one day, my friends played a prank on me: they said that the Database faculty, Veenu, had become very frustrated because of my prolonged absence and wanted to meet me immediately ("if you don't, she would fail you"). Unfortunately, all of them (about 7-8 in number) colluded to convince me and I had no option but to believe their word. Shortly after, I entered the concerned faculty's room an offered an impromptu explanation, "M'am, I'm Vikas. I heard from my friends that you wanted to meet me regarding my absence from the class. Unfortunately, I am experiencing a severe pain in my lower abdomen (knowledge of biology helps sometimes! :P), and I am unable to sit properly. :D The doctor has advised me to take complete rest for quite sometime. I don't know what to do, I so desperately wanted to attend your class (as if I ever craved for any, forget about her hopeless lectures!)." In my mind, I was congratulating myself for having come up with such a solid excuse for continued absence in the future as well. Little did I know, that I had been trapped by my friends, who bullied me like anything that night. And to my embarrassment, the same faculty once asked me in front of several of my batch-mates, "How is your pain now?"  :-(                       

 4) Vernacular Blues: What might happen when a rustic lad is suddenly exposed to the "state-of-the-art" urban connotations. Well, the experiences were not very pleasant at least for me, sample the following:

a) Gay:  Few days into NSIT (having already passed a semester at DCE), I was having this cheerful conversation with a friend, when he said, "You look very happy today..."! To which, I gleefully remarked, "I'm gay, you see"... :P I was taken aback by the ensuing sudden laughter and for once, failed to fathom the exact reason. I had heard this word so regularly in the college and whenever this word popped up, invariably, people would be in a joyous mood. So, I checked it in Webster's English and found it to mean being happy, cheerful, carefree, etc.. It was so embarrassing when my friend apprised me of the "real" meaning of the word!

b) Huggies: An IT company, which was subsequently rechristened to Flextronics (and more recently to Aricent), was one of the top recruiters at NSIT. So, once a discussion came up amongst bunch of us about our respective dream companies. Everyone was going agog over the Googles, Microsofts and Yahoos, but (knowing my limitations or you can say being content by nature :P), I simply said I would be delighted if I could get into "Huggies". My friends literally bullied me, to my utter chagrin, when they noted I'd terribly confused "Hughes" (the actual name) with "Huggies" (diapers!). :-(             

c) Frenchie: I was again made an object of unlimited fun, when I commented once, "Frenchie would not suit me, like it does on some people" (as if I had seen them wear it!). :-( All this while, I used to think Frenchie (a type of mini-brief) as an abbreviation for the "French cut" (a particular style of beard). :D

d) Pedigree: I had been a bit late in joining my friends for lunch in our mess once. They were having a go at one of us (a very popular person with his name starting with 'D', guess who! :P) saying how he might like the pedigree biscuits. Thinking the biscuits would be very tasty ("of rare pedigree"), I requested they give me a sample to eat. Of course, I was completely oblivious to the more popular usage: "pedigree:= food for dogs"!

e) Loo:  A team of three members (Ankit Mehta, Megha Kalra, and Swati Jain if I remember correctly) came to our campus when Google visited NSIT for placements. Shortly after the written exam was over, Megha asked me to point her to some loo. I kept wondering for a short while why would she be interested  in the dry winds (Megha and Ankit had come all the way from Mountain view, Swati was a tech lead from India), till she rephrased her sentence, "Could you please tell me where the toilet is"!  Thankfully, it was Ankit, and not she, who interviewed me for placements shortly afterwards!!  :P

Moral of the post: 
@IISc folks:      My stupidity is not a by-product of IISc as many of you might have mistakenly believed. :D
@NSIT folks:    Rest assured, I continued with the glorious tradition of NSIT subsequently as well as promised to you all. Check for the last post in this blog and you would know! ;)                      


Friday, September 10, 2010

Embarrassing moments at IISc: A tryst with destiny!

This post is long overdue I guess. IISc had for long been an absolute dream for me, and to be honest, I have to pinch myself many a time even now to realize I've had the greatest fortune of having made it to this place, when at one stage it seemed as distant as the possibility of finding a human on Pluto! The experience has been so overwhelmingly enriching that I can't thank my stars enough. I do not believe in going to temples or shrines; however, IISc is one place of worship I just can't have had enough of .  As a close friend said once, "We do not need to brag about IISc (like the way, some IITans do!)... we are so humbled by the whole experience that everything else seems so trivially useless!". More so for a guy like me, who would be playing pranks all the time and keep troubling just about everyone around. Nonetheless, with all the geniuses around, I have had my fair share of embarrassment, that was relished by one and all who had fallen prey to my antics! :-(  Most of my friends from IISc would probably know many of these incidents already (to the point of being bored of repetition), nevertheless, since I don't feel like doing anything else today, let me narrate only a handpicked few (among countably many others):

1) My peculiar style of walking:  My friends used to often tease me for this. Sometimes, when I am very relaxed, I have this fairly unique style, whereby instead of pointing straight, my right foot would be going right and the left foot left, in an alternate fashion. Basically I enjoy walking in such a relaxed, lazy manner (which sort of echoes my usual chilled attitude, "I don't give it a shit, what you think about me!"); however, my dear friends summoned a lot of ingenuity in pulling my leg over this. One of them commented once, "Why do you walk like this? Seems like you have passed stool (feces/excreta/shit) in your underwear, and you are trying your best to balance it from falling by heading right once and left next!" :-( :-o  :P I had absolutely no answer to this, my friends literally bullied me that day!  And if that was not enough, recently, an esteemed professor (who I hold in the greatest of regards) saw me moving in that unusual fashion, and remarked, "Vikas, is everything alright with you today... why are you moving so awkwardly?". I said (in a somewhat bragging style), "Sir, this is my style of walking!". To which he replied, "Oh, I see your abnormality!". For next minute or so, I kept trying to convince him about my physical fitness, but he  passed a smile that left me feeling so sheepish! :-(            

2) King one moment, kink the next: Okay, this is one thing that I am often scolded (or praised depending on if you are a victim or not) for: people think I can conjure a sentence or two at will, to make someone feel super-good about him/her and  then the very next moment, I'll simply turncoat and leave the same person in a totally indefensible position. Since no karma ever goes unrewarded, I have been paid back in the same coin more often than once. Sample the following true conversations I had with one of my Profs.:

Prof.: Vikas, I want to give you a feedback. You are one of the most naturally talented and gifted individuals I've ever seen... (I just could not bear with such seemingly rich, undeserved praise, and just interrupted in between... No matter how useless you know you are, such praise always feels good, especially if it comes from someone with a proven track record and who you revere immensely! :D)
Me: Thanks... thanks a lot... thank you so much, am humbled... (something like that)!
Prof.: Oh... let me complete that first... You are very sharp in the sense that you complete up to 90% of the task at lightening speed... BUT then you leave it altogether and undo all the good work... You are so hopeless, you strictly need to work very hard on this aspect!
Me: (speechless, puzzled, and what not) ?????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Prof. (after reading a research draft) I have been very impressed with your technical writing skills, Vikas...
Me: (flattered as ever,  in a nonchalant manner and almost on the verge of raising my collar) Oh, really! Thanks... (in a very casual, conceited manner) yeah, sort of!
Prof.: I simply fail to understand why do you need to use words like "pristine", which make absolutely no sense in the given context. You should stick to what is required and not incorporate flowery words that are completely irrelevant!
(At this point, another Prof. (seated next to us, and who had been quite all this while) joins him in a sarcastic smile-turned-laughter, that left me completely at sea!)
Me: (With my head down, pondering why such incidents always happen with me!) Oh... Sir, I'll try to be more careful in future. :-(

Prof.: You are being very productive for IRL, Vikas, it seems... 
Me: (in a chilled dude manner, almost resembling Shatrughan Sinha's style) Thank you Sir!...
Prof.: (visibly frustrated) How can you forget such a basic concept as Nash equilibrium, even in your dreams! You have been spoiled completely! :-( :-o
Me: (Cursing my memory no ends, in a whisper) No, not again please! 
(Background: Attended a lecture that day, when due to a habitual disorder, I kept interrupting the natural flow; just then, I was asked to answer a very straightforward question (analogous to reciting alphabets in a language), which I messed up completely. Almost everyone else there knew it perfectly well, even those who had no exposure to the foundation course whatsoever, unlike me!)

Prof.: Vikas, what's ur gmail ID?"
Me: montsgarg
Prof.: (puzzled) "Whaaat!!!! MONSTER??... y do u keep such an insane username!" :-(
Me: (stammering for lack of a definitive answer) Sir, I mean... it is  actually, people at my native place call me Monty... my parents named me Monto but somehow Monty got stuck.
Prof.: (going for the kill and having a blast) Oh... The Full Monty, is it?
Me: (caught completely unawares, led into categorical submission) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Prof.: Let's discuss the reviewers' comments!
Me: (cribbing as ever, upset at some of the feedback) Sir, some of these reviews are hopeless. I just don't know how can these people be so naive and dumb. How can they even ask to remove this section, it is an integral part of this work! I am convinced this is probably the single-most important research I have done.
Prof.: Oh, do you? Actually, I also think that this section does not make much sense. Let's not complicate the things unnecessarily. Remove it!
Me: (could not dare raise my eyes) May be... Yes Sir, will do that... You are right, I should not be so obsessed with this... (just trying everything I could to hide my foolishness/incompetence) sure... I mean, the reviewer must be very knowledgeable obviously... :-( 

3) The ATM incident:  One day, I ran out of change. I had a few currency notes of Rs. 500. The money was sufficient but at a place like IISc, you would be hard-pressed to tender reasonable change for most transactions. So, I went to one of the SBI ATMs on campus, and entered a transaction for Rs. 500. To compound the problem further, I got a single 500 paper. The machine was hopelessly slow that day and a long queue had already set in. So, I just came out, of courtesy, and stood at the end of the line, so that others could proceed with their transactions. After waiting for quite a while, I got a second chance to get some money in denominations of 100. So, (smart as I thought I was), I withdrew Rs. 1000 this time, thinking that I'll get at least 5 notes of Rs. 100 each, apart from a 500 note possibly or 5 more notes of 100 each. To my utter discomfort, I again received 2 notes of 500 from the teller. The day had already been a very long and tiring one, and this incident put me completely off. Cursing the entire banking system, my luck, and whatsoever I could, I returned to my room where my two best friends had been relaxing. I narrated this incident to them in hope of garnering some sympathy, when the move backfired. They suddenly burst into a seemingly unending laughter, and after much persuasion, one of them pointed out the solution, "Abe Dhakkan, tujhe 100-100 ke note chahiye thay toh 400-400 rupay karke kyun nahi nikale, 500 ka multiple dena jaroori tha!!" (which roughly translates in English to: "You jackass, could not you enter the transaction amount as 400 instead of 500, if you needed denominations of 100"). The chagrin of that moment persists even to this day... :-( How utterly stupid I had been! :-o              

4) The ID-Name Incident:  During my first semester at IISc, I suddenly developed this painful habit of forgetfulness (for reasons unknown): I'd forget my bag in the mess, fail to pick my bicycle from the stands (which I would not remember till the next morning, only to walk lot many miles in the process!), or even what I'd done about 10 minutes before. This provided ample ammunition for my friends, who would tease me over and again. One day, I forgot some important task (which I don't remember :-)) due to which I had to break a lot of sweat. On the way to our department, my friend remarked, "Forget about clearing exams and all... Going at the current rate, you are likely to forget your own name in not too distant future. Have you ever wondered how would you cope with it?".  Thinking how foolish my friend was being, in a very dismissive and condescending fashion, I just laughed at him saying something like, "Hehe... You think I am so dumb! Nothing would happen even then, I would remember my college ID and get identified easily!". That guy had an absolute ball for sometime which I failed to comprehend. Then he remarked, "What a joker you are!  The guy who cannot even remember his name, is making claims that he would not forget his  15-digit ID number.. Holy shit! :P". And he continued laughing for a while.  I was too dumb to understand his logic then, but clearly understand the rationale now! (by the way, I never told him (to avoid being mocked) but incidentally at that moment, I did not remember my ID!) ;) :P

5) Girship = Girl + Hardship (To rhyme with Worship = Work + Hardship)!:
 I had just recently learned how to perfect riding a bicycle (I had not cycled since the time I was 5 or 6). So, the fever caught with me big time and I became an avid cyclist so much so that within a few days, I started covering most of the distance from my hostel to department with both hands free. One late night, I was returning from the dept. at great speed. Suddenly, near a then newly-opened restaurant, I saw a guy accompanied by a girl in the same direction. Because of the momentum, I crossed them in a whiff. But suddenly, out of curiosity, I turned back to see who the girl actually was. The very next moment, I was nursing myself from the bad bruises! What actually transpired was that because of my forgetfulness, I did not bother to have at least one hand on the handle before turning my back, resulting in a free, unbalanced torque! :-( To make matters worse, one of my juniors had been approaching from the other side and he witnessed the whole incident. And he rushed to me (don't know exactly, in a bid to help or something else?) and started inquiring about my well-being. My bruises notwithstanding (I could not walk properly for a month or so, because of a fractured toe!), I just mustered enough courage to get up and move fast, pretending that everything was alright. I don't know yet what hurt more: embarrassment, the actual injuries, or the fact that the girl was not worth a glance! :-(               

I was returning from a lecture (which was absolutely boring) with one of my friends. As we approached the library, we saw a brand new creation (imagine how would you behave on seeing a lush green garden at the center of a desert on a sultry afternoon!), which prompted us to concentrate a bit harder and longer than usual. Suddenly, we saw our Prof. (who was a common guide), coming from the other side... who was absolutely bemused at what he had just seen! Gosh... 'twas some embarrassment... I pretended as if it was just a cursory, unintentional glance... and started looking at the sky, as if I was thinking hard on some research problem! :P I could not dare show him my face though... did not meet him for many days! :D

6) Sweater on a hot afternoon: It was some day in late Feb. 2008. The VB Cricket Triangular Series was in its full flow and there was no way I would miss a match due to ANY lecture. So, I missed all my classes scheduled that day yet again. (The trend had been going on for the last 3 weeks, invariably India's matches would be held on a Monday or a Wednesday, the lecture days for that class). So, we got a mail from our Prof. saying that we had to obligatorily turn up later that afternoon to update him about our project status. Now, since I had not attended so many lectures in succession, I knew I would be quizzed on my whereabouts. I could not fathom any better escape than feigning illness. So, I put on a sweater (those who know me, would testify I would seldom, if ever, wear a sweater/coat even in Delhi winters! :D Some of my friends used to call me, Polar Bear!), and came to the meeting pretending I had been suffering from severe cold and cough. :P  Everyone there was puzzled, "Feb.-March is the only hot season in Bangalore, and this guy is so heavily clad!" ;) The trick worked that day, but not before I had to pay the cost of  my misdemeanor: I was perspiring incessantly :-(    

The incidents presented here represent just a tip of the iceberg; perhaps would write down more sometime again. To all those, who have been closely associated with me, I'm sure you would have your memories of similar incidents during our time (and you might also have had a moment of triumph though occasionally if not very rarely ! ;) ). Let me know, I'll try to incorporate them absolutely honestly irrespective of how embarrassing they might have been for me ...
Thanks for all the lovely memories guys, and for bearing with a retarded like me all this while... really owe you all a lot! :-)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Interview: Taming the Monster

Okay... been a while since my first post. So, am back to torture you guys again with my unsolicited, free, and potentially career-threatening advice lest you heave a sigh of relief . :D

Disclaimer: Please note that the ideas expressed henceforth are a sole collection of personal reminiscences, and are not intended for any social welfare. :) True to the title of this blog, implementing any of these ideas may cost dearly, especially to the genuinely brilliant candidates. Nonetheless, I hope you would appreciate the common, lethargic, ordinary or bourgeois class of candidates, which I proudly represent, needs to devise such things to survive in this throat-cutting, competitive world. Hence, it would be in your best interest to ignore the following as a work of fiction!

In the past, I have been interviewed at some point or the other, face-to-face or remotely through telephonic conversations,  for some well-known (though not all necessarily good) companies like TCS, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Research, Cisco,  IBM Research,  and a world-class research institute, TIFR. Having screwed up most of these interviews, I consider it my pious duty to make sure that I am not the lone victim! As they say, a man is more worried by others' progress than his own downfall!  :P Here, I go...

1) The notion of a "Dream Company": At the time of interview, only one name should be doing the rounds in your mind: the company you are being interviewed for.  At some point during the interview, you are likely to be posed a question similar to, "Why do you want to join our company?". Your answer should be unambiguous, making it categorical that the company has long been an absolute dream place for you (even though nothing might be farther from the truth, in reality).  The rationale behind this answer should be pretty obvious: interviewers (like almost all human beings) have a sense of pride for their workplace; even if they know deep-down that there are better places to work elsewhere, their self-esteem might take a serious beating in case you behave indifferently. But at the same time, make sure that you don't sound too complaisant for it's pretty easy to differentiate between genuine admiration and sycophancy. So, the best way is to do some prior research about the USP of that company and hit right there. For instance, seeing your profile the interviewer might ask, "Why TCS when you could as well try at some heavyweight  MNCs"? One of the key differentiators of TCS (as is the case with Infosys and Wipro etc.) is their indigenous nature: they are a "native Indian" company. So, you could say that it's always been your dream to work for TCS since you'll find great pleasure in being attached to a company that has done wonders to the software industry while being deeply connected to its roots in the country. Another justification would be the adherence of TCS to ethical practices; you can safely claim that some of the business practices of the likes of Microsoft have been openly questioned (remember the penalties imposed by the European Union!), and you would rather like to associate yourself with a better behaving company irrespective of its scale! You may also want to make a point that albeit the gross emoluments being offered may not be completely commensurate with your caliber or the package by the other company, you are not very bothered since you believe you'll rise through the ranks pretty quickly because of your talent, commitment, and hard work! Finally to eradicate any other doubts, just let them know that few of your seniors working in that company are greatly satisfied with the type of work being done there, and  that has further bolstered  your confidence in the recruiter company! Period. On the other hand, it's pretty straightforward to convince the interviewers from a larger firm, since you can always justify your intent by (mostly fanciful) reasons such as the scope of exposure, personality development, cutting-edge work, the impact made worldwide, and so on. Who the hell knows or cares about your actual dream; after all a dream is a personal privilege, subject to continual change... so take another dream before you apply elsewhere! :P                              

2) Justifying the employment gap (if any) in your career:  If you have been employed earlier in some company and then switched back to academia for higher studies (as is common with the M.E./M.S. students), then you are likely to face a question regarding the motive behind your decision. A safe answer would be to say that you felt a strong need to upgrade your knowledge skills at the time, and hence decided to pursue higher studies. A natural sequel from the interviewer would be, "Why don't you opt for further studies at this point" or "Do you have any plans for further studies in the near future"? To encounter such volleys, you might resort to saying that you're done with the studies for the time being since you feel you've acquired the requisite skills, and that you want to dive deep down into doing some really practical work (which is a far cry, let me tell you!), something you feel is not possible in an academic setting (this might be diametrically opposite in reality... but that's okay :-)) Beware that your CV does not mention your TOEFL/GRE and other scores, no matter how impressive they might be! Remember that you are at the interview to show your alignment with the company, and not for some pedantic display. Okay, to be more precise, why waste your talent in front of a novice; better find some connoisseur who can appreciate it. :) 
3) Questions about your previous employer (if applicable): This is more of a psychological trap by the interviewers; they just want to ascertain attributes such as your loyalty, goodwill, and ability to adapt to the assigned team. NEVER ever express any dissatisfaction about the work done at the previous employer(s); say only good or neutral things, such as, the work environment was favorable, manager/team leader was approachable, and it was a good learning experience, etc. Make it explicit that factors such as better exposure and career development opportunities,  more challenging work, etc. were the driving force behind your decision to move on. [Actually, you are laying the foundation to leave the company you are being interviewed for soon;  since going by this logic, presumably the company is a better prospect than your current whereabouts, and should you find a better opportunity, you won't hesitate to part ways! How brutally honest you have been... :D]               

4)   Eye-Contact: It's imperative that you maintain an eye-to-eye contact with the interviewer(s) [Of course, only if he/she is not suffering from cataract or flu! :). And furthermore, maintaining an eye contact should be especially natural if you find the interviewer attractive, something which is rare but not unheard of! ;)].   You should be oozing with confidence, and your eyes should reflect your conviction, because if you are not sure of yourself, then it would be futile to expect others to take you seriously! And (on a more serious note :-)), why should any Tom, Dick, and Harry be able to threaten you to the extent of making you steal your eyes!

5) Don't know answer/approach to solving a question? :( :-o: It is but natural that you might be caught on the wrong foot at some time during the interview, for hardly any one is perfect (utmost as we might try to bask in the delusion! :P). Rather than beating about the bush, be forthright in accepting that you are not very well conversed with the particular topic (for reasons such as facing a long hiatus since the last time you read it), and hence your solution might not be very convincing.  Then proceed to outline whatever vague idea you have about the problem. I have encountered this situation in virtually every interview. For instance, at TIFR, they asked me if "Primes is in P?". I thought it wise to let them know that even though I know that the answer is yes with a computational complexity of some high degree polynomial in the number of digits, because of the famous AKS paper, I really don't have much idea about proving it! Plain and simple. (One of my friends was later asked the same question there and he could not answer it convincingly.)  A slight modification of the common belief, "It's better to keep quiet and be thought a fool rather than open your mouth and remove any doubt", would suffice... It's better to accept your limitations and show your eagerness to overcome them rather than pretend as a know-all and be exposed as a jack later on! :D      

6) "Think aloud": This point cannot be overemphasized. Often, the interviewer is more interested in your approach (the way of thinking) rather than the exact solution.  So, it's advisable to keep uttering your approach as it develops in a low yet audible pitch. And try to link the question to some other problem(s) that you are familiar with. This way, you can "guide" the interviewer into your areas of strength, and then do him in. Basically, you want to kill two birds in one shot, 1) make the interviewer feel that you have the ability to think and work out the problems, and 2) get out of the uncomfortable zone and rule the roost in a more familiar territory.  Put plainly, you are doing a noble work by sharing  the unparalleled depths of your intellect with a pour soul lest it be overwhelmed! :-) :D

7) Yay! I solved this problem yesterday only!! :-):  Guard against being overly excited if you encounter such a fortuitous question. Instead pretend as if you've the least idea as to how to go about solving the problem. Start with a basic, inefficient approach (the usual think-aloud way). Then slowly, suggest the actual efficient solution you know. At the same time, be cautious that you don't prolong the process too much. The rationale is simple to understand: success tastes sweetest after weathering the turmoil, and especially if it is difficult to replicate. Take an analogy, a professor puts forth a question before the class. If some champ answers an inherently abstruse question within a flash, it would indicate that he reproduced the solution from the memory. On the other hand, if he outlines a naive approach first, and then tries to inch closer towards a better solution, that creates an entirely different impression altogether! At the same time, if the guy takes too long to reach the ideal solution, the Professor might get bored or someone else might answer the question in the meanwhile! Act smart, but not super-smart! ;)        

8) Interviewing the Interviewer: Here comes the fun part. Think a bit about the interviewer, a poor fellow. He has to bear with your whims (read illogical blabbering) for nothing. If you are selected, what is the poor chap going to get? Nothing... absolutely nothing! So, why don't you take some pity and offer him some encouraging words, just to make him feel better. So, once the interviewer is done with his ammunition,  ask him about a few projects he's been recently working on... and on hearing his reply (very little of which, if any, would make any sense to you), commend him for the work saying that it sounds very interesting. Also, ask about the type of work you are expected to perform (if you are selected). Again, the superfluous rhetoric: "the work sounds really exciting"! This way, you'll show your eagerness to work for the company and aesthetics to appreciate others for good work. Call it revenge or social service whatever : someone has bored you for so long, it's your turn to say, "Thank You"! :D           

Frankly, contrary to the popular opinion, I have always felt that it's much easier to clear the interviews of the super heavyweights compared to the lightweights.  There are a couple of  reasons for this: 1) The big companies focus more on the ability to think at the spur of the moment, and that provides the candidate with ample opportunity to think "out-of-the-box"! Secondly,  they generally have a wide range of projects, so the chances of your perceived fitness for one of the projects is going to be higher. Thirdly,  their written exam is generally well-prepared, so they are more or less able to filter a reasonable set of candidates for the interview; having already invested so much, they won't like to waste some talent for nitty-gritty details. So, be confident about your chances during the interview; and just don't be nervous because the company represents a huge brand or is notorious for rejections. And remember, in any case, a failure to get into the company is not an indicator of your true potential; even a Newton was thrown out of the school as an overly underperforming student. Just give it your best shot without being overwhelmed. And don't ever bother about the competition, the secret to cracking interviews is performing to the best of your abilities without being intimidated by others' fame.  To be honest, if you run out of luck, you may not still get in despite your best performance, because of the stupidity/ego of the interviewer. (In that case, be thankful that you did not get to work in such a useless place :-)) The only issue is that of ethics: you've had to say a few things that you not necessarily believe in, and that does piss you off sometimes. But that's life; so long as you are not hurting anyone else and believe you can do justice to your selection, this much should be okay...

Take home message:  If you make it, fine. If you don't, even better; because you just got a chance to try harder and reach a better place and an opportunity to make another company repent for its blunder.  Who knows they might have just missed on a Ramanujan! ;) :D  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to create a positive impression: Minimal effort, Maximum result!

After pondering for hours about what would be a good topic to start with, I have finally settled on this one. Being a born sleepyhead, I always used to find the greatest pleasure in bunking classes (of most Profs.) and indulging in far more interesting and productive things such as sleeping. Therefore, to prevent offending my Profs., I had to devise some safety mechanisms whenever I attended their few classes reluctantly. So, based on my personal experience, here are a few simple insights into projecting yourself as a sincere student (PS: these are some handy tips for students, like me, who are content with average grades. ;-) If you are a brilliant or extremely ambitious student, then please ignore the contents and instead utilize your time toward securing top grades by dint of sheer effort :P :D). 

1) Never use the words/phrases such as "obvious",  "of course", "it's easy to see", etc.  They undermine the significance of whatever precious little you manage. Instead, make the obvious things sound complicated. For instance, even if you want to say something as trivial as 5 > 4 > 3, create some fanciful description, something like: Both 5 and 4 lie on the positive or the right side of origin, and since 5 is further to the right of 4, hence 5 must be greater than 4; and moreover, 4> 3 because if not, then 3> 4 would imply 4 > 5 on shifting both 3 and 4 to the right by one unit,  which is a contradiction by the first result! It's much easier to bamboozle your listeners than you might have been made to believe thus far!

2)  Ask 1 or 2 questions. The most important advantage of asking questions is that it helps you to take a relaxed nap for a longer period of time. Just ask a question and be carefree for the next 20 minutes because you have already displayed (rather faked) your mental presence in the class. That keeps you in a positive light from  your peers since in any class, very few attendees bother to intervene! Moreover, it also breaks the monotony of listening to the ongoing harangue since straightway you are weaning the lecturer away from his smooth (and somewhat beforehand prepared) speech. But the million dollar question is: what to ask? One of the safe things to do is to pick a keyword or two, and ask the lecturer to clarify on that part.  But don't overdo this, it could have an adverse effect if used without discretion. Another useful approach would be to pretend that you are carefully penning the notes, and then ask something randomly while glancing into your scribes. Who knows what's exactly inside your notebook. [You might as well be writing some random thoughts, trying your hand at romantic poetry or "sher-o-shaayari", playing some game, completing some assignment from other course, or even using your untapped genius, creativity, and engineering drawing skills to make the front, top, and sideways sketches of your lecturer! Don't miss on these activities, they form a great memoir for your subsequent life.]

3) Make a few well-informed gestures. This is really important since not only it conveys the message that you are not indifferent but also sometimes saves you from potential embarrassing situations! For example, nodding your head a little while the lecturer is looking at you creates the impression that you are getting what's being instructed. Piercing your fingers through your hair sends a message across that you are trying to think. Looking at the ceiling or some adjacent wall while moving your palms alternately in sync (much like the childhood pics depicting the production of spark by rubbing two stones against each other!) conveys your endeavor to dissect the topic to a nicety using your existing knowledge. Moreover, all these gestures, automatically take care of the several distractions (or attractions, which probably constitute the most persuasive objective of attending the class in the first place! ) around should you be caught appreciating the beauty (to be diplomatically correct, ogling is a bit too offensive!).               
4) Closing your eyes once a while.  Make sure to close your eyes, for a few seconds, every now and then after maintaining an eye-contact with the lecturer (and employing the aforesaid gestures) and pretending as if you are trying to memorize or digest the instruction content, as some sort of knowledge update process. This helps enormously since once your eyes are closed themselves (after all, night life at college is so very exhausting due to screening movies regularly, hanging out with friends, or even conjuring serious study plans or time-table for the next day that are never implemented!), the instructor might be fooled into believing that you are trying a bit too hard to grasp his tutorial! Also, make sure that you cover your lips with your hands most of the time with your arms resting on the desk, since yawns are the biggest enemies of us, the  perennial peace (or sleep) loving people!

5) Taming the Curse of Assignments/Exams. Okay, all said and done, you had a decent sleep. At the end of it all, you should not spoil yourself to the extent of having to repeat this activity with all new faces around next time! So, how to take care of assignments? In general, each assignment spans a few independent questions. A natural, intuitive, and rational way of completing your assignment is try to solve one or two easiest questions, and then exchange  them with your brighter classmates (in every class, there are champs who take great pride in cracking the tough nuts first before condescending to look into trivial problems). After all, you should not be re-inventing the wheel, and more so since it's a perfect opportunity to hone your skills as a responsible team-member. Not only this enhances the camaraderie with your friends but also ensures more often than not, that you complete your assignment well-before any of your more-accomplished friends. Obviously, a  little common sense would tell it's very difficult for the top shots to get along well for fear of being overtaken, the average guys don't pose any threat!  This generalizes well to your exams also, where your enlightened friends won't hesitate to shower their blessing or two by making you understand some important topics.  Furthermore, you get to read some precious notes on the eve of your exam. Co-operation is almost always the safest bet to choose!         

6) Never miss the introductory and final classes. Don't miss the introductory class since you may find it too boring to register for that course. And don't miss the final class since usually the whole relevant syllabus is reviewed  by the instructor at the behest of  brainy (like a hare) students like you and me. :)

Believe me,  I bunked almost 10 classes on the trot (Cricket is simply indispensable!) , after attending the introductory class, and employed some of these techniques to get signature from my adviser on the project form in the the comeback class itself.  So the bottom-line is: enjoy yourself to the fullest, bunk as many classes as you can afford (and a few more), and be a smart-worker than a hard one. Recommend taking a few interesting classes and  utilizing your invaluable time elsewhere; who knows you may never get this opportunity again!

Stay tuned for another serious article...