Thursday, June 21, 2007


I bought a digital camera last December, which fulfilled my long desire to click photos after photos without any guilt. Since then, it came very handy to cover many moments of celebration in the group treats that followed my getting a job. During one of the treats we had in Kolkata, we exploited the video capturing facility of the camera enormously. Later while going through the collection, we were very pleased by the video results that captured many priceless moments. So naturally, when Vivek proposed that we make a movie on ourselves, we were all very excited.

It was decided that the movie would be based on myself, Suman, Vivek, Aditya, Atanu and Vishal. The first phase of planning started in the last week of February this year. It was decided that we would make a musical documentary (based on a song) rather than a narrative of our lives. After going through a number of songs, we finally agreed on nostalgic tune of "Yaaron, Dosti, badi hi haseen hai..." by Kay Kay. The next part was to develop a screenplay for the song. We had two options in front of us. First was to develop a script independent of the lyrics, and the other was to create a screenplay based on the lyrics itself. Naturally following the lyrics was very difficult, more so considering the fact that the musical had many lines of romantic lyrics; and although some of us had girlfriends, we wanted to restrict the video to ourselves. After spending another couple of hours over the issue, we decided to make a video based on the lyrics itself, keeping the Plan B lest we fail to do it the way we planned. But whatever the case, we decided that we won't spend a penny on making a video.

First we listened to the song carefully, then again, and then another time to have a feel of the way the script goes. The next task was to decide the timeline of shots. We first started with the
first scene. My idea of introducing the characters as criminals sentenced to Hijli Detention Camp having their mugshot taken was readily accepted by the group. Vivek suggested that for the second shot (when the lyrics actually started), we can show a gear rolling in front of our faces; something that would bring a nostalgic look to the story as well as be in tune with our department. The idea was good, but had many problems. Firstly, gears (with teeth all over them) are not very keen to roll on flat surfaces. Even if we were to acquire a gear with 50+ teeth, it would hardly roll for a metre, and still would jerk all the way. The alternative to make it roll again and again for everyone did not find many takers as it would make the video look odd. Finally we decided to do it with a ball bearing. Procuring one was an issue, but considering our good reputation as students, the professor we approached readily gave us a brand new ball bearing.

We thought that our quest for that perfect shot ended there, but it was hardly the case. Getting the ball bearing to roll per our plans was no sitter. Sometimes the speed of rolling won't match what we desired, sometimes the bearing would deviate from the path we desired it to follow. Adding to our woes was the fact that synchronizing the camera movement, face positioning and eye gaze were all mission-critical tasks. Eventually, a satisfactory take was achieved after nineteen retakes.

The "action" part wasn't the only problem we faced. In fact one of the shooting sessions we had in Gyan Ghosh Stadium was nearly wasted since it was very difficult for us to do it seriously. One of us would falter and it would lead to a contagious laughter, killing precious minutes before the sunset would make the shooting difficult. The familiar faces among the evening joggers also did little to the cause of speeding up the movie making process. It was way too dark when we began shooting for the final shot of the musical. I personally wanted a retake to be done later, but some others found the effect created by darkness suitable for the shot.

Over the course of next three weeks, we shot at a number of different locations including the department, hostel room, roads, parks and central library, among other places. At one point of time, we thought that we had completed the shooting, only to realize that the interlude was so long that we didn't have enough fillers for it. Also, since most part of the screenplay was well planned, we even had a taste of what directors have traditionally faced for centruries: Actors not having dates free! Finally when the shooting was concluded, we had nearly sixty separate sequences.

Editing video was also a nightmare. When I sat to make the video on Windows Movie Maker, little I knew of the problems faced by editors when the shot is just not of the right size as compared to the words it is to be overlaid on. On certain occasions, just to compensate for a second-long mismatch, I spend nearly an hour to rip off the trailing and leading shots to perfection. The final video had nearly forty different sequences and although not perfect, it still gives me immense satisfaction even though I have watched it nearly a hundred times now.

See for yourself...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rajdhani Express

After completing my studies, I always have to undertake and onward journey because there are no direct trains between Kharagpur and Bhopal. Usually I prefer to change trains from Nagpur (the junction where the north-south and east-west routes intersect), but since I was a bit late for booking tickets due to late change of plan I had to take a break at Bilaspur. I traveled from Kharagpur to Bilaspur in Howrah Kurla Express, and for the latter part of the journey till Bhopal was in Rajdhani Express. While the journey till Bilaspur was eventless, the travel in Rajdhani Express isn't something I would be forgetting for some time to come.

We boarded the train at 8 am in the morning. The train had a very slow start, but we discounted it to the fact that there was a mega-block in the Bilaspur-Durg route. The services had an impressive beginning. The breakfast arrived within minutes of the train's departure and the public announcement system buzzed with the details of the stations en-route and the time of journey. But our happiness was short lived. The bread served with the breakfast was stale, conspicuous by its foul smell. The omelet was also unpalatable. After the breakfast was over, we learned that there is no water in one side of the coach, leading to rush on the other side. This fault was, to my surprise, never rectified. The service by IRCTC caters was also sub-standard. They kept bugging us to take back the used plates starting the 3rd minutes we were served breakfast. The caterer that served us didn't utter a single word, that passed of as very rude. By his third or fourth visit, I actually thought that he might be a dumb person. My pity for him ended by his tenth visit when he uttered his first words. The AC setting of the coach was set to such a cold one that for the whole journey, we had to use woolens. The lunch was slightly better than breakfast but still below average as compared to the service of other trains I have been to. The snacks served comprised of Samosas, sweets, mango drink, and namkeen. Unfortunately even the branded items were of sub-standard quality. We decided to not order dinner at all. It was undoubtedly the most inconvenient journey I ever undertook on a superfast express.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dream come true

When I entered into the fifth year of my studies at IIT Kharagpur, I had two dreams that wanted to fulfill before I graduated out of IIT. The first one was a very long standing dream, something that I had constantly dreamt of since my first year in the campus: To attain a CGPA of over 9 (out of 10). When I managed to secure 8.81 at the end of my first year, I knew it was only a matter of time before this dream got fulfilled. I predicted that I would cross the magic-mark by fourth (if not third) semester. But the scare of second semester (in which I managed to score a mere 8.04 and 8.32 leading to my CGPA falling to 8.52) meant that my dreams were far from over. During that time, I had begun fearing inability to maintain my CGPA over 8.5, and thoughts of a 9.00 were taking a backseat. A lot of hard work for the next four semesters, in which I managed an average GPA of about 9.5, landed me at 8.96 bringing me awfully close to my dream. I knew my job was far from over. I recollected the experience of one of my friend, who even after coming numbing close to the magical figure at 8.99, couldn't manage to break into the 9+ club.

My second dream was to secure a job with Shell (the popular name of Royal Dutch Shell plc). Unlike the previous one, this was not a long-standing dream. Although I knew about Shell for a long time, it was only when it came for campus recruitments for my senior batch did I get interested in the company. Shell was opening an R&D centre in Bangalore and wanted to recruit fresh graduates for the job. Before I heard about Shell's offer, I had trouble deciding which company to prefer. I wanted to work for a large company, preferably in R&D related area. I wanted to be preferably based in India, and wanted a job which promised good growth opportunities. Of all the companies I knew that came for recruitments, none of them fitted the bill. I knew that fresh graduates can't be very demanding about job options, so accepting the situation while trying to figure out my preferences was the best thing to do. Thus, when I heard about the job description of Shell, I couldn't believe it as this was exactly what I had wanted from my job. What was more heartening was the fact that not only was their compensation package non-repulsive, on the contrary it was very attractive, much more than what was offered to Mechanical Engineering graduates in India.

Even with such a clear choice in my mind, the work was far from finished. Not only was I far from clearing the hurdle of passing their selection process, I also had to find a way of not getting placed before Shell came for recruitment. The easiest sounding option would have been to not sit for any interviews before the D-day, but even an amateur would say that this can be suicidal. So I decided to sit for HLL, the only company other than Shell where I would have been happy to get a job with.

I was shortlisted for the final recruitment process by both HLL and Shell. HLL was on Day 1 (as they say), and Shell was on Day 2. I fared well in the group discussion round of HLL, and even cleared the first round of interview. Only me and Sneha Prasad managed to reach the second round of interview, which I later realised was a stress interview. The big-shots of HLL did everything to stress me out, but even though I got stuck a few times, I never lost my cool.

Usually, when people come out of their final interview, they expect that they won't get though, but pray that they do. With me, it was the reverse case: I expected to get an offer from HLL, but prayed that I don't. When the final results arrived, I learned that I couldn't make it to HLL. Looking back I feel that HLL wanted a person from thermal background, and while I was from a Dynamics background, Sneha was from Manufacturing background. All this was now irrelevant as I started preparing for the Shell Recruitment Day (SRD).

The Shell Recruitment Day was so much full of events that it deserves a post of its own. However, I will summarize what their recruiting strategy was. They gave a part of case study (background material) for reading the previous day, and on the SRD, the remaining part of it. After 80 minutes, we were supposed to present a 5 minute summary of our recommendations, followed by 20 minutes for questions and answers. The second round was a technical interview where we were grilled on a couple of our research topics for 30-45 minutes. The third round was group work where the candidates had to discuss and recommend a few projects for Shell to fund. Because of some chaos that resulted in last day's recruitment process, the results were held up till 3 am in the night. As you might have guessed, I got selected in Shell along with 16 other students. My joy knew no bounds when I learnt that after getting a 9.52 in the 9th semester, my CGPA finally became 9.02.

The experience of getting a job was most certainly a fulfilling one, and quite surprisingly, in the days to come, I found bitterness in it. Initially, the bitterness was because I came so close to being nobody. If I were unsuccessful at getting a job with Shell, it would have meant that I would have been left unemployed for many days to come. What was more painful was that I would have landed in a job I quite likely wouldn't have enjoyed in the first place. It is said that those who have seen death closely start understanding life a lot. I was not an exception to the rule. Whenever I tell someone about my job they either start feeling proud of me, or develop envy against me. But none realize how close I had been at being nobody. In the days to come, I saw many friends who were still hanging in that empty zone. While all knew that they would get "some" job, nobody knew which one. I saw so many people applying for every other job, with their aptitude taking a backseat. I saw each of those stories as my own, and placing myself in their shoes, felt the pain they themselves were going through. One of my favorite mantra is "Life isn't meant to be fair". For the first time in my life, I understood it from my heart rather than my mind. Things turned out beautifully for me, and I ought to be happy, but something held me back in enjoying things to the fullest.

Keeping these discussions aside, I often find people wondering why I didn't go for higher studies or pursued MBA at IIMs. It has been tough for me to explain these things to everyone, but I think that I should document my opinions on the issue once and for all. Most of the people who know me (but not closely enough) take it for granted that I will be going for higher studies. I must say that I often feel surprised at it as I have never said or done anything that remotely indicates my aptitude or passion for higher studies. The people who assume this about me either owe their belief to my intelligence, or the hard work that I put in studies that gets reflected in my academics through my CGPA. I never knew that using the Grey Matter was linked to going for higher studies. Also, while it is true that most people who put extra-hard work on their academics go for higher studies, I don't see any reason why the former should cause the latter. As a student, I feel that it is our responsibility to do well in academics, irrespective of the career line we choose to pursue later. The reason why I never went for higher studies is that I don't have aptitude for higher education. My experience with research has been that at the doctorate level, people become overly obsessed about a topic of a minor significance, something which I find myself incapable of handling. Also, add to the fact that the best you can do is choose the field of your major research, with the exact topic of your research decided by the whims of a professor you hardly know before start working with him. The atmosphere of indefinite detention also doesn't help. What lies beyond the Ph.D. degree also doesn't thrill me. One either goes for an R&D job at an industry or enters academics. If I were to choose the former, why not choose it at the graduate level (As a matter of fact, I got an R&D job with Shell). The latter is not something I relish. We all have heard about professors who understand their subject very well, but are unable to teach their subjects effectively. Some may respect them, but they get ridiculed by most of the class. This is something that I would not like happening with me. Those who wonder why I didn't go for MBA surprise me even more. Throughout my educational career, I have hardly done anything that would showcase my talent or aptitude for management. So when I have showcased enough aptitude and talent for technical job, why on earth should I move over to a field that I don't even know I would relish or not? I presume most of those who pursue the IIMs do it so because of money. They join the rat-race of getting more and more money, realizing little that money would stop mattering even before you turn 30. This is something that people from all walks of life would tell you. In the end, it is job satisfaction that matters. It is not that I am averse to management; but what is the point in jumping when you have no clue of what would greet you. Adventures aside, I consider it suicidal, not to mention outrightly stupid. I don't know if someone asks me this question again, do I repeat this whole story, or redirect them to this blog post.