Sunday, August 06, 2006

New Graduate Student Cometh

Its Fall season. The leaves have begun to turn colorful, the wind is cooler and more cheerful and days extend late into evening. The stupor of summer is beginning to awake into realization of what has not been accomplished, and needs to be done. Well established routines of procastination have been tried over and over again. We, the tenured graduate students, the keepers of the flame, the intellectuals who have piles, high and deep, and yet the abbreviation PhD is not ours, we defy common sense and indulge in new graduate students.

The motives are as varied as our researh areas. The singles need to mingle. Suitable graduate students of opposite sex. Pick them when they are young. Catch them fresh off the plane. Provide them roti, kapda aur makaan, i.e. food, clothes and house. Start from basic needs. Americanize them in a way that you deem is most appropriate. Hand them keys to your house, passwords to your machine. Cook tasty food for them. Shave each day, and even iron your clothes (for newbies haven't yet realized how important unshaved face and haggard look is for an able graduate student. No Actually many do it because of the competition. Survival of the fittest).

Get them groceries, show them movies. Take them to Walmart, displaying it with a pride that honeymooning husband feels when he asks his wife to open her eye, and she gushes at the vista of rising Alps, bathed in setting sun. Give them stolen hours from the daily routine, which your advisor thinks is being used for writing the research article that was due last month. Throw a party or two. Appear social, popular, funny, artsy, intelligent, great cook, glib talker, shy, young, well-read, adventerous: as the case may be. Plan each day better than any experiment done in your lab. Even clean up your kitchen, and with much emotion, even your room. In your room, discover the vestiges of such enterprise of last year, and smile at yourself, thinking what mistakes you made when you were young. Belief, you know by now, and faith in your own ability must stay in spite of all the evidence that seems contrary to that claim.

Besides the singles of opposite sex, there are married and committed ones too. They must be attended to. Once they are amused by your deeds, they will recount these to the beauties they will know, room with or attend classes with. A word of mouth, a personalized recommendation obviously can get you a favorable prejudice even from the ones full of pride. Sense and sensibility. Praise their hubbies, and show how committed you are to the cause of new graduatestudentkind.

Besides them, there are the Pappus, who are related to the aunt of your mother's grandmothers' sister's granddaughter's sister-in-law. If they were of same sex, this could have been used as a reason to tie you together (for relation is far fetched) or claim the person is your relation or sibling (and incest is unacceptable). If one of these arrives, your whole planning is crumbled into the biscuit crumbs that they carry in their luggage from India. You tend to become more productive at work. Suitable instructions are released to friends, who must watch their words. Whatever happens in graduate school stays in graduate school. You need the Pappu to become pregnant with his own guilt, before he can see your mistakes run amok in large numbers.

There are juniors you can command around. You suddenly know all the answers as you talk to the senior who has joined so late as he was working for some time. You drive home the message asto whos the boss. Whos your daddy now? You say that and share the joke with another batchmate in another university, who grins and has his stories to tell. These people have arrived from your undergraduate school, where rumor has it, you spent the best years of your life. Where (it doesn't matter how nerdy you seem to me now, how high your GPA was which got you here in the first place, and I damn value educational achievements) where, you had lots of pun, parties, booze. SUmmer of 69, Red red Wine and Those were the best days of my life.

There are unfortunate ones, the Laawaris ones, some are meek and humble, and bumble like Raj Kapoor from Shree 420. Amusing, respectful. They are nice chaps. You take them under your wing. They give you homage throughout their life. They help you cook, clean, find names of the newbies you need to be introduced and find their own Nargis in them. You remind them of "Pyar hua hai, ikraar hua hai" song, tell them to be curious but careful and of course, the song is mentioned for they used it in a commercial. You find out all the commercials are changed by now, and this guy was too young to remember any of the commercials you saw in your time.

There are certain Amitabh Bachchan's in the new group. The angry young men. They think they know what they need to know for they were educated in Hollywood and have tickets to Las Vegas shipped by confident Papas in India. They look at your apartment and either smirk thinking how shoddy your living conditions are, or just mention it to their high class girlfriends they left in India. These anti-establishment ones need to be educated. They need to be broken, bruised, beaten. Satya must be watched all over again. Some break into bits and their mothers arrive in haste. Some break into your heart and you laugh about how wrong your initial impressions were. Some move in with Americans and after loosing their first blood, return to the fold in a year or so. Like a good shepherd you allow them to come back, and for their pride, they will be made scrapegoats in due time, or reared for their wool. You are an elephant in this jungle of studenthood, and an elephant never forgets. You really are trying to be Mast, but the Advisor reins you with deadlines.

There are homesick ones. As if they have travelled to US by sea, they look pale, wan, nauseated, tearjerkers. They have no interest in your food, for their Mamma used to feed them with her own hands. What depravity, they think, when you announce this is the biggest feast of year, serving them homemade Rice, Daal, Curry and Mix Vegetables, cooked by four different household put together. The house that cooked Rice also got beer, which the homesick one cannot touch. Like Mahatma Gandhi, before leaving home he promised to keep away from White Wine and White Women. So you explain to him that everyone there has had made similar promises, and this means the playing ground is still quite big. You chuckle as you explain, no white women, but tanned ones are alright, and of course there are Brown ones, Black ones and the Yellow ones.

You are positively high when you explain Beer is not Wine, and Vodka is essential for survival in this cold cold country. The homesick one recalls from his Bollywood education that excessive drink is harbinger of a woman that very night and child nine months later. The idea of woman urges him on, the thought of a child holds him back. He is too naive to know that the species of opposite sex is already gone into the arms of old students, Amitabh Bachchans and promises made in India. He doesn't know even the tanned ones have taste, Yellow ones are lost due their foreign tongue and Black Beauty was never happy when she was tied down.

There are philanthropic interests. There are communist interests. There are social reasons, for the animal in you needs to know more people. You do it, becuase when you came no one did it for you, or someone actually helped you. You do it because it relieves your stress when you notice these new recruits who have been pushed to the front with half as much training and half as much expertise. You do it to get new ideas, stories, readers for your blog. You envy their enthusiam, their optimism, and scold your cynical self, the hardened soul to come alive again. This is a particular problem when you tell a new person of opposite sex that this is not possible, that will never work out or time will show them that you are right: they think you don't have faith in them, shout at you, and there is definite danger that they will start hanging with their age group kids. The worst fears always come true, but thankfully you are the only one with a running car and your time in graduate school in years shames their stay in months.

I see new graduate students everywhere. Maybe I have a sixth sense. The happy faces amused by all they see, springy steps (Aajkal Paon Zameen Par Nahin Padtay mere: These days my feet never touch the ground), curious and friendly. The frowning faces, who see danger everywhere (Ye haadson ka shahar kai, yahan mod mod pe hota hai koi na koi haadsa: this is a city of disasters, at every mod, waits a disaster). The new pairs who have just dicovered freedom from India's prying eyes, and are perhaps more happy in doing what they never perceived possible, "dating, flirting, eating out, watching movie at guys house", more happy in actions that perhaps with their partners, discovering the beauty in Classic Romantic Movies (Chotay chotay shaharon mein ..... nahin nahin nahin... Bade bade deshon mein choti choti baatein hoti rehti hai: Small things keep happenning in big countries) and even find the romance of walking at late hours outside (Yeh kahan aa gaye hum: O where have we arrived) and loose their way in the streets.

The New Graduate Student Cometh. You realize you actually know things that you can talk about to them who don't know things. You realize similarly in real life when you go and get an actual job, you will be able to say things and people might be there to listen to you for various reasons. You will figure that you have yourself gotten to that age, few years ago which age people you called uncle or auntie, and laughed at the idea "Auntie mat bolo naa" (Oh please, don't call me aunty). You get an opportunity to flaunt your skills, your experience and breadth and depth of knowledge. There is a kind of romance in the air. You feel life is not all that bad, and yet decide that you will be out of here before the new students come in next year.

The Fall leaves are a music below your feet, the moonsoon season of new students is over, the fields of your friendships are full of a promising crop. In the end you win some, you loose some. You move on. The only thing that hold you back now is the new student who will be here for long, and you will need to stay more than a year for companionship. You tell yourself, learning from seniors who have trodden this path before, that life's decision must not be based on any other individual, and your steps move faster and faster towards your lab. You suddenly realize months have passed without any progress in research, and you start afresh with new enthusiam. Like always, you start with a break, you check email, blog enteries and end up forwarding this piece to everyone you know.

We are all so similar. Except that one new graduate student, who I am aching to be introduced. (I let out a big sigh, and decide I'll much rather concentrate. Pick up old notes, and start typing a new research paper. How I wish writing papers was as easy as writing and reading long blogs!)


Vani said...

To all those out there...
"Lage raho lage raho.." :)

nice piece by the way..!

Vivek said...

Comments from Dud Sea Scrawls:

By atrakasya on Mon, 2006-08-07 08:03

Absolutely a brilliant blog, vivek Smiling
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Brilliant i think sums it
By Pradzie on Mon, 2006-08-07 09:52

Brilliant i think sums it all up!

But not being the guy of few words, i havta say more.

Professir, please go ahead and pass us the research papers and some input on what the output paper should look like. With Atra’s handle on everything-under-the-sun and my goofy take on his perception and add some IW spin to it, think we’ could help u in having a Dr. as a prefix. But please go ahead and continue to write these kinda blogs.

G to the power of 3 and G on love and everything is something similar and i had a ball reading it.
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Not a bad idea
By atrakasya on Mon, 2006-08-07 11:38

Yeah, come to think of it - in the last millenium, I’d ghost-written one paper for a friend of mine who was studying molecular biology in some top-end South African university, and turned out that her professors liked the paper, according to her (though she never asked me to repeat the favor) Smiling)
I think academicians are kind of easy to take for a ride Smiling
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Nice !
By heartcrossings on Mon, 2006-08-14 23:47

Very nice summary :) Just in case you guys haven't read it already here is a "scientific study" on the subject
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Vivek said...

Busy with new students:)
By Vivek on Tue, 2006-08-15 05:14

As you can expect… my whole purpose is to seem altruistic, though after reading the link by Heartcrossing, I realize I have crossed through all the categories already; atleast most of them. Maybe it is my time to focus and Graduate…. Already questions about age, and years in US have tormented me enough:)
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Vivek said...


August 7, 2006
02:48 PM


good luck with "that one new graduate student";)

and you just made that up --gandhi and white woman - heh:)

Vivek Sharma
August 8, 2006
12:07 PM

Isn't that the fear of every Indian mother that their son would fall prey to White Woman and Wine:)?

The new graduate student is so beautiful that she is likely to be taken already;)

August 8, 2006
03:55 PM


...taken already

hmmmm...don't be so sure...the most beautiful are the easiest to approach because most folks make the same assumption you made...

August 8, 2006
08:01 PM

nice article vivek :D
temporal is your logic 'plagiarised' from 'A Beautiful Mind'. hehehehe
cheers folks!