fantasies of life, Life experiences and my thoughts


Golu, after having fought with his mother, had ran away from home and loitered in the bazaar across the river. The narrow, crowded lanes of the bazaar allowed nothing, but humans, in it – even the daylight never pierced through. It was noon when Golu had entered these lanes and got lost in them; men from villages, who follow the Sun and stars, often find themselves lost in the artificial world. Golu was unaware that it was almost four in the evening until he heard a shopkeeper tell time to his customer. Golu was now nervous and hungry. He was also missing his mother. After few more minutes of trying to find his way out of the market, Golu asked a man for the way towards the metal bridge. With an indifferent tone, the man replied that Nepal had released water for one hour from its dam on the Baghmati river, which washed away the bridge an hour ago.

The metal bridge, built in 1886 by the British, was the only thing that allowed people to walk across the Baghmati from Golu’s village. People, who could afford five rupees, also used the services of Majhi, the boatsman, to cross the river on a wooden boat. Another bridge, next to the metal one, was built in 2012 with the latest technology and concrete. But, the latest technology didn’t last even one rainy season. The engineers had advised not to use the bridge for about a month. Still, Mantri ji was just too eager to dedicate the bridge to the public as the elections were near. He didn’t want another person to have the joy of public service. Just a day after the bridge’s inauguration, a giant trailer, filled with concrete for Mantri ji’s farmhouse, passed through and the bridge, with its pillars still wet at its core, collapsed. Thus, the people of Bujhari, Golu’s village, were left with only metal bridge. The concrete on the trailer that sank the bridge was now a part of Bhaghmati’s benthos which infuriated mantri ji. An inquiry was commissioned to find the reason for the collapse of the bridge. Eventually, the Assistant Engineer of the Public Works Department was reprimanded publicly, the contractor’s firm (not the contractor) was blacklisted, mantri ji got re-elected, but another bridge was never constructed. Though, the promise to resurrect the fallen bridge was always made during the election rallies.

Golu, upon hearing about the collapse of the metal bridge, wanted to cry but then he reminded himself that he was 10 years old and grown-up kids like him shouldn’t shed tears. He now headed for the boat. The Sun was long gone, and it was getting dark. Upon reaching the ghaat, from where the boat ferried its passengers, Golu could see a lot of people were waiting to get across. Obviously, the bridge was damaged, and the boat was the only means to cross the river. Sensing the opportunity, Majhi had raised the price from five to ten rupees to ferry the people. Humans are great at sensing opportunities; most grab a chance to profit while there is also an opportunity to serve. 

Golu approached the boatsman and requested him to take across. But the boatsman frowned upon knowing that Golu had no money to offer. Golu began crying. Seeing this, the boatsman offered to ferry him on his last trip if there was space left. So now all Golu had to do was wait. The river water had subsided, but it was still muddy from the flood. Golu glanced over to the other side of the river. His village was so close to him, yet so far. Golu could shout, and people over the other side could hear him, but that wasn’t enough to make him reach home, where his mother was wailing and had gathered women from the entire village to mourn. Golu was nowhere to be found, and somebody had spread a rumour that a child, looking exactly like Golu was seen drowning in the Baghmati’s flood.

Golu, unaware of the chaos at his house, turned away from the river to find a place to sit and wait for the Maajhi’s last trip. On the river banks was a middle school with large, weed-infested ground in front of it. There was no compound wall but a pair of concrete entrance pillars with arched signage on top of it saying, “Government Middle School.” There was also a short wall beside the left post. The wall was barely 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, but it was good enough to hold a polished granite slab that mentioned that the Mantri ji, with his lotus-like hands, had laid the stone of the compound wall of the school. The documents locked in the almirah in the Headmaster’s office clearly mention that Mantri ji had sanctioned 500,000 rupees to construct the compound wall, and its work was completed satisfactorily. However, Golu could find no such wall to sit on. There was never a wall. But if one asked the Headmaster, then he very conveniently blamed the villagers for breaking the wall to steal its bricks. It is, however, weird that people did not steal the granite slab. They say that truth never dies, and the piece of the wall with granite slab was screaming truth, but it seems that the justice system is deaf. It is my belief that the justice system isn’t blind. It can read the government files and their notations, but it can’t hear the screams of the poor. So it must be deaf and not blind.

Since Golu was taught to respect political leaders, he did not sit on the wall bearing the marble slab. Golu entered the school grounds where buffalos were feeding. These buffaloes and Golu were from the same village. Since Golu’s village was densely populated and had no foraging grounds, the owners of these buffaloes would send them across the river to feed. The buffaloes were smart, contrary to what people mostly believed, and could swim across the river, remain with their herd, feed entire day, and when their owners hollered from across the river, the buffaloes would lazily swim back to their homes. Golu started plucking the grass and fed them to the buffaloes playfully. Playing with the buffaloes made Golu forget about his hunger, his mother, and about the last trip of the boat that he had to catch.

Golu’s play was only interrupted by the whistles of a man from the other side of the river. Listening to the whistles, the buffaloes stopped accepting Golu’s grass and got up to cross the river. Suddenly, Golu too realized that he had a boat to catch. He ran towards the Ghaat, but there was no one. Golu could see the boat moored on the other side of the river. Now there was nothing that could stop Golu’s tears. He cried. He called his mother, just the way his mother was calling him, somewhere on the other side of the river. There was no one to see him or watch him cry, so he let his tears out.

Golu was sorry for not listening to his mother. He wished that he had not ran away. He wished he had never fought with his mother. He wished he was on his mother’s lap – hidden. Golu sat down and watched buffaloes wading into the river and swimming towards the other side. He watched them fade away into the darkness and felt loneliness creeping in. He was not hungry anymore. Sadness is the worst – it fills up every pore and cavity in a human, including the stomach. Then, a buffalo went past and hit him with its tail. As if that tail had spoken something to Golu. The boy wiped his tears, started smiling, and climbed atop the giant water buffalo.

Life experiences and my thoughts

Painful realisation of a new father

The entire planet is witnessing the horrors of the COVID-19 and it is not very often that one gets to hear a good news. However, I have been lucky. My wife gave birth to a little bundle of joy on the October 2, 2020. Birth of my daughter seems to have changed me and my life altogether. I don’t think I have ever been happier or there has been anything else that has filled my heart with so much joy before. Not only is my daughter’s sight a dose of oxytocin (hormone that plays a role in social bonding), but her smile is the ultimate dopamine (hormone that plays a role in pleasure). You see, recreational drugs, such as Methamphetamine, induce dopamine which induce a sense of pleasure in our brain. Slowly, our brain gets used to the previous levels of dopamine and then everything else seems dull and boring – contributing to addiction. Similarly, the sight of my daughter’s smile is a perfect recreational drug – there is nothing else in this world that pleases me more. For example, I recently published an article in a top rated journal and it felt like just a small feat. Previously, having an article accepted for publication, even in an average periodical, used to be a major highlight of my year. I used to be overjoyed and remained in hangover of having published for weeks to come. This time, however, all I cared about was the pictures of my daughter on my phone.

While becoming a parent has made me the happiest person on this planet, I have also found that this happiness is fragile. I find my happiness threatened by every malice in our society that could affect the quality of life of my child. Most of all, I often find my heart crying for children born in poverty and abject conditions. I can hardly bear my child crying for milk when she is hungry which lacerates my heart thinking about the pains of those parents who had to see their children slowly die in their arms from hunger. A few days back, I spent the entire night holding my child because she was in pain after getting her vaccine shots. Just the thought of needles piercing my baby’s skin makes me want to destroy the entire humanity for hurting my daughter, but then I am forced to think of the pains of those innocent kids who were born in troubled regions and had to face bombings and painful separation from their parents. These thoughts are depressing and we are aware of them all; however, it is not until we have a piece of our own flesh and blood in our arms that we empathise so deeply with the rest of the human race, and realise the true value of a happy society for everyone. I know I can’t do much for those poor kids but I have decided that I will save some money every year to donate to UNICEF or WFP. My contribution may not be of much help to those disadvantaged but I just hope that it might assuage the pain that I feel for the rest of our humanity – a very selfish thought though.

Covid-19 diary, Life experiences and my thoughts

Patriotism amidst poverty

Teri Mitti – Tribute by B Praak & Arko on Amazon Music

“Nanhi si  hansi, bholi si Khusi,  bholi si wo baanhein bhool gaye;

Jab desh ne di awaaz humein hum ghar ki wo raahein bhool gaye”

Translates to

That cute laughter, selfless happiness, innocent hug – we forgot that all;

We forgot the road to our homes when the nation came calling.

Teri Mitti – The Tribute by B Prak and Arko

I do not like this feeling; it rattles me and makes me sad. It is the feeling that makes me feel connected to my country. The patriotic feel that aches my heart and makes me want to die for my motherland. This song has that effect on me. It is a newer version of an already popular song and pays tribute to Corona warriors who are serving humanity during this difficult time.

I remember this ache in my heart clearly. Two years ago, it was this pain that had made me leave a luxurious life in Canada and join a job in an agricultural university in a remote part of India. High with patriotic romanticism, I wanted to bring change. Unfortunately, things changed gradually, and I became just another contestant in the rat-race to accrue points for job promotion and salary hike. Today, after listening to this song and with an ache in my heart, I am wondering what changed me. I look around for answers. All I can see is poverty. I see poor walking on the roads with determined steps—people, half-naked, and perhaps even a bit worried. I am not sure if this worry on their faces is because of the scare of contracting SARS-CoV-2 infection or is it about finding just enough money to buy food for their families. I see people living in huts with goats tied outside. I am dazzled by a woman darting towards a pool of rainwater on the middle of the tarred road while lifting her child from one arm. She drops the child right in the middle of the pool and uses the water to wash the feces on her child and then gets back to her daily chores. I witness this abject poverty every day, but today I am forced to wonder what these people think about their duties towards the nation. I am lucky that I do not have to think about the resources to purchase my next meal, but I still dare to compare my life with the lives of the poor around me and try to draw some parallels.

We all have the well-being of our nation in our hearts, but how often do we think about taking active steps to bring that positive change in our society. Today, I am forced by a song to think about my duties towards my country, and it is mostly when the country is battling tough times we are reminded of our civic responsibilities. But what about other days? These people around me begin to give me the answers.

An average India, poor or well-to-do, is stuck between the grinding stones of fulfilling the duties towards his family. An average Indian is not selfish – instead, he is working selflessly to provide for his family. Today, when the entire nation is on a lock-down, thousands still throng the streets, braving police action and death from Covid, to feed their families. The lock-down might have broken the chain of spread of SARS-CoV-2, but it also definitely has broken the economy and forced millions further into hunger and poverty. Therefore, India is not what they must be thinking at this moment. Nation is a concept that revolutionaries think about. Patriotism is a concept that survives on freedom from family responsibilities. I would be happy to die for the nation, and so will millions out there, but then who will feed our families. Perhaps, after I came back to India from Canada, I was overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and impress seniors. It is my performance that will determine my professional success so that I can earn more and afford all those luxuries that I so desperately want me and my family to have. Now, if I think really hard, there is a difference between me and those people around me – they have forgotten the nation so to focus on ‘earning‘ basics and I have forgotten it so that I can ‘enjoy’ the basics.

Life experiences and my thoughts

Homecoming series – Part 1: Lonely

January 2018, one of the Fridays.

Braving the winds of Lethbridge, Alberta, I somehow managed to enter my home. True to its reputation, Lethbridge winters had been really throwing mood tantrums. A lovely, balmy morning turned into a snowstorm in no time that day. I took off my shoes and headed straight to my bedroom to changed into loose clothes. Unlike most other days, I chose to draw a hot water bath to warm up my bones chilled by the blast of winds from the Rockies. While the bathtub filled with water, I checked my watch – it was almost half-past eight. This was my usual time to get home from the lab. I was working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Lethbridge. I had a satisfying work-life, which made me want to stay more at work. It was just hunger and sleep that brought me home. Moreover, it was Friday – a day that was usually super hectic as I would try to catch up on all the unfinished works of the week before we headed for the weekend. I hated coming for work over the weekends when no one is in the building.

In Canada, I was a foreigner and sharing my 3-bedroom house with two other roommates, one of which was working multiple shifts to pay for his tuition and gym fees. We occasionally met in the kitchen, where he would often come to cook his chicken portions. The other roommate was a loner. We rarely saw him, except in the middle of the night, when he would arrive home after his shift as a pizza delivery boy. We knew almost nothing about him except that his room had a twin-sized bed, a study desk with lots of books that overflowed onto the floor, and stacks of pizza boxes. He rarely cooked, but when he did, his pans and plates would sit in the kitchen sink for days until somebody else would wash them or wake him up from his perpetual slumber to clean it.

My bathtub was full. After achieving the precise temperature that would neither scald me nor cool down to uncomfortable levels in the next ten minutes, I entered the water and stayed there like a water buffalo.

After having my body warmed up, it was my time for dinner ritual – log into Netflix, open the door of the refrigerator and stare in it to decide what to eat. Since I usually did not have leftovers and hated ready-to-eat food, the next part of the ritual was to open my kitchen cabinet and look at my stock of rice, lentils, and spices while deciding what to cook. It was Friday, I was tired, hungry and could not wait until I prepared food. So, I went back to the refrigerator, took some 4% fat milk into my cute, red bowl, reached out for cinnamon flavoured cereal squares and raisin bran flakes. I grabbed a handful of both, threw them into the milk and watched Netflix web series while enjoying the crunch of my dinner. I actually hated it, especially the part of having my dinner alone. I had actually cried with tears in my eyes while having my first dinner alone 4 years earlier when I had first arrived in Canada as a PhD student,. Hence, the Netflix.

It was almost 9:30 when my phone rang. It was another part of my dinner ritual where my parents would call me from India and ask about my wellbeing. Since we talked everyday, our calls did not last even 3 minutes within which we would ask if everything was fine on both the ends. My parents would always ask me if I had my dinner and what did I eat. That day was no different. I told them that I was doing good, just finished my dinner and had cooked rice and lentils. My parents would be satisfied by knowing that I had learned to cook and was eating well. Actually, I had learned to cook but hated preparing food for just one person. Therefore, most days were just brekfast cereals, leftovers, or pizza for dinner.

Work was fun with people around me and coming home just bit me in my heart. I was lonely.

P.S.: “This is a segment from a multi-part story inspired from my own life – a journey that my wife encouraged me to write down as a blog”

Covid-19 diary, Life experiences and my thoughts

Lockdown – day 1

The novel Corona Virus has taken over the entire world and put many regions under lockdown. India is also one of the affected countries – how bad – that is anyone’s guess. I am an assistant professor at an Agricultural University in India, and for the last year, my life was busy with hundreds of daily tasks. But then this Covid-19 hit us. First, they sent all the students home and cancelled all our leaves – we were required to report every day at work. Then, after a few days, the situation became serious. In the state of Bihar, where my University is, there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 until the morning of 22 March, and then all of a sudden, we receive media reports of one confirmed case and another death from Covid. This was serious. How is it possible that there were no reports of Covid-19 in the state, and then all of a sudden, there is a death? This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, which leads to panic and fear. It was also on 21st that my University decided to lock down its campuses. I live on the campus where the headquarter of the University is situated, and one can find almost all the items of daily use within the premises. Thus a lockdown is expected to be less painful – at least that is what I thought on the 1st day of the lockdown. Moreover, I have forced myself indoors for days while writing my Ph.D. thesis.
In fact, the 1st day was relaxing, except for an incident where a cat got into my kitchen and drank the milk that was on the kitchen shelf. Since that was our entire stock of milk for the next two days and we were under lockdown, I had to figure out a safe way to get milk. I called a friend who purchased milk for me from the milkman who delivers milk at this home. The milk was boiled and safely delivered to me at night when the authorities relaxed the lockdown. Earlier, in the morning, I finished a pending review of a research article for a journal. My wife and I made some noise at 5 p.m. as called by the Prime Minister of India to appreciate the workers on-field fighting Covid-19. I don’t think any field or hospital worker heard our bells, but it was a fun exercise. We felt refreshed and a bit happier under such a sad situation. I also purchased the Kindle book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and read a few pages.
Today was the second day of the lockdown, and it seemed a bit drag. I am not used to holidays, especially when I have nothing to look forward to. I woke up at my usual 6:30 a.m., tended to my plants (they have started to catch spider mites), washed some dishes from last night, prepared some green tea for myself. By this time, I would have bathed and been at work, but this day seemed uninspiring. This is what else I did today:
1) Did some pranayam to keep my respiratory tract healthy
2) Did laundry by hand
3) Browsed web to get some sense of the situation – failed at it.
4) Continued reading my book.

Academe, fantasies of life, Life experiences and my thoughts, Science Humour

Not so easy after a Ph.D.

I am back to blogging after a long time. It is not that I was not writing. In fact, I was writing a lot – wrote my thesis and defended it. Also wrote four research papers and published three of them. Well, the good news is that I have a doctorate now (the one that takes longer – Ph.D.) but the sad part is that I am not a student anymore. For someone as old as me (32), who has always been a student, not being a student is scary. Therefore, after I finished my doctorate, I thought that a victory lap would be a good idea; my bruised ego from constant criticism by my peers and senior scientists needed to bathe in some adulations from the members of the society who probably admired the amazing feat I had just achieved because I felt absolutely nothing special for days after my defence was over. So, I went back to India to attend my cousin’s wedding. The intention was to let people know that a doctor is in the house. Little did I know that the burden of admiration would make me sicker.

All my life I was told to put my head down and work hard because hard workers are always valued. I have put years into developing skills that I thought would increase my demand among recruiters. I understood that my domain knowledge, university gold medals in bachelor’s and master’s degree, and above 90% GPA in Ph.D. w20171116_102129.dng.jpgas not good enough for the real world. So, I invested in skills such as public speaking, academic writing, learning statistical and photography software. I took extra field projects and published more than 11 research articles in reputed international journals. I had served my time, and it was my turn to raise my head and look around where I was. I found myself standing on a raised platform in the middle of recruiters. With all the gold medals and trophies in my hand, I shouted, advertised, tried to sell myself hard. All I needed was one look from someone who would value not my achievements, but the symbolism behind them. Gold, once cast into a medal, does not represent a precious metal from the periodic table, but signifies the honor of its owner. I needed someone to appreciate that, approach me and understand that although I do not have any experience with a real job, I have what it takes to excel in the toughest conditions. A doctorate is not just a certificate of completion of a long research project, but it is a proof of mental determination to achieve excellence, and we need people outside academia to realize this. On the contrary, I found myself at my cousin’s wedding with ‘Dr.’ before my name, avoiding that one question after every customary Congratulation – “so when are you getting a job?”.

Academe, Life experiences and my thoughts, Science Humour

This is how I survived my Ph.D.

“Doctor” – a word that is linked not only to knowledge and respect but also to agony, frustration, and perseverance. If you have just started your Ph.D. programme or are planning to enroll yourself into one then this post is for you.

To understand what to expect from your journey as a Ph.D. student you must have read a lot of blogs and most articles have similar suggestions – be persistent, sincere, and consistent.  I can also say the same things because it is true that only a sincere student can obtain a Ph.D. with his/her honour and sanity intact – latter may not always be true. However, I have some additional suggestions; few things that I learned from my experience.

A common pitfall is to think that Ph.D. is nothing but a longer master’s degree. I know a person who thought the same and is now struggling. A master’s degree typically takes 2 to 3 years, which means that the research project is not exhaustive, has clear-cut goals, and you can actually see the end of the degree programme even before you start your research project. On the other hand, a Ph.D. project demands extreme level of commitment and is not for the light-hearted. Even though the Ph.D. research project may have well-defined objectives, very often the ways to address the objectives are open-ended and require creative methods and techniques to arrive at conclusions that are based on robust reasoning. Since a doctoral work has to be novel, most students work in uncharted territories; trying their hands on new techniques and developing novel and creative methods. And any Ph.D. student can tell you this that trying a new methodology begins with a very common problem – the crucial machine that you were going to use is out of order and the supervisor doesn’t have enough grant money to get it fixed immediately. Next problem – the methods that you read in a research paper and thought were easy do not work. As a result, you end up spending a lot of time just standardizing the experimental protocols which extend your timeline and the end of the tunnel is almost never in sight. Eventually, a Ph.D. turns out being not only about your domain knowledge but also about the test of your creativity – how you use a neglected syringe and a piece of PVC tubing to filter culture media when the vacuum pump was blown out. The toughest part of Ph.D. for me was to wake up every morning to work in the lab without the end of the degree in sight. My Ph.D. could have taken anywhere from 3 to 8 years, or maybe I would have never ended getting a Ph.D. if my hypothesis and reasoning were faulty. So how do you keep yourself functional without knowing if your efforts will bear fruit?

First thing – understand and accept that Ph.D. is a life in itself and needs strong commitment. Most marital relationships don’t even last as long as a Ph.D. degree programme. So, keep everything else secondary and commit yourself to your Ph.D. research for at least 5 years. But like every relationship, your matrimony with your research can develop strains and spicing it up may help. So develop a hobby. Teach yourself a new art. Get involved in a social activity that does not require serious time commitment because research is still your legally wedded wife and adultery is a sin in the eyes of the Ph.D. Gods. I could not get into a romantic relationship because of my research but I used to talk to my parents every day. Also, my best friend was always available to talk to me about random shit. In the 3rd year of my Ph.D. I taught myself photoshop and how to use a DSLR. It was perhaps the best decision of my Ph.D. life. I chose street photography. I am an introvert and going out on streets and taking pictures of random people was challenging for me. I forced myself out in the streets and overcame my hesitation with people. It has helped me even in my professional career – I am better at approaching people and as a result, I have collaborated with quite a few of them which has resulted in co-authored publications. Every time I would get overwhelmed with my research I would take pictures and make some creative changes to it in photoshop. I have a curated Instagram page (@jamwalankur) where I post my best work and words of appreciation from my followers or random visitors to my page have kept my spirits buoyed. I also look at how I have progressed with my photography skills over the time which makes me appreciate myself.

Apart from photography, I learned to read music sheets and play a bit of classical guitar. Music is a great way to overcome the worst of the days. Learning an instrument is not easy but your little progress can pull you out of your misery. I also traveled a lot. Now how can you travel while you are a student? Work hard in the lab, generate a lot of meaningful data and present it at foreign conferences. I always used to take 2 to 3 personal days after conferences. Since the travel to the site of conferences is usually sponsored by the supervisor, university, or the conference organizer, reaching and returning from the travel site is covered. While attending conferences I never stayed in a hotel and instead lived in hostels or rented a place through Airbnb. This allowed me to connect with more travelers and enjoy the secrets of the cities that the people living in fancy hotels do not know about. I was also lucky to travel to the Arctic because of a collaborative project and got some amazing photos (check them out on my Instagram page @jamwalankur).

In the end, when I look back at my journey towards earning a doctorate, I see my path dotted with beautiful experiences that always overpowered the trap of negativity that a Ph.D. project may bring with it sometimes. Oh yes, one more advice – avoid negative people. All Ph.D. students are under a lot of stress and I am more than happy to sit with another miserable student and make jokes about our miseries. However, I am not willing to let another student tell me about his/her miserable life and make me feel bad about my choice of doing a Ph.D. Be selfish and stay away from negative people. They need a therapist and it is not your responsibility to make them feel better. I had one such friend who would call me at random hours and tell me how Ph.D. sucks. At first, I thought that as a friend and a fellow Ph.D. student I should lend my ears to this poor chap but then I began realizing that he was making me sad and depressed. So I stopped taking his calls. I have heard that he is still miserable, rolled back from Ph.D. to a masters degree, had serious issues with his supervisor, has not finished his master’s degree even after 3.5 years, and continues to drive people out of his life. So I think it is better to leave such people in the hands of professional therapists. Rather enjoy your life towards earning a doctorate with pride and learn few more fun skills so that when you finally defend your thesis you know how to impress people with not just the powerpoint presentation of your data.

fantasies of life, Life experiences and my thoughts, Uncategorized

Thank you for your kindness people

Kindness is like a good piece of music; it spreads.

I love to travel but security checks at the airports are the worst. Some of the rudest people I have met have been the people doing the security checks at the airport immigration. One particular rude one was in Brussels; however, this story is not about him. This morning I woke up feeling good and thankful for the things that I have received from this world; especially the things that were unexpected and for the ones that I did not have to put any efforts. My story is about one such act of simple kindness where I was only a recipient.

I do not remember the date but it was an afternoon of early September in the year 2010. I had to leave my quarters at 9 o’clock in the morning to catch an early afternoon flight from Vishakhapatnam to Mumbai. It had rained during the night; however, the sky had cleared up and the Sun was all up and bright, making it a hot and humid day. Because of sweat, I had already had bathed twice by 9 o’clock. I was happy to be leaving the irritating weather of Vishakhapatnam and was waiting for my taxi to arrive which was now late by 45 minutes. This delay on a very irritating weather had already started to test my nerves. I also knew that airport was on the far end of the city and it would take time to reach there, and yes I was right – I got stuck in a very bad traffic jam. On reaching the airport, I hurriedly got into the gates and headed straight to the security check-in counters. I know it is their job but I really don’t like being patted and asked to open my bags for inspection – I pack my bags meticulously and opening them at airports makes it tough to arrange things back in order.

I passed through the metal detectors without any problems but the security personnel with X-ray scanners detected a short metallic rod in my bag. I knew it was the handle of my shaver, so I opened my bag and showed them that it was nothing. However, it was their protocol to register the description of any item that raised an alarm. I was taken to a corner by a security officer and he asked my name. As soon as I told him my surname he looked at me with a smile and asked me if I was from Himachal Pradesh. I told him that I was born and raised up in Himachal. The officer was so glad to hear it. He shook my hands and told me how happy he was to meet me. I was confused. The officer told me that he was once posted in Himachal Pradesh which was the best time of his job. I didn’t have to ask him for an explanation because most people like Himachal for its natural beauty and weather. But his reason was different. He told me how much he and his wife missed the people of Himachal. He went on and on about their polite nature. He told me that he was an ‘outsider’ there but was never cheated or disrespected. He also told me how his wife and neighbours cried when he had to leave Himachal because of his job transfer. Just because some people from Himachal were nice to this man, I was being treated with respect and politeness. The officer introduced me to his colleague as if I was a famous personality that they should know about and later offered to buy me a cup of tea. I would have loved to but I had a plane to catch shortly so I declined.

Strangely, the irritation from the weather, traffic, and delay at the security counter was gone. Later, after the passengers boarded the plane, we discovered that the airconditioning in the plane wasn’t working. Everyone was cursing the flight crew but not me – I had been reminded of how politeness can create a ripple effect. It was because of politeness of someone else to the security officer that I was treated with respect. Airconditioning was fixed in about half an hour and the plane took off. You see, repairing the air conditioners would have taken half an hour even if nobody had insulted the crew of the aircraft.


Academe, fantasies of life, Life experiences and my thoughts, sports, Uncategorized

India’s banking system is failing the common you and me

India lost the finals of ICC Champion’s trophy; a cricket tournament that many believe is a mini World Cup. I don’t care much about India losing this tournament anymore. I loved cricket once. I loved it to such an extent that I would rather watch Sachin, Ganguly, and Dravid bat than study for my exams. However, later in my life I fell in love with fisheries sciences and began spending more time reading books, and gave less importance to sports that others played. The same education took me from shore-to-shore and I got to see a whole new world with my own eyes. In the year 2012, I received an international scholarship from Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for a Ph.D. programme in Canada. I was excited. However, there was a catch – to obtain the scholarship I had to furnish a bank guarantee of U.S. $10,000 in favour of ICAR. This meant that I was required to deposit U.S. $10,000 in a bank, and sign a legal bond saying that if I failed to finish my Ph.D. the entire sum would be transferred from my account to ICAR. My father had just switched his business from electronics repair to selling bags, and we did not have that much money. I also needed money to obtain passport, VISA, study permit, English language proficiency certificate, warm clothes, and even more money to pay for my room rent and tuition fees because I would be receiving money from ICAR only after one month after reaching Canada (I also had to eat, so needed money to buy groceries). I was worried about losing the opportunity but my parents felt guilty of not being able to provide me enough for my education. I could have probably lived without a foreign degree but my father would have never. I decided to go from bank to bank and ask them for loan against whatever we had. My mother was ready to sell her gold but we did not even have enough of that either. We owned a house on a large patch of land that was clearly worth more than ten times the money we needed.

I took all the documents to show to the banks that we owned the house and we were willing to obtain a loan of only $10,000 against it. Every bank refused. It was the month of June – peak summers – and I walked, to every bank, far and near, begging for money. Even though we owned the house, I was made to feel as if I was begging like a peasant from a Premchand’s novel. Most banks thought it was too risky to put our house against the loan and they did not want the hassle of auctioning it in the event of my failure to meet the necessary requirements of the bond. Every bank wanted a 100% cash deposit that I did not have. A bank officer even said that there is no guarantee that I would finish my PhD degree, and that I might just fail one of the exams. I showed him all the gold medals I had received for being University topper in my bachelor’s and master’s degree to which he said, “what if happens to you (he meant I died), and not finish the degree”. I cried within. I really did not want my parents to be thrown out of their home. That would be too much for them to tolerate if I were to die.

After being turned away by all the banks, my father did what he would have never done – he asked his elder brother to loan us the money. My father knew that by doing this his brother would never miss an opportunity to make us realise that he ‘owned’ us and we were worthless. But he was ready to do that for my sake. Within a day the money was transferred to my account by my uncle. Now, all the banks were more than happy to prepare a bank guarantee for me. Some banks even wanted me to open a foreign currency account with them. I receive calls from such bank even now but I still have a plain savings bank account. I save a lot from my scholarship and when I look back I realise that had the banks allowed us a loan, I would have paid it back to them with interest in 18 months. But, the banks would have not wanted that. They want, in all the cases, to earn money. Pure bloodsuckers. Today I hate to even look at the banks.

So, when India was playing the ICC Champion’s trophy I was still not watching the game; however, I was intrigued by the presence of Vijay Mallya in the cricket stadium in England. Vijay had taken millions of dollars as loan from banks, defaulted on all of them, and fled India to escape being incarcerated. On one hand I am amused to see how people admire Vijay Mallya for fooling the banks, on the other hand I am angered to see that banks trusted a businessman, and lent him millions but each of those banks refused to loan me just $10,000 against a collateral that was far more valuable. As I said before, I am not interested in cricket but I have still not forgotten the humiliation I received from the banks.