Monday, October 26, 2009

Prof. Roddam Narasimha visits IIIT

Prof. Narasimha was the speaker for BPUT convocation. He was to arrive in Bhubaneswar on 23rd, proceed to Rourkela, return to Bhubaneswar on 25th and fly back to Bangalore. VC Prof. Mohanty requested us to take care of him when he is in Bhubaneswar.

We received Prof. Narasimha at the airport. I had not met Prof. Narasimha before. Prof. Ajit Das had seen his photograph in his homepage. After trying three people, we could guess him right. We took him to the Raj Bhavan. As usual Raj Bhavan was full of bells and whistles. We had a tea with him. Then, we met the Governor HE Bhandare. He was watching golf on a tv channel while meeting his guests. He discussed about state of research India. After meeting the Governor, Prof. Narasimha proceeded for lunch. We discussed about the possibility of his addressing the students. He agreed to do that on Sunday.

On Saturday, we informed the students about the Lecture. We made it compulsory for resident students and optional for the day scholars. Some resident students wanted to go home for the weekend. We denied their request. One student said her parents have already come to take her home. Another said her mother has already cooked for her and it will be wasted if she doesn't go. We paid a deaf ear to all excuses and said no.

Prof Ajit Das picked Prof Narasimha and came to the campus. I went to IIIT right away. I ensured that the sound system etc were functioning. The lecturer was well attended. Prof Narasimha spoke about the research challenges he had faced in his very long career. He urged to students to pick research as a career. The students asked a few questions.

We took Prof. Narasimha to the Airport. Prof. Mohanty met us there. The flight was delayed for about 2 hours. Prof. Mohanty suggested we go to Khandagiri and Udayagiri. I had not visited the two hillocks for more than 10 years. Prof. Mohanty spoke at length about the historical significance of the two hills. He took Prof. Narasimha to the Airport.

I was impressed by the simplicity and scholarship of Prof. Narasimha. His knowledge about history, mythology was impressive. He is 76 and yet a very active researcher. I hope that his inspiration will work and some students will be motivated to take research as a career.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Diwali Celebrations

There are a few celebrations in India which transcend religious barriers. Diwali, Holi, Christmas are among them. I wanted the Diwali celebration in IIIT to be a special one. When I discussed with faculty members, they pointed out that the exams are going on. Hence, any Institute initiated celebration will be distraction for the student. Though I was not convinced, I relented. Then, a few students approached me with their proposal for diwali celebration. They wanted to share the diwali with families of the Campus Construction Workers. I thought that was a fine idea. Sweta Rout has been pestering me for a creativity club. I asked her to write her creative piece for Diwali. Here is her piece:

Diwali is the biggest festival of India that celebrates the victory of good over evil. This festival symbolizes the vanquishing of darkness and the emergence of light. We celebrated Diwali for the first time in our institution, IIIT. The festival was preceded by a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The environment of IIIT on the day of Diwali was lull of traditional and religious passion. The girls worshipped Goddess Kali and offered prayers to her. We decorated our institution with candles and diyas. An eye-catching rangoli added to the charm of the crescendo. We also shared sweets with the workers who suffer tiresome days and nights for the construction of a world-class infrastructure of our institution. Then workers had decorated a board with candles depicting the name of our institution as “HAPPY DIWALI IIIT”, which was extremely stupendous. We, then, burnt a lot of fire crackers which included the ones that made a stunning view of colorful stars in the air. The guards guided throughout the celebration to make it a safe Diwali for us. The bonfire made the day more exciting with a delicious dinner made by the mess. It was certainly a day of celebration and an amiable experience for all the IIITians.
I am happy that the students have shown the initiative and celebrated a special festival in a very unique fashion.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

I am not a great cricket fan. But I follow cricket occasionally. During the summer of 1983 world cup in England, I was at home. I had just completed Engineering and about join a Job in Mumbai. There was no TV in those days. We tuned to BBC to listen to the cricket commentary. West Indies was a force to reckon with. There were Clive Lloyds, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge as Batsmen. They had 4 very dangerous fast bowlers. West Indies were unbeatable. But India beat them in the first encounter. Very unexpected. India was to beat Zimbawe easily. In the match against Zimbawe, India was 17 for 5. Then came Kapil's 175. India beat Zimbawe in the most unexpected way. India's victory in the finals was very unexpected. It was a low scoring game. Viv Richards was supposed to finish it single handedly. That was not to be. The guys who bet on India's victory - there were not many- has the unexpected joy of laughing all the way to the bank. That year West Indies visited India. We expected the series to be well fought. India lost every single match comprehensively.

The recent cricket matches are very unexpected. After IPL, India was to be superstar in 20-20 cricket. In the 20-20 world cup they were out in the first round. In the champions trophy, they were out in the first round. In a Series of matches before that India has a unenviable record.

In the world today the winner expects the unexpected. This is a contrarian view which opposes the view held by the majority. Consider the job market. A few years ago the job market was very bullish. The market for IT professionals was kissing the sky. In the last couple of years the job market has seen the bad times. What do you expect the job market to be in future. Th unexpected?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Chief Minister Comes to IIIT

We wanted the IIIT campus to be inaugurated by the CM. He was there when the foundation was laid by the-then President APJ Abdul Kalam.

We had sent a proposal to his office. Initially, they gave us a date on 19th September with a lead time of about 5 days. We had to make the campus presentable. Our builder painted the Academic buildings. Efforts started to level the frontage. With the JCB and the road roller in action, the noise was enormous. The toilet on the second floor was made ready. Everybody swung into action. By 16th Sept I came to know that CM has postponed his visit. We kept it a secret and let the work progress rapidly. On 18th morning we revealed the CM's programme. The CM gave the date on 9th Oct.

There was Puja Vacation lasted about 10 days. Ajit went to Nainital for Vacation. As is my wont, I stayed at Bhubaneswar working on the new Website, Hibiscus, chaning the OS of all my computers to ubuntu, watching a few movies. I visited the campus every alternate day. The work had come to a standstill. Everybody went home for the vacations. I had a meeting with IT Secretary Pradipta Mohapatra. He was concerned about the arrangements. I assured him that every thing will be ready.

On Oct 5th the Institute reopened. We took stock of what needs to be done. The laundry list of things to do ran into about 3 pages. We divided the responsibility. Prashant, Sidharth, Debasis, Umakanta, Bishoyi and others were given tasks, deadlines, quality parameters to fulfil. Every one was one campus till midnight. We tried several permutations and combinations for our plans. Initially we planned refreshments for the guests. Later we changed it to lunch after discussing with Ashok Panda. We briefed the students about the details of the CM's Visit and shared our expectations from them. We had discussions with Prof. Tanutrishna who would be the anchor.

We had the Minister, MP, MLA, Chief Secretary on the guest list. We invited guests from the Academic community, Government, OCAC, IT Fraternity. We did a rehearsal the previous day.

There were goof-ups. The weather was very humid and hot. We wanted to put a couple of ACs for the guests of the dias. The event manager brought window ACs which could not be installed. Fortunately for us, the weather turned pleasant.

The function went on with clockwork precision. All the guests arrived in time. The CM arrived about 5 minutes late. We had the unveiling of the plaque. We discussed the the campus plan with the CM. He said that the devil lies in the details. He seemed happy with our campus but made a few comments. Why is the floor not polished. Why the campus is not green. He suggested that we take ideas from a landscape architect Mr. Shaw. He promised to give us another 17 acres of land we have requested.

I had shared the dias with the CM on a few occasions before. But, I never had discussions with him from such close quarters. The stakes were high. I was nervous.

The function went precisely as we planned. The MP Sri Patsani was very entertaining. The CS promised to make efforts to make IIIT an University. The CM shared that 9th was the birth day of Gopabandhu Das. It was a coincidence and I was not aware of that fact. The CM gave a pep talk to the students and the faculty. Others spoke with brevity. I gave the Vote of thanks. I spoke about the amount of coverage Orissa got in the last general elections and its coming of age. I shared the pencil story with the students. The function lasted less than an hour which was our estimated time. Even though we had arranged for some refreshment, the CM declined but requested the rest of the guests to have lunch with the students and faculty.

After the function was over many people complimented me saying the function went off well. I was feeling relieved. Most of the staff were tired and left a little early.

On 10th Oct, IT Secretary Mr. Pradipta Mohapatra called me and told that the CM was happy with organization and the conduct of the programme. He complimented him.

The Foundation Laying was the First important function. I was not with IIIT at that time. In fact there were no one with IIIT except Ajit who was the OSD. The CM's visit was next most important function. This function had the involvement of the faculty, staff and the students. I am happy that it went off well.