Goodbye Academia

23 02 2018

This is for my friends who are struggling in academia.

Funny how things turn out. A few years ago, well, when I say few, I mean 1994. I had written an essay on “What I want to be when I grow up”. That time, my future was extremely clear in my mind. I wanted to become a scientist. I wanted to know. I wanted to do. I wanted to build. I wanted to help. Of course, like people say, life takes over. It took over for me. But one thing never changed, I wanted to become a scientist. And I worked towards it. And I was pretty good at it too. Mostly good grades in science. Lots of summer projects and internships. A PhD. Great postdocs. A lot of publications. And in all this, without losing the childlike enthusiasm and curiosity. To know. What changed is what I wanted to be – at a finer level. From a nuclear chemist, to a theoretical chemist, to a spectroscopist, to a surface scientist, to a material chemist. It was mostly an evolution and there wasn’t too much to worry about because I had my lab to go to. Somewhere I read the definition of job satisfaction – “Imagine you have 100 million dollars in your bank account and you still want to continue doing what you are doing.” And when I would think of this, of course it was true. I could easily get into an industry and earn a lot more money but I was happy doing what I was doing. My experiments, my instruments, my lab. How could I even sell my soul to a multinational company? I wanted to help people with my research. Expand the human understanding.
And then life did take over. The next step didn’t happen. I applied for faculty position. In a lot of places. In India, believing that a position lay there waiting for me because there was nothing that was missing from my CV. Top of the class in bachelors and masters, a PhD from the best institute in the country, a postdoc from the best place in continental Europe – the places where people like C. V. Raman, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli and Richard Ernst had walked. Excellent recommendations, excellent publication – in numbers and quality. In fact more than a few of my friends who already had a faculty position. There were new IITs, NITs, IISERs. People were welcoming. Everyone wanted to listen to me talk. Everyone loved my work and told me how they wanted someone with exactly my profile in their institute. I was articulate, friendly. It was just meant to be. Except that it wasn’t. Academia is a cold place if you do not belong. In the end, nobody really offered me a job. At 34, I didn’t have a job. I was doomed. A depression followed. Medicines were taken. And a lot of curses were cursed.

We had joy, we had fun

We had seasons in the sun

But the stars that we reached

Were just starfish on the beach

How could I not get a faculty position. Nobody could tell me what was missing from my CV. There were open positions. How in the world could they not hire me? You know what, Fuck you. And it just went all downhill from there. There was nothing more to be done. Well-meaning people told me to be patient but an year passed and nothing happened. My life was wasted. What else was there to be done than becoming an old postdoc. Changing labs every year or two and hopefully finding a new one. A two-year postdoc. Where you spend the first year in adjusting to the new lab environment and the second year worrying about and trying to find the next postdoc.
But again, and thankfully this time, life took over. Becoming a father sort of changed a few things. Most importantly, taking the responsibility. And selling my soul. I applied for a job in a company. A tire company that was looking for someone who knew about polymers and other materials, about some spectroscopic techniques and few other things. I applied and guess what, they selected me. And here I am. And you know what – it’s not so bad. The pay is good. The job is permanent, as permanent as jobs can be. I don’t have to keep looking for open positions and send them a 200 page application. I am still doing basic research and my soul, is more or less unsold. And then you remember someone like a Shockley, who actually worked in industry. Anyway, my point is it is fine if you don’t get a faculty position as long as you don’t give up. I do not have to complain about lack of funds for my experiments. I am accountable for what I do. It’s not too bad, as long as you get to do what you want to do.


No Land’ Man

3 05 2017

Well, this title came to me long time ago because this is what I have ended up becoming. A no land’s man. However, a google search for the phrase gave a result that this is already the title of a book by Asif Mandvi, an Indian-American actor. But I will stick to the title for this post because I thought of it originally unaware of Asif’s book and secondly because this is what I have become a no land’s man.


Image result for india europe

I do not know if this is a good thing or bad. I just know that this is what I have become.

Now, I have always considered myself a nationalist. Not a nationalist in terms of how the word has been concocted these days. But nationalist in terms of being proud of my country and its glorious history and its hopeful future and the small achievements that it has had. Nationalist, not at the cost of putting other countries or cultures down but nationalist in the sense of accepting the sweet with the bitter. Not at the cost of hating China or Pakistan but nationalist in the sense of proudly saluting my National flag.

And then there is another side to me – the western, European. Some of the Europeans friends in fact have said this to me that I am as European in terms of my thinking and behavior as anyone who has been born there and lived there. I understand and appreciate the so called western values of acceptance and independence and freedom of choice and equality.

And yet I do not know who I am. These days everything is so politicized. You are either a rightist or a leftist, nothing in between. Either you are a Hindu-phobic or you are a Hindu fanatic. A liberal or a religious idiot! Nothing in between! I like my religion and I am proud of it. It makes me happy that I follow a religion that is all accepting, allows you to question the existence of God. It even allows you to be an atheist. It allows you to follow any path you want as long as it adheres to Dharma or righteousness. It allows me to bow my head in front of a Cross. It allows me to enter a mosque without any sense of guilt. I like how it allows evolution with time. I like how it has never contradicted the findings of modern science. But then in the eyes of the liberals – I am a Hindu fanatic. And yet I know I am not. But again who am I?

I lived in Europe knowing that I will go back to India one day. I went back. Things didn’t work out like I planned and then I again came back to Europe. I am very happy to be back here. But I also know that I miss India. However, when I was back there, there were so many things that I didn’t like about India. And yet now, I know I want to go back. It is just confusing. Or so it seems.

When I walk on the streets here, I can feel that I am a bit different. It is not so much the color of my skin which makes me realize this difference – it’s the values that I have been brought up on. What I want from life is different than an average person that I see here.

And yet, I have changed. The same values which make me realize this difference between an average European and me – these exact values do not seem to be Indian either. In India I can feel this difference too. When I say something, not everyone in India agrees with me. Neither my family nor my friends. For them, my thoughts are westernized. They are influenced by the Europeans. My mind has rather been corrupted in the land of the whites because hey – every white person is racist and UNESCO has declared that Indian culture is the best culture in the world. (By the way this was sarcasm – another thing we Indians are not good at understanding).

My parents say that I am caught between the cultures – neither here nor there. I am neither an Indian nor German, so to say. But then again, why do I need an identity like this? Why cannot I just be me? When will this end? What am I going to teach my son? Be like Ram, or Bhakta Pralhad. Take care of your parents when you get old. But hey, be independent. Leave your house when you are fourteen but do not forget to call me every day. At least send a WhatsApp forward every morning please.

Is this also a form of globalization that we evolve into a new species? And to evolve from one form of beauty to another, maybe we go through something ugly? Am I that ugly link between the east and the west? Do I even belong anywhere?

A Friendly and almost Real Guide for Indians Living and Traveling to Zürich and perhaps Switzerland – Part I

6 04 2013

Part Eins – <The Swiss>


The Swiss in general are nice people. They are, as long as you don’t poke them in the eye, or their forehead (Statistically proven). They smile at you even if you don’t smile back. Of course courtesy dictates that when someone smiles at you, you need to smile back at them, whether Swiss or non-Swiss.

The Swiss are always on time. In Switzerland, unlike in India, you do not tell your friends that you will see them sometime in the evening. What you have to tell them is that you’ll see them on Wednesday the 18th at 18:38 hours (at least a week in advance). A wise man once told me, “In Switzerland, on time is late.

The Swiss like to keep everything clean. Now unlike what many of us like to believe, cleanliness is not  a relative concept. Clean, here means absolutely clean. Like the mythical absolute zero k that drives scientists mad. When you look, for example, through a glass window, basically no part of the glass or anything on it should be visible. I think its called spec clean. Cleaning the kitchen doesn’t just mean cleaning what is normally visible to the eye but also those parts that you can’t see even if you tried hard, like the upper rim of the door. Alanis Morissette, I was told, wasn’t allowed to perform her songs from the album, Under Rug Swept when she was in Zürich

The Swiss do have a few quirks which I guess the Auslanders should respect. Some of the things that define a Swiss are:

1) Not talking loudly on the phone or even otherwise.

2) Being sad on the cloudy day.

3) Being extremely fit, physically.

4) Similar capacity as Germans to consume alcohol and not bragging about it.

5) Being rich and believing that the whole world is a happy place to be in.

So the moral of the story is, the Swiss are generally nice people. They are friendly and do’t like to be bothered much.

Cool Physicists and Poor Chemists

8 03 2012

All science is either Physics or stamp collecting

~ Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics.

Normally when I ask my Physics friends, “what are you working on these days?” they answer something on the lines of string theory, relativistic quantum effects or dark matter or looking out for some supernova or you know, one of those cool sounding words. Contrast that with my Chemist friends who answer me something like, synthesis of second fragment of a taxol or characterizing my sample with IR or one of those things about no one seems to care much.

My Physicists friend might grumble but then isn’t it true that what a chemist does, affects the general public, or aam aadmi, directly? I mean would you rather prefer a cheaper paracetamol or would it be better if someone told you that some star exploded a few thousand light years away? But then ask people names of famous scientists and what you would hear is Einstein, Newton, Heisenberg, Feynman. You would surely not hear them say Langmuir, Fischer, Wittig or Hoffmann. I mean who cares who was responsible for the wonderful windshield of your car that dries off almost immediately when you would rather be happy about knowing that “the force between the elctrons is an exchange force arising from the exchange of virtual photons.”

Not just that. Physics has wonderful jokes too. You have jokes about Pascal and Newton playing hide-n-seek. You have movies on Heisenberg, Einstein. They are natural philosophers who write wonderful quotes about religion and ethics and say what God doesn’t like to play with. Then there are these legendary stories of Archimedes running nude and apples falling on heads. And then those wonderful T-shirt captions on the lines of “Gravity is a myth. The earth sucks.

Meanwhile we are stuck with one single joke that we repeat everywhere. “My name is bond. Ionic bond.” We don’t have legendary stories except perhaps the elucidation of ring structure when whats-his-name was sleeping and dreamt of snakes. The discovery of fullerene, beautiful molecules that looks like football, might make good movie but then do we care? Even the super-villians are more engineers or biologists who don’t have to sit in front of a foot long column separating R and S isomers of some poisonous chemical. Who cares when we say that we have 117 elements on the last count as opposed to the great GOD who has only 5?

Anyway, why am I whining? Hopefully one of us would be the next savior of humanity or something. May be then, we might get a bit of respect. At this moment all that I can do is take a potshot. No, it won’t be directed at my software engineer friends. They earn 10 times more than I do for their “work”. The above quoted Ernest Rutherford who called my poor chemistry as mere stamp collection, got a Nobel Prize in 1908 in, hold your breath, C-H-E-M-I-S-T-R-Y. **** on that.

Poonam Pandey to Strip before the Parliament

28 08 2011

If rumor mills are to be believed, Model Poonam Pandey has declared that she will strip in front of the parliament if the Parliament approves the Lokpal Bill. When asked if this was true, sourcs close to the model said, “Yes! This is absolutely true. PP is absoluetely thrilled with the idea and thinks this is much better way to convince the government than a fasting 74 year old man.” Flauting a bikini clad Kingfsher photo of the actress, the source continued, “After all who wouldn’t like to see this.”

When informed that she did not fulfill her promise after India won the worldcup, the source replied, “She had informed the BCCI that she would do it privately for the players. The BCCI was obviously disappointed as it would have meant them missing out.”

Meanwhile the government sources decided to keep mum. However, despite being told not to say anything on the matter, Congress (bad)mouthpiece Digvijay Singh said, “We are open to all sorts of suggestions and incentives to pass a jan lokpal bill. However, Miss Pandey has to know that she will have to do her act twice: in lok sabha and rajya sabha as most of the members of the ruling government are from Rajya Sabha.”

When forced into saying something congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said, “Who is this Pandey? And what right does “he” have to speak something about stripping when he himself is clad in clothes from head-to-toe?” When informed that it was “she” and not “he”, Mr. Tiwari replied, “Oh! I thought I was talking about Chunkey Pandey. In this scenario, I would like to say that our government is open to all sorts of talks and “provocations”.” and exited with a nasty smile.

The BJP meanwhile treaded on its usual nationalistic lines. “This is an insult to the parliament. This is an insult to women. This is an insult to ..whoever feels insulted.” said Sushama Swaraj. Meanwhile BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar in his typical Marathi accent said that it was a serious issue and asked the PM to launch a CBI inquiry into the whole affair.

However, in an unprecidented act of unity, Young politicians across all olitical lines welcomed the move saying that at least this would ensure young people to enter politics. In a strangely awkward position cousins turned enemies Varun and Rahul Gandhi were seen hand-in-hand and duscussing the whole issue with the excitement of 8 year olds while others like Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia etc. were seen gazing awe-eyed at both of them.

Meanwhile Indian Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has asked the government to not believe in Miss Pandey. “She had promised that she would strip if we won the worldcup. And although it did encourae us to win, it left the boys pretty sad when she did not keep her word.” In fact blaming her for the current debacle of team India in England, Dhoni said,”Guys like Raina, Zaheer, Harbajan, Yuvraj have been very dissappointed since then and haven’t been able to come out of the deprssion since and that is clearly reflecting on their performance.”

How I failed my Driving Test!!

23 06 2011

..and managed to pass later without paying a bribe.

Finally after a lot of deliberations, I took up driving. Yes I did.

Many people, including my parents were after me to learn driving. But I would refuse. Reasons being:

1) I prefer public transport. And well, Bangalore has awesome bus service.

2) I love my cycle. Four wheelers cause more pollution and I plan to not buy one unless I just have to.

3) It increases your workload when you have to keep going to the railway station and airports to pickup guests.

But anyway, obedient son that I am, I enrolled myself for the driving classes. And awesome as I am, I picked it up really well and really fast. And then came the part that I dread. Official work. A driving test to get my learners license.

I reached RTO on time. Stood in lines like a good citizen. Then I was made to write a test. Simple test really. They asked 15 questions. Passing was 10. And well, good as I am in written tests, I finished the exam in may be 3 minutes. Submitted my answer sheet and waited for the results.

The traffic guy called my name and said I had got 12 out of 15. And then he said, “You pay 20 rs mandatory donation and collect your learners license.” and ironically handed me a “Mera Bharat Mahaan” sticker.  The rest of the conversation went thus:

Me: “mandatory” donation? What does that even mean?

Police: For army welfare.

Me: I am not interested.

Police: you got 9 out of 15, you failed. We managed to give you passing marks.

Me: But that’s cheating.

Police: We did it for you. Don’t waste our time.

Me: So is it a bribe or are you guys begging?

At this, the policeman got really angry. Said something about me failing in Kannada and asked me something in kannada. I said, if I have failed I will write the exam again. And I did. So as far as I can remember, I had flunked for the first time in my life. But I was happy.

Stood in the lines again and blah blah. And well, I passed without having to pay any bribe.

And well, doing this good  deed sort of gives me a right to give some gyan. We often find ourselves in situation where it is “convenient” to bribe someone to avoid “Zanzat”. But hey, take a step and do something right. It might cause you some physical discomfort but then you will be able to sleep happily. Believe me.

Have my permanent Driving License test on 30th. More on that later if something interesting happens.

Complete and full!!

18 05 2011

It was about four years ago when I first saw the man who was about to change my life!!

I sat in an audience of a few thousand in not-so-hot sun and unlike others I wasn’t so much looking forward to seeing Him. What I wanted was a patch of cloud to shade me from the sun. People were singing a bhajan which I didn’t know then but now is my favorite bhajan.

Radhe Radhe, radhe Radhe,

Radha Manas chandrama

Its a bhajan about intense longing and how the mind keeps changing like the phases of the moon when you are in love.

So anyway, people are singing and suddenly He walks up there and shouts “RAAADHEEEYYYYYYYY!!!!” with intense longing. And then a lovable, “Radhe!!” with His trademark mischivious smile.  He went on to talk at length as how krishna is love and Radha is longing. How you need longing for love to exist and yet strangely enough, love cannot stand distance. What He spoke was awesome but I was bothered by the sun.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, a big patch of cloud hid the mean ol’ sun behind it, much to the loud cheers. He looked at the audience and I could feel Him looking at me, an intense gaze, with his naughty smile and sais, “Hmmm, Hum apna kaam kar rahe hai na theek se!

Well, of course, like any other sensible person, I acknowledged it as a coincidence. The next four years went by with many ups and downs. He made me soak in His knowledge. He made me laugh, appreciate life and people around me. Made me cry too. Salty tears of misery flowed and became sweet tears of gratitude. Life became a celebration.

His gaze

But there was this one thing that bothered me. That intense gaze of His. That gaze had continued for a long time and then stopped. He had stopped looking at me. I tried many things to attract His attention but He just didn’t look.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I was at His satsang again. It was as usual beautiful. It was also one of my last few satsangs in Bangalore which considerably reduces the chance of seeing Him. And suddenly the bhajan started.

Radha Manas Chandrama.

And He looked at me. The same gaze. Intense gaze. Intense and yet beautiful. For almost 20 seconds. I din’t know but I was crying. The look said it all.

I am there for you. How could you even think that I could ignore you? I am you.

May be He had just made me long for His love by pretending to ignore me. I now know that He wasn’t ignoring me because I was still being taken care of. It was just that He wanted me to know that I might not get to see Him physically but He will always be there.

I was full. I was complete. I could feel my self. And like He says so often, I am not a seeker anymore. I have found.

I promise