Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Archive for December 2012

The Loss of Innocence – The IIT, Then and Now

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“That was the age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos.”

I was in Sangli and ours was the first 12th class of the new 10+2+3 model introduced by the state education board. I performed better in Biology and got admission to the Medical college – but I had to wait for 2 years to get in as I was 15 years old at that time.  I was hoping to get my second choice of Engineering college – but to my surprise I could secure the only open seat at VJTI in Mumbai. I took it.  A few days later we came to know that someone I knew got in the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay via JEE (Joint Entrance Examination).

That was the first time I heard of the IIT! Later I did my post-graduation in IIT(B).

May be my being unaware of IIT was a not a very common thing even then.  But I soon came to know how intelligent students from all over India appeared for the JEE and got in the IITs.

BTW – a little earlier than that, IIT was the preserve of only the “English educated” elite! Initially, score in the English language test too was considered for the ranking. That was the time when the medium of secondary education in the country was still predominantly the regional language.  English medium “Convent” schools were few and that too only in the major cities.  Sometime in the late seventies IIT JEE ranking started counting only Maths and Science scores – and finally the smart students from all over the country started pouring in, irrespective of their fluency in English.

That was THE age of innocence! A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious – and may I say – rooted well in the “local” ethos.  There was no gruesome competition to get in.  There was no laborious and hard toil for mastering the technique of the entrance examination. Undergraduates used to spend 5 years for their degree.  (Now it’s a four year course.)  Cultural and sports activities were popular – especially in the students studying in the first three years.

I asked a friend how he prepared for the JEE then.  He was in Nagpur and had subscribed to the correspondence course of the famed “Agrawal Classes” in Mumbai.  “Their course material used to come in regularly, but I never used it fully. My board examination got over in March and I had a little more than a month for JEE preparations.  I was living at my aunt’s place and marriage preparations for her daughter were in full swing.  I studied for JEE in that melee – spending almost 3 weeks just for Physics.”  This friend cracked JEE nicely and completed his Mechanical Engineering at IIT(B) in the early eighties.

Fast forward to now.  I just glanced at the website of a leading IIT JEE training institution. It solemnly declared that unless one is ready to spend 12 hours every day for the next two years (after class 10), they should not even think of preparing for IIT JEE!

There are institutions (most notably in Kota, Rajasthan) which charge huge fees, provide hostel facility and where students give every waking hour of their two years to prepare for JEE.

Gone are the days when we used to hear stories of smart and intelligent students from far away places cracking JEE with self study – of course with some help from their teachers.

The fact is that today the number of seats in the IITs are woefully short – compared with the huge pool of extremely smart students.  That has turned the competition so fierce that being intelligent and fluent in Math and Science is just not good enough.  You have to master the technique and and practice it brutally to stand a chance!

That I call the loss of innocence!  I remember my PG days at IIT when I, along with my UG hostel mates, used to spend night after night in the corridors of the main building or in the “Convo” (convocation hall) rehearsing for the annual production – a full fledged Marathi play.  Friends of mine had gone to the extent of getting an Elephant for the inter hostel entertainment program competition.  (You can catch some of it in the book Madhouse.)  Sports was always very popular.  Of course, this was on the side as we studied for our respective degrees.

I am not sure how much of that remains in the IIT of today – where may be the preparations for GRE and insanely high salary offers to campus recruits must have drowned all of that vibrancy for good (or bad)!


Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

December 30, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Mathematics for justice!

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Can we divide something between people such that everyone is guaranteed to be satisfied?  Yes, for sure – and the logic behind it is not as difficult to understand as you may think.

I attended a wonderful Fun-DO-Math session by Prof. M. Prakash today.  He mixed puzzle, mathematics and psychology to debate ways to divide something desirable (a cake, or a plot of land) between 2 or more people where everyone would be guaranteed to be happy at the end!  Here the astonishing part is one can actually prove that everyone would be happy – isn’t that amazing?

Now – some mathematically literate folks may shrug their shoulders at my naivete – but I shall still proceed to describe this method.  I was aware of the first part, where we have two people fighting for the share.  But I had not thought about the case when there are more than two.  It’s quite simple – so even if you are not a math person – read on.  Here we go. (This is a quite well known problem of fair share, but my little google search did not yield an elegantly stated solution. It may still be there – I just didn’t find it.)

Let’s say Baba and Dada want to share a cake. Both want at least half of it. If we appoint a third person who will cut the cake and give a piece to each – it is very much possible that one of them may cry foul. So – what do we do?  So, here is the procedure that you should follow.  You ask Baba to cut the cake in two parts and let Dada go first to choose a piece for himself.  BTW – note that you actually don’t even need to tell Baba that he has to cut it in two equal pieces!  They are both smart people with steady hands and a good sense of proportion.  The moment they understand the procedure – it is guaranteed that both will have no reason to feel unhappy at the end!  Baba is the last one to pick the piece, but he gets to cut it in two.  Dada goes first – so has no reason to complain.

Now, imagine Bhau joins the fray and we need to make three equal parts – and we also want to ensure that it is guaranteed that all of them will be satisfied with what they get.

We have already solved the problem for two people.  We need to build the solution for three people.  There is one added complexity.  We need to ensure two of them don’t gang up against the third!  Let’s say we ask Baba to cut the cake in three, and let him go last.  Then we ask Dada to pick a piece first, followed by Bhau; and so Baba gets the last remaining one.  Knowing the procedure, smart that he is, Baba may enter in a pact with Dada.  He may cut one big piece and two small ones.  Dada will then pick a big one.  Bhau will have to choose one of two smaller ones.  Now it may appear that Baba too gets a small one – but Dada will actually share his spoils with Baba and keep Bhau fuming!  So this procedure won’t cut it. (Pun unintended 😉 )

There are actually two (or even more?) solutions – let’s look at the one that’s easy to understand.  We will first ask Baba to cut the cake in two as if he is sharing it with only one other (and not two other) person.  We then ask Dada to choose one of the pieces.  This is exactly like the first case.  Then we ask Baba to cut his piece in three parts – where it is made clear to him that Bhau will be asked to pick any one of those three pieces.  We tell the same thing to Dada.  After Bhau picks one piece each from Baba’s and Dada’s sets, we are done!  Each one will have two pieces with them – and each of them will be guaranteed to be satisfied that they got at least 1/3rd of the original cake.

Check for yourself why no one will have a reason to complain.  Post it as a comment here.  If you think someone could get unhappy, post that argument too.

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

December 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Let’s Talk Dirty!

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That’s right. I do want to talk about things dirty.  About the stuff that deals with personal and public hygiene.  About little gestures that reveal our character – our integrity, our values.  I am going to build my story one quote at a time – so sit back, relax and enjoy!

Trust only a poet to tell you the simplest, and the purest, test of character.  “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”  That’s Goethe, the celebrated German poet who is said to have famously danced, hoisting Kalidasa’s Shakuntal on his head. 

Let’s turn to C. S. Lewis, an Irish novelist and poet, to articulate a profoundly elegant definition of integrity.  “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

What’s the mark of succeeding? It is “..to leave the world a better place” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer and poet.  Here succeeding means, amongst other thing,  succeeding being a good world citizen.

Please allow me to borrow Emerson’s idiom.  I feel that each one of us, as we step out of the toilet, must leave it a better place!  This one gesture will make one pass the most fundamental tests for character and integrity.  Can you beat that? 

Okay – let me explain why this is a big deal!  

The person who is going to step in the washroom next can do nothing for you simply because she or he won’t even know that you were the previous occupant!  You never have to please the janitor who keeps our toilets clean for a better appraisal or for a new order.  Therefore, leaving the toilet clean and nice means a great way to treat these individuals who can do nothing for you – which will get you full marks in Goethe’s test of character.

When you take that extra minute to dry the toilet seat, or throw the waste paper only in the bin, you are doing the right thing when no one is watching.  Voila! You score 100 out of 100 on Lewis’ test of integrity!

What do you think?

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

December 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm

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