Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An Evening With Jeffery Immelt

I don't know much about Jeff Immelt. I know a little bit about the "straight from the gut" Jack. But Jeff Immelt, CEO General Electric (GE), guest speaker at the conclusion of the Michigan's Leadership program, was pretty much unknown quantity. He is an ivy league dude. He has an undergrad degree at Dartmouth and a MBA from Harvard Business School. So he did the right things at the right time :-) dotted all the i's and crossed the t's. So he told us his thoughts about leadership and what business school should mean to us.

I sort of liked the guy and certainly felt he knew how to connect with people. He was a tall person and had a security personel on the front and back. I guess being a head of a 170 billion$ company requires you to have some security stuff going on. The first year MBAs have a 2 day charity event Wednesday and Thursday, where we build a house or do something similar. Traditionally, every year, Jeff Immelt's talk would be on the Thursday evening after we'd completed all the hard work. But in his own words "my daughter's joining college on Thursday, I have to accompany her and so I changed the dates. In life you must understand your priorities". So there you go he connected with people right away.

Listening to him talk was a good experience. He told us the value of a business school degree and asked us not to ignore "boring" courses like HR courses. His main stress was on doing menial work. With many examples from real life, he explained how he did work that was not something an MBA would do, and at the same time never thought "I am a Harvard MBA. This is below my dignity". What I understood from his speech was that no job is below anybody's dignity ( I have not come to terms with this yet). He also took us through his first week as CEO ( 3 days after he became CEO -- 9/11 happened). And in the concluding phases of his speech, he let us know his thoughts on leadership. I think he said, (1) great leaders develop other leaders (2) leaders are good listeners who can separate the chatter and focus on that 1 good idea, (3) leaders are good people-persons, and (4) leaders pay and take risks to earn their ambitions.

Finally he fielded questions on his relationship with Jack Welsch, his most challenging decision (which was to shut down an appliances plant) and his globalization philosophy. One thing is becoming clear to me in the first week at an American Business school. Globalization is a big thing. India is now on everybody's radar. Jeff Immelt is a big pro-globalization guy. He openly said "we have to close plants here and layoff people to open new ones in China and India". I heard the word India being uttered at least 50 times by Jeff Immelt in his speech in various contexts. I heard India being uttered 10,000 times in the last 1 week by various professors. Gave me goose pimples ( and I am not even that kind of extreme flag waving patriotic, so imagine how it must have been for the every time i open my mouth I'll say "mera bharat mahaan" dudes). India is certainly slated to be a superpower by 2050 barring any big catastrophe. China is much ahead of India in projections and any other predictions. It is seen as a much bigger investment potential than India. The pie charts and maps constantly show China as overtaking the US and India as overtaking Germany in the future. I have always been skeptical about India's place in the world's economic future. This last 1 week has told me one thing, the people who matter think India has arrived.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Miscellaneous Stuff

1) Somebody is forwarding the campus interviewing blog link like crazy. And all the recepients of the link email seem to have yahoo addresses. I am getting like 300 hits in a day (Thats like a blast) because of this and because of item # 2. If any of you folks are visiting this site because of the "Campus Interview" related mail that you got, please fwd that mail to me. I am really curious.

2) The listing of my "Recipe for success " (it's not a recipe really) in Desi Pundit (Thank you so much - Kaps).

3) On Music: Did not like 1 single song in Mangal Pandey. Pretty lousy. I think the title song is really good in A...Aaah. The rest of the songs suck. Gajini is above average.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Graduate Record Exam (G.R.E)

Note: 2 more posts pertaining to M.S applicants and hopefully I should move to the MBA thing.

"machaan! I am focusing on Quants and the analytical parts of the other section. Once I get strong in this I'll slowly start on the verbal".

These are famous words by people who will most probably never do well in their GRE exam. If an average desi with little or no "English knowledge" (read as people who aren't, and excuse my spelling, the Nurenburg Rosenblum variety) says the above statement, I always understood it to mean that he is lazy and has not started preparing for GRE yet.

When I prepared for GRE the format was much different. But from the University's perspective this is how I perceived them as viewing the contents of my application packet. This is the list of application components ranked as per importance.

1) Statement of Purpose
1a) IEEE papers and other sort of papers.
1b) Possibility of you being a PhD student.
2) Letters of recommendation ( nowadays universities don't care a lot about these)
3) Academic Percentage-GPA / GRE score
4) Any other experience that might contribute to you being a better student.

If you notice TOEFL is not on the list. You just need to get the passing score in TOEFL to be eligible for admission. Don't brag about your TOEFL score to other people. I have seen people who didn't register a blip in the GRE come and brag to me about a 650 TOEFL score. You come across as a boring, unfocused person. A good TOEFL score in an educational system that has 14 years of English preparation is nothing to be proud of. Most plants which grow in our schools should get that passing score.

The item ranked 3 is to determine your aptitude/academic capability/ intelligence whichever way you would like to say it. Universities cannot really determine anything about you from your academic percentage/GPA. Mainly because the evaluation system and quality of students in individual schools is so varied that it is hard to fix a common denominator. GRE is a exam that tries to establish a common denominator by choosing as its sylalabi things that all engineers will know by default. Its not an advanced test or a crazy test like the CAT but just a time-pressure test. Many people soften the GRE by saying "it really doesn't test your intelligence. It is not a measure of your capability". Forget this kind of bull shit. This is a test.. some test.. that you have to certainly do well. You can console yourself in many ways for a bad GRE but the truth is - dude this is 10th grade math and some English. This is not the toughest test you've faced in your life. If you sucked in the JEE, that's alright. But really GRE... you should put up a decent performance. You gotta do it well. The only reason why I have seen people do badly in GRE is lack of preparation. That is clearly attributed to laziness/lack of seriousness etc. Bottomline - if you sucked in GRE - you and your laziness is squarely to be blamed and not any "ETS is a corporate shark that fleeces money from us" kind of BS. So when you get your score and if you feel it did not reflect your capability, pay ETS more money and take the test.

There are two sections in GRE now.

Quantitative: This is mostly basic mathematics with little twists and turns here and there. The idea is to make less mistakes. Think of it this way a 700 in Quant is like a really bad score. Anything above 750 is acceptable for an Indian engineer. There are many who score 800 and keep quiet. So don't brag if you have a 790 score. It is really not a big deal.

Verbal: This is the section that will make all the difference. Everybody gets some decent score in quant. The lazy people who didn't spend the time on their word lists usually suck in Verbal. If somebody didn't tell you before here it goes - Mug up the word lists. There are 50 of them in Baron (that should suffice) and make sure you go over them enough times to say the meanings whenever randomly asked. This will make all the difference. You need to know meaning of words to understand analogies, antonyms, fill up the blanks and Reading comprehension. Don't ask stupid questions like "do Americans really use these words in daily life". The real answer is sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. However, Nobody cares if they do or if they don't. It may also be really helpful to have a good vocabulary. But Bottomline -- You need to know those words for your GRE. That's why you learn these words. As simple as that.

Once you have become good with words and have sorted out the fill-in-the-blanks and the antonyms part ( I am assuming these things are still there for the test) - then comes the reading comprehension (RC). For me this was a tough nut to crack because until very late in the game, I didn't evolve a good strategy on "Read the questions first" or "Read the passage first". Didn't get out of this rut on the GMAT either. You have to be a fast reader (which I was) but you also have to be good in nested sentences. Nested sentences is just a regular sentence complicated waaaay to much because of the commas. The sentence becomes bigger and bigger because of phrases embedded in commas. They hijack the real intent of the sentence to distract you. I formulated an idea where I converted commas into brackets and sort of tried to read the sentence minus the contents of the brackets. It worked to an extent.

AWA: This is really unimportant and I have not seen many universities take notice of it unless its really bad. I think anything less than 4.5 is bad. This is graded by a software which looks for a particular arrangement of sentences. See AWA help by Kaplan GMAT books. Kaplan or Princeton put out a special "Kaplan Verbal Guide", which covers the AWA.

Do you need to go for a coaching class?

I went to Datamatics. Mainly because it had a reputation for attracting good looking chics. We did very little of GRE'ing in our time with datamatics. It became an excuse for everybody to get acquainted with a new group of friends (read as entities with girls) and hang out in the New Gangotri (which is not there now) or Saravana Bhavan. Datamatics had an English teacher called James (from Vellore) who spoke waaay too much about sex. He spent more time on the words "lascivious", "promiscuous" and "salacious" (excuse the spellings) than he did for the rest of the word lists. But in all seriousness word lists can't be taught. What Datamatics did was regularize our learning process and bought a disciplined system into place. For that alone - it was worth the 1900 Rs. When you start off on the word list, you maybe going at a rate of 1 word list a day and you will certainly forget the word list you previously studied. Don't worry. Its normal. You will remember better as the word-list iterations progress.

Why is GRE very important?

Outside the Top 15 (or say Top 20) universities, other universities don't care to read much into you Statement of Purpose (SOP). They award admissions based on your academics/GRE. It is purely up to you to determine whether you want to be part of a university that ignores all the bull shit you throw at them in the Statement of purpose and does something like this. That doesn't mean that Top Univs don't care about your GRE. But in that stratosphere your IEE papers and other stuff begin to make a difference. I think a 1450 score or above in GRE is a good score. Anything above that the university should begin to consider you seriously. If its a top university you could see a 1600 being rejected for a 1460 with a good SOP and papers. Financial aid decisions are made based on your GRE in such universities. Most importantly. GRE goes as close to your grave than any other application component. Visa Rejects for M.S applicants are mainly (is also sometimes are only) because of poor GRE score or poor academics (read as arrears).

Know any good GRE material?

While shopping for a cousin, I found cheap GRE CDs in Swathi book house. Barons is the standard for the word list. Kaplan has traditionally been a really good prep book. The Big Book - by ETS, provides real ETS questions and is also a must buy. The power prep, I heard, is sometimes really misleading because it is 10 times easier than the actual test. I'd buy Barons, Kaplans, The Big Book and a bunch of CDs. Anything else I'll buy purely for extra tests.

What's important on the things-to-do to prepare well for GRE?

I think in this test you move up in levels. If you feel your score is stagnating then you need to back off and do some serious studying before taking more tests. I'd recommend taking about 15 - 20 tests overall and a same score range in two consecutive tests is enough for you to back off. Post-mortem is extremely important. Writing a lot of tests and randomly studying to see if your score improves is plain stupidity. Every test you post-mortem for 2-3 hrs by reading what the right answer is and analyzing why you chose the right answer. This helps more than anything else.

Why I wrote such a pissed of article?

See nobody is a GRE expert. That's my attempt at being humble. Having said that obligatory disclaimer lets move on. But at the same time, ownership of mistakes is a critical thing. You didn't prepare well, drank some beer, watched porn movies and generally hung out with your friends and then sucked in your GRE. So blame yourself. If I were you, I'd simply admit guilt. I have said "I sucked" many times. In this context ( and a few other contexts) I frown at people who don't follow the rules and then say "the rules are all wrong" (There maybe other contexts in which the rules are stupid and wrong). It doesn't even take guts to accept guilt because it's plain common sense. Don't go blaming the system and play the victim. Its just pisses everybody off.

Let me stop by giving you an example. I met a guy in Ohio State with a name that's long even by Indian standards. He was from a remote village outside of Tuvakudi, Trichy (Which itself is a remote village). Educated in Tamil medium. He could not speak 1 single sentence fluently in English. He had never read English novels and not seen 1 single non-porn English movie. He scored 750 in verbal. Which is a pretty big thing. I was curious (mainly because he scored more than me) and asked him "How"? He just said he slogged hard. He wanted to do well and so he prepped for like 6 months. As simple as that. After seeing him, and then later meeting landmark-going, semi-English-dudes with some fancy novel in hand, talking about dating etc complain about ETS -- its plain frustrating. Yes! ETS makes money. Everybody is out to make money. Stop Whinging and get to work.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Got Caught Sleeping

In continuation with my previous post on my initial experience at "back to school life"...

I guess I am sort of revising the list of all my past faults so that I can warm up for the next 2 years. Or on the other hand, I'll prefer to view such things as "I'll do all the offenses now so that I wont have to do em' again later". I had been sitting up late on Wednesday and Thursday nights, getting the house in order, and getting up at ungodly hours to rush to school. So in my defense -- I had reason :-).

I knew I was feeling sleepy so I decided to sit in the first row and up my class participation a little bit - so that I don't fall asleep. What I didn't expect was a new teacher with a sleepy voice (he was a good one though). So it became really challenging to stay awake. I sort of remember my head dropping down a little , I remember fighting within myself to stay awake. The voices from outside were coming and going. Slowly the voices dimmed and then I dozed off....maybe for like 3 seconds. But that was enough.

Then I heard a voice speak to me and I suddenly came alive and found the teacher addressing me. In that micro-second I knew I was busted. But the same micro-second assimilation of information told me I was not busted that bad. He was talking about +ve and -ve feedback and which kind of feedback a person tends to notice more. So he called out my name (I noticed he was very near me) and said "if you get four kinds of feedback and 3 said you were good and 1 said you were bad, what would you notice". I sort of understood that not many had seen me sleeping and the instructor was the only dude to notice it. When he held the mike out to me to address the 430 strong class, I just blabbered out, "I'd notice the +ve feedback". To which he responded "is that what you would notice? Positive feed back". He said in a sort of way my Hindi teacher in 9th std SBOA School (Balasubramaniam was his name) said with the pompousness of a city school teacher addressing a village bumpkin, when I had told him that my previous school was Jayendra School from Palayamkottai, Thirunelveli. "From what School?... Jayendraaa Saraswathi" pretty much told me that he didn't think much of that school.

So I changed my answer and said " I was kidding its the negative feedback that I would notice". To which, the instructor said aloud to the class "its the negative feedback that people tend to notice more..." and moved on with his lecture. I thought nobody had seen me sleep. A couple of feelers I sent to my friends confirmed to me that the assumption was valid. Then one person caught up with me in the coffee break and said "I slept but didn't get caught! That's because I wasn't on the first row"

Darn it!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Opening Day At School

BSkewl and Brit-Chick wrote about the welcome addresses at Wharton. I guess it's Michigan's turn now.

So it was the grand opening. The Dean was there to give his opening speech. The eager batch of 2007 students had assembled in the Hale Auditorium with bated breath. It was the beginning of a momentus experience spanning 2 years. Possibly a life-changing experience. There was a round of applause, nervous excitement. The buzz, the energy, everything was there. We can safely say that "Things were happening" at 5:00 PM Wednesday, Aug 24, 2005. It was a moment no one should have missed. And where was I at that time?

At the Bus Stop.

I was sitting all alone (completely alone) in the sun looking at cars whizz past me thinking "There you go! Late again". I remember Mr.Natarajan(who is no more now) at the Lakshmi Coaching center. I attended Math Phy, Chem coaching class conducted by this center at Guntur Subbiah School, T.Nagar. The class was at 5:30 on weekdays and everyday for the entire year, I walked in at 6:10 ( MASH was on TV from 5:30 to 6 on weekdays). On the penultimate day of the tuition class, just before the 12th exams began, as I walked in at 6:10 PM, he said, "Please come on time at least for your last class. You have been late for every class this year". I sort of looked at the old man and felt guilty and decided to skip MASH and come in early the next day.

I came in at 6:10 the next day too.

So here I was sitting at the bus stop and except for the cars passing by occasionaly, I was surrounded by complete silence. I was reflecting on the hectic last 20 minutes, where I was shouting "where is my towel?, where are my keys?, where is my wallet?, where is my sox?".I thought (with a shudder) that when I walked into the auditorium late, the Dean would point his finger at me and embarass me by saying "students don't come in late to class like this fellow here". Then I thought "Wait a minute! Thats happened to me before." From 12 Std till my marriage Janavaasam, I have been late. I pretty much concluded if I didn't change now, I never would. I thought "Man! you are in MBA. Professional World. Look at your class mates, they are all on time. They are profesisonal. Indians, Americans, Chineese all have started becoming punctual and you are still behaving like a 12th grade kid.". I felt lonely.

Then 4 more desis walked into the bus stop scratching their heads as if to say "we are late".

If You are a desi there is always company :-). I was actually happy that those 4 others were late too (Hey.... I am allowed to). When I went in, the auditorium was full, I had to sit on the floor. The deans speech got over before I came (So I don't know if he said the "MBA is like drinking champagne through a firehose" cliche that every B School seems to say). The speaker made references to Michigan's rise in the rankings and the wonderful recruiting activity for the past 2 years. He showed statistics that said Michigan was ovarall ranked at #6 in Businessweek Rankings, #10 in U.S News and # 1 in Wall street Journal. It appears that we were ranked #3 in Marketing, General Management and also ranked #4 by all recruiters. It seemed as if we were pretty favorite with our recruiters. It was all nice to see that at least 85% of the class got placed while at school. So it at least looks good on paper. Added to that my initial impression of the school tells me that its much stronger in finance than it has been given credit for. Then he said "We are on at #6 now. The next thing we gotta do is knock one school from Boston, Chicago or Philly and get in to the Top 5 schools". And there was a round of applause. I'll just stop with the factual narration and offer none of my own opinions on this.

We are having a 5 day pre-term leadership training course. The first two days just got over. While the first day was long and pretty much sucked, today's stuff pretty much salvaged the program. Our leadership case study yesterday was a movie (Stand & Deliver). We could take our spouses and go watch a movie and answer some leadership questions on it. I should say the group discussions were fun. We were asked to discuss personal stories and how we changed as a result of certain events. The group discussions really had an impression on me. In conclusion, I think this era of MBAs could turn out to be slightly different from the previous eras. While a few were rich kids who came here to spend daddy's money so that they can take over daddy's company. Many are pretty determined and come from regular backgrounds. A big chunk of the class have tried to set-up their own start-ups and failed. Many have worked in start-ups that got closed later and have lost jobs as a result of it. A even bigger chunk have been laid-off from their jobs at least once in the past 4 years. Behind the smiling exterior of these people, what I could gather from conversations (there were many intense conversations for the past two days) was that they are prestty pissed off. And I felt (on more than 5 occasions yesterday) that some of those I talked to wanted to get back at somebody or something or just get back at life itself. There was quite a bit of " I wanna prove myself" going on. However, I still think my cynical mind is not allowing me to get sucked in by all this energy and enthusiasm. Anyway the point is -- A lot of people have been hurt or have had bad experiences in their lives (Makes you wonder -- Why do people have to undergo bad experience to learn something deep? Why can't people learn from happy experiences?). And finally the class discussion on the topic concluded that people are more mature and much better as a result of bad expereinces. What do I personally think?

Shit Happens!

That much I can understand in the past 2 days. There certainly seems to be an intensity or a restrained fury that people want to unleash. It seemed to me that they were looking for the MBA to channelize that kind of energy. I think its a perfect setting for a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

If P Then Q

I have often wondered and debated on this topic - the factors that make people successful. While this blog is more general and not specific to people who are aspiring to do higher studies, it does heavily apply to them also. This is not a counseling blog on how to become successful. Obviously I don't have a recipe for success. However, I wouldn't say "no one has". I think people do have such a recipe. But it just works mostly for themselves. And one that may not be applicable to others. Whenever this topic comes up, I have been involved in conversations where people have said things like "being in the right place at the right time" and something along the lines of "he got a break at the right time" and finally "she was lucky". This may be true and people might have got lucky breaks when they were at the right place at the right time. But I have always felt this reasoning was superficial. Saying things like this comes with an automatic assumption that if 5 people were waiting for a result everybody except one failed, then the only factor that separated him from the rest were lucky breaks/place and time. Is this always true? I don't think so. It is only an over-estimation of personal abilities and qualifications that can lead to such a conclusion. If God had a person doing lucky-break statistics, I think about 1 out of every 100 people would have been truly "lucky". In that they would hardly be qualified to be a recipient of the positive outcome but still might have won. Even this statistic is debatable as jobs and admissions aren't offered on a platter, if you aren't worth it. Gone are the days when you get a job because "the Panchayat Board president said so" or "minister said so". Ask any hiring manager and he will tell you the nightmare he has to undergo if he did a bad hire. Today a Panchayat president and minister might provide networking opportunities to pass your resume. All they can do is set up an interview. Beyond that -- in the software era where accountability is the key a majority of selections has to be merit based.

There was a time in my life when I was in a rut and my academic life wasn't moving forward. I wasn't able to make a decision on further studies/job hunt. I was indecisive. People are very headstrong when they are indecisive. Funny isn't it? You are changing your mind about what you wanna do at the drop of a hat, you are open to everything, but still someone calls you headstrong. It is true. This contradiction is very hard to explain. I have noticed that people are at the peak of their dogmatic mode during 4 stages of their life jobless/frustrated, idle/jobless, trying-but-failing and indecisive. They are headstrong about their fundamental principles. This is where they firmly believe that what they are doing is right and think that the lack of success is because of "luck" and other random factors. They also attribute other's success to freak accidents. It was then when I chanced upon a proverb that completely altered my mental state at that time "Losers don't like doing what winners do as a habit". This is what experts call as a paradigm shift. The common (mis)conception is that you lose because you aren't able to perform as well as the person who wins (or as many people like to believe - you aren't lucky enough). You never think that you lose because you do not like to win.

This realization deeply affected me. I backed off from my mental state and tried to figure out what was going wrong. I then realized that I liked doing things that contributed to failure and disliked doing things that led to success. Here is when self-confidence, strong-mindedness become a disadvantage. People don't veer off from their bad habits because they firmly believe they are right. I think self-confidence and determination are like huge amounts of money that is standing to be invested. If you don't invest them on the right stocks, the very same qualities will take you down. Moving on, upon further inspection, I found that people who succeeded were not actually lucky. There are a lot of factors that go into building a positive internal environment. So people have certain habits that they follow internally within themselves, which contributes to a positive external behavior and thereby success. A class first ranker is not a first ranker when the results come out. He is a first ranker when he studies daily, understands well and prepares hard. Fundamental principles, preferences, ethics, behavior, philosophies and attitudes are actually the attributes that shape a person's internal environment. This is what is technically called as the inside-out habit. Change begins from within you and not from things outside to you. Successful people are not sudden winners. They were not just standing on the road when someone threw a big paycheck or a Harvard Admission on their heads. Nothing in life comes that easily. Free lunch? Remember? They sowed the seeds for success a long time ago. Just that you did not get to see that part of the act.

So when I began questioning my preferences (because that is what the proverb directly attacked) I found that I did not prefer to do the right things. On looking around it is easy to find all the CEO's Managing Directors and Entrepreneurs have one thing in common. They preferred to do the right things at the right age. They got their advanced education, the PhDs the MBAs at the right time. Luck is all about the right preference, the right attitude and the right investment at the right time. Most of the people I met in the previous company I worked for were really capable of higher studies and better jobs. In the age when they should have actually pursued it -- They just didn't want to do them. Maybe they blamed it on the Parents. Think about this Career Path of Person A (8 years after graduation): Anna University -> MIT M.S -> IBM Watson Lab -> Wharton MBA-> McKinsey. Career Path of Person B(8 years after graduation): Anna University(Gold Medalist) -> Infosys Project Manager. The difference between them was not ability but preference. Person B realized that at a later stage and rued the loss of that window of opportunity. He called person A lucky. When that was not really the case. The audience do not see these preference investments that happened much before success was met. The audience only sees the results and based upon some superficial interaction -- they decide the successful person was lucky. Hey! if Bad luck was the only thing preventing your success then the story is believable maybe for one instance. But if a person quotes bad luck all the time, then he is due for a serious introspection. He needs to change his habits.

Changing habits is the toughest thing to do. Because that involves a swallowing a huge lump of ego down your throat. You are actually accepting that your preferences/attitude/thoughts/perceptions were wrong when you change your habits. And believe me its a good thing to do. This is what experts constantly call re-invention. I heard someone mention "you are lucky to have been involved in charity for past 5 years. You got a Harvard admit". I was thinking "wait a minute! That's not luck. That's an investment that paid off". 5 years in charity is no joke. It is the blind and the foolish who attribute everything to luck. You make your own good luck and bad luck. Deep investigation always contradicts the luck factor. Look around you and see all the successful people -- they had the essential attributes that bought them success. Successful people have an environment around them which is filled with the right attributes. They are like the package set of right things. Check if you are winner or a loser by questioning your thoughts on their success. Do you think everybody is lucky? Are you successful. If yes, then do you think you are lucky? Apply the same law to everybody around you.

If P then Q is a basic logic theory. Its useful for GRE preparation. If it is given that -- If P exists then Q will exist -- then what is the corollary? The corollary is If No Q then No P. Not the other way around. i.e you cannot say If No P then No Q. This is false. Q can exist alone. But if P has to be there then Q has to be present. So if P = Success and Q = the attributes that go into making a person successful. Then If P is there then Q will be there. If No Q is there P will not be there (barring a few very very rare exceptions). Q can exist alone as a result of certain abnormal circumstances which is also confused as bad luck. Q will not exist alone for a long time. If you have the right Q then P will certainly be around the corner.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Parking Ticket: 25$

For parking the car facing the wrong direction.

Moral: Know Michigan Road rules.

My first parking ticket :-(

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Back to Student Life Again

And I have to tell you -- I love it. Its been a long time since I was a student and the last time I started grad school in the U.S I had to scavenge for TVs and furniture on the roads and parking lots. Not that we grad students were that bad financially. But that was the norm. I think I would have loathed to spend more than 200$ on anything furniture at that stage. This phase of student life has been interesting. In that I dont feel guilty spending money to buy some "basic furniture". I bought a dining table for the first time in my life and I have worked for N years. Why? I thought the couch was the dining table. Oh! you are asking why buy now? Because my wife tells me that sitting on the couch and watching TV is not the right way to eat. Anyway buying stuff is all a matter of perception I suppose. I could have bought a dining table and a couch while I was a student at Ohio State. If I had done so -- the feeling of being the only desi grad student to spend money on furniture would have made me guilty. I would have thought (or at least made to feel) that I was doing something unnecessary.

Now everybody around me is buying furniture. Mainly because most of us are married (you aren't exactly a spring chicken at B School are ya?) and we dont have much of a dirty lazy grad student lifestyle choice. So the last two days we have been lifting and moving stuff like crazy. The good thing about the whole B School thing is the camaraderie. We didn't care whose furniture it was we just helped everybody move everybody's stuff. I have met 4 or 5 couples so far and one of them had a U-Haul Truck on a 2 day rental. We just bought furnitures round the clock and moved them to our houses. Everybody dedicated time slots for each house and all joined in to help move furniture to that house and help with the settling in part. I have to say this was good team building kind of work and if at all you are meeting a lot of new people it is good to meet new people in this fashion. The bonds of friendship get sown pretty fast when you are doing work and helping each other out.

I love meeting new people. I have been doing that all my life. This is yet another chpater I was looking forward too. I am pretty glad to meet people form various backgrounds and cultures. One of my "co-student" (as in co-brother Ko.baradhan in Panchatantiram) had sent email to the new admit yahoo groups asking for help to move his stuff and someone actually responded. A guy joining U Mich from Indianapolis just dropped in to help us out. Among the families moving in were a couple from Karachi, Pakistan. Both husband and wife are going to B School. Ain't that cool. There is another couple doing the same thing. They helped us move and vice versa. I met a person from Croatia. I have only talked to one Croatian before. he was Goran Ivanesivic. While he never responded to my "come on! Goraaaan!" (mainly because he was on TV) this Croatian was a very nice person to talk to. It was all just too good. It was good to see all of us helping each other out in this tough settling in part. All-in-all this whole settling-in part, which could have otherwise been messy and stressfull, became a wonderful experience.

My luggage is still coming to me from different parts of the U.S. 3 boxes from Dallas, 7 from Seattle, more still to come from Dallas. My car got shipped in from Florida. I have had the car since 2001. Had named the car Lakshmi ( after the padikaathavan rajini movie). Just feels great to get it all back slowly. Although its not so great to drive around uninsured. In the luggage that came with us, we didnt have anything that could be worn around the house (rough use). All were new clothes :-). So I am roaming around the house in a dhoti. A couple who popped in for a surprise visit saw me dashing to the bedroom to change my dhoti. After much persuasion by visiting couple to come out in the dhoti itself, I shyly came out. They asked me if I had been praying :-) when in fact what I was doing was stuffing my face :-) That actually made me feel guilty. Man! so many years my mom wanted me to put on a dhoti at home and I refused to part with my torn dirty denim shorts ( I hate dhoti and my trade-mark signature shorts are in transit). Of all the places I was caught with my pants down (and the dhoti up) in Michigan.

So after 2 days of 18hr/day back breaking work, getting lost in Ann Arbor, struggling for directions at midnight, arranging stuff, I finally had a 12 hour sleep yesterday. I cooked (we finally did some India grocery shopping yesterday) drumstick sambar, beans and rice before my wife got up and surprised her with the food. Yeah.. I am on a roll! Not so much with my cooking skills. But I have a way around that. I have named my food "tasty food". Its not an adjective its a name like Pulidharai, sambar etc. So nobody can says its not tasty food because thats the name of the food - tasty food.

Now I am back in my desk and have to do pre-term assignments :-( . I have to depend upon the free computers that my leasing office provides. My laptop is here and the charger is in India :-(. So my net access has become rather limited. In the small time that I get between this whole settling down part I have to do assignments. What cracked me up was -- I have to complete an assignment where I pretend I am a high-flying CEO and I have to write a 3 hour write-like-ceo asssesment test and a 90 minute email-like-a-ceo assesment test. I am not sure about writing like a ceo, I sure can spend like one :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Gajini is Memento

I am not sure if Gajini has been released in theatres. However, I have known this "inside info" for quite sometime. Now that the Aug 15 program should have made this obvious there is no sense in not blogging about it. Gajini seems to be at least a partial rip-off of the movie Memento. I am not actually sad about this but in fact very happy. If at all Tamil Cinema has to raise its standards it is better to use movies like Memento as inspiration.

Memento is a unique film even by American standards. It is probably one of the best movies I have seen in recent times. The story is told in a fashion never before ( okay..its been tried once in Seinfeld and once in an older movie) tried in Hollywood cinema. Chris Noolan (Director of Batman Begins, Insomnia) handles a very strange and challenging script with competence. Memento is a exhausting narration of a man caught in a infinite loop. He executes tasks 1 through N and starts once again at task 1 and goes on forever. He does not know he is in an infinite loop. The movie goes from a "good movie" to a "wow! blow me down" levels because of the way the director chooses to present the movie to the audience. This narrative style of telling the story in reverse order is not merely a trick to do something new. There is a motive behind telling the story this way. I won't tell the story (because really I can't .. even if I try hard). But will try and probably give a gist of it to try and bring out the way Noolan and his script writers have handled the story presentation.

The color sequences of the movie go backward in time i.e task N is shown first and then task N-1 is shown and so on.. The black and white sequences are shown forward in time. The key is you do not know whether the BW sequences happen before in time to the color sequences or vice versa. The BW and color sequences are interspersed cleverly to make the movie pretty exhausting (but very interesting) to watch. The intention here is to develop the same limitations ( handicap is a strong word here) in the audience's mind that the central character of the movie suffers from. The man going through the infinite loop has met with an accident and has poor recollection of events after the accident. He suffers from what is called as "short-term memory" affliction. In this situation he remembers everything that happened to him prior to the accident but cannot remember anything after that for more than 15 minutes. He has to execute all tasks he is "meant to do" in the 15 minute quantum and then stores important aspects (by writing it down etc) of his memory before he forgets it. So that when he forgets everything related to that 15 minutes and begins on a new 15 minute quantum, he can see his papers and know what to do.

Because of the way the story is presented -- the 15 minute packets told in reverse order -- and because a black and white sequence is placed inbetween two 15 minute sequences -- you as the viewer lose track of what happened in the previous 15 minutes. If you want to hold on to the story track you have to rely on the hero's technics to remember stuff. So in effect you have his disease. Cool isn't it? So now do you get the point of telling the story this way? This is just a gist of the movie. The style and class with which the movie is presented is in a league of its own. I am not sure if Gajini's screenplay will handle the story in the same fashion as Memento's script did. Memento was too heavy for American audience. Gajini wont even register a blip if it goes the Memento way. With Asin and Nayanthra it does appear that Gajini will tell the story linearly. Btw does Gajini mean the Mohd. Gajini who tried to invade India 17 times? The movie will tell us, I am sure.

Surya has become my favorite hero over the years. I rank him among the best heros in the curent era. While so many people have been talking about being the next Kamala Hassan, by choosing movies like Gajini and going the off-beat path -- Surya is doing it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Application packet M.S - I

Note: I wanted to write a general blog and a higher studies related blog alternatively. Given that I am still in transit it is very hard to sit down and write something for a good length of time. I hope to intersperse higher studies related blogs with other things in the future.

Many people approach graduate school applications as if they were filling in a government form. They just fill in the forms, throw in the needed supplementaries and mail it. But if you notice patterns among successful applicants you will find that there is a focus on smaller and finer details, which help separate their application from the pack. The details in itself may be superfluous but the commitment shown to the application is certainly noticed. Your final application packet should ideally contain the following arranged neatly in an envelope.

1a) Draft for Application Fee
1b) Covering Letter
2) List of items in the envelope
3) Data Forms/ Application forms (can also be submitted online)
4) Statement of Purpose ( 2 sides)
5) 3 Reference letters ( each preferably 1 side)
6) Transcripts
7) Photocopy of GRE Score
8) Photocopy of TOEFL Score
9) Photocopy of Your engineering Syllabus ( Optional)
10) Resume

1. Covering Letter

A covering letter is required to introduce yourself and present information that cannot be presented anywhere else in the application. For example. After introducing myself in the most optimistic tone possible and clearly writing down my mailing address once again, I used the covering letter to address the "percentage marks" Vs Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) issue. I explained in brief the systems of conducting and evaluating exams in India. I also explained what goes into grading a paper in the percentage system. It is important to understand the CGPA system before explaining our percentage system in the right perspective.

In a CGPA system a course has several components -- homework, Projects, Midterms and Final Exam. Each count for a proportion of your total score on that subject. For example homework count for 10 points, Projects count for 20 points, Both midterms put together will count for 40 points and the Final exam is worth 30 points. Regardless of how many points individual entities are evaluated for -- In the end all your scores in a particular entity is totaled and converted/scaled to their worth for the course. For example if you had 10 homework each worth 100 points and your total score for 10 homework was 900 then you would get 9/10 for homework for that course. Similarly your total for the course (for that semester) - which is the sum of your scores for all entities put together would be calculated for 100, at the end of the semester. Then the scores of all the students would be sorted in descending order. This is where the individual philosophies of a particular Professor comes in. In a 30 member class, a professor may award an A grade to the first 5 students, A- to the next 5 and so on. This way even if you score a 96 on 100 you may not end up with an A (although this rarely happens). The highest grade he can give is usually A and the lowest he can give is F. The grading scale goes like A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+... and so on. International students doing a graduate degree in the U.S should try and not fall below a B in any course he attempts. Most professors I knew decided grades based on absolute values. For example All students who had a total above 95 would get an A, above 90 is A-, above 85 is B+, and so on. Some professors who are rally strict would barely give 2 A's for a course and give just B's to a large subsection of the students.

Then comes the complex GPA calculation. In a scale of 0 - to - 4.0, an A is worth 4 points, A- is 3.7, B+ is 3.3, B is 3.0, B- is 2.7 and so on. There is also a credit value assigned to a course ( this is where the weighted average comes in). Course credits range from 1 to 5 with most graduate courses worth between 3 and 5 credits. For example if you too 3 courses M1, M2 and M3. If M1 was worth 3 credits M2 was 4 credits and M3 was a 5 credit course. And you scored A, A- and B+ respectively. You GPA for that semester would be ( 3*(A) + 4*(A-) + 5*(B+) )/ (3 + 4 + 5) => (3*4 + 3*3.7 + 3*3.4)/12 => (12 + 14.8 + 17)/12 => 3.65. So your GPA for that semester is calculated.

So there you go. With this understanding try and figure out how your courses are graded and explain in 1 paragraph how the percentage is graded. Not a lot of people do this and I gather this is really appreciated by many admission committee evaluators. You can also explain the typical score of a person who is first in class .Try and avoid words like 'topper' etc as it is yet to be included in many English dictionaries (and may never be). This is really a colloquial word that is often misleading :-). So that the evaluators can get a feel of where you stand in your class. This also gives a chance to applicants from some parts of India to explain their relative low percentage score compared to applicants from other parts of India. For example in College of Engineering, Pune you are walking on water if you get 65% and above. If you get above 75% there is a temple built for you in your college. In University of Madras (now Anna University) if you get a 65%, you are scum. A 70% still doesn't make you different from insects floating in your college pond. A class first would typically get 88% or even 90% in University of Madras. Most American Universities are aware of such variances. However, a chance to explain it in your own words is valuable and must be utilized.

To be Continued....

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Master of Science (M.S) Application Timeline

Read my Disclaimer (right hand side panel) before you read this blog.

The Ideal timeline

Now this is an ideal Timeline. I have observed many successful people follow this kind of timeline. This was commonly followed by many IIT students during my time. This time line would keep things smooth and avoid last minute pitfalls. Also remember that U.S Graduate school applications in general follow the The early bird gets the worm policy. The earlier you are in the process and the sooner you send the application (without compromising on quality), the better your chances will be.

Now lets start from the things you have to do semester-wise. Next to the semester timeline, I have also put the Timeline for folks who have completed engineering. Assume T = intended start date of M.S. This is a sort of check-list you can walk through checking each item off. In my later Blogs I will try and expand on each item to offer more insight on individual components

5th Semester: t - 30 months

1) If you don't have a passport, Apply and get one.

5th Semester Holidays: T - 24 months

1) Buy GRE Books ( Good ones are Barons Guide, Kaplan)
2) There are also CDs available on sample GRE tests in Eswari Book House (near ranganathan St) and Landmark. It is always good to have a lot of prep CDs. The more tests you write the better you feel about yourself. So make test collection a hobby :-)
3) Join GRE Coaching class (Optional). I joined the datamatics on near TTK Road. Moderately useful. Although they didn't actually 'teach' us anything. It made us take GRE seriously and put in some regularity in our test taking.

6th semester: (T - 24 months) - (T - 18 months)

1) Prepare for GRE

6th Semester holidays: (T - 18 months)

1) Write the GRE
2) Become a Member of USEFI
3) Book a TOEFL Date.
4) Start Researching Schools.
5) Begin Contacting Professors in your target universities. Try to somehow start an email conversation with them.
6) Seriously start tracking the 'preferred' research areas of your target universities and see how you can incorporate them into your projects/profile (if that "research area" is something that "interests" you)
7) Contact possible recommenders in your current educational institution. This will keep them on their toes in case you are applying to 15 universities. make sure that they will give you references. You dont want people bailing out on you in the last minute citing time constraints.

7th Semester: (T - 18 months) - (T - 12 months)

1) Take the TOEFL exam (and if you have the time the TSE exam).
2) Decide how may universities you should apply and begin to shortlist your universities.
3) Start writing your Statement Of Purpose to cater to your short-listed Universities.
4) You need to send "Proof of Financial Capability" along with your application Packet. This is mandatory for Universities to send admission documents to you. Start thinking about consolidating your bank accounts. So that you can generate a statement that would be equal or greater than your first year's expenses.
5) The intensity of Professors and Seniors contact should increase in this semester.
6) Get recommendation/reference letters from your recommenders. If you are choosing between two universities, get references for both universities and later decide if you wanna use them at all. If you are applying to a lot of universities, spread the reference-letter-collection evenly across the semester. It will annoy the recommenders if you give them a written imposition. This will only result in them refusing to give you references.

7th semester Holidays: T - 10 months

1) Start Packaging your applications
2) Post the applications (Submit the online components)
3) Send additional GRE and TOEFL score reports to the short-listed Universities.
4) Book a Visa appointment date (The TT Services Web page). A date between May 20 - June 15 should put you in the comfort zone. You don't need an admit to book a web appointment. Just a passport is enough. The University name fields are optional. The consulate folks understand that your University is not cast in concrete at the time of your web appointment.

8th Semester: T - 8 months

1) Track status of your Application ( have all components been received ?)
2) Contact professors and tell them you have applied. Mention your project work to them.
3) Start receiving admits.

8th Semester Holidays: T - 4 months

1) Decide the University you want to attend
1a) Join yahoo groups of students attending your university. There are also yahoo groups for Visa related tips.
2) Secure I-20 (The official INS document certifying admit status) from the University
3) Prepare financial statements and all the massive set of documents for the grand visa event.
4) Pay the SEVIS Fee (100$) and get the receipt. (required for Visa)
5) Attend the Visa interview and secure the Visa.
6) Book Tickets. If you do not have financial assistance book tickets 1 month before orientation date. This will help you with your financial aid search. You are not allowed to show up in the US 1 month earlier than orientation date.
7) find room mates. Attend pre-departure orientations conducted by U.S Consulate.
8) Contact Indian student Association for airport pickups/ temporary accommodation.

and then....

oh! ya...wait for 8th semester results :-) Forgot about that little thing did ya' ?

The Non-Ideal Time-line

Welcome to the world where Nov 1 is your GRE date and Nov 4 is your 7th semester examination. Been there. Done that :-).
This situation does not automatically indicate a KOD (Kiss of Death). People have survived situations like this and done well (okay relatively speaking). The ideal timeline is something an IIT fellow would typically follow. Who cares about IITs right? :-) We are the cool dudes :-)

I Think the last date you can take the GRE and TOEFL without really damaging the quality of your application would be Oct 15. Dont ask me if Oct 16 is okay. Its not okay. If you take it on Oct 16 a big rakshas will come and change you to a toad. Anyway the point is -- Beyond that date you risk losing the window of opportunity to apply to some high-ranked Universities. If you are a 7th semester student and you are thinking "should I or should I not". Just do it. Take this from the king of the 11th hour. It's always possible. Book the GRE on Oct 1st week and the TOEFL a week later. People do this all the time and they dont die because of it. And then do all the items listed for 6th semester holidays - Now.. The blog gives you a list of items you need to do. Start now and just do it asap. The thing to have in mind is that -- some 6 years before the application deadline was Jan 1 - Jan 15 for most top ranked schools. Nowadays its somewhere between Dec15 - Jan 1. So what must take care of is to make sure you are submitting applications by Dec 1st week (Its mostly Online nowadays so there is no worry on Christmas postal delays stuff).

If you are in the non-ideal world you may be severely tested in the stress management and multi-processing departments. As you have to manage your semester and your application parallely. Don't worry. This will not be the biggest stress that you will face in your career. It will at least prepare you for bigger and better battles.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sleepless In Seattle

It's almost a crime not to use this title when you are literally sleepless in Seattle. I think the flight trip has made me slightly cranky. For the past 2 days it feels as if someone sent up a 2000W lighting bolt into my body ( "lightning strikes" and all that stuff) at exactly 5:00 AM in the morning. I get up. Finish bathing by 5:30 and start prowling around the house. Hunger seems to strike me at 6:00 AM nowadays. It is really difficult to locate food in an unknown terrain. Its 6:30 AM now ..and boy! I am really hungry. And what do you eat in such morning hours that others would consider as normal. I'd eat curd(yogurt) rice at 6:00 in the morning if thats what is available. But being married and all ..I guess there is a compulsion to merge in with society and act normal. All day yesterday, there was severe ban on blogging (and being near the system in general) because (and this is really unproven allegation)..because seems that for 3 days prior to flying out of India, I was sitting in front of the system..browsing and not helping anyone with packing. Today morning, after spending 40 agonizing minutes watching the sun rise, the fan whirr(there is no air conditioning in seattle..can you believe that) and doing nothing. I think I got even more cranky. Every 5 minutes, I have been asking my wife "are you awake yet?". After responding with a few "pleaaaase" and two "shut-up"'s, I got yelled at and driven out of the room. I think I was told "go do something!!... or whatever... but GET OUT!"

So here I am.

So whats up?

Whats up with me you ask?...Nothing much! I have spent close to 30 hours trying to spend 20 hours. Confusing isn't it? I started at 2:00AM from Chennai and landed in Seattle at around 9:00PM. It's 19 hours. But my flying time was 30 hours. Thats the key with flying against time. You start at 2:00 AM fly for 3 hours and ask the local time. Its still 2:00 AM. Okay! So you fly for another two and half hours. Ask the local time again. Its 2:30 AM. Its crazy! It makes the airplane company look bad. They are doing a lot of hardwork with constant seat-belt alerts and air-hostesses scurrying around trying to act busy. But they've just progressed 30 minutes. Waste! Waste! Waste! Listen to my idea. People spend a lot time and effort flying planes to different countries right?. What I would do (after my MBA :-) ) is that I would take the plane into space and out of earth's orbit. A vertical line, straight up. Just stay there and watch mother earth turn herself lazily around. Revolution time is 24 hours so any journey has got to be less than that. So when I see Seattle finally show up down below. I just travel back down the same vertical line and land. Voila! I am in Seattle. All I did was jump up in the sky in slow motion. No effort at all.

so now you really believe I am cranky?

Imagine this punishment. You are locked in a room. You are then asked to sit for 30 hours on a crampy uncomfotable seat. You have to sit in upright position. You can't move about. You can just sit and look straight and watch time tick away....... 30 hours. Its like sombody taking a knife slicing your brain and tearing it apart. Boredom has never been so lethal. Do not under estimate the capability of a flight journey to send you into a coma. Moreover, a darn cousin of mine made me order Lacto Asian Veggie Meal for the flight journey. Flight food sucks. What makes its even worse ( and I learned that this was possible) is experimenting. My cousin even abused me over the phone, 3 days prior to flying for not ordering that meal. So I called up Lufthansa and ordered that meal. In the Chennai-Frankfurt segment - while everybody were being served idli, vadai and pongal, We got a pasta ( a yucky one at that). In the Frankfurt-D.C sector everybody got pasta (a supposedly a good one). Pasta was the regular meal and I had ordered special meals. The air-hostess asked me if she could serve me the pasta itself. She said "your special meal will take time to come. take the pasta". I said " no I'll wait for my special meal". Thinking to myself that the special meal should certainly be better than the pasta. But what we got was some goop that was too horrible to even look at. They irony was -- after recovering from the nasuea caused by my "special meal", I went and asked the air hostess sheepishly, "Can I have that pasta". She said "all pasta over. It is a full flight".

Sevuthila irunthathai vazhichu thinnanaam

My father's mother is known for her proverbs. They survive today even if she is not around. A husband returns home from work and his wife serves him dinner. He doesn't like it. So in a fit of rage, he throws the dinner plate and the plate hits the wall smearing food all over the wall. The wife goes to bed in tears. After being angry for 4 hours, our man now is hungry. 2 hours later, he is so hungry that he decides to scrape off the food from the wall and eat it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Trek to Thirumalai (Updated with links)

Note: I apologize to some readers regarding the delay of the MS/MBA related blogs. Packing-and-leaving involves a lot of work. More work than I thought. After this blog I would continue blogging from the other side of the atlantic early next week. So please bear with me.

Walking from Allepiri, Thirupathi to Thirmalai is a wonderful experience. This is the fifth time this year for me. There is a baggage transport service available (closes at 8:00 PM) in case you want to send your bags on a cargo bus and walk light. The bags can be collected at Thirumalai. The first one hour is the most difficult. About 1/9th of the distance is covered in that hour. It is the steepest and leaves you very exhausted. The Gali (Nammala) Gopuram signals the end of this phase. If you reach Gali Gopuram at the end of the hour you are on time. Beware of people who will con you with "Can you speak English/Tamil/Telugu. I am lost, I need to make a phone call please give me money". These people just want your money. There are lot of shops along the way and you can buy stuff as you walk along (like soft drinks Glucon D etc). The only suggestion is travel light. Traditionally people visit Alamelu Manga Puram, Thiruchanoor to darshan Alamelu Mangai Thaayar before visiting Thirumalai. It is prescribed that the right way to darshan Lord Srinivasa, is by requesting permission from "thayaar" to visit Him. I have also heard that Lord.Govindarajar (The big temple near the railway station) must also be darshan'ed before visiting Thirumalai.

There are 108 Vaishnavaite shrines (actually only 106 as the two Paramapadham and Vaikundam aren't really on Earth) in and around the Indian subcontinent. Starting from the Nava-Thirupathis in the Thirunelveli District to Saligramam in Nepal. These 108 shrines get special mention because the Alwars (literally means -- people who are immersed) have traveled to these places (the ones on the earth) and sung praises about the respective deities. Only two languages were in existence at the time these hymns( also called Paasurams) were sung. And the languages were Tamil and Sanskrit. The Alwars are believed to be experts in both these languages and primarily composed these hymns in Tamil. The technical term for singing hymns on a temple by an Alwar is called Mangalasaasanam. However, over time the songs of Alwars and the places they visited became forever lost to the knowledge of man. Many many centuries later, a saint called Nathamuni(gal), a 6th century saint, chanced upon 10 such songs sung by a group of wanderers and the 11th song contained lyrics which went like "this 10 is part of a 1000". Upon pleading to these people regarding the source of the thousand songs, Nathamuni went on a quest which ultimately led to him uncovering the 1000 songs (Thiruvaimozhi by Nammalwar) and later the entire 4000 songs (Divya Prabhandam). Nathamuni dates the time line of these songs to 2500 B.C while historians conjecture it to be somewhere between 500 B.C and 1st century A.D.

Thirumalai is one among the 108 Divya Desams. When you look at these 108 places, think of Thiruvarangam (SriRangam) as the captain of the 108 shrines and Thirumalai as a very important batsman. For the un-initiated Thirupathi and Thirumalai are Tamil names, named so by Sri Bhagavad Ramanujacharya (Ramanujan == rama + anujan - a sanskrit word which means rama's brother -- lakshmanan) in the 12th century. He was reputed to be a great scholar and possessed an unusually high level of intelligence. In Tamil, "Thiru" means a respectful prefix such as Shri, Mr. etc. Malai means hills. Nathamuni(gal) has a line (in fact several lines) of acharyas succeeding him (till date) and Ramanuja-Acharya (also called Bhashyakarar because of his magnum opus called SriBashyam, said to be a stunning scholarly commentary on Vedas and Upanishads), a revolutionary, was one such acharya. He traveled to (almost) all the 108 places in an effort to re-ignite the passion of the Alwars. He established and asserted that the deity in Thirumalai was that of Lord Vishnu. He also installed the Govindaraja deity (from Chidambaram) in the foot of the hills and named the place "Thirupathi".

Many weary travelers do you see on your way. Some carrying children and some lighting lamps on every step. My more educated friends have constantly mocked these superstitions. So have I. But I guess we have no idea about the grief these people have undergone that has made them resort to such a "solution". I suppose, tough situations in life does different things to different people. But there is a camaraderie between travelers sometimes. People who have been walking, getting tried and resting with you for a long time, finally say "hi". These people come from many places. There is a " Hi! I am from Maharashtra, I have a textile business". Then I remember meeting someone from Delhi, Gujarat etc. They are all going somewhere in their lives I suppose. All different places but they disengage from that journey, travel in this small path together, and then disentangle at the end of it to go their separate ways. The Gali Gopuram signals the beginning of the "easy" phase of the trek. Here the walking trail eases out to a slopey terrain. Until Gali Gopuram it is all steep stairs. I think the total travel distance is 9 kilometers and Gali Gopuram signals the end of the first Kilometer. The next seven kilometers can be covered in about 2 hours. Approximately mid-way you will find the giant Anjaneya idol. You cross it and walk in the sheltered pathway that leads you to the road. Just before the pathway merges with the road, there is a Lakshmi Nriha-simhar temple. The sheltered pathway is a good idea and makes the journey comfortable. I have to say that the place is safe even if you are traveling midnight.

While walking, you will find small Gopurams on either side of your path. Over there people sleep in make-do beds and sometimes even on the road etc. You wonder who they are. Are they shopkeepers, who are done for the day, or are they people with no places to go? Once the path merges with the road it is a 20 minute walk to the final hurdle of em' all called "muzhangaal mudichu" (there is a similar term for it in Telegu too) which means "knot on your knees". This is to indicate that the stairway here is so steep that your legs get into a knot climbing them. This is an intense climb that lasts for about 30 minutes. It is tough for first-timers though. Really tough. Then the pathway slowly eases and in 10 minutes or so you reach Thirumalai.

The first thing again that many people do upon reaching Thirumalai is pray to the Hanuman directly facing the temple. I remember my grandma' telling me many years ago that Hanuman should be the first deity you should pray to - upon visiting any temple. Otherwise he will take away all the boons bestowed upon you by other deities. :-). I am not sure if its true ( I asked a few other people and they nodded saying its true) but as a child of 6, I believed it and have made it a habit since then. The other interesting thing about Thirupathi is that the "Varahar" deity which is on the right of the main temple (if you are facing the temple), behind the pond, should be 'darshaned' before Darshan'ing ( I guess I have made darshan an English word and am using it as a verb noun etc) Lord.Srinivasa. Its a quid-pro-quo agreement between Srinivasar and Varahar. Pilgrims visit Lord.Srinivasa first (its a small deity sculpted on a wall and is barely visible) when they go to SriMushnam ( a place enroute to Kumbakonam from Madras), where the main deity is Lord. Varahar.

Ramanuja, among many of his works, wrote detailed instructions on the kind of rituals that can be performed in temples. He has written precise procedures and the method of performing rituals for temples. He standardized this procedure in all the places he visited. He was a visionary in that he recommended women as Acharyas and strongly encouraged and instituted Harijans to perform temple rituals. These rituals are what most vaishnavaite temples nowadays follow. Till this date it is being followed in a majority of the 108 places. As a sidenote -- I think I just claim that my native language is Tamil, but it maybe nothing more than just a claim. Listening to the Divya Prabhandams being said in Thirupathi is like listening to that "narumugaiye" song. I didn't get the meaning of even a single word. Even now. Anywho -- Here are interesting things I picked up about temples and the way to-do-darshan. It may not interest everybody but for those who are interested in trivia -- I have a curious habit of watching the 'experts" go about praying at the temple. Usually there are a gzillion superstitions associated with every temple and it is hard to disseminate the procedure from the superstitions. The Bhagavathas from Ahobilam Mutt of Thirumala, for example, are trained to follow procedures without superstition. Ahobilam is a place in the interiors of Andhra and is also among the 108 Divya Desams. I think the deity there is Lord. Nriha-simha. When these bhagavathas visit the temple (which they do once every day), they prostrate near the Dvajya Sthambham and no further. Dvajya Sthambham is the long pole with flag-like thing on top. It is situated directly behind the Garuda deity (which is present in every Vishnu temple and faces the main deity). Upon further inquiry I found that in any temple you *should not* prostrate beyond the Dvajya Sthambam. This post marks the last point where a person entering a temple can prostrate. Also before entering into the premises of the main deity, the bhagavathas traditionally seek permission from the Dwara Balakars ( a sanskrit word loosely translated as 'people who guard the door') called Jayan and Vijayan. There are always 2 Dwara Balakars at the entrance of any Vishnu temple. There is a story about what happens if you dont seek their permission and a temple called 'Nathan Kovil' in Kumbakonam is testimony to that. After paying due respects to Lord.Srinivasa, you can also see a mini-deity of Alamelu Mangai Thaayar. Just follow a straight line after you exit the "golden" temple and once you hit the wall (after climbing a few steps) take left. Later, while doing pradhakshanam climb the few steps and see the Golden Gopuram. There is an arrow mark on the temple specifically to highlight a particular place you should see. Then there is the Bhashyakarar idol ( and I have to say the speed at which they chanted verses in front of this deity took me by storm. I could barely catch a word) and the Yoga Nriha-simha

Thirumala is under extensive renovation. If you are visiting this place after a long gap, you may find this place un-recognizable. The beautiful structures built by the Vijayanagara kings have been demolished. It is now a pain to walk around the temple. I was told that many centuries ago people carried huge boulder like stones on their backs (walking up on a path similar to one I just mentioned minus the stairs, the shelters and plus thorny bushes wild animals etc) to bring the stones to Thirumala -- so that these structures could be constructed. There is a general resentment among the locals that the structures have been ruthlessly broken down to build a sub-way or something. I guess for some (who matter) preserving history is meaningless in comparison with enabling some hi-tech subways. There are Tamil inscriptions on almost every stone of the Temple. If you are standing in line waiting for darshan, look to your left. After years of request TTD finally documented the contents and handed them over for historical research.