Saturday, September 30, 2006

Computers. Engineering College.

I was exposed to the PC during my school days - it was in 1986. Our school was one of the first in the district to introduce computer courses (as a part of Rajiv Gandhi's vision, I should think). Our newly commissioned computer lab had two terminals with greenish screens - the popular 'BBC Micro', as they were called. Two batches of students (not more than four or five per batch) would "work" on the microcomputers while the rest of the class - about forty of us - would sit and talk and do all sortf of mischievous things, and Alice and Subja had a torrid time managing everything. Each one of us just about got to lay our hands on the white keyboard, and who would believe at that time that 'PC white' would become ubiquitous one day!

We had two young instructors, named Alice George (who probably hailed from Thiruvalla, and spoke much the same dialect as did my mother and father), and Subja Gowri (a rather unique name), who hailed from around Thamalam (in Thiruvavanthapuram City). We talked among ourselves that Alice was decidedly better, if perhaps for her quaint accent, while Subja was milder as a teacher. The new computer lab, and the computer classes, became a focal point of our school days, though computer studies was not formally introduced into the state board curriculum until after I had passed matriculation in 1992. It was taught as a "non-evaluative" topic - with exams and evaluations and notes-writing and assignments, of course - until Std IX. Std X students were spared this exercise as they would face the state-wide SSLC examination (in which I would be one of the front-runners for our school). And my early brush with computers... stopped in 1991. I was young, and absolutely had no future (I did not even think that one day I would have to earn a living).

I was reintroduced to computers during college days - to be precise, it was in 1995, when I was eighteen. It wasn't exactly college, it was an engineering baccalaureate I was pursuing, so it was sort of unavoidable. The computer still had not become much of a talking point in India in 1995. The Internet was only happening, and as far as we knew, nobody knew anything about it. Whatever UNIX wars were going on were somehow obscured from our view. Studies were dull, as they are in 99% of all Indian engineering colleges (all work and no play). As far as we all knew, life meant graduation, campus interviews, and a decent, if carefree lifestyle supported by high salaries paid for back-breaking work. We had some basic programming practice in Pascal (we were the last batch of students who cut our programmer's teeth in Pascal, which I still consider a brilliant language for beginners when compared to C). The "machos" among us were already programming in C by the year-end, when I was studying the Physics and Chemistry courses as if my life depended on it! Frankly speaking, I was still a scholastic kid, and I really didn't enjoy studying these engineering topics (engineering was, as one of my friends used to say, the grave error I made in my life after choosing to sit in the entrance examination).

We had this simple course in computers (Pascal to be exact), with a very mild introduction to variables, data types, looping constructs ("program flow"), reading from and writing to the console, etc. Yes, of course, we had 'quicksort' and 'bubblesort' for laughs. [It needs to be said at this point that I was an Electronics student, and not a Computer Science student; hence the reader can better appreciate my smirk at the sorting algorithms]. I literally battled with Pascal and a pretty ill-equipped matron who took the classes (she was a good help, though, when my life was in the doldrums). My engineering course was a never-ending battle with mostly pigs and stooges that were a blemish to the teaching community (there were notable, even stunning exceptions to this rule: Prof G Krishnan (easily the best teacher in my life), Shri M R Baiju (who is second to none for his tidiness and love for exactness, and who went on to win the medal at IISc, Bangalore during his PhD Course), Shri Jiji CV (renowned for his method and well-prepared lectures), Mlle S Sheena (for sheer sincerity and hard work), Prof V Somanathan (for his technical brilliance and arrogant delivery), Shri Gopakumar (for his insistence on being earnest in studies). These are the few teachers of the Electronics Department I would care to recall (and who actually taught me). Later on I would do a stint as a lecturer myself, and the lessons from these mean and women would stand me in good stead (even when strapped for time and jettisoned with poorly-equipped students, I still could help them pass creditably). With studies came exposure to campus politics (which was somehow not politics at all: the overriding strand of all the politics staged in Govt College of Engineering, Trivandrum (known affectionately among alumni as 'CET', an acronym that somehow abominates me to this day) was a singular indifference to attending the lectures (while strictly attending the labs). Secondary threads were strutting and preening before the opposite sex (male domination and female plumping). Our department somehow insulated itself from the more adventurous students from Mechanical and Civil, and I was very intensely private during my entire stay at the college.

It was a period of enlightenment. It taught me much, or rather, it tried to teach me a lot but I suppose I did not take those lessons well. As in all life, I learn not from others or from someone trying to teach me (I am not a fast food kid, I do care about the why's and the wherefore's); I learn only as a part of a conscious attempt to learn. Learning, for me, is a sacred and pedagogical enterprise, far removed from humdrum life. (Later on, I would pay dearly for this deeply-ingrained attitude). I was considered a brilliant student during my school and pre-degree years, and I was also highly egoistic, knowing little of reality, little of life, having little exposure to the world. This I would partially unlearn in my engineering college years, but only partially, and in the final analysis the college did not make me a better person either technically or socially. I left the college with a few bruises, and I do not remember 'CET' with any sense of gratitude or pride or any positive feelings of the sort. It was the meatgrinder of my dreams to be a free individual.

However, I began to see things more intensely and with a wider perspective: I lost my sharpness, and it was not such a bad thing after all. It changed me: I was boisterous, and was pretty cocksure that my side is always right; this dangerous disposition would be eroded by a curious combination of forces. I guess such a combination of the elements occurs in each boys life before he makes the transition to manhood. It happened to me at the 'CET'. The biggest things I learned there are the following

* All men are not equal, some are more unequal than the others
* The world likes not work; it likes is lip-service
* A man has to spend his life spreading lies about himself and what he has done
* Life is an extensive propaganda regarding one's dangerous potential in changing the world, as if it never existed
* Success is guaranteed if you can become that unavoidable Judas who will betray if left out

And so on. I learnt the dynamics of campus socialization (male-female pair bonding), politics (wrote a few slogans myself, and was a part of victorious election campaigns - I found out it was fairly easy - almost too easy - to win elections by proxy; I had the words even then). I rose in popularity, and by the time I signed off in 1999, I had written "cult" articles in the College magazines of 1998 and 1999. I was exceedingly popular and was looked upon as a sort of Guru (just the way people used to look upon Unix Gurus). Words were infectious, and people dreaded it like the plague itself (joking really, they really loved the way I wrote). Through it all, I remained calm on the outside and discontented inside.

I passed out in 1999 December, after a fairly long stint at the College, and then did a course in e-commerce (having nothing better to do). There were two choices for an e-commerce course. One was the ASP-based e-commerce course conducted by STDC (the software training wing of ER&DCI), the other being my personal (and poorer) choice, the Java e-commerce course conducted by NeST Technologies at the CyberCampus, which was near to the Engineering College. (Perhaps this proximity was one of the reasons why I insisted on enrolling in the much more expensive program by NeST. I didn't like to completely move away from the environments I'd grown used to for over four years; I can think of no better reason for opting for the Java course. It was a fatal mistake, one that would shape my future in this particular way).

The course was lousy, and our teachers were little girls (Manju, Sindhu, and lots of many little girls who were mostly graduates from University Institute of Technology - UIT - and merely Bachelors of Computer Science - a fairly rare degree, and quite useless in the job market). There were some casual friends and of course, tea and buns from the bakery opposite the CyberCampus. I passed with 65 percent, somehow.

In August or September of the same year (2000) Mom hastily made me fill up an application form for the post of Lecturer at Co-operative Institute of Technology, Vatakara, an undertaking of the Co-operative Bank of Kerala. The exam was tough and a few of my classmates also made it through, and, curiously enough, they have remained my friends throughout. And, as I was leaving for class at the CyberCampus on Nov 29, 2000, the postman brought the intimation letter that I had been selected as Lecturer at the CIT, Vatakara. I would join up as Lecturer under the same person who was in the Interview Board that tested my "class-readiness" a month back. I was launched on a new life, away from home.

I've been wanting to write this for a long time. Needless to say, at places, it borders on the hysterical; still, it establishes all my points to the farthest extent possible.

And, I wanted to post definitive info on my comparison of IE and Netscape. Of course, that would have to wait. I've got all the raw screenshots and all the stats, but I still have to 'beat it into shape.'

Until then.


Wain said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Zeinab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.