Saturday, 21 January 2017


[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here:]

Prosh, Lan and me were roommates at the time. We had rented a standalone house on the other side of the Wabash, a not so wide river that separated West Lafayette and Greater Lafayette. This was not usual as most students prefer to stay closer to their university campuses. But we had a game plan while making this call and it worked out beautifully.

All three of us were music enthusiasts who wanted to improve ourselves on our respective instruments as well as enjoy the experience of jamming with each other. Prosh used to play the keyboards and still stands out in my mind as one of the best pairs of “music ears” that I have met. It was quite incredible really. I saw and heard him play with a diverse set of musicians across a range of genres. And this is what would often happen: folks would start playing, Prosh would cock his head slightly, go hmmm hmmm after a few bars and then his fingers would land on just the right chords. Phew! Lan had decided to pick up the drums after arriving at Purdue and was on a learning curve when the three of us decided to room together. But man, did he make that learning curve steep or what! I still remember the times when he would come home with a printout of some groove in notation and go about getting it under his belt with a really crisp sense of purpose. And once he had a groove down he would bring it into a jam to make sure he was able to translate it into actual music in a group setting. I used to play the guitar and was a very very happy camper with these two chaps.

This is what we did: we decided to use the living room area of the house as our jam room. No furniture, only our music gear. The drum set stood in one corner for Lan to practise as and when he wished and Prosh and myself would bring in our keyboards, guitar, effect processors and an amp whenever we all wanted to play together. The three of us weren’t into home décor anyway and simply had some basic paraphernalia to cook our food, mattresses on carpets in our rooms for beds and our instruments, books and CDs were our essential possessions. Having an idiot box was of course out of the question. It was a very simple and uncomplicated phase of life. One that I will always cherish.

When I reached the apartment late that evening Prosh was already home and was busy cooking up his speciality: a raging capsicum sambhar with rice. Named Shriram Narayanan at birth, the story goes that his hostel mates at IIT Madras thought that his tall and lanky frame resembled an exotic variety of tall grass that goes by the scientific name Exoticus Prosopis. I suppose he was rechristened that to start with but it eventually converged to just Prosh.

We were in the same department and worked with the same advisor for our research in the areas of computational fluid dynamics and fluid turbulence. In fact Prosh was probably one of the first fellow students I met when I arrived at Purdue in 1997. He had just come in from India for his M.S. and I was coming in after a M.S. at University of Cincinnati for my PhD. He too was a nine point someone from IIT Madras, held a fellowship at Purdue and I can honestly say that although he was junior to me I learnt much from him over the two years that we overlapped there: both academically as well as in extracurricular pursuits. As cool a chap as they come and, just like Lan, absolutely busted the myth that academic focus and extracurricular interests and pursuits are in any way incompatible. Fell in love with a wonderful girl during his M.S., married her and is now a happy father too!

There has been one commonality in about every such person I have met: they live every moment fully. They don’t loll around doing nothing. If they are working on an academic matter then they are doing that 100%, if they are playing music or chess or a game of pool or reading a novel or whatever then they are doing that 100% and having a good time doing so, if they are trying to figure themselves out and what they want to do at any stage of life then they are doing that with full seriousness. Work is cool, play is cool, contemplation is cool, but I hardly ever saw such folks while away time meaninglessly. That was a key realization for me to pick up and I keep trying to implement it more and more in my life.

Prosh’s efforts at cooking the sambhar rice combo had borne fruition by the time I took a quick shower and freshened up. The inevitable bag of potato chips and a bottle of cold buttermilk were also in place and he seemed to be ready to dig into the food he had laid out. Lan wasn’t home yet, so I asked about his whereabouts. One or the other of us “putting a night out” in the lab wasn’t uncommon but I had spoken to him just a couple of hours ago and hadn’t really picked up the impression that he was planning one tonight. I wondered if he had mentioned anything to Prosh.

Nah, he’ll be home in a bit. Dropped in to WLPL (pronounced WilPil, the emphasis on i really short: almost rolling through, short for West Lafayette Public Library) to pick up some books. But I’m real hungry, so digging in. You?

Sure :).

The public library system was one of the coolest concepts I came across in the US. Pretty much every small to middle sized town has its own public library: A superb collection of books across all genres and for all age groups, anyone and everyone is welcome to become a member, spend time browsing and reading in the library itself as well as borrow to read at home. Absolutely free (except for the late fines of course!). And the civic sense in that country is so good that this facility works like a charm and is really well utilized. In my several years in that country I never once saw unruly behaviour at a public library or anyone mishandling books. I so wish that this concept comes to our country some time and we are able to receive and sustain it with as much civic sense and responsibility.

I don’t think enough of us realize just how crucial an activity reading good stuff is! It can often mean the difference between an evolved and mature intellect and a shallow and immature one. Yes, a lot of our growing up and maturing is through a direct experience of life itself and the people we meet. But how much of a control do we have about either of these to rely fully on just these mediums for “life education”? Books give us an opportunity to get exposed to different cultural outlooks, viewpoints and life circumstances of the characters they embody. I think that’s precious. I do emphasize the “good stuff” part above though. There is enough junk out there as well and we have to be able to steer clear of it. Life is too short to waste with meaningless books just as it is to spend with the wrong people.

I also sound a word of caution: The pen is powerful, but just like the sword its power can cut both ways. The written word can also be a medium of manipulation. Peoples and cultures can be portrayed in ways that don’t reflect the truth and thoughts and ideologies that may not necessarily be based on good intent can be given momentum. So one has to always stay alert and exercise one’s intelligence and judgment in what to absorb, what to question and what to outright dismiss.

Lan ambled in while we were still at the dinner table. Which was a lucky thing for him because another 15-20 minutes and he might have had to do with bread and cheese that evening. As we all ate together he told us that he had gone ahead and booked a car at the rentals for the weekend. The plan was to leave on Friday evening after getting a full day’s work done at the university. Chicago was only some 2-3 hours away so that would still put us at Ptom and Sonali’s home at a comfortable time. We would spend all of Saturday and Sunday in Chicago and head back Monday early morning to be back at the university as it opened for the day.

All three of us were happy and excited about the coming weekend. But we also had to make sure we got enough academic work done so that our assignments, projects and research work stayed on course. So off we went to our rooms soon after dinner and got our noses in our books.

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