Sunayana’s Blog

This is an article by my mother, for my grand-uncle Jayaram’s 75th birthday. A modified version of this has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Indian soul.

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I was seventeen years old, studying in 12th standard in a boarding school and harboring dreams of becoming a famous doctor. My medical dreams were influenced by the fact that my family had a plenty of doctors and medical students.

The October holidays were upon us and I could not wait to see my parents, Jayaram (my father’s brother), and his family who were living in the US and were visiting us. I thought I would surprise them by arriving earlier than planned. While sitting in the bus I visualized how my cute little cousins would look and speak and what Jayaram would say to me. During my childhood and teenage years, I had enjoyed listening to many interesting stories about my father and his brothers’ childhood and later years as narrated by them all of them. I was always in awe of them all especially Jayaram. He had left India and his family when he was 24 years old to become a famous plastic surgeon in the US. Whenever we received news about his visit to India to be with us all, his arrival became the talk of the town. We children would be curious about how he looked, what he would say to us, and what gifts he would bring for us! The period during his visits would be celebration time for the entire family. He would describe at great length how life was in America and we would listen to him in rapt attention. I would build my own pictures of all that he described. I remember the day when he gathered the whole family and gave us a slide show of his life and work as a plastic surgeon in America. We were SO proud of him!

On the way during my bus journey, I also went over some questions in English grammar and physics problems that I needed help with, knowing that my father would be ready to guide me. I smiled at that thought. What a wonderful teacher he was! So immersed was I in fantasizing about my parents’ reaction on seeing me that I was oblivious of the stiff breeze blowing on my face.

My mom opened the door and almost screamed in excitement! Her face clearly told me how much she had been missing me! Meeting Jayaram, my aunt and my cousins was so exciting. I soon got busy talking to them that I did not realize the time passing. I asked where my dad was only to be told that he had gone to the florist regarding my sister’s wedding. He had taken his brand new scooter for the purpose. I waited for my father eagerly, planning to stand behind the door so that I could pop out and shock him! A bigger shock awaited all of us…

My patience was wearing thin. Why was he taking so long? The doorbell finally rang and I quickly got ready behind the door. Mom opened the door, but to my surprise and disappointment, it was not dad, but a stranger. I heard him say that the ‘master’ from this house had had an accident and was being taken to the hospital by some passersby.

It was a lucky coincidence that Jayaram was with us on the day of the accident. I vividly remember how, realizing the urgency of my dad’s situation and not wanting to waste even a minute, he had not even worn his footwear while rushing him to the hospital.

Dad had a brain hemorrhage due to the head injury he had sustained and as a result, was in coma for several days. The helmet system was still optional those days. He was such a careful a driver; how ironic and unfair that he had to suffer due to somebody else’s fault! The neurologist was not too sure of his chances of survival. We prayed desperately as we waited for him to come out of his coma, hoping that after that, everything would be normal again.

Jayaram was by my father’s side day in and day out. Then there was my cousin Murali, a doctor, who worked tirelessly alongside Jayaram. My brother, who was a medical intern at that time, was there too. How can I forget my other cousin Madhu who was also there for us?

Jayaram stayed back with us for more than a month looking after him, often skipping meals, and hardly ever sleeping. It was as though God had sent him just to save dad. There were many occasions when the neurologist had given up hope but Jayaram, with his grit, determination, presence of mind and hard work brought his brother back to life. Almost single handedly, he went to great lengths doing every possible thing that would save dad and brought him back to our home after a month of hospitalization. My aunt and the kids had to miss a major part of their holiday because of the accident. Observing Jayaram during that month made me realize that he was not only a very capable doctor but a wonderful human being as well! I understood how much he loved and respected his elder brother and my mother and what a strong emotional bond they shared.

While still in the hospital, Dad woke up, opened his eyes, and moved his arms and feet by a few inches. After the agonizing wait, our joy knew no bounds when he managed to focus his eyes on our faces. We waited for him to smile and call us by our names and talk to us. Alas! To our disbelief, he could not recognize any of us, not even my mother! It took him close to a month to identify us but he had forgotten everything. We waited patiently as he slowly relearned our names; whenever he wanted to call us, he would look up his notebook where he had had our names written. He had lost the ability to form meaningful sentences and yet, the daily speech therapy sessions hardly helped. And, that was not all. At the time of the accident, dad was the head of the weaving department in a textile industry, but now he had lost the skills that were necessary for his job. After a few months, it became obvious that he had to resign. We packed our bags and moved back to Bangalore, our hometown. Dad could not believe that he could not go to work like before and it took him more than a decade to accept this hard reality It had long lasting effects on all of us.

The four of us, my brother, my sisters and I, were still studying. Life, as we knew it, had changed drastically for all of us. Dad spent most of his time at home. Mom shouldered the new responsibilities that had been thrust upon her in addition to the ones she already had. It was a painful realization for us that dad was no longer the same person we knew. Nevertheless, we never gave up hope that someday we would get back the father we knew.

We quickly learnt how to live simply and without any luxuries. We went through innumerable unpleasant and awkward social situations whenever people openly showed their pity.

These factors influenced the kind of person I turned out to be. Though I always got excellent grades in school and was confident of securing a medical seat, I had to take the entrance exam in Coimbatore where I had been studying. Taking the entrance exam meant that someone in the family would have to accompany me all the way there and back. Also, studying medicine was going to be expensive. At that point in time, the two immediate priorities were looking after my father and fresh arrangements for my sister’s wedding. I thought that my family was already struggling to make ends meet…how could I possibly demand more of them.

I was not aware of whether dad had enough savings to support all of us for such a long period. These discussions were meant for adults in the family and therefore we were never part of them. I always wondered how my parents managed to provide for all our requirements and asked mom several times while in college and even after I got married. Her silence always puzzled me. It was only many years later that mom revealed the truth to me. She described how Jayaram and Satya (another younger brother of my dad) had secretly made financial arrangements so that every month we had enough money in the bank to take care of all our needs. In addition, she also told me that they (along with other brothers) also made big contributions for our weddings. Oh my God! I spent several sleepless nights when I came to realize the naked truth of our lives. The thought that we were depending on them for our financial needs was unacceptable to me. They had already done so much for us at every stage, and now the fact that we had burdened them even financially for so long troubled me a lot and took me a long time to come to terms with. It seemed like God had sent versions of himself to be with us. Jayaram saw to it that we led a normal life and satisfied all our needs by always being there for us secretly.

I could not fulfill my ambition of becoming a doctor. Though it was a huge disappointment for me, I focused on excelling in college so that I could make a career for myself as quickly as possible. I topped Bangalore University in my subject and thus earned a scholarship for my M.Sc. course. I completed my post-graduation in Zoology, once again getting the first rank and thus receiving the gold medal. I started teaching in the same college where I had earned my degree. I declined the research fellowship that I was offered since the stipend amount was less than what my job as a lecturer offered.

All through these years, I missed talking to dad. I had always discussed academics, my goals and how I would go about achieving them, with him. Though he was there physically, I could not reach out and connect with him in the same manner as before. Today dad is eighty-six years old, and spends most of his day trying to read the newspaper and understanding it.

I was always close to my mother too. It was from her that I learnt what it meant to lead a selfless life. She took all the hardships life had thrown her way and concentrated on her duties towards dad and all of us. What surprises me most is the way my mother looks after him. She is still as patient as ever and in spite of her own deteriorating health, showers him with all the love she can by doing everything within her means to make him comfortable. I cannot help but wonder where she got the strength to continue despite the trauma she must have gone through. She was and is a giver, without any expectations in return. Today, two people are my idols – my mother and Jayaram, the people I love, respect and admire the most.

It took me decades to come to terms with how life had changed for us. Despite all that we had to go through, none of us let our heads fall. We all had our individual goals and persevered to reach them successfully. Our grit and determination to make the most of whatever opportunities we had were only strengthened by the situations we faced and the experiences we gained. Indeed, life’s most difficult lessons were also the richest, making winners of us all.

It is true, my dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed, but today, I am not just happy being an educator but also extremely excited about my work; looking for innovations all the time and thinking up ways and means of improving my lessons and making my students smile. The sparkle in their eyes assures me that they enjoy learning, and whenever my old students write to me, or come to meet me and touch my feet, well, these make for the most precious and touching moments in my life.

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As I write this, there are almost a 1000 entries in the Ada Lovelace Day collection at http://ada.pint.org.uk/

🙂

If you have written a post too, don’t forget to add it here, so that others can find it easily.  It is organized by subject and you can find posts on a map as well.

And here are some links to Ada Lovelace Day posts by my friends:

Aakriti Agarwal on Mary Lou Jepsen

Kate Tsoukalas on Lee McIntyre

Ravi Mohan on Daphne Koller

Angelica Lim on her mom, Delia Lim

Kerry Penner on Margo Leight

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Update: Crossed 1000 posts! 😀

When I first heard about Ada Lovelace Day, a day for which more than 1500 people have signed up to publish blog posts about women in technology that they admire, I was a little confused about who to blog about. I’ve met some truly great women in Computer Science, including last year’s Turing Award winner Fran Allen, Prof. Lenore Blum and Prof. Manuela Veloso from Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Jennifer Tour Chayes from Microsoft Research, Dr. Elaine Weyuker from AT&T, to name just a few.

However, since I had to restrict myself to talking about one person, I decided to blog about Prof. Jeannette Wing, who is the President’s Professor of Computer Science in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. She is also the Assistant Director of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate at the NSF. She completed her undergraduate, Master’s and PhD degrees from MIT. Her research interests include specification and verification, concurrent and distributed systems,programming languages and software engineering. A detailed biography of Dr. Wing can be found here.

I had the opportunity of listening to a talk by Prof. Wing at CMU in 2007, during the OurCS conference held there. I was inspired by her energy and enthusiasm and her passion for what she was talking about that day – Computational Thinking.

What is Computational Thinking?
Computational Thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science, like abstraction, scale, algorithms etc. To flourish in today’s world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world[1]. Prof. Wing’s CACM article on Computational Thinking can be found here (warning: PDF).

Prof. Wing has been nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’ 🙂 by some of her students, because of the intensity she brings into her work and her love of martial arts.

She is considered to be one of the most original and creative scientists in Computer Science today.

[1] The Center for Computational Thinking, CMU

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Why on earth did I even attempt to watch this? To write a bad review, of course.

There’s a difference in this review, I’m writing it as I watch 😀 . I do things differently, you see 😛 .

First 5 minutes: Shahid Kapoor has a blank expression. 5:00 – Shahid frowns. 6:00 – Blank expression back. 6:00-10:00 – Kareena is being annoying. 11:00 – Shahid tells her she’s being annoying. 12:00 – She is being annoying again and talking about her obsession with marriage. 14:00 Shahid is acting strange, misses train after stepping off it, Kareena misses it too.

17:00 – Lost track a little, both are in a car, Shahid is still acting strange. And now he’s driving the car and the driver is shouting. 18:00 – Oh, now I get it. They drove to the next station so that they could catch the train. Stupid me. 19:00 – Kareena is being annoying again. And she misses her train again. Serves her right. 20:00 – She’s crying. I see a bunch of thugs and a potential rape-attempt-hero-saves-her scene. 21:00 – The Station-master is giving her dumb advice. 22:00 – She asks him to shut up. 24:00 – Thugs hitting on her. Time for Shahid to show up. 25:00 – She goes out of the station to land up in a red light area and a guy on a bike is asking her to come with her. 26:00 – Shahid shows up to ‘save’ her from the bike guy. They finally introduce themselves to each other. 27:00 – They’re walking along deserted streets and she’s being annoying again.

28:00 – They come to a hotel. 29:00 – She’s acting stupid. Oh wait, she doesn’t need to act. The hotel guy thinks she’s a hooker and asks Shahid where he found her. Surprisingly he isn’t getting offended and beating the guy up. 31:00 – Shahid tells her that he wont rape her. 32:00 – They’re talking about their respective love interests. 33:00 – Shahid’s girl has dumped him (I don’t blame her), Kareena asks him to burn her photo and flush it down the toilet. 34:00 – Kareena says that he’s good looking and that she would have fallen for him if she wasn’t getting married to her loooove.

35:00 – Police raid, hotel full of prostitutes etc., everyone has to run. 36:00 – They get on to a bus. Wow, the lack of chemistry and sexual tension is amazing! 38:00 – She’s trying to set him up with her sister. She’s being annoying again. He’s hitting on her finally. 39:00 – Oh no, a song 😦 . Must fast forward. It’s suddenly morning and the train is full. Argh can’t stand the song, fast forwarding. They’re shopping. 43:00 – Song finally over, thank god. She tells him he sings well. Bad taste. Oh, turns out that he was a singer. 44:00 – She’s crazy and he tells her that and both of them jump in a lake. Argh, they aren’t commiting suicide as I had hoped 😦 . 45:00 – He tells her he is an industrialist’s son. He’s famous and his mother ran away with someone else. Oh, thats why he’s so strange. She tells him not to talk disrespectfully about his mother because she was in loooooove when she ran away. Nothing is wrong and right when it comes to loooooove, apparently.

47:00 – She tells him to come with her to meet her family. 49:00 – Her grandfather or someone is grilling her about Shahid and her clothes. She tells him he came to make sure she gets home safely. 50:00 – Grandpa asks him to stay for a week. 52:00 – Shahid meets Kareena’s sister. 53:00 – They’re flirting in Punjabi. 54:00 – She’s being annoying. Someone’s coming to get married to her. 55:00 – She’s flirting with him. 57:00 – Oh no, another song 😦 . Oh god, very bad song.

1:00:00 – She tries to make out with Shahid to prevent getting married to the guy who’s come. 1:04:00 – She jumps into bed with him. No no, not what you think, she’s just saying goodbye to him in the middle of the night because she’s running away with her boyfriend. Amazing, the lack of chemistry. 1:08:00 – They’re running away together now. Family finds out and are looking for them. 1:10:00 – Women in her family are crying. He’s giving her advice on being serious. She’s talking crap. He’s falling for her. 1:12:00 – She asks him if she’s wrong in running away from home. He says that there is no wrong and right when you’re in looooove. 1:13:00 – Argh another song 😦 . They’re suddenly surrounded by snow covered mountains. They’re dancing with Tibetans or Nepalis(I think) to another very bad song.

1:17:00 – She’s about to meet Anshuman, her loooove. Shahid doesn’t want to meet him and says goodbye. He’s in looooove with her. 1:19:00 – He goes back to his company and apologizes for running away. He’s very cheerful suddenly. 1:20:00 – He’s giving a really crappy talk to his company people. Everyone claps and gives him a standing ovation.

1:23:00 – He seems to have forgiven his mother. 1:24:00 – He’s taking out a guitar. Oh no, that means another song 😦 . He’s imagining Kareena in blue light. Blank expression back. They’re dancing. Zero chemistry. 1:25:00 – He’s imagining them dancing in front of the office people. He’s successful at his job and everyone is clapping. 1:26:00 – He’s imagining her at his house and at the dining table. And he’s singing and playing the guitar in front of a bunch of people. 1:27:00 – He’s imagining her getting drenched in the rain. They’re dancing in the rain. 1:28:00 – Everyone’s clapping, he’s at a product launch, he’s launching ‘India’s first calling card, Geet (that’s Kareena’s name)’.

1:29:00 – Her family members come to beat him up. 1:30:00 – They’re asking him to tell them where she is. She’s been missing for nine months. He lies and tells them that she’s with him. He tells them that he’ll bring her home in ten days. She isn’t in town right now. 1:32:00 – He goes to Manali in search of her. Oh, thats where they went. He meets Anshuman. Anshuman says he doesn’t know who Kareena is.

1:34:00 – Anshuman rightly says that Kareena lives in a dream world and acts childishly and questions Shahid’s intentions. Shahid calls him cheap etc. because after all, Shahid only has pure, brotherly feelings towards her. 1:36:00 – Oh no, looks like a sad song is coming up 😦 . They show the scene between Kareena and Anshuman when she goes to him. He leaves her.1:38:00 – She is crying. 1:38:00 – She is wandering around and going on bus rides. She is teaching in a school. 1:40:00 – Shahid sees her. She is sad. He is stalking her.

1:41:00 – They meet. He tells her she has hurt him because she didn’t tell him or call him. She refuses to come back with him. 1:43:00 – He is bullying her and she is crying. She is telling him that he has done her too many favors. He is telling her that he is alive and successful only because of her. Still no chemistry, though. 1:44:00 – She agrees to go with him. It’s always so easy for men, just a few sweet words and women fall for it. Sorry, back to the movie.

1:45:00 – They’re sharing a room again, even though there are two rooms available. He tells her everyone thought she was a call girl when they were in the hotel last time. 1:46:00 – She finally realizes that she was (is) extremely stupid. She is crying. 1:47:00 – He tells her to forget Anshuman. Yeah, it ain’t so easy to forget people, Shahid. He tells her to burn photos, call him and give him gaalis etc. 1:49:00 – She gives Anshuman gaalis. She feels great. Yes, this works, I’ve tried it too. 1:50:00 – They’re hugging again, and this time it’s not so innocent. Yaay. Passionate hug, if there’s something like that. Not.

1:51:00 – Shahid acts all casual about it, it didn’t mean anything etc. Typical. They’re catching a train. 1:53:00 – He tells her not to be worried that he likes her. Ooh, Anshuman is back and he wants to talk to her. Now, he wants to marry her. He loooooves her and wants her back. 1:54:00 – He tells her that he’ll make everything alright. 1:55:00 – Shahid tells her that his parents didn’t love each other. They loved other people. He is telling her to ‘listen to her heart’. 1:56:00 – Shahid is saying that people in love should be together. She asks him what will happen to him. 1:57:00 – He tells her that she can have her first extra marital affair with him. He leaves her with Anshuman and goes away.

1:58:00 – Shahid tells her family that she’s coming back. Big celebration. 2:00:00 – Oh no!! Everyone thinks Shahid and Kareena are together! 2:01:00 – Poor Anshuman is looking confused in the background. As usual the family gives them no time to explain. 2:03:00 – Photos are being taken of Shahid and Kareena. By Anshuman. 2:04:00 – Kareena is talking to her mother, and she still hasn’t explained. See, she still hasn’t lost that stupidity of hers. 2:06:00 – They’re planning Shahid and Kareena’s marriage. Anshuman is rightly very angry. 2:08:00 – Kareena gets a chance to tell the truth but chickens out.

2:09:00 – The marriage announcement is made, without the need to ask Kareena, of course. She is shocked. 2:13:00 – Kareena and Anshuman meet. Shahid leaves (Yeah right). 2:15:00 – While talking to Anshuman, Kareena realizes that she looooves Shahid after all! 2:16:00 – Kareena runs after Shahid with strange Irish-sounding music playing in the background. 2:17:00 – She hugs Shahid. Anshuman sees them. 2:17:00 – She kisses him! Didn’t expect that 😛 . 2:18:00 – They’re still hugging. 2:19:00 – Shahid’s family turns up and its a big happy wedding with another bad song.

Ok, now time for questions. What happened to Anshuman, did he leave just like that? I would have thought that he would tell the family the real story, it would have added a melodramatic scene to the movie. Or maybe the director was so sick of the movie that he/she wanted to end it as soon as possible.  Oh, btw, still no chemistry.

“Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want things.”

Right from the “Make me earn it”, when the audience gave him a standing ovation before he started speaking, to the one-handed push ups he did on stage, Prof. Pausch did not for a minute allow anyone to feel pity for him. This was his last lecture, a farewell to Carnegie Mellon, his students, colleagues, friends. Prof. Pausch, now 47, has pancreatic cancer, and little more than a few months to live. He was a professor of the HCI Institute, the School of Design and the SCS in CMU. He was the director of CMU’s Alice programming language foundation, which is a 3D graphics language for teaching programming concepts to high school kids. He resigned from CMU to spend his last days with his family, his wife Jai and his three kids.

Prof. Pausch spoke on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. Some highlights of his talk: Celebrating his wife’s birthday on stage, dark humor, the story about him becoming a journalist to be in 0 gravity, the brick walls, wanting to be Captain Kirk.

In Prof. Pausch’s honor, a bridge is going to be built between the SCS and the School of Design, symbolizing his work in bridging the two disciplines. CMU is also setting up a scholarship for undergraduate women in the SCS in honor of the work he has done for women in CS via Alice.

I personally am a fan of Alice and the idea behind it. I didn’t know about Prof. Pausch before I heard him speak, but now I know that we’re really going to be losing an amazing person, who lived life in the truest sense.

You can watch the talk (wmv version) here.

Last night, I was in the garden below my house engrossed in some work on my laptop. Suddenly, I heard a voice say “Dhingli, shu kare che?”. Thats Gujarati for “Little doll, what are you doing?”. The voice was familiar and it took me back to many years ago. When I was in Mount Carmel, from Junior KG, thats when I was 4, to fourth grade, when I was 9, I went to school by autorickshaw. The auto driver was a man named Pankajbhai, and he used to call me ‘Dhingli’, because he said that I was like a doll. The garden was really dark and I couldn’t see who it was, but only one person ever called me that, so I recognized him. I smiled at him and told him that I was working on my laptop. He said that I had grown up so quickly, become a young woman now, time flies and you don’t even realize it.

Pankajbhai drove the auto for a few years after I started going to school by bus. Everyone liked him and he made enough money to be able to switch to driving a school van. Now, he is a well off and has a business of his own, he lives in the same apartment complex as I do. He has called my family and me over for dinner and promised to tell me stories of how I used to be when I was a child.

People you never expect to ever see again come back into your life. To help you relive the memories you have no time to think about. And put a smile on your face.