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The Sea of People


population

What’s the population of your city?”

This innocent looking question seemingly becomes one of the most frequently asked question in ‘foreign lands’. And if you are live in the west ask this question to an Indian, well I, being an Indian can guarantee you that situation will become humorously awkward in in a few moments. Why? Two reasons… Firstly, we generally don’t remember the population statistics of our cities. On the contrary I (including my friends) find it weird that people in the west actually remember their city’s population. So the most common answer that you would get any of the facial expressions expressing shock and confusion, a strange look, five seconds of pin-drop silence followed by a hesitant ‘quite large’. And I am telling you, he is being modest. Secondly if you meet an exceptional statics-crammer or a person who has faced this situation earlier and learnt from it; well then his answer will most probably blow your mind out. Believe me! Me and my friends have been asked this question many number of times in our short foreign tours and… there have been no exceptions… ‘Shock’ is the only word that can describe the situation of the person who asked the question.

Example required? OK… I am from Kolkata. And the population of Kolkata is… well infinite. No… probably ‘more than infinite’ is a better approximation. You may object to this claim and open up Wikipedia and say that it is ‘ONLY… 14 MILLION’… and then after a gulp, still defend your pride by saying… “Well that’s still not infinite.”

To that I would only say, “What matters is the feeling… Come to Kolkata and you would realise what I mean.” Upon that… it is not the population what matters is the population density. And you CANNOT beat my city on that. People seem to be crammed up in this city. Open up the list of densest cities in the world and you will find 5 out out of the top ten cities to be Indian. What is more surprising is that ALL of these cities are practically in Kolkata. Beat that if you can!

And if you really want to see the population miracle of the city; board the local trains. It would be an astounding experience for the newcomer to realise the various weird angles at which our human bodies can bend when crammed for space. And if you are a young boy; you might very well try hanging out from the doors of a running train. I have tried it (or have been forced to try it) several number of times and trust me… you can never get bored (my parents are not reading the post, right? 😛 ). And if that was not enough, your self-esteem will surely get a severe blow once you see a vendor with a huge basket on his head moving smoothly through a compartment which you thought could not accommodate a single more soul.

But all of this said, Kolkata is a city of its own kind. The cheapest, the vibrant and the nostalgic. quoting from my earlier post. There is something in the city which always captures your imagination. There is something in the city that it has produced so many greats in the world. There is something in the city that I just want to be a tiny drop in the sea of people… forever…

Having Lost My Powers… I Write


nostalgia

There was a time… There was a time when world around was simpler and more beautiful. Unfortunately, it seems that the world has changed while remaining static. There was a time when I was in Kindergarten and cried the hell out during an exam just because I just ‘didn’t feel like’ writing the exam. I forced the teachers to call my mother (our home was a two minutes walk away). As she stood outside the class, I forced her to come inside in the exam time, held her hand tight and said…

Haan… Likhiye… Likhiye na… Main bol raha hoon, aap likhiye… (Ya… Write… Write no… Write as I say)”

Tum likho na… Exam hai… main kaise likhoongi? (You write… It’s an exam dear… I am not supposed to write in the exam)”

Uff!! Mera haath dard kar raha hai… Aap likhiye… Likhiye… A… P… P… L… E… Likhiye na… Dekh kya rahe hain? (Uff! My hands are aching… You write… Write… A… P… P… L… E… Write no… Why are you looking at me?)”

Those were some moments that shall be cherished forever. Once I declared that elephant is a bird… Well not my fault… An animated cartoon series showed a flying elephant… and as we all know… ‘Anything that flies is a bird’ and so elephant – which flew – was a bird… Simple! 🙂

Another instance which I remember was when our school teachers gave us homework to ‘write all the English alphabets five times each without looking (bina dekhe)‘. Now the ‘without looking’ meant not to turn overleaf where the alphabets were already written (as classwork) and write them out of memory. But being a very ‘obedient’ kid in the class, I took the words ‘without looking’ literally and there you go… I sit on my bed, with my eyes towards the ceiling, probably closed, trying to write the English alphabets five times each in my ‘four-lined note book’ (I hope you remember them… Don’t you?)

And today in my hostel room, I recall those memories. Golden days. Days which define a natural, carefree, unrestricted life. One in which words like personal, private, ego, deceit and dishonesty don’t crop up. There was nothing to hide back then. When happy, we would laugh our hearts out, when sad we would cry as if hell has broken loose, and when angry we would swear never to talk to that person again at his face.

Those were the days… Today when happy, we no longer laugh, we are grown-ups, we smile; when sad, we no longer cry aloud, we are grown-ups, we sob silently inside a pillow; and when angry at someone, we no longer shout off at his face, we are grown-ups, we remain silent, let the anger grow and ultimately seek revenge.

Oh we do a lot more as grown-ups. We start having our personal lives (oh god… I hate this word so badly). We make a point not to intrude into ones personal space (you see, the same thing has two names) and get outraged if someone breaches our privacy (now it has three names).

But yet in this grown-up world we try to preserve our childhood via friends. Well my definition of friends is a very strict one… Friends… a group of people where ‘good morning’ or any general salutation is replaced by… well… you know what. A group of people who fight so hard that they forget that they are friends. A group of people who care about each other in ways unspeakable, who share joys in ways indescribable, who share tears in ways inaudible.

I have always been extremely selective about friends. But yes, I do make friends, the real good friends. But sometimes… just sometimes big words like ‘personal space’, ‘personal life’, ‘privacy’ seem to mist the transparent air around. Those times, I seem to loose my childhood, I seem to loose my power to make friends – real friends; and in those times I write…

Another Heart Does Ache


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With great care did I collect all the pearls of my dreams; with great aspirations did I polish them bright. Each breath of his made me alive. His happiness was the reason I lived. For years did I live for one reason… and then I was gone.

His innocent smile still rejuvenates my heart. His tears… well, they do moisten my heart but somewhere deep inside they foster a sense of relief… A relief that he is still my own. Oh time! You are way too cruel. You walk at your own pace. Traitor! You did rush around when he was here… didn’t you? And now when he is gone, you don’t seem to move at all! There was a time when I was happy running around the whole day… remember? And now my life has been so stagnant that it is eating me up.

“What do you do all day? Once dad has gone off to work, you stick to the TV… don’t you?”

Yes, my dear, I did stick to the TV all day. And magically does the havoc that you create each morning does restore back to peace. And the food that you demand – claiming full right – each day after you come back; that food is magically prepared by angels, right? Stupid! And why should I explain this to you now? Now you know it better. How long does it take to wash the clothes dear?

But… you know… in a sense you are right for my current situation. There is no one who creates havoc in the house each day. The sofa covers remain unwrinkled for ages. The same food is eaten for days. There is no one to scream to for not having lunch in time. Basically there is nothing to do.

So you know what do I do? I remain in illusion each day. After your dad leaves for the day, I imagine that you too have left for school. I wait for you. Each day, the clock ticks 2:30, I go out to see you coming; chatting with your friends. The school bus leaves, many children come back laughing and giggling. But you are not among them. Then I calculate the number of days left for your arrival. Unfortunately they are not days… they are months… sometimes a whole year. Well at least they say it so. For me, it seems to be ages. All blames on the bloody time. It doesn’t move at all. And then I sit back and cry sometimes… well most of the times. And then rush up and down the house doing nothing. Like a ghost in a haunted house.

And then in the evening when your dad comes back from work, we ask each other if you called. Mostly you don’t. “He must have been busy”. Then we again talk about you. What else can we talk about? I don’t understand his work. Then we mutually decide on a time to call you, or wait for your call. “He might have just returned.” “He might be sleeping.” “Today is Monday, he has a busy schedule on Mondays.” “Don’t call now! He might be in the canteen.”

And then, suddenly the phone rings. And then for a few minutes do we live. We live our whole day in a few minutes. And thus does rejoice our hearts. We laugh at your jokes, smile at your memories, cry at your loss and scold you for you nuisances. And hence thoughts, and thoughts alone do remain and hence ends our day; probably an era of living without you.

I know you have gone to reach the stars, to fulfill your dreams. But what can one do when the reason to live has gone away? One goes along with him. So here am I living a dual identity. Well… single to be precise… The only identity I have is with you. When your wounds bleed, so does my heart. When you cry, another heart does ache.

On the Dutch Dining Table


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A spoon, a fork and a knife; and a large chunk of chicken leg piece on the plate. And just besides that, a person utterly confused about what to do with the silverware. Never ever in his wildest of dreams had he imagined that one could use any of those to eat chicken. Why can’t I eat with with my bare hands? What’s more? A bowl of red chili powder on the table and the person not pouring it all into his food just for the sake of humility. Why? Because the person besides the table is an Indian (that’s me) and as per his standards that chili powder isn’t hot at all. Really… Believe me, I added 4-5 teaspoons of it in my food and the the taste didn’t change at all.

Enjoy!”, said the Dutch friend sitting opposite to me. “Enjoy!”, I reciprocated. “So, how do you say ‘Enjoy’ in…”, the Dutch paused and pondered for a couple of seconds and continued “’Enjoy!’ in INDIAN?”. I corrected, “You mean Hindi?”. “Oh ya… ya… in Hindi”, he smiled. This seemed to be a trivial question for my friend to ask but it was one of the most difficult questions ever asked. “Do we ever say such a thing in Hindi?”, I thought. But in a desperate search of answers gave it my best try, “Shuru kiya jaaye…”. “Shu-ru khi-yaa jhaa-ye?”. “Yup! That’s right”, I smiled. Now my Indian friends may suggest the possible better versions of the response, but you would have to admit; given the fraction of second I had, that was a good try.

I spent about two months in Netherlands and realised one thing for sure. If I ever get an opportunity to teach them something, I would definitely go for cooking. Whenever I added a ‘chhaunk’ to daal (pulses) in the kitchen out there it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen in life. The shrilling noise of the process and the aromatic fumes which which brings smiles to the faces of us Indians, brought tears in their eyes and concern on their faces. “That thing which you did there… Isn’t that hazardous?” “Nope! We do it all the time”. I tried to be convincing and reassuring but still the expressions on the faces could almost be heard out loud, “I am telling you dude! You will kill us someday.”

My visit to Netherlands made me realise one undeniable fact. We live in one of the most ‘complicated’ countries of the world… A large, weird, diverse, colourful, confused and complicated country. The look on the face of the people around you when come to know of the population of the cities… when they come to know that we have 18 official languages, hundreds of dialects and still no national language… when they come to know that it takes almost 3 days to cross the country… THAT expression on their faces makes us truly realise the great identity of the nation we live in… It gives you the true feeling of being an Indian… A feeling which we generally overlook.

I realised for the first time that we live in a ‘diamond’ shaped country. A country with the largest populations of followers of (at least) 5 different religions, with almost all possible geographical terrains and probably the most number of festivals. No surprises that we live in a diamond shaped country… No surprise we live in India.

P.S. –

1. The meal which I was talking about earlier… I took 2 hours to eat the meal. And then I realised the true meaning of the saying, “Apnaa haath Jagannath” 😛

2. I also realised how complicated our mythology is. An interested friend asked me to explain the gist of the story Bhagwad Gita… And I had a tough time explaining why we worship a man who persuaded his friend to go for war against his own kin. After all the gods are supposed to be peace loving. Isn’t it?

The Silent Spectator


Living in a sea of dust is an experience in itself. An experience which does not befriend many. And oddly enough the experience is not one that I hate. Living within 50 meters of three JCB’s (showing their extraordinary acrobatic skills), two construction cranes and hundreds of striking hammers is actually thrilling – to say the least. After all, who won’t inhale a ‘bit’ of dust for all the excitement?

Anyways… the fact of the matter is that at the moment, the sea of dust has calmed down. The JCB’s are resting cuddled up in the blanket of this dark night, and the hundred pairs of hands are in their dreamland, carving aspirations of their uncertain future. And I am staring at the top right corner of my laptop which shows 12:15 AM. So all of you those who are, or have been in hostels, a hearty good evening to them. The same goes for all the students in their late teens, inseperable lovers and other nocturnal beings. To the others, sorry for disturbing your midnight sleep.

And what am I actually doing in this sleepy world? Well, one of the most favorite tasks of mine – doing nothing. Really… absolutely nothing. And believe me, this is one of the busiest things in this world. To think nothing at all. Just observe. Be a silent spectator to this silent world which ironically is bubbling with chaos and commotion. Don’t believe me? Okay then…

Think of the security guard strolling around in the hostel. Eyes begging for sleep; mind cursing a moron whose constant stare doesn’t let his eyelids come closer. But is he desperate for a sleep? Nah… Proof? A boy does up to him and asks, “Ki dada? Kemon cholchhe?” (What’s up bro?) and there starts the conversation. Five minutes later, Indian politics becomes the hot topic on the table which a moment ago rested a dozing soul. That person is not really sleepy. He is starving. Starving for company… Battling against boredom in this chilly night.

Nights are subtle, shrewd, mysterious, lonely things. In its embrace lies only silence. But silence has a language of its own. It speaks. It speaks through fear – in the eyes of a girl trapped on a lonely road, trying to get back home. It speaks through tears – in the memory of a long lost love. It speaks through thoughts – in the focused vision of the visionary. It speaks through dreams – to achieve the un-achieved. It speaks through joy – of the ecstatic achievements of the day. It speaks through hopes – of a brighter tomorrow which we may just witness.

A night has a long silent story to tell. And you too can listen to it. All you have to do is be be silent and listen… All you have to be is the silent spectator.

Inspired by The Outsiders

Through the Eyes of a Soldier of Science


Millions – if not billions – of eyes followed the spacecraft as it slowly disappeared to its distant mission to the red planet. It was the 5th of November when PSLV – C25 launched off carrying the completely indigenous ‘Mangalyan’ capsule on an year long voyage to mars. The ever faithful comrade of ISRO – the PSLV series of launch vehicles – successfully maintained its 100 percent success record. As the small capsule leaped forward into the space, India reiterated its presence in the scientific community by becoming the nation to launch a martian mission at one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent US mission.

And today, 60 days after the launch a humble traveler in the path of science introspects on the position of his country in the scientific arena. His country! A country too colourful; a country too diverse; the birthplace of the oldest religion of the world; a country that proudly shelters more than 18 languages; a country that boasts of its festivals and culture. He greets you from Bharat, Bharatvarsha, Aryavarta, Hindustan. He  greets you from India.

As a billion souls felt their chests broaden after the launch, a few eyebrows were also raised. The questions were not new; but they were relevant. The writer’s country is not only a country brimming with culture and diversity; it is also a country where more than one-fifth of stomachs sleep fighting hunger; its also a place where thousands of children find themselves in tea stalls and not schools; it’s also a country where hospitals are a luxury for some. And the question that was very evident after the mission was this –

Should a country of more than 400 million poverty stricken souls spend 73 million dollars (450 crore rupees) on a mission which may or may not yield a major breakthrough?

Well yes we have a large population under the poverty line. And it may seem to be a sheer muscle flexing act by India to send off a mission to mars and not divert the money to the upliftment of the poor. But is this expenditure really a waste? Well for one thing; out economy was growing at a fast pace when the western world was facing a global slowdown. So we do have money to sustain ourselves. Additionally, even if the mission does not provide something amazingly new, I guess it is an achievement in itself to launch such a cheap mission. This gives the outside world a faith in India’s technology. This attracts may other nations to trust India as a cheap and efficient client to launch their satellites and other space missions. This is one of the immediate returns of the investment.

On the broader perspective, this mission or any other scientific success has a much larger impact. To reduce the economic disparity of the nation, it is essential that the youth gets educated. The question arises why are they not getting educated? In today’s India, most of the citizens appreciate the importance of education. The problem arises because there are not many teachers in the country. Same goes for the health sector – there are hospitals, but doctors are nowhere to be found. And believe me it is these small success stories which create teachers and doctors. It is these scientific stories which inspire the children to take up science; pursue higher education, and be the future scientists, doctors, professors and teachers. So the investment in Mangalyan may seem to be a huge in the short term; but the long term returns of missions like these are things which cannot be simply measured in monetary terms.

At this moment I also feel a lot of responsibility on my soldiers. As a student of science in India, I realise that we as a nation have a long way to go before we come up to the front line of the scientific race. I also know the level of competition in the top-notch institutes of India. I have faced it . And I have survived. But now I feel there are millions of eyes staring at me in expectation. There are thousands who deserved to get through but couldn’t. There is something that really needs to be done. If India; a country of 1.2 billion has produces just 4 Nobel laureates (India born foreign citizens excluded); there is something seriously wrong. When 4 other India born foreign citizens receive the same prize; there is something to ponder about. Why did these people need to become foreign citizens before they could get the Nobel?

When someone addresses us as the cream of the cream (or crème de la crème) of Indian education system, it definitely fill us with pride. But more than pride, it fill us with a sense of responsibility. The cream of the cream should not fail. The cream of the cream cannot afford to fail.

It is said that C. V. Raman cried as he received the Nobel prize; as he was standing under the Union Jack as he got the prize. Although aspiring for a Nobel would be highly over-ambitious for me, I can guarantee the soul of Dr. Raman that if such a day comes, it would be an Indian standing under the Indian tricolour.

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Before I end this rather long speech of mine, I would like to make two announcements. Firstly, a friend of mine, Harshda Mangal has participated in a story writing competition. So you members of the Facebook community, please read the story and vote for it if you like. Here is the link. The voting lines close tomorrow. So please hurry up! Please use a PC or a laptop to vote as voting by mobile has some issues. (You might ask why didn’t I participate. Two reasons. One, I don’t have a Facebook account. And two, I don’t write stories).

Secondly, From tomorrow I am thinking of starting a series of daily posts on sharing of the quotes said by some of the brilliant people on the planet. I hope you would enjoy them.

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So I come again tomorrow. Till then,

Goodbye, Namaste, Nomoshkar, Sat-sri akal, Khuda Hafiz, Jai Sri Krishna.

And Bon Voyage to Mars Orbitor Mission (Mangalyan)


Off for exams with this wonderful thought and the music… Hope you like it… 🙂

namastesaying

I honor the Place in You

In which the universe dwells

I honor the Place in You

Which is of Truth, of Light and of Peace…

When You are in that Place in You

And I am in that Place in Me,

We are One…

(If you can’t access the link and wish to hear the music, contact me)

Hostel in Exam Mode


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Well, my exams are just over; and I am one of the lucky ones to enjoy this luxury so early. (And I can see my friends giving me that envious look). Although the education system of India has made us extremely habituated to this periodic ritual of exams; they are still a distinctively special event. Even before you enter the hostel, you would be able to tell if the hostel is in its ‘exam mode’. Here are some features of this grand event of ours.

1. Night Canteen: Inevitably the sales of the night canteen increases at least 10 folds. After all late night studies imply a continuous supply of glucose to the brain cells. And hence night canteens become our place of pilgrimage. Add on that the amazing sight and aroma of bakery products. How can one resist?

2. Philosophy of Life: Another universal fact. Creativity of brain increases to its maximum. The only problem is that creativity increases in a direction that is never evaluated. Brilliant questions arise – “What is Life?”, “Why do we exist?”, “Is this world real”, “What if it is just a mirage?”, “What is the real use of studies?” – And brilliant answers accompany too. But alas! none of our subjects offer us credits on these questions. An open challenge to all professors reading this… Ask us the ‘real’ questions and check our real brilliance.

3. Coffee: This one does not need elaboration. The formula is pretty simple: The more you drink coffee, the less do you sleep; the less you sleep, the more is the opportunity to study. (Note: Creating opportunity to study is totally unrelated to amount actually studied – read the next point)

4. Movie Time: With a plate of pastry in your reach, a mug of coffee in you hand and the most philosophical questions in mind, how can one expect to study? The most obvious option at hand is… VLC player. Thanks to the technology. Well, we try to be earnest. “Only this scene. Promise!” But we all know, promises are made to be broken, right?

5. The Slang: Well, this and the next points are censored. What does that mean? Reader’s discretion is expected Please read them more carefully. The use of figures of speech of our colourful hostel language – slang, swear words and curses – is intensified. Why? Simple. Anger and frustration do need a way out. And in the line of fire come the professors, the subject, the author of book, the founders of the subject and obviously our own dear friends.

6. The Smoke and Booze: The ultimate motivation. And my persistent, humble no. However, no description of exam time can be complete without these two companions of ours. 🙂

No matter how much, we hate exams, the fact remains that exam preparations in hostel are an experience of their own. And for me, they would surely be one of the most cherished periods of my hostel life.

“So my dear room-mates… Studying for the exams? With a coffee mug in hand and a movie on the lappy? Good! Please continue… ;)”

In the Hunt of an Internship


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Welcome to IISER Kolkata’s APC Roy Boys’ Hostel – housing 300 of the brightest minds of the country in a 3 storied – 2 winged building. Here you would find the marvelous gray matters doing everything but studying. There are many interesting aspects to the life at APC Roy like the ‘ultra-mechanized’ students’ canteen, the bathroom singers and the colorful language of ours… Not to forget the frequent and regular ‘snake encounters’. This feature is unique to our hostels. Since our arrival here, we have been acclimatized to seeing snakes to an extent that now we seemingly don’t fear them (probably it is the other way round). People say that the life must be great as we are the holders of the largest scholarship in the country. But alas they miss out one of the vital pains of our hearts – The struggle to hold on to the scholarship…

Early August: Session begins

Summer Vacations have ended… People sharing experiences of the ‘research projects’ they underwent – well theoretically. In reality…

SDG: Dude! That is what you call a beauty… Smoking Hot! I’m telling you, she’s going to be mine within weeks… Just wait and watch

MP: Don’t tell me… I have heard it time and again. Give me a break…

SDG: No man this time it is serious… Just wait and watch…

AS: Great man! I see determination in your voice!

SDG: Don’t you?

AS: Sure… So when is the treat?

SDG: In the next life… You moron!

Late August to Early September

This is when the heat rises… the hunt for internships begin. We need to do an internship each year to extend out fellowships. But as it always happens… there is a small problem… who will take us?

AS: So, what about next year?

SDG: Hmm… Would have to apply again! What the hell! Not again!

SG: Why now? Relax… We have just finished one…

MP: We have to hurry up… don’t want to be in a hurry like the last year.

September to March

This is the peak time for applications. The process starts off by a careful selection of mentors: their work, profile, availability etc. Everyone starts with high hopes. As usual there are a few lucky chaps who get their internships early and as usual… this puts on additional pressure on the rest of them. Time passes by and down go the hopes as each one awaits a single positive response. Those lucky are envied. Mails are sent more frequently and (more importantly) more randomly. Terms of friendship change…

MP (as usual peeping through the window): Any mails as yet? (Mail=Positive Response)

SDG: There is one I received, but it says that the lab is full…

MP: Heard that SP has got one…

AS: What the… Why always him? UM has got one too… SM is deciding between Stanford and Max Planck…

SDG: As usual, I am doomed…

MP: So am I, 50 mails; 2 responses; both negative

SDG: What the hell do they write to get one?

AS: I don’t understand why the Profs don’t reply? Do they ever read the mails or do they filter out all our mails?

One fine day when AS lazily was strolling outside his room; SG literally comes running to him and jumps onto him with ecstasy…

SG: Got it! Got it! A positive response from Caltech!

AS (with an expression too weird to describe): That’s great! Fantastic!

SG: I was browsing hopelessly for a professor somewhere, as all of a sudden my mailbox shows of this new new mail… Yippee…

AS: Well done man!

AS returns to the room with a hung face; and declares

AS: SG… Caltech…

MP (who has not got an internship yet): Oh no! Not Caltech! How can he… I mean… SG is going to CALTECH???

SP (who has got one): OK, that’s fine… What is the fuss all about?

AS: Shut up you moron!

One of the most pathetic situation is that of a person whose both the room-mates are going abroad and he is struggling hard to get one even within the country. Amidst all the mutual discussions of the visa process, air tickets and dreams of the foreign land; the one on the receiving end finds himself in an ocean of utter discomfort. Helplessly staring as a deer, he turns to one who never disappoints him – the pair of earphones – and tries to shield himself from the ‘noise’ (although he nostly doesn’t succeed…). At this moment it is only natural to realise the truth of the famous dialogue from the movie 3 idiots

Agar dost fail ho jaye to dukh hota hai… Par agar dost first aa jaye to aur jyada dukh hota hai…

Although the emotions, the disappointment and the disgust is only transient and temporary, one gets the true feeling of restlessness as he journeys through…

I feel I will miss these days when I pass out. This hunt has taught us a lot… How to write mails – LOTS OF MAILS; How to negotiate; What does it mean to try desperately and above all How does a hard earned success feel like…

Disclaimer

All the people named here are very very good friends of mine. The article is an earnest attempt to bring a smile on your face and is meant to be taken in good humour. No inferences whatsoever must be drawn on the nature, character etc. of all those named (if you ever get to know their real names).

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