Book Review: The Book Thief

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What a book! The book thief by Markus Zusak is a story of a 9 nine year old girl Liesel in Germany during the time of World War II. Strangely the book is narrated by ‘death’. Initially it sounds a bit strange and creepy to see the world from the eyes of death whose job is to collect the souls of the dead. This is what it had been doing since forever. It is tired of doing so and wants a break. But then there is no substitute of death.

I knew about the WWII partially. But this book presents the actual life of the common peasants during those time. One can feel and visualize the hardships faced by the people. Scarcity of basic necessities. Ill treatment of the Jews. Concentration camps. Marches and parades. Horror dreams of the survivors. Watching near and dear ones die in front of one’s own eyes. War times. Death describes how war was very difficult time for it, as it had to collect so many souls of the dead…

The story is about Liesel who is abandoned by her parents to a foster family as they are unable to take care of their children. On the way Liesel watches her brother die and this memory haunts her for a long time. Her foster mother is a short tempered, talkative woman. There is a very beautiful relationship between her foster father and her. He patiently teaches her to read and write, which plays a major role in her life ahead. He is like a pillar of strength and support for her. She is friends with a neighbourhood boy Rudy and they have great times together. Numerous happenings of her life are described like.. Her school life. Football games in the evenings. Helping her Mama in the daily chores. And food of her life – reading. Sometimes the story seems so normal just like a regular day.. But then suddenly there is bombing and war. Probably that’s how even our life is… most of the part is routine life filled with happy and sad times in between..

The main thing which keeps Liesel sane in difficult times is her love for books. Papa teaches her to read and write initially. The progress is slow. But Liesel loves reading and very soon picks up. Together they read the same book multiple times every night. Her passion for reading is so strong that she starts stealing books and is thus called a book thief. Later on she writes her own story in the form of book which ultimately saves her life during WWII. This book shows the power of words on individuals and masses.

The book is about 550 pages. All the charecters are describes so well that they almost come to life in our minds. There is not much of suspense as readers can foresee some of the events (mainly deaths). Still the overall story builds up nicely. I would recommend reading it in a day or two to get the complete feel of the narration. It will make one think about life, death, friendship, love, challenges, hardships, inspirations and much more. More importantly how to find and then hold on to ray of hope in grim times.

“The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this.”

Istanbul Travelogue

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Prologue…

I did M.Tech. from IIIT-Bangalore in 2012-2014. In the last semester at IIIT-B i did thesis on the effects of entrenchment on cooperative behaviour. It is based on Multi Agent Systems and Game Theory. Had the best time of my academic life so far doing research in an area which i found very interesting. I successfully defended my thesis and graduated. My dream was to get the paper based on my thesis accepted in a good conference. And as they say, if we try hard enough, our dreams do come true! :)

We submitted our paper in one of the tier 1 conference in the domain of multi-agent systems. And then one day we got the mail informing about the acceptance of the paper :) I was on cloud nine! It is the best thing that can happen to one’s thesis.

With the acceptance came lots of things and planning to do.. Had to submit the final camera ready paper, create a poster and most importantly look for funding for travel to attend the conference. I would like to thank my employer for funding my trip and giving me the opportunity to present my work and attend the conference. It made things a lot easier. With a tatkal passport, tickets and visa, i was all set to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination. :) My first foreign visit! Luckily the Prof. under whose guidance i had done my thesis was also coming with his family :)

The Trip…

We boarded Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Qatar Airways! One of the most hi-tech planes of today. And for a window seat lover like me, the huge electrochromism-based smart glass windows were the coolest thing! There was a small stopover at Doha and then we headed to our destination, Istanbul. In the first look itself, Istanbul looked beautiful. Clean roads lined with lawns and trees and with an amazing view of sea, fast moving cars and a pleasant weather just like Bangalore.

We checked in at the Zeynep Sultan Hotel. It had been recently renovated. Had a nice, small and cozy room at a reasonable price in the heart of the city. Major landmarks like the Blue mosque were at a walking distance from our hotel.

We were mainly busy at the conference. It is the first tier 1 conference i have attended. And the difference was obvious. Met people from all over the world. Had interesting discussions during breaks. Our presentation was good. Also attended many other talks and presentations. Saw many posters and demos. So many tracks went on parallelly that sometimes i wished i could be in multiple places at the same time! It was a great learning experience. It was cool to meet so many people from around the world who are all excited about a particular subject (MAS). Also got to see the amazing high quality work that gets accepted in a top conference. I hope i will do more such quality work and present in similar conferences in future :)

We also visited the SoSLab of the Boagazici CS department. The university is beautifully located with a wonderful view of the strait. It has a lush green campus situated uphill. Had interesting conversation with the Prof. and students of the lab. Talked about topics like topic modelling, annotations, social semantics, sentiment analysis etc.

Did some sight-seeing in the evenings and over the weekend. Istanbul is a huge city with so many places to see that even a week will be less. The two major highlights of our tour were – the Bosphorus cruise, a two hour cruise with a breathtaking view! We saw wild dolphins! It was awesome :) There were a lot of jellyfishes in the strait. The view on both sides was beautiful with lots of mosques, high end houses with there own yachts, huge suspension bridges and deep blue water and sky! The second highlight was our visit to the Galata tower, one of the oldest towers of the world! Its like the Eiffel tower of Istanbul. The view from up the tower just cannot be described in words! I could stand there forever. The blue strait, houses on slopes with orange slanted roofs, the European and the Asian side and the cool breeze! Enjoyed snacks in the cafe at the top of the tower :) We descended via stairs and saw the tower’s built from the inside with the stony walls and small openings for natural light. We travelled by the world’s second oldest tram which was literally pulled uphill using huge automatic pulleys! Also went to the blue mosque and the gulhane park which were close to our hotel. I promise i will wake up early morning everyday and go for a walk if i have a park like gulhane park close to my house ;) Huge trees, blooming flowers, chirping birds, lush green lawns, Turkish tea and an amazing view of the strait!

We thought food might be a problem as we are vegetarian. However we mostly found something good to eat :) The breakfast at our hotel was good. I have never tasted such juicy strawberries before. One must try figs and olives in Istanbul. Also tried turkish bread and pizza which was yummy. Our plain Indian dal is called lentil soup in Turkey :P which was also good. We found a pure vegetarian restaurant and had delicious falafel! Tried so many new dishes. For food connoisseurs like us it was fun :)

The grand finale of our trip was the idyllic time we spent at a cafe in the gulhane park overlooking the Bosphorus. It was a calm and peaceful evening. The sky was slowly changing colours and slowly it was getting dark. And then gradually the Asian side lit up! The view was fantastic. Ships and yachts were sailing across the Bosphorus. We had a yummy HUGE baked stuffed potato (which we craved for since day one :P) and endless cups of turkish tea over interesting discussions. If only time could be paused, i would have paused it then… forever.

Overall, this trip has been an amazing experience. Its a treasured memory for a lifetime :) Rarely things turn out to be better that what we imagine (atleast for me) however this Istanbul trip is an exception, it turned out to be much much more awesome than what i had dreamt :)

Bag of words…

Blue. Water. Fishing rods. Selfie Sticks. Reflections. Huge bridges. Speeding cars. Trams. Dolphins! Jelly fishes. Sea Gulls. Birthday. Cruise. Chilly winds. Galata tower. Sloping orange roofed houses. 2 and 4 engine jets leaving streaks in sky. Long walks. Useful pre-trip advice. Turkish music which sounded same. Blue mosque. Huge grand bazaar. Byzantine ruins. MG Road. Full moon background and mosque minarets. Blue symbol which wards off evil. European windows which open from all sides!  Royal shoe polishers. Cats. Lots of cats. Extroverts. Sufi round-round dance :P Pide. Strawberries. Olives. Natural Jams. Honey. Huge bread loafs. Vegetable salad. Hot chocolate. Cakes. Different varieties of cheese. Copper tea pots. Mini rice cooker. 3 course rice meal. Fast trams on road. Ice cream vendors. Turkish delights. Baklava. Dry fruits. Spices. Saffron. Sumac. Aryan (buttermilk). Kurus fasulye (white beans cooked in tomato gravy).  Geeky jokes :) Asterix and Obelix. Morse code. ᗅᗺᗷᗅ. Big Bang Theory. Skype Watsapp Viber.  Greenery. Blooming flowers. LOTS of pics. Memories. HAPPINESS.

Some key takeaways…

  • A line which makes us happy when we are sad and sad when we are happy – “This too shall pass!”.
  • Buy experiences, not things. It may seem to be counter-intuitive, but its true!
  • Never give up. Even in case of failure, make the corrections and try again!
  • Sometimes things may not seem to be perfect immediately, but in hindsight, they mostly do!
  • All the hard-work, perseverance and tons of effort seems to be worth it and more when we visit places and attend top conferences.
  • A tier 1 conference is actually number 1 in the quality of work and diversity of gathering!
  • Well maintained water bodies and/or historic relics within city can boost tourism.
  • If the people have basic civic sense, even a city of 14.4 million people can be spotlessly clean.
  • Cats looking like statues may actually be real. :P Cats and dogs can happily coexist! Cats actually do not care! :D
  • Traffic woes are the same everywhere!
  • Trip hangovers can last reallllly long. Even after a week, sometimes i feel i am in Istanbul!

Thanks…

  • Thanks a lot to my Prof. under whose guidance i did my Masters thesis. I look upto him. I have learnt a lot from him, about the interesting courses he taught in college and more importantly about philosophy of life! Thanks a lot for being my guru and mentor!
  • Thanks to my employer for funding my trip and giving me this amazing opportunity of presenting and attending the conference.

Epilogue…

Istanbul is a beautiful city. An amazing conglomeration of people, religions and cultures. Hope i get an opportunity to visit Istanbul again! My first foreign visit is like a cluster of happy memories! I have enjoyed each and every moment of the trip. Hope to have many more such experiences in future :) Life’s good ! :)

A Piece of Puzzle

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I am a piece of puzzle,
Having my own choices and preferences,
I am trying to find the place where i fit,
Where my interests align with others.
Its difficult to survive around mismatching pieces,
Every now and then, their edges hurt,
When they forcefully want you to realign,
As per their whims and fancies,
So as to somehow complete the puzzle around them.

I understand its a huge world,
With innumerable things which can be done,
Its not ever possible to try them all…
The only feasible way is to choose a subset,
Of areas that resemble my interest,
And then see how things work out,
It may be difficult to try many different areas,
As change is always unwelcome and unwanted,
But without this change how will i know,
Where i belong, where i should be…

Sometimes pieces of puzzles compromise,
With their own choices as well as their surroundings
They adjust with whichever pieces they get,
They find it cumbersome to change for the better,
Or to find their own perfect match.
But i have that faith and hope,
That someday, i will surely find my place,
The place where i belong,
They place where i perfectly fit in,
The place where i am truly happy,
The place and people who let me be me.
Myself, as a puzzle piece, will complete the puzzle,
Atleast in the area around me !
And that will be my sweet success…
That’s all i want, that’s all i dream
That’s all i hope and that’s why i live!

Image credits : inspiretalent.co.uk/images/resources.gif?637

Teachers of Life

A kid stepped into the world,
To explore and to learn new things,
Excited of the numerous possibilities.
Filled with dreams of the future.
You were the one who held the hand,
sharpened the minds,
and guided on the path of life.
Taught the smallest of things
to the deepest of concepts,
From numbers, alphabets to the topics of expertise.
You taught things in a manner which was fun.
Even in a classroom, you had the power
to time travel across the universe.
You were always there, to motivate and guide.
And to show that life is much more than an exam.
From school and then to college,
You were there at every step of life.
You told about the reality of life in the most lucid way.
And sometimes shared things not in books,
which would be actually useful in life.
You shared your wisdom gained over years of experience
as well as the lessons you learnt.
Thank you for being there always,
For shaping up the minds and then setting them free.
To go out in the world and live life.
To actually, apply the lessons taught,
and to lead a meaningful life.
There is always a part of you,
in every kid or youth you taught,
if the form of your ideas and lessons,
which you have instilled in their minds.
You are the light which brightens the world.
You are the star which guides on the right path.
You are the one who lays the foundation of the minds.
You are the one who builds the world.

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to all my teachers in school and college.
And to other people who have been like teachers and are guiding in my journey of life.
Wishing you all a very happy teachers’ day 2014!!!

IIIT-B, My Alma Mater

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It says it all !

Two years have passed ! Yes, two awesome years :) It seems like yesterday when i had applied for masters at IIIT-B. It seemed to be perfect to me in every way. The news of being shortlisted for interviews … The preparation for interview … And then my first visit to Bangalore, which became my favourite since day one and then IIIT-B ! The campus just wooed my heart. It is a small cozy place. I distinctly remember sitting for my turn for the admission interviews and looking outside of the windows to the huge trees which lined the entrance, that’s when i had thought that i just want to be in this place. Interviews were good and i had a nice quick trip. And then the acceptance letter sent me on cloud nine :) I was sooo happy !

Our Main Block

Our Main Block

Joined IIIT-B on July 13th, 2012. Met people from all over India. Its always a bit difficult for me to make  friends, however somehow we just all got together ! I had the coolest gang of gals here :) Initially everything felt a bit new, somewhat different. But since i have already stayed in hostel during my undergrad days, i could gel in soon. New place, new friends, new weather, new food, new languages and thus overall a new life :)

Initially for around one and half months we had prep semester, where we studied the basics and got ourselves adjusted to the new life. I still remember the Linux installations and system crashes :P The seniors were all very helping and ready to guide their “juniors”. Our 2nd floor hostel corridors used to be packed sometimes when we all were listening to seniors’ advice. It was just the beginning of the life ahead. During this time, learnt and practiced basic programming and mathematics.

Very soon it was time to begin the first semester. The SAC elections, the campaigning both online and off-line. The freshers party! And then the serious stuff started. Four subjects, random project team allocations, whole night project meetings, coding, numerous demos and vivas by TAs, quizzes, mid-sem and finals. Sometimes it all seemed too difficult. But then we had seniors as our inspiration. They had been through this and so we felt that we could do it as well !

But it was not all that hard ! There was always preparation going on for some festival. Had a great time celebrating so many Indian festival with friends from all over India. Enjoyed the matki-fod Janamashtami, awesome Diwali with firecrackers, beautiful flower rangolis on Onam, one day Ganesh puja, Republic day and Independence day and many more. These special events added spice in daily life and made it more colorful. And then there were Ravali calls every now and then on birthdays ;)

Second semester started and it was time to choose the specialization. Time to choose two electives. Time to be part of a lab. For some it was easy, while for others it was very difficult to choose. However very soon things fell into place. Everyone was busy again doing some awesome projects in courses and labs. Second semester is awesome for two reasons:  SPANDAN – It is the time for all IIIT-B students and alumni to meet and enjoy playing and watching sports for three days. You ask any IIITBian and they will say that Spandan is perhaps the best time and it seems as though we are in a different world altogether ! And the second special event of the second semester is Open House. This is the time when we present our work to the outside world. Had a great time giving demos and presentations and got some amazing feedback and suggestions. And then very soon, again its time for final project submissions, demos and exams.

Then we had a mini semester called the summer sem. During this time, we studied some management lessons and technical communication. Being tech guys, management lessons were somewhat difficult for us to grasp initially. Had a great time in TC presentations, movie and book reviews and most of all the Mad-ads :) Our group’s product was an umbrella, and i must say it was a really cool multipurpose umbrella ;)

Third semester started and it was time to be ready for placements! Oh those days! It was difficult to handle both studies and placements. Those group studies. Those intense problem solving sessions. Karumanchi, the hottest book on campus during placements. It was so much in demand that it was out of stock on every online portal. Some amazing KSMs by our classmates. It was all very stressful but finally worth it ! The placement week. The written rounds. The coding rounds. A few rejections … This is the time when “real friends” supported and motivated. And then sweet success :)

At IIIT-B, one does regular coursework+projects for three semesters and the last semester is for either internship or thesis. In these three semesters i studied some amazing subjects, taught by some of the most awesome profs i have ever met. They were always there to guide and support and to clarify doubts if any. I was a member of OSL lab and got to do some cool projects. Experienced some fantastic unconventional ways of teaching and learning. The projects taught us to get our hands dirty, work on some real problems and to work in teams and manage the group. Overall it was awesome experience.

In my final semester, i choose to do thesis as i was highly interested in an area and had an amazing Prof. as my guide. And i am very proud to say that it has been one of the best decision of my life. These six months have been perhaps the best days of my life till now. I have never been so happy :) I did some cool experiments and simulations. Had numerous brain storming sessions and discussions to crystallize the ideas and generate appropriate results. Time just flew when i did my work. It was not work but play for me, as i enjoyed doing it. During this time, I realized that sometimes, its difficult to understand the implications of one’s own work! In such scenario, one needs a guide who has wisdom to see the bigger picture and who can connect the dots. I also understood that academic writing is very different from regular writing. It needs to be a lot more diligent and precise.  This semester showed me my area of interest, my potential and what all i can do ahead ! Also i have completed a full circle at IIIT-B. Gave my M.Tech thesis defense in the same classroom where i waited for my turn for admission interview!

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View from my window :)

Some random pointers of IIIT-B – the green lawns, the mini pond, ducks and rabbits, lots of squirrels, the orange tree (African tulip tree) in front of my window, awesome independent room, MCR, smart boards, colorful canteen, mid-night Maggie, sandwiches and fruit juice, walks around the campus, small terrace on the 2nd floor, the musical fountain, the basketball court, table-tennis games, Spic Macay programs, Philosophy Club meetings, Movie sessions, i guess i can go on and on :)  There are so many things that flash in my mind when i think of IIIT-B.

And now time ticks by. Earlier i used to wait for the convocation day but now i want time to slow down … Very soon it will be time to throw the graduation caps high in the sky. To be there, together,  for the group pic. And then to wave good byes. I know its going to be difficult. Very difficult. IIIT-B has been like heaven for me. I have realized my potential here. I have understood what i am capable of doing. I am ready to face life ahead. It gave me some close friends for lifetime. It showed me, my area of interest for which my brain jumps with excitement and interest. I was lucky to study and work under the guidance of some of the most amazing profs here who are experts in their field. IIIT-B thanks for making me what i am today ! When i see myself now and myself two years earlier, i can clearly see a transformed myself. Adieu to MT2012 batch ! Had a great time with all of you. Its the memories which will be cherished forever ! And finally, IIIT-B, my Alma mater, thanks for everything.

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Batch of 2012

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IIIT-B made us and we made IIIT-B :)

 

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Patience & Attention : A Lost Art

Every coin has two sides. And same is the case with today’s technology. It has made our lives simple and fast, or rather lightning fast. Things which took days or weeks can now be done in mere seconds. But things are not all that rosy as they seem to be. We are paying a price of this convenience by losing some of our precious skills like patience and attention which are more like a lost art these days !

Patience

A new unknown word ? Google it ! Who has time to search it in a dictionary ?
Want to inform something to someone ? Email or message ! Who has time to write a letter which will reach the destination in atleast a week’s duration ?
A bug in code ? Google it ! Why waste time trying to correct it yourself ?
Want to read a book ? Download an ebook ! Who has time to buy a real book ?
Want to cook a new recipe ? Search online ! Why experiment ? It may be a disaster !
I could just go on and on …

I don’t mean that doing any of this is wrong. However, some of its aftereffects are ! It has made us so much accustomed to getting results instantaneously, that we have lost our patience. If a webpage takes more than 3 seconds to load then its not worth it ! We want everything immediately. A time lag is just unbearable. And then the same impatience is also evident in our day to day life. We expect everything to be instantaneous. Immediate success, immediate replies from others, immediate delivery of goods, immediate results, immediate solutions. But it is not possible always. And this results in broken expectations leading to anger and grief.

Another shortcoming is that this instant gratification prevents us from trying things ourselves. We would rather believe what others have to say about something that experiencing it ourselves. That’s because others experiences are available instantaneously, however trying out something ourselves requires time and efforts. But the amount of joy and knowledge which one gains by experiencing things oneself can never be learnt from other’s experiences. Also one is more likely to remember and internalize the lessons learnt by oneself than by just knowing other’s experiences and lessons.

Solution – It’s important that we recognize our reducing patience levels and work towards improving it. One of my favorite technique is to learn a new skill. Try learning a new musical instrument or some sport. Learning something new requires a lot of time and patience. One needs to repeatedly do the same thing multiple times in order to perfectly master it. I still remember the numerous number of times i played the seven notes on my keyboard after which i could play it without seeing the keys. Only then did my teacher teach me to play a song on it ! I know it can be difficult. Monotony may lead to boredom and that’s when one feels like giving up. But a little persistence and patience and take us a long way ! Also its very important to remember that the instantaneous results of technology are not applicable always. Some things like growing a tree require time and patience.

Attention

Our attention spans have significantly reduced. As one of my Prof. rightly says, one of the major challenges of today’s generation is to survive death by thousand distractions. We are constantly being swarmed with a lot of information, most of which is not all that important. Just count the number of tabs open in your browser right now and you will know what i mean. Email notifications, Facebook updates, News updates, Messages, Music playing in the background and the ever coming Whats-app messages. Just try leaving all things aside and concentrate on a task and the mind jumps back to these sources just to see if there is any important update.  We believe that we can do this multitasking, however actually the brain is constantly context switching from task to another leading to an illusion of multitasking. This continuous context-switching deteriorates the quality of information stored in our brain. It is also difficult to filter all the useful information and store it into long term memory. The mind is in a constant state of flux and sadly it is unwilling to return to its original calm and peaceful state.

Solution – “Do one thing at a time !” When you read, just read. When you eat, just eat. When you work, just work. When you enjoy, just enjoy. When you code, just code. Leave multitasking for the gadgets. It may be difficult, but not impossible. It makes life much more simpler and enjoyable. Even i am trying hard to practice this. And i am sure with a bit of patience we all can master it !

My Keyboard

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Black and white keys together,
Can create a melody unheard,
Pressing the right keys at the right moment,
Can generate a melodious tune,
It can play any instrument whether guitar, sitar or flute,
It has numerous options to choose an accompanying tune.
It uplifts my mood when i feel low,
And makes me euphoric when i am happy,
It is like a time machine,
Which can transcend me in a new different world,
Which is filled with melodies and tunes.
Like a good friend, it is always there,
Waiting for me to switch it on,
And to play a new song …
Sometimes i may not play it for days,
However even on everyday objects,
Sometimes my fingers glide as tough on a keyboard.
Just a glace of it gives me immense joy,
A new tune on it energizes my mind.
I keep practicing and improving this skill,
A little bit more, a new step ahead each day,
I need to learn playing keyboard by my left hand,
The neurons of my brain to learn this trick.
Sometimes it takes a lot of time to catch a new tune,
However, i always keep trying till its perfect,
All it needs a little patience and practice,
And then the results are fantastic !
My keyboard is an instrument spreading melody and joy,
Its keys are the steps leading to a dreamland.

Here is a song titled “Raabta” played by me on my keyboard. Enjoy !
http://yourlisten.com/jayati/raabta