Things you shouldn’t tell me when I interview you for an Ivy League University

Hello Blog-world. I was about to title this post “This girl shouldn’t be allowed to have a blog especially since she’s abandoned it forever”, but then I thought I could be done with apologizing for my absence and make my presence known again.

Lately, as a part of my extracurricular activities, I’ve been involved in the Admissions Committee interviewing process. I started this task hoping that I would meet many great, interesting, versatile, eager and nervous candidates. I was not disappointed. Out of the minimum 10, I had to interview, I managed 9. So let me start with that kid.

0. What not to say before your interview:

Self: *finally calls up the candidate’s listed phone number after having been ignored in his inbox for two weeks* “Hi, this is the Admissions Committee from Columbia University, we would like to offer you the opportunity to interview.”

Kid: “Nah, I got into Oxford. Bye”

Self: *staring at hung-up phone*

Now that you have a preview of what is to follow, let me begin by posting the questions that I asked during the interviews and the range of fabulous responses I received.

1. Why have you selected your particular choice of academic interests?

Most candidates indicate their top three academic preferences before the interview begins and that’s where the first question begins. Basically, the point is to gauge how genuine they are in what they say they’re interested in. If they list Computer Science and Engineering (which is my major, I ask them a few follow-up questions).

-> Biomedical Engineering (which is one of our hardest engineering majors, mind you): “I like bio-related things”

“Bio-related things” could be anything from watching House to interning with a surgeon. Full points for specificity.

-> Philosophy: “I want to know more about why people give me advice on how to live life“.

Maybe people want to give you advice because you’re choosing an undergraduate major which doesn’t exactly offer too many promising employment opportunities and college education is not exactly cheap. Please respect it as a discipline that you want to make your life or don’t apply to it.

-> Statistics: “I’m good at math”

Statistics is more about working with probabilities, models and distributions than it is with number-crunching. Less Calculus and more things named after people like Bayes, Gauss, Bernoulli, Poisson, etc. Why can’t you apply to our Math department?

-> Mathematics: “I’m good at statistics”

Somewhat similar to the one above. More things like algebra, geometry, vector calculus, etc. What I’m trying to say is, “THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING”. Why can’t you apply to our Statistics department?

-> Computer Science: “I like video-games”/ “I believe in the potential of technology”/ “I was one of those children who could click before I could speak”

Please be aware that a lot many more people play computer games than the ones who can write code. Everyone knows technology is important, I’m asking why it’s important to you. Your clicking abilities as a child should not determine your career choices as an almost-adult.

-> Electrical Engineering: “I like Physics”

Electromagnetic physics and circuit theories meet at only one small/tangential intersection. See response to Math vs. Stats.

-> Physics: “I was born to do Physics”

Okay, kid. If you end up changing your major once you arrive here (which you can before before your sophomore year), then I will assume that you have not been born.

I may do another post on this later on Bad reasons to select any major.

2. Why did you apply to Columbia? Where does Columbia fit into your grand scheme of life?

Usually, the common responses are because it’s Ivy League, it’s in New York City and because we have a strong liberal arts component to even our most technical majors.

-> “I selected Columbia because it appeared in the drop-down list on CommonApp”

For those of you who don’t know, CommonApp is an online portfolio system that saves your transcripts, certificates, essays and sends them as a packet to the many Universities who are listed on it.  It was designed as a tool to prevent too much paperwork. And apparently, one can stumble upon prestigious colleges while uploading documents and casually decide that’s where they were going to apply.

-> ” I selected Columbia because I like New York weather”

Lies. Nobody likes New York weather, not even the locals. Google the following: Hurricane Sandy, Snowstorm Juno, The Polar Vortex and New York Summer.

-> “I want to gain knowledge

Admirably specific. Don’t we all? Why else do you think we need to have an application process if we could let everyone who wanted to gain knowledge study here?

-> “I want to be successful. I want to be successful. I want to be successful.

Quote presented verbatim. We want to see you successful too. I’m not sure how repeating it thrice explains how Columbia University in particular satisfies those “wants”.

3. What do you do for fun?

This question is to get an idea of who the candidate is as a person. “Oh, the kinds of people you’ll meet” comes to mind here.

-> “I like reading and watching movies. My favorite book is Fifty Shades of Grey and my favorite movie is The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m so sad that Fifty Shades of Grey is releasing during my exams”

This response is the only time I have visibly cringed during an interview. My opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey is that it is terrible and awful and honestly, if you want to read it just to know how bad it is, you’d be better off reading Jenny Armintrout’s summary, which I daresay is much better written and a lot more intellectually expansive than E.L. James’ work.  The Wolf of Wall Street is her favorite movie because she “admires Leonardo DiCaprio’s character”.

I asked her why she liked it, hoping that there would be some sort of sarcastic response/diatribe against the work, or she’d take it back or provide an intellectual feminism-domestic-violence-sexual-identity commentary. What happened brought her closer to the edge of insanity.

-> “I like Fifty Shades of Grey because I think it is a good romantic novel

I have just heard/witnessed the single handed-murder of the entire genre of romance. Also, you’re a seventeen year old kid. What do you even know about romance? You don’t even represent the demographic of popular readers of Fifty Shades of Grey.

-> (Same candidate as above) “My second most favorite book is a Thousand Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

No. Just no. How this is book second? Also, the book is titled “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, not a thousand. I could understand if you made this mistake while translating from Spanish, but your linguistic capabilities rest at English, let alone attempt to take on Spanish. I actually called up my father after this distressing interview wondering in what possible way could I redeem this candidate while writing her report and my father gently suggested “Maybe she read the book ten times”. That’s a lot of solitude.

-> “My interests are in music and photography. I like listening to music and sometimes, when the lyrics of a song leave me with a thought, I look through my old photographs, find something that connects with the thought and then write a verse on it.”

That’s a lot of feelings, bro. But I think it’s cute how the candidate was earnest about his efforts. He even submits those verses to people/journals he thinks will “enjoy an intellectual discussion on it“. If you couldn’t guess, this is also the candidate interested in Philosophy. Could be viewed as somewhat pretentious, but rendered cute with earnestness I suppose.

-> “I like reading really violent manga and playing Pokemon.”

This is one of the prospective Computer Science majors. He is 18. You are an adult now, surely you are aware of what is within the bounds of appropriate discussion in an interview. *silent/not-so-silent judgement*

4. What do you think you will add to the Columbia community?

-> “I bring myself to the Columbia Community”/ “I offer myself to Columbia Community. I know that’s a really vague response but I’m sure you understand human beings cannot truly be defined until they die”

Signed, sealed and delivered by the prospective Philosophy major. He brings himself. I, for one, am really glad to know that he is going to accept the admission offer (if he receives one) on his behalf. I’m also not sure what to make of that very half-baked chain of thought which followed it. What do you mean by vague? Which school of philosophy do you subscribe to? What are you, an amorphous blob?

-> “I definitely know that I will be an asset to the community. I will add to classes. I will definitely be a valid addition to the community”

Substantiate, don’t state. At this point, I’m just embodying the “I can’t even” syndrome.

Interviewees forget how difficult it is for interviewers, particularly those who are students and are aware of how stressful the process is, to mark a candidate down. Because really, we want you to succeed as much as you do, but you’re not making it easy for us.

I should also include a shout-out to the candidates who did brilliantly well in their interview, making me feel like I did nothing when I was their age or that I have accomplished nothing yet. One candidate is (at the age of 17/18) lead Greenpeace activist in the area, founder of his own catering start-up, chef at his own start-up, intern at Schneider Electric product management and mixed martial arts enthusiast. Another candidate has grown up in four different countries, raised almost $10,000 on her own to support an NGO which provides vocational training to marginalized women and has interned at three different hospitals. I don’t mean to mock anyone’s efforts here, but you have to understand that interviewing is just as difficult (as we are officially people reading) as preparing for one.

Ah, I must end this to be in time for my morning class which is densely populated with graduate students again. I promise to be more regular. If you or anyone you know is applying to colleges and have interviews, know that you should not be saying any of the things I mentioned up there. Cheers and best!

4 Indirect ways I shut out Facebook from my life

I don’t know how many of the crazy (and secretly helpful) habits that I have could be applied to anyone else in the world, but I must say that they are pretty effective for me. The weird thing is, I didn’t even know I had these habits, until I let go of them for a while and realized that life was falling apart in all sorts of obscure little ways. Also, Facebook has mixed results with a lot of social researches. Some say that they have done wonders for the human psyche, there are others who say that people who frequent Facebook tend to compare their lives to other people.  Here they are for your perusal.

Habit #1: Having a 60-character long Facebook password

Context: My roommate is one of those people who loves to post random statuses about life, masquerading as me. Therefore, I do not ever save my password on my browser. Also, I have this childhood fear that if I don’t log out of anything that I’ve logged into, I’m inviting hackers to pick at my data. Most of my time on Facebook is spent serially liking things, or messaging friends or actually getting all my club members up to speed on the events/deeds of the week. I could use a really helpful productivity app like StayFocused, but I’m in denial that I need one I need my Facebook time in uninterrupted pockets for “productive” reasons, such as get together with my study group. Therefore, the best way to stop getting addicted to Facebook is to write an essay in the password bar every time I try to log in.

Benefits: This method appeals to my lethargy, makes typing on the phone a very avoidable nightmare (so I’m not posting random links all the time) and keeps my account heavily protected. I stop visiting Facebook simply because I know that typing out 60 characters every single time I’m there is a pain. It makes my typing faster and it always amazes people to watch my fingers fly over the keyboard generating a military-grade password for something as mundane as my social life.

Habit#2: Move the Facebook phone app/widget off my home page

Context: Just knowing that I have to search among the complete menagerie of apps that infest my phone for one tiny single square F  makes me want to not bother with searching it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the clean design of the app and I especially like how unobtrusive the Android button is. Yet, I have so many apps that begin with the letters of the English alphabet before and with F that scrolling through makes my thumb tired and makes me want to forget what I had so earnestly wanted to share to a random mass of people anyway.

Benefits: It curbs my urge to spam my wall or my friends’ messages with random online content, simply because it is too tedious to locate the app button on my phone. It allows me to be deliciously lazy and prevents me from coming across some alarming notifications along the lines of “COME TO MY WEEKEND PARTY BECAUSE I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE A LIFE. HERE’S ME RUBBING IT IN YOUR FACE #YOLO”. My thumbs are a lot more functional and occasionally, I come across an app that I never knew I had installed and waste my time on that instead of feeling pathetic that I am not in Florida/Mexico/<exotic locale> doing exotic things.

Habit#3: Abruptly change phone lock pin when going through a random mood swing.

Context: Since I’m a creature with a knack for terribly long passwords (see no.1), I don’t see the need to change them often. However, I keep my phone pin lock short so I can access it in the event of…well, life. Once, when I was super-upset, I changed the password to something I couldn’t remember even 20 seconds later (when my phone locked off). Even though my online accounts remain secure, I still feel the need to keep my memory of passwords up and running.

Benefits: Serves as a good memory-building tool, keeps my account safe, deters me from checking every single notification I get within 30 milliseconds of it’s arrival on my device, lets me use that time to do something else in my life, like crack codes which the past me uses to set these numbers up, <usual password reasons>, etc.

Habit#4: Use up all of my phone internet bandwidth within the first few days of my bill cycle

Context: Wow. My phone. Seriously. I’m not denying that Facebook on my phone has served several wonderful causes, such as diffusing awkward moments in the elevator by providing me with valid scroll-able content. or being anti-social in general. But there are those times when I’m supposed to be finishing a project and my hand gives into the Pavlovian reaction of pulling my phone out and admiring pictures and videos of ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Benefits: I obviously get a lot more internet bandwidth then to watch TED talks, listen obsessively to SoundCloud ( I feel like I should provide a complimentary link to my profile as evidence of just how active I am on that site) and read pages after pages of goodwill-bearing advice on Lifehacker. This also makes me want to curb later days of the month, when I’m stranded between midterms and hopelessly waiting for a page to load. When I’ve used up my bandwidth, each webpage takes a minimum of ten years to load, so my impatience makes me want to enjoy the reality of life, smell the roses midterms and so on.

There you go. Please feel free to let me know of some of your ideas/methods/habits that you have in order to stop social media from becoming your only media. I might even try some of them out!

Skills I have acquired by living with a room-mate

Disclaimer: My room-mate is my best friend and so I didn’t exactly have to resolve issues of emotional closeness/kleptomania/ boundary value problems (Oops, my partial differential equations are showing) space constraints, etc.

Anyway, here are a few:

1. Mastered the art of sleeping with the lights on. She’s a late night owl. Her schedule goes as follows: Afternoon, Evening, Night, Late-Night. Mine is as follows: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night.  We have learned to make do with study lamps.

2. Sometimes my room-mate’s boyfriend comes over just to cuddle, and this may or may not result in him sleeping over. Using all my math and spatial geometry skills in the early hours of the morning, I am able to take an instant inventory of exactly how many arms are poking out under the blanket at any given time. This also determines whether it is time for me to make a hasty exit or not. I had several inhibitions to this at first, even after several assurances that “we’re not going to do anything. Not when we know you’re around”. I have come to derive comfort from this simple fact, as dubious as it sounds.

3. Related to No. 2. I have learned how to disappear without leaving an awkward mess behind or being awkward myself. This involves  nearly telekinetic abilities to manage a heavy door, heavy boots and slippery wooden floors. Go figure.

3. Also related to No. 2. I tend to shower first thing in the morning and upon returning to the room and discovering sleeping guests, I have learned how to cover myself up as quickly as possible while maintaining maximum coverage of existing robe/towel. This includes, besides underwear, three layers of sweaters, skinny jeans and snow-boots in a time span < or = to 30 seconds. Bonus points for managing a dress.

4. As the girl who shunned make-up for most of her life, I am now thoroughly adept at applying it in semi-darkness. Results may vary when I appear in daylight. Or identifying objects in complete darkness. My room-mate accidentally tried to drink from her lava lamp instead of the water bottle nearby.

5. Realizing that having someone at home whom you can come back to after a long day and simply pour out all your feelings and activities is something truly worthwhile. And I’m truly glad that despite everything, I’m living with her.



How to keep my new-found sanity from disappearing next semester

Winter break is ending and I am binge-blogging because I know that once college catches up with me, I will barely have time to sleep let alone write. A lot of things have happened during this break, things that I’m proud of. I’ve worked on myself to change my outlook on many different aspects of life. I’m worried that once college begins, and the external pressures that I have been pushing out of sight crop back up, my new-found resolve will crumble.

I want to trust myself better.

One of my resolutions is to not be a pushover. This should come rather naturally to me because I am quite aggressive and can even be territorial about the things that matter to me. I’ve been told that I “come on too strongly”. I’m not going to punish myself and say this is bad because it’s a part of me. Suppressing it for all these years has led to other people using me and getting away with it. Unfortunately, the new safeguards that are in place may not be finely attuned. Which means I am now paranoid about other people using me and treating me like a human doormat and at some level I am being reduced to someone who is transactional instead of generous.

I need something to remind myself of my goals and ambitions and needs. I need something that is capable of telling my barriers when to lock down on the situation and when to permit things to pass. I need to find other instant stress relievers. Writing is one of them, but in the vortex of blind rage, the last thing I am going to do is sit down and compose my thoughts coherently, let alone record them.

So I asked for advice from some of the most trusted sources in the world: my parents.

My father says that the primary cause of my insecurities and my unnecessary emotional stress is my poor health. He is right to a large extent. I don’t know why I thought I had bragging rights to the fact that last semester I survived for nearly 7 hours on a single green apple. Then I thought I was going to prove my strength by pulling off nearly 4 hours of sleep every two days. And then, I was expected to code up a proof for Leibniz’s formula for pi in less than 100 characters in a nightmare of a programming language called Lisp.  To top this all off, I would obviously be unable to solve the problem, burst into tears and start questioning everything from my math capabilities to the fundamental reason for my existence. Yep, this is the Amazing Race to Mathematical Understanding. I have inserted a proof here, for those people who do understand that this is truly less than 48 hours of nerve-wracking stress and worth only 5 points of my homework.

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits:

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits:

Indeed, I have lived the zombie life. No matter who you brag about this to, they will wonder how you are alive and marvel at your strength. Silently, they may think that you are surely on a path to an early death. Deep down inside, I know this is not sustainable and treating myself like a prisoner sentenced to hang is not something I particularly enjoy. So full points to father. Healthy body = healthy mind = 100% functional sanity = 0% worrying about what other people think/do/etc.

My mother reminds me of something else entirely.

Back  in India, every Saturday evening, we would go to a nearby Hanuman Temple ( Every month, we would attend a long ritual, I forget what the precise name of it is, but it was a sort of recounting of the heroic tales and prayers asking for forgiveness and blessings. At the end of the prayer ceremony, all the attendees would have to tie a sacred yellow/red/orange strong on their hands. This string was so strongly bound that there was simply no way to take it off without cutting it. All day and all night it would stay on the wrist of your choice. It was a string that would protect you from all evil and guarantee the blessings of the deity in whatever task you chose to perform. Maybe it was years of conditioning, but I have become so used to it that without wearing the bracelet/wrist-band my wrist feels a little odd about it.

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits:

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits:

I don’t know if it protected me from evil, or whether I felt that I had divine approval about any task by virtue of the string alone. But I do remember my mother telling me that whenever I was angry/depressed/hurt, I should look at the string and remind myself to calm down. Years of wearing the string taught me that every time I look at is, it serves as a divine reminder that I have better things to do in my life than be frozen by my own stupidity.

I haven’t been able to attend any such ceremony ever since I arrived in the States. But in memory of that turmeric-dyed string, I now wear a sports wristband with me. It has the flag of the United States on it, so religious symbolism aside, it serves as a direct reminder to what my overall purpose here is: to educate myself and become a better, upstanding member of human society.

Like Wonder Woman's bracelet, this has the power to let e be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

Like Wonder Woman’s bracelet, this has the power to let me be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

As long as I remember these two things: stay alive and stare at band when in trouble, I think I’m going to be okay. Finally, I feel a bit more equipped dealing with the next semester now.

How I (am trying) to rebuild myself: Relationships

It’s the winter break. There is no other sound besides my staccato typing and my breathing and the thermostat. The house is quiet. My mind is quiet. After a long time, there are no claws of fatigue trying to pull me down. I can now hear myself think and it is important to me that I figure some things out about my life. The year is ending, so I have ample opportunities for a fresh start. At least psychologically. I’m going to talk about a few things that I do that have literally helped me mold myself better.

Firstly, in order to make something better, you need to know the current state it is in. 2013 was a year of a little too many revelations about who and what I am and how I respond to different stimuli. With the assistance of a great psychotherapist, I have managed to find where I have disconnects in my thought and behavior. I’m not saying everyone has to go through that, but one of the key processes I have discovered in bringing self-improvement is being absolutely brutally honest with who and what you are. Also, if like me, you have an additional self-criticism feature turned off, you have to turn it off. At least for the duration of this process.

Secondly, we will now indulge in my second-most-favorite activity. making lists. Make a list of problems you want to tackle. You can make it on paper, or on your favorite task-managing app (this might be better if it has auto-reminders set in), etc. It doesn’t matter what the medium is as long as it is tangible and visible. I’m no expert in psychology but I find that if my goals are visible and present before me, I strive to work towards them better. So make the lists. As many as you want.

Disclaimer: This worked for my best friend and she sort of suggested that I get this method out there. Also, this is not supposed to be some definite astronomically accurate calculation which will tell you everything about life, the universe and everything. No, these are numbers that you create in order to help you get some idea of what your end goal is/should be.

Now I’m actually going to talk about the process, so bear with me. You’re also very welcome to walk with me. I am an engineer, so it’s easy for me to crunch numbers. I understand completely if you’re not a math person, but believe me, when the numbers that you have generated tell you something, you’re less likely to not believe it.

  1. Make a list of all the attributes you want to see in a prospective boyfriend/girlfriend/friend. Seriously, write all of them down. Even if they range from “Must not be a serial killer” to “Can play a musical instrument”.
  2. Adjacent to this list, write down how important each attribute is to you. Depending on how precise you want this to be, you can grade this on a scale of 0-10, or 0-100. For example, if you’re a person who really doesn’t care about a person’s background, write a small number against that. Whereas if it matters to you what religious/political affiliations a person might have, write a larger number against that. This scoring also should be consistent with “deal-breakers” about a person. For example, if you prize good manners above financial well-being and someone scores less against that, clearly, that’s not what you want. (As per your own data.)
  3. In the next column, jot down the name of a person you were interested in/are interested in/could be interested in. Score them against each of your criteria. Be honest to yourself in what you really think about this person. For example, one of my criteria was spontaneity. People are obviously more likely to be spontaneous when they have the time to be spontaneous, but I hadn’t quite considered that.
  4. Repeat the process for as many people as you want. This applies to friends too.
  5. Once that’s done, you can now calculate how each person works with you either by adding the totals and comparing the highest. Or, to be more fair, you can calculate the weighted average of each person. So this way, their score is more precise in the aspects that matter to you. Weighted average  = Sum of ((attribute 1 x value of attribute 1) + (attribute 2 x value of attribute 2)+..(keep doing until)…….(attribute n x value of attribute n))/(sum of all the values of the attributes). “n” here represents the last value. So if you have 15 attributes, n = 15 and so on. If you’re using Excel, like I did, use =SUMPRODUCT(<person score>, <value of attributes>)/ SUM(<value of attributes>).
  6. The numbers should tell you something about what sort of people you like, if you didn’t know that already. They will also somehow show how important some of these values are to you, which are more important, equally important, less important. If you were unable to decide whether to focus your attention on Person A or Person B, the numbers should tell you which one is worth more of your time.

So, there you go. It’s sort of like creating your own compatibility generator, except without any magic, or random rules or any arbitration such as the letters of their names and so on. I remember, back in elementary school, when my classmates had this weird game called FLAMES, which was supposed to determine relationship compatibility via some arbitrary elimination of letters. I’m not quite sure how the entirety of relationships that we have with people can fit into the meager category of 6 letters, but I guess at that age, it’s the closest approximation. This one, however, is custom-built, mathematically rigorous, and as my friend told me, “quite effective”.

I will write another one shortly about evaluating myself. As in, my strengths, weaknesses, areas I need to work on, areas I deserve to treat myself on and so on. If you want to follow me along that journey as well and maybe discover something that might help you or amuse you, please feel free to join me.

P.S: I don’t think I’m as grateful to me readers as I should be. Massive apologies. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to work on that. Thank you, everyone, for reading and for following me through this incredible transformation that has been 2013. I always believe, and my mother always tells me to, that the best is yet to come. Happy holidays and best wishes!

A Series of Unfortunate Events

No, I am not talking about the great Lemony Snicket here. This week has been a hell-week. In fact, with midterms in every week of this month, you would have thought that I was having a bad enough week already.

Before you protest my dear reader and tell me that the world has several other deeper problems to deal with, I would like to remind you that I am not here to compare sorrows. I am not here to compare pain. I am here because I’ve had a really rough week (in my humble opinion) and I need a space to rant about it.

This is literally where I live. Butler Library. Open 24x7. Notice all the people being super-social.

This is literally where I live. Butler Library. Open 24×7. Notice all the people being super-social.


Monday: I should have known something was very wrong with my Monday when I woke up feeling very happy and assuredly on top of my work. Then I looked at the planner on my phone (hadn’t updated it in quite a while) and all my happiness departed through the window and chose to dissipate into the cold morning air. I skipped breakfast, was largely dazed by the fact that I didn’t understand absolutely anything of what was going on in my classes and worried about the midterm on Wednesday. My laptop came back from the repair center, and so I used it to curl up in a corner of the library and study myself to death. Or at least that was my intention. I was then suddenly attacked by a random mood swing and so as a study break, I ended up sobbing over my previous journal entries and using up two large rolls of tissue paper. Given how volatile my emotional state was, I might as well have wept for the tree that died to make that paper anyway. Then I ended up having an egg sandwich for dinner which was also the first and last meal of my day.

Tuesday: Again, I fretted in class about the midterm. Slept at 4:00AM, woke up at 8 and thought myself to be a high performing machine. Except then I nearly dozed off in class and I completely blame that on everything else except my awful sleep and food habits. The lighting was too cozy, the professor’s voice was too monotonous and so on. I left the class feeling like the lost wet sock which has been in the laundry for too long. I decided to eat something heavy and healthy. This was a very bad idea, because I have an afternoon class at 2:40 and the instinct to doze off was overpowering. It usually happens an hour or so after I’ve had a heavy meal and I think it’s my body’s way of dealing with the accelerated dose of sugar. So at the end of class, half of the Gauss-Jordan algorithm made its way into my head, the rest featured in my dreams. I proceeded shortly after to catch up on all the backlog of readings that I had for my Intro to Japanese Civilization class. I discovered that beyond 3:00 AM I am incapable of processing English, let alone decipher Sanskrit names of Buddhist chants.

Wednesday: Midterm day for Intro to Japan. I tried not to skip my Data Structures class knowing that I might miss out on some important information. Usually, I don’t skip classes, but when I do, the professors generally see it as an auspicious day to talk about some of the most important defining things about the course. My professor heard me openly declare that I was going to fail in the midterm and a very awkward conversation ensued. I was back to warming my favorite spot in the library, until I got distracted by a friend and procrastinated by goofing off WordPress and texting said friend. The terms list on the midterm was okay, but then I think I have severely damaged the essay, which was worth 75 points of the paper. Also discovered that I had an assignment due this week which I had forgotten. After the test, I moped somewhat and then went right back to studying because ONE OF THE MOST FORMIDABLE MIDTERMS OF MY LIFE was to happen the next day. Then, I managed to lose my purse while exiting the library at 1:30 AM. Frantically I spent an hour or so searching for it everywhere, back-tracking through all the stores and restrooms and my belongings and so on. My purse remained ostentatiously invisible, until I finally called up the Public Safety office and retrieved it. All my cards and my keys and my money were intact and I was too overcome with joy and fatigue to make sense of myself anymore. I vaguely remember trying to spout my thanks and the safety officer gave me this very steely glint and said, “Yes, that will be all, ma’am”. I thought I would crash soon as I had a nightmare of a midterm approaching, except that someone decided to set fire to my dorm at about 3:30AM. Yes, I was fast asleep until all the alarms went off and my room-mate evacuated me from the room. The NYFD sent three trucks, all sirens blazing and managed to hose down everything. They took about 30-45 minutes. It was one of the rare moments when even the quietest person can spout the most colorful swear words they know.

Thursday: For the first time in my life, I might actually fail in a core class which is necessary to my major. And yes, it was ONE OF THE MOST FORMIDABLE MIDTERMS OF MY LIFE. Turns out, these sort of things are normal. I guess I should have anticipated that when the professor said that he would curve a 40/100 to an A-. Nowhere in the world is 40/100 curved to an A-. Given my state, I don’t even know if I got a 40. I walked out of that 1.5 hour long ordeal and wandered around a bit, not quite sure whether I was leaving a certain spot or entering it. My other subjects didn’t want to be ignored either and so I had another quiz in the next class. Honestly, I was just too tired of staring at numbers and work at this point and I forced my overtaxed brain to generate stuff that would appear reasonable. It’s a miracle of some form that I didn’t write “I WANT FOOD AND SLEEP AND HUGS” on top of both my papers and leave. Maybe I’m asking for too much? Turns out I got 18/20 for the second quiz so I shouldn’t be as shell-shocked as I am. I also discovered that I could survive for 16 hours on a bagel alone. Yes, yes I know I’m hurtling towards an early death prioritizing my grades over my health, but hey, at least it’ll be a noble death right? Not if it’s a B. My mother turned up in the evening and told me that she narrowly survived a bus accident on the highway, whereas the passengers besides her were severely injured. She then proceeded to dust off shattered glass pieces from her laptop and prayed fervently for a while. I simply cried for a bit, feeling all the stress of this universe boil down to some pure shedding of salt water.

Right. I’m done ranting. Now back to work. Bye.

How to create your own Indian soap opera

My grandmother has always had a habit of regularly following several Hindi/Bengali soap operas. In the many times that I’ve learned to tolerate them I’ve come across a few integral trends, which if carefully followed, could enable one to write their very own drama. The following are some glaring attributes of some of the most popular ones (or the ones that my grandmother watches). More than actual writing, this covers the cinematography aspect of the series as well.
A family shot of one of the more popular shows: Sasural Simar Ka.  Image credits:

A family shot of one of the more popular shows: Sasural Simar Ka.
Image credits:

  1.  The wives of the household are always ornately dressed and you will find them in the same state of being whether asleep, or at work. They wear too much make-up and often, the background soundtrack attempts to cover up for their actual lack of expression. So, you need something loud to moan in the background while the pretty wronged wife feels misused. Also, they must never be seen working, even though the story may claim they are fully qualified.
  2.  Their is a lot of unnecessary weeping. In the event of a medical emergency or a loss, people will much rather cry than do the call for the doctor/inform the authorities. Inevitably, when the doctor is called, the health condition is fatal. Common symptoms of this unknown/rare/fatal disease always include a lot of dramatic fainting. Also, the weeping must not damage the layers of carefully applied make-up. As a show of stoicism, only one tear will be shed per character.
  3.  During dramatic or shocking moments, you must provide a close-up of every character’s face at least three times in succession with a resounding crash. This is to indicate that everyone is surprised. If the female characters of the room are unable to deal with the consequences, they will undoubtedly drop glass/ceramic objects on the floor and shed the solitary tear. This clip must also be repeated three times, in order to impress upon the audience just how deep the emotional impact is.
  4. For your story to be popular, you must have several marriages and an occasional visit to the court/police station or hospital. The secondary cast at these venues (nurses, officers, etc.) must remain very expressionless so that the empathy with the primary characters is heightened. Often, the secondary cast must be brusque/busy/doing normal things with their life, while the primary characters are too busy feeling offended or contemplative. It is absolutely necessary that none of the characters do anything relevant or productive.
  5. When there is a conniving mother in law, there must always be a saintly wife who tolerates inhuman behavior as a daily regime and vice versa. Misbehavior is rampant, but nobody speaks up because it will offend their dignity relative to other families in that community.
  6. All male members of the household besides the patriarch and the youngster in love are redundant additions to the family. They may be exposed/revealed/created only during discussions in which the patriarch expresses displeasure at the philandering ways of the youth and must now find some way of distributing his legacy.
  7. Cheesy romance scenes are a necessity. There need not actually be any flirting. Just lots of moments when one character is gripping on to the other for dear life against the backdrop of a soul-stirring love song. The audience will inevitably infer that this is out of passion and not out of any survival instinct.
  8. Antagonists of your story have to be shown in moments when they are thinking to themselves. This involves several scenes where they are smirking to themselves in an empty room, while the actor/actress reads out sections of his/her script. You must note that there isn’t any strategic planning. They will merely think things like, “I hate her and now I’m going to make her pay” several times.
  9. Due to their poor planning, antagonists often do not prepare for contingencies when defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. Also, their short-sighted methods lead to no achievable goals. For example, why would you perpetually choose to be a menace in your sister’s life, when that translates to the disgrace of you own family? But antagonists are people who believe in the present. Long-term concerns do not bother them. This means that your “nasty” characters have to be predominantly stupid or selfish, rather than actually evil.
  10. In the event of a profound disgrace, elderly members of the family are allowed to denounce the wives of the household of their status. Legal termination of the matrimony is often not required, and if so, should span over several episodes that map the noble quest to acquire the papers from the necessary authority and back. A scene or two involving crying over their own signatures on the paper may be inserted at will.
  11. Former wives (see above) may also be asked to leave the residence. Such moments in the story usually occupy an entire episode which will show the stately procession of the misunderstood wife from the top of the stairs to the door. Again, the usual rubric must be applied. One solitary non-make-up-smudging tear, whose descent must be carefully followed by the camera, several close-ups of shocked members of the family, some heavy sneering on behalf of the perpetrators and the slow walk across the house. During these departures, the character will not be allowed to carry his/her personal belongings like a toothbrush or a spare change of clothes or even documentation to secure better housing. A large door of the mansion will be shut upon the poor girl’s sad face.
  12. It is the duty of the good wives to be religious at all times and be regular with the prayer routines. However, in every family, there must exist at least one bigoted/over-zealous/over-pious character who will go forth to cause tensions in the household all the while chanting divine names. I am yet to understand what is the point of these characters, but they exist.
  13. The protagonists must never rest in peace. When one problem has been dealt with, another must immediately come their way. This is the only way to prolong a series’ life beyond 500 episodes.
  14. In the course of events, the children of the family will grow up and have children of their own. This involves just replacing the child actors with adult ones, with the same immaturity. Their previously young parents are now allowed to be shown with only one gray streak in their hair and the grandparents of the family will look the same as they did a few decades ago. In fact, they may even live long enough to see their n+3 generation. During this while, the same family feuds and jealousies must continue.
  15. Perfectly editable moments must be included in the cinematography. For example, an entire episode can be devoted to a wife getting anxious while sitting in a swanky car en-route to a destination. This requires her to simply tell the poor overworked chauffeur to “drive faster” and attempt to make phone calls which do not get received. A background track that has several violins repeatedly building up to a climax is necessary. Nothing that contributes to the development of the story must happen in these scenes.
  16. There are traffic problems, weather problems, vehicle problems only on important days. You cannot have episodes where the family car gets only a minor scratch or an insured dent. Also, the occupant of the car (besides the hardy chauffeur) must either die or lose their memory or something drastic. Characters must survive impossible odds such a death or two, complete amnesia or even being replaced by a clone of themselves from somewhere. These events must be kept secret in order for the household to function normally.
I’m sure there are several more which skipped my attention. But please feel free to add your own.