Pl read

1. Why o Why?

If you are visiting these writings for the first time, or have not read the entry "Why o Why",

may I suggest you read that first and then read the rest in numerical order?

Friday, 28 April 2017

16. When someone offers help, take it! When someone needs help, offer it!

Many of us, I believe are like me, when someone offers to assist us in some situation, we  don't like to take it.

There are a number of possible reasons why we may not accept help:
  • we feel embarrassed that we find ourselves in a situation where someone has to help us
  • we feel we will be beholden to them and we will at some time have to pay them back
  • we are not good at making conversation and accepting the offered help will mean  conversing with that person, etc., etc.
Whatever be the reason, I believe when we deny someone an opportunity to help, 
and conversely,  when we do not seize an opportunity that comes our way to help someone, we have missed a chance to increase the "happiness index" on earth.

First of all, most people feel happy when they help a fellow human being, because they are just good at heart, they want to reduce the pain of others, they are better positioned to perform the task; they want to repay some good deed that someone (not necessarily this person) had done to them earlier, they want to look good in front of others, etc. etc.

And to top it off, the person receiving help feels happy that his/her task has been accomplished without too much struggle on his/her part; embarrassment,  if any,  will be overshadowed by this. Also, from what I said above, when this person helps someone else later, happiness increases all around. 

So when help is offered and is taken, world becomes a better place. 

I have seen that even when help offered is monetary and is paid back later, the above applies. In fact,  in the case of monetary assistance, it might be good to ask the beneficiary to return the "loan" if and when they feel they are in a position to do so. There are many advantages to this. The returned funds can be used to help others. The person who benefited from the loan does not have to feel indebted for ever, in fact he/she feels better that they have reached a stature where they can return the loan. In all the cases we have encountered, the initial beneficiaries have become benefactors later in life, with the multiplication of the accompanying happiness.

In the entry titled 321Wow we saw how where we stayed in Houston changed as time for treatment elongated, until we found ourselves in a charity apartment. But "the next place we found ourselves in provided us a luxurious stay, thanks to my second PhD student from UMass, WZ, who has built a $2B beautiful University campus at Macau and has a home in Houston." This case study provides a nice example for the theme of the current blog entry. Also, it allows me to say thanks to WZ and his wife LC. Finally, it also relates to what I had said earlier in the context of students "who nurture the very institutions and people that nurtured them in the past."

Fortuitously, ZW contacted me just when we were desperately looking for a reasonably priced place to stay in, but without luck. We were thoroughly moved when he not only insisted that we use it for free, but that we also make full use of his Lexus. We felt overwhelmed but took up his offer with a lot of (mostly unsaid) thanks. WZ and LC's generosity will be long remembered and may it be an exemplar for others. Thanks a lot, my friends.

Happiness saw itself multiplied and spread enormously, thanks to ZW's timely offer of help and our taking it!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

15. (Is there a need for) Saying "thanks"?

One of the most complicated and sensitive issues in human interactions, I believe, relates to something very simple: saying "thanks".

When you want to tell someone who has been there with you
when you needed them most, how grateful you are,
What do you say?
How do you say it?
Do you always (need to) say "thanks"?

It depends on one's culture, upbringing, relationship, etc., etc.

At least in a typical Indian home, if a person  is close to you, like a brother or a mother,  you usually do not say "thanks". In this case, presumably, the feeling is that, for them, they do it out of love, and this is their second nature. That is, they know that you are internally thankful to them, even though they do not hear the "thanks".

But, someone who does not know you may not understand if you truly appreciate what they have done for you, so you usually take the time to let them know that you are thankful for their help.

So, the irony is that the closer  you are to somebody, the more likely it is that they do not really  know if you are appreciative of what they have done for you.

Consider a mother. She usually does not  expect her children to say "thanks" when she prepares their dinner. But, just as she expresses her love for the kids through the care she takes in preparing what is good for them, the children may find a happier mother if they express their appreciation for what she has done for them; they can do this by eating the dinner with the attention that is commensurate with the affection with which she has prepared it for them (rather than eating while staring at the whatsapp message screen, as SK reminds me often☺). Here the best method to thank the mother is to consume the food in a way that expresses the love for the preparer of the food. Even a mother needs to know you are thankful, even if she does not expect or need  a verbal avatar of it!

This being the case, it is a given that  normally,  everyone expects to be appreciated for their good deeds. If nothing else, I believe this show of appreciation will bring out the best that is always inherent in each one of us.

I write about many of the people who were with me at one point or another during the LA journey,  in  two entries:

 No words or deeds can thank them

Above and beyond the call of duty

But, how does one thank the countless others  who came, offered their help and went without being noticed?  In fact this question is what led to these writings -- which is my way of giving thanks for what they did

Sunday, 23 April 2017

14. Why we do what we do -- our students are our (a)wards

Why we do what we do
   Our students are our (a)wards

When you examine the headings above, it may not be obvious that they are related enough to serve as a title for the following essay.

Consider the first question: Why do we do what we do?
We may have one or more possible answers.

n  We do what we do because we enjoy doing it, it gives us a sense of achievement, we get our own sense of satisfaction, like for example, when we finish a crossword puzzle within a self-imposed deadline, or when we reach a milestone in skiing.

n  We do it because if we don’t do it, we may be jeopardizing our future, for example, exercising regularly or eating in moderation, etc. As in the previous category, it is out of personal consideration.

n  We  do it for the benefit of someone else. For example, a teacher who imparts education or a chef who creates a gourmet meal. Of course, both get paid for their services, but their customers depend on them. Often, the payment could be intangible, for example, one gets an ego boost when others appreciate your work.

Come to think of it, teachers in  good universities today do what they do and obtain all of the above as a result. They enjoy what they do, have the flexibility to work on things which will create a better future for everyone – through the students they produce or as a consequence of their research, and in the process derive personal satisfaction.

Many educational institutions have awards for honoring their alumni, and in doing so, in a sense, they are honoring themselves – their own teachers and also the institution. For their part, by doing well in the real world – utilizing the education that they received  from these teachers –  these students nurture the very institutions and people that nurtured them in the past.  

The joy of seeing one of your “products” doing well, whether the product is a student or a useful artifact, can be profound.  One feels that nurturing such students and working hard to get the best out of them is  worth all the effort -- when you hear their success stories, or when they get recognized for their contributions a teacher proudly proclaims that he/she “was  my student”. When a student reciprocates and acknowledges the significant part a teacher has played in his/her success, there is nothing like it for the teacher. In my mind, graduation ceremonies (aka convocations, commencements) are solemn events because this recognition, by the teacher and the taught, of their mutual dependence, is brought out in a beautiful manner at these events.

Recently, some of us witnessed one such event when my colleague Prof. Sudarshan, received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT Madras where he obtained his Bachelors degree years earlier. While he was on stage, listening to the citation and then receiving the award, among the audience members was his favourite Professor, Pandu Rangan, savouring and capturing the  moment on his camera. Within minutes, he posted the picture  on Facebook, with a note that paid tribute to his past student. Soon after, there was a beautifully crafted response from the taught. Their sentiments were sublime, the generosity of the teacher and the taught was touching and their mutual admiration quite apparent. I hope such relationships become the norm. Hats off to them.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

13. The importance of timely tests

"Testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!"

 Every computer scientist knows (or should know -- let me not presume what today's young computer scientists know) this quotation from the famous computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra. Of course he was talking about the testing of computer programs.

But the same is true for the testing of humans, to see if a person carries a "bug" which could lead to problems.   EWD also said that it is better to write bug-free programs to start with. Unfortunately, we don't yet seem to have the capability to do that with computer programs, or with humans, designer genes notwithstanding. May be some day, but how do we specify "correct human behaviour" so that we can be sure that the person being designed is not of the wrong kind.

For someone who has been diagnosed with an ailment, until the day comes when he or she has been "certified" to be ailment-free, each test, followed by the wait for the test results, is a "testing period". Is that why such things are called "tests"?

For an LA patient, the whole thing starts with  abnormal findings on a complete blood count (CBC) "blood test", one where the numbers related to blood parameters  don't fall within the expected range (see or  when a person feels  fatigued,  experiences weight loss, joint or bone pain, or enlarged spleen. This obviously underscores the importance of regular blood tests and being conscious of any major departure from normal health condition.

Usually, a follow up test, BCR-ABL,  is ordered  when the doctor suspects that a person has CML or Philadelphia chromosome (Ph)-positive ALL -- two of the numerous types of LA. 

(The different types of LA need to be introduced with some nontrivial background in hand. I am still unsure if I should venture into that topic here, but given the need to be informed in light of the improved LA treatment regimen  -- unfortunately countered by the increase in the number of diagnosed cases -- I might.)

Getting back to testing, for most of us, the tendency is to avoid the "testing period" by not going for the tests in the first place! This is clearly the wrong 

"prescription", but one that is often resorted to, with tragic consequences. Hopefully, the many messages that are broadcast these days through many media outlets, stressing the need for "cancer screening", will have the intended impact.