Monday, July 26, 2004


For those of us that are intrigued by the mathematical abstractions of Communications, coming to terms with what the layperson thinks about the term can be quite a revelation. It was in my junior year at college that I decided that I would choose Communications over Circuits, those being the specializations offered at my Department. Almost no one ever took the other option - Power - seriously, partly because even those who managed to get A's in 'Induction Motors' confessed that electrical machines, like God, moved in mysterious ways.

Around the same time, over the course of a vacation away from my all male hostel, I realised that girls stopped looking at you like you were human once they found out you were an engineer. Gone were the days of my fathers when an engineer was a rare specimen, a find, among a sea of B.A.'s, B.Com's and B.Sc's. Being part of India's largest career demographic did not make one stand out in a crowd. But I was determined to let others know about what I loved studying in school. I decided to repackage myself.

So the next time I stood in a party with a glassful of my poison and the topic came around to "what have you been studying in school so long?" I said "Communications" and naturally expected everyone to understand. Everyone did, but not quite what I had imagined. Someone mentioned someone who went to work for Ogilvy and Mather after doing communication at college. I corrected them and explained that I was an electrical engineer but no one quite saw the connection between geeky dreary circuits and the gushy notion of conveying an idea across the board till I mentioned cellphones and pagers and wireless modems. So did we, my people, solder those tiny little circuits in those gadegts? No, I explained, we wrote the equations that helped design the circuits that transmit those touchy-feely ideas from point A to point B.

I have improved my game since. There is no more cause to vacillate about what the term means. I now say "Communications" and as a footnote add "like in cellphones and stuff" with the sang froid of a Marine Biology major. And this never fails to command the awe and amazement of those who had but moments ago cooed appreciatively at a thesis on the migration patterns of the exact same fish that appear somewhere in Finding Nemo.

This was a quiet weekend for me. I passed up on this wild weekend party out of town because I had some work and for the first time this summer, the fact that I was alone in school hit me like a icepick in the middle of the eyes. Almost everyone that I knew was away interning or at summer schools in Europe or at that party. As a resultI had less than two face to face conversations in the entire period from Friday night to Monday morning and this is unusual for someone as talkative as I am.

As I sat comfortably alone in my apartment, pondering over my isolation between chapters of Probability with Martingales or episodes of Sex and the City, I wondered if I, like the other guys out there, was not comfortable with sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings with those in my immediate environment. Did I, as Oprah and her kin say, simply not bother to communicate?

I do not call up everyone I know and tell them that they are missed. I did not this weekend and there is no way of dodging the facts here. I feel no compulsion to make I-miss-you-and-i-wish-you-were-here-calls with clockwork regularity. My friends realise that the only reasons that warrant a phonecall would be to catch up on the news, on what each other has been reading or watching, or to dissect with rapier sharp wit, the latest embarassments that mutual friends and acquaintances have let themselves run into.

Some people network aggressively and rotate friends to call every weekend. They jot down people's birthdays into their planners and I bet not a weekend goes by when they don't have a friend to call to wish him or her happy birthday, or to congratulate some couple for having made it through one year of conjugal bliss. I do none of that. However, I IM'd with friends across two different timezones, emailed to a couple of egroups formed of classmates and friends and called up a guy to tell him that this other guy we both knew in college has not changed one bit.

True, I did not have the endorphin rush that I experience when I am narrating an anecdote to a group of people with expansive gestures but I chatted, mailed, called and shared my thoughts across the globe. I was less reclusive than I would like to think and a large part of that magic is made possible by my people.