The whole college shenanigans

Every year, millions of young adults all over the world make the leap from high school to college. Some of them make a small leap within their country, a safe leap that poses no danger at all. Others make a leap of faith and decide to apply to world renowned universities, mostly in the United States. A leap into the unknown.

I am one of the Others. I really want to go to college in the U.S., for obvious reasons. Just visit any of the Ivy League websites, or any of the liberal arts college ones and you’ll want to go there too. It just seems so perfect, choosing what subjects you want to study, small classes, a plethora of state of the art facilities, and access to infinite knowledge, and fun.

And yet what really affects me about this whole “perfect college” idea is that I don’t know if I’m “perfect college” material. I’ve never seen myself as excessively smart or “gifted” in any way. Sure, I’ve taken part in many, many activities in school and dabbled in all sorts of things, but when is it enough for the likes of Harvard and Stanford? When will I have done enough for them to say, “That’s enough, boy, you may enter through our shiny gates soaked in worldly knowledge and ambition, you are one of us now.” I don’t know.

On top of that, hundreds of thousands of students apply to these colleges every year. And with that comes comparing: am I as good as him? Have I done as much as him? Are my grades as good as his? I recently listened to this NPR video that highlights the admissions process at Amherst College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the US:

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=134916924&m=134916916

Somehow, the whole process just seems so…unfair. It’s like America and Germany flipping a coin to see who attacks first on D-Day. I’m at a disadvantage, because Indian schools are in no way comparable to American schools because our ideologies are different. Therefore, the infrastructure in Indian schools is severely limited. So I was never part of the National Math Honor Society or the Moslem Club (the things they do…)!

So how can I become a piece of gold amongst the heap of minerals in the ground? Through my essays I guess. Or, in my gap year, do things that are so radical (not in a violent way) that when those admissions guys see it, their socks will be rocked off (it’s an American expression). But really, I don’t know how.

US colleges are also cruel institutions. They preach ideals like world class education for everyone, and then place obstacles in front of prospective students in the form of expensive tuition (every top college charges upwards of $40,000. Yeah, even in these hard economic times) because to them, education is a business, not a right. Sure, they give “aid” but why put high sticker prices in the first place?

The world of education has to change. People need to realize that governments should give quality education for free. Right now, it’s quite obvious that one would go to private institutions because of what they offer, but education is the right of every living being.

Right now, there is a paradigm shift occurring in cyberspace with services like Coursera and Khan Academy providing free education online, just for the purpose of learning things. Even top universities like Stanford and UPenn have started offering these college courses, introductory ones, that are simple to sign up and are quite immersive if you want it to be. Try them out.

But for now, these ideas are from a 17 year old who hasn’t been to college yet.

P.S. Maybe if I was an underprivileged kid I would have a much better chance at getting into Harvard. Just saying.

P.P.S. I’m mentioning this blog in my resume. I wonder if they’ll read this article.

Who reads my blog?

The rate I’ve been blogging at has increased rapidly since I first started, and I’m quite proud of it. I’m really surprised that after every new blog post my page views increase. However, I haven’t really seen any activity from my readers (if there really are any) in the form of comments/followers. Not to be rude or anything…

WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE?

OK, I had to get that out of my system. It’s quite unnerving when your readers are invisible and your blogs are like those messages in bottles that end up floating in outer space that somehow get read by someone, somewhere, but you really don’t know if it’s been read yet.

To that effect, if there are any readers who keep visiting my blog regularly, please give me feedback on my posts…I’d like there to be some opinion on what I write. Blogs are hubs for discussion and debate, and that is my goal for this blog.

So, just comment if you want to, like if you have something to add…no pressure. Really.

But then again, I should take Sean Bean’s advice.

TRMR: Vanilla Sky

Look at this guy. His face: perfect. His hair: perfectly imperfect. Against a sky that is perfect. He has it all. This is David Aames, but it’s actually more Tom Cruise than anything else that makes us connect with David, because no one else could pull it off.

Tom Cruise has been around in the industry for over 20 years. Over the course of that time, he’s built his charisma, his persona. Solidified it, cemented it, imbibed it in the minds of the audience. And so any role he takes on, he brings that baggage with him. In Vanilla Sky, every moment with Cruise is energized by his behavior. He pulls off the yuppie playboy with such coolness it makes you feel inadequate. In no other role of his, except Eyes Wide Shut, does he seem this…cool. Cool not in the MI sense, but in the easy going confidence that he has.

But I digress in my love for the Cruise that is long gone. But Vanilla Sky is such a beautiful title, so in touch with this movie’s theme. Something that you yearn for, but can’t have, a utopia that exists within the mind, that’s a vanilla sky.

The reason for the existence of a movie like Vanilla Sky is pure simplicity: cerebral coitus. It’s why Lost, Inception, and Total Recall work. Because when you walk out of the theater, you keep debating with your friends about what the hell just happened. Otherwise, if this story was played straight, it would ascend to Bollywood levels of silliness and melodrama (or Oscar heights, depending on the treatment). It’s multi layered, intentionally, of course.

But the movie only works because of one scene: the night that David and Sofia share. It all hinges on those small moments that show David truly happy with someone. Crowe really capitalizes on the personae of his actors, not their acting specifically, because it seems like it’s just Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz flirting with each other. And sparks fly.

This is a really underrated movie based on the ratings sites that I usually go to. I don’t know why. I guess people were expecting a hardcore romantic film, and got a psychodrama. It has many layers to it, as in you don’t precisely know what is really happening in the film. There are at least 5 theories out there concerning what happens: purgatory, dream, novel, coma dream, and what really happens. It’s a wonderful hook, and Crowe understood that when he saw the original film, Abres Los Ojos. He also brought the pop culture references to the table in order to make his version different (haven’t seen the original yet though). The whole soundtrack is kick ass, a signature Crowe one.

Thematically, I love the movie because of the whole lost love angle as well as the whole yuppie trying to take charge of his life. And the whole sweet-sour idea and utopia as a whole. How much will we do to achieve utopia, and what if that utopia was a nightmare? That and the zillion Easter eggs sprinkled all through the film, in codes or in dialogs. I was actually surprised to see how most of the characters reveal what’s happening in the movie that I didn’t get the first time around.

The sky is vanilla, and a Crowe flies across it, painting happiness and melancholy all over. Pure cerebral coitus.

Meet the Indian Education System

What is education?
1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
3. a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education.
4. the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one’s education.
5. the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.
When I was younger, naive and unaware of things, I believed that education was about the first two items. About answering questions, the most basic ones, like why the sky is blue, or how computers work. My father always gave me the best answer: find out yourself. I sometimes did that, and learnt a lot.

I moved to India in 2000, after living in the U.S. for 5 years. I don’t remember much of my schooling in the U.S. apart from recess and nap time (not the most educational parts of the day). I stayed in Hyderabad for four years after that and I vaguely remember bits and pieces of it, bits that give me the memory of it being a fun place. When I moved from Hyderabad to Chennai, however, I clearly remember my schooling in vivid detail, for the last 8 years.

Meet the Indian Education System. But how can you meet something without knowing what it looks like? Well then, imagine a huge machine. Remember the huge network of machinery you saw in The Matrix, when Neo enters the real world like a baby in a womb? Imagine that network of machinery to be the IES, and the wombs as the students within the system. That sounds like a fairly accurate description of the IES. Meet it.

The IES is a machine that grabs hold of the young early on, snatches them from the Land of Innocence and Curiosity and thrusts them into the Maze of Ignorance and Sloth. It’s a dangerous vice that strangles imagination out of fertile minds. I was lucky to have got through this maze, escaped this machine, dodged this vice. Many of my friends however, are not so lucky. They do not dare to dream anymore, they are limited by themselves.

It starts pretty early. Teachers do not teach anything, they use the textbook as a way of telling students how to do well in their exams. That’s all that matters in the IES: marks and grades and statistics. Quantitative information, nothing qualitative. If you ask any Indian high school graduate anything about what they’ve learnt, chances are they won’t be able to answer correctly. The mind turns into a sieve, holding information temporarily until the exam is over. I myself have asked my teachers why we study a certain lesson, and they say it’s for the exam.

Why do we have exams? I used to think it was to test one’s knowledge, but that ideology has devolved into something much more harmful: exams kill one’s curiosity and make one permanently ignorant. You might ask why this is a bad thing. What if Einstein or Edison was a part of the IES? They wouldn’t have had any original thought. They wouldn’t have understood that the world is infinite and that imagination breaks all boundaries. When we grow up and have careers, will we contribute to original thought, to creating something, to inventing something? I don’t think so, because we have not been nurtured in that way. When you worry about your marks, you can’t focus on expanding your knowledge.

And this becomes a cycle. If one’s parents were part of the IES, one would not have been encouraged to discover new things. And one would do the same to one’s children. And so on.

Books are a huge source of information, but so many of my friends don’t read. They say that they can’t concentrate, that it’s too boring. That’s what happens when you’re in the IES. You might think not reading books is nothing important, that you’ll be the same as someone who does read. The truth is that you’re not, no matter how much you try to be. I think that books are a HUGE source of information and imagination. There’s only so much you can imagine on your own. Books are avenues into the unknown, into making discoveries in a variety of subjects: the philosophical, the scientific and the artistic. Through the stories they tell, they also teach you many things.

The media that is available to people today provides data at alarmingly fast speeds: television, movies, and games offer entertainment at the cost of reducing our attention spans. This is why we feel restless when we spend time with our families at dinner or try to read something educational, or for that matter, watch Animal Planet. Slowly, maybe at a genetic level, we are living our lives at a fast pace and we’ve lost the brakes.

What’s the solution to changing the IES? Make the teachers love what they’re doing, make them expand the scope of the syllabus. Ban all textbooks and move the medium of learning to electronic devices like smartphones and tablets because those are the devices that children start learning to use from an early age. Remove the whole notion that exams are everything because they are not.

But what is most important is that children should know that the world is an exciting place filled with amazing things and that life is merely gathering knowledge until you die.

The Dark Knight Rises preview

Today, The Dark Knight Rises released around the world. I haven’t seen it yet, but apart from knowing how epic it is, I’m blogging about the trilogy so far, and what I expect from TDKR and the hints Nolan has sprinkled throughout Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for what might happen in TDKR.

  • In The Dark Knight, Reese asks Fox about what R&D is building for Wayne next. He suggests a rocket ship. We’ve already seen the Batwing in the trailers for TDKR, so that’s clearly a hint of things to come.
  • When Wayne asks Fox whether the new suit can protect him from dogs, Fox tells him that it can protect him from cats. A clear nod to Catwoman.
  • At the end of TDK, Gordon says that Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves, but isn’t the hero Gotham needs right now. From TDKR’s trailers, Bane stages a full on siege of Gotham, and so it will need Batman sooner or later.
  • There’s a rumor that Bane started out as part of the League of Shadows with Ra’s Al Ghul. That seems to be fairly accurate because he’s going around mumbling about how he’s “Gotham’s Reckoning”. Pfft, yeah, right. That would mean Bane’s intentions for Gotham are pretty much the same as Ra’s Al Ghul’s: that Gotham has to fall. And with Batman out of the picture, that seems entirely possible. Which means Liam Neeson could have a cameo seeing as we didn’t actually see him die in “Begins” (although the train he was in did crash at a fast speed).
  • At the beginning of the Batman series Knightfall, Wayne is under a lot of physical and mental stress from fighting crime. TDKR is set 8 years after TDK, and Wayne is seen with facial hair, a cane and weariness all over. Is it from dodging cops around town while fighting Bane? Or running into Catwoman a bunch of times?
  • TDK sees Batman live long enough to see himself become the villain. TDKR should show him rise from the villainous depths and have Gotham see who he truly is.

I really can’t wait.