Open Letter to Elon Musk

Dear Mr Musk,
Let me begin by telling you that October of 2011 left a void in my life, I lost a person whom I would look up to and be mesmerized with. It was the death of Steve Jobs that triggered a search for a new role model, and I discovered someone whom people would call ‘real’ Tony Stark. For an Iron Man fan-boy, real Tony Stark is something difficult to digest. Having said that, the more I read about you, I began to discover some truth in those claims.
PayPal was great, Tesla motors is amazing, Solar City even better, Hyper loop is a cool thing, SpacEx was fantastic until last Monday, and well OpenAI is something I wouldn’t like to talk about much. The most inspiring thing that you have done with each of your endeavours is committing personal assets to the cause, every single time. It is this dedication and belief that changes the world, which quite a few of your companies have been able to do.

Elon Musk: image credits OnInnovation
Elon Musk: image credits OnInnovation

Last Tuesday, you unveiled a plan (of sorts) to colonize Mars. It was a breath taking presentation, a moment that would be put on a timeline in the books of history marking significant events in the field of space exploration (a conservative term). The presentation ran numbers on screen all through, though space exploration require much more complicated mathematics and scientific calculations than there are words in the English dictionary. Numbers on screen appeared to be simplified for dummies like myself but, I could easily understand that simplification could be done only when compelling numbers have already been dealt with. There was a computer rendered video demonstrating various components of your ambitious project. You emphasized on the fact that those weren’t artist’s impression but close to reality rendered based on scientific design process. Trust me I would be better off had those been artistic impressions. I understand humanity is under threat, we always have been but, I never imagined that a day would come we would have to flee the planet. Mr Musk, I know problems on Earth exist and continue to swell, day in day out, can we not look for solutions without having to move out (move out is going to assume a new meaning altogether)? It is a question, a question for you to ponder upon and find a new muse maybe. Not so surprising yet again you committed your personal funds for the development of the project. I read a lot of coverage of the event by the American media houses; especially the tech media, most of them were sceptical about the numbers that you presented or the funding and to my utter surprise and disbelief ‘technical’ challenges facing your dream. For dummies like me, your presentations are closest cousin of what in our fan world is called the Reality Distortion Field. I am usually excited about things that you have behind the veil but, this time around I was terrified. Even scarier was the timeline of the project, where trials of the proposed technologies begin in a couple of years. If everything goes well you could be on Mars even before the world (or should I always specify planet Earth now on) phases out fossil fuel powered vehicles, or even before a ‘Hyper loop’ comes to India. It’s totally understandable that you might be fed up with the people on this planet but, taking your chosen ones on to a different planet just doesn’t sound right. I wish all this were a sci-fi book that you authored, with no numbers around and no history of success in ‘space exploration’. During the presentation, you mentioned that you didn’t have a dooms day prophecy yet, nevertheless you do believe in an eventual extinction of the human race from planet Earth. I do not know what to tell you, I guess you should get yourself a translated version of a popular Indian song called “Duniya mein hum aaye hain to jeena hi padega”, the opening line translates to “If we have come to the world (read Earth) we will have to live”.

We have always been made to believe that we have to choose ‘one path’ and excel, you are the icon when it comes to excelling across fields be it finance, automotive, transportation, sustainable energy generation and most important of all, entrepreneurship. Steve Jobs used to say, “All I want to do is create a ding in the universe”, I guess you have taken it far too literally and have made it your life’s motto. Let me tell you that our country is on a threat of war with our neighbours at the moment, we aren’t worried a tiny bit about it but, the thought of having to desert the planet is scary. I think you may have run out of muses to have taken upon such an unconventional dream. Mr Musk just to mention a few, you could work on electricity for all, or healthcare for all, or internet connectivity for the world (Earth). Be the cool kid on the block, and let the definition of block be limited to the beautiful blue planet of our solar system.

Regards,
A resident of planet Earth

Open Letter to the President, CoA. Again!

Dear Sir,
First of all congratulations, on becoming the new President of the Council of Architecture, India, the last time I wrote an Open Letter to the President, CoA, it was a different sir on the receiving side.

Just in case you missed it, here.

I would love to express my gratitude to the council for conceding the voice of the fraternity over the issues mentioned in the previous letter (Logo competition, CoA website). To best of my knowledge, the logo competition has been abandoned and the website boasts of a new look.
Well, before I get to the core content of the letter I must apologize for being such a pain, you are free to yell “What is this guy’s problem, why can’t he live in peace!” To be honest, the last time I was only voicing the widespread opinion in the community, this time around I am expressing a personal agony, and other people may or may not feel the same about it.

Sir, you would be happy to know that between the last letter and today, my name got registered in the register of architects with the CoA and a couple of days ago I received the certificate of my registration. I was happy to see the envelope on my desk. I could recognize it since it was a self-addressed envelope that was sent with the other requisite documents. I pulled out the contents of the envelope to check whether everything was in place, yes everything was in there. Then finally I looked at the certificate of registration. It was supposed to be a pious moment, a sacred joy that only a person who has undergone five years of rigorous education that architecture is, would know. But I was appalled by the document, the ugliest piece of paper that I seen in the name of a certificate. I was hoping that it would be something that would adorn the wall of my humble office someday but now I don’t see that happening. Let me begin with the good things first, the 300gsm ivory like paper (I am guessing) is great for a document of importance and the reverse letterpress seal is spellbinding, though all its glory is lost in the clutter that the piece of paper is. Before getting into the details, let me share the events of the day I received the certificate, as they unfolded. My dad came home from office and asked me about the envelope, I told him what it was and he congratulated me. He went ahead and asked me to show it to me. He was baffled if this really was the certificate, with contempt he started pointing things out to me, I was happy to see that he could talk about design in that sense. Sir, I must mention that my dad is nowhere related to a field of design; he is a senior administrative officer with the government, usually buried up in paper work. There must be something grossly wrong if he seemed to dislike the certificate.

The Certificate, as received.
The Certificate, as received.

Now about the document, the document has no sense of margins in place, text alignment is badly done, and my picture is bloated out of proportion and blurred of course. The beautiful letterpress seal is just lost in the mess. I would ignore all of it, but one thing absolutely disastrous is the column on the right, a column to add registration renewal data each time, manually (most likely). Sir this is the kind of thing that shady money launderers and black money lenders would use (such pieces are called “hundi” if I am not wrong), the only person I know who still uses such a system is the local cable operator, who is fighting a lost battle to DTH service providers. I can understand that this is to save paper (if only done thoughtfully), but the document could have definitely be designed better and maybe the receipt could carry space for renewals. I understand that I shouldn’t do it every time but the sad truth is doctors and lawyers have better designed certificates hanging on the walls, though I am not sure about CAs this time because I haven’t had a chance to see someone’s certificate yet, I’ll find out about it the next time I visit a CA’s office.

The Hundi maintained by the Cable Operator
The Hundi maintained by the Cable Operator

Sir, I am sure there are pressing issues waiting to be addressed in your capacity as the President of the Council of Architecture, India, but a small redesign of the certificate wouldn’t hurt. And I think I would get something to hang on the wall.
The last time I wrote the letter I signed as the voice of the fraternity, this time I wouldn’t.

Regards,
CA/2016/75808 (Oh yes! I have it)

Open letter to Border Roads Organization

Dear BROthers,

It is May the 7th, what better day to write to you than today, your foundation day. This day in 1960, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) was established.
July last year, I got a chance to make a trip of the lifetime, a trip to Leh. The trip only happened because we were able to book airline tickets with the prices almost on the floor.

At the very outset, I must say, hats off! You are doing what people wouldn’t dare to do in their most adventurous of dreams. It doesn’t just take skill but enormous courage to create roads where none should exist. For more than 60% of the commuters on the roads in Leh, it’s difficult to even look down, I can’t even imagine what building them must have been. To be honest, I don’t know what you guys are up to in the rest of India, but project Himank and project Vijayak are a different ball game which a private player wouldn’t be able to play. This is for the men in uniform only.
Creating roads, is just one bit and you didn’t stop there, keeping them going in rains, snow and landslides, is godly. Prodigious sons of the motherland, you. The most treacherous of the landslides could engage you only for a few hours at best. In an adventure on the verge of a total misadventure, I took the Wari La pass road to get back to Leh from Pangong and I was surprised, surprised to find the men of your fraternity clearing the almost uninhibited and rarely traversed the route. A convoy of almost 30-35 bikers couldn’t stop themselves from raising the hands to salute the man operating the bulldozer. The happiness, pride and joy on the face of that guy was magical. Maybe that’s the only food that keeps you going in terrains like these. I am almost certain that you people possess supernatural powers, making your dozers and blasting machines ready before the boulders could even make up their mind to fall. I don’t think that any amount of money could make you do this, only total devotion and complete allegiance to the tri-color would make it possible.

One of the BRO roads, in its full glory.
One of the BRO roads, in its full glory.

And with your crazy roadside slogans you steal the show with that sense of humor. I’ll share some of them; hope they don’t offend the right wingers around.

Words of Wisdom
Words of Wisdom
Uh Well. Caption says it all.
Uh Well. Caption says it all.

Though Khardungla is talked about too much yet I would like to recognize again, the hard-work and the guts that it takes to create the world’s highest motor-able road at more than 18000ft above the sea level.

Just standing there, we felt as if we conquered the world.
Just standing there, we felt as if we conquered the world.

I am sure you people are on your job, as I write this, building and maintaining roads on the toughest terrains of the world, conquering our hearts and giving us critical infrastructure that the enemy forces would envy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for doing your job so well.

Regards,
Pulkit

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, a verse from one of the most rousing hymns for most Indians. It’s the verse that has received and continues to receive a fair share of controversy and meaningless skepticism. Some conspiracy theorists believe that it was written in the praise of King George the fifth, Gurudev himself attributed it to the lord almighty, the Supreme creator, as discovered through some letters that he wrote to his friends. Bharat Bhagya Vidhata translates to Creator of India’s destiny, a very coercive thing to say. Who is the creator of India’s destiny?
Is it the almighty? Or is it the athlete who represents India in a sporting event? Is it the PM at a UN convention? Or is it the people who take India to Mars? Is it the dancer who seems to have preserved the cultural identity of this great nation?

Before that, here is a short why I got to talking about this in the first place. Sometime back, I shared the news about a friend’s placement at a great firm in the US with another friend working here in a social enterprise. His reaction was a moving one. He said that while people could fill their pockets with cash in the US, it’s people like him who bring the real change. And all that I could think about was the phrase Bharat Bhagya Vidhata. I was mesmerized at first, but got to the state of pondering a little later. And the question at large was who the creator of India’s destiny is? My idea wasn’t and isn’t to undermine the effort of my friend in shaping the nation, but, what good is an inspiring statement that doesn’t make the listener ponder at a later stage.

Coming back to the question, here is what I believe Bharat Bhagya Vidhata refers to: a sweeper who cleans the street, a teacher who channelizes the young blood, a cobbler who mends footwear to feed his family, a woman who works as a maid so that she could educate her children, a man working for the ISRO, a soldier stationed at the frontier, a rickshaw puller, a mason who is essential to the construction of the dam across our rivers, a man working for an NGO, a woman working as a nurse in the middle east so that she could feed her family in Kerala, a businessman who pays the taxes on time and also an engineer working in a company in the US which changes the world. For what changes the world also changes us, moreover as a civilization, we believe in Vasudev Kutumbakam meaning that the world is one family. Every single Indian who does what his/her job well is the creator. And there couldn’t be a better thing or person or power to hail in a national anthem than your own self. Bharat Bhagya Vidhata isn’t just praise, it is a reminder of the responsibility that each one of us has, the responsibility to do what we are meant to do, no matter where we come from or where we are located.

In the end all I want to say is “Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, Jai He” (Oh Creator of India’s destiny, praise be on you).

The fault is in our stats

This note is an outcome of typo that I made while texting a friend. I found it amusing, maybe one of the funniest accidental joke that was created. I laughed like crazy for almost half an hour, but then I decided to read about the book more, since reading books isn’t my thing, I tried reading a summary. Though I ain’t a fan of love stories, I found the story beautiful. Maybe, it was worth the hype that surrounded it. Being the jobless person that I am, I started thinking about the phrase that I just created (other people must have created too, but I didn’t come across one before the typo).

It is in very few cases like the one in the book that the stars are at fault, for every other time the stats are. I realized how profound stats are in the human life. Stats go much beyond the scope of the perverts.

1. Stats are the marks on the report card.
2. Stats are the zeroes on the payslip.
3. Stats are the people on your contact list.
4. Stats are the number on that skin tone measuring scale.
5. Stats are the figures on a height measuring scale.
6. Stats are the figures on the weighing scale.
7. Stats are the yards of land that you have.
8. Stats are the red on your ledger.
9. Stats are the qualifications that you possess.
10. Stats are the awards conferred upon you.
11. Stats are the lies that surround you.
12. Stats are the goods stashed in vaults.
13. Stats are the things that go inside your phone or computer.
14. Stats are the people who choose to call you their enemy.
15. Stats are the friends that you have.
16. Stats are the number of times you encounter a no.
17. Stats are the number of times that your name features on the police rolls, in case you are going to be a politician.
18. Stats are the bhp of your car.
19. Of course stats are stats.
20. Stats are the 20 things listed here. (Facebook is full of annoying posts with random digits related to random things)

I wouldn’t deny that many of these stats would relate to matrimony, since I have attended 2 family weddings in the last month and rigorous hunt for around another half a dozen people is on.

Though this isn’t the way that I would love to end a note yet I would say, The fault is in the stats and not the person that you are.

And if you are going to ask me who my favorite character from the book(summary) is, it is Rhett Butler.

Architecture education: what is wrong?

Preface: The following write up can be rejected at the very start as a ranting of an escapist nevertheless I would enjoy my right to write. To say that nothing is wrong is negligence at its peak. There is a great hue and cry over ever expanding gap between architectural practice and architectural education, the quality of architects being produced is being questioned too. As a student of architecture here are some of my observations.

पत्थर की दीवार और लकड़ी की चौखट थी ना जाने कहाँ से तस्वीर उभर आयी
पत्थर की दीवार और लकड़ी की चौखट थी ना जाने कहाँ से तस्वीर उभर आयी

1. Can design really be taught? A rather rhetorical answer is no, but the mere existence of countless institutions stands testimony to the fact that yes it can be taught.

2. Liberty is the guiding principle of design and it must be. But do institutions imparting design education follow that principle?

3. What do I mean when I say liberty? Liberty to choose; courses, projects and if possible people. Can’t I design my own course in a standardized framework? The reason why this is important is simple, at the end it is expected, if not self-consciously that the work you do should be an expression of individuality, so why not in education?

4. Architecture and design are very dynamic in nature, how can design education be stagnant? And we have the same courses, under the same syllabus for years together.

5. Innovation is the heart of architecture, where is the innovation in education? Though I like the sound of Introduction to the architecture or theory of design or building science, but I wouldn’t mind meaningful yet crazy things such as LEGO 101 or interlocking building blocks 201 or advanced study in energy efficiency.

6. Coming back to liberty, once we get into discussing the core courses of architecture, where is the liberty to design? After crossing the threshold of functionality, design is very much subjective. Educators need to understand this in theory and practice.

7. The growing gap between education and the profession is a matter of great concern. Though many educators are professionals themselves yet the gap only widens. I interned with 4 other people from different colleges in the same offices, within weeks all 5 came to the conclusion that “college mein kuch nahi sikhaya”. This clearly indicates that this isn’t the story of just one college or one student.

8. An immediate remedy, till the time more pondering is done, is to create a course on construction practice, which is just one day of site visit each week for the entire duration of 5 years. And it is very important that this course must not be linked to other courses. Yea, a seemingly logical step would be to learn about RCC slabs in the studio and then go see it on the site. This is another traditional approach which has not yielded the results. It would be better that you go and observe things at the site and wait for the studio in which the details would be taught. The element of curiosity is very important. There is no learning without curiosity.

9. As Charles Correa says, architecture is not created in a vacuum. Buildings are made of materials, understanding of materials is important. The theoretical construction material subject isn’t helping much. Understanding of material doesn’t come from the numbers that tell the strength, elasticity and other properties, it comes from understanding the creation of the material, the designing of materials. Education needs to cater to these two aspects of understanding building materials.

It is time that we shake the foundations of architectural education and bring the innovation back to education.

PS: I have not included the already expected answers to these questions such as giving more importance to internships, organizing more guest lectures by professionals and other things. I have tried to avoid talking about the teacher as an individual here, I can go on to lengths talking about it but, it is difficult to replace teachers in the system than changing the system.

The missed lesson

A missed lesson at school or college wouldn’t make much difference to your life. Rather more you miss, more you learn, because you get to see the world outside the classroom. The world is the true laboratory of learning, learning that comes from people, learning that comes from experiences. Remember the old man with a stick? He has got much more to teach you than those Ph.D professors. The old man is none other than your grandfather. I have been fortunate to learn enough from my father and I continue to learn from him, what I miss is the old man. We didn’t stay with our grandparents; the only glimpse of my grandfather was a few days in the summer holidays. Before I could get over the image of his as the head of the family, a person of authority and a person of discipline, he was no more. I never got to learn anything from him; I never got to hear his stories. My father was born in the sixties so the stories that he has got begin in the late 70s. I miss that bit of history of my family from the 30s-70s, the days of the British Raj, the struggle for Independence, the free India and more importantly the childhood of my father from the perspective that he himself isn’t aware of. Though I am very fortunate to be born with privileges that most people in the world do not get, but I am not lucky enough to know what a grandmother is, she passed away before I could see the light of the world. I don’t remember my time with my grandfather much, what I do remember are just a handful of things that he did. He used to eat his food in a fashion that was unique to him; his arm would be aligned to the surface of the table, with the elbow projecting out. In winters he would always have a vacuum flask with warm water, he would never drink normal water in the winter. In the not so old days earthen pots would quench the thirst, now those pots have almost been taken over by the PET bottles in the refrigerator. He would keep a small container of water with a small cup near the earthen vessel and everybody was supposed to wash their hands with that water before pouring out water from the pot. He would yell if somebody missed cleaning their hands. Organization and hygiene were his way of life. Papa often tells me about him, usually it’s about the modern/reformist of a person that he was. I spent my time playing with my cousins while he would be retiring in his room, at times I feel miserable to have missed his story, to have missed the lesson that he must have had for me. I wanted to know about politics, about social customs, religion, education and what not. He is not there, nor are the stories, what is there is a young man who has warm water in winters, a sub conscious memory that he has of his grandfather.

Many of you are fortunate to have grandparents alive and living with you, spend time with them, engage them into stories and experiences and engage into learning. They have what would take a lifetime for you to acquire. Don’t let them live a secluded life. And for me, I live on stories that I overhear from elderly people in the local trains.

Teacher-bashing

This afternoon I accidentally discovered a grammatical mistake committed by my middle school English teacher. I say accidentally because it had been lying there on a social networking site for almost a year now, and funnily I have graduated from school 4 years ago. The teacher in question was the disciplinarian of the school, what more could I want? The kid in me wanted to grab the opportunity of teacher-bashing instantaneously, but the ‘mature’ person in me was confused. Though I must have ignored 1000 such errors in the past, I may even continue to do so in the future, and it must have been a typo or reluctance on the end of the teacher, yet I could not ignore it. An insignificant error made way for an intellectual debate in my head. Why was it such a big deal to correct a teacher on a social media platform? Wouldn’t we look forward to such opportunities as kids? Weren’t we taught to stand by what is right?

A lame thing became a moral dilemma. I consulted two of my friends on this, a person whom I went to school with and another friend from outside the school. It would be disrespectful, humiliating, it would be rude, just let go, were the suggestions that I got. I am neither a “grammar nazi” nor the most righteous one. I have committed my share of sins too. Maybe I was raising rhetorical questions to cover up my innate desire of teacher bashing, may be…

The truth is, there is no truth. What the society tells you is the truth and then there is the absolute truth, the one which is unquestionable, the one which is not open to interpretation. Absolute truth is I have been and would continue to be a hater of the current education system.

Teaching and parenting are the two things that truly shape the world. I have great respect for parents and good teachers; the only thing that disturbs me is that these institutions have been watertight. Why can’t I challenge (I choose challenge over question) these? I may be wrong, and I would love to be wrong, but if I get a response I would learn a lot, and that would be the true learning, and that would make education meaningful.

One last question, isn’t a student who learnt his lesson well the best gift of a teacher?
I wrote this note as a mark of gratitude and a proof that I learnt my lesson well. I express a sincere apology for doing that.

Architects are sexy reloaded

Disclaimer:
Any resemblance to a person who has travelled on board the Indigo 6e217 on seat 27D on 10/04/14 is purely intentional.

On the evening of 10/04 I boarded the 6e218 to Jaipur seated at 27A, the flight and the flight crew are another story for some other day. Our hero for the day, let’s call him Mr X arrived and seated conveniently on 27D which is an aisle seat. At this time an uncle in late 40s came with her daughter to occupy the seats next to me, he gave me an interrogative look and decided that he should take the middle seat and let her daughter who clearly was my age, take the aisle seat. I understood the psyche and had a laugh. During the course of the flight we shared a few jokes and the uncle must have realised that I am not the bad guy after all. So here we are, 27 A to D occupied and the rest of the plane was almost full too. Getting back to Mr X, he was a man almost 25, fairly well built and just like any other man of that age, he must have been hoping for two young female passengers to be seated next to him since the other woman across the aisle (uncle’s daughter) was not so interesting. Mr X had two books and a couple of loose sheets in his hands. Pretending to be occupied, he was flipping through pages and referring to the loose sheets, jotting down something on them and scratching his head. The important thing to note was that he was using a pencil instead of a pen and the good thing about pencils is that they reveal identities. The sheet that he was referring to was an A3 with a couple folded A1s piled underneath. A1, A3, pencils give you a fair what the person is, yes, he was an architect. That’s how it was, an architect on 27D and an architecture student on 27A. And then there they were, the co-passengers of Ar. X, an elderly couple to occupy 27 E and 27 F, who dozed off before anybody could care. It must have been a major heart burn for X the architect. The books were basically furniture catalogues for office furniture; going by the fancy packaging of the books I can safely say that it was some good brand. So yes, it can be deduced that he was selecting furniture for various areas of an office project. All well and good, he managed to impress an onlooking student of architecture. As soon as the elderly people came over, he closed the book and began folding the drawing in disbelief and discontent, and he must have cursed whatever gods that may be, for he wasn’t the master of his fate. Nevertheless, he got up to reach a handbag that he had kept in the overhead storage and pulled out a set of fancy pencils, maybe they were supposed to bring good luck. Ar. X then jumped over to the 26th row, which was vacant till then (for some reasons the boarding and take off took 55 minutes that day). I failed to notice who his new co-passengers were but I managed to get a sneak pick of the A3, and shockingly it was an elevation of a small residence (G+1). I didn’t miss to notice the Autodesk educational stamp (unlicensed software) on the drawing. And there he was, a man who must have taken the article about architects being sexy, doing the rounds of social media, too seriously. I realized that one seat remains vacant and the other was occupied by another male passenger, so now he shifted his focus to the air hostesses, which was just another futile attempt. He came back to his original seat and was just waiting for the plane to land now. He kept the drawings in his bag (Oh btw Ar. X, the red trolley bag was an ugly piece of design in itself). Now, after the landing area. X gave wooing girls a last shot, he pulled out a small leather bag and kept the pencil set in the bag, the pretense was clear. What was wrong/ noticeable there? Well the bag was a Louis Vuitton (or a copy which was unlikely since his watch was a fine piece of jewelry). How did I find that the bag was an LV? Let’s say, I just did.
When hard luck strikes, it strikes hard, no girls to pull a conversation with in two different rows, unimpressed air hostesses and a crazy maniac who saw all this and brought it to the domain of social media.

End note:
Mr. X if you were indeed doing what I assume you were, on behalf of the entire fraternity (if not community) I take the immense pleasure to disown you. And in the very unlikely event of the reality being different, I would say 4th strike of hard luck.

PS: This article has been written on board Indigo 6e218 (my return flight) seated in a vacant row.

महफूज़

ज़िन्दगी के झमेलों में,
9 से 5 के खेलों में,
आवाज़ महफूज़ है ख़ामोशी में |
ख़ुशी जहाँ बंद है किश्तों में,
रोज़ बनते बिगड़ते रिश्तों में,
मोहब्बत महफूज़ है तन्हाई में |
करारे नोटों की चमक में,
बड़े नामों की दमक में,
ज़िन्दगी महफूज़ है अंधेरों में |

पुलकित