Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Learning Curve

I knew it had been a long time since I wandered in this direction as soon as I opened my blog page. Things have changed remarkably around here and I've been away far too long. It took me a while to find my way here, but all that matters is that the absence is over. 

The absence had a very good reason- I was working hard so that people would accept the fact that I was fit enough to sign myself up to a life of scholarly poverty. Sounds almost paradoxical that you should need someone's permission to inflict punishment upon yourself; in fact as it turns out you need to inflict punishment upon yourself for a few months so that powers that be allow you to inflict punishment upon yourselves and people around you for years to come. In short, I was steeped in my preparation for Quals. 

Anyone who has ever dabbled (successfully or otherwise) with this thing they call a PhD. knows what this monstrosity entails. The experiences are varied, but vivid and grotesque nonetheless. For a few months, I forgot about all else and struggled to pass. Ignore my diatribe about inflicting punishment, because the only reason you would ever put up with something like this, is because you love doing what you do. You would put up with many shortcomings of your beloved, just so you could be with them for longer (I did not just write that!). The good thing though, is that they are now over, and they went exceedingly well. The better thing is that they went exceedingly well for all of my friends who struggled with me through those torrid months. It's like life flipped a switch this last Tuesday. We all went from busy, strung up and almost neurotic to almost hippie-like within the span of a few hours. Worries were forgotten, and so was work. How long this Bohemian existence will last is anyone's guess.

This post started to form when I was struggling with a concept during the course of my preparation, and feeling rather stupid about it. My brain began to meander and began to think of how the story of anyone's education starts. My thoughts took me to over twenty years ago when someone was teaching me how to draw "standing" and "sleeping" lines. There was that time when I could barely write the alphabet of any language. People had to hold my hand to teach me how to write words, read and understand simple things that happened around me. Years passed and things I learned things that were far more complicated. It took a period of twenty years of constant training and learning to get stuck on the concept that I was battling with right now. That made me feel a lot better about myself. But more so, it made me marvel at the ability of the brain to evolve and learn things. We often forget how wondrous and ground-breaking that transformation is- probably because it's a slow process in the time-scale of everyday life. It is not a trivial matter that in a matter of two decades, we've all gone from not being able to convey a single thought in an intelligent way to being expert doctors, engineers, actors, bankers, chefs, lawyers, artists and the list goes on.

This post is as much a tribute to those unsung heroes in our lives. Those people who we've probably forgotten and left behind in the course of our adventures. These people rarely ever got credit for laying the foundation for you to learn everything else that you know. If it wasn't for their patience, you'd probably be a fraction of what you are right now. 

Here's saluting everyone in my life who shaped me. The one who taught me how to write the alphabet, the one who taught me how to count, the science teacher in fifth grade, the math teacher in the tenth grade, and the people who followed them and left an indelible mark on my life, and are continuing to do so.