Moments of Truth

That every day we face. And being honest about it!

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Location: Monroe Twp, New Jersey, United States

TeeBee for many, Manthru for some, Sunny for a few, Myna for selected, Suresh for record. Hailing from Thrissur of Kerala and now lives (read survives) in Monroe Twp, NJ with wife and daughter.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Failure means delay, not defeat!

Way back in childhood, I remember my mother (I was brought up in my father's elder brother's house and I used to call them dad and mom. Here I refer to her whose stories and supervision had a lot of influence in building my character) telling me a story of a king who was defeated and had found refuge in a cave and was almost on the verge of giving up. He, as I remember now, was defeated many times, not once. Nursing his wounds and the thoughts of a bleak future, he noticed a spider trying to weave its net from one side of the cave to the other side. Only when you are at loss, you begin to notice the surroundings and your observation power comes back to you. The spyder was failing each time but never gave up. It tried harder each time to reach the other end. It took time between the leaps but persisted and at last could achieve what it was trying to.

The King learned from the spider and tried harder next time to win back his kingdom. Although it might look fictitious or simple, there was a great lesson for me to learn. Failure, for the first time comes naturally for many because of lack of preparation. Not knowing how to pull the strings, not knowing where to go. But you learn from failures. The second attempt is always better as atleast one reason for the previous failure is known and you might try to correct it this time. It takes time and effort but ultimately will come to a stage when you know how to do something. The story has always been a huge inspiration for me like many other ones although my mother might not have known it. It helped me in my failures.

It was sometime in March 1999 I got a mail from my research guide letting me know that my thesis had come back after review and that he wanted to talk to me. I was working in Wipro Infotech in Bangalore and had just completed three months. MS in IIT is different from MTech in more than one ways. MS can be described as a mini PhD where a new idea need to be supported with working examples as a thesis and will be reviewed by at least two faculty outside the institution. MTech is more towards course work and hectic schedules that would end up in a project work, need not be original, that will be reviewed within the institution. Practically, MTech was good with more exposure to more subjects and could be completed in just one and half years. MS, on the other hand, can take anywhere from one and half to three years (with stipend) or even more. MS work and thesis will be constantly monitored by research guide (well, it depends), a review committee that consists of one or two professors from the same as well as another department in addition to the guide. It is after the approval of the final synopsis and demonstration, the thesis is submitted and sent to two anonymous reviewers by the administrative section.

I have been a little indifferent during my second year in IIT, but did make use of the first and last years very well to come up with a thesis at the end of the third year, in Dec 1998 to be precise. My lab mate had already left IIT by that time and had established himself at work in Bangalore after submitting his thesis by the beginning of his (and mine too as we joined together) third year. There are MS students who finish in less than 20 months depending on the dedication and guidance they receive from the guide. I have always been slow, but steady and looking for quality than quantity.

On one of those hot days of Chennai, a saturday, I found myself sitting in the house of my guide and contemplating a serious problem, the solution of which will have serious impacts in my life later. One of the reviewers of my thesis had mentioned that the work is satisfactory and can be awarded the MS degree. Another one insisted that though I have done work in cutting edge technology and quality is enough the quantity is found insufficient to grant a degree. There was not an immediate solution as I have been to work and there were many things that were committed. Verbally as well as in terms of finance. The problem loomed above my head as Damocles's sword. I searched for empathy and my guide did not move. I looked for sympathy and my guide's wife, from whom I have had many tasty lunch and dinners, retreated to kitchen. I sat there in a chair in the middle of the room; motionless, tears blocking my view and blinding my thoughts. It seemed that I had hit a wall and a decision was imminent. It is most painful when there are few choices, all difficult and demanding effort, but at the same time less confusing as the ways out were limited.

My guide even pointed out that I can continue or end as if it did not matter to him either way. I feast on such attacks on my consiousness. It motivates and makes me to concentrate. In a few minutes, I had changed and was back to normal sense. I did not want my three years of work go wasted. I thought that it is my MS after all and I have to continue to get it, whatever be the cost. It was one of those moments in my life, moments of truth, where I had to take a decision which would have long lasting impacts in my later life. Foreseeing them and acting accordingly is a quality that I have enjoyed so far and wishes to continue in future too. I informed my decision to my guide then and there. I was confident and desperate. The new look might have surprised my guide. Do not know whether he had expected it. I found a different person in him trying to lead me to a destiny that he would like me to have. Was he testing my abilities? My persistence? I would never know unless he tells me. He sat beside me to explain the plans and the work that I should carry out in order to successfully complete the MS (again). He pointed out some benchmark systems with which I should compare my system to add value to the work.

Fortunately, I had completed a research paper and got it accepted in an international workshop to be held in Seattle, US (the third international workshop on autonomous agents) even after submitting my thesis (it is usually the other way with researchers), thanks to an inspired recommendation from another faculty and continued pressure from my would-be wife. It is possible that the lack of a research paper in my thesis, which usually is a norm, must have prompted the reviewer to summarize his conclusions. Whatever be the case, all the struggles were to make me better and I am thankful for the opportunities. A smooth sea won't make good sailors, I had learned. It was not a smooth sea.

After making sure that what I need to do, I went back to Bangalore. From the next day, I used to come early to office and leave very late. I used to spend two hours every day for my research. It was informed to my supervisors but by the end of March they came back to me telling that I should concentrate only on one thing. I decided to take leave for about a month, of course without pay, and went to IIT to work on my thesis from April 1st. There was no stopping me as I worked harder and did not waste even a minute to come up in good colours by the end of the month to wind up the comparisons as well as additional tests. MS thesis was resubmitted with additional work and comparisons and ofcourse with a reference to the paper in the international conference. I had checked to see that if there are any other papers accepted from India for the conference and found that there were none.

My guide was most understanding and helpful during these days than any other time and helped me to submit the thesis in time so that I would be getting my degree during the ceremony that is going to be conducted somewhere in July or August. The thesis got reviewed in time and there were no hiccups. In return for the understanding Wipro had showed, I took over the charge, it was an open question to a gathering, to teach threads programming for the 11th (or 13th?) Wipro university batch. I tried my best and taught to the best of my abilities. The class went on for three days and it was a satisfying experience for me as I found out that there is a teacher that lies within. The efforts were further paid off by the attendees selecting me as one of the best tutors out of the many who taught the classes for an entire one month period.

Looking back, I feel that it could have taken a moment of my life to decide right or wrong and that moment of decision making was the test of the character in me. It was easy to accept defeat and go on with it to live in shame for the rest of the life. Life, I think, by providing challenges expect more out of us. Responding to the call, we actually come one level up. It was one of those days that would separate a person from having success and failure. It was one of those days that would make a person stand out in the crowd. When I think about it now, I feel that it was something good to happen to me as I had learned to accept failures and fight the same to succeed.


Blogger R.Nandakumar said...

yes, life throws challenges; and the wise say, how you stand up to them is *the* measure of your intrinsic worth!

1:25 AM  

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