Studying with the Best 4


Fans blowing paper everywhere and no Air Conditioning (A/C) make it quite hard to concentrate on studying for any length of time. The last 5 days of my life has been consumed with writing Minor Exams for all my courses I’m taking. It’s been quite a roller coaster of trying to catch up on what I’ve missed, learning the new material and figuring out what exam-writing is like in India. Luckily they are all over now with mixed results. Going into these tests I was quite apprehensive because I’m competing against the best of the best in India for these grades.

*Note: students in India spend the last 2/3/4 years of high school studying for incredibly hard university entrance exams. Out of 500,000 students who take the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) for IIT, only about 5000 get admitted yearly. Approximately the top 20% of these go to the top 2 IITs in India: Bombay and Delhi*

This means that I’m sitting in classes with the top ~0.1% of engineering students in all of India. They also happen to be close to the best test writers in the world. I’ve realized that from their JEE studying, most students here knew most of the material covered in first and second year before they even started at IIT. Add to this the fact that most of the tests here are memorization based, proof-based and do not necessarily test whether the theory of the material taught is really understood. Luckily IITers do not study or do any work until a few days before the exam – my only chance of competing and getting decent marks in classes here. However, this is just one more challenge I will overcome: I am not overly worried because I have now figured out where to study, what the tests here look like, who to talk to for help and what to look out for in classes. My ease with these examinations will just improve as the semester progresses.

Iskcon temple visited on a Delhi trip with the exchange group

Some of the awesome people I’m hanging out with from India, France, Madagascar, Canada and Germany!

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple we visited

As mentioned before, there are always fans blowing! To cool everything done you need lots of A/C units. The money isn’t there for that (let alone the electricity costs), so they install fans everywhere. This means that there are constantly things blowing around and your papers on the desk are never safe unless you put something on top of them to keep them in place. This has led to a very different way of making folders and taking notes in class. No one but me has loose sheets of paper, and for good reason I’m realizing…haha. When you look at the desk of a paper shuffler here they have everything in closed folders, no open papers on their desks. It makes everything very unorganized and inefficient, and the heat keeps people very distracted from work. You would think that the best solution to this is just replacing these fans with A/C units: a bit pricier but a tremendous increase in efficiency and work ethic. That would be great…until you realize that the fans are also there to combat the fly/mosquito problem. So you have to think about all these things in a different way when you’re here. All very interesting and complex: nothing offers a simple solution.

Speaking of efficiency, there are reasons why India is not growing at a higher rate. A country with as many resources and people as India should be growing faster than what is dubbed here as the “India Growth Rate”. Most people quote corruption as the only reason for this lack in progress. While it is a MAJOR problem across the nation at every level of government, I also have a few thoughts about other areas where India has room for improvement:

  1. Reducing the fans. Constructing buildings which keep in cold air in summer and warm air in winter would reduce cooling/heating costs tremendously. This would reduce the amount of electricity used, reducing strain on the electrical grid and also making A/C units much more economical. This reduces fans and allows for India to be more efficient and environmentally friendly!
  2. Standardization. India has no standards for clothing sizes, shoes sizes or paper sizes it seems. They are all sold using different standards from around the world: my binder currently has 4 different sizes of pages in it and while one large shirt that I bought fits perfectly, another medium also fits perfectly…
  3. Increasing safety margins. I don’t know if this is factored into Indian-made products, but it is clear that autos, bikes and similar people-movers are consistently being put under more stress than they are designed for because of the number of people here in India. This causes them to break down much more frequently than they are expected to, leading to many more maintenance costs and a lower-than-expected lifespan.
  4. Emphasis on quality. In my opinion India has a large disregard for quality. I have been searching for a hole-puncher for the last couple of days and the only kind that I have been able to find is one that is just the length of the two spaced holes – not the full length of the page. This means that I will never be able to align the holes perfectly and every hole-punch will be in a different place in my binder. While you may chock this up to me being OCD, this is a much more widespread problem because it applies to many more things. Going for the easy solution or fix is usually much preferred to redesigning something or creating a permanent solution. It is much easier mentality to “just fix it later when it breaks”, rather than build something to last.

Obviously all these points require investments initially as the payoff comes in the long run. This is apparent if you have ever heard of the cycle of poverty. However, in my opinion the initial capital needed for many of these improvements to be realized is there and people have enough money for these improvements to drastically change the way people live. Of course there are also many other factors which affect a country’s growth like India’s protectionist policies since its birth. As was pointed out in my Sociology of India class, Indian society is not based on western capitalism and therefore does not have the same mindset of bigger, newer and better that runs through our everyday thoughts. Through Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, it seems that Indians are much more content with living now and appreciating what is around them. It is just a different mentality, one that may be contributing to the “Indian Growth Rate”. Then again, perhaps I am wrong about many of the points I have mentioned here and I hope to discover this answer over the next couple months!

Observations:

  1. The cold water showers just seem to get colder – I am not getting used to it and I don’t think that it’s going to improve as the temperatures outside get colder
  2. The India Gate or Bharat Gate (Delhi’s central and most tourist-visited monument), is almost an exact replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France which is itself inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus
  3. There is security everywhere:  metal detectors and searches at the mall, temples, metro, and even the cinema!

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