This article appeared in the ISIAA magazine Taarpor. It aims to describe my
"Life After ISI". Do check out the link. You will not be disappointed.
Over the last hour or so, I had scratched my head, twirled my neck, picked my nose, dropped the pen twice - and picked it up, yawned, and yawned. And mostly, I yawned. As I stared at the screen in front, the endless lines of code danced around, playing hide and seek with each other, as if to taunt my sensibilities. I shook my head, my eyes in a squint, trying hard to make sense of this puzzle. Aren’t there too many variables in there? Do I really need so many of them? What about dropping a few of them? Or, maybe I do need them. Last time I checked, I was positive, each and every variable in the code made sense. I wrack my brain, trying to find a distant memory, while the variables continue to dance around. Some of this looked vaguely familiar. Somewhere, some faraway place, this – all of this – used to make sense. I know it. But where was it? When was it? I shake my head again.
Faces come floating by. A shortish man comes forth - salt and pepper hairs, his slippers weary from years of overuse, and a shirt that has given up on staying in sync with its times. “Integration is fun! See?” he says. No, I don’t see. I never quite saw the fun in it. But have always been in awe about it. Awed, and bewildered. Also discombobulated! Now, that’s a word I learnt somewhere - some book of words I memorized for some exam, ages back. Funny how I remembered a word I never meant to use anywhere. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the X’s and Y’s. Was it this man’s class where I found them? No, it couldn’t have been him, because he’s scribbling about some imaginary i’s too. I have no truck with those i’s, you see?
Ah, there’s a lady with a charming smile! She is saying something about orthogonality. Is it she who gave me all these numerous variables? I ask her “Ma’am, what do I do with these X’s now?” “Well, why not design it in a way so that you confound them? Then they will no more be estimable, and you no longer will have to worry about them, you see?” she says. No, no, no. I don’t see. Confound, did you say? You mean, discombobulate? That word again? I never wanted to use that word! Don’t you see?
I need to search elsewhere. I look around, and I see faces, and more faces. Some were smiling at me. Some pointing fingers and saying “That fish curry smelled bad!! Did you do the mess duty at the BH today?” I think I did! I cower and hide. I can hear the once familiar sounds of a striker hitting the coins on a carrom board. Then there’s a familiar voice advising me “Somnath, take aim, and then hit hard, hit very very very hard. OR, hit softly.” I can hear boys around us laughing at the obvious contradictions within the directions. Or maybe, they are laughing at me, because I was making that face again, one that can be only described by that word. No, I won’t use it here. Don’t mean to, you see?
“GIVE ME A BETA!” I jump around to see a bearded face. He’s plainly disgusted at my lack of grasp of variable handling tactics. “The BETA” he said again. I pick up the pen I had dropped by then. “Where do I find it, Sir?” I say, somehow managing to find my voice. His menacing demeanor mellows a bit. “Why? Just reduce the dimensions! Why don’t you take one of those multivariate medians? There’s Tukey’s, and Oja’s, and then there’s this comb…” I start to run, before he finishes.
And so I run, and run. More faces come and go. I whizz by an airport tarmac. Then I grow wings and I fly across the oceans. I find a new voice that can weave through arguments and deliberations, a new skin to slip into while in conferences and seminars. I grow arms that can embrace a lady love. I find new eyes that can see through the lens of a baby. I begin to tell the kids that I have seen it all.
But all the while I knew that the variables slowly began to lose meaning. Every time anyone asked, I fumbled a bit more. Every question asked – at the office, at the marketplace, at the interview board – everywhere – seemed a little more challenging.
Then I begin to realize. These codes on the screen, they asked new questions, they play with new variables – a new world altogether. Those faces in ISI – they were not meant to explain it all. I begin to remember now. ISI it was, that I thought had added meaning to all the variables of my life. But then, the code was easy and simple, and I left those meanings when I stepped out of it. Today, as the variables dance around uncontrollably, I begin to find myself, well, discombobulated. See?