Monday, March 31, 2008

The Story of the Duck Cult Part 1: The Rise

There is a Duck in each of us.

Yes, you heard that right.

There is a Duck in each of us. With a capital D, too.

I told you folks about SSP, right? So this is the kind of random thing that can happen at SSP. The classes at SSP occasionally got boring. Well, not really HELL boring, but the kind of regular boringness that is associated with spherical trigonometry and celestial coordinates. On any given day, you could look around the class and find at least four drooping heads - six on a good day.

So one day, we got fed up with the snores punctuating the class and decided to add some - er - color into it. Three of us got together and Providence provided us with three of those amazing battery-operated ducks that go "Quack-quack quack quack quack quack" when you close the circuit with your fingers (Providence, I have found, has all sorts of weird ideas all the time, but this one turned out to be for the better). If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here.

So yes, Connor Stokes, Udbhav Singh and yours truly got hold of those ducks from Providence (the weird fate thingy, not Providence, Rhode Island) and got them to speak for us. Whenever the professor started getting a little too boring (which is WAY more often that it would normally seem), we would unleash the fury of the ducks. They would quack their insightful comments throughout the class, and enliven otherwise boring lessons. It irritated some people, and amused others, as is inevitable in new ideas. Great religions seldom come unhindered. But whatever opinion someone had of the Duck Cult, no one could ignore it.

And so it was that the Duck Cult was born.

We at the Duck Cult have our own set of beliefs. Our fundamental belief is that there is a hidden Duck in each of us, yearning to be set free. It symbolizes our spirit, our soul itself. And we are all mere mortals in the eyes of the Great Duck Our Lord, He Who Quacks Over Hills and Oceans.

Some would say we took this too far (are you reading this, Ilona?). But the fact remains that the Duck Cult was an inspiration, the symbol of joy and hope to the millions who found their inner quack. True Cult members are willing to die for its sake.

These are us, the three original founders, looking amazingly regal and sexy in our formal dresses.

It would be lying if we say that we did not ever resort to violence while spreading the Word of the Duck around. That is because we believe that a little violence is perfectly all right if the ends justify the means. At the end of the day, we are all happy and quacking. That is the only thing that matters.

Which is why the Duck Cult members are always to be found armed with a battery-duck and a water pistol, fighting for the cause of the Great Duck Our Lord, He Who Quacks Over Hills and Oceans.

This is again a picture of us, in a slightly more combative mood.

The three original founders (that's us, duh-uh) became more or less legendary. We recruited people from all over the world once we got back (currently we have secret organizations in India, USA, Italy, Singapore, Turkey and Greece), and even wrote our own Ten Duck Commandments:

The Ten Duck Commandments
I am the Duck thy Lord.
Thou shalt have no other water fowl before me.
Thou shalt not make for thyself another rubber duck.
Thou shalt not make wrongful use of the name of thy Duck.
Thou shalt not let the name of the Duck be dishonored.
Thou shalt not hesitate to kill for the sake of thy Duck.
Honor thy Ducklings.
Thou shalt not molest the duck.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's Duck.
Thou shalt not quack falsely.
Thou shalt not let any Duck be stolen by non-believers.

Trust me when I say that we made enemies at SSP; we irritated every non-believer out of his or her wits, and forced non-believers to take up the religion (all for their own good, of course). Anti-Duck societies sprang up everywhere, but we fought them hard, and overcame them. We infiltrated the SSP dorms, and the city of Ojai. We even planted our own flag in places where they were least expected.

To this day, we remain the Three, the founders of the deadly Duck Cult that inspired the joyless millions, and struck down non-believers ruthlessly. And it is just the beginning.

Thanks Udi and Connor for the good times. They are just beginning. And ALL other members of the Duck Cult. And a special thanks to Sydney Goings (our secret organization chief in Las Vegas), from whom I borrowed the first photo in this post. The others are my own, so a big thanks to me too. Oh and by the way, our level of infiltration is so amazing that MIT's CPW has the Boston Duck Tour arranged with it. Hmmmmm. That's us. You've been warned.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Ok, real quick post before my math test tomorrow.

STATUTORY WARNING: This post is going to be serious. Yep, you heard that right. Serious. But hey, don't worry, I'll be back tomorrow with more funny posts, so keep your spirits up. Well, here goes ...

I have studied at South Point High School for about - let's see - thirteen years. And now there's come a time when I am going to have to leave.

To cut a long story short, today I want to remember my school, because in five months all it will be is a memory. I don't mean the Vogons will come down in their yellow constructor fleets and annihilate South Point High School or anything. It's just that I won't ever look at its doors with the eyes of a student. And that is hard.

I was studying differential equations (bit of a mood-spoiler, isn't it?) a while ago, and I - er - dozed off a bit. Hey come on, differential equations aren't exactly spellbinding stuff. The point is, I closed my eyes and swam around in a whirl of memories. And what kept coming back most was the thought of the school I am about to leave.

There were a few teachers in my school who I - to put it lightly - didn't quite like. In fact, I used to have all sorts of uncomfortable feelings (fever, nosebleed, plague, whatever - all depending on the degree of nastiness of the teacher in question) whenever a day dawned in which I was supposed to attend a class taught by those teachers. I remember the swirling conflicting thoughts that would rage on in my head before their classes began. "Why do I have to do this?" "Why doesn't something terrible happen to the teacher?" "What the hell am I doing here?" and the like.

Today I suddenly missed that feeling. Bit of a hollow sensation in my stomach, really.

So I decided to go ahead and post a poem I wrote earlier (it's in my Facebook profile or something I think), and upload a video I made recently. Both of them are dedicated to my school - South Point.

The Long and Winding Road

A Life Ends

My school is ending.

For thirteen years I have roamed its corridors,
As my sweat mingled with the sweat of a thousand others in its wake,
Breathing the same air,
Feeling the same emotions,
Living the same life.

And now it is Time.
Time to say goodbye.

How? The seconds stretched into hours, the hours stretched into days, the days stretched into months, the months into years, the years into memories.

And now it is time to cut the ropes and be free.

It is time to edge out my little lonely dangerously swaying boat out into the great big ocean with no shores in sight.

It is time to put the wind on my back and set sail from the shores I have known in search of places yet to be visited and friends yet to be discovered.

It is time to be free.

If only all the memories would let go. The memories of a life soon to be left behind, one that calls out to me from the depths of my childhood, one that shaped my mind and wrought my dreams.

My school is ending.

And I have to let go.

[For the curious, the first song in the video is from an amazing recent Bengali movie called The Bong Connection. The track, Majhi Re, is actually a symbolic song; through an extended metaphor, it compares childhood to a paper boat set afloat in the wide sea. Hmmmmmm. Yes, see what I meant by serious? But hey, it's a beautiful song. As for the second song, I doubt any of you will need any introduction.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ode to a Bedbug

"Madness! A man needs a little madness, or else ... he never dares cut the rope and be free."

Zorba the Greek (1964)

IMOTC stands for the International Mathematical Olympiad Training Camp. Sounds real sexy until you realize that

1. It certainly ISN'T the IMO; it's meant to be the last hurdle before the hardest Olympiad in the world, and let's just say it does a pretty good job of making people work hard to get into the Indian IMO team.

2. The food is TOTALLY vegetarian, and for someone who lives in a part of India known for its non-vegetarian delicacies, it is better to die than spend a month with curds and rice (yes I know you liked it, Udi and Ashwath. Just a matter of taste).

3. Well, it isn't fun, in the strictest sense of the term. It's a rigorous, fast-paced camp that no one understands except a privileged few. In reality it can be quite a pleasant sensation to sway gently to the rhythm of mathematics and fall asleep without a care in the world as the Professor drones on about non-Euclidean geometry and modular functions and their relation to elliptic curves. But then you have to make sure that he doesn't catch you napping.

Anyway, this IMOTC I'm talking about is a camp held in Mumbai for a month in summer. I was selected to IMOTC 2007, where my roommate was initially a great guy from Pune called Ninad Sancheri. A week into the Camp, he left. He wasn't managing to cope with the workload, and was intelligent enough to leave to follow other more meaningful pursuits. I just mention him because he plays the central role in the killer story I'm about to tell you.

So we were roommates, fine. We talked about random things, like chess, SATs, and the general decline of a physics education in India. When night finally came, he asked me which bed I wanted. I chose one, and with it my destiny. To this day, I firmly believe that that was the single most important decision I took in my life.

I am a very sound sleeper. There is a saying in my school, that when I sleep, people listen. I'm not sure what they listen to, but what the hell, they go ahead and listen anyway. To the best of my knowledge, I don't snore, at least not loudly. The point is, when I sleep, nothing short of something like, for instance, a saber-toothed tiger or the French Revolution can wake me up.

So next morning, I was getting ready for classes when Ninad walked up to me and said, "Hey Rik, did you sleep well last night?" I thought this was a very thoughtful question to ask. Time proved me wrong. "Yep", I replied brightly; "And you?" Ninad scratched his ear and said, "Yeah ok, could have been better, I suppose. Say, did you notice any bedbugs?"

I stared at him for about twenty seconds, and then said, tonelessly "Bedbugs."

"Yes, bedbugs."

"Er - not that I can think of. Why, are there bedbugs here?"


This particular conversation ended right there. That day, after classes and everything, we went to sleep as usual. At around two o' clock in the morning, I woke up again and found Ninad sitting bolt upright in the next bed, staring intently at something on the ceiling. Completely nonplussed, I looked groggily as the room swam into focus. There, silhouetted in the soft moonlight seeping through the windows, sitting on his bed in his pajamas and staring at a bedbug on the ceiling, was Ninad. The bedbug in question was not cowering under the gaze. He was putting up a good fight too.

It was an epic psychological struggle. Ninad stared at the bedbug, and the bedbug stared at Ninad. I stared at them both, thinking of a good thing to say. I finally decided on "Ahem, ahem". Not a very smart thing to say, I know. But hey, what would you have done?

Ninad turned round and saw me goggling. His face split into a very toothy and embarrassed smile. "Bedbugs", he said by way of explanation. "So I perceive", I said, and went to bed.

Next day was a holiday. Our first practice test was coming up two days after that, so everyone decided to study a bit. But hey, there's only so much you can study in a day, especially if it is Olympiad math you are talking about. So everyone took it easy. Except - Ninad. He was shut up in the library from nine in the morning till seven at night, poring over ancient dusty volumes of the sort that are used by necromancers, if you know what I mean. We were all very impressed. "Here's a guy who KNOWS his math, and is going to OWN the tests", we said. "Smashing guy, he's giving it his all", we added. "F**K, HOW THE HELL IS HE STUDYING SO MUCH AT A STRETCH?", we concluded.

That evening, a tired and happy Ninad came back to our room, carrying an odd sort of bottle. He looked at me, his face glowing in the rays of the setting sun in an aura of victory, and a day well-spent. He said, in a winning voice, "I studied about bedbugs today."

I looked at him long. "Excuse me?"

"I studied about bedbugs today. In the library."

"You studied about - er - bedbugs today. In the library. All day."

"All day yes. And I found out a lot about them. Their history. Their habits. Their passions."

"Hold on, are we talking about bedbugs here? When you say 'their history'?"

"Yes, of course. D'you know, the first recorded bedbug was observed in Jabbalpur, India, in 1887 by Maharajah Sameerkhand."

Well, the story ends here. I don't remember what I replied. I just remembered his face when he said it. He was ABSOLUTELY serious. He isn't the kind of guy who jokes around. He is the no-nonsense guy. That odd bottle was a lotion of bedbug poison or something of the sort. He meticulously applied it all over his bed every night before he went to sleep. He was found, once or twice, talking to bedbugs. I'm convinced that if he tries hard enough, he will be the first person ever to actually understand bedbugs, their ways of thinking, their philosophy of life, their perspective on existence.

I just mentioned this because I was thinking about Ninad. He is one of the most brilliant students in India, and will be a great and successful person whatever he does in life. But as the story demonstrates, he's also mad. That is good, isn't it? Madness ... it's important to everyone who aspires to dream big one day.

Ninad, man, miss you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Next Big Things at NASA

Ok, a quick break from studies and an update to my blog.

First, thanks to ALL the people who have commented. I never expected seven comments for my first blog entry :D, so thanks!

I'll try to keep writing as much as possible, but truly regular blogging will only happen from April 5.

I was thinking this morning about SSP. For those of you who don't know, SSP is a really amazing summer camp I went to in the summer of 2007, and which - as the much-clich├ęd saying goes - changed my life. Well, it really did, so I don't know how else to put it. You can read about SSP here.

Anyway, I went and stayed in the summer camp in California with 33 of the brightest minds from around the world, and guess what we did there. That's right, we had fun! We played around all day, formed a Cult inspired by the Duck (more on that in the coming weeks), played foosball, soccer and poker, hung around with friends till 4 in the morning, went on great field trips, had awesome food, you know, the works. Oh, and occasionally we also studied astronomy (spherical trigonometry and cylindrical coordinates - don't even think about asking) and tracked down an asteroid which appeared to have an attitude problem.

When I came back to India, people were all over me, saying "WOW man, you're the next big thing at NASA, aren't you? You must have studied your [censored] off at SSP and done research beyond our wildest dreams! Did you eat or sleep at all?"

I tried in vain to explain to them that SSP wasn't about studying our whatsits off. We did research, true, but it wasn't exactly earth-shattering. It was all about fun. Well, when people showed an irritating tendency of continuing to disbelieve me, I showed them this video from SSP. The guy in the dinner jacket with the weird sunglasses and the headband a la Jimi Hendrix is me. My valiant opponent is a Greek guy called Alex. Brilliant guy, learned Texas Holdem in no time, and spouted probabilities along the way. The coward who tried to strangle me midway into the fight is a Californian called Liam (more about him later - trust me, this guy has a LOT of stories about him). Other minor background characters are Udbhav (from India), Daksha (from Singapore), and Sydney (from Las Vegas!). If any of you are reading this, miss you loads!

If that kind of activity befits the "next big things at NASA", I'm afraid the future of astronomy in the world looks very, very bleak.

By the way, as you can see from my amazingly athletic moves, I love The Matrix trilogy. Me and several million other people. The funny thing is, EVERYONE at SSP liked it. Now would you call that weird?


Monday, March 24, 2008

Numero Uno

In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Blogspot.

At least, that is exactly what it seemed, when I realized with a shock one fine morning that most of my friends had blogs. It seemed that blogging was as much a part of everyday life as - say - eating, sleeping, or fooling around doing nothing. And everyone knew everything about it, except poor me. As always.

So I decided to make one for myself. Don't ask me why, I have no clue. Maybe because of the selfish child in me who started shouting "MOMMY, that friend has a blog, I want one too, boohoo", or something along those lines. Anyway, the point is, one fine morning I decided to have a blog of my own (hey, let's face it, it is a pretty neat idea), and so here I am, sitting blankly in front of my computer screen, wondering what the hell people write as their first ever blog entry.

Ok, before things start getting really serious around here, let's make one thing clear. This is not a serious blog. You won't find me spouting Kafkaesque ideas here, or discussing transcendentalism. This is certainly not a blog where I will express dark thoughts, vile, serpentine, black, twisted ideas that leave people depressed, shattered, and - more importantly - bored. This is just going to be a blog where I will try to express the world as I perceive it. It's really what blogs are all about - they are simply diaries. Albeit ubercool electronic ones.

I have no clue how often I will be able to write in this blog. Maybe once a day, once a week, once an aeon, I have no clue, seriously. It's not my daily planner. It's for recording random strands of thought.

Let's see, what else? Er ... nope, that's it for today. If you like my blog, thank you, I really appreciate it, and DO come back soon. Feel free to leave comments as and when you wish. If you don't like my blog, well, hey, I'm no diplomat. I just write because I feel like it. You are under no obligation to read it.

Oh, and in case you think why my name is the Z-Particle, there's a supercool reason behind that too. Remind me to tell you about it one day. But you gotta admit, the Z-Particle sounds amazingly insanely sexy. Life is all about packaging these days.


PS: Why is this blog called the thirteenth dimension? Well, it has a lot to do with F-Theory, an impossible-to-understand branch of string theory. F-theory deals with objects in 12 dimensions, and incorporates higher topology. And it has a really cool extra dimension attached to "time". But being as I am, I hate two-timers (horrible pun intended). So let's look beyond all those squiggly dimensions of F-theory, and deep into the 13th dimension.