Saturday, 28 June 2014

Call for Auditions !

Its true that North West University doesn’t attract the best talents from the country. Perhaps due to the socio-economic background of this region. And that’s why, I am told, that there the number of corporate clients visiting this campus to pick up students, is almost close to zero. At best, some pick them up for a 3 to 6 month internship programme.

However, I happened to come across the following poster while I was walking down the corridor today.


The South Korean electronics major has been in a different kind of search, it seems ! In love

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Presentation at the University

2014_06_26_15_15It was presentation time yesterday at the University. I must admit I was visibly surprised at the level of enthusiasm and interest from the students on subjects like Cloud Computing, Research opportunities and Emerging Technologies. The audience was mainly formed out of Masters and PhD students of North-West.

Valentina, Effie and myself held separate sessions on various topics. Valentina being a Computer Scientist herself – it could not have been a better speaker on Research oriented topics. Catch me in the picture below speaking on Cloud and Emerging Technologies.  






Myself speaking on Cloud, Analytics and Emerging Technologies


Valentina speaking on Research, Genomics and Super Computers


2014_06_26_09_52Effie was at her graceful best when she took the audience through the best HR skills and practices. There were numerous questions on how to conduct oneself in front of interviews, etc. Effie handled them nicely.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Dash of Milk Cream on the Black Coffee @ Madikwe

I thought I should mention it in a separate blog, because this experience deserves a dedicated chapter.
The visit to the Madikwe game reserve was planned for obvious reasons – something Africa is known for. The wildlife. But while the days were exciting, the nights were mysterious. You need to look up – and what would follow would be silence.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog, the Tau Lodge was totally designed for the wild. Wouter and I shared a room which had no TV (thankfully), dim lights and silence. There was a balcony which I stepped into, while things were pitch dark. All I could see in front of me was pitch darkness as I was unsure whether I am all alone in this wooden balcony which ran straight into the plains/forest.
But when I looked up, I realised I was staring at something I wasn’t prepared for. Several times in the past, I had come across pictures of it on the Internet but wasn’t sure whether those were photoshopped. But here I was – looking a the real thing. Somebody had spilled a bucket of milk on the otherwise dark platform ! No wonder they called it the Milky Way !
Milky Way_1
The Milky Way from our Balcony. Taken through a Canon F1.8. But I must confess that this photo stands nowhere near the actual stuff.
The black circular centre is a supermassive Black Hole. 
We have read about it in the books, for ages. Learnt about about it as we grew up. And felt jealous of the blessed ones who went on a spaceship and saw it from outer space. Till recently (a year ago I think) I came across a website that splashed the best taken Milky Way pictures from earth. And how blessed I am to stare it right now.
The phenomenon had puzzled astronomers for centuries. From Aristotle to Al-Biruni, astronomers had come up with n number of theories of what it actually is and what it is composed of. It was Galileo finally, who first came up with the most proper explanation of the Milky Way. Have googled enough, but haven’t so far been able to dig out the name of the person who came up with such an appropriate name. But its worth mentioning a few stats -
  1. It appears to be a static mass of stars and cloud matter, but - the gases and the stars in the Milky Way are actually moving at roughly 250 km/sec.
  2. Much of the mass in the Milky Way does not absorb electro-magnetic radiation (hence Kepler’s Laws do not apply here).
  3. Most importantly - The solar system is 27,000 light years away from the centre of the Milky Way. That means, the cloudy matter I was staring at is not from now, but that light is 27,000 years old ! Now consider the fact that the great migration (homo sapiens moving out of Africa to the rest of the world) was completed 35,000 years ago. Isn’t that a great connection?

Isn’t it a marvelous feeling to realise that, when that piece of light started its journey, to reach me today, at that very moment my great ancestors had also started their journey (to explore the rest of the earth) – from this very soil where I stand?

We all admitted, that whichever part of the world we have been from, none has witnessed a sky like this. The clarity of the sky, scattered with millions of stars, is probably a blessing. It reminds us how vast the universe is and how tiny we are. It also reminds us you don’t need to come to Africa to witness this scene – you can catch it from even your garden, or your rooftop. But it eludes us only because we choose to – by blinding ourselves with a blurry cover of smoke and dust.
Another shot from our balcony. Shows the Milky Way over the vast landscape.
It is also a revelation for us – that our ancestors only a 100 years ago, probably had this view too. And only because they had the privilege of witnessing this each night, that they picked up Astronomy as a subject. And hence we had the Platos and the Aristotles gazing at this their entire lives. How many children of our times desire to be an astronomer? They don’t, simply because they don’t get to “see” what the thing is like !

Bring on our children, show our children this sky – and watch them all fall in love – what should remain forever, as their first ever love !

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Amen !

On our first day in Mafeking, I remember a local student telling Valentina, "Jesus lives here!". We were quite amused.

Well, not any more !
Today, while I was walking down one of the long corridors of the University, (heading towards the Agriculture Dept.), I found out the student wasn't joking. 
And now we know exactly where He lives. 

Now we know where He lives !

A guest in ‘their’ Kingdom


_MG_3313Years back, I remember, I was reading a certain novel back home where they wrote about Nigeria and how in Africa, they consider humans as guests. A guest privileged enough to stay in their kingdom. The kingdom of the animals.

I have been to Forest Resorts earlier, but never have I felt the feeling which I experienced this weekend here. Here in Madikwe. Madikwe is a Game Reserve not far from Mafeking and actually a stone’s throw away from the Botswana border. What is a Game Reserve? It’s a Wild Life Park in our terminology. But still here they are not ‘wild life parks’, because here in Africa when they actually refer to “Wild Life Parks”, they refer to extremely huge parks (eg. Kruger National Park), which is almost the size of any mid-size state in India.

Our host was Tau Lodge, placed in the middle of the Game Park. Everything about this Lodge is to do with wildlife. Right from the entrance gate, you are escorted by a guided car, about 2 miles through the forest. As I said, everything about Tau Lodge is to do with wildlife – the wooden lodge, pictures of giraffes and lion everywhere, pin drop silence while we walked into our rooms - you quickly realise you are far far away from civilian livelihood.

When it comes to the safari, I have decided that there’s so much to write about – that I choose to write nothing. Probably because it would take me lines, paragraphs, bytes and kilobytes – and yet I won’t be able to match up to what my eyes have seen. Perhaps the pictures can help a bit? For more pictures, please do visit my Picasaweb album.

PicMonkey Collage 1



Collage from Wouter Pictures


We had three safaris in all, over the weekend and Megan (our ranger in the guys’ jeep) was our hero. The ladies are still drooling over Dylan (the ranger in their car) and the argument over who was the more knowledgeable one would continue for months now, I guess. But let us not go into that Smile  .



        Megan and us in our Jeep !


The team was enthusiastic enough to do an impromptu YMCA ! Watch below …


I know the pictures speak for themselves, but there is one incident that I must mention. It was around 6.30 in the evening and it was already quite dark. Megan suddenly took out a large spotlight and flashes it around while driving. She continues to do that as we move on. The landscape was vast – with endless grasslands on both sides of us. The hills in front us should be beyond the South African border into Botswana and the sun that set a little while ago still leaving a reddish glow over the hilltops. Magnificent view – my hands desperate for a photo shot, but I decided not to due to the camera shake. But more importantly, there was this freakish feeling that something was about to happen – kept the entire atmosphere haunted-like.

Suddenly Megan stopped the jeep. While we wondering why, she quietly makes a U-turn back. Driving back a few 100 meters, our jeep takes a right, right into off-road, now into the grassland. Dense grass scratching the chassis of the RangeRover, we move on, another 100 meters. And then the jeep stops. Megan is one-handed with the wheel and the other hand flashing the flashlight. The light is now not on the grass, but on two wild beasts right before us. Two maned male lions that eluded us day-long, is right before us, feasting on a new kill. The lights are on them, but they are absolutely un-bothered. Our jeep moves quietly ahead – right in front of the lions – I am now within 3 meters of the lion pair (!)

While Megan was quick to spread the news over her radio, two other jeeps also moved in after a while. But what will baffle me for many many years would be how this lady cracked the code – in the middle of nowhere – in the middle of darkness – with no hint whatsoever. How? I’d never know.




Thursday, 19 June 2014

Category SABC

A surprise invitation for lunch from SABC (South African Broadcast Corp.) takes us to their swanky office for some truly authentic South African food which make it every Thursday. 

At the SABC Studios
Post lunch, we were taken to a tour of the studios by the CTO of SABC.This was a real experience - walking down the by-lanes of the studios that came up over the past 30 years. Music recording was in analog then. However, over time, everything moved to digital for the rest of the world and so did SABC. However, they retained some of the old instruments etc. - for the sake of nostalgia. Now, it is the time when the wheels of time are turning backwards - the world is rediscovering the merits of the analog recordings. And interestingly, SABC is flooded with offers from Europe to rent out their "old" analog recording devices (!) 

On Air - Live !!

However, the real surprise waited for us at the live recording studio. The person on mike was probably on live (realtime) on a radio program, when suddenly he strokes up a short interview session with Valentina. I think it took Valentina some time to really understand that she is on live radio. But when she did, she did a truly remarkable interview, never losing her compose. 

   In all, some great time spent.

Did You Know?

A nice surprise awaited us today evening. We were informed that the Premier (equivalent to the Chief Minister of any Indian State) was eager to meet us. Extremely excited, we were off to meet him at the Tourism Office which was around a stone's throw away from our hotel. 
"This is a special moment !"

" Chillax ! "

The wait was long and you could see the team getting impatient -  
Would be or Would It Not Be 
- was the question. 

"Don't be impatient guys !"
Unfortunately the Premier could not make it at the last moment. But we were pleasantly greeted by Mr. Charles (the would-be Head of Tourism of NW Province), the Director General, his officials and Lebo M

From the Left:  Muriuki, Valentina, myself, Lebo M, Tariq, Aruna, Effie and Wouter
Remember Lion King? If you do, how can you forget the opening voice? That was Lebo M, also the music composer of the film. Lebo M, now a legend within Disney and of course South Africa, was also the composer of Black Hawk Down and all the other Lion King sequels. Quite thrilled, we made sure a photo-op session was not missed :) 

The Director General addressing the team

Charles. Did I Know that a politician could be so humorous? Certainly not !
But the person who stole the thunder was of course Mr. Charles. Charles is currently associated with the Ministry of Communication, but is due to take over the Tourism Ministry under the Premier's office very soon. Widely traveled and a man with impeccable humour, Charles enthralled the crowd with his sense of amusement. He is a great orator too, as he had the audience in his grip with his series of "Did You Know?" trivia.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Tick Tick. Chop Chop.

Working on a stiff schedule already. Meetings with directors and faculties seem quite challenging as most seem to be ready with the exams. Each of our sub-teams seem to be very busy already. Of course, Chandra is always ready with his "Chop Chop" mantra and it seems to be catching up with most team-members already. 

But am so far lucky to start my day with a straight appearance at the breakfast table - while some of the others are up and doing 'hup' right at 6.30 in the morning! Courtesy Godmother Katy. My lazy self has been able to hide in his bed, so far. 

The late returns has been spoiling most of our World Cup screenings so far. But amidst everything, Spain crashed out with a second successive defeat today. Brazil had a goal-less draw with Mexico as well, yesterday. Hoping this World Cup warms up very soon!

First day in NWU

A bright evening welcomed us in Mafeking after our 6 hour journey from Jo'burg. Hotel Mmabatho Palms, which is supposed to be our residence for the next 30 days seem to be quite nice. Prof. Modese Maaga, who is a retired Professor from the North Western University and also associated with DoT, would be our guide in our mission.
2014_06_18_15_31Mafeking Campus is quite impressive. Not a huge rush of students as we seem to be heading towards the winter vacations. Cool breeze blowing during the morning makes the morning walks around the campus quite enjoyable, while afternoons can be quite harsh.
2014_06_17_08_54-002  2014_06_20_10_34-001
IMG_2860I must admit, I've been to many campuses back home, but never had such a grand reception! The Rector of the University along with several other faculty members from the University were at the reception, where we presented our workplan for the coming weeks.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Life in Jo'Burg

Things are moving really fast !
The last 36 hours in Jo'burg (yes, that's what its called locally) has been literally zip-zap-zoom. Travel to Jo'burg has been pretty cool but felt like an alien when I landed there. That's because unlike any other travel, I would have a person waiting for me at the airport. Things happened according to arrangements as I did have somebody from the DOT team waiting for me. Met Lucia from Brazil at the airport - she'd be working with me in this assignment as well.
Jo'burg is a very modern city with skyscrapers scattered around, though I believe our hotel is located a little towards the suburbs, with extremely posh bungalows everywhere around us. I am told some of the South African cricketers (including Jacques Kallis) is a resident nearby.
The entire team met each other in the evening at the hotel lobby - we are a team of 14 people from 9 countries, all committed towards a philanthropic initiative for an NGO named DOT ( Our aim is to establish a blueprint for establishing a Knowledge Centre for North West University, South Africa, located in the North Western Province of the country.
It is a wonderful team !
Different people from different countries, trying to target the problem from their own perspective - in 9 different ways !  I am sure we are looking forward to a cultural melting pot.
Today morning we visited IBM South Africa - not that we are going to work for them, but the purpose was mainly a security briefing about the country from the Security Officer of this country. Yolanda has just given us a set of scary instructions which has already freaked out some in our team! Don't walk alone, don't eat alone, don't shop alone, don't drive alone. Don't stop even if you are asked to, by a cop (because apparently a cop may not be a cop!). Its so confusing :) Well, I have decided to give it a shot - that's be normal as I always do and try to look at this country with an eye of optimism. It is, after all the country of Mandela and the country of F W De Clarke. And of course, if I get into trouble, I'd reveal that I am related to the girl with the pearl earring - I am sure they'd let me go.
2014_06_14_09_27Interestingly, in the IBM office, I met Abraham Thomas - who is the country manager in SA now - but I had met him 12 years back in Calcutta when he was the country manager of IBM India. Old-timers would certainly remember why he is still remembered in India for pulling off some amazing stuffs in an November '02 evening in Grand Hotel, Calcutta. I did ask him over a cup of coffee whether he remembered that evening - he still does he admits :)

2014_06_14_12_48The trip to the Apartheid Museum and the Residence of Nelson Mandela was amazing. You are inside an amazing moving-timeline which takes you through the history of Apartheid - how it started, the atrocities and then the immense sacrifice and struggle of people that led to the birth of the modern SA in 1994. As an Indian, I have special personal memories of 1994 when the then banned SA cricket team visited Calcutta. India was the first country that had welcomed them. And then the world came to know about a speed rocket named Allan Donald and a cricketer-that-could-fly named Jonty Rhodes. The rest is of course history.

IMG_2770_1IMG_2776Dr. Mandela's home was so very touching. The two small bedrooms are preserved as they were, but with several laurels and certificated around. One is instantly taken back in a time warp to relive the great man's struggle throughout his life while staying amidst a very below-moderate neighborhood.

IMG_2786Having done all the Jo'burg-seeing today, time to attend the customer meet tomorrow morning. Yep, tomorrow is a Sunday! But so what?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

One Step Away...

Sitting inside the Calcutta International Terminal - waiting to jump inside the plane and heads towards Africa. Can't describe how excited I am and how much I have been looking forward to this one ! 

But the last 7 days has been no less than a whirlwind journey for me. Had been traveling in and out of the Scandics over the last 3 months and managed to get myself the South African Visa just in time. Managed to pack my bags just in time after I returned to Calcutta 3 days back. And here I am. Back at the airport.

Destination Johannesburg. This would be my 2nd visit to the continent after my 2011 vacation to Egypt. But considering the fact that the Egyptians don't consider themselves as part of Africa (!), I guess this would be my maiden voyage to the great continent.