Der Dieburger


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Location: Nürnberg, Bayern, Germany

After having lived in Germany for 8.5 years, I've just re-located to India, looking for greener pastures and fun of a different kind. I am one of those who have re-migrated to their homeland, not just with hope to succeed but also with expectations to make the motherland a little bit better...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Nothing More, Nothing Less (Obituary)

It was September, 2001. I had been in Germany for just a few days, having come from India for the Masters course in Electrical Engineering at Fachhochschule Darmstadt (FH Darmstadt in short, or University of Applied Sciences, Darmstadt). It was the introductory meeting of our course, where the professors were being introduced to us. That was the first time I saw him. His pleasing manner had won over everyone. At the end of the meeting, I wanted to choose him for my mentor. As I approached him, there was a small crowd of my classmates around him. When I asked him if I could have him as my mentor, he smiled and responded, "Why not? But I believe every professor is allowed just 3 wards." Well, I believe that the number 15 is greater than 3!!! And I was outside the closed interval [1,3]!!! An energetic, ever-smiling and pleasing personality, Prof. Horst Friedrich Roeder exuded the mirth of a man who knew not what it was to be stern. At least in appearance. None of us ever saw him angry. Or displeased. He always had a smile, and his carefree and relaxed manner was contagious. It stuck to every one of his students. Not just as a person, but also as a teacher.

And oh, I forgot to mention that he also taught us some subjects. Certain facets of a person's life are so over-bearing, that sometimes we forget that the other facets even existed. Like how wonderful a teacher Prof. Roeder was. He taught us Communication Principles, Advanced Modulation Principles and Information Networks (Parts I and II), in addition to leading some projects in Technical Management and also System Design modules. I would rather say he 'introduced' us to the subjects, instead of saying he 'taught' them. And he 'introduced' them not in the sense of showing us something new, but like you are introduced to a beautiful girl (if you are a guy) or to a cool guy (if you are of the fairer sex) at a party, whence you develop an interest in her / him, leading up to a relationship. It was a sort of romantic interest that he induced in us for the subjects he taught us, for here was a man for whom no teaching material was worth more than a few pages, no derivation to an equation was worth more than a few easy steps, and no solution to a complex problem was worth more than a few minutes of your valuable thought and time. To use his own words, every thing is just simple, "nothing more, nothing less". We used to imitate his mannerism of using this phrase quite often. So often that we started believing that not only the course, but everything else, was cool and simple. Nothing more, nothing less.

So much he believed in the beauty of learning that he told us that education was more than just getting good grades in our exams. "If good grades are all you want, I will give them provided you show me you have learnt something." How many teachers have we seen who would say that you do not need to solve a problem in the examination to its end to obtain full marks for it? Like Prof. Roeder told us regarding solving a Viterbi Decoding problem. "You need not get the final solution. If I can just get a hint that you have understood it, which you can prove by proceeding in the right way to solve it in its first few stages, then you will get full points for it, without having even completed the solution." Or how often does a Professor start explaining to you how to solve a problem, right when an examination is in progress? Like he did during our first semester. I still vividly remember him handing us over the actual questions for his exams in advance. "If passing in exams makes you happy, then let it be so. Exams mean nothing with regard to your learning process."

I worked under him twice. The first was during our semester break in February 2002, when almost every one in the class worked for him in the 2-MN project, creating MS PowerPoint presentations for an e-learning system ELAT. Many students continued it as their Technical Management project in the second semester, whence they not only got excellent grades for it but also were paid handsomely for it. I opted out of it, because I could never accept money for something that was mandatory as part of my course. I would either get grades for it, or money. Not both. Some time during that semester, one of his sons died in a motorcycle accident. That shook him terribly. But any one who saw him at that time, or afterwards, would not have believed that he was a man in mourning. He was serene and calmer than his usual self, I agree, but definitely not visibly shaken. At least that is how we students saw him. Including me, who worked under him a second time the following year. It was when one of my friends recommended me to him for another module of the same ELAT project. She had been doing the video presentation part of it, and I had to do the audio part. I was to provide audio background for the PowerPoint presentations of his teaching material. Not only did I just record my voice, but also I corrected and improved many of the slides. He was impressed. "Wonderful! Excellent!" Now, this was his standard remark to any student for anything. Do what you will. You could expect him to shower you lavishly with praise, which normally consisted of these phrases. And more. But this time I knew it was not just words by rote. He really appreciated my effort in not just stopping with my work, but also in going the extra mile to make it perfect. And boy, did I love it!!!

And then one day I stopped working on the project. Not that I did not like it, but I had to concentrate on my Thesis. But I made the mistake of not communicating it to Prof. Roeder. I had made lots of audio slides, which I did not submit to him. At the beginning I thought I would give him those slides in a few weeks’ time. Then I felt sheepish how I could contact him after this break. Let me finish the entire module and submit to him. I did finish the module, but never submitted it to him, as I was trying to find words to tell him why I did not even communicate with him. Not that he would have needed any explanation from me, being the person he was. But I felt I owed him one. I did not know what I was waiting for. Probably for my degree certificate, which I got 3 weeks back. I felt the time was ripe to meet him to inform him about the completion of my course and also to submit whatever I had done. But he was unavailable. He was also unavailable when I had been at the FH to invite some professors for the Diwali Function we had organized at Darmstadt towards the end of October last year. I managed to invite a few professors, but Prof. Roeder was the conspicuous absentee, as I could not reach him.

Well, I never bothered to ask at the department where I could reach him. For a person like him who always made himself available to us all in spite of his tight schedule, I felt it queer that I had to ask some one else for his availability. That was simply not the way Prof. Roeder operated. And then last Sunday I happened to overhear two students speaking about some announcement that was due soon. I caught some phrases that made me curious. When I asked them if it was anything that would interest me, they just shrugged, and said: "Well, we don't know if it might interest you or not. May be you know Prof. Roeder. The guy from the Communication department at the Fachhochschule. He died of cancer last week."

We always thought he had a simple solution to every problem. Probably he did not have an answer to this one. This was one time when Prof. Roeder could not answer with a poignant "Ja" - to the question of life. Nature, with time, is the best leveller. Not without reason, do they say, "Nature is the best teacher." And then, of course, there was Prof. Roeder. Rest in Peace, dear Professor.

Friday, August 19, 2005

An evening with 'Vishy'

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kanakamedala / Dibakar R.C.

at Mainz for the Grenke-Leasing Classic.
I was halfway through my daily cursory scan of the news websites last week, when something flashed across my sights. So what's great about it? That I live not a stone's throw from Mainz, free to travel anytime there free of cost with the aid of my student ticket. And this for the past 4 years. And Vishy (Vishwanathan Anand for the uninitiated) has been visiting Mainz every year the past 4 years. And as was custom, I would plan to visit Mainz every year to meet him and miss out on it owing to some frivolous last-minute work crossing my path and dumping my plans in the bin.

Oops, cool, shall I go meet him? (I could hear my 'other me' mocking at me: O! Lazy moron...fourth year in a row, and you're not gonna make it again...guffaws...) I was determined to make it this time. And then I saw the date. Goodness gracious...the tournament ran from August 9 through August 14. And it was already August the 11th. Should I risk my schedule to make a trip which I was not even sure would be successful? I did not know about the situation in Germany, but if it were India, the organizers would normally have not let me get anywhere near Vishy. Well, I decided to take the baton.

Now, I needed a camera. A digital camera. One thing that I did not possess, despite all my journalistic adventures, was a camera. Luckily one of my friends had bought a new camera, and another had bought a new battery-charger. As if things were falling in place specially for me. So, equipped with the camera and a set of charged batteries, I planned for my trip the following evening to Mainz with one of my friends - Mr. G - who I will now reveal to be Gururaj. (Mark Felt? "I am Deep Throat"? Move over Woodward and Bernstein!).

Note: All the photos and scanned copies of the autographs may be found here.

We reached the Hilton Mainz hotel. We were revelling in the surroundings, but there were more pressing issues ahead, including the small matter of meeting the World Champion (ok former, but he still surely is among the top 3) Vishy. We were unsure of what to expect and were loitering in the grand corridor outside the playing halls, when a desi guy (that too from Madurai) ran into us. And cool, he was a close friend of Vishy. He cooly asked us, "While you are waiting for Vishy, why not take the autographs of some other chess players?" Who? "Like, Peter Svidler, who is right behind you!!!" Wow...there was Svidler himself, and he gleefully posed for a photograph with us, and signed an autograph. But the occassion could get only bigger...and there was Vishy himself arriving at the playing hall with his wife Aruna. No trace of pretension, no showmanship. Simple. He appeared cool and calm, his match due in ten-minute's time. When we approached him, he gave us a warm smile, and we spoke to his wife if it was possible to get an autograph from him. She just said, "Shall we have it after the match?" Well, we sat in for the match.

Believe me, that was the first ever chess match I had ever sat through in my life. Just like Svidler was the first ever renowned chess player I had met in my life. Yes, I agree I may sound silly and childish in my descriptions and exclamations, but even that would not have described in full my sense of awe and excitement that pervaded me that moment. Vishy was playing the black pieces against Alexander "Sasha" Grischuk of Russia. After about 45 minutes of intense duelling, Grishchuk ran out of time, and resigned. Anand had won with the black pieces!!! Man, I am a lucky charm (hehehe...)

We shot pictures of ourselves with Anand at the table, and then got autographs and photos with his wife, who on hearing that I was from Tamilnadu, spoke to me in pure Brahminical Tamil: "Neenga evvalavu naala inge irukkel?" (How long are you here?) So simple and unassuming the couple was, I seriously began to harbour doubts if the non-cricketing fraternity in India is reallying getting the cold shoulder from fans and others alike. I have been used to the arrogance and upmanship of the Indian cricketers, having met them just before the historic 2001 series against the Australians, when they trained at the IIT grounds at Chennai.

Vishy's (and his wife's) attitude was a sea change from those of the cricketers. And that too, Vishy was not just another club player or a faceless amateur. Here was a two-time world champion, a man who challenged the chess demi-god Kasparov for the world title and made him sweat before losing out, the undisputed king of rapid chess, the man who single-handedly gave India its respect in the sporting world, at a time and in a place where acievements by individual Indian sportspersons were rarer than Bush uttering a whole long sentence without his usual Bushisms. Well, to put it simply: Vishy was, and still is, India's pride in chess, nay, the entire sporting world. Bloody hell, he is an icon!

OK, ok, back to business. After the usual post-mortem at the end of the match, Anand moved out of the hall for a press conference. We waylaid him and requested for an autograph, and, er, a photograph. And there we were..our 5 minutes of fame with Vishy. He patiently posed for the photos, without as much a hint of unease or such things as is shown by most of our cricketers (well, Sachin Tendulkar was an exception when I had met him 4 years back). Then he politely asked me, "Neengalum Press Meet-ku varalame?" (Why not come to the Press Meet?) So we sat through the Press Meet.

Once it was over, there was a short interview from Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster. Once he was done with it, he stood up to leave. Now was the moment. We approached him and asked for a photo of him and his wife with us. "Oh, eduthukkalamae!!!" (Why not? Let's have it!!!) And them came the sucker punch. Our camera memory had run out. We had forgotten to bring an extra memory card. With it, even our brains began to run dry of ideas. Should I delete this picture? Or the next? We had to delete atleast two pics, if we had to take the group photo with Vishy and his wife. I was getting mad with every passing minute.

Photo courtesy: Manoj Kanakamedala / Dibakar R.C.

"We are making him wait, you idiot...No, delete this, not that..."
, I was shouting at poor G, who was totally blank, and was like the proverbial hare caught in the headlights. And all through, Vishy was smiling and waiting, and so was his wife. "No problem, take your time". I can't believe my ears. The evening was filled with surprises, and they were never-ending. Once we had settled our dispute as to clearing the memory card, we snapped pictures of Vishy and Aruna with us. And we got autographs from Grishchuk and (Zoltan) Almasi to boot.

And there was more in store for us. The parting line from Mr. and Mrs. Anand summed up not just the entire evening, but also the personality that he is. "You must both be present tomorrow for the remaining games, too". And, "marupadiyum vandellna nanna irukkum" (It will be nice if you can visit again). Simplicity and humility at its best.

In a world where even an amateur sportsman or the new kid on the block flaunts his wares, it is indeed rare to see people like Vishy and his wife, who never for once forgot the twin principles of humility and courtesy. And I put it bluntly to Anand: "If it were India, I doubt if we would have been allowed to even get near you. Even if you so wished, the organizers and policewallahs would have never let us get anywhere near you". And he just gave his usual smile in reply.

Did I go the next day? Well, I would have loved to, but for the only fact that I thought frequent visits would render the magic of that first evening with the Anand couple meaningless. It would be nice to boast in the future that I met Vishy Anand three days in a row from close quarters, but I felt it was far more important that I did not lose that sense of excitement of meeting him as casually as a friend walking in on a visit. I wanted to savour that moment of having met the first ever down-to-earth icon I have personally come across in my life. And man, am I savouring it!!!

Note: All the photos and scanned copies of the autographs may be found here.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

'M' talks to 'R' !!! [Gossip]

It is an open secret that these two 'friends' are not exactly the best of pals. One may not use the word 'Cold War' to describe their friendship, but it sure ain't one of closeness. No particular reason has been quoted for this tug-of-war, but seems like it is just that one does not like the ways of the other. So it was just surprising when this Mr. M called a mutual friend's room and asked to talk to Mr. R. Any rumour of a change in heart from either side was swiftly ruled out, as it turned out that M had called just to ask about his internet connection speed. Whoever said the WWW can serve at times to build bridges...this one atleast surely did open up some interesting possibilities!!! (With inputs from The Daily Dieburger.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Telugu New Year Celebrations 2005

The Telugu New Year (Ugadi) will be celebrated this year on April 9 (Saturday). A grand function has been planned for, at the Nagabhushani Amman Temple (near Frankfurt West Bahnhof). It is being organized under the auspices of Telugu Velugu Association, Germany. They are the ones who have also been organizing various festivals (Diwali, Dusshera, etc.) in the past.

There may probably be an entrance fee of € 5 for students (€ 8 for others). Anyway just keep in touch with me (Bhuvan) for further updates. Students of FH Darmstadt may also contact Ms. Sridevi Gollapalli of M.Sc. Electrical Engg. WS 2004 batch. Her husband Mr. Immanuel Gollapalli is the General Secretary of the Association, in-charge of organizing the function.

As part of the function, various cultural events have been planned (à la Dusshera / Diwali celebrations), as also Dinner (read F-O-O-D). All are invited to the celebrations.

Welcome to "Der Dieburger"

This blog site would carry news and gossip from the region in and around Darmstadt (Dieburg and Frankfurt included). It caters to those interested in knowing what's on and what's not among the students (not necessarily Indian) in particular, and their surroundings in general. It would contain news about events, functions / festivals, parties, gossips, important updates, useful info. from outside the student community, to name just a few.

Contributions are invited from every one You may either post the piece yourself, or may e-mail me so I can update it. I invite all aspiring journos to join this venture. It just provides you a platform to exercise your journalistic and writing skills, as also a chance to eavesdrop on some interesting events and bring it everyone's notice (let me be straight - Gossip dear Gossip).

Please feel free to spit it may just have unearthed the next Watergate or Shakti Kapoor (Indianish!!!). it up!!!