Above average

Above average is a book by Amitab Bagchi that was published recently in India. It is somewhat autobiographical, and tell the story of a teenager growing in Delhi, entering IIT and his life there.

But above everything else it is a story about growing up. About coming to terms with ones abilities and limitations in the context of a competitive environment like IIT, and finding, if not happiness, at least stability and acceptance of oneself. A search made harder by the environmental pressures. A search that is not over for a lot of people in universities (either graduate students or faculty). Indeed, in such an environment your achievements in the rat race are equated as happiness, and the pressure to succeed is omnipresent. Hell, how can you be happy if your GPA is only 70 out of a 100?

I grew up in a different setup were there was a competitive pressure because of my friends, but ultimately there was no real pressure. Getting into university, and grad school were essentially a trivial achievements with no pain. This is in contrast to the IIT system were you have to do quite well in an exam (200,000 take it), rank in the top 200 to enter computer science. Even then, during your undergrad there is an unrelenting pressure to have good grades and succeed. The difference between my relatively relaxed experience and the experience of the hero of Above Average was quite interesting. The story got me thinking about my own personality and research and how much I am competition averse (in some sense, before some people start making nasty comments).

But Above Average is much more than that. I liked its descriptions of life in Delhi, and its descriptions of human relationships. I had fun reading it, and while I was deeply disappointed that no aliens from outer space landed by page 70 of the book, I do recommend it.

This book is largely a collection of snapshots. You might find some snapshots strange and bizarre, and some of them you would recognize from your own life. A trip back to earlier times and experiences. There is something comforting in that growing up in Tel-Aviv and Delhi can be so different but yet so similar.

Oh, and one of my photographs of Amitab was used in some newspaper article about him in India. Heck, I am a published photographer now (without credit, but what can you do).

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