POST 1 (21st March, 2018): Mimamsa, an eternal love:
I recently happened to scroll through some chapters of a book titled “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, and watched a thrilling TV series “West World”. Both of these convinced me that we humans are nothing more than story tellers with a long contiguous narrative to tell. And here is a story. It might or might not interest you, but as I have begun to believe, telling stories is an essential part of being human. And therefore this effort.
Mimamsa has been attracting me since my first year. I do not know exactly how I got to know about the quiz, but the fact is that I attended it right in my first year very naively, plainly just to have something interesting to do on a January weekend. Back then the team was ill formed, of people with similar unaligned motives as mine. Nevertheless, very unquestionably, right at the first encounter Mimamsa and I fell into love with each other deeply. It somehow reached so deep and touched my heart that it pushed me into deja vu reminding me of that inexplicable awesomeness I felt while appearing for JEE Advanced and IISER Aptitude Test. Right away, I decided that no matter what, I will be attempting these prelims of Mimamsa each year until I am allowed to. And this rule, I followed next year too. Needless to say, we as a team could not crack the prelims in my 1st and 2nd year attempts. But that psychological high/kick which was triggering me each time to travel so long away 60+ kms on a chilling cold January weekend never died really (is still alive, only if these people allow us to appear again, sed lyf).
So again this year (December 2017) the notfication for Mimamsa prelims arrived. I asked Prateek and Sourabh two of my many closest friends to take up the task of solving Chem and Physics respectively, each of them had already accompanied me on my previous Mimamsa prelims visits. Like every year, we had the shortage of a guy who could solve Math. We finally requested a mutual friend of mine and Sourabh’s to join us and complete the team. And we registered. Fast forward a month, and here comes January. Prelims is next morning, and I message every team mate just to be sure every ‘bee’ing in the team is ready for another and the last nectar collection visit (since we were 3rd years then) to the faraway Mimamsa flower that blossoms only once a year somewhere in Kolkata city. And surprisingly, (rather fortunately in retrospection?) the Math guy denied saying he had other plans for the weekend. So whom could I call now at the 11th hour (it was really 11 pm perhaps). So I asked Sweta out (not to be taken literally). And contrary to my prior experience(s) of asking out girls (again, do not take me seriously, I *might* be kidding), she agreed to get up early next day and be the 11th hour substitute for the 4th Math guy. Cool, now we had a team again. But no transport facility to take us to the venue. Beware, very dramatic incidents are to be expected next.
We earlier had booked seats in the IISER K institute bus that goes to Kolkata only on each weekend. But the bus trip scheduled for that weekend was cancelled due to “poor tyre quality” as the authorities put it in the apology mail. So now despite of having a team we thought of dropping the idea and enjoy an undisturbed sleep on a Saturday morning just like most other registered IISER K teams did. Luckily, that night I happened to meet some enthusiastic 1st year guys who had a team and more enthusiasm than we had but again no transport, so we exchanged our enthusiasm level with them and arranged for a transport option in return (pun intended). In short, we together booked 2 cabs to transport us back and forth for the day. Next day we start for the venue Presidency Univ. Kolkata (until that year, it used to happen at ISI Kolkata, and I would go to the ISI library to stare at Ramanaujan’s notebook copy preserved there). But the driver does not know the exact road to Presidency. So we rely on Google Maps. And Google Maps takes us to wrong routes and makes the driver enter a one way road. We were constantly worrying about time. The reporting time was 2:00 pm and here we were still in the cab at 2:45pm, we were chill as the actual test was scheduled to happen from 3 pm to 5 pm. Finally, we knew that we were somewhere around College Street which passes adjacent to Presidency Univ. We then got off the cab and started walking as fast as we could as it was already 2:50pm. After nearly 1 km stride in the afternoon, we reached Presidency and ran into the Exam hall. We were handed out papers and then we solved them. It was a noisy place and we could not concentrate. We took the entire time of 2 hours and completed the papers. More about our prelims experience later, first its worth sharing the comic incident that followed on the way back.
After the Prelims, I started searching for Prateek’s “costly” (He has a Mac too) water bottle outside the class room where we had left our bags but could not find it. So he curses me all the way till we reach our cabs. Then it occurs to me that I had dropped the bottle at the Presidency security desk. I run back and collect it and save myself from his slangs. Then we the 3rd and the 1st years have small conversation on how we solved this and that question in the prelims and I sneak myself out of the chat because I know these 1st year guys know much more than I do, so happiness in ignorance. Someone shifts the topic to food, and there is a lot more confusion now on where to dine as it will be very late and the canteen would close by the time we get back to campus. A few want to dine right away at some eateries at College St. while the rest want the cab to halt for some time at some Mall on the way back. On top of that, Sweta who was aiming to get two birds in one shot that day wanted to get her new phone which was out for delivery in Kolkata city, so she wants the cab to be taken to a certain spot to collect her phone. So to solve the mess, it was decided that we leave from College St. and stop at a mall to dine while Sweta takes one of the two cabs out to her destination to get the phone. So we 3rd years sit in the leading of the 2 cabs while the 1st years occupy the following car. And then Sweta confuses our cab driver and makes him believe (wrongly) that the mall plan is cancelled and the cab be taken to the phone delivery location. Hence the leading cab passes from the front gate of the Mall but does not stop, we are confused and so is Sweta, everyone in our cab thinks that the we are going to take a U turn and return to the Mall from its back gate. But that never happened.
Everyone is hungry as hell, and the confused freshers in the trailing cab start frantically calling me. I let Sweta answer their as well as my queries regarding why the cab did not stop at the mall. Finally, the Cab reaches the phone delivery spot. And it leads to realization to one and the only Bengali guy amongst us (a 1st year team member) that there is an even better mall nearby to the place where we had accidentally drove to. So back to Google Maps again. Everyone is zooming in and out on their phone screens finding the even bigger mall. Then we start walking as the google map directs. Only after half a km of walk the Bong realizes that he was leading the parade to the wrong flagpost, we are ordered an about turn and then we start marching in the exactly opposite direction. We pass by our parked cabs and the drivers look at us puzzled as to how we could return so fast. Then we continue walking ahead without stopping at the cabs and that confuses the drivers even more. Finally after searching into three more lanes everyone infers correctly that there is no single mall as such and that the place is actually a collection of many good eateries including KFC, McD etc. As soon as names of KFC and McD are uttered, despite of walking for so long in the google maps maze, half the group wants to go to KFC and the rest to McD. I tried convincing people of quenching their hunger quickly at just one place instead of splitting up. But no one agrees. So be it! I, accompanied by some others, head to KFC while the rest to McD. We go and order food at KFC and sit there thinking of irrelevant things. After 20 mins’ time we see that the McD group is back to KFC, tired and frustrated even more. Very very dramatically enough, McD was closed that day. Finally we dine together, collect Sweta’s phone that had caused so much of trouble and return quietly by our cabs back to the IISER Campus.
Now, coming back to our Prelims Experience, it is worth noting that the time for solving the Prelims paper was for the very first time changed from 1 hr to 2 hrs. It gave us a lot of comfort to think and write detailed answers. Nextly, Prateek’s confidence was super up after reaching a near 10 pointer in his very first semester as a Chem Major. I was better at thinking than the previous two years’ attempts because of Dr. Rupak Dutta’s amazing courses in 3rd Year Autumn Sem namely, Cell Bio and Micro Bio, which in real sense taught the Bio Majors how to ‘think’ like researchers in Biosciences and helped develop the necessary logic for cracking a thought provoking quiz like Mimamsa. Sweta and Sourabh were relieved of the shackles of other unnecessary subjects of 2nd year and were enjoying their respective subjects. Most importantly, what I feel is that each one of us had a sense of wanting to solve more of such nicely framed thought requiring questions even when the prelims was over. This craving and passion for more science is what I feel was the most important skill our team had. So all in all the conditions were in our favour.
In the post prelims and pre results days, one of the enthusiastic junior guy informed me that his sources in IISER Pune had conveyed to him that a 3rd year IISER K team had topped. From this we at best inferred to have topped at the centre, still a big achievement for mediocre (blah) students like us. So I start texting Mayur (the Mimamsa organizer) on FB asking when the results would be out, Dont know why, but even they keep postponing the results. Finally, one evening Mayur conveys, that the result can be expected tonight, so now I start accessing the Mimamsa Official website and use my pretty much beginner web designing skills to look into the source-code of the website. And whoa, I find a page titled something on the lines of “http://mimamsa.iiserpune.ac.in/results.html”. This page was not yet made visible to the front end website visitors.
But alas, that page still showed 2017 Prelims results, So I nervously wait and keep reloading the results link which was yet visible only to the organizers and me. And at some time around 10pm, WHOA, a EUREKA moment, the page is updated (still not visible to the rest of the world), shows the names of our team and its members under the “Finalists” banner. I am super high, I run to Prateek’s room and call Sourabh there (we three have adjacent rooms by the way). They both admire my extraordinary stalking skills and give a free advice of joining CID. The names were ours, But how can it be possible that we have topped not just at the prelims center but in the entire nation?? We are dumbstruck and spellbound and mindblown and what not, and then we notice that Sweta’s name was missing, her name was replaced by the former Math guy’s name!! So I text Mayur again on FB and apologize first to trouble him at the results time, and then surprise him by saying that the result not yet published is somehow visible to me and requires a change of name so that it correctly includes Sweta as the Math girl of the team. He (dont know if he was surprised or not) got it corrected.
In retrospect, I wonder despite of having given Mimamsa in my first and second years as well, I was never so desperate for the results of its prelims. Never did I spam the organizers before. What intuitional spark arose in me this time which made me pursue the organizers at length, I do not know. And it was definitely not as if the prelims were super good for us or that we 100 percent expected getting through into the finals. It was just that something was poking me from within to do these weird actions on the results day and even before. This intuition or sixth sense has continually been a puzzle to me, always.
Another small layer of serendipity to this story is my introduction with A. Kushal, a lab-mate in Dr. Shashi Thutupalli’s lab at NCBS Bangalore during my previous summer internship in May 2017. Originally an undergrad at IISc Bangalore, Kushal had been into Mimamsa finals and had also emerged winner during the 2016 edition of the competition. At first, I was amazed to know that Kushal had cracked what I could barely manage to attempt the previous two years. Very less did I know that I was soon also going to get through the prelims requiring Kushal’s precious guidance on doing good in the mains.
This is the unbelievably fantastic story of the Mimamsa Prelims. How we cleared it will be a life long mystery, just like a lot of other unexpected successes that my life has happened to meet with.
Log on to: http://mimamsa.iiserpune.ac.in/