Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dr. and Mrs. Ashok

I first met Dr. and Mrs. Ashok on May 12th. I was invited to Ashok's defense at the University of Twente and also the reception and the dinner party that followed the defense.

I had asked around about the Defense and learnt the following
- It is a very traditional ceremony that is planned to the minute.
- The ceremony is open to the public and notices are put up in the University.
- The candidate has 15 minutes to do a presentation to the public.
- The committee should comprise of at least 5 professors besides the candidate's supervisor and professor. They should have already read and approved the thesis for the candidate to get a date for the defense.
- The committee enters only after the presentation is complete since they have already read the thesis.
- The candidate now has to literally defend his thesis for 45 minutes against these formidable (read learned) opponents.
- The candidate has two helpers, known as Paranymphs who provide moral support during the defense.
- After the defense, the committee has 15 minutes to decide if the candidate deserves the doctoral degree.
- If yes (which is mostly the case), the Dean of the University presents the degree.

And now for some fun facts
- There is a timekeeper with a fancy black robe who comes in with a staff (or a sceptre) and bangs on the floor to indicate ''start'' and ''stop''.
- She interrupts the defense exactly after 45 minutes even if the candidate is in the middle of answering a question. So if the defense is not going too well, the candidate prays for the lady with the staff :D !
- All members of the committee wear fancy robes and when they speak they have to wear matching fancy hats :D !
- The Dean wears a fancy necklace (like a king!) and begins the session by banging on the table with a gavel and says ''The doctoral committee is now in session''.
- Once the degree is presented, the candidate's professor shares some fun facts about him with the audience.

When I first saw Mrs.Ashok, she was talking, having fun and going around with her camera but a few minutes before the defense, she took her position next to Ashok and started playing the gracious hostess. It was very funny for me to see her standing there in a very formal pose and welcoming every guest with a ''nice to meet you'' (since it was her first time meeting many of those people) and/or ''thank you for coming''.

She had also given me a heads up that the presentation would be very easy to understand since the candidate usually tones it down for the audience and Ashok had even come up with some funny slides and analogies. She was right, I understood everything and completely enjoyed the presentation. Then came the nerve-wrecking part - Ashok being questioned by 8 technical Czars in front of almost everyone he knew in town ! I thought he carried himself very well and even though there were a couple of questions he gave a probable solution and admitted not knowing the actual one. This is very tricky because it is always tempting to give some answer and if its a totally stupid one then one gets into a lot more trouble than simply saying ''I don't know''.

It was also amusing for me to see his wife sitting in the family row, all tense with her hands clasping and unclasping during the questioning session. She then confided to me that she never realized how nervous she was until she saw the photos ! She knew what the thesis was about and had also discussed probable questions with him, so the anticipation made her tense too ! She was all happy when the time keeper walked in, she knew, the ordeal was finally over.

Then came the proud moment - the Dean awarding Ashok the highest academic degree there is ! What was thoroughly enjoyable was a speech by Ashok's Professor about him. He was a good orator and had put some thought into the speech, was both serious and amusing. Everyone laughed out loud when he said ''We had initially planned to have only Europeans or just Dutch for this position and so had placed the ad for it in Dutch....but the Indians were coming !''

All along there were two professional photographers who kept clicking away to glory and making people wonder until they were told that they were both friends of Ashok who had declared that this was their gift to him.

After the dean declared the doctoral committee meeting was closed, everyone stepped out to have drinks (they had to open the Champagne) and to me it looked exactly like a wedding reception - Dr. and Mrs. Ashok standing and smiling, with people queuing up to greet them, giving them presents, professional photographers taking pictures and then finally moving along to drinks and dinner.

After dinner, there was another round of presents when Ashok's colleagues gave him a chess board - the only one of its kind in the whole wide world - that they had manufactured in the lab with some substrates and materials (that I cannot discuss here) used in their polymer research lab and they said ''blood, sweat and tears'' when they gave it to him since it had really taken a lot of time and effort to get it done and it was accompanied by some really good and ready made chess pieces! In return, the couple also had thank-you presents that were well received.

Before everyone started getting drunk, his wife showed a movie (thanks to windows movie maker) about Ashok, how he got there, what others think of him...she had intended it to be funny and thankfully the audience saw it the same way...everyone had a good laugh and the laughter continued long into the night.....

The day I met Dr.and Mrs. Ashok....., a day that will stay in my memories forever.....

PS: Ashok gets embarassed everytime someone calls him Dr.....I can't wait to see his expression when he reads this post ;) :D
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)