Sep. 16th, 2009

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In India, undergraduate Electrical Engineering is all about power. It's very different from the normal US EE curriculum.

Today Michael met the electrical engineering faculty and finished touring their laboratories.  The undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum is quite different from the US.  He knew that something was different at introductions when, of fourteen professors, ten said that they worked in power, three in machines, and one in controls.  It reminded him of the scene in the Blues Brothers when he asked if their curriculum covers all areas of electrical engineering and they replied, "Of course we do.  We teach both types of Electrical Engineering: Machines and Power."

The labs are different too.  In US EE labs, equipment is along the lines of breadboards, oscilloscopes, function generators, or logic analyzers. There's no need for them here; they apparently don't teach much analog electronics, electromagnetics, radio, communication, logic, or digital electronics at the undergraduate level.  However, there is a single course in digital signal processing and a single course in microcontrollers. 

Michael really enjoyed the lab equipment.  It's like props from the Frankenstein movies (or his office and our barn back home, for that matter), with Jacob's ladders and other electrical devices buzzing with activity. They also have giant tesla coils, mammoth AC motors, and labyrinthine networks of relays.  Most of the machines emit giant sparks.  The "low voltage" labs deal with 240 and 480 volts (household wall-outlet voltages in India). The other lab rooms are surrounded by thick Faraday cages.  Students don't do much design work, but instead operate preconstructed machine modules.

There are plenty of jobs for Power engineers in India, with its electrical grid still in the formative stage. So it makes sense to have that focus. Michael's doctorate is in Electrical Engineering, but that means something totally different here.  That's why he's teaching "Information Technology" (which is really computer engineering by a different name).
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Several of our excursions have been accompanied by professor Bhavesh, deputy director of the MBA school. He's a neighbor and close friend of our faculty coordinator, professor Hiren.  Bhavesh invited us to dinner with his family and we were delighted to visit them.

We met his family. Bhavesh and his wife, Widaya (sp?) have two children, a three-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son (similar ages to Hiren's kids--they're neighbors and frequent playmates).  They were all watching a kids video together, of English nursery rhymes.  Hearing a too-cheerful voice singing nursery rhymes is grating at any

We got to talking about his family. Bhavesh says he is a farmer.  He's a fairly well-off MBA-school professor, but he's a farmer. Now, he doesn't actually farm. He hasn't ever farmed; wouldn't know how. But his father owns a few farms. Now his father doesn't do any farming either, but he rents farmland to people who actually work the land and grow crops. It was the professor's grandfather who actually farmed and did first-hand agriculture. You have to go back two generations. But that still means he and all his descendants are farmers. It makes perfect sense, if you have that mindset.

While we were there, Bhavesh's parents called and talked to their grandson on the telephone. They call Bhavesh and their grandson every day, and about half the weekends the kids go to their house, or the grandparents visit.  They only live about a 20 minute drive away.

Family ties are very close in India, and much stronger than most families in the US. The extended family is the basic economic and social unit. Here, a father always includes his son in any economic decisions, starting around age ten. The savings rate is very high, with an eye toward creating wealth for the children; even if the father is living in a shack, he may have saved up $100,000 USD for his kids. A major emphasis for middle-class families is saving enough money to pay for weddings and buy a house for their children. They typically pay cash. Also, parents tend to live with their sons when they retire (daughters live with their husbands' parents).

Bhavesh married his wife, then his brother married her sister.  Bhavesh says this is a common practice, called "Saca" (exchange). Some families, when they look for marriage partners for their children, deliberately seek matches like this, and they want to give a son and gain a daughter (or vice versa) for all their kids at once. Bhavesh had gotten engaged before his brother, and he and his wife seemed happy. He says they have never had a single fight. Michael and I bicker from time to time, but that's part of the way we communicate. It's a different approach.

I'm envious of Indians' close relationships with their families. In the US, my parents (and Michael's too) live over six hundred miles away from our home in Maryland. Most of my extended family on my dad's side is scattered across the US, and my mom's side is concentrated in rural Texas. Here, nearly everyone has stayed to live and work near their parents, cousins, and extended relatives.  Americans tend to value money and work and material things more highly than Indians, and many think of India as an impoverished developing country and feel sorry for its people. But Indians don't seem to miss the luxuries we Americans take for granted. When Indian people consider the high divorce rate in the US, or hear about how distant our families live from us, they feel sorry for us. It's a different values system.

Back to dinner. The food was great, and Bhavesh had cooked all of it himself (most with his own original recipes). It's not common for Indian men to do cooking, but becoming more so, and Bhavesh is a terrific cook. He started cooking fifteen years ago and is still going strong.  He cooked us a dinner of "Fusion" cuisine of his own invention. All the food was delicious. I recognized chinese influences in a couple of the dishes (cabbage, ginger, garlic, and green onion fused with curry). We had a lychee milkshake drink for dessert. Bhavesh refused to take any food himself until we were finished. Apparently the custom here is that guests eat first, and the host eats only afterwards. It's another part of the "guests are like gods" emphasis on hospitality.

On our way back home we stopped by a couple more gerba dances. The Navararti festival goes on for nine nights all over India, celebrating the goddess in different ways. In Gujarat, they honor her by dancing the gerba. Every neighborhood has their own gerba in the local square or vacant lot, with a little temporary shrine set up with candles and twinkling christmas lights. People dance gerba for hours, going until four or five or six AM especially as the week wears on. The dancing pauses when there is a ritual offering with prayer (a musical chant), a lighting ceremony, and offerings of sweet foods. The lamp used in the ritual is carried around afterwards. Worshipers put their hands out over the lamp flame to absorb the light and energy of the goddess, then run their hands down from their head around their bodies. This, along with eating the sweets, helps them absorb the essence of the goddess.  The older neighborhoods tend to take the religious aspects of the dancing somewhat more seriously than the newer subdivisions, where people emphasize the dancing and fun. The music is the same at both types, praising the goddess to Bollywood songs and drumbeats.

Men and women sit separately for the religious ceremonies. They also dance separately. There's always a circle of women dancing the gerba, most glittering in spangles, bangles and bling. And usually, though not always, there's a smaller group of men lined up inside, also going around dancing the gerba (though in much more subdued clothes).  The womens' circle keeps going and going, and the dancers move in and out as they tire. It's fascinating watching it, with the hypnotic music and the bright colors and constant movement. There's just always something going on here.

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