Sunday, June 15, 2014

Recalling my love for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a Father's Day tribute?

It is one of my favorite movies ever.  It is not only because of the fantastic movie it is, or for how uniquely the movie depicted humans and aliens communicating with each other, for Dreyfuss' crazed and possessed looks ... But also because it is a reminder of a glorious time in my childhood.

I was a little more than 15 years old then, and after the written part of the National Talent Search exams, I was one of the few students invited to interview at the Madras campus of the Indian Institute of Technology.  Two other students from my class, Vijay and Krishna, had also gotten to this stage.  The prospect of the interview itself did not excite me as much as the thought that I would be at the fabled IIT campus for some serious, official, business.

Father took me to Madras--yes, that's how the city was called then.  We stayed at the home of my favorite uncle, whose sons were always a delight to hang out with ...

The following day was the big moment at IIT.  But, I didn't care about the interview, and was immensely excited playing cards and cricket with the boys.

The morning came.  We reached the campus and the interview site.

I knew I screwed up my chances because I messed up the first question big time.  If only I had the ability to forget the bad experiences! ;)

The first question was rather simple, compared to the later ones and even though I did well in the ones that followed, I am sure that the "golden duck" was how I lost the honor of the scholarship ... and that simple question was, "what is the maximum value of the tangent of an angle?"

Throughout my school life, my math teachers--right from the earliest days that I can recall--tried their best to help me understand that I needed to pause and think about the questions before I answered them, even when confident of the answer, only because of the remarkably silly mistakes I did while being in a hurry as if I were in a race against the devil.  But, stupid is as stupid does, as I would learn much later from Forrest Gump.  Thus, consistent with that track record of buzzing in the answer almost as a reflex action, I said "one."

That answer bothered me.  If only they had asked me "is that your final answer?"

But, they continued to toss more questions my way, including one where I was required to solve a problem on the chalkboard.  A green board it was, in contrast to the black boards I had been used to.

After I was done, and while exiting the campus, I realized the enormity of erring in that first question itself, which was the simplest of them all.

Perhaps father realized that I was kicking myself for my haste.  He did two things.  First, he took me to the beach.  We then walked over to a restaurant across from the road, where I ordered a cucumber/tomato sandwich.  And then he said we could go to any movie of my choice.  Which is how we went to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I think this was at the Satyam complex.

After the movie ended, and as we were exiting, father said, "I didn't understand anything there."


Ramesh said...

Ahhhh. What a movie. A favourite of mine, but with no association to a life event . Being a sci fi buff, it is, but, natural that I would be a fan.

Good you are scarily smart. "What is the maximum value of the tangent of an angle " ???????? . And that is supposed to be "rather simple" ??????
Shiver. Shiver. :)

One of the things we are very careful in an interview situation is not to let either first impressions or a few wrong answers influence judgement. I remember a case when I was interviewing for my company at a leading management institute. The candidate was a topper . It was the 14th interview he was attending that day. The big prestigious consultancies had all rejected him and the buzz in the campus was that he was a failure. He came to our interview all messed up and to our first question, he simply put his hands on his head and zoned out. We selected him !! and what a success he was ......

Sriram Khé said...

An awesome movie, right? One of these days, some day, I want to go to Wyoming and check that out in real life. A bonus will be if I get to meet some aliens--not the aliens that the immigration folks watch out for ;)

That is an interesting anecdote about the interview ... I wonder what your metric was when you selected him despite him zoning out on the first question. Yes, ideally the interviewers would look at the interview experience holistically and not based on any one question. But then I would think that almost always one question makes or breaks an interview.

BTW, a couple of years ago, I narrated to father the IIT interview and the movie. He had only a vague, vague memory of the IIT deal, and nothing--I mean nothing--of the movie experience. Understandable that our respective memories of things past will be dramatically different.

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