Friday, January 1, 2010

The Three Idiots and O.R

The three most enjoyable Hindi films of 2009 were released in December, with '3 idiots' from last week being the best of the lot. It's a great way to start the new year with a post on this movie. More so because it is about engineering, and about having a passion for building something new and better, something which we O.R' ers take a good deal of pride in.

It's an entertaining cry for a serious overhaul of education methods in India. As much as Obama wants the U.S. to match India and China in science and math, one hope it's done the right way. Many of the Indians and Chinese who have made their mark as technology and business leaders have done so despite the system. The pitfalls of rote learning (a trademark of Indian education) is brought out hilariously in the movie. The 'rote learning' pesky teacher's pet, aptly named Chatur (clever) Ram-alingam, does everything 'in memory', and is brilliantly essayed by native Californian Omi Vaidya (he plays 'Sadiq' in the TV sitcom 'the Office'). Chatur is from Uganda and completely memorizes his keynote eulogy of a tyrannical professor Dr. Viru.S at the annual university function, given that he is Hindi-illiterate. However, the three idiots manage to do a 'find and replace' in the draft of the English transliteration of the speech that substitutes "Chamat-kari" (miracle worker) with "Balaat-kari" (serial molester), and the resulting chaos sets up the rest of the movie.

On a more serious note, the movie reminds us of the high student-suicide rate in India, and argues that underemployment, even if it means a higher pay in a job totally unrelated to your field of expertise, is undesirable, and job satisfaction is far more important. It would be interesting to survey the level of job satisfaction for O.R practitioners. I personally feel that it will high. Why? Nobody can be forced to choose a career in "Operations Research". That's a plus point of having such a weird name. Secondly, an O.R graduate can work in a bank, in a social organization, or study ant colonies and apply his skills and feel at home. O.R. blesses you with the science of how to improve processes, almost independent of the context. Successful ideas in airlines and logistics are now being applied to retail analytics, medical science, and green technologies.

O.R. does and should continue to reward creativity and innovation, and hopefully in 2010, each of us ' O.R. idiots' who practice this field will build or improve one new, innovative product with 'O.R inside' (and progress beyond rote memorization of the KKT conditions).

The movie should be legally available on YouTube in a couple of months, and I hope the English subtitles will not be done by a rote-learner!

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