Thursday, May 29, 2008 – Friday, June 6, 2008

The past week, most of our time was spent at the Mathru School. We’ve been gathering information about the school, its faculty and students. Erin and Aysha have been looking at ways in which technology could be used to assist the school in its mission. Saurabh and I have been field-testing the second version of the Braille tutor and figuring out ways in which it can be improved. We have also been looking at opportunities for research projects that would impact the global visually-impaired community. We have also joined a nearby gym to stay active. The others have joined it to counteract all the food we’ve been eating; I’ve joined it in my continuing bid to gain some weight.

During my time here, I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between MSRI and CMU. The MSRI community is relatively small (55 permanent researchers and about 45 interns during peak-time) and closely knit. Research groups are based according to floors. They have some neat recreation facilities including a TV lounge with an Xbox, table tennis in the basement, a giant chess board, and an awesome terrace to conduct outdoor activities such as BBQ events. There is a lot of “free food” as well with MSRI providing breakfast, lunch and special snacks during the day. MSRI also provides a convenient 24-hour transport service for employees.

A weekly “Lab Sabha” takes place where researchers and guest speakers present their work. Also present are weekly meetings of the Technology for Emerging Markets (TEM) group (the one with which we work), where members present their ongoing work and obtain constructive criticism and feedback. People are self-motivated and friendly, and many interns continue work late into the night. You can walk around your floor and learn about all the amazing things the other interns and researchers are doing. People are open to new ideas and I had an interesting conversation with some of the researchers the other day about education and the development of women in Qatar. The exposure you get here is simply fantastic!

I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences at Mathru this week. The other day, a couple of partially-sighted students had a conversation with me. They talked about cricket and joked about how Sachin Tendulkar (a popular Indian cricketer) has become weak and does not play well now. Saurabh and I have been working closely with some of the teachers and students this week trying to figure out ways in which the Braille tutor and new technology could be developed to assist the visually-impaired. The teachers have expressed a lot of gratitude and have high expectations of us. Each one of them has been telling us the kind of things they’d like to see improved. Some of the students have asked us to help in making it easier to play chess on the computer as screen-reading software is no good for games.

All these expectations have given me a greater sense of responsibility. We’re in a position where we can make an influence on a community here and this is a new experience for me. My determination to work is now stronger but it will be challenging to tell the school that not all of their wishes can be achieved in the current time frame. We will work on what is most feasible and has the most impact. Working at the school, it can be really hard to not get attached to the children. I think my personality tries to keep me focused on work and prevents me from getting too attached to any given person. I do not know if that’s good or bad but that’s definitely the way I go. It will be interesting to see how the project unfolds. Every day, I read a page of the lives of the people here and write a book on the things I have learned (or have yet to learn).

The other day it got really cloudy and rained heavily for a while. Then, a rainbow appeared in the sky at the stroke of sunlight. I was fascinated by the vast array of colors painted across the sky. But by the time I got my camera to get some pictures, it started disappearing. I watched as it slowly deteriorated from one end to the other and eventually left the sky with a bunch of ordinary grey clouds. It reminded me of how we’ve got a limited amount of time and should make the most of it in order to benefit Mathru and lay foundations to assist the visually-impaired community in general. We’re 2 weeks down and got 8 weeks to make that difference.