Brick by brick – my four years at Amrita University



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Table of contents

Hello, everyone.

The past four years of my life, spent at my alma mater, Amrita University, have truly been the time of my life. I’ve transformed from a school boy from Chalakudy to the person I am today, experiencing growth in many dimensions that I had never even dreamed of. It feels like a genuine alchemical process – mixing together new abilities, interests, and personalities, which have emerged, manifested, and blended into my being. Right now – is the best I have ever had. Therefore, this blog post serves as a reflection on everything that has transpired: a retrospective journey from 2019 to the present moment.

This blog post is similar to and inspired from Sir Stephen Hawking’s memoir, My Brief History, and therefore, it will focus more on the pivotal and seminal events of my last four years rather than exclusively on my experiences in the university. Some readers may find it sketchy or pretentious at times, but I have made an effort to maintain succinctness as much as possible. Readers should keep in mind that this is not the complete story, as many contextual and introspective nuances have faded into memory, and numerous feelings and perspectives were proved to be too challenging, insignificant, or fragmented to articulate. I chose to write them this way, as it would have helped my college-self in comprehending the events unfolding in my life, and would help the future versions of myself to understand why something about me is the way it is.

The blog will begin with a loose plot with me as the central character framed within a storyline. In the paragraphs further down, I recognize that the narrative is from a mature and happier place—with better peace, clarity, and purpose—than I had at the time I’m describing about. Many vulnerabilities I had at the time have now receded to the background. Certain subparts have already started feeling immature to my current self, and more parts would sound the same to people who have more years than me. Since this blog is also a relic of my early 20s, I’m letting it stay that way.

The concluding section of this blog titled ‘Reminders about life and career’ houses a condensed repository of living knowledge and practical wisdom I’ve acquired over the time. It is composed in a hopeful and inspirational tone, serving as an invitation to become more ambitious, creative, and a better version of yourself. If you’re bored halfway through, try skipping to the bottom.

Let’s go.

The years

2019: starting out

My memory fails when I try to recollect a complete snapshot of my sensual experience of my early and amorphous years such as 2019. It was the time when everything was forever and life was full of beginnings with no ends. But I vividly remember how new and different the overall qualia was: the long stretches of the Amrita’s sealine, the new and unfamiliar corners, the cold walls of the Ashram damped by the fresh monsoon, the immodest green of moss in the backwaters, the muted orange walls of the campus’ hallways, creepers blurring the boundaries of the campus’ central lawn, the new daily schedule, and the Brahmacharis and Brahmachirinis (junior monks) moving across the Amrita Setu bridge like smoke from a slow cigar. Since I had lived most of my life in Chalakudy and wasn’t very aware of life after its borders, the average stimulus of the entire day was radically different for me when I went to college. I remember it being difficult to keep my mind straight for the first couple of weeks, as I was like a fish out of the pond in an ocean. I also had come to my university with many labels from school stuck in my mind: introverted, bookworm, skinny, and many more. Since Amrita was a new environment where my past didn’t matter, I was slowly unknowingly breaking away from them. Looking back, it feels like it was the beginning of my personal development journey, as I was in a completely new place and with new people, allowing myself to start fresh and start being myself.

Within a few weeks, I was slowly finding my tribe like everyone else. I remember my Thrissur accent being a huge catalyst in breaking the ice due to its speed and unique rhythm. But the biggest factors in the equation were the wonderful induction process and the dorm rooms, which gave us room for social interaction. The dorm I was in, named Prahlada, had rooms so small that’d make any person feel claustrophobic. But it made everyone meet a lot of people and have lots of friends. I personally met most of the Malayalees enough to nod and smile at them if we get a glimpse of each other on the street. Prahlada’s single block of building has probably turned most boys into men than any other.

Invisible to myself at the time, my social graph was being set and I was developing close friendships. Although I had a fair share of vibrancy in my outer circles, my closest circle became a group of disciplined people who wanted to earn a few good grades and shared similar academic aspirations. Therefore, in my main friend group, I found a safe social structure and less restrictions to my flow of energy. As a person who finds his agency through structure and routine, I was at ease.

Most classes felt less useless compared to high school since I was at least learning computer science. When it came to the technical classes, I didn’t miss any lectures from Dr Geetha M – whose relaxed spirits and simplicity must’ve struck as aspirational for most of her students and occasionally left sustaining nuggets of ambition even after the lecture was over. But the class we had most fun with was Cultural Education—a mandatory course where Amrita teaches “cultural values”—where I recall an instance where the instructor connected Tom Cruise having three spouses as a sign of the decline of western civilization’s morale. Nevertheless, what’s noteworthy was the impression I made by just showing up and doing well in all classes, which later proved to be helpful to sustain good grades even in the proceeding semesters.

At the same time, it was interesting to meet and see people leading different lifestyles and wanting different things in life compared to mine. With the amount of autonomy we had at the moment, coming from being high school students who had never moved out, I reckon everyone was more of themselves. Some folks cared just about academics, some seemed not to care about anything on this planet other than maximizing fun every day, and some didn’t want to be there and were already plotting their spectacular escape like a spy. Seeing their lives unfold was like experiencing an alternate reality.

Even after 2 years of close acquaintance, @athulmenon_ 's personality is still inexplicable to me. How can a man with such levels of non-linearity in his life even function; how is this ship even afloat— is what I can't tell

He is a bureaucratic institution that no one can lasso

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) March 21, 2022

On 19th of July 2019, I came to know about a student-run computer club of the university that defined my life and career afterwards—bi0s—a student-run club focused on cybersecurity. I remember wanting to join it badly as I wanted to be part of something. Moreover, I wanted to choose to do something different from most people. To get inside any of the student-run clubs, one had to complete a set of tasks and prove one’s competence. I initially did the tasks for amFOSS—the Free And Open Source club—as it looked more fun and more towards the side of software engineering. But, I eventually jumped ship and chose to join bi0s for no particular objective reason.

At bi0s, I was awe-struck at the extremely impressive achievements the club and its members had achieved (At the time, bi0s had what I’d call—The Dream Team—with the best talent in the club’s history. Consequently, bi0s experienced what happened to the American national basketball’s Dream Team of the late 90s). I was terribly inspired by the members’ technical knowledge and wanted to be like them. I remember being intentionally proactive and doing more to stay ahead and on top of the game. Within months, I had opened so many windows of my life and found my niche. Now, I often think about how I striked a balance between classes, time at the club, and everything else – and I reckon, being irrationally inspired by the senior members of the club was one of the primary reasons.

Computers, and learning more about them, were all I cared about. And I could only see myself pursuing technical endeavors.

Gonna push my next commit through the terminal.

Cause today, two people told me that they do it from the terminal and it has got me feeling ashamed for using Gitkraken for everything.

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) August 20, 2019

I remember three distinct moments during the end of the year—three interactions with three people of the club—that inspired and stayed with me the most. In December, bi0s held its usual bootcamp with sessions for training new members like me. Sometime during that, one day at noon, a senior member and I got lunch together at the common hall. I must’ve asked him about what he’s been working on, when he casually replied – “Don’t worry, you can do a lot in four years”. This was the time when I was trying to learn the most every day and constantly assessing myself whether I’m progressing or not. And this conversation seeded a chain of thought that reassured me that – I have time and can do big things. My second moment was when I stumbled upon a final report of a senior club member’s Google Summer of Code project blog post, which was technically sophisticated and inspired me by a fair amount. This made me feel like I too can maybe do some amazing things with computers one day. My third impression was during late December, when I saw a lot of people tirelessly working on the Falcon badge—the conference badge for InCTF 2019—pulling all-nighters, stretching their appetites, and working hard. This was the first time I saw people enduring far towards what they loved and occasionally getting what they wanted. These three things left a deep impression inside me and are things that I later came back to.

bi0s was the first organization or a group of people—my first “cool club”—and I spent almost all of my free time there. When I look back at it now, it may not have been a completely healthy choice, as the crazy obsession made me get left out on many things and give a specific impression of myself on others. I suppose, I also wasn’t aware of my feelings or respecting myself during such juvenile times. Still, when I think back to the source of many of my unique traits and the reason why many parts of my intellectual universe were lit up, it always points down to many of the experiences and insights I picked up from the life and experiences at teambi0s.

At the end of the year, by the end of the first six months at college, I realized that I had been making many new friends and going through many new experiences. I was more outwardly, straightforward, and felt good about making a series of decisions that got me into that place. I had feared that I might regret not getting into the IITs or other reputed schools, but I was not at all worried about that. I remember hanging with my friends from school and at a reunion and talking about how much we all had learned in the past couple of months.

I guess I was coming of age.

2020: just Aswin and his computer

In 2020, we came back from the first semester break and it felt like a fresh start. We had loads of fun (and drama) at Vidyut – the college’s technical and arts fest. I also attended NULLCON – a cybersecurity conference with the team at bi0s where we won a couple of competitions and t-shirts. Afterwards, the COVID 19 pandemic broke off and the entire world went online.

Like everyone else, I didn’t know what was going on or was going to happen. It was strange at first: suddenly being at home for a couple of weeks, but I got used to it eventually. I remember getting on a call with my friend, listening to him say that the pandemic might go on for a couple more months, and thinking about the impact and variance it’d have on my life relative to my expectations and imagined future.

And this was when I worked the most, as I would feel bad about myself for any moment that I didn’t spend being productive. Honestly, I can’t imagine how I used to sustain my motivation for long periods those days. In retrospect, those times were terribly unhealthy and weren’t letting my brain relax. On the other hand, there was nothing much else to do since the pandemic and the fright was at its height. Since I suddenly could work all day, this was the time I gained most of my foundational technical knowledge: I could then automate many tasks, understand how a lot of things came together inside a computer. Still, I’d say that my field of vision was too narrow and I was just focusing on a tiny corner of computer system security.

I also wasn’t thinking much about what I am losing as the classes were online. A frequent chain of thought was that I’d graduate from home and that would leave an irreversible damage on my social life. I remember that feeling to be very palpable from time to time.

By the end of the year, I started doing some open source development (international collaborative software development) inorder to explore new things. I wanted to see if I can possibly do a Google Summer of Code project, or something big and new, in the proceeding year. So, I started contributing trivial fixes and improvements to radare2 – a software reverse-engineering tool that I was acquainted with. Eventually, I made some good code contributions.

Apart from lovely the jackfruit dumplings Mum had made for pleasure today evening, I feel great after getting my first notable contribution to @radareorg accepted and merged.

Looking forward for new firsts.#quarantinefirsts

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) July 6, 2020

Of all the four years, I remember 2020 the least. Maybe, it was due to the monotonous daily routine: everyday was almost predictable – hustle with online classes in the background. From one point, I guess, I had it easy: getting through the semesters with good grades became easier. But, it definitely was soul-crushing to do it alone in-front of a screen. Even the work at bi0s felt boring and made less sense, but I kept going as I feared that I’d have nothing else to do if I quit the club. Since the pandemic also cut me off from the social fabric at my university and bi0s, many friendships fell and ended up hard to maintain.

However in my self-image, I wasn’t just “an Aswin who’s from Chalakudy and bi0s” anymore. I had worked and gained some technical skills and felt like I was good at at least one thing.

I had no idea what was about to come.

2021: changing landscapes

Semesters went on by and the virus was still in swing. At one point, I was convinced that I’d never see the campus again. The prospectus of graduating online became much closer to reality. Soon, it was March, marking a year since we started staying home.

Before the pandemic I remember walking through the corridor of the third floor of my uni and saying, "I feel like I own this place, man" to @bingazuran and he replied- "Wait till you get into your 3rd year, mate."

Big B jinxed it up way before the virus did- is what I'm saying.

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) January 16, 2022

This was the time I started developing software at Rizin – a fork of radare2 to which most of the developers and friends had started working on. I was also doing well on academics as I was at a stage where my personal research and the experience from bi0s got me into a position where I didn’t need to put much effort and time for class. One of such courses was Operating Systems, which felt like an early morning breeze.

Around April, I started working on my Google Summer of Code project at Rizin. You could say I was the elephant in the room as I had developed good acquaintance with most of the mentors and developers quite sometime before April. But, I totally underestimated the complexity of my project and I had to tweak my sleep patterns to deliver it well. Nevertheless, I had the best time working on the project, marking the peak of how good I felt while programming.

In late August, I completed my project and let my feet off the gas a bit. I traveled a little with my cousins to Palakkad and stayed there for a while. The break got me thinking about a lot of things. Firstly, I firmly started believing in progress – about starting off and improving later. I’ve talked to many people who have done Google Summer of Code while in college and they all talk about a boost in confidence you inherit after completing the program. After all, it’s a significant accomplishment to go from novice programmer to creating something new and useful in the world, in less than two years if you’re an undergraduate student who started programming only at college. And I felt the same. I felt like I could learn anything. This was also the first time I earned money (Google pays for completing the project), but what was most valuable was the journey and the lesson about consistency – that difficult things can be overcome through iterative and incremental improvements. Something to be written on the list of reminders to ourselves. Meanwhile in class, I started learning about machine learning and it easily became my favorite since I knew nothing about it.

And then something started to shift. Something happened around August 2021 – I just calmed down. I found myself sitting alone at times in the front room at night doing practically nothing. It was strange at the beginning. Parallely, this is when I started finding a niche in art. I had experience with handling the camera before, but haven’t developed my own taste and artistic sense. Now, I could spot a good frame with my eyes and capture what I had in my mind. This allowed me to take a lot of good pictures, post it on Instagram, receive feedback, and make new friends. I also got into reading and general knowledge much more enthusiastically than before. Time went into reading Hacker News comments, writing—blogs and seldomly Tweets, for myself and for bi0s—and in being active at anything creative. One person even told me that I was the “official grammar checker” at bi0s – which is the internal club title I’m most proud of. Around this time was also when I could play the piano and sing. Before that, I couldn’t just do both of them together.

I was getting better at things and posting about it on social media – the dopamine was flushing in. I knew that I was slightly better at some things as I spent time on it, and hence I developed this notion that I could be better at anything“I can change (things); I can always improve”—and this has stayed with me forever since. But it took some more time to realize that I don’t have to do everything I have the ability to do – and need to focus only on what I want to see more of.

This was when I felt like I was working too hard in the past years and was being too hard on myself and the club. I felt that I wasn’t reading or exploring much and had been stuck doing the same thing, learning more about the same, digging deeper into the same rabbit hole. I reckon, this is when the process of seeing myself as a generalist took off – and it was purely natural. I started feeling like I wasn’t meant to work on just computers and got back into practicing piano, reading about things unrelated to tech, and doing anything I felt made me more human and general.

By the end of the year, I got distanced from open source a bit as I felt like most of the people who do it are economically well-off, and I was still stuck as a middle-class boy. I still love open-source and am grateful for the experience that it has given me. I would be happy to go back in a couple of years, after I get rich.

At the end of the year, I did my first “year end post”. Looking back at it now, many lines read as if I was trying to show off. Nevertheless, it felt great to end 2021 after some growth.

Well, it has been a great year. So I thought I'll look at some things in retrospect.

I think I figured out a whole lot of stuff about myself as I'm getting older.

And I believe they will help me as well as others, so it makes sense to talk about them here.

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) December 31, 2021

I wasn’t just “an Aswin – a tech nerd” no more. The skills in photography and art made me feel balanced. And my soul, which I thought was just engineering, now had multi-dimensional depth.

The stage was set.

2022: saying yes to new things

There was a new variant of the COVID 19 in town—Omicron—and the number of daily cases almost hit the same rate that it had in previous July, absolutely convincing me that I’ll have to graduate online.

However, in March, like a joyous daybreak to the end of captivity, we came back to the campus from the pandemic. It was as if whatever that was paused in 2020 had started playing again. I felt like I came back to campus as a much better person and after having done some good things. I could now navigate through the life in campus better, manage my emotions well, and felt less overwhelmed than my freshman self would have.

As I said, coming back to college felt like hitting the play button of a media player: everything was suddenly back to normal and flowing. It was like nothing had happened in the campus – unless the fact that I was now a third-year undergraduate and had witnessed the rise and fall of some friendships. Dr Thushara walked us into Haskell (a functional programming language which is notoriously difficult to master) and Dr. Swaminathan J intuitively to the world of Distributed Computing, making him the least boring Swami and professor I’ve met.

It's funny- around this time last year, I thought the COVID-19 pandemic will leave a terrible scar on my life- something I'll forever lament, but now it just feels like a tiny little blip; a bump- in my life, humanity and in the grand scheme of things (cosmos and stuff, man).

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) June 2, 2022

During the pandemic, I had developed a notion that I had lost many chances of meeting new people as I was not outside and meeting people. Therefore, I was pushing the limits of my discoverability demarcated by the pandemic and online world, by talking to more people and making new friends. Perhaps, I pushed the boundaries a bit too hard, was somehow smitten with the subtlety of a cannonball and fell in love with a girl, spending a considerable amount of time on things of high variance compared to my average day. With the lads, late night’s oil was gloriously burnt for spilling fresh tea. Making things more zesty was her strike, which was received coincidentally the day after a friend of mine forced me to watch Alaippayuthe – an iconic retro Tamil love-drama film. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve just watched OK Kanmani (a modern Tamil love-drama film and a personal favorite) again that night.

Being physically on campus meant more room to catch serendipity and to “simply get out and do things”. In March, I played football with the lads for ‘Copa Madre’ – an interdepartmental football tournament. The underdog team I was a part of lost in the first match, but the overall experience: a bit of training and the match itself—when it also rained—remains as a glorious memory. In late May, we went for an industrial visit with the whole class. Although visiting Mysore and other places felt indifferent, traveling and spending time with my closest friends was nice. Another development was, I started hitting the gym somewhat consistently, being motivated by some new friends. I was properly exercising for the first time and the returns were as expected: I felt like I had the energy that lasted the whole day and the mental strength to do more. Moreover, it fixed my posture and some people complimented my looks – which became my biggest motivator. Later, on Onam, I got to play keys on the stage with the band. This was an exciting moment as I never thought I’ll be able to do that as I was in less close acquaintance with the artsy and stage-performing people. What happened was, a good friend of mine who plays the guitar in the official college band called me up when he told me they needed a guy for the keys – and I just said yes. As it was my first time with people pursuing purely artistic goals, I learnt about how that comes together and a few management lessons from my colleague who was managing the band and its motley members for the show.

Also in 2022, I got to visit Israel for a summer school program at Ben-Gurion University. It was an experience of a lifetime as it was the first time outside my country as an adult. I am also glad that it allowed me to understand how passports, VISAs, and international travel work. Only in December of the same year, after staying home for a while and getting time to think and recollect about what happened, I realized that the trip basically nuked my subjective reality on so many things—first-world countries, technology, and on how a stimulating learning environment is a great thing to pursue and will nurture many skills. More of that can be read on my previous blog Notes from Israel.

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This is when I felt like things were truly up to me. It was truly up to me whether I wanted things for me or not. I fought through some things—in this case, an amount of bureaucracy from the embassy and university—and fresh set of perspectives and new experiences in return. It felt like a perfect anecdotal example of cause and effect and an example of how the world and time would just keep going in its rhythm if I stand by and do nothing.

Towards the end of the year, I felt like I had many things going on in my life and felt like I was truly maximizing my final months at college. The feeling that I was spending my time the way I expected—as I was doing many new things—was quite reassuring. It felt like different soundtracks of a song getting played together to create a beautiful symphony.

In October, we wrote our last exams and went back home. At the time, we didn’t realize what lay ahead, particularly that the forthcoming vacuum from being away from campus and that the ensuing activities of the next chapter of life would render all past events insignificant and modest in comparison.

2023: to infinity and beyond

In February, I joined Subconscious Compute – a small cybersecurity startup in Bengaluru. Jumping into the next chapter of my life—the workplace—wasn’t an emotionally simple decision. It happened after thinking hard about whether I was making the right choice for myself. More about that can be read on my previous blog – Notes after working at a 14-people startup.

At work, there was a considerable amount of relaxation as I was no longer paying to be taught and treated in the way the university did. Moreover, working felt much more relaxing. I felt like, at university, I was just grinding for things without any real-world impact. At work—even though it was a startup—the pace felt healthy and the work felt meaningful. It was the first time I’ve achieved such balance and that’s when I had a first-hand example of how living slowly gives you more time to take care of yourself, your body, and to attend other pursuits.

I've been thinking on the same line.

Recently, I took a sick leave from work and noticed that I was not nervous about what I was missing out on. This was not the case in school or college, where I would think about the classes I was missing and how I needed to "catch up."

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) May 28, 2023

As a first-time resident of a global city, I was exposed to a world of wonder and activity. I made new friends with techies, artists, and other people – all trying to grow and create new things. Bengaluru has a young dynamic in its streets as it lacks history. You walk around the block and might run into a company’s Director of Engineering. On the other hand, I also saw contrasting elements such as depravity and homelessness. Nevertheless, Bengaluru is an example of how capitalism and an urban economy can accelerate the future, push people out of poverty, and create a unique culture where there was almost nothing before.

At SubCom, I did some real-world work and realized how complex the world, market, and economy can be. It was interesting to be in an environment that was directly affected by the changes in the economy and market – unlike academia, which is relatively insulated from such fluctuations.

Luckily, I got into Fortinet—a big cybersecurity company—after my internship. Since the journey here is relatively new, I’m not going to add a lot about it, but it does feel like a real job with value. Shipping things feels good although I’m not working on crazy theories or pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. Here, I find it notable that the impression and the leverage a person can create and hold—just by knowing how to code and by understanding how the problems on hand can be broken down into solvable problems—is not little. Technical knowledge does take you far. I also find it impressive that global companies like this exist and people know how to collaborate, develop a strategy, keep the show running, and leave an impact. This has made me start to get interested in economics and humanities as it also drives the world forward. Most likely, one of the next blog posts will be about this.

Maybe I’m perceiving the present through the old frames, but the current times does feel very fast. Chapters that would have been big milestones if looked through the old frames begin and end as months go by. Every moment of specialty from the university has blended into my mind’s one-dimensional casual memory of my own story and history, now, almost a year after leaving campus.

On October 14th 2023, four years and three months after my first day, I graduated from college. And I was glad and honored to receive my degree from Dr Swaminathan and shake hands with Dr Geetha before I left the stage. It was an emotionally stirring and demanding convocation ceremony – with vestiges of unfinished stories, memories, and voices rising and resting in the trenches of my psyche like echoes in a hallway. The day passed by like the past four years. Facing the facade of Amrita, for a fleeting second, I felt like the place is a heart of darkness compared to the environment I was now in—the city and its plethora of opportunities—signaling that I had made the most of the room the university had allotted to me. I was glad – that I was in the next course of life.

It’s okay—life changes course all the time.

In retrospect

Amritapuri Campus : in retrospect

Amritapuri campus is a decent place to study computer science – there are a handful of professors who have inspired me with their scholarship and professorship. When it comes to the syllabus, you can say a number of parts are a bit outdated. But I’m not sure how much you can keep up when it comes to software. Moreover, learning the old fundamental software engineering principles—the core unchanging ones—would always do no harm in my opinion.

Two upsetting elements of Amritapuri Campus are the draconian rules at the students' dorms—especially at the ladies' dorms where things are a bit more oppressive than the men’s—and the quality of food at the mess. I think the former will eventually change with a shift of mindsets – a social change with time. I’m unsure about the latter since history has witnessed a series of violent uprisings as a response to the low quality and vile things discovered in the food – and the reactions were suppressed with suspensions, coerced examination failures, and other severe penalties, according to the word on the street.

One day, my university's management system website will collapse upon its own unstable scaffolding- breaking havoc, screams and chaos upon the walls of the uni. When they finally install a new one, freeing countless undergrads' curses and spirits into the air, things will change.

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) December 21, 2021

A breath of fresh air from such occasional nuggets of misfortune and the region’s sweltering humidity, is Varkala cliff and its beach, which exists as a close and perennial getaway destination for all. Amritians can probably drive to the cliff with his or her eyes closed from their high frequency of visits. Varkala seems to be the only thing that truly unites the students of Amrita, irrespective of ethnicity or the course he or she’s taking.

Life is largely boring outside the university. Nothing much happens in the town surrounding the university – it is a very static economy and still a fishing hamlet with a Kerala Beverages Corporation Outlet lonelier than an average Amrita’s undergrads. I recall a massive exodus leaving in one of the handful of available public transportation when Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker was released, as even the nearest movie theater is ten kilometers away. It’s like Amrita popped up one fine morning and built a university. This status-quo is something you get conditioned to after your first year and start to live with it.

Nevertheless, there are things to do and ways to grow. Most things and events that spring into your mind when you think of a typical Indian college exist here as well – where you can take part, chip in, and make new friends. These things won’t come knocking on your doors, you have to get out and find it. And if you’re a master of your own kingdom, any place is always your world.

Looking back, everything feels like an accident. All credit goes to serendipity. Going to Amrita, meeting these people and friends, going places – everything feels like a blessing I don’t deserve. But, even when I write this down now, many months after it all happened, I strangely don’t miss anything like most people say they do. Even after receiving my degree and knowing it was all over, I was not sentimental. Maybe that says something about myself.

In these fast times, I realize that there’s no going back. I try not to feel reminiscent of the past, and remind myself that this is the future I have dreamt of and am living in.

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My years : in retrospect

Everything I’ve written feels like an accident. Nothing in the list of things that I now consider as milestones in my intellectual and career progress were planned; it was a beautiful mess – and that’s true with everyone. Almost everyone’s life is a dumpster fire and a huge mess in their internal representation of themselves, and so is mine. And the process—of growth and becoming—is continuous and largely invisible: with ups, downs, and continual insecurities about what happens next. In my case, the most dominant was the feeling that the grass was greener on the other side, on every large life-decision I’ve made.

Nevertheless, I am absolutely proud of myself when I look back at my own journey. Reflecting on my own starting conditions: schooling in a Tier 4 city, a typical South Indian upbringing with no special knowledge transfer, alma mater at Amrita – I am happy for who I am with all the skills, achievements and things I’ve done and made, respectively. Luck surely opened doors to many opportunities, but I am giving myself credit for finding fewer reasons not to be ambitious and chase things.

People talk about wanting to go back to college but I absolutely don’t want to go back again. I’ve also felt that I don’t miss much stuff and I stress comparatively more on the future on a general basis. I think the only reason to look back is to write a blog like this so that one can refine the narrative on what happened—and understand that you have a normal life and it was a roller coaster ride like everyone else—and change the way we think about the future. Plus, I’m so happy that I’m getting older – which means I’m happier, smarter, exposed, and in more control of my life and feelings.

I am glad that I could check off most of the things I had in my bucket list of things I wanted to do or any person would want to do in college: have an overall great experience, make something new (in my case, with computers), travel, learn a lot, perform something on stage, and finally leave with good grades. On top of that, I definitely also have made at least a few lifelong friendships.

teambi0s : in retrospect

I now appreciate the things I’ve done at bi0s more and am intrinsically grateful to have made the decision back in July of 2019 to join the club. The workspace at bi0s is a vortex of serendipity – a place where I received exponential returns, even though at times I made countless mistakes, upset many people, and acted selfishly where I shouldn’t have. But looking back, it appears that even the things I’m not proud of were all part of the process – of becoming. Although bi0s is a unique and nourishing community, I don’t want to idolize it: the culture of the community might subconsciously fit a specific subjective reality that might personally not be the best for your career and personality. I believe there should be more room for thinking about personal goals and they should also go hand in hand.

I do hope that my university recognizes that bi0s and amFOSS are radiant pearls in a lush seabed of student-run organizations, and decides to support and sell these clubs more in the future. These clubs have a glorious past and are unique and different in terms of their structure, culture, and achievements from other clubs – making it such an ideal entity to market and attract more students. Therefore, in my opinion, joining any of these clubs is one of the best things you can do for yourself at Amritapuri Campus.

Heard that the freshmen have arrived at Amrita, so I thought I'll say this: what might not seem obvious in becoming a part of the computer clubs—@amfoss_in or @teambi0s—is the unparalleled amount of serendipity that comes from being around folks who just does something daily.

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) August 7, 2023

What I realized after distancing myself from the bi0s is that the club isn’t as big as I thought. Now, bi0s feels like a hobbyist club – not an elite cult like it makes you feel. Student clubs like these, since the culture inside largely functions like a cult, makes it hard to understand what what lies outside it and might mold a perspective that it’s all you need to care about. But the truth is – it’s just a club. And every university has them, although perhaps not as unique as bi0s. Most importantly, they are a very tiny subset of what’s possible in this world. To put it in another way, there are a lot of other bigger things we can do.

At times, I’ve felt that the clubs are somewhat static, don’t do so many new things, and do the same thing perennially. But I now realize that there are ceilings which student-run clubs will never break as the club houses a floating population – with people coming in and going as they join and graduate. Each generation of members learns the challenges and realities about club management, growth, and sustainability, briefly understands things for a while, and ultimately graduates and lets them fade away, to be rediscovered by the next generation.

In an optimistic perspective, there are always a million ways the club could be a better arena for everyone. Yet it’s challenging to discover a motivation to pursue those improvements, as genuine competency in individuals is rare with the given set of incentives. I chose to believe that talented people, who like to display it through competency, will, and interest, will navigate the club structures, its politics, and relationships with the staff members, and ultimately find what they’re looking for. And that’s true for anyone in any community.

I do wish I had inspired bi0s’ members junior to me more, as much as the members senior to me had inspired me. But I reckon, I still am, with those still in touch, as well as others, through forms like this blog.

Reminders about life and career

When it comes to career advice—and I guess, in all general advice—every piece is context dependent and it only exists and holds true in a small and strict region of context space. Sometimes, the best advice seems to be to not take any advice at all!

I’ve had a fair phase of reading self-help books to a point where I despise such content and style of writing now. But I’m still going to write down some things that easily make me positive.

Interests are a tricky – they’re dynamic. Therefore, some separation and mental management based on their lifetime and relationship to our life goals—mostly career—is a nice thing to have and keep ourselves on the track. Because, pursuit or interests (and rewards) is all that we need to keep us going. For most of my interests, I realized that I don’t need to keep doing all the time to keep myself satisfied. They are short-lived, unlike my life-goal – which, right now, is to build (radically) new things, and improve or change the world through any of my creative outputs. In such a frame, every small success counts and can be seen as productive. I am also fond of the idea that I’m yet to find my main thing—the dream job—or something that could make me the happiest or most popular.

We also need to take a step back sometimes, break from our loop, and think about what’s possible in our world and remind ourselves about it frequently. Every one of us inherits a flawed perspective on how the world works. Contrary to what I used to believe, I feel so many things are possible in our lives right now. We’re all brought up with the notion that our happiness and freedom taper off as we grow old, as life piles up on us and we get used to the real world. It’s said that the most fun is in our 20s, and that it’s all going to go away soon. Maybe that’s true, but I think it’s all in our heads. We can change how we look at things and see the beautiful ramifications of life. The future can hold an endless array of possibilities, similar to what Albert Camus said: “an invincible summer in the depths of a cold winter.”

It’s important to recognize that it takes time to build taste and experience. Originality shouldn’t be rushed – and that’s what they mean when they say to focus on the long-term. It’s hard to measure it as you don’t know what you don’t know. The process might take five, ten, or even twenty years, depending on a plethora of eclectic variables specific to what you’re trying to achieve. But everything adds up. And we have to keep being prolific. When it comes to software engineering, I now have good insight into how things come together in its stack. This came from 3-4 years of playing around computers. When it comes to writing, I’m still getting started and have years ahead of me until I even find a voice for myself. My Instagram and Twitter feed also fits as an example of things that started out as a hobby years ago and now hold a unique value. Such projects in life which are of a longer timescale, need to be taken with patience and gentleness to yourself – with a delicate osmotic balance of surrender and sovereignty. Results of such projects are going to be great. And greatness is forever.

There are times when I thought maybe my “main thing” was writing, cinema or photography. Such perspectives are captivating moreover since we have an underlying notion that they are more creative and more fun than a desk job that we are inevitably otherwise destined to do. But I’ve realized that such impulses should be entertained only after securing a surplus – savings or a stable income. As an example, I’ll add the case of Steve Wozniack, Phil Knight, and many more, who had kept their jobs for a while even after founding their companies. And moreover, I don’t think I can be creative all day. The creative process is nondeterministic, non-linear and discontinuous. So, I’ve started seeing them all as my main things and passions – pursuits to chase and enjoy.

A stage, platform, or a community is where you can easily become someone new. Their value lies in the space it offers for you to fill up new and unexplored spaces in your personality – and become someone new. For example, Twitter made me a better writer and a social person, Instagram made me a better visual creator, bi0s made me a better technologist, and this website made me a better curator. I see them all as theaters where I perform. Thus, signing yourself up for a good theater and acting within it will promise great returns. Raising your hand and being ambitious is the first step of feeling a part of something big.

What has helped me become more positive in my internal monologue and has helped me feel free in moments of despair, is understanding that the world is a system with extreme levels of complexity. What I mean by complex, is the sheer number of factors that influence our lives and the world, which makes it difficult to model our expectations and easy to compare ourselves with others. And most of these factors are random and not in our control. This has helped me take the blame off myself at many instances, for example, when I see others succeed or get better things than I have.

A lot of our problems are just in our minds, so I hope I always remember that it’s never too late to bend and stretch life as I desire. Or to put it in another way: the world is the most interesting when I keep manipulating it. Also the fact that I am in control of your own life and priorities and I just need to focus on what I want to see more.

Above, I thought of it this way: the desired outcomes are not always right there and we often have to pursue a set of tasks to get there, even if it's asking out a crush, making money, or kayaking through the world.

By using "manipulate" on the surface level, I meant the…

— aswin c🎋 (@chandanaveli) September 24, 2023

Yes, some of these things are too romantic and are easier said than done. And that’s why I’ve put it underneath this title.

Looking at the future – the world is my oyster

I’m incredibly grateful to have become the person I am today, due to my personal decisions and serendipity. I often think about all the possible permutations of how my personality would’ve turned up—as a graph with every decision I’ve made represented as connected points—and think about all the other possible versions of myself that I almost didn’t turn into.

I used to be paranoid about what I’ll do after college, but now, I think I have a great future ahead of me. More deep okayness has descended upon me as I inherit more life experience. Moreover, I’ve done something I never thought I could do every year since college: my 2019-self and current-self are incomparable. I’ve been through many ups and downs and I can understand that my personality, mind, body, and my perspectives are more malleable than I perceive. Secondly, things don’t look so fatal. Many career and life decisions where I used to think are hard and permanent, are in fact, simple and mercurial.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s so many different things we can do – to an extent that we must appreciate being born in this period of human progress. I also feel like the world is becoming a smaller space: a flat world with many opportunities available everywhere. This also makes me feel less bad about not being in important places like San Francisco (silicon valley – the place that attracts the smartest engineers of the world, the place where the builders build, and tomorrow is realized) already. It’s the v3 of human civilization: we have fewer real borders, and people are doing many impossible and crazy things of value. There are far fewer reasons to not dream big when you look at the time humans have been around and just how much innovation has happened in the recent years.

a remarkable way to look at the world

— rohit (@krishnanrohit) October 20, 2023

From the past year, I am caught up on the idea of trying to understand what is possible—as an individual with all of the skills and abilities I own—as Aswin. From at least since 2020, I had a relatively strong urge to do, learn, and create more—a feeling for which I didn’t know the right word to describe until recently—ambition. And I think that’s what I need to understand more in the near future: about what I can do, the limits, what other people in similar situations like me have done; about what’s possible. I also realize that I just sometimes have to try out things and try not to overthink about it – something we hear people say all the time.

From a skinny boy from Chalakudy to the person I am right now – it’s been a long way. And there’s more to come. I can’t believe that the future is going to be better than this. It is a joy to be alive and be myself.

I mean, I’m Aswin C. Let me create more of what I want to see, build my future, and see where it takes me.

Thank you for reading this.


Huge hugs to my parents for my peaceful upbringing, for being there through the vicissitudes of this process and life, and for fostering kindness and room for action instead of conformity. All of what I wrote about was possible only with their support and that is truly incredible. I now recognize their love and support now more than I ever did. Listening to their stories about my upbringing, I recognize a huge amount of sacrifice in parts of their personal dreams, money, and time. Since we’ll never know what it was like to bring ourselves up, we should accept and be grateful for what they’ve done for us.

To my friends and colleagues for the fun and the companionship. Thank you if we have at least smiled at each other someday at Amrita. I hope we meet again and wish you the best.

And to all the people on and off the internet who create, change, and inspire me to change the world: for giving me space and for teaching me to choose to do something important and different, for supporting me to be original, and for making me understand that there’s virtue and singularity in creating and improving things in the world.

I acknowledge all of them.

if we play our cards right

— Visakan Veerasamy (@visakanv) April 30, 2020

Thanks to Hrishikesh, Mayukh, Mainak, Hari, Kartika, Ashutosh, Arya, Vikrant, Krishnapriya, Sreedevi, Anoushka, Amrita, Gautham and Karan for reading the initial draft, providing feedback, and discussions.