Friday, March 17, 2006

Looking a gift horse in the mouth...

I have been mulling over something for a few days. It's been a long, measured, ponderful mull with little to show for it, until the absolutely brilliant idea, the breakthrough, I had this morning.

The issue at hand is as follows. My thesis is finally done (yippie yay!). I'm walking this summer (yippie yay!^2). My family (and then some) will be coming (yippie yay!)^3. To celebrate, my mom wanted to gift me a car... (whaa...???)

My first reaction was to tell her how horrible an idea that was, especially in Boston. Which it is, as everyone around me agrees -- parking is a nightmare (assuming you get it), streets are narrow and one-way, public trasnport gets you most everywhere much faster and with fewer hassles, hellishly expensive, drivers are (if possible) worse than in LA (check out the first link when you Google search for "Boston driving"), and renting/Flexcar is always a possiblity when one needs a car. And, of course, I hate driving.
But then I immediately felt guilty. As I should have. Considering how tentatively mom brought up the subject (knowing in advance my vitriolic reaction), and how touching her wistful tone was. I backtracked, told her it was a sweet idea, and suggested that if she really wanted to get me something, how about something that I'd really like and could use. She naturally asked what this something could be, and I was flummoxed. To my horror, I heard myself say something like, "Well, how about a savings account or life insurance...?"

Not sexy enough, as she let me know in no uncertain terms, and I guess I'd agree. So we finished that phone call with me promising to mull it over and get back to her. And really, it is touching.

And so, I have been mulling for a few days.

The thing is, I'm now at a position that money isn't really a constraint (well, I suppose it is if I want to build a humungous windmill, or to have enough millions in the bank to stop a salaried job and live a carefree life as a hitchhiking Erdös). But really, on balance, my current lifestyle really is as good as it gets for someone of my temperament, for now. The main constraint is really finding the time to do things (one of mom's backup suggestions was of supporting my longstanding wish to backpack through China) over and above the so many other yummy cakes I have in the oven.

I talked it over with friends, who had the usual ideas. Interesting suggestions like a carbon fibre bike (too high-end for my current state), a nice camera (not my thing), a yacht (yeah, right :). And, invariably, "Well, if you don't want the money, give it to me."

Which might have sowed the seeds in my brain as I mulled and pondered and chewed things over. Finally, this morning in the shower... inspiration!

A named Undergraduate Endowment at IIT Bombay.

About the cost of a mid-range secondhand car, it's an amazing bargain for posterity at one of the better schools in the world, and posterity is one of the major reasons we researchers are in the business of research. Dropping things like "awarded the Jaggi Fellowship for Excellence in Academics" in resumes of the younger 'uns gets their feet in doors that might otherwise have been closed a bit tighter (I know this's certainly been the case for me), and hopefully starts an exponential blow-up of paying it forward. And compared to the cost of one of these things at even a second-tier school in the US, and the likely cost even a few eyars on in India, this thing's a real catch.

What would be really ferpect would be something like the Studenski Award given out by the Caltech Y, on whose awards committee I sat on while I was down there. It's "awarded to a Caltech undergraduate who has reached a cross road in life and would benefit from a period away from the academic community in order to obtain a better understanding of self and to explore possible directions for his/her future." Something non-traditional like this would, I think, be a nice addition to a campus that seemed to be beginning to buzz in interesting manners when I last visited.

Not being greedy here -- not asking for my own Endowed Chair for myself, named after myself :)

So, how about it, mom?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust you to think up a ferpect idea,only wondering will the endowment be from me or from you ,or from me to you to endowment. Alsotakes away the joy of giving you as you only give it away further- kinda diminishes- no not diminish ummm!whats the feeling?- something like- your gift is a charity -I dont want no charity- let me give your charity to a charity. Hope I have conveyed what I feel without diminishing your great idea. Infact was thinking on similiar lines a few weeks ago for my NGO
love you

6:10 PM  
Blogger t said...

lovely ideas.

7:59 PM  

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