Commencement Speech

This is the speech I gave on 2017-06-18 at the Commencement ceremony of the Stanford Physics Department. Special thanks to Priyanka Raina for help with phrasing and editing.

To Fellow students, undergraduates and graduates: Congratulations on getting your degree. The sweat and tears of the past few years are culminating in some more sweat on this hot, yet beautiful summer day.

To Parents: thank you for your love and sacrifices and for making us what we are today. It is also Father’s day today, so a special shout out to all the Dads in the audience.

To Faculty: thank you for teaching and mentoring us, and for making us into mature physicists.

To the entire physics community at Stanford: thank you to Maria Frank and the entire staff for taking care of us and making this place a home away from home.

The first thing I want to touch upon in this graduation speech is why do we do physics?
I am sure every one of you has a great answer to this question, here’s mine.

We do physics because there are deep, serious questions about nature that we do not yet know the answers to. To pick one example out of many, we know that 23% of the universe is made up of dark matter, and we have no idea what dark matter actually is. That is a big chunk of the universe we are missing.

Secondly, there are questions and problems which are worth pursuing just because of their richness, and the beauty of the multiple ideas they touch upon. Slightly more than a year ago, we finally detected gravitational waves, that were predicted by Einstein a hundred years ago. A hundred years is a long time, and it must be a very beautiful, robust edifice of physics that can predict the motions of nature with such accuracy.

Thirdly, by virtue of their training, physicists can also contribute immensely to topical issues like energy, global warming and climate change, exemplified by some of the classes taught by the physics faculty here. I hope the funding agencies are listening, and I encourage all of you, no matter which profession you might take up in the future, to fight for increased funding to fundamental research.

Finally, there are more personal reasons why we do physics. We do it because we love it. And we all know that love isn’t all sweet. What I am going to say now applies essentially to any career in adult human life. We must learn to enjoy our vocation while consciously keeping in mind the daily “grind”.
Like everything in adult life, research involves brutal mundane days. On those days, we need friends and loved ones. But then, after weeks or months of confusion and hard work of trying out various things, the nut finally cracks. That moment is exhilarating. You feel true ownership of your result. What you just accomplished has a certain character of permanence, and I find that to be a very satisfying feeling. And slowly but surely, one begins to see beauty even in the daily routine.

So, those were my reasons for why we do physics.

I feel compelled to add a word on politics. Just like serious research is slow and painful, understanding politically divisive topics well requires effort. Serious decisions about society shouldn’t be made on frivolous premises. Even in this age of 140 twitter characters, click-baity headlines, in this frenzied fanatic world, it still may be that reading an extremely unsexy-looking long-form article, a detailed report or a book is the best way to learn about an issue. So, let us all strive to form opinions based on solid facts and good reason.

I would like to add a word about Stanford itself. My physics experience at Stanford was very special. In addition, Stanford was even more special to me because it is where I took a break from spending all my life getting A’s, and put to action the advice of an early teacher: “Raghu, apart from your job, try to learn well one physical sport that you can play routinely, and one art-form that you can make a part of your life”. The physics, the weather, the grass, the sky, the physical spaces on campus, and the people, I am going to miss everything so much.

As we move into adult lives, let us pledge to be ambitious and intellectually curious.
Let us strive to make ourselves better all the time. Let us choose wisely in what we do and think about, in accord with our personality and values. And equally important, let us invest time and energy into building meaningful connections with people around us.

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Punjab 117 MLAs and 2017 Results Summary

List of candidates:

Taken from The Tribune newspaper





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What I did in the Punjab 2017 Assembly elections

I am a PhD student studying Physics at Stanford University. My research focusses on black holes and quantum gravity. I have been in the Bay Area since June 2012. My family belongs to Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab on the border with Pakistan. I grew up in Chandigarh, and have spent my student days in IIT Delhi, MIT, University of Cambridge and now Stanford.

I left for Punjab on September 15, 2016 to work for AAP on ground until the elections. At first, I got involved with building some apps for the party. The first one was the Chalo Punjab app, which I designed. The app was a portal for volunteers coming to Punjab from all parts of India and abroad. Besides a welcome message by Gurpreet Ghuggi Ji and a registration form for incoming volunteers, the app contained information about all candidates, our manifestos, and political FAQs which volunteers are likely to encounter on the ground.

The second app was a campaign management app, via which the party could monitor all the campaign activities happening in all the 117 constituencies. These included reports on how many households have been covered under the door to door campaign, how many projector shows were run each day, how many booth volunteers were identified etc.

The third app was regarding our door to door campaign, which involved simple data collection of all households in Punjab, including their phone numbers and asking them specific questions like whether they have an old person in the house, or whether somebody in their family is looking for employment etc. Based on this information, I used to send targeted SMSes to each family which contained our manifesto promises specific to the questions they had answered. This targeted way of reaching out to the voters was quite a game-changer.

I was also involved in fundraising from the US, and was instrumental in getting funding for 60 projector sets, and 100 LED TVs, amounting to a total cost of about INR 40 lakh. This was possible because of generous support from all brothers and sisters in the US. I also became a conduit of information between donors and party officials on the ground, as the donors in the US had some questions regarding distribution of funds. Most of the time, I was able to allay apprehensions that donors had because of being far away and make them sympathize with the ground situation. I also kept a record of the candidates who needed the most help and helped them raise money on a priority basis.

The final and by far the most significant task given to me was regarding booth management in the Majha region, which consists of 27 assemblies in the Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabhas. These assemblies had 5200 polling booths in total, and my job was to make sure that we had 5 volunteers each on every single one of them. I travelled in all the 27 assemblies, meeting with the campaign managers and assembly booth coordinators multiple times. I was making sure that we were meeting deadlines, and cross-verifying the booth volunteer data. I also prepared training documents that told the ground team what to do on the day of the polling, and what the roles and responsibilities of the booth volunteers are. This included a training on what all material is included in the polling kits provided by the party for inside and outside the booth, setting up the table, getting thousands of appointment letters signed by the election agent, and, most importantly, the sequence and flow of events on the polling day. I was also instrumental in resolving conflicts in certain assemblies, which existed due to bad communication between various stakeholders.


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Top bureaucrats in the new 2017 Punjab govt

News article in the Tribune

Tejveer Singh has been appointed Principal Secretary to CM

Karan Avtar Singh Chief Secretary

Anurag Aggarwal Financial Commissioner, Taxation

Vivek Pratap Singh Excise and Taxation Commissioner

The Home Affairs Department has been given to Additional Chief Secretary NS Kalsi, who also retains the charge of the Agriculture Department.

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Punjab 2017 Elections Booth-wise Results

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ਬਰਸਦਿਆ ਮੇਘਲਿਆ – ਤਾਰਾ ਸਿੰਘ

ਇਕ ਬੂੰਦ ਮੁੜ੍ਹਕੇ ਦੀ
ਜਿਦ੍ਹਾ ਹੰਝੂਆਂ ਨਾਲ ਵਿਹਾਰ
ਮਿੱਟੀ ਦੀ ਮੈਂ ਇਕ ਮੁੱਠੜੀ
ਜਿਦ੍ਹਾ ਧਰਤੀ ਝੱਲੇ ਨਾ ਭਾਰ
ਇਕ ਹਉਕਾ ਜਿੰਦੜੀ ਦਾ
ਜਿੜ੍ਹਾ ਹਉਕਿਆਂ ਵਿਚ ਨਾ ਸ਼ੁਮਾਰ
ਇਕ ਬੋਲ ਸੱਜਣਾ ਨੂੰ
ਜਿੜ੍ਹਾ ਹਿੱਸਿਆ ਬੁੱਲ੍ਹਾਂ ਵਿਚਕਾਰ
ਭਰੀ ਭਰੀ ਇਕ ਬਦਲੀ
ਜਿੜ੍ਹੀ ਝੁਲਸ ਗਈ ਥਲ-ਬਾਰ
ਬਰਸਦਿਆ ਮੇਘਲਿਆ
ਕਦੇ ਇਸ ਵੱਲ ਝਾਤੀ ਮਾਰ

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ਨਜ਼ਮ ਦੀ ਤਲਾਸ਼ – ਦਰਸ਼ਨ ਬੁੱਟਰ

ਸਦੀਵੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੁੰਦੀ
ਕਿਸੇ ਵੀ ਯੁਗ ਦੀ ਕੋਈ ਵੀ ਕਵਿਤਾ
ਅਸੀਂ ਜੋ ਇਸ ਪਲ ਵਿਚ ਹਾਂ
ਹੋਰ ਹੋਵਾਂਗੇ ਅਗਲੇ ਪਲ ਵਿਚ
ਹਰਫ਼ਾਂ ਦੇ ਹੁਣ ਦੇ ਅਰਥ
ਬਦਲ ਜਾਣਗੇ ਅਗਲੇ ਹੀ ਪਲ

ਜਿੰਨੇ ਕਣ ਕਾਇਨਾਤ ਦੇ
ਓਨੀਆਂ ਦਿਸ਼ਾਵਾਂ ਮਨ ਦੀਆਂ
ਓਨੇ ਹੀ ਅਰਥ ਨਜ਼ਮਾਂ ਦੇ

ਕਿਸੇ ਇਕ ਪਲ ਨੂੰ ਘੁੱਟ ਕੇ ਨਾ ਫੜ
ਕਿਸੇ ਇਕ ਪੈੜ ਦੀ ਅਰਾਧਨਾ ਨਾ ਕਰ
ਕਿਸੇ ਇਕ ਨਜ਼ਮ ਨਾਲ ਮੋਹ ਨਾ ਪਾਲ

ਸਫਰ ਦਾ ਧਰਮ ਹੈ ਚੱਲਣਾ
ਆਵਾਜ਼ ਦਾ ਕਰਮ ਹਰਕਤ ਦੇਣੀ
ਹਰਫ਼ਾਂ ਦਾ ਧਰਮ ਰਾਹ ਖੋਲ੍ਹਣਾ
ਨਜ਼ਮਾਂ ਤਾਂ ਮਹਿਜ਼ ਪੈੜ੍ਹਾਂ ਹੁੰਦੀਆਂ

ਹਰ ਹਰਫ਼ ਦੀ ਵੱਖਰੀ ਤਾਸੀਰ
ਹਰ ਪੈੜ ਦਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਰੰਗ
ਤੂੰ ਸਿਰਫ ਰੰਗਾਂ ਦੀ ਤਾਸੀਰ ਪਛਾਣ
ਹਾਣ ਦੀ ਨਜ਼ਮ
ਤਲਾਸ਼ ਲਵੇਗੀ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਖੁਦ ਹੀ

ਹਰਫ਼ਾਂ ਦੇ ਜੰਗਲ ‘ਚ
ਸੰਦਲ ਵੀ ਕਰੀਰ ਵੀ
ਰੂਹ ਦੀ ਅਬਾਬੀਲ
ਟਾਹਣੀਆਂ ਬਦਲਦੀ ਰਹਿੰਦੀ
ਨਜ਼ਮ ਬਦਲਦੀ ਰਹਿੰਦੀ  ਜਿਲਦਾਂ ਨੂੰ

ਮੁਸ਼ਕਿਲ ਵੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਕੋਈ ਕਵਿਤਾ
ਬਸ ਤੂੰ
ਆਪਣੇ ਜ਼ਖਮਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਹਰਾ ਰਹਿਣ ਦੇ

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