A Curious Engineer Who Wears Many Hats
Issue   |   Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:12
Photo courtesy of Dvij Bajpai '15

When Dvij Bajpai first introduced himself to me, he told me to pronounce his first name like, “Dvij, as in, in-DIVID-ual.” The word could not be more fitting. One would be hard-pressed to find a renaissance scholar as eclectic as Dvij Bajpai. While at Amherst, Bajpai has distinguished himself in fields as diverse as mathematics, physics, music, literature, engineering and art.

Growing Up in Mumbai

Growing up in Mumbai, India, Bajpai looked up to his older brother, Shail. Both Bajpai and his brother participated in an International Baccalaureate program in India. Shail attended Vassar College and participated in the Dartmouth dual degree engineering program. Bajpai later followed his brother in enrolling in the Dartmouth program, and spent his junior year studying engineering at Dartmouth. After graduating from Amherst, he will spend another year studying engineering at Dartmouth.
Shail “encouraged me to go to a liberal arts college and study math — he was also a math major,” Bajpai said. “And now I’m going to do electrical engineering as well. He’s a trailblazer for me. I have the benefit of his hindsight, which is really invaluable.”

Bajpai also looks up to his parents as mentors.

“My mom is an artist, and my dad is an airline pilot,” he said. “He’s a very free thinker, very different from the dads in a similar position, which is something I didn’t appreciate enough growing up. He has a love for music and literature and traveling and learning about different cultures.”

He has fond memories of learning about music with his father. “Every time we were going to have dinner, my dad would put on music. That’s how we knew dinner was happening,” he said. “He loved Fleetwood Mac and Haydn’s London Symphonies.”

Bajpai recalls being about four or five when his father gave him a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The recording is his most treasured possession.

“My parents ran away from home to get married, because my mom is Catholic and my dad is Hindu. One day my dad told his mom, ‘I’m going to go sleep at my friend’s house,’ and he packed his bags, left and got married. So there was a tension growing up in my family, and I wasn’t able to see my grandparents that much, but I remember them, and they were extremely conservative. My dad broke free from that,” Bajpai said.

Bajpai’s mother brings her creative passion into whatever she does, from her artwork to her cooking. Bajpai said that growing up around that kind of influence made him more creative, daring and unconventional.

Unbounded Curiosity

There is no aspect of knowledge that has not fallen under the floodlights of Bajpai’s probing curiosity. Although he plans to receive an engineering degree from Dartmouth next year, he has made sure not to close himself off from the humanities.

Bajpai has spent past summers designing an efficient fuel-production system in Tanzania, publishing a mathematical research paper with a team of fellow Amherst students and designing a high resolution temperature control device, for which he received the Amherst’s Howard Hughes fellowship.

“He’s passionate about and interested in a wide variety of subjects,” said his friend Nicole Chi ’15. “He’s a math major, but he’s also really passionate about music. He was also very interested in his English classes last semester ... most of the things he does, he becomes very passionate about.”

Bajpai regrets not taking more literature courses, and he said at times he wishes he had double majored in math and English. He also has a passion for philosophy and is particularly interested in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

This summer, he plans to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” along with Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” in order to better understand Joyce’s references. Enamored with disruptors and innovators, he likes the fact that Joyce was different from his peers and pursued a different path. He admires creators who have not only the courage to create, but also the courage to depart from the norm. It is clear that Bajpai will be a lifelong reader.

When I spoke with Bajpai, he had just completed the final revisions on his math thesis. He wrote about a specific type of computational conundrum known as a “hat problem.” The problem involves a prison guard who brings in two prisoners tasked with guessing the color of the hat on each of their heads without communicating. Solving the problems, Bajpai said, can be used in improving computer science algorithms. He finds that debugging programs is much like trying to find the flaws in equations, in which there are constantly smaller riddles to solve. It’s that sleuthing process that he enjoys.

Bajpai’s interests also include social advocacy, and he strongly identifies as a feminist.

“That’s something that I feel really passionately about — trying to understand oppression towards not only women, but [also] non-straight men,” said. He is interested “not only in gay rights, feminism and equality — but also in trying to understand the whole spectrum of sexualities and identities, and trying to understand different ways in which people are oppressed on that basis. I am trying to fix that not only in my own life, but, say, in my mom’s life when I visit Mumbai.”

Bajpai’s friends have nothing but glowing things to say about his intellectual curiosity.

“I feel like many people know him to be very dynamic, deeply introspective, able to appreciate the world, and outrageously creative,” Jiwoon Choi ’16 said. Choi also praised Bajpai’s ability to focus on small details.

“We’d be walking on the bike path, and he’d be able to marvel at small things, like a pink flower on the side of the path, or a purple bush, or a cherry blossom tree, always able to stop and admire things like that. He’s able to enrich his life in those ways,” Choi said.

“He loves math take-homes,” David Beron ’15 added. “When he has math take-homes, he just disappears for whole weeks. He’s just walking around, taking midnight walks, trying to figure it out. That’s very him.”

Bajpai’s long walks on the bike path — whether with his friends or his math tests — reveal his excitement for learn and share experiences. Bajpai is able to find joy not only in academic subjects, but also in the world and the people around him.

The Dvij Effect

It was a balmy Tuesday afternoon as Dvij and I were walking towards Memorial Hill. I tried asking Bajpai a question or two, but my attempts were futile. Every few moments, faces would light up a few feet in front of us as they exclaimed, “Dvij! How are you?!” followed by a warm embrace.

Bajpai’s friend Khushy Aggarwal ’16 was able to describe this phenomenon.

“There is a characteristic Dvij hug,” she said. “If you see him around, he’ll look at you, he’ll be really excited to see you, and he’ll come up to you with his hands wide open. He’s really genuine that way.”

Chi added, “Dvij treats you like a friend until you become one. I think that’s how he makes friends so easily. He’s one of the few people that I know that genuinely likes people.”

Bajpai has served many social roles on campus, from senate representative to teaching assistant. But his most meaningful rolve have been as a mentor and older brother figure.

Aggarwal said Bajpai helped ease her transition to Amherst. Aggarwal and Bajpai went to the same high school in Mumbai. The two had only overlapped by a year, and Aggarwal had never spoken to him before. Aggarwal remembered contacting him to look through her application essays for Amherst.

“He gave me really good feedback,” she said. “Later, during my freshman year, Dvij was a really big influence, because he was a like a link to back home, but also a year older, so I would always jokingly call him my big brother. I remember once, we were talking for a really long time on the bike trails, walking, and it was really late at night. And Dvij was like, ‘Yeah, there are snakes and bears around, and I’ll protect you from them.’ And that’s such a Dvij thing to say. Then I remember he told me that everyone has something interesting about them, but it’s up to you to find that. And I thought that was really cool.”

Beron has similar memories of Bajpai, who was one of the first people he got to know at Amherst.

“I think of the fact of meeting Dvij suddenly, and being able to go on a walk for a very long time with him, and opening up completely and sharing where he comes from and what he likes — even though inrospection is part of who he is, he’s also extremely sociable in that kind of way,” Beron said.

Dartmouth and Beyond

After graduating with a B.A. in mathematics from Amherst this May, Bajpai will go on to finish his engineering degree at Dartmouth. At some point in his career, he hopes to return to his native Mumbai to work on sustainable development. “I’m interested in engineering and sustainable development, but before I decide how I want to contribute to those fields, I still have decades of learning to do,” Bajpai said. “For now, I plan on going to grad school [and] keeping my eye out for mentors.”
What’s unique about Bajpai is the fact that his interests are so multidisciplinary. He is fascinated by everything. But most importantly, he has a big heart.

“The most meaningful thing is how much his gregariousness inspires me,” said his friend Kyle Ferendo ’17E. “I’m an introvert, and it was really nice to meet somebody when I had so many anxieties about meeting people, who was so friendly and makes friends so easily. These two aspects of his personality, how outgoing he is and how he can find so much joy in so many different things, are what strike me as the most exceptional aspects of him that inspire me.”