Growing up with an outlier


See that red fish? That’s an outlier.

She is red and different. She is surrounded by fish that are blue. Is that why she is an outlier? Maybe. What if she swam a little further away from her swarm and shoaled with a swarm of red fish? Then she ceases to be an outlier. In other words, she is, presently, a contextual point anomaly.

Swimming further away, anxious and wary of predators, she discovers a swarm of red fish. She feels joy at seeing her kind. She jumps and whooshes in to the school. Only to discover that this red school are a bunch of Rockpool Gobies; one of a few kinds of fish that change color. And soon she is again an outlier; a conditional anomaly. She navigates away, yet again.

Her life is flashing before her eyes. She becomes distraught and alone. No one wants to support her kind. You see, she feels that she is just a normal fish with a simple yet profound story to tell. She sees in herself multitudes of people from the thousands of fish she has seen and miles of waters she has (t)read. In order to tell her story, she needs an outlet and an opportunity. Unfortunately she fits in nowhere.

Bobbing up and down. Scraping the sea-bed for food, she eventually finds her kind. A small beehive-like swarm of red fish. She joins the outcast group. They are different together. In the large ocean of blue fish, they are different.

A fluttering blue fish swims past them whispering to himself – “They are a collective anomaly*, this school of red ones.”

Jo is the red outlier


I promise this is not a potter-mania post. You’ll see.

I grew up with Harry Potter; the world of death and life and love woven by Jo Rowling. She was the first outlier I could think of. For a 12 year-old Indian boy to hear about Harry Potter in India during an age when the internet was not a mainstay of contemporary Indian media means one of two things. The story of Harry Potter was a global phenomena despite the inept marketing behind it. And there was an outlier behind it. Of course, I didn’t realize that then; I was too busy playing cricket in the heat of Allahabad. I see it clearly now.

Jo went through many trials and tribulations even before she could think of publishing her work. I can’t expect my words to do justice to her story. Her words have touched millions deeply; children and adults alike. Her story-telling style simple yet profound – just like the red fish’s. Historical questions of philosophy, morality, mythology and ethics are strewn in her books. As Harry progressed through Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I and my generation progressed through Junior high and later high school. It was more than fitting when Rowling’s seventh and last book of the saga came out when I had just graduated 12th grade and was entering the wild-wild world of college.

I am certainly not far from the truth when I say that she is a contextual anomaly. Let’s look at the data next.

*Learnings from my graduate school advisor; Varun Chandola and Anomaly Detection: A Survey



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