Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Adverse Divide

A British tabloid once called India a poor country of rich people. Our country truly is a kaleidoscope of extremities. The contrast between haves and deprived is too alarming. Walking through the plush suburbs one feels a sense of excitement looking at the development but a few more steps brings us face to face with another dark reality where you see human life vegetating in slums.

Economic surveys tell us that GDP is growing at 7% plus, yet we have farmers committing suicide and people dying of starvation. We sign pacts for acquiring nuclear fuel for our nuclear power generating stations but a sizable population has to live without electricity. We have Institute that are second to none in the field of engineering and management but millions of children still do not have privilege of primary education.

Equality can never be ensured but uniformity must be at hand to really have freedom in true sense. Everyone cannot be affluent but in a civilized society every human should have a right to dignified existence that separates human from the animal sleeping on the street.

The root cause of divide has been this cheap form of socialism that thrives on slogans and promises, it should be understood that Socialism is an ideology which has never managed to distribute power and wealth without some folks at the top getting the bulk of it. The nexus that snatches from achievers under the pretext of disseminating it to have not’s uses it for populist gains and subsequently ends up in achieving nothing for anyone.

In contrast capitalism and laissez-faire , though are theories based on the moral principle of the protection of the individual's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness .their principles assert that wealth is not a fixed quantity and one person's success does not come at the expense of others. They sound good but truly demand a moralistic society where citizens are willing to discharge their responsibilities and duties with the same zeal with which they demand their rights. It demands a society where those who have in abundance have the compassion to understand the hunger of those who have nothing and wisdom to know upsetting dangers of such divide.

To ensure that the gains are fairly disseminated First thing we should essentially do away with is this leitmotif, this misbelieve, that the poor and deprived need charity. In contrast what they need is consistent work near their place of habitation. Instead of finding ways of giving cheap and free and through back doors for political mileage, the prime concern of government must be to ensure an apt conversion of population into human resource. A couple of industrial training Institute and fairly functioning agriculture schools will do lot of help to villagers and make them more aware of latest and prudent techniques of doing the given job. As Robert A. Heinlein said, "Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded -- here and there, now and then -- are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating the people then slip back into abject poverty."

It is fact that post liberalization poverty has decreased because of the additional opportunity available there should be a constant endeavor to move towards free economy. We are a flourishing democracy for 65 years now and it is time we move vigorously towards free economy rather than having protectionist regime that benefits a select few. It is wisely said by P.J .Rourke"Wealth is based on productivity, and productivity is fabulously expandable."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Academic Stress: Myths and Make-believes

Introduction: In this post, I am suggesting that reducing quality of academics  is not a solution to reducing academic stress. Lowering the standards of education will only have detrimental effect on future of students in present day  competitive times .

It is education day today. Education is a very broad term which in simplest sense  is the ability to differentiate between right and wrong . As I see it , sole aim of education is to develop rationality.
Before we take up this issue of academic stress, let me ask you a simple question. With what aim you send your child to school?  What is your expectation from an academic institute at primary, intermediate and highest level?I know most of the people in response to this would say “to make the child literate and a better human”.  If that truly is the purpose than why do we make comparison of his progress report card with the student who scored highest marks in the class? I think every parent should once read and understand the spirit of letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher . The beauty of letter is, he is never asking to make his son better than his peers, and his request in the letter is not for knowledge but for wisdom. I know Charles Darwin's survival of fittest, is at back of your mind when you make that comparison  but believe me,  no matter however indestructible the soul seems , the damage happens. The feeling of child has recorded an impression , the seed of stress is planted, and surely academics are no way responsible for it.  I read a unique response of class sixth student to excellent film “Taare Zamin Par” focusing on child with dyslexia which really is very educating. The child wrote “ Ending of film should have been different from what it is because in the end everyone showers love on boy when he proves himself to be an excellent painter. What if he was not a good painter, good writer, good sportsperson, good anything , what if he is not excellent in anything , what if he is just average in everything as most people are , shouldn't he be loved and accepted for what he really is ” ?  Doesn't this response tell us something ? The fact is acceptance is what a child needs most and if parents won’t accept children for whatever they are, who will?
There has been a lot of uproar in the recent past about so called  academic stress and some alterations have been done by education ministry . A lobby of thinkers who apparently has a lot of say with our lawyer turned education minister obviously believes in over simplified solutions.In their modus-operandi If something is complex to comprehend remove it from syllabus, if exams are causing stress remove exams , If analysis is problem then test for retention . My domain of teaching is limited to physics so I will give you example from there, take a look a NCERT book of 1995 and 2012 and you will understand what I mean. The level is very peripheral. To add salt to injury, many teachers at schools level confine themselves to lines of NCERT and thus do not develop the topics to their inner essence which is tested in most of the competitive exams. .One thing that honorable minister and his brigade of followers must understand is that how can academic rigor be marginalized when competition is becoming more and more severe. I think dual standards and hypocrisy is part and parcel of our life that is why this ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ picture shines in education too. “Bharat” of board exams is a cake walk with 53 marks of knowing and 17 marks numerical application  problems in 70 mark theory paper . 30 marks for practical is a free gift that everyone gets from kind teachers. Why these people don’t take a look a mark sheets of students who get on the average 27 out of thirty in practical and 23 out of seventy in theory. The level of questions and concepts asked in competitions demand application and analysis in numerical and there this mugged up knowledge fails. What MIT teaches at graduate level we teach the same things in XI and XII? But, they teach for meaning of words and how that knowledge can be used in making products and devices. We teach so as to complete the syllabus and pass the exam.
In my opinion, the stress truly is not academic but competition and expectation related stress.We are living in a society where 'being seen as good' is more important than actually 'being good'. This sham and pretense of trying to be better than others is leading to stress while we continue to blame academics for it. Every parent wants his ward to be ahead of others and every child wants to get best college that has brand value to guarantee a cushy job . Realizing that everyone cannot get their our think tank of policy makers decided to adopt “bunch the top” strategy, that just aims at making everyone happy . Take a look at boards results of 2011 .The number of high performers in the 90 percent-plus category swelled by 30 percent to 21,665 from 16,563 last year. The number of students scoring 95 percent and above also reached a new high almost doubling to 2,097 from 1,202 in 2010.Schools are happy teachers are happy and students are happy .These disillusioned kids living under the euphoria of their high scores when reach higher classes suffers the perils of provisions line CCE and local board exams . Now instead of curing the root problem of thoughtlessness and non inquisitiveness, they start blaming syllabus for it. schools blame coaching classes and coaching classes blame students for not studying. In this swing of blame game a child is caught up between schools and coaching centers with almost no time for self study. Now, Parents because they are investing at two places want immediate returns and pressurize children. Tell me how can one become wise by listening three times , when one does not apply and practice the concepts own his own even once? A teacher these days is expected to be a magician who could turn a magic wand or a doctor who could give a pill for subject which can be taken every night with milk.
World is truly a global village and our plus point has been the grill that students go through in 11 and 12 class. It truly used to prepare child for tough future but by slowly lowering standard of education by reducing syllabus and localizing exams we are going to build a nation of underachievers . If policy makers really want to do something they have to give autonomy to schools , free them from truss of bureaucratic boards , rules and paper work . Ensure proper implementation of practicals and projects . Make board exams close to competition exam where aim is to test thought and not retention. They really have to see that child gets more time to do self study and ponder over what is taught to him. How right was Ernest dement who said “Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves” Instead of trying to make roots of plant of education sugary and compact they have to make roots bitter and spread so that it gives sweet fruit .
Yes, there is performance related stress but not all stresses are bad, sometimes they make you stronger and more determined, coping up with them is necessarily required for survival in this tough life. After all, We have to survive in troubled seas of competition riding in overcrowded locals and not lavishly live on utopian islands from where we can relaxingly gaze and admire Berkeley and Johns Hopkins model of education.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Free Mind from shoddy Mindsets

Tomorrow is Independence Day. It is raining on and off in my city, from past three days. Needless to say, it has left roads in a horrible state. No, my intention is not to write about the improper drainage system, inefficiency of governance and freedom with which obnoxious nexus between contractors and ‘sarkari babus’ , openly and brazenly, misuse the exchequer’s money. A lot has been written about all that by many people.
Well, While inching through these water logged roads last evening, few things worried me deeply about where we were heading as society. At the same time, few memories of earlier read works came flashing to mind that I could relate to with the situation. It was shocking to see that even in this situation people were honking horns and were trying to overtake from any side. Independence had given them this right to do freely whatever they thought was in best of their interest.
Balraj Sahni a famous Hindi actor, writer and thinker who belonged to rare class of intellectual actors, once narrated this incident in an excellent convocation address at JNU in 1972 . He recounted “I was going by bus from Rawalpindi to Kashmir with my family to enjoy the summer vacation. Half-way through we were halted because a big chunk of the road had been swept away by a landslide caused by rain the previous night. We joined the long queues of buses and cars on either side of the landside. Impatiently we waited for the road to clear. It was a difficult job for the P.W.D. and it took some days before they could cut a passage through. During all this time the passengers and the drivers of vehicles made a difficult situation even more difficult by their impatience and constant demonstration. Even the villagers nearby got fed up with the high-handed behavior of the city-walas.
One morning the supervisor declared the road open. The green- flag was waved to the drivers. But we saw a strange sight. No driver was willing to be the first to cross. They just stood and stared at each other from either side. No doubt the road was a make-shift one and even dangerous.  A mountain on one side, and a deep gorge and the river below, both were forbidding. The engineer in-charge had made a careful inspection and had opened the road with a full sense of responsibility. Still, nobody was prepared to trust his judgment, although these same people till yesterday, had accused him and his department of laziness and incompetence. Half an hour passed by in dumb silence. Nobody moved. Suddenly we saw a small green sports car approaching. An Englishman was driving it; sitting all by himself. He was a bit surprised to see so many parked vehicles and the crowd there. I was rather conspicuous, wearing my smart jacket and trousers. "What's happened?" he asked me.
I told him the whole story. He laughed loudly, blew the horn and went straight ahead, crossing the dangerous portion without the least hesitation.
And now the pendulum swung the other way. Everybody was so eager to cross that they got into each other's way and created a new-confusion. This hurry to crossover before others from both sides created chaos and road was blocked again for few hours. The noise of hundreds of engines and hundreds of horns was unbearable. That day I saw with my own eyes the difference in attitudes between a man brought up in a free country and a man brought up in an enslaved one. A free man has the power to think, decide, and act for himself. But the slave loses that power. He always borrows his thinking from others, wavers in his decisions, and more often than not only takes the trodden path 
Chitto jetha bhayashunyo (Where the mind is without fear) , written by Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore is among one of the most quoted poems . It was written before India's independence and every line of it represents Tagore's vision of free-thinking, aware, undivided and vibrant India.
"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action --
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."

Independence has given us not only freedom of speech but also a power to think and act. While the former has been used quite eloquently the other two have somehow remained dormant beneath pity shallowness and self interest. How horrifying it is to see the madness of educated and financially well off individuals to somehow get ahead of others without realizing that they were blocking the traffic coming from other side and were only adding to miseries of self and others. If there is a vegetable seller pushing his cart hard through the rain water and from comfort of my car I blow horn urging him to speed up then I definitely should not count myself in human category .As Mahatma Gandhi said “It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.”
To quote Stephen R. Covey “You have the freedom to choose your actions, you don't have the freedom to choose the consequences of your actions”. Why have we become so passive and so indifferent towards consequences of our actions? Why such insensitivity? Why such nonchalance? Why are we not able to accept or reject thoughts in accordance with our own will ? Why someone has to impose,dictate or tell us about consequences of cutting the branch on which we are sitting? Despite all the peppy doses of education, why has our conscience gone into hibernation mode?
The biggest faculty of human existence is mind and the virtue of free will.Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom. The power to choose, to respond, to change. There is fire in all of us and our capability constructive and destructive extreme is infinite but it is for each individual on the basis of his reasoning and ethics to decide how he wants to use the fire within him. This independence day should not we pledge to rekindle that spark and tell our leaders that we love our nation and it is high time that they as well……

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Only if Public could ……

I firmly believe that Mr. Anna Hazare is an honest man of integrity and character . I also think it is very wise and apt to attempt a political alternative that will provide an avenue to a honest self respecting person to be part of politics. How long in a democracy can we call politics filth and walk away from it ? If it is filth and stinks then people of character have to get in and clean this and fill it with fragrance of their character . However, the agenda of Team-Anna appears too vague for a concrete change. The question is, can everything be left to public? If public were sensible and thoughtful will we be in the state that we are today?

If you Leave alone exceptions, we can divide public in three categories. One that is just a herd not even capable of thought, this lot does just what is told to them for a stomach full of meal and a bottle of hooch or a 500 Rs note. Second, is the class of privileged and totally nonchalant who drink water only from Aqua-pure bottles. This lot talks and discusses pollution, politics, depreciating value of rupee and stocks over cup of coffee in their air-conditioned living room, However, they do nothing and say nothing in public as they always flow in the direction of wind to gain mileage from situations .

The third is class that  comprises of people unable to decide whether collective benefit of corruption free civic society over individual benefits are more important ? . This lot may shout slogans for change but don’t change their own conduct, they want to remove corruption but bribe for reservation in train and admission in school. The definition of good leader for them  is the one who will promise cheaper electricity, free rice and privilege for their cast. The talk of development of infrastructure, an efficient bureaucratic channel, and corruption free safe society is not on their list of priority, cheap journey and not the safe journey is their concern. Why they fail to understand that it is our own money that these dream mongers use for their political gains? 

Over these three , there are exceptions who file civil petitions, write letters, demand explanation from authorities and work as volunteers for improvement of roads , traffic , environment and try to eliminate wrongs around us .Truly, these few carry the burden of rest of us and these few have to act like true alarmed and concerned managers and not like indifferent saints even when they get abused, bullied and questioned about their intentions. We need more of leaders , more of heroes but as Walter M. Schirra once wrote “you don't raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they'll turn out to be heroes, even if it's just in your own eyes.”

Lastly folks, before you question someone’s intentions behind attempting something sensible and good at least appreciate that person is that he or she is trying to do something that you are not even thinking of doing. Why for many , what ‘satyamev jayate’ was conveying is more important than the money that was charged by host Aamir Khan? Folks, there are people fasting for a legitimate demand who are almost on the verge of collapse and you guys continue questioning what they stand to gain politically from it ?

Look within and ask yourselves what have you done in your life to make a better society then wax eloquence about faults and intentions of others. Cynicism is not intellectualism, virtue lies in attempting to correct mistakes and not in just finding mistakes .So, for a change let us try to focus on issues and not people …

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Common man: a silent spectator of marching time

Abraham Lincoln once said “God must love the common man, he made so many of them”. All of us hear so much about this “Aam Aadmi” but I wonder who really this common man is?

Writers and film makers have shown us different faces of ‘common man’. R. K. Laxman sketched ‘The Common Man’ for over a half of a century in Times of India, This Dhoti clad old man    silently witnessed all the action and represented the aspirations, fears and conflicts of the average Indian. Anusha Rizvi wrote and directed “Peepli Live” which showed another version of common man in form of Budhiya Manikpuri, the hapless farmer, who finds himself considering suicide as an escape from the debt trap. This film was inspired from a classic of Frank Capra named meet John doe where a common unemployed man portrayed by legendary Gary cooper announces to commit suicide to make story for the media. In the film ‘The Wednesday’, we saw an heartening transformation of common man in form of Naseerudin Shah who decides to cleanse the system and single handedly eliminates four most wanted terrorists in a methodical way. (Click here for a clip uploaded by me ). Now, which face of that is a reality is a mystery that needs to be resolved?

This common man who is deprived of any connection to system and those in power ,  is used as currency by our politicians who weep crocodile tears for him but never really bother to alleviate his misery. Is there anything more to this faceless entity , that is used as a ladder to climb to the top and when apex is reached people forget all the steps they trampled under the feet. Emptiness and hunger of common man has been the route to prosperity for many but sadly the common man has remained empty and hungry.

Kaleidoscope of extremities has all the colors but which one is really prominent is really a puzzle. Isn’t it surprising that a man who, in premises of his house is a compassionate father, a caring brother and a sensitive husband becomes part a faceless mob that is prepared to throw stones and even take life of many who are just like him. That same person in comfort of his cozy drawing room condemns apartheid in Africa, talks about global village and ‘one universe’ but when he enters the polling booth transforms into a fanatic and votes on the basis of cast and religion. Moved by the misery and state of affairs around him he sometimes shouts slogans and swears to remove corruption from root but when he attains power he becomes the part of same corrupt structure and sets himself free by putting all the blame on social and political system. Truly amazing that when this axe enters the forest, one of the trees can always identify that, 'The handle was one of us'. This double faced hypocrisy is all around, isn’t it surprising that,
How a minority
Reaching majority,
Seizing authority,
Hates a minority!

In my humble opinion, common man is nothing more than a term that has no connection with social or financial status of persons. Everyone who lives his life solely on convenience without any firm principle and values is ‘just common’ nothing more than part of herd. Such persons just punch in the clock; no excitement, no enthusiasm, no creativity. This burn out comes because of lack of individualism and thought. Such a person treads blindly on path of faith and such Faith is a terribly powerful thing -- to have and to lose. It has sent men into battle for centuries, it has ripped families’ apart, driven wedges through friendships and has made us to choose run of the mill sort people of no character as our leaders.

 There is something in each one of us which can set us apart from common, there is fire in each one of us but its purpose and intensity is different. Every man who thinks ,experiments and questions   rather than just hears, reads and believes is uncommon .The need of hour is to find a purpose for one’s life and embark upon it to transform from ordinary to exceptional.

Why are you here, on this earth? That is one question every individually needs to answer to one self.  But in seeking to answer this question, keep in mind the words of Sir Lawrence Olivier, who said: "If you truly want to change your world, my friend, you must change your thinking.”


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