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January 9, 2021

The choice made by Jatayu

Filed under: education, family, personal, social change — neosurya @ 14:30

In the Ramayana, the King of Lanka Ravana kidnaps Sita after distracting Rama and Lakshmana. As Ravana carries away Sita in a flying chariot, Sita cries for help.

Several birds, animals and repitiles hear her cry, but no one is able to intervene. Some are just plain incapable of flying, others are too scared to face Ravana. Jatayu, the king of of vultures was an old bird. He barely had strength to fly, and he knew that he was no match for Ravana. But Jatayu did not hesitate. He saw that adharma was happening before his eyes, and he felt the need to take action. He rose into the sky and fought Ravana. The fight ended in a short span, as Ravan cut off Jatayu’s wings.

As Jatayu lay bleeding and close to death, Rama and Lakshmana approached him. Even as Rama held him in his arms, Jatayu did not say – “Look, I tried saving Sita and now becasue of that I am dying.” Instead, he said – “Pardon me Rama, I did not have the ability to stop Ravana and rescue Sita. I could not stop adharma from happening.”

When we see that society is going down a wrong path, we have three choices:

  1. Do not try to change anything. This is a reasonable choice if your assumption is: “The Lord has created this situation, and the Lord shall change it. In any case, all is Maya.”
  2. Attempt to make a change, but only if it has a guaranteed outcome or benefit. This is a wrong choice, an adharmic choice.
  3. Attempt to make a change, irrespective of the consequences. This is the choice made by Jatayu.

Steps 1 and 3 are born out of different forms of Bhakti. Step 2 is ahankaara. The choice one makes usually depends on their mindset, previous karma, and their current circumstances. And this choice will effect their future karma.

June 18, 2020

Orders

Filed under: army, democracy — neosurya @ 15:02

This story is called “Orders”. This is purely fictional.

The location is an international border near the Himalayas. It is the afternoon of 31st May 2020.

Col Ramamurthy asks: “Call the 2IC”

2IC (Lt Col Amit): “Jai Hind Sir”

Col Ramamurthy: “What is the status on the ground?”

2IC: “Sir, Two days ago, at the dawn of 29th May, about 40 enemy combatants who were standing at pickets on their side, crossed over and came 200 meters into our side and setup two tents. By the evening of 29th May, we had orders to push them back. Capt Abhir and Lt Mihir with about 200 men are pushing back the enemy soldiers. Maj Singh is in charge sir. As per orders, we are not using lethal force. Our enemy has started using makeshift weapons, batons, and sticks studded with nails. While the resistance is stiff, we are managing to push them back with hand to hand skirmish. We are using defensive equipment like shields. Our men have been at this all through the night of 29-30, the whole of yesterday and last night. The first tent has already been cleared sir. In another half a day we should be able to clear the other tent. By the morning of 2nd June, we will be able to push them back to their side of the border sir. There are four casualties on our side sir.”

Col Ramamurthy: “We have fresh orders now. I need to be face to face with the enemy. Let us go to the pickets.”

Col Ramamurthy is about to board the jeep and leave for the border. The 2IC responds:
“Sir, why are you leaving for the pickets sir? This is not standard procedure. Please give us orders and we shall execute them.”

Col Ramamurthy: “Is the truck with the equipment ready?”

The 2IC responds:”Sir, I must insist. You cannot endanger yourself by going to the skirmish area. Please give us the order.”

Col Ramamurthy: “No Amit, these are orders that I must deliver in person.”

The HQ is only about 1.5 Kms from the border. As the jeep and the two trucks move towards the border, Col Ramamurthy thinks:
“I have been with this Battalion for several years. Some of these men have seen me as a fresh-faced Lieutenant, straight out of the Indian Military Academy. Now, I am a Colonel, and am in charge of their Battalion. I have seen some of these men from the age of 18. I have trained these men to fight with guns, grenades, mortars, and ATGMs. Now, I have to tell them to put their training aside and attack the enemy without firing a bullet. Amit is right. Under standard procedure, I have to issue orders from the HQ and the officers/jawans must execute them. I can understand the compulsion under which my superiors have given me such an order. They may have their own compulsion to follow procedure. But thanks to God, I am under no compulsion to give such orders verbally. I have the choice to stand shoulder to shoulder, give the order in person, and move forward with my men. Enemies have entered my country, and I am unable to use my weapons to save her. Yes, it is tough. But orders are orders. And my Battalion will be victorious.”

The jeep comes to a halt about 300 meters from the pickets and the area of the scuffle. Capt Abhir walks towards the jeep.

Col Ramamurthy: “Capt Abhir, each truck has 100 iron rods with barbed wire rolled at one end. Distribute them evenly across our 200 jawans. We will fight the enemy with these.”

The night is cold, dark, and bitter, where every bit of exposed skin shrivels in seconds. If any part of the body comes in touch with exposed metal, the skin would peel off. It takes about an hour to distribute the rods. Once all the rods are distributed, Col Ramamurthy takes up position in the center and says: “The enemy stands in their pickets posing a risk to our mother, and to the honor of our Battalion. We have to remove them from there. But we have orders to not fire even one bullet. We will execute these orders and emerge victorious. Charge!!!”

 

In the melee, 20 Indian soldiers, including Col Ramamurthy are martyred. The Battalion goes mad on seeing their colonel down. But orders are orders. No bullet is fired. 40 enemies are killed; the pickets are vacated. The orders are executed, and victory is achieved. But at what cost?

And why were these orders issued?
Short reason is that India did not want a war. Why did we not want a war?

  1. Peace: Was it because our foreign policy is on a misguided mission to uphold “peace”, “harmony”, and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”?
  2. Bad border infrastructure: Was it because our politicians ignored roads, airfields, infrastructure in borders where there is no option to get kickbacks?
  3. Zero defense technology: Was it because our scientists could not build a flying aircraft, usable tank, or a reliable rifle?
  4. Weak economy: Was it because our executive branch continues to harass companies, startups, honest tax payers, and in the process stifle the economy?
  5. No human capital: Was it because our best brains became: tired of an incompetent country, greedy for more riches, and left for better avenues?
  6. Declining civilization: Was it because our culture, country, and lifestyle is just a rotten shell, just waiting to be kicked in by a hungry neighbor?

 

Whatever be the reason, this Bharatavarsha needs to introspect. And correct this fast.

Skirmishes and battles can be won by men. But wars are won by countries. An unprepared country will decline. Talks of peace and global harmony are great. But so is the protection of ones own constitution and culture. Especially when such a constitution is under attack by an undemocratic, authoritative power.

—————————-
Most people who gave detailed media comments probably had very little military knowledge, and even lesser knowledge about that area. Even the most confident, experienced, and battle hardened commander will tell you that one can be prepared for a skirmish, but one cannot predict if it will go in our favor or not.

What one can say for sure is that in terms of policy, economy, mindset of citizens, we are leagues behind our bigger neighbor. We bicker on things like defense procurement, taxation rules, labor laws, even basic things like water sharing between states, or garbage disposal in our cities. These fundamentals are so weak that at this point, Bharat cannot afford to get into a long war. But, we are also strong on some aspects – democracy, working population, soil fertility, access to natural resources. However, a country/civilization runs the risk of losing its advantages soon, unless it is careful and moves extremely strategically.

May 6, 2020

rambles

Filed under: religion, social change — neosurya @ 13:34

This is a ramble. Call it a smoothie made of misplaced bonhomie + corona conditioning. 🙂


Thread no 1:

Very early on in my career, I had decided that I wanted to live in a village. I wanted to work hard, but the kind of facilities and comforts I wanted were different from those offered in cities. It is only my incompetence that I still continue to live in a city. A few close friends and family had asked me to move to the USA. It does not matter where one lives (USA, India, or some other country). What matters is that these people believe in a city, urban lifestyle. They think that by going to USA, one will automatically accept those comforts.

To live in a city with all its so-called modern comforts, I have to work and maintain a culture of success. The claim made is that people go to school, college, and office out of their own choice. But do they? Industrialized society presents in front of people a certain picture of success-culture. A person who goes to Wharton or Harvard is a success, someone who goes to  Univ of Tennessee is less successful, someone in community college is a failure. A person who writes code perfectly is a success, someone who does accounting is less successful, and someone who can do perfect dish-washing is a failure. Living in AC is comfort – sitting under a shady tree is backward. Eating stale food in a high class restaurant is enjoyment – making home-made avakaya (pickles) and vadiyaalu (rice crackers) is backward.

The result is that people in a hyper-competitive environment stop looking at each other as humans, but tend to see each other as bits and pieces of steel that can be converted into parts of a machine. A human who can be converted into a strong part is better, someone who cannot be converted is weaker. Instead of celebrating abilities and accommodating differences, we try to bring everyone to a uniform beige color.

End result:

  • Society tends to say that housework is a thankless activity that has no value, while  working in an office is a glamorous job that can transform society/ contribute to economy, increase GDP etc etc. This leads to ego playing out in strange ways. Let us say there are two  people A and B in a relation ship. And let us assume that A chose to be a home-maker and B is working outside the house. There can be three situations: (i) Person (A) will feel “hurt” when the person (B) comes home and asks for a glass of water. (ii) Person (A) has kept the house clean, done the dishes, cleaned the clothes, taken care of children and made an awesome meal. But Person (B) comes home and says that (A) was “only sitting at home”. Both cases (i) and (ii) are wrong. Person A and B both have a role to play. But unfortunately, society is designed in such a way that someone who takes care of the home is not given recognition.
  • Each person has an amazing amount of pressure to maintain income levels. A daily wage laborer has pressure to earn wage. An individual working in an office has pressure to maintain that job. If you earn Rs 10 lakhs, then society expects that person to take a loan and spend Rs 15 lakhs to buy a house. If you earn Rs 15 lakh, then you are expected to take a loan of Rs 30 Lakh and buy many houses. Why? Because economy will develop. And what about the pressure this brings on people? And there is also a lot of pressure on resources, environment etc. Can people perform only when placed under pressure? Is this the best way for humanity to ensure survival?
  • For entertainment, pleasure, and company, people stop relying on each other. Alcohol, violence, face-books, you-tubes and other such stimulants feel more attractive. It is not like everything is positive in a village or a lifestyle with less material comforts. A village would also have alcohol, violence, extra-marital affairs, family feuds etc. In some ways villages have a lot more in-your-face behavior. But in a laid back lifestyle, society, people, and family are still a source of pleasure/company for a majority. Cities are generally more competitive and offer a much smaller opportunity to maintain such strong inter-personal links.

A city and associated pressures force people to be competitive. Some amount of competition is necessary to survive. But beyond a limit it is self-defeating. Life becomes a continuous war against a co-worker, neighbor, family member, and nature. It is not that moving to a village will automatically convert someone into a less competitive individual. It is also not that I want to become lazy or celebrate laziness. Super-competitiveness is having too much ego, pride and lack of humility. Laziness and super competition are two ends of a pendulum. An example is  Arjuna from Mahabharat. Arjuna was certainly not lazy. But he was not competitive, he was super-competitive. He considered himself to be the best archer. In some ways, Arjuna even forced his teacher Dronacharya to ensure that no other student was the best archer. As per mythology, Arjuna was refused an entry to heaven because of his super-competitive nature. He had to take three more janmas. And in each janma, he had to endure defeats before he could realize the folly of being super-competitive.


Thread 2:

With all our intelligence, humans will always misunderstand each other. It is more easy to be suspicious of the other person, as opposed to take them on positively. It is always easy to criticize as opposed to construct. Each human due to his or her intelligence creates an “ideal of perfection”. And when the other person does not meet this ideal, the result is anger, disappointment,  and frustration.

With modern lifestyle the number of differences between people have multiplied. In my childhood, there were only 6-7 theaters in a large city. And getting a movie ticket was a challenging task. So if a family managed to watch a movie – that was itself an achievement. Now, we have a dozen multiplexes with 10 screens each. Getting tickets is a breeze with smart phone apps. There is so much choice of entertainment, choosing the right kind of entertainment is itself a war. And God forbid if someone does not want to be entertained in a multiplex – that person is considered a swamiji, dodo, and scarecrow.

During the cold war, US and Russia operated on a theory of  “Mutually Assured Destruction”. Families are also doing the same. Why can we not sit down peacefully and get to an “Open Skies Policy”?

For those who do not know Open skies policy – During the cold war, the US flew several spy aircraft missions over Soviet Bloc nations. This lead to a lot of bungling – the Russians once shot down a Japanese civilian aircraft thinking it was a military plane. Thankfully, several countries including Russia and US signed an “Open Skies Treaty” which came into force in 2002. As per this treaty a fixed number of “spy-planes” could be flown by  country A to check on the country B, provided country A gives 72 hours advance notice to country B.


Thread 3:

Some say the Gita is a poem where the Lord asks Arjuna to fight. Some say it is a poem of peace where the Lord says that all war is fought in his name.

Gita and Mahabharata is all about introspection. A lot of wrong happens in Kurukshetra. Towards the end, the five children of Draupadi are murdered while sleeping at night. Ashwattama even tries to kill the future child of Uttara by shooting a divine arrow into the womb. But how could Kurukshetra be avoided –

  • Maybe the pandavas should have accepted their fate. After all, their own brother Yudhishtir had gambled away their kingdom to the Kauravas.
  • Maybe Dhritrashtra should have put aside his blind love for his son Duryodhana. With blind love for his own blood, Dhritrashtra was unable to see that the late Pandu was his own brother. If he thought about it, King Pandu was dead. The Pandavas were in a way his own sons.
  • Maybe Yudhishtir and his brothers should have been little more restrained while building Indraprastha. Why show off your affluence, knowing well that your cousin was already jealous of you?
  • Maybe Duryodhana should have tried to control his intense jealousy towards his cousin brothers – the Pandavas, the children of King Pandu.
  • Maybe King Pandu should not have shot an arrow to kill the sage and his wife who were having sex in a forest in the form of a doe couple. This mistake eventually led to the death of King Pandu, and his blind brother Dhritrashtra became king.
  • Maybe the Kuru dynasty should not have punished Gandhari’s parents after finding out that Gandhari was married to a goat before being married to Dhritrashtra.
  • Maybe Gandhari should not have tied a blindfold to her eyes. She could have then used her wisdom to guide her blind husband and her son Duryodhan.
  • Maybe Gandhari’s father should not have trusted astrologers who said that Gandhari should marry a goat before getting married to Dhritrashtra.
  • Maybe when she was a young, unmarried maiden, Kunti should have not called upon the sun God to give her a baby. Maybe society should have accepted children from unmarried women.
  • Maybe Satyavati should not have insisted that her own blood line must be kings. Maybe Satyavati’s father should not have placed those conditions in front of Devadutt?
  • Maybe King Shantanu should have controlled his hormones and not lusted after Matsyagandha.
  • Maybe sage Parashara should not have had sex with Matsyagandha and converted her to Satyavati.

Mahabharata and the Gita is all about how “society and human rules” are just castles in air. What did Satyavati gain with all her persistence that only her children should become heirs? The eventual heir – Yudishtir was born of Kunti and Lord Yama. Neither of them were directly the blood lines of the Kuru dynasty.

The Gita and Mahabharata is a call for humans to introspect and think. Instead of fighting physical and mental wars, determine the best course of action by putting aside your ego. And stick to that action, do not worry about the result. And more so, never seek acceptance from other humans. Most human beings do not understand their own minds, how will they understand each other. 🙂

May 4, 2020

Cabin cupboard

Filed under: army, social change — neosurya @ 16:03

At the National Defence Academy, and the Indian Military Academy, several cadets train under the supervision of a Company Commander or COCO. A cadets room can be inspected at any time by the COCO. And it has to be spick and span. Not like your usual hostel room. In addition, the academy announces “cabin cupboard” dates. The checking is even more aggressive on these dates. The photo below shows how the room of a cadet is supposed to look on cabin cupboard days. The room is not much different on other days as well. But on cabin cupboard days, the room needs to meet a critical specification. See the shirts on the hangers? On any day at the academy the COCO can barge into your room and check if your shirts are neatly arranged on a hanger. But on cabin cupboard days, suck it up cadet !!! The rack has to be arranged in a specific order – a jacket, followed by a shirt, followed by 2 uniforms. The rings on the hangers have to be inward, and not outward. This arrangement can be changed – for instance you may be told to have one uniform, one shirt, and one suit. And it extends to other parts of the room as well – there need to be exactly two bottles on the bedside table. One red and another blue. The bed needs to look spotless. The bathroom needs to have exactly a certain set of items, having certain colors. Your clothes shelf needs to have exactly a specific number of vests and handkerchiefs arranged in a certain angle. There are also claims that there is a book with a set pattern of display items. I never saw a book, but there must be a specification hidden away somewhere, amidst all the documentation of the approved ways of rogering a cadet.

nda_cabin

On top of all this, the COCO can come and check at anytime of the day or night. So, the cadets keep their rooms spotless, make their beds, and polish every part of the floor. At night they sleep on the floor so that the bed stays spotless, that is if they get to sleep at all. A typical dialogue between the COCO and cadet could be:

Officer- “Are these OG socks?”

GC no 1- “Sir, yes sir”

Officer- “They do not look OG to me. Take 5.”

——

Officer- “Why is your bottle less red in color”

GC no 2- SILENCE

Officer- “All right. Take 2.”


Take 5, take 2 these are not dosas or parathas. These are restrictions. Typically, 1 restriction means you have to assemble at a specific location and run for 5 Kms in full battle gear. And if you do not finish the run in a specified time, you get more restrictions. And restrictions place such a hard limit on your already stretched schedule, that a cadet with a restriction will eventually make a mistake and get other restrictions. And there can be more –


Officer- “Why is your curtain not having a restrainer” (Curtain restrainers may not be in the specs)

GC no 3- SILENCE

Senior – “Sir not in the spec sir”

Officer- “You@%$@s. Dont you know that curtains need restrainers? What do you mean it was not in the spec? Company ko fall in karo.”


When COCO says “company ko fall in karo”, everyone gets about 2-3 minutes to dress up, come out, and fall in. If your company is lucky, and that is a big IF, the COCO would be breathing commands down your neck and you would only be standing through the night with/without clothes. Generally you are not lucky, and a few hours are sucked off into a hapless loop of running, front roll, back roll, cream roll, or whatever else the COCO fancies. There are several articles dedicated to training at the IMA, an example is here: https://www.ssbcrack.com/2016/03/15-things-every-ima-cadet-can-relate-to.html

I was reading up some articles on psychology, and came up on this paper “Development and evaluation of an intervention program to manage stress among trainees at the indian defence academy”, Harini Kumari R and Shailaja Shastri (Link to original). This paper had a survey of all training meted out at the academies. Cabin cupboard came out as the second most stressful aspect of training, ranking even above punishments. The first stressful factor was “time management”. A table from this paper is below:

cabin_cupboard_stress

Which begs me to the question – why is this done? To instill officer like qualities. An army officer may be deployed to undertake tasks where minor mistakes can have expensive repercussions. A battery left uncharged can make your team lose all communication, a small piece of shiny metal can give away your position, a knot tied wrongly can lead to equipment or people falling off. An officer also has to be patient, confident, hardworking, caring, determined – and a host of other qualities. Training is done to imbibe all these qualities into a soldier. Some get more of these qualities, others get less during training. Some soldiers forget aspects of this as they age. But by and large, most good soldiers have these attributes tucked away somewhere.

Cabin cupboard cannot be part of training in civilian institutes. But I wish there was some semblance of discipline. It may come in handy. These days, there is a lot of discussion about COVID-19. There are discussions of how the kaam waali bai (house-help / servant) was not coming, and how daily tasks had become a torture. There are also grumblings of how our lifestyle was changing, how the Govt was not taking care of migrants/economy/healthcare, how X could be done differently. And then, I remembered cabin cupboard. And the lesson we had learnt – we could not change the rules of cabin cupboard. We could not escape the restrictions. But, we figured out ways to handle it – some of us perfected the art of keeping the place spick and span, some of us became physically strong, others took the restrictions with mental coolness, some even figured out a way to speak their minds to the COCO. We became better in some way or the other. There were also others who pointed fingers at everything but themselves. And in the long run, their ignorance made them suffer a lot more.

COVID-19 is like cabin cupboard. You cannot change the rules. You cannot escape the restrictions. You look inward and become a better person, or you point fingers at others and suffer your ignorance.

 

April 22, 2020

Open source

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — neosurya @ 08:57

Lot of people have a misconception that open source is just taking a bunch of code and putting it out there. Not quite. A usable open source project would need to be supported. A few golden words from Kelly Davis, the Manager/Technical Lead of the machine learning group at Mozilla

 

April 11, 2020

Double standards of media while criticizing India

Filed under: social change — neosurya @ 11:12

A media outlet criticized India when we did clapping for doctors.

Clapping to slapping — India did everything other than social distancing this week

Lot of people criticised Modi for doing this. UK is doing the same thing. What do they say now??? Nothing negative, no images or videos of localities where social distancing was violated.

With pots, pans and bagpipies, Britons are ‘clapping’ every Thursday for healthcare workers

And this is an Indian media outlet. This does not mean everyone in UK or NY practiced perfect social distancing. Britons also violated social distancing, but the wording used was “Don’t just blame the public over social distancing” [1]. Very harsh and large scale criticism happens for every act committed by Indians.

In the Mormon societies of USA (the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), one man can have many wives. Adults are allowed to marry children. This is still happening in 2020. You will hardly see criticism of this. But 100s of journalists and intellectuals will not blink an eyelid before writing negatively about Savitri, Saraswati, Draupadi, Sita, Krishna, Rama, Parasurama.

Read the following article by a newspaper:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/17/fundamentalist-mormons-sister-wives-homelessness
The above article is about mormons in USA who believe that one adult male can marry several children. This practice is illegal in USA, but the mormons still support it. The newspaper uses words such as “community support system”, “local pride”. The article does not have one negative word like regressive, oppression, orthodox, unscientific, male chauvinist, or illegal. The word Christian or US women does not even appear once in the article. Even more horrifying is this: The article says that in 2006 the Govt arrested a person who arranged such child marriages. Due to those arrests the children lost their support and were forced into poverty.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/jun/01/2
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/07/india-female-students-eve-teasing
These are articles about about Varanasi: on widows and on eve teasing. Not one positive word about the Govt, or about the society. A paragraph from the article is below:

The difficulties faced by Indian women – amply illustrated by evidence of their diminishing contribution to the workforce, lagging literacy rates, and the frequency with which they are murdered as infants – have become part of the global narrative about the country since the 2012 rape and murder of a Delhi physiotherapy student.

In one single paragraph, eve teasing in a University is used to say that all women in India are oppressed since the day they are born. Why is this not said about domestic violence in conservative South USA, date rape in the West, and general discrimination against women in technology?

We blindly follow Western concepts. Their version of liberation, freedom, lifestyle, entertainment, and development is modern and better. Taking care of home and hearth (housewife), doing Sandhyavandanam, respecting nature, farming, and preferring traditional festivals over a weekend “party” is backward. Our food habits,  joint family system, or preference for family life over career is conservative. We are like the woodcutters who cut the branch on which they sit. No, we are not cutting the branch. We are burning the tree and putting poison in the roots of our culture. When will we learn?

I don’t support regressive policies. Science and development is needed. But dumping the baby with bath water is not the way to reform society. Honest criticism of people, practices, or thoughts is an important part of civil society. But there is distinctly something uncivil, dishonest, and downright sinister about the criticism of India.

March 3, 2020

Urban vs rural development

Filed under: education, social change — neosurya @ 15:29

A few years ago, I opened a computer lab at one Govt school. It then expanded to two schools. Now, I am planning to open labs in additional schools. My long term goal is to start a polytechnic in the village. A lot of people asked me – why start this in the village? If you want to educate these kids, why not send them to the city? There are many schools like navodaya vidyalayas, Narayana’s, Chaitanyas. After 10th and 12th there are many polytechnics, BSc, BTech, BPharma courses. Not only that, there are many Govt programs already offering discounted education. Why not prepare the students for these? This article hopes to address some of those questions.

  1. One argument is that moving a child from village to city will give them a better perspective; it is just like someone going abroad for studies. It is not the same. A student who has finished Bachelors and is going abroad has already achieved some amount of maturity. The age is such that one can overcome sudden cultural changes. A child in 12th grade moving from village to city will find it more difficult to internalize such changes. The prospect of facing new languages, new people, new lifestyles magnifies the pressure of academic performance. Also, an Indian student does not go to the US or Europe for a better perspective. The student goes because the student does not want to come back to India; they believe there are no opportunities in their own country. If a student genuinely goes abroad to study and then comes back to live and work in the home nation, then the country can be proud. A country whose child has to leave the shores due to no opportunities should be ashamed. Similarly, if a child has to leave a village due to lack of opportunity, we should be ashamed, not say that it gives the child a good perspective.
  2. A lot of people insist that moving from villages to cities leads to upward mobility. That an educated person will earn more in day than a farmer earns in a year. This is only part of the truth. A city dweller earns more, but also has to spend more.
  3. Another popular opinion is that a villager has become a jada pravritti (lazy, disinterested) person, and making a person move to a city will force the individual to be enterprising/satisfied. If merely moving to a city would make someone enterprising, then everyone in the city would have been leading happy lives. This is clearly not so. Many lead a miserable existence. There is a population of people who are educated, but unemployed. They have it even worse. Education gives them qualification, but no skills. They cannot be employed in the city, nor will their pride let them return to the hometown/home village. Many of these people have studied not because they love their subject, but because they were told that education will give them a GREAT job. But the promise of white collar jobs for everyone is only a mirage.
  4. A related question is the difference between luxuries and wants, salaries and wages, profits and shares. There is a HUGE difference between “premium, high paying jobs” and “blue collar, subsistence jobs”. Continuing this status quo can only lead to more inequality and the ensuing social strife. There is not enough steel on the planet to give cars to every person. But there is enough in nature to provide transport for everyone.
  5. Villages do not have any avenues of self-development. This is precisely why educational institutes must be strengthened in villages, and possibly in tier-2/3 towns. If every resource – hospitals, schools, entertainment centers, shops, manufacturing move to cities, what will villages do? Who will farm? Education and healthcare is a basic necessity. Society must provide these at no cost to every individual. And the quality should be world-class. If one has accessible healthcare and education for every, say 10-20 villages, a few allied services also will emerge around these. India only seems to be interested in developing economic zones, and large urban sprawls. What will happen to villages, 2nd and 3rd tier towns? Ancient Indian education had the concept of Gurukulas – where pupils lived with teachers in ashrams away from cities. It allowed a child to focus on studies instead of getting distracted. Universities were setup in cities for higher education. We are not saying that all education has to be moved to villages. But to the extent possible, education must be available to everyone, everywhere. Especially when today’s technology and eLearning can make this happen.

Health care must also be available to everyone everywhere. But that is a different thought, for a different day.

February 24, 2020

Free education: What, how, and why?

Filed under: education — neosurya @ 03:48

A few friends were speaking about modalities of education: Paid,  Subsidized, or Free. In paid education, the teacher is given an income to teach. Subsidized education is when the act of teaching gets the teacher some amount, and a different activity (consulting/farming/business etc) gets the teacher some amount. Free is when the teacher is not paid to teach.

In this definition, modern University education falls under the bucket of Paid or Subsidized. Teachers are generally paid well at Universities. There are also adjunct and visiting faculty who are paid a small amount to teach part-time. Free education is when a teacher does not depend on the teaching activitiy for income, or even subsistence. When we discussed free education further, the how and why also came up:

How can education be free?

It is claimed that in ancient India, education was “free”. Sages, saints, and teachers apparently never took money for teaching. I am saying apparently because I am yet to meet a saint who will teach for free. Teachers are also humans, and have needs. These needs were met by picking up grains from fields, begging from house to house, or accepting donations from rich people. When a student was graduating, the teacher could express a wish that the student needed to fulfil. But this was also called “dakshina”, or donation. Technically, the teacher could not demand a fee. In some parts of India, this was called “Uncha vritti”. Uncha vritti places a very high demand on the teacher. It is possible that on certain days, a teacher may not get anything from uncha vritti. The challenge is familiar to Indians who may have read the Mahabharata. Dronacharya, an expert teacher of warfare becomes an acharya for the royal family of Hastinapur. Dronacharya is not able to afford milk for his infant son. But according to the custom of the day, he can only beg, but not demand any salary. This leads to his bitter enemity with a King called Drupada, and the story is summarized here.

India apparently had the concept of Agrahara – land was donated by kings or rich people where teachers established centers to learn, and recite vedas. These were mostly religious in nature, and there is an introduction here.

One can argue that the University system enables somewhat “free” education. A university offers salary to a teacher in return for taking classes. The argument made is that this salary is very very small as compared to salaries offered in industry. But the university in modern days no longer supports the philosophy behind “free” education. With salary negotiations, perks, and all benefits taken into account, a good University job is quite cushy. A department or faculty is often measured in terms of how much grant money they can attract and how many publications they get. Universities do not care if the grant lead to social change, or challenged the boundaries of human understanding. Hard and hot science departments (Computers, Materials, Biology etc) are flourishing, with entire buildings and campuses dedicated to their pursuit. But humanities and fine arts departments are struggling for existence.

Modern social structure also no longer supports “free” education. Society itself rewards a hard hitting coder than a soft playing pianist. Students do not go to a teacher to learn a topic for the love of the subject. They learn a subject because the right keywords in a resume will get them a job. Ergo, they will offer the best enticement to a teacher who can promise the best “career”. In some horrifying situations, students do not even care if the teaching was of a good quality or not. The perception of getting a “degree” with good grades is more important than the knowledge gained in a classroom.

eLearning can offer somewhat “free” education. The computer is is non-emotional. The process of teaching facts and figures can be made “free”, universally available. eLearning cannot replace teachers, or the thrill of a classroom. It cannot offer knowledge or mentorship, but it can be a good stepping stone, a resource where there is no alternative.

Why should education be free?

Many friends argued that free education is not good and cannot have good quality. In their definition, good quality is when education translates into applications and careers. Such education is a ticket out of poverty and towards modern living. The argument made here is that such eduation will require the latest technologies, the best and the most updated teachers. And such paraphrenalia will command a good price. So, education must be free for the customer, but it cannot be free for the teacher. Let the Government, philantrophy or some other mechanism pay on behalf of the student. But the University and teacher must have commercial interests in their mind. I also shared this view for several decades.

But now I realize that there is one risk. Most careers lead to greed, accumulation, aggrandization of the ego. This directly or indirectly feeds the many conflicts in this world. The original conflicts among humans were for control over natural resources – rivers, land, minerals, food, manpower. Those fights exist, but more nuanced reasons have been added – it is called “market share”, “profit”, “ideology”, “religion”, “way of life”.

Why is this competition/fighting related to education? Education leads to knowledge and technology, and these often give a winning edge. Knowledge allowed countries to design cannons, guns, rockets and atom bombs. Knowledge allows companies to design products that are better than their competition: faster screen, better fuel efficiency, more fashionable, more screen time, more customer engagement, increased dwell time, higher click through. Countries, religions, ideologies, companies, sports teams, colleges, schools, and individuals, everyone have started indulging in this hyper competitive race at the respective level. And any form of education that can give even the minutest edge has the most commercial success.

Free education is required because it can help us question the premise of competition. If education turns into a transaction that binds students, parents, or society into a pre-concieved notion of success, it is not true education. Truly free education may force at least some people to think: “Who are you competing with? Another human, member of another species, nature? Is this competition worth winning?”

Whatever be the model, such education can only be free if an individual teacher can, to some extent overcome the demands of a materialistic life.


Personal disclaimer: I am yet to become a “free” teacher. Currently, I am a “paid” teacher.

February 11, 2020

Revolution is easy. Evolution is hard.

Filed under: social change — neosurya @ 05:57

Two polarizing slogans are playing out today: Cheen ke lenge Azadi, and Goli maar do. These slogans represent opposite view points, with both sides firmly entrenched that they are correct. Such polarization has lead to misunderstanding and bloodshed over centuries of history. The topics may have been different, but the extreme views were same: My color is better than your color, my language is better, my culture is better, my book is better.

A few reasons why this happens:

  1. Human beings think too much. Animals eat when hungry, and rest of the time they laze around.
  2. Humans have lost their humanity. Humanity means having feelings for something outside the own body. All cows will run when attacked by a predator. You tube videos show that a tiger protected a calf etc. But that is generally an exception in animals. We humans by nature are supposed to organize, stand up and help even the weak ones. Recently, we do not do that. Blame it on civilization, police harassment or anything else. We are just not willing to help others.
  3. Humans have become too intelligent. Intelligence has made society more complex and created complicated problems. So many systems are broken: Education, healthcare, corporate profits, religious extremism, war, climate change. What will one human fix?

Simple things to remember:

  1. This body is a rented place. It will be around only for 80 years or so.
  2. You are a tiny speck of the universe. Your issues, struggles matter only so much. Pick these issues carefully, and spend only so much time on them.

What can we do in practice:

  1. Enjoy life without hurting others (humans, animals, plants, whatever).
  2. Minimize your own ego. The universe will live. With you, without you. Before you, after you.
  3. If you really feel like contributing, pick small issues in your house, neighborhood. Maybe adopt a village. Example: https://www.fasl.org.in/.
  4. Remember that following even simple rules all the time is not easy. Example: (1) I believe in not using plastic. Everyday, the first thing I put in my mouth is a piece of plastic. (2) I believe that living in a village is better than a city. I only live for 2 days out of 7 in a village. Rest of the time, I live in a city.

Roads can be blocked in minutes. Ensuring traffic flows day in and day out is tough. Burning down forests is easy. Growing a tree is tough. Buying a flat is easy. Building a home is tough. Murder can be committed in minutes. Giving birth takes effort. Shouting naaras is easy. Sticking around for long and fixing the problem is tough. Yes, revolution is easy. Evolution is hard.

 

 

August 25, 2019

Two days, two lectures, two thoughts

Filed under: education, governance, India, NGO — neosurya @ 03:55

On 20th Aug and 21st Aug, two events occurred that made me ponder a lot. The first event was at Yellakonda school, where I realized the shocking extent of undernourishment among school children. I teach computer science classes at the Nareguda and Yellakonda village on Tuesdays. This is part of a more long-term effort at developing these two villages (Families of Sustainable Living). During this class, I was using the weight of children to explain a scientific concept. The first child had a weight of 31, the second 32, third 30, the fourth 28. I then reminded myself that this was extreme malnourishment. It was not like I did not know the extent of mal-nourishment in villages. I was very fimiliar with it since 2004. But it shocked me that this was still rampant in a village that was so close to a bustling metropolis.

The second was a lecture that I delivered at a management institute on 21st Aug. Officers from Indian security forces were also in the audience. The audience was extremely knowledgeable. The questions they asked revealed their genuine seriousness in the subject. But one question stood out – AI will require implementing several large IT and non-IT pieces. Many Govt departments will have to come together to work on it. What is your thought on how this can be done? I had several points in my answer, but I basically suggested increased collaboration, policy changes, and rising above departmental turf wars.

What connects these two events? The reason why our school children continue to suffer after decades of “development policies” is broadly the same reason why our forces suffer after decades of “growing GDP”.

Not all children who sit in classroom will turn out to be a scholar or sportsman, neither will all soldiers say “Yeh dil maange more” when faced with the enemy (Capt Vikram Batra, PVC).

Almost every child trusts that the classroom will offer tools to improve onself and maybe become something in life. But the low body weight, and caries in the teeth will effect the child’s performance. At the other end is a young 20-something pilot who sits in an aircraft with dreams of soaring into the sky and if needed, dying for the nation. The pilot sits in it with the confidence that the nation is behind every fighting soldier. But the pilots performance will be limited by the aircraft which is possibly older than many serving pilots and a rigid bureaucracy that halts every attempt at modernization.

The spirit of this nation is strong. And we see positive changes everyday. I hope the change continues to be steady and becomes faster. The body and mind have been racked by sicknesses for decades, and hopefully the medicine being applied will be timely. Will the body continue to remain straight jacketed with rules and regulations that are from a socialist era, or from the occupying British Govt? Will the mind continue to tear itself apart with theoretical discussions and opinion pieces by intelligensia sipping their morning tea in lofty offices?

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