Sunday, July 23

why should anybody learn latin ?

In my last post, I wrote about Sudbury Valley School. I read some essays by Daniel Greenberg about the Sudbury Valley School experience. To illustrate a point, he tells a story about Issac Newton. Here goes the story.

Isaac Newton wrote a book when he was twenty-one, his first real production. It was a new theory of optics. It was a fabulous book. Physicists still read it with joy, and a lot of the ideas that he put into the book are still talked about. But they ran contrary to the accepted theories of optics in his day and, in particular, they ran contrary to the theories that the elders in the English physics establishment held to be sacrosanct. So he was lambasted for being an upstart, for not toeing the line, and he decided to never write another book. "I'm happy. I'm doing my thing. I know what I like." He had a professorship, so he didn't have to worry about his income, and he just sat in his place in Cambridge and did his stuff.

Twenty years later the rumor got out that he had solved the problem of gravitation. So a couple physicists who heard about this in London came up and said, "We heard that you solved the problem of gravitation. Is it true?" He said, "Yes, that's true." They said, "What is it?" He showed them. He wrote it out, and they were flabbergasted, because they immediately saw that he was right. They said, "Write it." He said, "I've done my writing for my lifetime." They begged him and begged him to write it, and he finally wrote it in a book called Principia Mathematica, which was written in Latin. The optics book had been written in English. His new book was written in Latin that almost nobody could understand, and all the simple proofs that were easy to read he replaced with obscure proofs that were very difficult to follow.

Hmmm.. So, latin has it uses. That and another use I know is - You can skip almost 75% of the book "Word power Made Easy" by Norman Lewis. That's the book I was asked to read in my childhood to expand my vocabulary.(I completed almost 60% of the book) Studio Latin, Amigos !

Thursday, July 20

dream of a democractic school

When I read the book "Maverick" by Ricado Semler before I even got my first job, I was blown away by the idea of the book. I was fascinated by the way how Semler carried out his company Semco's transformation from a traditional "pyramid" organization to something described like

Semco's staff work in small, autonomous units of about a dozen (the size, says Semler, of a close family group). They make the decisions, choose their leaders, set objectives and decide who they need and what they should be paid[...]

At Semco we did away with strictures that dictate the 'hows' and created fertile soil for differences. We gave people an opportunity to test, question and disagree. We let them determine their own training and their own futures. We let them come or go as they wanted, work at home if they wanted, set their own salaries, choose their own bosses. [...]

At the heart of our bold experiment is a truth so simple it would be silly if wasn't so rarely recognized: A company should trust its destiny to its employees. [...]

Every decision of the company - from salaries to the cafeteria's menu - is decided by the employees democratically. Meetings are voluntary. There is little bureaucratic control beyond financial accountability. Most importantly, the employees are treated as adults rather than an asset - another piece of furniture.

Well, after I got a job, and found the stark reality of how a company functions - no different from how Military is run. Except for the uniforms. One wears a tie, instead. I realize that organizations are more Dilbert like rather than Semco like. (Funny how, I read Dilbert only after joining organization. I think every company should give a copy of "The Dilbert Principle", rather than make those dull Power point presentations during the placement interviews in Colleges)

One day I was coming back from work in a local bus in Hyderabad. Travelling in a Metro-Bus anywhere in India is the ultimate feast for all your senses - You smell everything Coconut Oil, Shikakai, Soap, Sweat, Cement , Iorn, Dried Fish or Jasmine - it really takes my breath away. You see everything that is India. And you touch, and you are touched. Any where I travel in India - I make sure I use Public Transport at least once. OK...I digress.

I got this idea of a school that is democratic as Semco - where the student chooses what he or she studies. The student has a say in how the school is run, who their teacher should be, and what they want to learn today. I did get a some inspiration of this idea "The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", where the professor abandons all grades so as to understand something in a qualitatively rather than quantitatively. I seriously think abandoning grades is a good start for a free school. (free as in freedom, not as in no-cost)

Anyways I pat myself on my back for such a wonderful idea. Fortunately, I didn't boast myself to anybody that I got such an original idea. After a year or two, one of my friends told me about a democratic school in Germany called Sudbury School Even though the site is German, it didn't take long for me to realize the original idea of Sudbury school is from Farmingham, MA USA - The Sudbury Valley School. It was founded in 1968. To give an idea of this school, I will quote one of the founders

At Sudbury Valley, a class is an arrangement between two parties. It starts with someone, or several persons, who decide they want to learn something specific -- say, algebra, or French, or physics, or spelling, or pottery. A lot of times, they figure out how to do it on their own. They find a book, or a computer program, or they watch someone else. When that happens, it isn't a class. It's just plain learning.

Then there are the times they can't do it alone. They look for someone to help them, someone who will agree to give them exactly what they want to make the learning happen. When they find that someone, they strike a deal: "We'll do this and that, and you'll do this and that -- OK?" If it's OK with all the parties, they have just formed a class.

I still do have this dream of building such a school one day - where every student is free to study what he or she wants. Every student has froms the class, choses the teacher, and learns - learns free. May be, the idea sounds too romantic. I need to do some homework. Until then, it is my "some day"...

Friday, July 14

dreams, depression, mumbai, and then hope ?

Sometimes I feel that my body seems to be so limited for the dreams i want to reach for. It looks like if these dreams, I have in me - I am not sure what part of me really  dream the dreams - those dreams might be achieved, if they were not created inside me, my body. It squeezes me in such a pressure inside me - its so depressing sometimes.

Well thats the kind of feeling i have been through for the past three days or so, and was amplified when i read the news about Mumbai bomb blasts. I still couldn't understand these people. How could terror be some one's purpose ?. I felt i hit bottom. But just browsing around, I hit the mumbai help blogspot website. And there  is this post on top of everything. Going through some of the posts, I remember these lines from the movie Love Actually. It is the starting line of the movie, and here it goes...

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.

Well, may be there is hope. But after reading the news about a possible Pakistan link with the bomb blasts (Source :, then may be there is not. Anyways, I am not sure, if another War to end every other war could solve the problems caused by our economic, social and cultural differences.

Just wanted to write something...

Thursday, July 6

punk to gentleman

Why do we watch sports ? We watch sports for what we lack... that lightning speed, or that impossible skill, or the most important aspect in any sport - athletic wisdom.  We don't want to miss that momentous invention of a completely new possibility, an athlete fabricates, in the realm of the same court (or pitch) using the same ball. We seek for moments of inspiration in our mundane and ordinary life. We yearn for those crossovers, those buzzer-beaters, those tie-breakers - quick moments of passion and intelligence that make beauty. I don't know, if we could ever define a Calculus based off that logarithmic d2y/dx2(acceleration) feeling that happens only in sports!

After the game is over, well, most of us get on with our lives. We know that we pay our sports heroes only for their on-field work . It doesn't really bother us much, how they do outside the lines. Of course, their lives are exciting. And yes, most of our sports icons live like how the truly rich live - invest more, spend more, and not necessarily save more. But there are some personalities, whose lives transcend beyond that momentary exhibition of speed, and skill.

Andre Aggasi is such a man, and a sports personality - in the literal meaning of the word personality. From his carefree beginnings of punk-iness to the gentleman he has grown to be now - He is the paragon on the kind of transformation a person can reach for. This is a small anecdote I heard on ESPN other day. After Andre was defeated in 2005 US Open Finals, his 4-year-old son, Jaden asked him, "Daddy, Who beat you ?". Andre replied, "Just some guy with long hair !" ( Roger Federer beat Andre in 2005 US Open Finals)

Yeah! I remember this long haired guy, whom I was religiously rooting for in 1992 Wimbledon finals against Goran Ivanesevic for two reasons

  1. I hated Goran's terribly boring aces.
  2. I felt, the hairy guy's ear ring was really cooool. (I was 12!)
And the hairy guy finally won. Well, this one is for the Andre then, and the Andre Now ( and a special mention - Andre's magical serve return ). We will miss him in Wimbledon. Hopefully, we will see him  at-least until the Semis in US Open.

Monday, July 3

lost+found in translation

When I learnt English in middle school and high school in India, I was told never to use the method of translation to learn the language. I think, that it is a tacit agreement among my English teachers (4 of them in 2 schools) that the idea of learning using translation is a bane.

During my school days, I came to accept this rule, but never understood why. Until the other day... I was talking to some one about my hurt toe. I said, "I hurt my leg finger, when I played soccer (football) yesterday". It took some time (with the puzzling look on his face) to realize that there is no such thing as a "leg finger" in English. They are called toes. It often happens when I try to construct a sentence in my mother tongue (Tamil), and then translate to English. In Tamil, (if you literally translate the words), they call the toe - "leg finger", and the actual finger - the "hand finger".

I think, more than just trying to avoiding such pitfalls, what my English teachers were trying to achieve, was to induce a sense of the English culture into my learning experience. Language is the most important aspect in the definition of a culture. Why would then, Sir Winston Churchill write a book "A History of English speaking peoples" rather than say "A Short History of the Great Britain and the USA" ? I think, for Churchill, "English speaking peoples" was a means to convey the language as a cultural identity.

The problem of learning a foreign language, thus, for most part, is a problem of understanding a culture. Whenever I see a new word or a phrase in English, I don't try to a cultural context of my mother tongue. Because of the way I was taught, I now am trying to understand it in the cultural context of the "English speaking peoples". I never "need to" understand what it would mean in my culture. Or if there is even a definition of it in my culture. All of these happens without any conscious decision of my own.

And So, When I was trying to translate this phrase "Our Endangered Values:America's Moral Crisis" (the book by Jimmy Carter) to Tamil, I stuttered. Because I couldn't translate the word "Values" in its English sense to my mother tongue. (Probably because the values in my culture are tied more to religion than the common law. That's a different story).

It was an exhilarating experience just to realize that... What is found in translation, is more interesting than, what is lost. I find my cultural identity.