Tuesday, December 11

in the news

This is probably old news. But I just found it today on BBC : Hindu gods get summons from court. As the story goes

Judge Sunil Kumar Singh in the eastern state of Jharkhand has issued adverts in newspapers asking the gods to "appear before the court personally".

Further below,
The two Hindu gods have been summoned as the defence claimed that they were owners of the disputed land.

"Since the land has been donated to the gods, it is necessary to make them a party to the case," local lawyer Bijan Rawani said.

Hopefully, the Gods answer our prayers notices.

Friday, November 30

கற்றது தமிழ்.

கற்றத்து தமிழ் திரைப்படம் பார்த்தேன் - சுமார் ஒரு வாரத்திற்க்கு முன்பு. படம் பார்த்து முடிந்ததும், சினிமா விமர்சகர் ரே கார்னி திரைப்படங்கள் எவ்வாறு இருக்க வேண்டுமென்று இங்கு சொல்வதைப் போன்றதொரு உணர்வு. இதோ அவருடைய வார்த்தைகள்..

Truth is messier and more complex than a trick. Art doesn't give us pre-cooked, pre-digested experiences, but raw, rough, unclassifiable ones. Real emotions defy verbal summaries. And they leave us more confused than analytic. In fact, if you can say what emotions you are feeling while you watch a film, you probably aren't having an emotional experience in the way I mean.
"உங்களை கல்லாக்கும் உணர்வுப் பொய்களை (emotional lies) வெளிக் கொண்டுவிடும்" என்று சொல்கிறரர் ரே. படம் பார்த்து எழுந்த சிந்தனைகள் பமுறுத்த செய்தன. எவ்வளவு தான் நீங்கள் தாங்குகிறீர்கள் பாக்கலாமென்று என்னைக் கேள்வி கேட்டன.

மீண்டும் மைப் பேனாவில் எழுதத் துவங்கினேன். பத்தரை வருட இடைவெளி்க்குப்பின் எழுதுகிறேன். நான்கு நாட்களுக்கு பின் தான் nib-ன் மூலம் எழுதிய என் எழுத்தில் நிதானம் வந்த்தது... ஆனால் சிந்தனையின் சலனம் இன்னமும் தெளியவில்லை.

Wednesday, November 28

My GRE experience

I wrote GRE, the Graduate Record Examination, an year and half ago. Recently, some one asked via e-mail, for advice and tips. I started to write the reply, but it turned out to be too long. I thought it would be better if I put this somewhere on the web, and send the URL, so that it would be useful later. So, this is my place on the web, and here is my GRE story. Skip this, if you don't care about GRE. And I wrote this in the blog, so that if someone thinks I am blockhead for writing this or whatever, they can do so in the comments section.

So, What is my score ?

Yes, I should tell my score first, so you know the credentials I have to talk about the Exam. Verbal was good : 660 (93 percentile) Quans was, lets say, "not bad" : 730 (78 percentile). Analytical writing was pathetic : 4.0 (32 percentile). Having written GRE qualifies me to write advice for every one else. And hence for the benefit of everyone writing GRE, here are my pearls. (Of course, If the pattern changes, this is useless). That also induced me into thinking that I would write all these standardized exams just to pass on advice and tips. Yeah, seriously... (only,if some one could give me money)

My preparation was just 3 months, well actually 3 months and 2 weeks (Because my car radiator burst three days before my initial GRE's date. So, I had to re-schedule.)

Plan of Study:

To make the plan of study, I used Google Calendar. I, probably, did not stick to my calendar like 40% of the time. But at least, it would be there in my face - questioning those things I do, not suggested by the calendar. I try to keep the plan as rigid as it was possible, and as flexible as it was needed. I used three books - an used Kaplan GRE prep book/CD, a new Barrons GRE prep book/CD and a used Kaplan GRE verbal workbook.

I was trying to write the exam, while I was working full time. Work was 8-5 every day, and doesn't usually exceed that. Hence, on week days, I planned 2 hours in the morning, 2.5 hours in the evening for word list learning, and a 15-min flash card session in the afternoon just after the lunch (Courtesy: Flash Card Exchange ). In the weekends, I mostly do math exercises, and verbal practice tests. In the beginning, I also learnt word lists during weekends, but later I just had revisions. I am almost certain that, I never worked more than 14 hours of study each weekend(Sat and Sun), and that includes time for practice tests.

I used my work as my distraction for GRE prep. I felt work was a better distraction. In other words, I felt my work helped, rather than, hurt my preparation for GRE. So, lets start with...

Mastering the word list.

Mastering the word list is useful for Analogues and Antonyms. This task alone consumed around 70% of my preparation time. I felt, there were three issues/caveats in mastering the list.

  • The sheer size of Barron's word list(around 4000 words) is enough to kill any sane human being's confidence that, they know English. So, I felt that Barron's word list is a wrong place to start. I felt, I should start with some sub-set of words, and incrementally add new words. In that way, I would have a better coverage of words from A-Z, then add new words, as they come to me. At the least, I would not feel bad that I never got to those words starting with 'S' or 'T'.
  • Words are related. But every word list doesn't show these relationships. If I ask you 10 difficult words you know, you wouldn't start with 'A'. You would start with one of the difficult words you know, and look for words that are related to it. Our brain stores words in a non-linear fashion, but word lists, like dictionaries are linear representation. I need to some-how build a non-linear way of storing the information using the linear input. (so that I can revise the word relationships easily)
  • Words are easy to forget. Forgetting is so easy that I don't remember any of the new words, I learned for GRE anymore. I have to find some ways to remember them. What should I do to remember them ?
These were my solutions...
  • I started with the word list in the Kaplan GRE Verbal workbook. They weren't as much as Barrons (Actually the whole of Kaplan had less than half of what Barrons had!!!). Another advantage with the words in Kaplan was, the word list was given in a non-linear fashion. For each word, the related words are listed just below, along with them. That would be really easy way to build my non-linear notebook. After I completed that, I then finished the words list given in suffixes, and prefixes section. After that, I went on the root words and words with similar meanings... (Barrons List comes later - Only after 5-6 weeks!!!)
  • While I did those things in Step 1, I wanted to build this corpus of information - word, meaning, its usage and its relationships- into a non-linear method of storage. I used tiddlywiki to store them. It is a reusable non-linear personal note-book. It is actually a Wiki in a single HTML file. As the description in the page says, "It contains the entire text of the wiki, and all the JavaScript, CSS and HTML goodness to be able to display it, and let you edit it or search it. Without needing a server."
    For example, If I store the word "veracity" in a page, then I add a links to other words such as "mendacious", "verity", just below the description of "veracity". When I click on "verity", it opens up information contained in same file, in the same window, and shows its description. Its all Javascript magic. I use this to just browse related words, without having to open a thesaurus. I need to make this on my own, so that focus is only on GRE words. Also that everything is contained in a single page. Aint that cool ?
  • I thought that I should listen to lot of words. I learnt a lot of words, just by listening radio/video/audio books on the Internet. Idea is that, if these words were reach my other senses, I would remember. Remember, the idea is to build associations.
  • iPod solution: I recorded myself learning the words, made into to small MP3 files, and stored in my iPod. For example, I can never forget the few words I made play lists interspersed with songs. My play list looked like this
    • "Mississippi" - Bob Dylan.
    • Words that approximately mean "sadness" - GRE.
    • "I am not crazy" - Rob Thomas.
    • Words that approximately mean "craziness" - GRE and so on.... I was just trying to associate vocals with meanings.
  • Classical solution : Flash Cards. I make sure that, I spend at least one hour every day entirely for flash cards. I made my own flash cards. I made 3x2.5 cards(almost looks like a square) out of 3x5 index cards, and wrote each word I learn, and the meaning behind the card. Every time I go through them, I separate into three parts of cards.
    • Words I think, I would never forget.
    • Words I think, I might forget.
    • Words I think, I just don't remember. I try to spend more time covering the third division, allocating time proportionately from there on.
Did my solution work ?
  • The idea of making smaller steps first, and then slowly growing confidence worked. I was able to lean enough words, and feel confident that I can learn more, if I work at this pace. I could see that I completed something (which was more important that what was in-complete). After 4-5 weeks, I completed all the words in Kaplan (almost 2000), and then I started working on Barrons list. I, then, used a DOS program from the internet called Advanced Vocabulary Enhancer or AVE to update new words to my learning. It is a flash card program, that keep track of what words you make mistakes, and what words you are OK with. I used the program during the whole second half of my preparation. It was just unbelievable. I have the link, but the link is broken. I do have the copy of the program. If I could find a hosting service for uploading that some where, I would do and update the link here. I also wanted to re-write the program in a easy to port manner, but I never go to do that.
  • Tiddly wiki was not as useful as I thought it would be. In the end, I had a single HTML file of size almost 600 KB, and the browser would just cry to load it. Firefox would say that Javascript is not responsive, and call 911. Still, it was useful to revise word-relationships. Probably, more could have been done to keep track of coverage and frequency, while browsing a network of words. If I had enough time, I would have done some hacking to make the wiki better suited for my purpose. But Firefox/IE is no emacs, and javacript is no e-lisp. I might try this, some time in the future.
  • iPod Solution: Listening to my own voice for a sustained period of time is one of the most dreadful thing, I ever did. But still, it was quite helpful. I added a few passages from a websites and articles (from Newyorker etc.) gathered using google search of difficult words. After a few words, my mouth went dry. I mean, every word has a fascinating history of its own. 3 months is too short. If I had 6 months to work, I would have done this better. I had to reduce the content of my reading. I used to hear, when there is nothing on TV. Since, I no longer wanted anyone to listen to that drudge - not even me, I deleted everything. World is a safe place now.
  • Flash Cards: One thing that works without any problem is Flash Cards. It really works. I can not recommend it enough. It is easier to control, easier to change - very flexible. For example, in case of the iPod recordings, I was not able to skip to next word, or discard a word forever easily. But using Flash cards, takes time of flipping a card. Splitting them was easier, and focus was clear. I vote flash cards as the ultimate study tool ever.
Probably, one might feel that these novel techniques are completely useless. Not really. I had fun while making them, and I was learning those words too. Every word I learn, I record it, Enter into the tiddly, and write down on the flash card. So, not everything was lost. If possible, I might use the Youtube as a study tool next time :)!!!

And finally

On any given day, if you ask me the opposite of word "baroque", I would say "elegant"/"simple". But if its a GRE question, I would ask, "What are the choices ?". GRE's Verbal Section is difficult, for the reason that "All human languages are ambiguous". So, the problem isn't just learning words, but to understand the meaning without ambiguity. The only way is to read some context along with learning the meaning of the word. In this sense, I liked the Free dictionary. Not only the dictionary lists the meanings of the given word, it also gives a section called "References in Classic Literature". It was quite helpful.

Quans Practices

The only way I prepared for quantitative section is by practice tests. It took less than two weeks to learn all the Math formulas and other concepts (Ratio, Geometry etc.). After that, its all just practice. I had enough number of practice questions in both the books and the CDs, and just do it all of them! Its pretty much what you learn in high school. I just have to do it as many times as possible, to get over those loopholes, where its get me.

Analytical Writing

I just wrote two essays each week during the three months of my preparations. The problem with this section is that you have no idea how your writing would be evaluated. And I don't know how to evaluate my essays. I don't know how good I was. I thought just mentioning the points would be sufficient. Looks like, one needs a lot more than a set of bullet points. I wonder, if buying an official advice would help. I am not sure.

Run-up to the finals

I did six full-length practice tests, starting in the final month. The run-up to the exam was mostly practice tests and flash-cards. You should not assume the score you get in practice tests to be anywhere near the final exams. In practice tests, I got around 520-550 in Verbal and 760-790 in Quantitative - way different from what I got in the finals.

The Exam

It was raining. So, I decided to take the local route, rather than the highway. I started early so that I can drive at half the speed of the allowed speed limit, which as 30mph. I played Enya while driving to the Exam Center.

The first mistake I did was being in the thinking that the initial section was an Experimental section. I didn't read the rules properly or something. But, I was doing the whole Quantitative section, thinking that this is an experimental section. I was doing it slow, and then later I had to catch up the time. Is it because of the Music I listened ? I don't know, if this is fair, but I still blame the music for my less than expected Quantitative score. Probably its not true, but psychologically, it helps. If I had to do the exam again, the only thing I would have done different is to choose hear this play list I read in ESPN Page 2, as I head for the Exam Center. It could be. The problem could be that that I was setup with the tempo of "Wild Child" by Enya rather than "LOSE YOURSELF" by Eminem. I wasn't very well pepped up.

My second section was Analytical Writing, which of course was a disaster. And When Verbal Section came, it was like a breeze. I finished Verbal in 21 minutes, 9 minutes earlier than the stipulated time. And just when I was getting ready to face the difficult questions, the exam was already over. It always happens in all of my exams. (Yes, almost every one of them) I don't know why. Probably I have a longer lead time or something.

Still, I have no idea how to solve my lead time problem. The exam was over, and the screen flashed my scores after the statutory warning. I blame it all on Enya. (Sorry Enya. I really like your voice. Only problem is that it didn't work before a GRE exam).

What I should have done ?

Read the instructions properly.

Monday, November 12

மாவு உண்வு ?

இது ரொம்ப சின்ன போஸ்ட்...
தமிழ மொழிபயர்ப்பு பல நெரங்களில் கொஞ்சம் காம்டியாத்தான் இருக்கு. இரு தின்ங்களுக்கு முன் சுட்டி டி.வி.யில் கேட்ட வார்த்தை - "வாழைபழ மாவு உணவு". அது வேற ஒன்னும் இல்லீங்க. இது தான்!

அது தான் இங்கிலிஷ்ல : Banana Pudding!!!

Friday, June 22

gift idea

I forget birthdays. It always happens that I remember the birthday either a week earlier or a week later. The other day was my colleague's birthday. He turned 26. Other co-workers reminded me and were discussing what kind of gift would be good for him. Ah! Finally, One birthday I can make a difference. One of them was making a joke, "He is the kind of guy, who would drink Phenoyl for free! You can just gift him anything".

Well, technically there is no such thing as Phenoyl. Its an Indian spelling of this strong and pungent liquid with phenolic odor, typically used as a sanitizer and deodorant for toilets, drains, grease traps, septic run-off areas, kennels, poultry and animal pens. Some websites spell it as phenyle, but I am not so sure. If you know what it is exactly, Please let me know. Whatever it is, it is not edible, and this link[pdf] says it is "Irritating. Ingestion may cause nausea and abdominal pains. Severely irritating to eyes."

I said, "Why don't we gift him that ? A bottle of phenyle ?". She said, "No!!! I was just joking. He always said he wanted a photo album. We can buy a good photo album." She might have told it as a joke, but I can't get rid of the idea of buying a bottle of pungent, irritating liquid as a birthday gift. So, I bought them both - a photo album and a a bottle of pheyle (Its really cheap! Only Rs. 10/bottle). I gift wrapped the bottle of phenyle with this note stuck on the bottle.

Talk is that you would drink a bottle of phenyle, when its free.
I would say,
    There's no better day to clean your toilet, than your birthday.
Happy Birthday.

At the party, the un-wrapping of the photo album was un-eventful. I told him I have a special gift, that he should open. I gave him the bottle, wrapped with a really nice, light brown gift wrapper. He felt it was a bottle, and asked if it was some kind of champagne or wine. I said, "Not exactly. But, you are on the right track. Its something you would drink!"

He was surprised, of course. I encouraged him to open and smell it, so he could be sure. And, what you know, he did smell. He said this gift would be most unforgettable one in his life. Yeah! Sure. I can't forget giving it either. Well, it takes just 13 rupees(bottle+gift wrap) to make one of those moments of life, that you can laugh about. Now he has a story, that he can tell his grand children, later in his life. So do I.

Tuesday, June 19

contemplating glory

I was reading the blog Happiness Project today. I was reading this long quotation from Victor Frankl's book - "Man's Search For Meaning.". The quote is a great read. This line at the end of the post was thought provoking. I had read that book long ago, but didn't contemplate this much about these lines, then.

For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

Perpetual Contemplation of an Infinite Glory - Moments of glory can be infinite in the dimension of space, but it can not be perpetual. They can't perpetuate, can't last forever. Only thing that is left then is the contemplation about such moments. I think, that just means that memories of the past and hope for the future makes us happier than the moments themselves.

Happiness is what happens between. Because when those moments happen, we know very little about how good or bad they really are.

Monday, June 18

the rajini experience

There is a festival in India, predominantly celebrated in the north, called Holi. Well, the idea of the festival is to spend a whole day throwing color powder and water on each other. I don't know what that sounds like to you, but personally, I think that festival is a conspiracy by the laundry owners association of India. I don't buy this holi-thing at all. Making my clothes colorfully dirty isn't something I would be really happy about. They may be colorful, but Come on! It's still dirt. I think it has no logic to it. It seems bizarre that people fall for such a trick by those laundry owners. But people celebrate it anyway - and celebrate it in loud, muddy, mucky, and may be even in unhygienic ways. Funny how, they seem to be genuinely happy about it. So are hundreds of festivals around the world, that have absolutely no logic.

That is the only way to approach Rajinikanth's movie release. It is a film festival. No, not those film festivals, where these big shots of movie business get together and watch painfully sad movies, that are purported to be the exemplars of modern cinema. This is a celebration about an addition of this unclassified genre of colorful, stylish and enjoyable movies, and only way to call them, ah well,is Rajini's movies. (This is a post, that assumes a little knowledge about Tamil movies, especially Rajinikanth. Some information available here, here, and here. You can skip this post anytime, you don't like.)

So, a new Rajini's movie - Sivaji - was released on Friday. Anyone who hasn't been brushed by the Rajini's phenomena before, would ask, "I don't understand this kind of fan frenzy. Whats so great about this guy or this movie ?". You don't understand a Rajini's movie, you celebrate it. You are just happy that there is another Rajini's movie released today, you can go watch, and live the Rajini experience. If you still say,"I don't get it". Yeah, I don't get that holi-thing either. But, hey, it is a part of the culture, anyway.

I am in Hyderabad now, and so I would have to settle with a telugu-dubbed version of Sivaji. This makes it very difficult to imagine the equivalent dialogues in Tamil.(I am native of Tamil Nadu) But, Rajini could have spoken Japanese on screen, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Its impossible for the language to get in the way of Rajini's ultimate screen presence. The first scene in the flashback, where Rajini returns from USA, is just AWSUM. I remember, how I felt after a 17 hour flight back from the US. I could describe myself feeling like human feces, and probably smelling like that too.(Can I use the word SH*T?) But when Rajini arrives on flight from US, on screen with a white suit and an orange tie, I couldn't help looking him at awe. What shall I say ? I am a fan and was exited like a little girl with her pink new shoes.

Story line is a successful merge of the stereotypical Rajni's movie with stereotypical Shankar's plot. Rajini returns from the US, very rich, builds a university in India (and get a girl in the mean time), but loses everything building the university, thanks to a corrupt system. The rest of story is all about how he gets back at the system, by recruiting local rowdies(for his own law-enforcement) and then by money laundering. And thus, Rajini gets his revenge-of-a-wronged-man story line, inter wined with Shankar's usual screw-corrupt-system-literally plot.

Well, the story may be typical and dubious, but Rajini is no stereotype. It is impossible to look anyone but Rajini, when he is on the screen. Every frame, when Rajini is on, has been enhanced and worked upon meticulously with such a finesse, that, it is just magical. Ground breaking work on stunts, camera, special effects, art and direction. Flipping coins, swinging the coin back and forth with sleight of hands, catching the gum on the rebound - Rajni is so conscious on what he does on screen, he sure is super star. Man, I want to see the movie again (again, language doesn't matter!). And after a long time, I watched a movie with pieces of paper flying all over in every song! (It is customary to throw bits and pieces of paper overhead especially for movies with super stars, such that it glitters on the light from the projector and gives an illusion that Rajini is dancing in paper rain. It might actually annoy you, if you aren't used to it. But, its a lot of fun, if you are part of it!!!)

I don't think any actor is as frame-aware and fan-aware as Rajini. Kamalhassan is sure a better actor than Rajinikanth, but there is a difference. Kamal not only acts, but becomes the character, and doesn't give a damn about who is going to watch his movie. Rajini, on the other hand, talks to the camera and the fan, as the character/as himself, in way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the fan. (Many who try to emulate Rajini - Simbu, Danush etc. - end up offending the viewers, making them feeling stupid for paying for the ticket.)

Overall, Sivaji yet another Rajini experience. But if you aren't a fan of Rajini and still wonder how seemingly smart people would fall for cheap tricks for a man who, according to you, is just over-hyped crap, I would just say this - with a wink -

Coool!!! (You have to watch the movie to get this ;))

Wednesday, May 30


Last weekend, I was at Bangalore - my first trip. A few thoughts on the way back.

  • I was very afraid to ask directions in Tamil, even by accident. Nothing happened really. But, very afraid - yes!

  • Every person not earning their livelihood by IT thinks, that, the reason Bangalore "has gone bad" is the IT industry.(Unless, you are talking to a non-IT person with a sound investment in Real Estate). Every IT person either thinks that Bangalore has become better because of IT -or- blames the politicians for lack of better infrastructure. Every politician, by virtue of not being an IT person, blames of-course, the IT industry. So, there it goes - a full circle.

  • I found the houses relatively smaller. Probably, because I live in a relatively bigger house in Hyderabad. Are the houses smaller in Bangalore, relatively ? -or- Are the houses relatively bigger in Hyderabad ? My friend thinks they live in smaller houses in Bangalore. Probably, they are inspired by the Japanese. Or They just have the problems of Japan - Too little space with Too much development.

  • There is a stark contrast between the citizen classes in the City. For example, the Shopping crowd at MG Road/Brigade Road, consists of the affluent and the pretend-to-be-affluent crowd, where as, shopping crowd around the Majestic Bus station is made of the penny-wise, pound-wiser gang. The contrast jumps on your eyes like power-point slides - so quick and ugly. The difference is right at your face(at least my face), and it questioned my urban livelihood and existence.... again!.
My friend asked, if I would be interested to move to Bangalore. Well, I really don't have any reasons to move there. Also beyond any logical reasons, I neither do have the desire to do any living there. So, it goes.

Thursday, May 24

quotes from elsewhere

A quote a came across while reading the article An American in Chennai over at Rediff - a story about an American, who came to Chennai.

The appalling poverty rattles Paul. The sight of people living, eating and defecating on the streets they call home was gut-wrenching. "I saw a mom, dad and 2 kids sleeping on the street. No one should have to live this way," he muttered sadly.
Paul drifts back to thoughts of the streets of Chennai and shakes his head. "How is it that such smart people can allow this to happen?"
I have thought about this question. I think it is easier for smarter people to be indifferent. Smart people just devise a philosophy on convoluted logic and believe thats how things work. On the other hand, not so smart people stop thinking and do something about it.
Another quote from BBC on an article about India and globalization.
...ask 25-year-old Devika, who works at a call centre in Mumbai, whether her life has been changed for the better because of the free market and she will give you a resounding yes.
"I don't need to depend on my parents for money, I don't need to depend on a husband for money. I can choose to get married later if I want to. I may not even need to get married. The opportunities that have opened up for me are mind-boggling."
I wonder if India could become like Japan, where the population is shrinking (or Europe, for that matter). I guess, we will soon have the problems of a developed country.

Saturday, March 17

two percent

I don’t know how far I would get with this line of thought. I have just started writing this without any idea of how is it going to go. It started with a light bulb. I had to replace the light bulb, the one thats right in front of my house. Well, it was the kid who had been the guest for or neighbors. The switch was right by our door, and He was just playing with it - switching on and off, again and again, and When he switched the bulb on for the 378th time, it blew the filament off. The last time I had to buy a bulb, as I could remember, the price was the same as that of petrol (gasoline). No, not at today’s price tag of 49 rupees/liter. I don’t remember the date or year, but the price of both the bulb and a liter of petrol costing somewhere around 15 rupees. I also guess, at that time the exchange rate for a dollar was just around 18 rupees. I may be wrong about exchange rate, but I am sure about the price of bulb and a liter of petrol.

Today a bulb a the ‘Lakshmi hardware store’, here on the Madhapur main road, just costs just 10 rupees. What ever the inflation is doing to everything else, it ain’t doing nothing to the bulb. I had a conversation with my room mate. Both of us work for IT companies. Here I go…

“Do you know, the bulb costs only 10 rupees ? Now a days, you don’t even get a kilo of rice for that price” (Unless, of course, there is a government’s subsidy. You can get a kilo of rice for two rupees. Or thats just part of our politicians rhetoric. My point is - You don’t get that price in a “free” market)

“You sound quite positive about the trend. But I don’t think its really positive”

“Uh, Ohh. A lot of times, my modulation deceives my intention. No. No, its not your ears. I am just bad ‘punching’ my dialogues at the proper moment. I was, in fact, trying to sound negative. I mean, look at this irony. Our GDP has grown to 9%, primarily because of growth in Industry and Services. But our agricultural growth in just around 2%, driving prices of agricultural commodities. Both, you and me work in services industries actually driving growth in services, which is already growing at 11%. Hence, If you really want to contribute to our economy, I advice you this - Get some land and start farming.” (OK. The actual number is 2.7%)

My intention was to sound sarcastic about the role of our jobs in our economy, and probably sound it as a pun. But my room mate, whose father is a farmer, took my words seriously, and replied “You are right”. I wasn’t surprised. He often wonders about the future of their farm and their farming, after his father is done with it. He belongs to that generation in his family, that departed from farming, and chose an option for the only reason that is economically sexier to be some executive in an IT company, than be one of the few farmers in his village. He reflects about it a lot. Accidentally, I had found the serious audience for my satire.

But I wonder, what is that I can really do, other than just paying taxes, to improve that 2.7%. In a sense, it is true that just by working in a services industry, and learning, discussing about the 2.7%, I am indirectly contributing for the paltry growth of agriculture. Looking beyond this observer-observed philosophical dilemma, What can I really do ? I thought I would get some ideas if I look further in this year’s Economic Survey of India. Hey, look at that !! Services account to 55% of our GDP! When we were studying at school, we were told that India is an agriculture based economy. If some one is still telling you that, they are lying. We have already become a services based economy. I wonder, what they are teaching in Schools, now a days. Probably that a student should learn Java/C++ and make himself/herself “employable” by Infosys/TCS/Wipro ? (Yeah, I learnt the same thing at college.)

Probably a little bit of history would make me wise! If I knew the growth rates of agriculture, and overall GDP, probably I could know where we went wrong. Well, there are too many resources on the internet to analyze Virendar Sehwag’s past batting averages and make suggestions, but are very little resources when it comes to analyze our country’s economic indicators. Irony is that - I think I can make a real and direct contribution to the Indian Economy, than to Virendar Sehwag. So lets go for the official web site of Indian Economic Survey to learn some numbers.

Year 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06
Growth in GDP % 8.5 7.5 9.0
Growth in Agri % 9.3 0.6 5.8

I got that numbers from Table 16,but I am not sure if it is right table. But one thing is sure that compare to our agricultural growth, Sehwag’s batting average seems consistent. I would love to dig deeper to really understand this numbers, but I am short of time.

And so, I went looking for ideas in our national budget. All over the forums, there has been insane amount of whining about 3% educational cess. Actually, that explains nothing but the demographic of bloggers and internet users in India. I just searched for the words “agri” in the highlights.

  • Rs 100 crore for recognising excellence in the field of agricultural research.
  • Manufacturing sector grows at 10.7 per cent, agriculture at 1.5 per cent during October-December 2006-07.
  • A number of proposals to perk up agriculture to be announced.

100 crores seems to be real good money, some money the Ocean’s Thirteen would love to have their hands on. Of course, I do not have any credentials to receive even a rupee of that research fund. But neither does our country’s babu-dom has any credibility to deliver it where its due. Well, to know about other proposals, I would have to read the whole Budget, for which, I am short of time.

The only idea that really makes sense for now, even though it was intended as a joke, is to get some land and do agriculture. But my education is of no use to do that now, anything useful . But, a really big but here… BUT, hey, what if some one decides to build a car factory, to satisfy the nonexistent need for a car costing Rs. 100,000 ? They, then, probably would grab my land. Uh,Oh! That isn’t so encouraging. If not me, what about others, especially children, who might still be able to choose their profession. What should I answer if those people ask me ‘What would it take it do agriculture in India ?’ ? I guess I should answer them that they should be ready to give their life to protect their land, and their profession.

Monday, January 8

commerce, liberty and education

A few weeks ago there was an article in Outlook by P.M Bhargava titled Harvard @ Dhenkanal about foreign educational institutions setting up centers in India. Bhargava has made wonderful arguments against the move and is of opinion that they would harm the Indian Educational System. I was almost convinced that Harvard is the new “East India Company”, so much so that I would probably stop traffic for a “Dharna” against them all. But, two points of Bhargava’s argument made me wonder about some of the deeper problems of our educational system. One of them is commercialization. In his own words,

Their presence here could lead to a collapse of the entire educational system in the public sector, as happened with our excellent governmental school system when school education was commercialized.

And the second one is about “indoctrination of our young”.

..they get to ‘convert’ us to their country’s way of life and thinking—make us believe, for example, that US intervention in Iraq was absolutely right. We would, of course, have a regulatory system. But the endemic corruption means the FEPS will work around it.[…] […]no amount of regulation would prevent subtle indoctrination of our young.

Another article in NY Times about the state of education in India titled A College Education Without Job Prospects. Though I found this article too bent about the lack of talent development, rather than about problems of the system, some arguments were interesting.

India is that rare country where it seems to get harder to find a job the more educated you are.[…]
A deeper problem, specialists say, is a classroom environment that treats students like children even if they are in their mid-20’s. Teaching emphasizes silent note-taking and discipline at the expense of analysis and debate.

I think, there is a relation between the problem “classroom environment that treats students like children” observed by NY Times article and, Bhargava’s prediction of FEPS’s “subtle indoctrination of our young”. I think, the basic premise of Bhargava’s prognosis is the prevailing classroom environment that emphasis discipline and compliance, rather than, analysis and debate. Bhargava assumes that the role of educational systems is to indoctrinate and inculcate, rather than, counsel and guide. Education in India assumes the role of being a third parent. Of course, this thought stems from the Indian view that duty of our education systems to be another parent as in the maxim - “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Dev”.

I think, Bhargava’s other question about the collapse of education due to commercialization is just a cultural apprehension of commercialization. This fear is not just for education, but for anything that is realized as a service under our cultural context. Given a choice between private establishment and public establishment, we would, no doubt, choose the civil institution. The reason is that we automatically associate evil with anything associated with commerce. For us, Profit could mean just one thing - corruption.

I think both of these problems - patronizing classroom environment, and apprehension of commercialization - spring from the same source: They are the few of many elements that our culture necessitates to sustain its identity. I think, such elements are irrelevant in the goal and purpose of educational systems. Our educational systems should be farms of free thinking, devoid of a culture’s survival rules. Our educational systems should get rid of the patronizing role: stop teaching, in the literal sense.

I would actually suggest the kind of commercialization of our schools that they schools work with an entrepreneurial spirit. Schools still should, of course, be non-profit organizations, but they should financially accountable against their societal obligations. I don’t mean that all schools should charge a heavy fee to sustain itself. I think a school try to raise its own funds, if not all, at least a part of the funds.

Schools should be held accountable for their products, and their stake holders - their students. Every process: the recruitment, the development and their results, should be transparent and be audited. Their records should be available to public scrutiny (with some sort of Ombudsman). Such a liberal and free system of commercialization could actually develop talent better than placing our schools in a vacuum of financial responsibility. We need that kind of commercialization, that would get rid of the patronizing roles of our schools.

While Bhargava calls for democratizing and secularizing education to reach the massees, but what we really need is to liberate Indian education from its percived cultural roles by running them as entrepreunrial ventrures.