School-hunting Tuesday, Feb 12 2008 

My son Pranav’s third birthday is on 2 May 2008. We wish to send him to school form this June when the new academic year starts. So we’ve already visited a school.

Although compulsory education begins only at the age of six in India, it’s impossible to get admission at age six into class one in a good school, if a child hasn’t done kindergarten: Lower and upper KG, one year each. And, if the child hasn’t gone to nursery, it’s going to be very hard to find a seat in kindergarten!

So, almost everyone ends up sending their children to school very early: one year nursery and two years kindergarten before joining class one at the age of six. Children start grappling with grade one lessons in kindergarten itself. If they’re not already smart at them, ‘NO’ seat for them in class one. (There’s separate interview for parents and they are expected to be smarter than their kids!)

The school we visited follows alternative education (Waldorf education of Rudolf Steiner) up to class seven and prepares children for CBSE (central syllabus) exam from class eight.

We didn’t like the teacher who dealt with us there because her way with my son was not in accordance with the system of education they claim to follow. She tried to be polite and decent with us but was obviously rude with our child. Philosophy on paper but not in practice.

But you can’t like everyone and everything in a school and then seek admission for your kid.

We’ll be visiting some other schools before choosing one.

Schooling has turned parenting into a nightmare. This BBC story and the comments tell it all.

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The Learning Lab Initiative by AMD Thursday, Feb 7 2008 

Chip manufacturing company, AMD, and American India Foundation (AIF) launched a learning lab on the premises of a Government Girls High School in Hyderabad on Wednesday to impart computer education to students.

The lab was launched under AMD’s 50×15 initiative that aims at connecting 50 per cent of the world’s population to the Internet by 2015.

Over 450 students will be taught the basics of using a computer in the lab that consists of 14 computers equipped with AMD Athlon Dual Core processor and a Windows Vista operating system.

Since most of the students of the school come from families that cannot dream of giving their children computer education, the initiative has generated great enthusiasm among the students. (Link)

Backhoe Fade Wednesday, Feb 6 2008 

Backhoe Fade is a new word that I’ve learned in connection with the disruption of Internet services in this part of the world since the end of January, caused by underwater cable cuts near Alexandria and elsewhere.

On 30th and 31st Jan, I experienced the outage: It was very difficult to access Gmail and I couldn’t access Multiply for a day. Of course, some other web pages were not loading or unbearably slow.

When the service was almost back to normal, unfortunately for me my connection was snapped because of a local “backhoe fade’ for one night and most of the next day.

It looked like a conspiracy!

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Mahatma Gandhi and Books Thursday, Jan 31 2008 

Mahatma Gandhi fell to an assassin’s bullet 60 years ago. It was gandhiji’s death anniversary yesterday (30 Jan 2008).

I’ve been thinking of the influence of books on his life since I posted ‘bibliotherapy‘ about self-help books and reading.

Gandhiji was not a voracious reader, yet books played a crucial role in the making of the Mahatma. The role of two of them was more radical than that of others. 

The two books were the Bhagavadgita, probably the most famous and influential of Hindu scriptures, and Unto This Last, four essays by John Ruskin.

The Bhagavadgita (the Gita)

Gandhiji read the Gita in England during his years there as a law student. He was reading the Gita for the first time and in English.

He felt the Gita was a book of “priceless worth” and years later he called it “the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth.” A few years later the Bhagavadgita became a book of daily reading and “an infallible guide of conduct” for Gandhiji. He said:

“Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials.” (Link)

He went on to write his own translation of the Gita in response to the earnest requests of his followers. He called it ‘Anasaktiyoga (the Yoga of Detachment/Desireless Action)’.

The Bhagavadgita was like a mother to Gandhiji, because he would turn to it whenever despair and confusion assailed him and like a mother the scripture never failed to give him solace and guidance.

Until his last day Gandhiji strived to attain the perfection of the man of god realization that the Gita speaks of. He would often tell that he was far from his goal!

But it is interesting to know how he learned the Bhagavadgita. He had found his calling and become a hugely popular leader in South Africa. Public work occupied all his time. Gandhiji would never allow even the study of the Gita interrupt the work to which he was devoted, so he devised a curious method for the study of the scripture:

“I employed the time of my morning ablutions. The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I stuck slip of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for memorizing the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt.” (Link)

Unto This Last

Gandhiji read Ruskin’s essays in South Africa in 1904. It brought “instantaneous and practical transformation” in him. Gandhiji describes his encounter with the book in his autobiography. The chapter is titled ‘The Magic Spell of a Book‘ and it is very famous.

Gandhiji read the work in 1904 during the course of a 24 hour train journey from Johannesburg to Durban. He was deeply stirred by the three principles he discovered in it and decided to change his life in accordance with them. By the time he got off the train he was a changed man!

The three principles as he understood them were:

  1. That the good of the individual is contained the good of all.
  2. That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
  3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

He founded The Phoenix Settlement on the ideals of Unto This Last. It was the first Gandhian Ashram.

Later Gandhiji paraphrased Unto This Last into Gujarati and published it as ‘Sarvodaya (Welfare for All)’.

‘Many years after, stressing what he owed to Great Britain, Gandhi wrote: “Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station.”‘ (Link)

The Whistle Blowers Monday, Jan 28 2008 

Is corruption a necessary evil in democracy? Do the public encourage corruption by accepting it as a way of life? Because nothing gets done without bribing the government servants.

Are all government officials in India corrupt?

No. Some people like S. K. Dubey and Manjunathan even risk their lives for being different and trying to expose the network of corrupt practices.

In India, top government job means power, status and easy life. But, there is also another factor- the wealth top bureaucrats can accumulate through bribes. If an official is not corrupt at the start of his/her career, he/she becomes one over the years.

But not all. Here is a brave and committed IAS officer, M.N. Vijayakumar, from Bangalore, who has been fighting corruption all his career spanning 26 years. He’s been very systematic. Unlike the two officials mentioned above, he’s been lucky.

The officer’s pillar of support is his wife. She has turned to blogging last year in order to let the world know in detail about their activities. Wide reach of information will also discourage their enemies, she believes. (Link to her blog).

Since he’s a part of the system, he knows it inside out. One of the methods he’s adopted in his fight against corruption, Right to Information Act (RTI), is a provision in the system itself. 

Now they are compiling the names of clean officials so that people can approach them straight away for getting their work done without bribing.

His wife says they have been successful to a certain extent. She says,

“There are plenty of honest people in government who support us secretly, but they are afraid to speak out; some tell us that they will help us when they retire…Several officers have now pledged in writing that they will no longer accept bribes.” (Link)

Frequent transfers, threats of kidnapping and murder and numerous other kinds of harassment have only emboldened them.

Killer Hoardings Sunday, Jun 10 2007 

hoarding accident_jublee hills_11 April 2007 Huge hoardings in Hyderabad city have become a nightmare for all of us.

Recent reports of deaths caused by falling hoardings from high buildings and huge poles have forced people look upon them as death traps.

The other day a billboard from a six storey shopping mall fell killing a youth on the spot and injuring others.

Earlier, on11 April this year, a huge billboard raised on an enormous uni-pole gave way and collapsed on a restaurant and ice-cream parlor. A worker was killed instantly and many others were seriously injured. It completely damaged a couple of cars that were parked on the road and uprooted electric poles and strewed the road with metal pieces, rubbles and cables.

I happened to come that way within minutes after the accident. The site looked like a battle zone that was just bombed.

The huge billboards that are ubiquitous in Hyderabad city bear witness to the transformation of this city into a big metro that is one of the biggest business centers in India. Most of these huge hoardings have come up in the past two years or so.

Municipal corporation authorities often fail to enforce the rules and norms and reign in builders and advertising companies that flout them.

Do things like this happen anywhere else?

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Techno Tots Sunday, Jun 10 2007 

My two-year old son demands that he be left at the computer and his mom and I take our hands off him so that he can ‘work’ with it uninterrupted.

He goes hog wild with the mouse, running the cursor all over the screen and clicking on the task bar icons and the shortcuts.

Somehow I keep the keyboard pushed under the table top, otherwise he’ll tap on it with both his hands and sometimes with his legs, too.

When the going gets tough, I turn off the machine and let him do what he wants.

Anyway, my work is interrupted when he gets so enthusiastic about working with the computer.

My boy has been attracted to the computer since he was about eighteen months.

As I noticed his joy in playing with the computer I wondered whether it was right to expose a little child as young as 18-24 months to the computer. Is there a recommended age level for introducing the computer to a child’s world?

I had no success in finding any convincing comments on this matter until I came across a blog discussing this topic the other day.

I was glad to learn that Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration had a two-year old son who was computer savvy. The famous Indian blogger had already faced my situation and devised ways to deal with it, in addition to finding relevant articles from B.B.C. (articles: 1 and 2).

His method of launching a slideshow or drawing software to keep the child’s interest engrossed in it doesn’t work with my son. What he wants is the whole system for himself and tapping on the keyboard and clicking the mouse.

The two B.B.C. articles are really good. They contain the findings of a study and views and opinions of some experienced people. Here is a summary:

· The very early use of computers is heavily promoted by educationalists…

· Computers make an ideal context for learning through play.

· The multi sensory experiences that they offer are particularly appropriate for the very young and promote the use of memory.

· Play on the computer should be viewed as one of a range of contexts for play, rather than given a separate status.

· Ten minutes, three or four times a week is a good guide.

· It is not desirable for young children to sit in front of a screen for prolonged periods of time.

· Young children should be encouraged to investigate the real world, and links made between this and the virtual world of the computer.

· Painting games…allows children to be entirely creative and are additionally excellent tools for developing fine motor skills.

· Computers will play a significant part in children’s learning experiences throughout their school days and beyond.

· Parents have a powerful role in determining their child’s perception of the ways that this tool can enhance knowledge and expand their world.

As you can see there’s no conclusive answer to the question. It all depends upon the informed judgment of the parents!

Keeping this in mind, I’ll let my two-year old son tap and click and make him happy.

The Q Scam Monday, Mar 5 2007 

Indian public don’t know what Sonia Gandhi‘s maiden name was, but almost all TV viewing Indians know an Italian name connected with her. Quattrocchi. This man is synonymous with probably the most infamous corruption scandal in India: Bofors. How the Italian angle worked for the multi-million-dollar kickbacks in a major defense deal with Bofors when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India is an open secret. It’s said that Sonia, as Rajiv’s wife, played her role in the scandal from behind the curtain. The case is almost 20 years old.

QuattrocchiQuattrocchi is believed to have received $ 7 million from the $ 2.1 billion Bofors gun deal.

As the chairperson of the coalition that rules India and the president of the party that leads the coalition government, she’s embarrassed and the government is rattled since the news flash that Quattrochi was arrested in Argentina on Feb 6 (he was later released on bail on Feb 23). But the government and the country’s premier investigation agency, CBI, hid the information from the public and the judiciary. A cover up.

In the parliament the opposition did all its tricks to expose the government in the matter. Not only the opposition but also some coalition partners of the government are also up in arms, especially the redoubtable CPI (M).

Following a petition by an advocate, the Supreme Court of India has sought the Central Government’s response regarding the extradition treaty India has with Argentina. The court sees the issue as “a serious” matter.

Since Argentina’s track record on extradition is not favorable and the Indian Government’s own commitment to pursuing the case is questionable (although a team of CBI officials from India are already in Argentina), it’s certain that Quattrocchi will go scot-free once again. He’s an escape artist and a survival expert.

The Italian Ambassador in Argentina has shot a letter to a court in that country pleading for his release. Quattrocchi is a “much-decorated citizen of Italy”, a “knight”, the Ambassador said.

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Italian Spouses Thursday, Feb 8 2007 

It used to be that Italians did not look far from home when choosing a spouse. But new statistics show that they are increasingly marrying foreigners, with about one in 10 choosing a non-Italian spouse in what researchers call a “rapidly evolving phenomenon.” (Link)

This’s not news to us Indians, because the most famous “bahu” (daughter-in-law) in India is an Italian. She’s probably the most powerful individual in India and listed as one of the most powerful women in the world.

Everyone occupying public space, with the exception of those belonging to the right-wing RSS-BJP combine, is wary of the word “Italy” or “Italian” because a slip of the tongue may land them on the wrong side of political correctness. However, the right-wing politicians often kick up a storm of protest by interpolating those very words into whatever they say!

For the congress party it’s blasphemy.

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A Mega-fair: Kumbh Mela Monday, Feb 5 2007 

The ongoing Ardh Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag) in India is a one and a half month long (3 Jan – 16 Feb) bizarre show of piety and belief by ritual loving Hindus. It is expected to attract 70 million people for the ritual bath in the holy waters at the ‘Samgam’ (confluence of three sacred rivers).

For Hindus Allahabad is ‘Tirtha Raj’ (the king of Hindu pilgrimage centers). It’s believed that a bath in the holy waters here on auspicious days during Kumbh Mela can wash away all sins and lead one to release from ‘samsara’ (the cycle of birth and death). This release, this breaking away from the seemingly unending cycle of birth and death, is ‘parama purushartha’ (the highest goal, the ultimate fulfillment, of human life) for a believing Hindu. Hindus have invented numerous gods, devised complex rituals and worships and faithfully followed any number of practices for this purpose.

Hindu legends say that it was here at Prayag that ‘amruth’ (nectar/elixir) fell from the ‘kumbh’ (pitcher) that demons carried away by duping gods when it emerged as they together churned the mythical ‘Ksheerasagara’ (the ocean of milk). This mythical incident has made the place holiest of all holy pilgrimage centers of Hindus. Since then Hindus from all parts of India have been gathering at Prayag for a holy dip on auspicious days accurately fixed by expert Hindu astrologers by studying the precise movements and positions of heavenly bodies.

The point is: Kumbh Mela has its origin at a time in the mythical past; it is as old as Hindu myths!

(But a young Australian scholar has challenged this notion. She says that the first reference to Kumbh Mela is found in a government document in 1868. On the basis of her research she confirms that it’s only 150 years old! The weekly news magazine Outlook, dtd. January 29, 2007, had an article on this topic).

The bathing ritual itself must be really old. Its transformation into the staggering mega-fair that it is today

may not be so old. 

The Ardh Kumbh falls half way between two Maha Kumbh Melas. A Maha Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. The last Maha Kumbh at Allahabad was in January-February in 2001

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.” (Quoted in the Wikipedia article on Kumbh Mela).

Read another essay on the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001.

See pictures of Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2007:1) ABC News. 2) BBC News.

 

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