By Chandan Sen It is generally well-known that the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo involves the Synthesis of Knowledge, Work and Devotion. In his Letters on Yoga, Volume 2, Sri Aurobindo devotes an entire chapter to “Sadhana through Work.” Ten Tenets from Sri Aurobindo, with Comments In trying to follow and practice Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, I’m taking stock as of today, and writing down ten thoughts: The Posthumous Birth of Evariste Galois Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction, and in the field of mathematics it certainly appears to be so. Most Indians are familiar with the name of Ramanujan, who proved 3000 theorems, died in England while still in his thirties, and is generally considered to be a mathematical genius. How I Acquired “Heidi” One day, about a week before Christmas, 1961, my friend Jim Eke and I went into the local grocer’s shop just across the road from our school, St. Johns, Baxenden. Jim pointed to a Boys’ Annual – I forget whether it was Tiger or Lion – and mentioned casually that he’d love to have it but alas, didn’t see it happening. Hello Dolly! The night Dolly got married, I cried. We had been neighbors for the first ten years of my life, and her Dad, whom we called Uncle Narain, was a colleague and friend of my Dad’s. Integral Yoga The entire purpose of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is to get a response from the Divine. The object of the yoga is to know the Divine and grow in the Divine consciousness till there is no difference between the Divine’s will and the will of the sadhak. My boss was telling me of how her 86-year-old mother had just purchased a grand piano to replace the decades- old Miller piano that had given them such yeoman service over the years. I mentioned that people of our parents’ generation had fewer material goods but knew how to use them. A case in point is the Baby Brownie Box camera that my Dad had during the years that my sister and I grew up, 1950-1960 approximately. It wasn’t a fancy camera but took very good pictures if you held it steady and the lighting was adequate. We have pictures in our collection that captured our childhood years. There’s one of my sister and I, still toddlers, licking the ice slab that the ice man had just delivered, as he did every morning, for the ice box. This was in the years before refrigerators became commonplace. Another sequence of three pictures shows me naughtily kicking my sister, then she slapping me, and me crying away. There are pictures of us children playing with baby goats and ducks and geese in our grandfather’s home in Konnogor. More pictures of our 1957 trip to Kashmir, with us on horses, the Dal Lake houseboats, and so on. In 1960 the Baby Brownie lost its place to the 35 millimeter Agfa Silleto camera that Dad purchased at the duty-free shop in Aden, on our way to England by ship. That Agfa recorded many events, places, people and things during our one-year stay in England. Dad took pictures of Tilbury Docks, of his factory and his colleagues at British Northrop in Blackburn, and of the houses and streets in our neighborhood in Baxenden, near the city of Accrington. Unlike the Baby Brownie, the Agfa could take color pictures also, though these were very expensive. We have pictures of the Northrop General Manager, Mr. Sommerville, and his family, in their beautiful cottage and garden with riotous flowers in carefully manicured beds. The Manchester public library and the park near Baxenden, where again, the camera captured the color and exuberance of the trees and bushes. There’s a picture of all our childhood friends, standing in a row for the historic (sic) shot, with Jim Eke, my best friend, hardly ten years old, with his baby sister Judith in his lap. Dad even took night shots of our TV, and surprisingly enough, the motor races and cricket scenes came out very well indeed. In 1987, when my sister and her family went to England, she took the Agfa with her. She put it to good use taking color photographs of England which had changed a lot over the years. Later, she got her own camera and I believe that the Agfa has finally been retired after serving us well for over four decades. Now, with digital cameras being the rage, and cell-phone cameras and the like, people seem to take random shots without much attention to quality. Nowadays, in my opinion, it’s all about quantity. Glimpses of Rabindranath Tagore The year 2013 is almost upon us. It marks the centenary of the winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature by Rabindranath Tagore, poet eminent of Bengal. The hundred years seem to have flashed by in a second. Indeed, in poem #82 of Geetanjali, Tagore writes: Time is endless in thy hands, my Lord. There is none to count thy minutes. Days and nights pass and ages bloom and fade like flowers. Thou knowest how to wait Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower. Most people are aware of the lyrical beauty of Tagore’s poems, yet few know how tragic his life was because of the untimely death of all his children. Maybe that is why death plays such a large part in his creations. For example, in poem #86, Gitanjali again, he writes: Death, thy servant, is at my door. He has crossed the unknown sea and brought thy call to my house. The night is dark and my heart is fearful—- Yet I will take up the lamp, open my gates and bow to him my welcome. So many of his poems speak of the infinite, the eternal, and of immortality. We read with pleasure his poem #1, the poem to God: Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, And fillest it ever with fresh life. This little flute of a reed Thou hast carried over hills and dales, And hast breathed through it melodies Eternally new. Education occupied a central part of his life, and Vishwa Bharati at Shantiniketan is Tagore’s lasting legacy to the world. Poem #35 is oftentimes recited by school children: Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free Where the world has not been broken up into Fragments by narrow domestic walls. Tagore put his mystical experiences into words, so that we could all share in his intimacy with God. In poem #102 of Gitanjali, he writes: I boasted among men that I had known you, They see your pictures in all works of mine, They come and ask, “Who is he?” I Know not how to answer them. I say “Indeed, I cannot tell.” They blame me And go away in scorn. And you sit there smiling. The other two great Bengali mystics were, of course, Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, if we leave out Sri Chaitanya, the 14th century mystic. Tagore’s homage to Sri Aurobindo, in the latter’s political heyday, took the form of a poem, Namaskar, which—-freely translated—- starts as follows: Aurobindo, accept Rabindranath’s salutation. Oh friend, oh friend of the nation, Nationalism finds its soul in you. You have no need of fame, Or wealth, or pleasure. You have asked for no small gift, Neither of clemency. You have not begged for mercy. I believe this poem reflects Sri Aurobindo’s uncompromising demand for Indian Independence, and was written while the patriot was serving a jail term. Needless to say, Sri Aurobindo passed through a phase of intense political activity, aka freedom fighting, before taking up a monastic life and founding an ashram. Finally, after a life of ecstatic writing, Tagore bids farewell in poem #93: I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers! I bow to you all and take my departure. Here I give back the keys of my door—- And I give up all claims to my house. I only ask for last kind words from you. We were neighbors for long, But I received more than I could give. Now the day has dawned and the lamp That lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come And I am ready for my journey. Lessons from Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga Peace is the first requirement, followed by certain receptivity towards the Divine influence, and plasticity to being moved by the Divine power. One might well ask, “Why should I bother?” The answer is that if you aspire towards higher things, reject un-Divine and obscure things and show a glad and helpful surrender, “All else will be done for you.” Sri Aurobindo writes, in the slim volume, “The Mother”, “…surrounded by her full presence, you can go securely on your way.” He gives a practically water-tight guarantee of immortality. But when things go wrong—-or difficulties arise—-one must understand how and why this occurs. The path is always upwards, but it is a spiraling path, not a straight line. We sadhaks are sure to face obstacles, difficulties and dangers. That is the law of the way, and none can abrogate it. When asked if he had any particular advice, Sri Aurobindo gave the answer, “A gathering up of the consciousness inwards and upwards.” Readers may well be reminded how the wandering saint, Tota Puri, initiated Sri Ramkrishna by pressing a sharp object on the latter’s forehead, between the eyebrows. In Sri Aurobindo’s case also, it was a Maharashtrian yogi, Lele, who gave Sri Aurobindo spiritual instruction and taught him to silence his mind by intercepting thoughts as they appeared from the outside and flinging them back before they could enter the mind. In his Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo admits that he “fell” many times, and gently chided the aspirants of the Ashram on their lack of faith, persistence and will-power. Indeed, the human will can be used to brow-beat recalcitrant human nature into submission. Yet Sri Aurobindo’s way does not entail an ascetic withdrawal from food or normal life. Sure, such standard practices as chanting, meditation and prayer do help the sadhana. Each sadhak’s way is different and there are different strokes for different folks. The true sadhak, if required to live frugally, will do so without cavil. If life makes him or her rich, this too should be accepted with equanimity, without wallowing in materialistic wealth which leads to the “dull habit of dead routine.” Sri Aurobindo has no strictures on food, but one should be careful not to complain if occasionally the food is not to one’s taste. Details of his experiences and answers to sadhak’s questions can be found in The Letters on Yoga. Along with Sri Ma’s Agenda, these make for fascinating reading. Sri Aurobindo categorically stated that “The Mother’s consciousness and my consciousness are one and the same.” Confetti and Ice Cream My Dad used to say, and I’ve heard it said elsewhere also, that near the end of one’s life one becomes very conscious of childhood memories, and such memories come back to one much more vividly than mid-life memories. Father and Son Fellowship When I was in college at the age of 18 or so, my Dad said, “Yes! I don’t mind if you study till the age of 40. I’ll support you!” I think it was because his own education had been patchy, that he felt so strongly about his son’s education. Auroville and Matrimandir In 1957, the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram wrote on Auroville,“I invite you to the great adventure, and in this adventure you are not to repeat spiritually what the others have done before us…” Common Core Standards The Royal Indian Navy Narayan Saves Himself The Purpose of Education As long ago as 1934, John Dewey, pioneer educator, wrote, “The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same – to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.” Savitri A certain young man met a certain young woman. Well, you say, all good stories start like that. Yes, but in the case of Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri, the story told is allegorical. God Knowledge Trumps All Other Knowledge Spiritual training, it is said, is more difficult to impart than physical or mental training. Many of the spiritual values are very different from ordinary values. For example, according to Sri Aurobindo, it does not matter what type of work you do, or your station in life, as far as the Divine is concerned. This runs counter to our oft-repeated exhortations to our youth to become engineers or doctors. It all depends on the spirit in which a thing is done. The Promise of Geothermal Energy A humorist has called normal fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – “fuels from hell,” while lauding renewable energy sources - solar, wind and tidal wave power - “fuels from heaven.” Biomimicry and Green Chemistry We live in an age of buzzwords, and two of these buzzwords that came to my attention recently are “biomimicry” and “green chemistry.” I have written before of Janine Benyus’s work with biomimicry, in a book of that name. In a recent discourse on TED-talks, she spoke of how mankind has stooped to emulating nature in a number of its processes, which are invariably low-temperature and low energy consuming processes. Transistors Galore In 1961, when people in India had not yet become familiar with the word “transistor,” we – that is, my parents, my sister and I – were in England, listening to a 9-transistor radio receiver bought in Aden on our way out to England by ship. The Millennium Development Goals: Hurtling Towards 2015 Wolfensohn’s World Bank, and the Aftermath Ram and Shyam Doubly Challenged Economist Extraordinary Gross National (UN)happiness The Importance of (Free) Samples The Eagle in Retrospect Florida Shall Not Go Under Vanishing Rain Forests Davos and Hay Strange Conflict Just another Sucker Personal Humility and Professional Will The Italian Shipwreck Three Types of Knowledge Reconstruction from First Principles Ubiquitous Connectivity and India My Friendship with Business People My natural love for books led me to Manik’s bookshop, Kabya Katha, at Ganguly Bagan in Kolkata. He didn’t mind me hanging out with him at his shop, especially as I occasionally bought books and stationery from him, and helped him while away the long hours when business was slow. Broadening the Landscape of Business For many years now, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, of Bangladesh, has been running Grameen Bank, which offers low-interest micro-loans to poor people to help them do business and become self-sufficient. Bootstrapping Oneself Up A humorous poor man once told me, “The rich tell us to bootstrap ourselves up, and then they steal the boot!” I for one am never in favor of asking rich people to help the poor, because very few of them are inclined to do so. The Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” In a fascinating discussion at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, five top scientists and technologists involved in the upcoming mission spoke enthusiastically about some of the salient points of the mission. And So On To Solar and Wind Power The Romance of Satellite Communications Full Circle A Compass Pointing North Sri Aurobindo and the Nature of Work Sen Babu Makes the Grade Junior Sen Starts a Business B.G. Birla and the Plastic Bobbins Putting Food on the Table Durgapur – Planned City of the East Reflections on the Electronic Portfolio Youthful Malawi Genius William Kamkwamba Youthful Genius Lev Vygotsky The Problem and its Solution Design Elegance Interactive Learning through Educational Satellites An Industrial Ecosystem Hari and Hara Business as Usual Settling Matters Strategically Speaking Jean Piaget’s Magnificent Obsession Practical Training in Bangalore Mr. Bly and Mr. Pook Engineers United Chance, Risk and Skill Meeting Payroll Elder Fraud or a Form of Symbiosis? Practical Training in Bangalore In the three years that I spent at the Indian Institute of Science, studying engineering during 1972-75, we were required to undergo mandatory summer training at any of the large firms, both public and private sector, that dotted the landscape in Bangalore. Mr. Bly and Mr. Pook Mr. Bly was the technical expert who went to India accompanying the automatic, seam-welded aluminum pipe- making factory that was imported by the Goenkas and installed in Garia, on the outskirts of Calcutta, in the premises of Premier Irrigation Equipment, Pvt. Ltd. The Birla Industrial and Technological Museum In my first year in college at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, I spotted an ad in The Statesman newspaper. BITM was asking for applications from students for holiday work at the Museum. I dutifully applied, very conscious that at some point in my life I’d have to go from “learning” to “earning”. Perth and its Pundit My old school friend, John C. Vyse, lives in Perth, Western Australia. He’s the Managing Director of a growing speciality paints company, Supalux. His Dad, John C. Vyse (Sr.), was Principal of La Martiniere School for many years. There once lived a Pondit of Perth, While browsing iTunes the other day I happened to use the search term “Bengali” and came upon an interesting series of podcasts entitled Bangla Golpo, or Bengali Stories. Well loved stories like Mohesh, Ghonada, and Chander Pahar have been rendered into audio podcasts by a talented young Bengali of America, called Gourav Das. The Serenader in Rabindranath Tagore While I was in school at La Martiniere, Calcutta, I won a prize by composing the following poem:- More Bengali and English Proverbs I sometimes wonder how my Bengali ancestors lived in those turbulent times when marauding King’s soldiers and robbers and bandits of every shape and size terrorized Bengal. Maybe they drew strength from their sayings, often pithy and certainly pointed. Just think of the saying: If you pull the ear the head will surely also come. I have no doubt that this saying was meant to be taken literally as well as figuratively. Barbarism and Planet Earth The City and the Stars Two Fallacies Regarding “Green” Expectations Work is Life; Time is Money A Professional Achievement Unthinkable Value The Triple Bottom Line Auroville, Bhubaneshwar and Chandigarh Arms and the Man Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and T.E.R.I. Bhanu Banerjee Bill Wood and the Eagle Annuals Poverty and Illegal Immigration Cricket at Vivekananda Park Distant Cousin Bachchu Dada Distinguished Professor D. N. Bose Skills Stones of the Silicon Type The Joys of Soccer Bela De Of Yesteryear Deep Thinking (Achtung! Achtung!) Artifacts of Civilization Austerity Versus Opulence The Advent of a New Year The Wisdom of Crowds Half-confident, Half-despairing The Tactics of Success Bengali and English Proverbs and Sayings The Song of Hiawatha “Solaris” and Its Creator Creativity Of Creation, Preservation and Destruction Devotion Survival Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish Steve Jobs, speaking at a commencement ceremony at Stanford University some years ago, told three stories the gist of which I reproduce here. Apparently, Steve was given up for adoption soon after his birth. His biological mother had stipulated that he must go to college and so his foster parents, neither of whom were college graduates, paid for his tuition at an expensive college. Two Cheers for Our Leaders A recent G-8 summit in Italy provides food for thought on a number of issues. They seem to have agreed to a two-degree rise in temperature vis-à-vis the pre-industrial level, and that is all. The 80 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 is too vague to be of any immediate use, but might serve as the starting point for future global climate-change conferences. Creative Negotiations Let’s face it. We share planet Earth and many other things besides, with our fellow creatures. Only an unfair person like Nikita Kruschev can brazenly say, “What is mine is mine; what is yours is negotiable.” But perhaps Kruschev missed his vocation and should have been a standup comedian like Jay Leno. Did you watch Jay one late night last spring? He was busy regretting a recent investment he’s made. that he’d bought a Chrysler dealership in Mexico City. The Billboard Customer Consciousness Business Practices Going Dutch? Kisan Evocative Songs A Sociological Conundrum The Usefulness, or Otherwise, of Books The Cistern and the Fountainhead Lily the Pink Love of the Romantic Kind If I am to write about romantic love I’d rather use a paintbrush than a pen, for affairs of the heart need a deft and delicate touch. In my opinion, love that is reciprocated leads to a happy ending - but that does not make for good literature. It is, rather, unrequited love, or love gone awry, that has been a favorite topic of the great masters. Literature abounds with examples of such love. Charles Dickens, in his book Great Expectations, writes about Pip’s undying devotion to Estella, who spurns his overtures. He suffers dreadfully and writes in the first person - perhaps the novel is autobiographical. I don’t remember if Estella finally succumbs to Pip’s advances, since the book actually belonged to my sister and I got bored after reading halfway through it. Why on earth did Pip persist in the face of such rejection, I asked myself? Somerset Maugham, in his classic tale of unrequited love, wrote Of Human Bondage in which a man falls in love with a woman, I think she was a waitress, and is rebuffed, goes away for a few years, but is drawn back to her irresistibly, only to be turned away again. Oh, what an unhappy man he was! Finally, in A.J. Cronin’s book, The Judas Tree, a man ruins a woman’s life, though I don’t remember exactly how, and disappears for thirty years, having tired of her. He then returns and repeats his dreadful work by ruining her daughter’s life! Cronin, always a dark and depressing writer, excels himself in this book. Ultimately, the man is filled with remorse, but since he cannot undo his wrong, hangs himself from a Judas tree. The tree is named after the Biblical character, Judas, who if you remember, betrayed Christ. Yes, the lesson is that true love is never to be betrayed. It is one of the most mysterious and potent of humankind’s emotions. May it never go unrequited. Humor To The Rescue The use of humor can be a great way to communicate a message. People like to laugh, especially when the joke’s not on them! As the sage wrote, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone - for the sad old earth, if the truth be told, has worries of its own.” Slipping on a banana peel, and falling, may not be very funny to the person who falls, but it makes for great entertainment. As a writer I didn’t make much headway until I wrote a piece called “Chief Broken Tooth,” where I made fun of my own dental problems. One tends to get too serious in this world of ours, and the media is mostly responsible for reporting what they consider to be newsworthy material - all the natural and man-made disasters, murders, thefts, etc. One begins to feel that these doomsday prophets may be right till one regains a sense of proportion by reading a joke and having a good belly laugh. No wonder that laughing clubs have flourished. The entertainment industry thrives because people want to escape from the dull realities of life. My favorite humorous screen character was the Bengali actor, Bhanu Banerjee, who was also a friend of my Dad’s. I’ve met Bhanu in person and he’s just as funny in real life as he is on screen. They say that his face is like the Bengali numeral “five” - always sour, and his humor is often deadpan. Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jim Carey, and various stand-up comedians of all shapes and sizes do a roaring business; there’s no end to the public’s demand for humor. The renowned writer, Arthur Koestler, in his book, The Act of Creation, explores what makes something funny. He brings seriousness to the study of humor, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron, that sheds some light on what people think “funny.” Features in the Readers’ Digest like “Laughter, The Best Medicine” and “Humor in Uniform” testify to the abiding popularity of the humorous, the ludicrous and the comical. Here are two jokes that I remember: An accountant went into a bookshop and asked to see a book on accountancy. The shopkeeper showed him a book and said, “This book will do half the work for you.” The accountant was delighted and replied, “Excellent! I’ll take two.” A couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by eating at the same restaurant where he had first proposed, and she had accepted. She said, though, “Darling, I have a confession to make. When you proposed, and you thought that I was accepting, actually I was merely nodding to the band.” Finally, the story is told about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, the pair that starred in many movies. When they first met, Katherine Hepburn remarked to Spencer Tracy, who was a short man, “Aren’t you a trifle too small for me?” He replied, “ Stick around, lady, and I’ll cut you down to size.” Change and Stability Did you know the average person spends more time with her co-workers than with her family? No wonder that the number of office romances is increasing. The typical young man now meets a typical young woman, either marries or does not marry her, but they have kids who go to daycare while both parents work. Soon the couple separate and go their own ways, while one or the other of the parents pays child support. The child goes to school and sees a counselor, who has her hands full by the time the child reaches adolescence. He or she will, of course, repeat this pattern when it comes to his or her turn at parenthood. I suppose it is no use lamenting the demise of the family at this late stage. Many couples don’t bother to tie the knot at all. The ding-dong battle between change and stability seems now to be weighted towards the former, at the expense of the latter. I don’t know who the winner is, or the loser. Wealth is the Prelude to Art When I was a young boy in school, I painted, wrote short stories, and experimented with electricity and electronics. My activities were more like those of an artist than a scientist. I didn’t have to worry about money because dad was a good provider, and I didn’t have to worry about food, clothes, or anything else for that matter, because mom was an excellent housewife. I painted for the sheer joy of painting, not from nature but from pictures in books and on calendars. My exuberance exceeded my talents and I was certainly no budding Picasso. But friends of the family admired my art and encouraged me to continue. But once in adulthood, the necessity of earning money put a damper on my artistic efforts. True, I still wrote, and could dash off an essay in a jiffy, but painting took a backseat in my life. In my childhood I had painted forests and mountains, trees, snowmen, castles and ships. Now in my late middle age those vivid colors of my paintings are still alive and I see them in my mind’s eye – the turquoises and aquamarines, the crimsons and purples, the golden browns and azure blues, and yes the midnight blacks and somber grays. Wealth, said Will Durant, is the prelude to art, because food must come first, followed by shelter and clothing. Yet man does not live by bread alone and the proverbial starving writer or artist is more fact than fiction. Art uplifts both the artist and the audience. Once, I listened to music, and then yearned to produce music myself. My efforts on the harmonica – my instrument of choice – delighted me more than I can say. Indeed, once a certain amount of earned money is assured, we can take heart from another of Will Durant’s sayings: When we have learned to reverence liberty as well as wealth, we too shall have our Renaissance. Think Tanks An important emerging global trend is the rise to prominence of think tanks that profess to provide an expert opinion on all public policy matters ranging from trade, economics, weapons system purchases and the like. Examples of think tanks are Citizens for a Sound Economy (US) and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (India). Think tanks started in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and were generally funded by independent organizations so that their reports and recommendations were bias-free. Indeed, this essentially Anglo-American requirement – that high credibility required independent funding – is not quite as prevalent in the think tanks of the developing countries, and countries in transition. After the issue of funding comes the important one of scope. Should a think tank limit itself to a specific sector or should it cover a spectrum of subjects? What about the geographical area covered? Should a think tank be nationally active or should it limit itself to regional issues? Often, the choice of scope once again is determined by the leanings of the stakeholders, be they funding agencies, think tank managers or researchers. Next comes the question of staffing. One would expect PhDs to dominate the field but this is not necessarily so. Very specialized, albeit learned people, often produce too verbose or exclusive reports that busy policy makers find too tedious to read. A balance has to be struck between scholarship and readability, and here the person with a larger repertoire scores, because he paints with a broader brush, so to say. Other issues that think tanks of the world face are questions of taxation and legality. Once again, the politically astute think tank manager who is also adaptable will survive where others may perish. A final word on funding: it is prudent to have multiple revenue sources that have overlapping scopes of payment on a time scale, so that at least a minimum level of funding is assured for salaries and facilities maintenance. Indeed, many think tank researchers are forced to continue working as professors in universities because the think tank they belong to operates on a shoestring budget. Three Pyramids As one journeys through life one tends to accumulate so much knowledge and experience that one learns to “chunk” information and wisdom under different rubrics which serve as a kind of entry-point to deeper levels of meaning. The other day I told my son, who stays in Chapel Hill, to remember the food pyramid when he eats. Every honest school kid knows that carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vegetables and fruit are all essential to a balanced diet, so the “food pyramid” is a convenient, shorthand way of remembering this. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs constitutes the second pyramid on my list. Briefly, humankind must first have food, shelter and clothing. Once these basic needs have been met, there arise additional needs in the following order: safety and security needs, belongingness, recognition, and finally self-actualization. The last and ultimate need, self-actualization, is often placed first by great people like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, even before the lower level needs. But for ordinary folks, the other needs take precedence, in their respective order, before one thinks of self-actualization. The final pyramid that I briefly want to touch upon is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge. When you “know” a subject, you first start with knowledge, then proceed to understanding, followed by application. After that you can synthesize new knowledge and finally comes the evaluation phase. For more information, folks, hit the books or go online. Happy hunting! Confessions Of A Substitute Teacher Often, while walking down the corridor, I was pointed out by smiling students as “Reeshi’s Dad.” I bumped into Reeshi occasionally, but, true to his adolescent stature, he preferred not to be seen talking to me. He enjoyed going around with his classmates, and I marveled at the enormous camaraderie that I saw the students exhibit among themselves. Other occasions to observe kids and interact with them more deeply were the daily lunch period and the bus journey. I think the students who shared with me the daily encounter with the public transport system, saw in me a person very much like themselves, only older, who, for whatever reasons, chose not to drive but use the bus. We bus travelers have a sub-culture of our own. We know the ropes, the routes, and the occasional boredom of bus travel. The girl who used to grin and call out loudly, “Reeshi’s Dad!” has become a serious senior. The lad who skipped class as a freshman is now busy with his engineering studies. And I, a foreigner who found a place in their hearts, am still learning, teaching and marveling. As for my son—he has graduated and moved on, an alumnus of Enloe and a student at ECU. Revenue Streams
Sadhana through Work
For the sadhak, or aspirant drawn to the yogic life, the first step in doing work is the difference in motivation from ordinary work. For the ordinary person, work fulfills a vital function, and men normally work to meet their needs, (i.e. paying bills!!), or desire for wealth, success, position, power, or fame.
When one takes up the yoga, these ordinary motives no longer retain their importance, because after all, the Gita enjoins us to do desire-less work without attachment to the fruits. The yogic motives for doing work – as a consecration to the Divine – are mainly psychic and spiritual.
In Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, there is a need to combine an inner consciousness with the outward consciousness. Of course, in some other yogas – those followed by the Shankarites, for example – doing work makes the consciousness outward-facing, and hence Shankarites considered work to be in its own nature an operation of the Ignorance and incompatible with a condition of realization. But Integral Yoga sees three stages in the development of the sadhak’s consciousness:
First Stage: in which the work brings you to a lower as well as outer consciousness so that you have, afterwards, to recover the realization.
Second Stage: in which the work brings you out, but the realization remains behind, or above, not felt while you work, but as soon as the work ceases you find it there just as it was.
Third Stage: in which the work makes no difference, for the realization or spiritual condition remains through the work itself.
Furthermore, during the course of the sadhana one can learn to draw upon the universal Life-Force and replenish the energies from it. It is a Force that comes and pushes to work and is as legitimately a part of the spiritual life as others. It is a special Energy that takes hold of the worker in the being and fulfills itself through him. To work with a full energy like this is quite salutary. The only thing is not to overdo it; that is to avoid exhaustion or recoil to a physical inertia.
Finally, Sri Aurobindo urges us to think of our work only when it is being done, not before and not after. Do not let your mind go back on a work that is finished. It belongs to the past and all re-handling of it is a waste of power.
Do not let your mind labor on anticipation on a work that has to be done. The Power that acts in you will see to it at its own time.
These two habits of the mind belong to a past functioning that the transforming Force is pressing to remove.
One can see how different Sri Aurobindo’s ideas of work are, as related to sadhana, but that is the way the supramental evolutionary power is taking mankind.
1) The DIVINE cannot be understood by the mind alone, but by faculties higher than the mind. That’s why Sri Aurobindo writes that, in trying to find the supermind, the mind can only go in circles, and something from above, call it grace if you will, is needed for further progress.
2) Without wishing to boast, I can honestly say that I’m doing all that can be done, in my opinion. I’m trying to avoid all pitfalls and self-deception, and I’m communicating with other people, through the kind offices of Saathee magazine, because I feel that I was “chosen” because of my propensity to write.
3) As an analogy, consider two ants having a conversation about humans:
Ant One: Did you know there is something, or someone, called human, who’s vastly bigger in all respects?
Ant Two: What rubbish!
Ant One: See this huge thing here? It’s part of the human shoe. The human is so much bigger that we ants can’t even conceive of it, much less see it. Yet we can feel His force and power.
4) A mere mental understanding of Integral Yoga, even if it’s accompanied by surprising siddhis, is not enough. According to Sri Aurobindo, the soul must be brought to the forefront, or nothing significant has been achieved.
5) Spiritual experiences can be had in this Yoga, and if they are genuine, cause the human evolution to take place, gradually or fast. The danger is that the other world has negative, or evil, forces also, so the experience might be negative or false.
6) The DIVINE’s work of transforming the world, and forwarding evolution in humans, will proceed irrespective of our individual help. We can help through right action, but must not delude ourselves that we are indispensable.
7) My own personal experience, and interest in Sri Aurobindo, started when I met my guru, who’s a very powerful Yogi and probably a disciple of Sri Aurobindo’s. I’m not sure, because my Guru is so much above me that I cannot possibly know anything about him, at least, nothing that he does not wish me to know. At the age of 43, my Guru had attained Samadhi, but at 61, except for some fairly regular spiritual experiences, I’ve not made much progress. It could be because of some fundamental flaw in my Yoga, or because the DIVINE wants me to go on writing and giving…
8) I was watching the film, Haridas Chaudhury and Integral Yoga, and once again decided that words cannot be used to adequately advance in this Yoga. Most of my advance, for whatever they are worth, happened spontaneously, as it were, without my thinking or doing.
9) It’s as if God does the difficult work for me, but I have to make the necessary sacrifice, have faith, courage and patience, and be willing to show Divine qualities, such as sharing.
10) My motto is: Have faith in the DIVINE and it will do everything for you. The DIVINE’s help is there for all those who need it.
Less well-known, except perhaps to Europeans, is the Frenchman Evariste Galois, who died in a pistol duel before his twenty-first birthday, and is credited with discovering Group Theory, which led mathematics in an entirely new direction.
Galois, like most teenagers, was impetuous and strong-willed, given to dabbling in revolutionary politics and living unwisely. This led to a nine-month imprisonment, specifically for wearing an outlawed uniform and carrying a loaded pistol and dagger in a political rally.
Sir Peter Neumann, mathematical historian, in a talk on Galois at Gresham College last year, describes Galois as rather a horrid person who stumbled on mathematics when bored in his early teens, and soon mastered the works of luminaries like Lagrange.
Indeed, nineteenth century France was almost like a who’s who of mathematical savants like Cauchy, Liouville, Chevalier, Poisson and Lagrange.
Galois had already published two papers on the theory of equations and been refused admission to the Ecole Polytechnique when he submitted his best work for possible publication in a prestigious French academy.
Even though the learned Poisson was one of the judges, the paper was found incomprehensible, and why not asks Sir Peter. Galois, in working on the theory of equations, had used a new term, “groupe” which is French for “group.” He had thus started work on what is now known as Group Theory.
If you use the search term “Galois” in Amazon, you’ll see a number of tomes on Galois Groups, Galois Theory and such like, since it is a fertile field of research today. Group theory is used extensively in quantum mechanics, quantum chemistry, particle physics, Raman spectroscopy and the like.
On the night before the pistol duel, Galois, mindful of the dangerous encounter set to occur at dawn, put down the gist of all his mathematical findings on six and a half sheets of paper.
Sir Peter comments, in his talk on Galois, that these six-odd sheets contained brilliant mathematics which was “harsh” yet deeply moving, coming as it does from the brains of an 18-year old, soon to die tragically.
Next day, sure enough, Galois was shot in the abdomen and soon afterwards died in hospital, telling his grieving brother Alfred, to stop crying because it was bad enough that he was going to die at twenty.
His mathematical manuscripts, which he left to his friend Chevalier, were printed by Liouville almost twelve years later, in 1842, giving Evariste Galois a place in the hall of mathematics, so to say, and a recognition that had eluded him in his own lifetime.
That evening, after school, when I got home, I told my parents that I simply must buy that annual as a Christmas present for Jim. Next day we went into the shop and purchased the book.
I meant to keep Jim’s present a secret from him till Christmas Day. I’d taken the book to school and it was lying in my desk. Between classes, bursting with excitement, I lifted the lid of my desk and beckoned to Jim, who sat two desks away.
He saw the annual and practically went OMG OMG.
Later, I learnt that he and his elder brother, Noel, went into Accrington town that evening and Jim bought Heidi for me. His choice had a reason. A few weeks earlier, a touring company had enacted the play Heidi in our school, and we’d all loved it.
The book, by Johanna Spyri, is a children’s classic that has stood the test of time and delighted generations of children. I hope, in passing, that Jim loved his Boys’ Annual as much as I loved Heidi, and that it came up to his expectations and did not disappoint him.
This was in Hukumchand Jute Mills, at Naihati, during the 1950’s. Later, after our family went to England for one year, and returned, we settled in Calcutta. Uncle Narain, who worked at Hukumchand till his retirement in the 1980s, still visited us with his family from time to time, at least once every year, and we did the same.
Dolly was about five years younger than me. I still remember pushing her pram when she was tiny. She had a delicate, ethereal beauty as a child, and grew up to be an exceptionally beautiful and talented lady, with a good working knowledge of Bengali and a love of macher jhol, or fish curry, cooked the Bengali way.
In 1972 I went to Bangalore and first studied engineering for three years at the Indian Institute of Science and then spent three more years in that charming city working as an Executive Engineer at the Indian Telephone Industries. I had many friends, almost all male, and I confided to my best friend, colleague and room-mate, Raj Vardhan, that I loved Dolly, but didn’t know what to do next.
My Dad used to say that it needed a certain level of maturity to accomplish anything, and so instead of writing directly to Dolly, as I should have done, I wrote to my mother, who was still in Calcutta, asking for Dolly’s exact postal address at Hukumchand.
For some reason or other, my Mom did not reply. Much later, when I was back in Calcutta, and the topic came up for discussion, she explained tactfully that the Mathurs were a very close-knit community and only married within their own small community.
It was interesting to know this because, as Vaidyas, we Sens and Senguptas also had the custom of marrying within our own small community. All my cousins married Sens, Senguptas, or Dasguptas, but my sister, a trailblazer, married outside her caste, thus breaking the pattern. (Incidentally, I did the same, twelve years later).
Well, to continue, I had written once, in one of my essays, that Bengalis and Punjabis were brothers at heart since we both suffered the tragic partition of the country in 1947 at the time of the Indian Independence and the birth of the new state of Pakistan.
About ten years later, in the 1990s, when I found myself again in Calcutta, Uncle Narain reminded me of this fact in one of his hand-written letters to me. I had long since married a Bengali girl, and had a teenage son, and Dolly was happily married to a Mathur gentleman and in fact was on the way to becoming a grandmother.
It’s my pet theory that you must not marry the girl you loved because in my opinion marriage is a serious proposition involving the bringing up of children, looking after old parents, and contributing jointly to the world in a meaningful way. There’s very little genuine romance in a good marriage, and by romance I mean the starry-eyed, moonlight serenade, and wine-and-roses kind of romance.
Anyway, I was young and in love with Dolly, though I’d rarely spoken to her save a few words. I never knew what she thought of me, but my understanding was that she’d have loved to be Jaya’s sister-in-law! So I cried when she got married, and let Uncle Narain know of this fact many years later, as if he was somehow to blame!
There’s a picture of Dolly with my sister Jaya, both ravishing beauties, with little Rasika, Dolly’s daughter, seated between them. Dolly was, and still is, a great friend and fan of Jaya’s, and we’re all happily married to great partners, so this story has a happy ending, knock wood!
Sri Aurobindo has written that there is no “Yoga in Easy Steps” in his yoga, and each person’s path is different. While other yogas can take one from point A to point B through man-made channels, so to say, Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is akin to sailing on the uncharted oceans and navigating oneself by the stars: no easy task by any means but the results are much better!
A careful perusal of Sri Aurobindo’s writings does reveal some general directions: prayer, japa, and meditation all may help, and a simple self-opening and gathering up of the consciousness “inwards and upwards” has been recommended.
Few, if any of us are spiritually inclined and endowed like say Sri Ramkrishna, who took the kingdom of heaven by storm so to say. Yet he too had to go through intense sadhana.
The object of the yoga is not to become a great yogi, although that may come, and it is certainly not to acquire spectacular powers and siddhis, those these may come as gifts of the Divine, to be used for the Divine’s purpose. It is not to gain liberation or moksa, although that is one of the results of successful sadhana.
Those who have a calling for the spiritual life feel a yearning to know the Divine, in spite of many failures and setbacks. The four aids to the yoga are, firstly, the scriptures—-which in this case is Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s writings.
Next is to live your life in accordance with the said scriptures. Then comes the utsaha or enthusiasm of the sadhak himself or herself. Here it may be noted that it is not just by intellectual activity, ie by reading holy texts, that advancement can be made. The supramental power cannot find a sufficiently deep base in the mind alone, and mere mental realization is not our final aim.
Finally comes the dimension of time. All in good time as they say and one must have patience.
The aspiration that Sri Aurobindo recommends is a yearning towards things Divine, and the rejection of all that is false or obscure or undivine. Then comes the surrender, or atmasamarpana, of the scriptures. The true sadhak is ready to make the yoga the central path of his life, and to pursue the Divine for a thousand lifetimes if necessary.
Even a little bit of the Mother’s grace can carry you through all difficulties and dangers. The sadhak is not just a sadhak of mantras and books but a sadhak of the Infinite. The end result is a form of immortality, and the acquiring of spiritual riches that are of unthinkable value. Ask yourself, then, whether the long, arduous, difficult way is worth it or not. If the sadhana is done sincerely, “all else will be done for you.”
So it is with me. As I lie in bed staring at the ceiling, my mind goes back in time to that 14-day journey that I undertook, along with my parents and sister, travelling by ship from Bombay to Genoa, Italy, in 1961 when I was 10 years old. At Messina our ship halted for a few hours, and I remember how my family disembarked and, to while away the time, walked along the pier.
In the distance, we could see the houses of the city itself, something we would never have the chance of exploring, and would probably never revisit again in our lifetimes.
It was cold and windy, and we were bundled up. A young couple was also strolling along the pier, walking hand in hand in the opposite direction. They appeared to be local residents, and they smiled at us as we strolled by. We could tell that they had figured out who we were – long-distance travelers just come ashore from the big ship anchored nearby.
When we reached the end of the quay, we naturally turned around and started retracing our steps. The young couple, at the other end, also did the same. Then, as they passed us, they dipped their hands in a bag of confetti and released it in the air. The wind blew the confetti all over us. We all laughed in delight, and soon, it was time to go back to our ship.
The second incident that comes to mind occurred at our first rented house at St. Annes on Sea in Lancashire. When Dad left for his work in the morning to go to British Northrop, we three, i.e. my mother, sister and I, went out walking to savor the neighborhood. We passed the parade of shops and more residential areas.
One afternoon as we were walking along, we came across a group of school children playing on the curbside. A large dog came bounding up to us and would not let me pass! I guess the dog had never before seen strangers, so it was giving us undue attention, though it was wagging its tail and evidently was friendly.
We did not know what to do till one of the kids, eating an ice cream, came up and offered the dog a lick. Thus distracted, our canine friend forgot all about us, and we thankfully made our quick getaway. It all goes to show the power of ice cream over four-footed creatures!
To the question of why I’m taking the effort to record these two incidents, I can truthfully say that, “Man does not live by bread alone.” He needs cake also.
Indeed, on two more occasions in my life, I found myself back in my parents’ home, studying. In 1998, at the age of 48, in an uncertain lull in my life, I was pacing the floor and trying to formulate a strategy for the rest of my life. I watched my Dad go out heroically every day to earn money. My sister and brother-in-law, living in England, subsidized us it is true, but Dad enjoyed being the breadwinner.
He was running his small business successfully and enjoying it, while, at the same time, planning for his retirement.
Earlier, at an uncertain time in my life, deeply disappointed at the way things were panning out for me, or rather, as I thought, not panning out…I cried out to my parents in despair, “Why did you have me? I did not ask to be born!” These were words that no parent wishes to hear from their own child.
I think, till the very end of his life, Dad felt responsible for me. He had had me and so he felt the need to see me through. As he never tired of saying, “As long as I’m alive I’ll look after you!” My childhood illness, and its consequences, may have had something to do with this benign, loyal attitude.
It was only when I started being influenced by the yoga of Sri Aurobindo that I “stepped back from a life of stress and suffering into its deep peace and its intense ananda.”
Yoga has to be done with a cheerful mind. There is even a Sanskrit phrase for it. Other requirements are peace, calm and quiet. It does not hurt to have a healthy dollop of faith, courage and patience also!
Now, just as I enjoy having a grown son in my house, I reflect back on my days with my parents, not in my childhood – though happy memories of that remain too – but in my middle age, just as the ancient Indian joint-family system was.
Sri Ramkrishna, I think it was who told the story of the hiatus between father and son. There is never any real hiatus; he is reported to have said…it is superficial only, like stretching a rope across the middle of a pond and thinking that that divides the water.
Nothing of the sort happens, the water in its depth is still one and the same. Father-son fellowship is true, always!
The Auroville Charter has four tenets, of which the first is: Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
To be a true Aurovillian there are 6 guidelines, of which number one is: The first necessity is the inner discovery by which one learns who one really is behind the social, moral, cultural, racial and hereditary appearances. At our inmost center there is a free being, wide and knowing, who awaits our discovery and who ought to become the acting center of our being and our life in Auroville.
Fast forward to March 2012. Madame Irina Bokova, Director- General of UNESCO, who having visited Auroville in Jan 2010, sends her greetings to Aurovillians on the occasion of the inauguration of the Multi-Purpose Hall at the Unity Pavilion, which will promote and facilitate more activities of the International Zone.
Mrs. Bokova writes in her letter, “On this occasion, I would like to express my appreciation for the vision of the Aurovillian International Zone. This is an impressive platform embodying ideals and views that resonate with those of UNESCO.
I am certain it will serve as an open space for a “living embodiment of actual human unity,” as the Charter of Auroville declares.”
As is widely known, Auroville or The City of Dawn is an experimental township in Villupurum District in the state of Tamil Nadu, near Pondicherry in South India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, (also known as the Mother), and designed by architect Roger Anger.
As stated in the Mother’s first public message about the township, “Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
The Government of India endorsed the township of Auroville and this was followed by UNESCO endorsement in 1966, the latter body inviting all member-states to participate in the development of Auroville. UNESCO reendorsed Auroville four times in the course of the last 40 years.
Although originally intended to house 50,000, the actual population today is 2,200, consisting of 1,553 adults and 454 minors, coming from 43 nationalities, 836 of whom are of Indian origin.
The community is divided up into neighborhoods with English, Sanskrit, French and Tamil names like Aspiration, Arati, La Ferme and Isaiambalam.
In the middle of the town is the Matrimandir, which has been acclaimed as an “outstanding and original architectural achievement.” It was conceived by the Mother as a “symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s inspiration for perfection.”
Ruud Lohman, a priest who spent 15 years in Auroville, arrived at the township on the day that work was started on digging the foundation of Matrimandir. His beautiful little book, “A House for the Third Millennium” is what I’m reading right now.
Ruud, a theologian, writes, “…the amazing thing for me is this: the more I discover Ari Aurobindo, the Integral Yoga, and Matrimandir, the more I feel that I have not really broken with my past life as a member of a religious order and an official representative of religion, but I experience that I am only now slowly becoming what I then, spiritually and occultly, was supposed to be.”
The Sun shines over Matrimandir; one Ray especially is caught and directed down into the Crystal in its very heart. The Sun is the Supermind, the symbol of that link-world in heaven. Where is the symbol of the Supermind on earth?
It must be Matrimandir itself, the golden sphere which is like coming down from on high in order to carry mankind over the threshold of a new age, providing all the indications and mechanisms to operate consciously the great Mutation.
In early 2009, governors and state commissioners of education from across the United States came together in an unprecedented effort to form the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). The goal of this standard is to ensure that every student, irrespective of his or her zip code, is held to the same level of expectation across the country and to the same demanding curricula that students from the highest performing countries have.
The list of organizations entrusted with the task of setting up the standards reads like a Who’s Who of bodies: the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, representatives from 48 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia. Advisory groups came from Achieve, ACT, the College Board, the National Association of the State Boards of Education, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
The task engaged the talent and expertise of educators, content specialists, researchers, community groups, and other stakeholders.
The subject-area organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) were invited to critique drafts of the Common Core Standards prior to their release for public comment.
An immediate advantage to having common standards can be seen if one considers that the 2000 US Census found that up to 18 percent of school-age children had moved in the previous year. Research also shows that the rate of school mobility over a two to three year period commonly exceeds 30 percent.
This means that for a teacher teaching mathematics to a class of 30 fourth graders, she has no way to know what 5 or more of her students know about fractions or decimals. They might not be ready to learn what the teacher has to teach, or they might already know it very well.
Some studies show that the greater the number of new students in the class the more the continuing students suffer. Why? Because the teacher’s commitment to helping students means that she will invest much of her time and attention to learning what your new students know and don’t know.
During the 2014-2015 school year students will be assessed on the Common Core Standards for the first time. Two consortia of member states are currently developing the assessments. For mathematics instructors, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has developed a guide that identifies how current NCTM resources can support teachers as they implement the Common Core. Through significant funding from philanthropic organizations and, more recently, through an increase in federal funds for the standards assessments consortia, curriculum resources should be rapidly growing. There is a concerted effort to ensure that any teacher or school desiring to get out in front of this effort will not lack the resources to do so.
The Common Core mathematics standards’ emphasis on conceptual understanding is evident in the areas of “Content” and “Practice”. This dual role is emphasized through the eight standards of mathematical practice which apply through kindergarten through 12th grade:-
1) Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2) Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3) Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
4) Model with mathematics
5) Use appropriate tools strategically
6) Attend to precision
7) Look for and make use of structure
8) Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
In English, four strands – Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language – make up a set of College and Career Readiness (CCR) Anchor Standards that broadly describe what students should know and be able to do, from kindergarten to 12th grade. Within each strand, standards are organized under a set of topics, which apply across all grades.
Briefly, the Language strand has three structural components:-
• Conventions of Standard English, which deals with grammar, punctuation, spelling etc.
• Knowledge of Language, which apply to language functions in different contexts and choices of style, meaning, and comprehension.
• Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, which refer to words and their meaning and nuances, including general academic words and domain-specific words.
Finally, many books have already been published to help teachers, schools and districts apply the Common Core Standards. Two of these are:- Understanding Common Core State Standards by John Kendall, and Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core, by Harvey Silver, et. al.
Centerpiece on my mind, and in my hand, is a book, Our Navy, with a colorful but fading cover showing a battleship going full-steam ahead and firing a salvo from its 16” guns.
The book – the oldest in our family collection – dates back from the Second World War, and belonged to my Dad; presented to him and to all other naval personnel by the British Government. My Dad, who was in the first batch of recruits for the Artificer Apprentice positions of the Royal Indian Navy, had written on the fly-leaf: Niranjan Sen, Cadet Officer ( Engineering), Royal Indian Navy, Bombay, 1941.
With 16 full color plates and dark brown ink, the book depicts submarines, aircraft carriers, aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, mascot bulldogs, and many more impressive remnants of that bygone era of heroism and bravery.
The Royal Indian Navy was the naval force of British India. Along with the Presidency armies and the later British Indian Army, it comprised the Armed Forces of British India.
From its origin in 1612, as the East India Company’s Marine, the Navy underwent various changes, including changes to its name. Over time, it was named the Bombay Marine, Her Majesty’s Indian Navy, Her Majesty’s Indian Marine, until being named the Royal Indian Navy in 1934.
After the independence of India in 1947 and the subsequent partition, the Navy’s assets and personnel were split with the Royal Pakistan Navy, while the RIN became the navy of the Union of India. When India became a republic on 26 January, 1950, the force was renamed as the Indian Navy.
The Navy was engaged in the Anglo-Burmese Wars, First Opium Wars, World War I and World War II. At the start of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy was small, with only eight warships. The onset of the war led to an expansion in vessels and personnel.
The sloop HMS Sutlej and HMS Jumna played a key role in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
For the Indian personnel in the Navy, the conflict between being good sailors loyal to the British Government, and sympathizing with the Indian Independence movement was huge. In 1946, the Indian sailors launched the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny on board ships and in shore establishments to protest about discrimination against Indian sailors and officers by the British during the war.
This was actually the second of two mutinies; the earlier one, in 1942, was the one in which my Dad participated, thereby subsequently being honored as a freedom fighter.
The mutiny found widespread support and spread all over India, including the Army and Air Force. A total of seventy-eight ships, twenty shore establishments, and 20,000 sailors were involved in this second mutiny.
On 26 January, 1950, when India adopted its current constitution and became a republic, the RIN was finally succeeded by the Indian Navy, as mentioned previously. Its vessels were redesigned as Indian Naval Ships, and the ship prefix for existing vessels was changed to INS.
The book that I hold in my hands recreates some of the moments of those days, and served as a recruiting instrument for young men, with chapters such as “Why We Need a Navy” and “A Career for Men.”
When I decided to write this piece today, I was determined to pitch it high and not violate any rules which masquerade as poetic liberty. Granted, I have blended some fiction along with the facts, but the central events are true and I have witnessed them myself.
Yesterday I dreamed that I was in Konnogore again, holidaying at my grandfather’s house in the countryside. We, that is, my mother, sister and I, spent our summer and winter vacations at Avoya Kuthir, which was the name my grandfather had given to their charming cottage at Napara, Konnogore.
It was just before lunch and my sister and I, both below ten years of age, stood at the door of the puja room, watching the priest – thakurmoshai as we called him – perform his puja.
The puja room was at one corner of the inner courtyard that was a central feature of the cottage. Thakurmoshai came every morning to perform an hour-long ceremony that fascinated us kids, involving as it did the ringing of a bell (ghanti) the bathing of the brass images of Lakshmi and Narayan, the changing of their clothes, their feeding and replacing back in their brass “palaces” and the chanting of mantras, all ceremoniously performed.
Those images were at least 200 years old. They had been brought by my grandparents from our ancestral home in Dacca at the time of the nation’s partition, in 1947.
After the puja, thakurmoshai gave my grandmother the brass platter full of Prasad, which was distributed among the family members. Thakusmoshai then latched the door of the puja ghar, locked it, returned the key to grandfather, and departed.
This ritual had taken place every day, without fail, come rain or sun. On that day also, after we partook of the prasad, we all went about our usual activities. We children read books, played with the dog and the cat, and watched uncle and aunty catch fish, repair the bicycle, and go about their other chores.
Next morning we were all awakened by Shejomama’s loud voice. Shejomama – or middle uncle – was an early riser and he’d discovered that the puja ghar had been broken into and the priceless idols stolen.
Imagine the commotion and hubbub all around! Everyone was agitated, and grandmother asked mournfully, “If Narayan cannot save himself, how can we expect protection from him?”
Prophetic words indeed! We decided to search the grounds and see if we could find a clue, possibly something left behind by the thief.
As the search proceeded, nobody really thought that anything would be found, yet suddenly Chhotomama – or small uncle – shouted from the pondside, “I have found them, I have found them!”
We rushed out to see him triumphantly holding up the intact figurines. The thief, for some unknown reason, had changed his mind and had jettisoned his precious loot.
Things went back to normal after that, though we couldn’t help musing over everything. Who was the thief? Why had he stolen the god and goddess? And why on earth did he, after successfully breaking the lock and decamping with the treasure, change his mind and abandon his prize?
Maybe our dog had pursued him, or maybe even it was the hanuman who we knew lived in the mango tree near the pond. We shall never know, but this I know—-I’ve decided to bring the idols to the USA now that there’s really nobody to look after them in India. I have asked Aunty to send them to me. Narayan knows how to look after himself.
While lauding Dewey’s statement, it occurs to me that the youngster learning to make tea in a tea stall in Kolkata is also being trained for future adult responsibilities. This may or may not be so, but Dewey continues to write, “This was the purpose of the education given to a little aboriginal in the Australian bush before the coming of the white man.
It was the purpose of the education of youth in the golden age of Athens. It is the purpose of education today, whether this education goes on in a one-room school in the mountains of Tennessee or in the most advanced progressive school in a radical community.”
Fast forward to 1991, when Arthur Foshay wrote, “The one continuing purpose of education, since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being.” According to Foshay, other statements of educational purpose, such as to develop the intellect, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective work force, and so on, are undesirably limited in scope, and in some instances, they conflict with the broad purpose of “bringing people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being.”
Other statements of purpose include the need to prepare students for a job or career, to serve social needs, and to promote a particular social or political system. Unfortunately they imply a distorted human existence. As we know, the adult population of America, especially before the upcoming Presidential elections, is strongly polarized along partisan lines. Not only that. When I was in India I happened to subscribe to Soviet Land and Sputnik, two Russian magazines. I got to know a little bit how young Russians in the Communist era were brought up – some would say brain-washed – to become loyal citizens of the USSR.
Whether our kids of today learn to work together, or compete ferociously for grades and, later, for jobs, almost every facet of decision making ultimately involves making a judgment call. To choose wisely between equally attractive alternatives and to follow one’s own predisposition in the choice of a career, seem laudable goals.
In 1964, Margaret Ammons wrote, “The purpose of education has changed from that of producing a literate society to that of producing a learning society.” Not only do our students need to learn, but they need to learn how to learn – indeed, to become lifelong learners, because 50% of what they learn in school or college will probably become obsolete by the time they graduate.
In 1957, the ASCD Committee on Platform of Beliefs wrote rather staidly, “The main purpose of the American school is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively, and productively in a democratic society.” Sounds like a mission statement to me!
Returning to John Dewey’s pioneering work in the field of education, it is instructive to note that to develop into a member of society in the Australian bush had nothing in common with developing into a member of society in ancient Greece, and still less with what is needed today.
But what is needed today? In a shrinking, globally-connected world, the need to accommodate diversity and benefit from our networked planet is an over-riding concern. Yet for every person who thinks globalization is a good thing, there is another person who thinks exactly the opposite.
John Dewey goes on to add, “Any education is, in its forms and methods, an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists.”
Finally in 1948, a person no less than Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech at Moorehouse College, wrote the following warning lines: The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—-that is the goal of true education.
The tale of Satyavan and Savitri is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death. As I understand it, Satyavan is humanity descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word who comes down and is born to save.
When Sri Aurobindo decided to write Savitri – considered to be the longest poem in the English language – he was doing regular, intense Yoga while pacing the floor for hours on end and letting his mind soar into the spiritual world and the various planes of creation. When he descended from these rarefied planes he wrote a bit of the poem Savitri. Why he chose this particular Vedic myth to record his experiences is not yet clear to me, though it must be certainly hidden away somewhere in his voluminous writings.
It is said by his disciples that one can become supramental simply by reading Savitri, though I myself doubt that spiritual progress can be made by so simple a means. The Mother of Sri Aurobindo ashram used to read Savitri by opening it at a random page—-she used a flat knife to do this. She said that what was on that page invariably answered her queries of the moment—-such is the power of that book.
Savitri is said to contain, within its 724 pages, in the edition that I have, the entire history of the earth and its evolution, and the chapter headings make for fascinating reading:
The Symbol Dawn
The Yoga of the King; The Yoga of the Soul’s Release
The World Stair
The Kingdom of Subtle Matter
The Glory and the Fall of Life
The Vision and the Boon
The Call to the Quest
Death In the Forest
The Eternal Day; The Soul’s Choice and the Supramental Consummation
The Return to Earth
When Savitri, acting on her father’s wishes, is seeking a husband, she chances to meet Satyavan and the two fall in love. Before the wedding, however, the sage Narad warns Savitri and her father that Satyavan was fated to die within one year.
This does not deter Savitri, and the marriage takes place. A blissful one year of married life in the forest follows, but at the appointed hour, exactly one year later, Yama, the God of Death appears, and Satyavan is suddenly stricken and dies.
Yama carries Satyavan into the nether world, but a determined Savitri follows them, and she starts to remonstrate with Yama arguing against Satyavan’s fate. Yama is adamant, but Sanitri manages to outsmart him and life is restored to Satyavan.
The Epilogue contains the final chapter “Return to Earth” and if by now you have not fallen in love with this epic poem, you need to do some rethinking, for Savitri can help you to ascend the stair of evolution. Sri Aurobindo, it might be noted in passing, was an avatar of evolution. He said, of himself and the Mother:- We belong to the noons of the future.
Likewise, do not look up to rich people simply because of their wealth. Granted, many wealthy people are deeply spiritual, but in general, as the Bible says, “It is more difficult for a rich man to go to heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Wealth normally brings material comfort, luxuries and pastimes. These do not mean much as far as the Spirit is concerned.
The Apple iTunes Store has a number of audio recordings by Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta, reading from Sri Aurobindo’s writings. These downloadable recordings are a treasure trove of spiritual knowledge and wisdom. Sacrifice is one of many spiritual virtues that are worth cultivating. It is not easy to give, or do something without making a cost-benefit analysis, yet we must do these things if we are to bring down the rain of God’s bounty.
The path of Yoga is fraught with difficulties and obstacles, yet we must not stress them or constantly dwell on them. With the cheerfulness that comes from optimism, we must tread the path that the Divine has chalked out for us. Like Christian of the Pilgrim’s Progress, we must overcome the slough of despondency and move on.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the Gods and Goddesses that we normally worship are actually powers that reside at a certain plane of creation. Each power has its own qualities. Sometimes these powers act through invisible realms, and sometimes they act through people who are emanations of these Gods and Goddesses.
Thus we have people who are mostly good and have good qualities and virtues aplenty. But there are also the Pisachas and Rakshasas and Asuras who are ungodly in their power, behavior and aims.
All creation is the play of forces and, unbelievable though it seems at present, the Divine forces battle the un-Divine forces and are slated to succeed. This is a thing decreed, inevitable and forthcoming.
But there is one source of energy, largely untapped, that comes from underground, and that is geothermal energy. It is estimated that the total amount of geothermal energy is tens of thousands of times the yearly needs of the world. So why is this source yet largely unused?
The reasons are several. Firstly, most people normally associate the term “geothermal” with hot springs, like the Old Faithful geyser at the Yellowstone National Park. But hot water and steam coming to the surface of the earth from underground constitute only a small fraction of the total extractable heat available underground, sometimes in slightly different forms than just surface hot water.
Secondly, the Bush administration was asleep at the switch while other world government leaders raced ahead. The Bush-Cheney administration cut the budget for geothermal energy to zero and allowed the Production Tax Credit, which had been driving a surge of private investment, to expire.
The European Union has an EGS, or Enhanced Geothermal System, project under way in France, near the border with Germany. Other projects are under way in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere.
The Philippines, El Salvador, and Costa Rica have all recently achieved the production of more than 15 percent of their electricity from geothermal generation. So have Kenya and Iceland. New Zealand, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe all get between 10 and 15 percent of their electricity from geothermal generation.
In the words of Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy, “the amount of geothermal energy potentially available is effectively unlimited.” As I stated earlier, the public misconceptions about geothermal energy arise from identifying the term with only one form, where hot water bubbles or spouts to the surface.
In some of those places, heat – recovery systems that tap into steam or hot water reserves contained underground are used to drive turbines to generate electricity and because our first experiences with geothermal electricity have been limited to these hydrothermal sites, many people are still encumbered with the false impression that that’s all there is.
Newer technologies enable us to drill deep into the earth to tap into what is actually available to us, of which hydrothermal energy is only a tiny fraction.
According to the UN World Energy Assessment report, the geothermal resource is roughly 280,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the world.
In the United States alone, according to two other experts, Bruce Green and Gerald Nix, “the energy content of domestic geothermal resources to a depth of 3 kilometers, or 1.86 miles, is estimated to be 3 million quads – equivalent to a 30,000 year supply of energy at our present rate for the United States.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a major assessment of geothermal power in 2006, estimated that the technically “extractable portion” of the US geothermal resource is “about 20,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States.”
For readers who are interested in knowing more about our renewable options, I refer you to Al Gore’s multi-media book, “Our Choice,” which is an excellent sequel to his previous book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which has been made into an award-winning film.
Spiders spin out threads which, weight for weight, are stronger than steel. Peacocks have shimmering, vibrant colors, produced without pigments but using the light-diffracting properties of thin-films. Vaccines, which previously required refrigeration, can now be dried, using a process found in nature, and rehydrated before use without losing potency.
Janine spoke of the term “green chemistry.” which is basically chemistry carried out in aqueous solutions, not non-aqueous ones. She reminded her audience that natural processes use a subset of all possible elements and chemicals, and hence are usually benign. Mankind, on the other hand, uses the entire periodic table, and even poisonous, malignant chemicals that, in the long run, do more harm than good.
Now, coming to green chemistry, we must first acknowledge, before vilifying, the fact that the chemical industry, especially in the last hundred years or so, has transformed our lives in so many ways. Thus, in transportation we produce gasoline and diesel from petroleum, fuel additives for greater efficiency and reduced emissions, catalytic converters, plastics to reduce vehicle weight and improve energy efficiency.
Likewise, in clothing we use manmade films like rayon and nylon, dyes, water-proofing and other surface finishing chemicals. The list goes on and on, from sports, safety, food and medicals to the office, home and farming. We use fertilizers, pesticides, materials and dyes for carpets, photocopying toner, inks etc. etc.
In many countries, however, the chemical industry is often viewed, by the general public, as causing more harm than good. There are several reasons for this, chief of which is that the industry is perceived as being polluting and causing significant environmental damage. There is a certain amount of truth in this view with well-publicized disasters such as Bhopal causing both environmental damage and loss of lives.
The current thinking on sustainable development came out of a United Nations Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 (Bruntland Commission) which defined sustainable development as “…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Two of the key aspects of sustainable development from a chemicals and energy perspective are “how fast should we use up fossil fuels” and “how much waste or pollution can we safely release to the environment.” Whilst there are no agreed answers to these questions, there is general agreement to develop more renewable forms of energy and to reduce pollution.
The Natural Step, an international movement started in Sweden, dedicated to helping society reduce its impact on the environment has developed four system conditions for sustainability:
1) Materials from the Earth’s crust, eg. Heavy metals must not systematically increase in nature.
2) Persistent substances produced by society, eg. DDT, CFCs etc, must not systematically increase.
3) The physical basis for the Earth’s productive cycles must not be systematically deteriorated.
4) There must be fair and efficient use of resources with respect to meeting human needs.
This approach recognizes that the Earth does have a natural capacity for dealing with much of the waste and pollution which society generates; it is only when that capacity is exceeded that our lifestyle becomes unsustainable.
During the early 1990’s the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coined the term Green Chemistry: To promote innovative chemical technologies that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and use of chemical products.
Over the last ten years, Green Chemistry has gradually become recognized as both a culture and a methodology for achieving sustainability. The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry help show how this can be achieved, but we will talk more about that later.
The word “transistor” applied both to the tiny, three-legged, semi-conductor device as well as to the entire receiver itself. In 1962, on our way back from England by ship, we again bought a Japanese Crown 12-transistor, portable stereo-cum-radio-receiver at Aden, along with a Grundig, (I think), pocket transistor from the ship’s duty-free store for Aunty Baby.
From 1962-1967, we listened to the Crown stereo, which played the then-new LP records. These were expensive and we only had a few of them, including Nirmalendu Chowdhury’s folk songs. Bachchudada, a distant cousin, who had gone to Germany in 1960 to study engineering, and had visited us in England in 1961, gave us two German 45-rpm records which were very good – but unfortunately none of us knew any German. Bachchudada did, of course speak Gernam, but that’s a different story.
By the time the Crown stereo needed repairs, I was in high school and doing a lot of technical stuff as a hobby. I had already built a small steam engine that ran on compressed-air, sundry electric motors that ran on batteries, a toy telephone that actually worked, and a projector for projecting images from our View Master disks.
Dad allowed me to have a look inside the Crown stereo, which had started making a “motor-boating” sound, very indicative of a failing electrolytic capacitor. Sure enough, when I’d identified the failed component, and replaced it with an identical 100-microfarad, 12-volt electrolytic, and the stereo worked perfectly.
I got my electronic components from the crowded shops at Madan Street, in downtown Calcutta. I’d already built a 3-transistor “straight” receiver, and numerous “crystal sets”, following circuit diagrams that I found from purchased books and also library books borrowed from the British Council library.
I normally used Japanese transistors, especially the 2SA12/2SA15 and the 2SB75/2SB77 pairs. One pair was for the radio-frequency section of the superheterodyne receivers that I’d started building around 1967, and the latter were the push-pull pair that constituted the output stage of most 6-transistor pocket radios of those days.
Madan Street was full of little shops that sold all sorts of electronic stuff like resistors, capacitors, intermediate-frequency transformers, variable capacitors and so forth. The Philips transistors like the OC71/OC72 pair were considered to be equivalent to the Hitachi and Toshiba transistors but were much more expensive.
Then in 1968, when I was learning a lot of science during my BSc at St. Xavier’s College, Dad had just started his business and was learning the ropes. Our family finances were not too good and I felt the need to become a contributing member of our small family.
This was easier said than done. At some point in life one has to make the difficult transition from student to bread-winner. I think Germany does it best with their summer internship programs, but for a “pure science” student like me, it became a challenge to monetize my offerings while still studying full-time in college.
I did two things to augment our income. I found that there was a market for custom-built transistor radios. I used to buy 6-transistor kits and do the necessary soldering, tune the IFTs, or Intermediate Frequency Transformers, and then sell the finished product to whoever was willing to pay the Rs 75/- that I charged.
My profit margins were low and in all I sold about a dozen 6 and 7 transistor radios, the former being medium wave sets and the latter both MW and Short Wave sets.
I even repaired the many commercial transistor radios that needed repairs. Either the volume controls had worn out or it was a defective resistor or capacitor. On rare occasions I had to wind a transformer and a few times the gang capacitor needed replacing.
But I became adept at satisfying my customers and also learned a lot about how commercial transistors were built, especially the neat circuit tricks that they used to economize on component parts and yet get good performance.
I also became a student guide-lecturer at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum on Gurusaday Road—-but that’s a different story that deserves its own place in the scheme of things.
A common man’s approach to what is going on vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG, would be to visit www.un.org, choose your language, and click on the hyperlink on your right which says Millennium Development Goals.
To galvanize support for the MDG, United Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in June 2010 established an Advocacy Group of eminent personalities who have shown outstanding leadership in promoting the implementation of the Goals – in such fields as education, food security, health, environment, and the empowerment of women.
The Group supports the Secretary General in building political will and mobilizing global action for the benefit of the poor and most vulnerable, aiming for the achievement of the MDGs by the 2015 target date. In the words of Dr. Moon, “We need to expand the coalition for action. That is why I established the MDG Advocacy Group, some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers coming together to combat poverty.”
It’s worth mentioning here that Goal #1 refers to the eradication of poverty. Other goals are child and maternal health, education for all, environmental sustainability, global cooperation, the eradication of HIV, and a few more. I hope that, writing from memory, I did not leave out any important Goal.
Adopted by world leaders in the year 2000, and set to be achieved by 2015, the Millennium Development Goals represent the most important promise ever made to the world’s most vulnerable people.
In June 2010, with only five years remaining to achieve the MDGs, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon launched the MDG Advocacy Group of eminent personalities to support him in building political will, rallying additional support, and spurring collective action to achieve the MDGs by 2015.
The MDG Advocacy Group is comprised of 21 individuals who have each shown outstanding leadership in promoting and working toward MDG achievement. MDG Advocates include Heads of State and Government, business and political leaders, prominent academics and philanthropists.
Under the Chairmanship of His Excellency Jose Rodrigues of Spain, and H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, the Advocates individually, collectively and in small groups engage with Member States, civil society, academia, parliaments, and the private sector to develop new and ground-breaking ideas and ways to accelerate MDG implementation.
Now for the MDG Report of 2011, we note that the Report is based on a master set of data that has been compiled by an Inter-Agency and Expert Group on MDG Indicators led by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, in response to the wishes of the General Assembly for periodic assessment of progress towards the MDG.
The Group comprises representatives of the international organizations whose activities include the preparation of one or more of the series of statistical indicators that were identified as appropriate for monitoring progress towards the MDG, as reflected in a list given in the preamble of the Report. It may be noted that a number of national statisticians and outside expert advisers also contributed.
For those readers interested in more details, I refer you to the Report itself, which can be found at www.un.org. in the words of Dr. Ban Ki-moon, “Already the MDGs have helped to lift millions out of poverty, save lives, and ensure that children attend schools. They have reduced maternal deaths, expanded opportunities for women, increased access to clean water, and freed many people from deadly and debilitating disease.”
“At the same time the Report shows that we still have a long way to go in empowering women and girls, promoting sustainable development, and protecting the most vulnerable from the devastating effects of multiple crises, be they conflicts, natural disasters, or volatility in prices for food and energy.”
“Between now and 2015,” Dr. Moon continues, “We must make sure that promises made become promises kept. The people of the world are watching. Too many of them are anxious, angry and hurting. They fear for their jobs, families, futures.”
“World leaders must show that not only do they care, but that they have the courage and conviction to act.”
When the G8 nations met in France, in 2003, they decided to invite some non-members, including India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Nigeria—- all rapidly growing economies with increasing political strength.
President Chirac of France began the meeting by inviting the President of China, Hu Jintao, and the Prime Minister of India, Atal Vihari Vajpayee, to address the group. After that, when President Chirac called on Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil, the latter, after preliminaries, jokingly and warmly said that he was delighted to be there but maybe it would be fitting to meet in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro, considering the fact that soon, only the US and Japan would be at G8 meetings and the other members of this august group would be replaced by the invited guests of 2003 (the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India and China).
I’m quoting the above incident, related by James D. Wolfensohn, to show how inclusive the former World Bank President was, during his tenure. An Australian by birth, Wolfensohn tackled global poverty with a passion and energy that made him a uniquely important figure in a fundamental arena of change.
Indeed, during his tenure, the World Bank, fully sixty years old, adopted the mission statement: To fight poverty with passion and professionalism for lasting results.”
In the words of Wolfensohn, “The World Bank remains an extraordinarily unique establishment that nurtures growth and development in the public and private spheres. It is, in my judgment, one of the jewels of the international scene.”
Yet it was not always so. On June 2, 1995, his second day of office, when Wolfensohn addressed several hundred employees of the World Bank, there was strain and apprehension in the air. The World Bank had come under increasing criticism in the years gone by, and their popular leader, Lew Preston, had been “wrenched” from them after only three years in office.
The previous day, June 1, Wolfensohn had sent the entire staff an open letter with a simple message:
He needed their help. He wanted the Bank, while financially responsible, to be idealistic as well. He wanted to make poverty the core of the Bank’s agenda, and thus make it outward facing, not inward facing.
He asked the employees to think of people, not numbers first, although it was essential they lend prudently, and keep the work of the Bank profitable. In Wolfensohn’s words, “We all work at the Bank because we care about the world. We care about poverty, the environment, social justice and the other issues that make up the dreams of this institution. These should be our guiding lights.
Wolfensohn knew that his new agenda would not be well received. He knew what was expected of him. He should be a figurehead, an emissary to the many officials and heads of state that he would meet, while the Bank went about its business.
But Wolfensohn was very conscious of what he was doing. A man of surprising imagination and drive, an ex-Olympic fencer and a prominent banker in London and New York, in the years to come he would motivate, scheme, charm and bully the constituencies at his command to broaden the distribution of the world’s wealth.
Here I quote Sri Aurobindo: “The existence of poverty is the proof of an unjust and ill-organized society, and our public charities are but the first tardy awakening in the conscience of a robber.”
During his tenure, Wolfensohn visited 120 nations, since travel was part of his job. In Mali, he met with Amadou Toumani Toure, affectionately known as ATT, the general who had led the overthrow of a long-standing dictator and had subsequently kept his word and stepped down to permit a democratic transition.
When Wolfensohn told ATT that he was struck by the poverty in Mali, the latter replied, “We are not poor; there are no homeless people here. Our culture, our traditions, our history, and our solidarity are our wealth. And we know what we want.”
This was a recurring theme in Wolfensohn’s experience—-we know what we want. The finance minister of Mali,Soussaila Cisse, had prepared a long wish list for Wolfensohn. The latter was startled to hear that debt was one of the crushing problems his country faced. At $3 billion, Mali’s debt was about the same size as its GDP.
Roughly one third of that was owed to the World Bank, and the debt service payments continued to limit not only the country’s ability to invest in its future but also the freedom of its government to set its priorities, especially on education.
In the simple and profound words of a man in a flowing white robe, “Money comes into my left-hand pocket, and the same amount goes out of my right hand pocket, leaving me next to nothing.” Apart from debt forgiveness, Wolfensohn worked on the pressing problem of corruption, but his efforts in this area were markedly less successful. In a diary entry, Wolfensohn had written about corruption:- Continue to fight against the scourge in all countries in all our initiatives and activities.
Three more notes from his diary are worth quoting:-
On poverty alleviation: Ensure that it remains the central mission of the institution, ie the World Bank, together with the over-riding goal of human development.
On outreach: Continue to work with the official institutions, global, regional, and local, and with NGOs and civil society in its broadest extent.
On women’s inclusion: Work universally for gender equity and social justice and the utilization of the skills that women have.
Sadly, with President Bush assuming office, Wolfensohn’s second term, after 10 years, was not extended, and the work that he so brilliantly started remains unfinished.
Ram and Shyam were children of disadvantaged parents in a Koklata slum. Their parents, for reasons unknown, believed in education, and sent both to the neighborhood Corporation school, where Ram did very well and Shyam did not.
Shyam dropped out of school in eighth grade and became an apprentice in a small engineering firm, where he learned the nuts and bolts of engineering. Meanwhile, his bright brother Ram continued on to high school and learned a lot of math, Bengali, the rudiments of English, science, history and geography.
Ram did so well in his School Final and Higher Secondary exams that the local newspaper interviewed him and published a column on him. He had become a Babu of sorts and like so many urban students, joined a college for his BSc degree.
Shyam, meanwhile, had become a skilled mistry and was bringing in good money for the family.
Once Ram graduated from college, his head full of Archimedes’ Principle and Boyle’s Law, he joined the ranks of the educated unemployed for some time. It was a dubious distinction by any measure, and his aged parents wondered at this anomalous turn of events.
By the time Ram eventually found a clerical job and started earning a pittance, his brother Shyam had become head mistry, very skilled, with a lot of mechanical hands-on know how.
The problem with education in India is that, for the most part, the syllabus is – or was – borrowed from developed countries. When my batch studied Physics at St. Xavier’s College, it was mainly rote learning, with a few easy problems thrown in for good measure. If you look at the students who graduated with a Physics degree in 1971, most joined commercial banks where they went through another round of training, totally unrelated to their Physics degree.
Some went into engineering or management in a frantic effort not to miss the bus. A few sat for other types of competitive exams and became West Bengal Civil Service officers and the like. What was missing was genuine skills training and reflective practice.
When I stood first in the science stream in West Bengal in 1967, I had a few months in which to decide what to do next. My own bias was towards practical engineering, like my Dad, and I showed him a newspaper advertisement for a Rolls Royce scholarship. But Dad pointed out that it was more of a mechanics than an engineering degree.
Looking back, I think I would have done very well with a Rolls Royce apprenticeship under my belt. The Germans swear by the apprenticeship method. One Siemens student I met told me that he had alternate semesters of class work and factory training. That is the best route onto the fast lane.
Returning to Ram and Shyam’s case: they had two childhood buddies, Jadhu and Madhu, who laughed and sang their way through childhood, secure in the belief that their adult life would be spent pulling rickshaws, which they did. Ram and Shyam were lucky, in a manner of speaking, though as they say, no statement is completely true, including this one.
Education is one of the key enablers of modern society, and it behooves all educators to not only be proficient in their content areas, but also be well versed in the educational theories that are intrinsic to pedagogy and andragogy.
Mrs. Das, who taught us Higher Bengali at La Martiniere, Calcutta, was an adept teacher shouldering the responsibility of teaching Ramer Sumati and Bindur Chhele, Sarat Chandra’s classics. Debi Prasad Guha, a classmate of mine at La Martiniere, shone in Mrs. Das’s class but struggled to keep up in all his other subjects. He had come into La Martiniere in ninth grade, transferring from a Bengali-medium school, and needed extra help in becoming adept at English.
My teacher at Waketech, Ms. Jaqueline Beech, who taught me Educational Psychology, opened my eyes to the rich research and literature in the area of pedagogy. At least twice during that semester-long course, I asked her if the theories we were learning applied to adult education, and both times she said, “Yes, for the most part”, or words to that effect.
My four degrees and one diploma give me the authority to speak as a student; I had some brilliant teachers both in school and college. Yet some teachers seemed to be unaware of any need to extend themselves. Teaching is both an art and a science. Granted, some teachers strike the right note and become adept at imparting knowledge and skills to their students in course of time. But in my opinion, all teachers at all levels should know, and consciously apply, the research findings of such stalwarts as Piaget, Vygotsky, Eriksson and Bronfenbrenner.
All teachers should know that different students have different favored learning styles – audio, visual and kinesthetic. Mr. Rudd, a colleague at South East Raleigh Magnet High School, told me in a conversation that education is the one area which has had the most research done in it, and where applications and implementation are least.
Not just that. Those of us who are proud to be in the profession of teaching are finding that it is the rare student indeed who lacks motivation or has less than perfect conditions at home.
The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes 13 different areas of disabilities, and these students with special needs might have one or multiple disabilities, requiring Individual Education Plans, or IEPs. The most often cited disabilities are ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disability, LD or Learning Disability, Au or autistic, Mental Retardation (a low IQ condition), and so on.
I have a student who’s getting top marks in his high school English and Art classes, but is struggling with Math. His is a classic example of a selective intelligence of which Howard Gardner, Harvard Professor, writes about.
I myself don’t claim to have expert knowledge in the areas of Special Education, but I do have advanced degrees in Computers, Physics and Electronics. To teach a rigorous course, rich in content, is a challenge in itself, and doubly so when your students have special needs.
Finally, I have a confession to make. I myself was a special education student of sorts. Because of a kidney ailment in seventh grade, I was excused from morning assembly and all sports activities while attending La Martiniere, Kolkata. That I came first and got the Founder’s Gold Medal is testimony to my brilliant teachers: Mr. Young, Mr. Menezes, Mr. Peterson, Mr. Suarez, and last but not least, my three science teachers: Mr. Nair, Mr. Srivastav, and Mr. Davids.
Economics, long known as the dismal science, received a fillip in 1969 when the Nobel Prize for economic science was established, an event that finally allows the economists to take their place beside the physicists, chemists, and biologists. Yet economic ambition can be a good servant but a bad master.
Born in 1911 in Bonn, Germany, and a protégé of Keynes, E.F. Schumacher might have remained a run of the mill economist had he not shown glimpses of a heterodox thinking and a questioning attitude towards mainstream economics, stemming from his belief in Gandhian economics and Buddhist economics.
A proponent of Intermediate Technologies, Schumacher was an economic adviser to the British Government, notably the National Coal Board, which at the time was one of the largest organizations in the world, with 800,000 employees.
Schumacher’s dislike of mindlessly large projects stemmed from, for example, prestigious megaprojects like Egypt’s Aswan Dam, built by Russian money and brains to produce a level of power far beyond the needs of the nation’s economy, that meanwhile blights the environment and the local agriculture in a dozen unforeseen and possibly insoluble ways.
Schumacher’s outside the box thinking started in 1955 when he travelled to Burma as an economic consultant. While there, he developed the set of principles he called Buddhist Economics, based on the belief that individuals needed good work for proper human development. In this respect, he followed the Gandhian principle of “production by the masses” rather than “mass production”.
He also proclaimed that production from local sources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life. He travelled through many third world countries, encouraging local governments to create self-reliant economies.
Schumacher’s experience led him to become a pioneer of what is now called appropriate technology, user-friendly and ecologically suitable technology applicable to the scale of the community.
While delivering the Gandhi Memorial lecture at the Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi in 1973, he described Gandhi as the greatest “People’s Economist.” Schumacher identified Gandhi as the people’s economist whose economic thinking was compatible with spirituality as opposed to materialism.
In his book, “Small is Beautiful,” considered to be one of the most influential 100 books since the second world war, Schumacher reminds us that economics has only become scientific by becoming statistical. But at the bottom of its statistics, sunk well out of sight, are so many sweeping assumptions about people like you and me – about our needs and motivations and the purpose we have given our lives.
Again and again, Schumacher insists that economics as it is practiced today – whether it is socialist or capitalist economics – is a derived body of thought. It is derived from dubious preconceptions regarding man and nature that are never questioned.
What, then, if these preconceptions are obsolete? What if they were never correct? What if there stir, in all those expertly quantified millions of living souls beneath the statistical surface, aspirations for creativity and generosity? Aspirations for brotherly and sisterly cooperation, natural harmony, and self-transcendence which conventional economics, (by virtue of a banal misanthropy which it mistakes for “being realistic”), only works to destroy?
Schumacher passed away on September 4, 1977, his place in history assured, and a pioneer in the present day movements of ecology and environmentalism. He leaves behind an institution called the Intermediate Technology Development Group, now renamed Practical Action.
The secret to humor is surprise. Would it surprise you to know that Bhutan is the only country, with a low GDP – or Gross Domestic Product – that is also within the top eight countries with the highest Subjective Well Being, as measured by A. G. White of the University of Leicester in 2007?
Happiness, some say, is a state of mind. Indeed, according to the medical profession, happiness hormones – or endorphins – are largely responsible for psychological well-being.
The assessment of GNH, or Gross National Happiness, was designed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures the quality of life, or social progress, in more holistic or psychological terms, than only the economic indicator of GDP.
The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who has opened Bhutan to the age of modernization, soon after the demise of his father, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The new king’s commitment to Buddhist spiritual values served as a unifying vision for Bhutan’s five-year planning process. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement that is similar in nature to the Environmental Impact Statement required for development in the US.
Beneficial development of human society takes place according to the Bhutanese/Buddhist view, when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, the preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance.
As an aside, I may mention a comment made by my friend Mohanty many years ago. He said, “As long as I am with my family, and doing my job, I feel OK, but as soon as I see my neighbor’s life, and what he has that I don’t, my happiness vanishes!”
Happiness is “something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.” Happiness is also the absence of pain. My spiritual training, especially the Upanishad, urges an attitude of stoicism, or dhrirata, in the face of life’s vicissitudes. Indeed, Gautama Buddha, after seeing unhappiness in every household due to death and disease, urged the elimination of “desire” as a means to obtain happiness.
Along with desire are, of course, the seven deadly sins – lust, laziness, anger, jealousy, greed, and so on.
Sri Aurobindo urged a mental attitude of peace, while the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram put a high value on cheerfulness. According to Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist, happiness can be measured using the day reconstruction method, which consists in recollecting memories of previous working day by writing a short diary.
Finally, the Dean of the International Institute of Technology, where I worked in 1999, gave a revealing sentence on happiness, and this is what he said: Happiness is wanting what you have and not having what you want. So look around you and see if you like what you already have. You should, because your happiness depends on it.
The idea of giving away free samples to customers is astonishingly simple, but very often effective. I’m sure that you know what I mean. All the stores like Food Lion, Harris Teeter and others have small portions of pie, cookies or fruit to try and tempt, among other goodies.
My first encounter with the beguiling nature of engineering free samples was at ITI, Bangalore, during 1975-78. We were designing sophisticated telecommunications test equipment and needed small parts such as integrated circuits, the latest versions of which were advertised in magazines like Electronics and Electronic Design, to which we subscribed and read in our departmental library in the Research unit.
Well, the ads offered free samples and we invariably asked for them, through the laborious process of writing to the manufacturers, as this was in the pre-internet days. I remember getting a chip, XR 2206, from EXAR, among others.
The samples came by air-freight and were quickly incorporated in our latest designs. Meanwhile, we raised a purchase order for 25 units through the even more time-consuming method of going through our purchase department. The order itself took three to six months to materialize; by then our preliminary designs were more or less ready, at least in breadboard form.
Now that I’m in the USA, I’m exploring the possibility of sending some free samples to my contacts back in India. My hope and strategy is to create enough professional goodwill so that a firm order for 25 or more units materializes.
International business is tricky, to say the least. Culture barriers have to be overcome and one should always be ready to give the benefit of the doubt to one’s trading partner. In my Marketing diploma from IGNOU, acquired in 1998 in India, there was a course in International Marketing. This certainly helps, but I sometimes feel that I’m playing a mysterious game of chess in which I’m not quite sure who’s my partner and who’s my competitor.
For example, by trying to sell American engineering goods to India, are my customers on my side or are they opponents in the world arena? Are the Japanese on our side or are they on the opposing side? My personal loyalties tend to be biased towards the West because of my positive childhood experiences in England, though my experience in America has been rather more nuanced. Let’s see if I can maintain my “sanmati,” create a favorable business climate, and bring in a win-win result in what appears at first sight to be a zero-sum game. Free samples anyone?
When we were in England in 1960-61, my Dad’s friend and colleague, Mr. Appleby’s son, Ian, a lad in his mid-teens, gave us four volumes of Eagle Annuals of the 1950’s.The Eagle comics had been started circa 1950, as I later found out, by Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson.
Those four books were our treasure for many years, and now in the early 21st century, I ordered a couple of Eagle Annuals from Amazon. On perusing these “ancient” books of the 1950s, not only do I travel down memory lane but understand how the world was shaping up in the aftermath of the world wars and the post-colonial era coming just five years after the end of the Second World War, the Eagle landed in a United Kingdom still struggling with rationing and trying to cope with wide-ranging social changes. For the adults who had come through the war, life was, in the main, still looking pretty grim.
The economy was suffering, trying to recover from the large spending required for warfare, jobs were sparse, and the shops could not provide all that was required. Much of this though was outside the thoughts of the average child. The war brought stories of heroism and derring-do, and while a bombed-out housing estate was just that to an adult, to a child it was an adventure playground.
With a blast of color, Eagle shone amidst the grime and while war has its devastating effects, it is also a time when invention and technology thrives, and this spirit of discovery and limitless possibilities underpins every page of the comic.
To me it is fascinating that every so often there is a reference to India. Occasionally there is a turbaned Sikh or a sari-clad woman adorning the pages in right-royal oriental fashion….even if simply gazing up at an itinerant flying saucer.
For people of my generation, and subsequent ones, there is a wonderful paradigm shift into what it means to be politically correct in these modern times. In the comic strip episode Dan Dare – The Red Moon Mystery, the picture shows a Gandhi-cap clad gentleman saying, “Dekko! Chand lal hai!”
Beside him is a Russian, presumably, saying, “Smotre! Krafmaja luna!” And the clipping from the depicted news article says, “these self-governing people have been engaged in a mighty drive to end poverty and squalor. Individual liberty and equality is secure regardless of race, color or creed, under the elected World Federal Government, and the protection of the incorruptible UN Police.”
The year of publication..? 1955. The year they are referring to…? 1999. Why was the Eagle so successful? Vibrant colors, great stories, incredible detail all went into the mix, but maybe it was the very simple title of the first story, on the first page, of the first issue: Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future.
He and Eagle represented the unwritten future and the reader was part of it, right in the middle of it. As the editor writes in retrospect, fifty years later, “It’s almost impossible to recreate the raw excitement of running down to the newsagent to grab the new issue off the shelves to see where Dan Dare and his crew were heading next.”
Well, our leaders have spoken and it does not bode well for us environmentalists. From Kyoto to Bali, Copenhagen to Cancun, and now Durban, the world leaders, meeting to discuss steps to combat global warming, have decided that economic progress is more important than sustainability.
For the most part our leaders are democratically elected and so, willy-nilly, we have to go along with their decision. No matter that large parts of Florida will be flooded by the rising sea, which will also inundate some island nations in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, along with low lying areas in Bangladesh and the like.
No matter that the polar ice caps will disappear, taking with them the polar bears. Who cares? It’s more important, or so say the cynics, that every person on planet earth has a color TV.
The other day I told my son that whenever I catch myself thinking about it, I immediately switch off my portable radiant heater, reminding myself of the coal that is at that precise moment being burnt to produce the necessary electricity.
My son corrected me and said that we in North Carolina get our juice from Shearon Harris, which is a nuclear power station. I reply that I thought that we were all connected on a common grid into which the electricity is fed from various power stations, nuclear, thermal, hydel etc.
In any case, France has done well with nuclear power, with the result that the air quality over France is better than that over any other developed nation. But it takes only one nuclear mishap to set the clock back, and worldwide we’ve had several – Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and most recently Fukoshima.
I tell my son, almost humorously, that Kolkata is becoming almost too hot for human habitation in the summer months. Those who can, drift off to cooler climes. Will Kolkata go the way of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro and become a desert? Who knows, but according to experts deserts are slated to grow in these times of heating climates.
Even funnier thoughts invade my mind. I see myself, with a 20-year food supply, lodging myself in the International Space Station, or on the moon, or even on Mars! I don’t expect to live longer than 20 years, so I’ll lie on my back on the surface of Mars, and gaze out at the large blue orb in the sky which will be Planet Earth. This was the last scene in the movie Space Cowboys, starring Clint Eastwood. However, it’s not Clint but one of his cohorts that opts to go to Mars.
Maybe those among us that are fortunate enough to be well connected will be able to abandon Planet Earth and leave like rats forsaking a sinking ship. Maybe, as in the Kevin Costner movie Waterworld, there will remain pockets of nominally civilized people floating on a water-logged planet.
But how can America allow Florida to go under? That’s the thought that’ll be on my mind as I slowly exhaust my 20-year supply of food and fuel on Mars. A variation of the song goes:
Oh planet in the sun,
Willed to me by my father’s hand,
All my days I will sing in praise,
Of your harvest waters, your shining sand.
I see woman on bended knee,
Currying cane for her family,
I see man at the waterside,
Casting nets for the surging tide.
Oh island in the sun,
Willed to me by my father’s hand,
All my days I will sing in praise,
Of your harvest waters, your shining sand.
Most humans love forests for what they are – mysterious greenery that is a joy to explore, with a vibrant eco system consisting of flora and fauna, and a definite benefit for our planet. Yet it is shocking to know that, in the name of progress, slightly more than one acre of forests is cleared on earth every second.
That amounts to almost 100,000 acres every day, and more than 34 million acres per year – an area the size of Greece. This is partially offset by new growth and organized tree-planting programs, so the net loss of forests each year amounts to 18 million acres.
The biggest direct cause of deforestation is the “slash and burn” technique used to rapidly clear forests for subsistence farming, plantation agriculture, and cattle ranches – mostly in tropical and sub-tropical countries.
The carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation are second only to the burning of fossil fuels for the production of electricity and heat as the largest source of global warming pollution on the planet. Indeed, an estimated 15 to 23 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions – more than that from all the cars and trucks in the world – result from the destruction and burning of forests.
The two countries accounting for 60 percent of the total acreage lost in deforestation are Brazil and Indonesia. In Brazil almost 20 percent of the Amazon forest has already been destroyed. After the best wood is removed, the remainder is burned away to make way for cattle and crops.
Brazil has been historically sensitive to any efforts by the international community to engage the country in agreements that would give the rest of the world any say in the future of the Amazon. Nevertheless, Brazil has announced a national target of reducing deforestation by 70% by 2017. In August 2008, President Luis Imacio da Silva announced the creation of a fund and a set of new regulations designed to protect the Amazon. However, these new regulations are not yet being effectively enforced.
In Indonesia, large peatland forests have been cleared of trees and drained to make way for palm oil plantations. More than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and its next door neighbor Malaysia.
In order to accelerate the drying process, the developers of these plantations burn the peatlands. That is why massive clouds of smoke and soot now cover large portions of the South East Asian archipelago every year during the burning season. To add to the problem, both Indonesia and Malaysia have enacted subsidies and other incentives for the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations. Indonesia’s official policy calls for the tripling of palm oil plantations by 2020.
After Brazil and Indonesia, the next eight countries that top the list of deforesting nations are: Sudan, Myanmar, Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela.
The good news is that governments throughout the world have now tentatively agreed to efforts aimed at sharply reducing deforestation. However, one must be aware of the underlying causes of deforestation.
These are, first and foremost, poverty and population growth in poor countries, followed by the ravenous appetite in the globalized market for cheap sources of wood and for palm oil, beef, soybeans, sugarcane and other commodities that large deforesters produce on the land that is cleared.
Last but not least is the failure of market economies to value living forests for anything other than the earnings produced by their destruction.
It is well said that an artist helps you to decide, but does not decide himself. More than 2000 of the world’s top business and political leaders gathered in the last week of January 2012, in the Swiss ski resort of Davos looking for solutions to the world’s problems. But were they in the right place?
Half a world away, in the balmy Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena, a very different type of global conversation was taking place among some of the planet’s leading thinkers, writers, poets, scientists and philosophers, inspired by the Renaissance notion that the exchange of ideas between intellectuals of different disciplines fosters original thought.
The Davos annual meeting was of the World Economic Forum, which also holds some 6 - 8 regional meetings each year in locations like Latin America and East Asia, as well as undertaking two further annual meetings in China and UAE.
On the plus side, political leaders have used the meeting in Davos as a neutral platform to resolve their differences. The Davos Declaration was signed in 1988 by Greece and Turkey, helping them turn back from the brink of war. In 1992 South African President F. W. de Klerk met with Nelson Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, their first joint meeting outside South Africa. At the 1994 annual meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat reached a draft agreement on Gaza and Jericho. Critics such as anti-globalization activists, in the late 1990s, targeted G7, World Bank, WTO and IMF and claimed that capitalism and globalization were increasing poverty and destroying the environment. Singer Bono, tongue-in-cheek, called the Davos meeting “fat cats in the snow” and 10,000 demonstrators disrupted the WEF meeting by obstructing passage of 200 delegates to the meeting.
The global Hay Festival agenda, once described by former US President Bill Clinton as “the Woodstock of the mind” now stretches well beyond literature and the arts to encompass freedom of expression, climate change, conflict resolution and human rights and has spawned a worldwide network of events from Bangladesh to Mexico.
At first sight, the idea of comparing two such diverse forums – one a gathering of the rich and powerful, the other a mecca for bohemians – might seem bizarre. Yet Davos and Hay Cartagena were discussing some of the same big global themes and targeting the same audience of global thinkers with their ideas.
Peter Florence, the Hay Festival’s easy going global director, described the events ethos thus: “Festivals should be that place where you can explore ideas in total freedom without political responsibility. The political class only ever listens to the political class. Here you bring writers, thinkers, politicians and scientists together and you give them complete freedom. That’s why it’s not like Davos.” He might well have added: Politicians think of the next elections, while statesmen think of the next generation.
When I was an executive – albeit a junior one – at the Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore, I started off thinking how great it was to be working in a Public Sector undertaking, since my term paper in Economics, the previous year at the Indian Institute of Science, had been on the public sector.
But my three-year stint at ITI, interesting and educative though it was, was also an eye-opener to a peculiar situation that I noticed, both on the company bus and elsewhere, especially during a company-wide strike.
There was almost a running battle between management, actually top management, and the rank and file, i.e. workers. Even on a formal visit to ITI before joining, there was question on whether we were full-fledged engineers and allowed to avail of the officers’ canteen.
The workers’ union saw the company bus operations as a province over which they held a lot of power. And during the strike that I mentioned before, the workers were vociferously agitating and disrupting daily work.
I think that it was the British class system that India inherited that caused this strange behavior. It was almost as if “management” and “workers” came from different planets. In what way did workers think that ITI was “theirs” to control? Why was there a constant tussle for higher wages, “better” working conditions, shorter working hours, and so on?
Back in Calcutta there was a similar situation in the private sector industries which were mainly owned by non-Bengalis. In my view, the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other over a few decades.
Initially, the rich were exploiting the poor. Then, over the years, the unions became so strong that they called the shots. That’s when work suffered, production, sales and profits went down, and eventually many businesses relocated to places outside West Bengal. The long strikes were detrimental to both management and workers, and the last I heard of it, there was an uneasy stalemate.
Consider what would happen if both management and workers were enlightened enough to work constructively with each other and carry on a continuing, meaningful dialog that served everybody’s needs. Why think always that it’s a zero-sum game? I think that there is enough abundance to go around if people were not greedy, were empathetic and not just egoistic, and were ready to undergo sacrifices for each other, and not just for themselves. Gandhiji’s famous words come readily to mind: “Sab ko sanmati de Bhagavan,”
As an experienced businessman, I find pleasure in keeping track of the comings and goings of shops at the Avent Ferry shopping center in Raleigh, an area which with I have been familiar for more than eight years.
In particular, there is a corner location which looks very attractive but, in my opinion, has been the Waterloo of many businesses. First, there was an ice cream parlor there. Then an “event management” firm showed up and finally a check cashing unit. They’ve all moved out within a year of starting business.
Mind you, I’m not denying the possibility that each owner made money and moved his establishment to a better location. Location, as you know, is of paramount importance for any business that deals directly with customers at its premises.
No, my guess is that the owners gave up because of a lack of customers, which is a #1 reason that small businesses fail. But then, why did the owners not foresee this possibility? Because, on the face of it, the corner shop does look like a prime location, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is a constant traffic to and from the nearby DMV office. Then there is the bus stand, where there is always a motley group of passengers. These two circumstances give the illusion of a good spot to do business.
But, to my eye, the DMV visitors are always in a hurry. They collect their drivers’ licenses, or permits or whatever, and are in-and-out, without even a passing glance at the corner shop and what it has to offer.
The bus passengers tell a different story. Most of them are broke, and I don’t say this in a pejorative sense. They just don’t have the spare cash to buy an ice cream, much less book an event.
If I could foresee a satisfactory outcome to an imaginary conversation with a prospective owner of the corner location, I would talk to him or her. Here’s how I imagine a conversation going:
I: With all due respects, this is not a good location to do business.
He (looking me up and down):- Sez who?
I (sincerely): I’ve seen businesses come and go, and you would be wise not to plonk your business here.
He (emphatically): Listen buddy, I’ve done the research and I know what I’m doing, so pipe down and mind your own business.
I (sighing): OK, OK, it’s your money.
They say, don’t they, that a sucker is born every minute? One lives and learns.
A level five leader has been described as a humble, yet determined person. I guess the humility comes from the realization that each one of us has limitations, and that we simply cannot bring about a perfect world by wishing it. However big and powerful a person is it counts as next to nothing compared with the vastness of the world.
Mothet Teresa had a saying, “It is not given to all of us to do great things, but we can all do little things with great love.” She also encouraged do-gooders with her famous sayings: Life is an adventure; live it. Life is a challenge; accept it.
Sri Aurobindo wrote, “None of us are here to do as we please.” Yet it behooves all of us to follow our conscience.
I read this morning that more NGO personnel are killed worldwide in the line of duty than all blue-helmeted UN troops. Sad but true. It almost causes me to despair when do-gooders have violent acts committed against them, perhaps by vested interests who feel threatened. I think the threat of violence deters many would-be volunteers from serving in remote areas. The forces of evil thrive when good people lose heart, yet it has been said that people get the government they deserve.
We who are fortunate to have seen the developed at first hand sometimes dream of “exporting” some of the good things we see into the developing world. On the other hand, the emerging nations are definitely making strides towards creating an equitable society, whichever way you choose to define it.
The problem as I see it may be put like this: If I am a taxpayer, I demand to have a right as to which way the Government spends my money. In a democracy the government gets elected by the majority. If this majority is, for the most part, poor, then it’s as if they get a voice in spending other people’s tax dollars.
Naturally, those paying the most taxes may not feel that money spent on the poor is money well spent. They can say, and they do say, that space exploration, the military, the arts, among other endeavors, deserve greater attention than soup kitchens or free health dispensaries.
There is something to be said in a wild west America, where one lives by one’s wits and the motto is “winner takes all.” In a nation where guns are freely sold in supermarkets, and where it’s not been a 100 years since Wyatt Earp, Marshall of Dodge City, died, the maxim “from each according to his capabilities, to each according to his needs” does not quite ring true.
The debate on whether to be good or whether to be strong will rage on endlessly, while people like Amartya Sen write volumes on inequality and people like Steven Covey write on the seven habits of highly effective people.
The other day I got an email from my friend, Murali, which pointed me to the last paragraph of a news article. The paragraph read, “External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has asked India’s Ambassador to Italy, Debabrata Saha, to reach the accident spot to coordinate the rescue operations. Two Indian officials have already reached the site.”
Debabrata, who was in the same B.Sc class at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, as me during 1968-71, is a good friend of mine, no name-dropping intended. I sent him an email wishing him all the best, and he replied – after about three days, during which he must have been very busy. Here’s his email: The Indians are all safely back in India, save one who remains missing.
Meanwhile, Murali and I had an email exchange wherein I first wondered how an Ambassador could be put in charge of rescue operations, since it required an “operations” expert with a different set of skills. Murali’s brief answer to that was that Ambassadors are just facilitators. I guess that means that they make the resources available.
This reminds me of the hospital fire that happened about six months ago in Calcutta. From the news, I gather that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee immediately rushed to the scene of the fire and took charge. I would have thought that the fire Chief would be better positioned to head the operations. Anyway, quite a few lives were lost in that fire.
Returning to the accident involving the ship Costa Concordia, India had set up a control room in New Delhi and its mission in Italy to help families find out about relatives who were abroad the luxury liner which ran aground off the Tuscan coast in Italy.
Without wishing to deviate from the subject, the ship somehow reminded me of the S.S. Iberia, of the company Conte Grande, in which my family went to England in 1961, from Bombay to Genoa, and then by train through Europe to Calais in France. From Calais to Dover, England, was by ship again through the English Channel.
In those days ocean liners were serious business and were the only way for civilians to travel large distances. Nowadays, such liners are used mainly for pleasure cruises, while globe-trotting businessmen, students, and tourists – not to talk of immigrants – crowd the airways that crisscross our planet.
Self-knowledge, world-knowledge and God-knowledge constitute the three types of knowledge.
Knowing yourself means becoming aware of yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, what you can and can’t do, and what you know, have experienced, and are capable of doing. It means being aware of your own likes and dislikes, preferences and proclivities.
World knowledge means knowing how the world works. This includes other people, nature and things. You might know, for example, what the chances are of getting a job once you apply for it. It means being experienced in the ways of the world either from books, or through personal experience, or from other people. A child is born with very little knowledge – perhaps with only the knowledge of breathing, eating and sleeping. Then, as the child grows to adulthood, it learns a myriad of things about the world and of itself. For example, it learns how to use a combine-harvester, used in farming.
Lastly, we come to God-knowledge. Some people are privileged to be born in families where God-knowledge is encouraged. Others come to God through friends, or through books, or personal experience. Many people are not fully aware of how God works, if they believe in a higher power at all. Yet it is said that not reading the scriptures is the worst thing that you can do.
So next time you sit to plan the rest of your life, or just the next day, please be aware of these three types of knowledge, for they will help you to survive, prosper and grow. If your values and beliefs are good, your life will be good too.
Here’s a quote from the Bhagavad Gita:
Listen to the exhortation of the Dawn:
Look well to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence,
The bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Sen Babu got up at 6 am in his house in Kolkata and switched on his Hitachi room air-conditioner. It was stifling hot and the power had just come on after a 5 hour “load shedding.”
The Hitachi did a fine job of cooling the room – when power was available, that is. As global warming has caused temperatures in the built-up areas of Kolkata to soar, more and more people were going in for air-conditioners and the less effective air-coolers.
Sen Babu reflected on the woes of the common man in Kolkata. Without wishing to apportion blame to anyone in particular, he recalled that West Bengal’s troubles started in 1947 with the infamous partition of Bengal.
Huge multitudes of people had crossed over from what is now Bangladesh to (West) Bengal. These people, even if they originated in the suburbs of Dacca or hailed from even remoter areas, yet – out of necessity – chose to settle down in the city areas of Kolkata, Howrah, and nearby localities.
This put a huge strain on the city services, and the population density of the Kolkata region is one of the highest in the country. Sen Babu thought of how peaceful and organized the city and surroundings of Bangalore and Chennai were, in comparison. There had been no large-scale human migrations there.
Well, he sighed to himself, we are all children of history, in a manner of speaking, and we should count our blessings – a port to be proud of, the Himalayas around Darjeeling, a fertile soil, and the vibrant, mercurial Bengali people!
Meanwhile, Sen Babu’s son in America was peering uncertainly at an email he’d just received from his erstwhile teacher, Professor D. N. Bose, recently retired from IIT, Kharagpur, as Dean of Engineering and Science.
Here is the gist of Prof. Bose’s email:
One of Mamata’s (Banerjee) pet projects is helicopter service to Haldia, Murshidabad, Bankura etc. Who is going to pay a one-way fare of rupees five thousand for such a trip? Already the daily air flight to Cooch Behar has fallen through due to lack of passengers. (The) West Bengal government, which is bankrupt, was to subsidize it by paying for four fares each way daily, ie, rupees 80,000/day. When will she learn that Kolkata is not Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore, which has business traffic to cities like Baroda, Surat, Bhavnagar and small towns like Shimoga, Gulbarga etc.
She should first improve road conditions especially the North-South link with a 4-lane highway to Jalpaiguri.
It distressed Sen Babu’s son to hear of the lack of funds. He immediately went to the website of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, otherwise known as the World Bank. He zeroed in on the active projects in India, then on ongoing projects in West Bengal. Surprisingly, there was only one such – a minor irrigation project worth USD 300 million.
He emailed Prof. Bose about his findings, and wondered if Mamata and or Dr. Manmohan Singh had explored the possibilities of further such loans.
The World Bank loans – about which Prof. Yunus had serious reservations – are given to creditworthy nations. Sen Babu’s son suggested that reconstruction and development has to proceed on many fronts simultaneously.
He further suggested, and I believe that this is a novel idea, that firstly there should be free food kitchens and / or meal packets so that people are reassured of their primary concern, “food first.”An army, they say, marches on its stomach, and only if there is a safety net will all other things become possible.
Vanu Bose, a network technology entrepreneur, describes India as an exciting marketplace teeming with new “Anywhere” customers, ie customers who are aggressively embracing mobile connectivity. While 70 percent of India’s population is rural and 80 percent of that group is illiterate, Vanu says that “They have the same basic demands and desires for information and entertainment as anyone else does.”
In earlier days of mobile network rollouts, these customers were not considered ready, willing or able potential customers, so there was no SMS, or simple messaging service, on offer in less urban areas. But with the advent of mobile data services, these same consumers now download Bollywood film clips and highlights from cricket matches at phenomenal rates, more often in some cases than their urban counterparts.
Emily Nagle Green, President and CEO of YankeeGroup, a leading global connectivity firm, quotes Nicholas Negroponte in this story: “In Cambodia in 2001, I took a photo of the first kids we equipped with laptops, all holding them up proudly for the camera. Eight years later, every single one of those kids was still in school. I always say, I’m not in the PC business – I’m in the hope business.”
The ubiquitous connectivity revolution is about the advent of portable, connected devices turning us into a new kind of customer, gradually expecting to take all of our experiences with us everywhere. On the way, we expect constant connectivity in our activity with business – as customers, workers and partners.
The story is told of a fictitious Indian teenager, Habib, living with his four siblings in the heart of Mumbai. Habib’s father, like his grandfather before him, is a street vendor of samosas. Habib, though only 15, works alongside his father. He has recently finished school and has many ideas for the business.
Habib, when at school, learnt a lot about the world. The school had wireless internet access for students both in the computer labs and in the library. Students could get online whenever they wanted during lunch break; Habib and his friends spent a lot of time chatting with other kids their age around the world via Webcam. Habib and his siblings were given netbooks to take home. They played games and did their schoolwork on their computers; they even taught their father to read.
Habib learned a lot about the value of connectivity by interacting with his friends. It makes life easier and that is why he wants to incorporate it in his work. He’d like to see the business run on autopilot some of the time, because his father is getting older and it just makes sense.
Although, unfortunately, Habib’s father has different ideas, Habib wants to open a netbook first thing in the morning. The netbook was given to him by the store chain Subhishka, for the points he earned for repeat food orders. Habib updates his inventory online based on what was used up since last time, and places orders for whatever goods he and his father need.
When he pedals past the nearest Shubishka shop on his way to their favorite spot – on his cart – his order is waiting for him. His account is directly linked to the store, so the debits are processed automatically whenever he orders food.
Habib picks up free Wi-fi at his cart from a nearby hotel. To improve foot traffic, he offers mobile coupons; anytime someone walks within 100 feet of his cart, that person gets an advertisement on his or her handset for a free drink with the purchase of two samosas.
To make life simple for his tourist clientele, Habib takes mobile payments. Many tourists have not yet converted their cash by the time they stop by for their first street snack on the way to the Gateway of India, but it doesn’t matter. All they have to do is swipe their mobile handset next to his payment receiver from mobile operator Bharti Airtel, and they’re charged through their mobile bill. It also puts a stop to the petty thieves who used to hang around his father’s cart, eyeing the cash and looking for the right chance to run off with it.
The above story opens up a whole host of possibilities. Profits can come in across the board – new products, new services to existing customers, and new customers in current and future regions. Ubiquitous connectivity has come of age.
Other shop owners also were very friendly. Sanjay sold cosmetics and Nidhu Babu sold groceries. They were always ready for a chat. I enjoyed chit-chatting with them from the favorable position of “customer,” but honestly I never did find out what they disliked, if anything.
Here in the triangle area, I’ve befriended convenience-store owner Anuj, and several people in another store whose name I’m not at liberty to disclose. Suffice it to say that Manisha, Hemendra, Pankaj, Shyamalini and Ami do a very good job of selling their products, and I’m proud to be their customer. Their shop is open long hours, every day of the week, and I’m rarely disappointed at not finding what I want.
On a general note, businesspeople serve a very useful role in every society. They save us the hassle of having to shop in faraway places, from “first principles” so to say. Anuj regularly supplies me with coupons for a haircut in the saloon at the same shopping center, while Manisha’s place is a convenient spot to pick up an extra copy of Saathee magazine.
Running a shop in these difficult economic times is not easy. After paying the $3500 monthly rent, Anuj is hard pressed to make a decent profit.
Besides, there are shop-lifters and the much more serious threat from criminals who hold up and rob shop owners. My friend, Manik, in Kolkata used to burn a small piece of paper after closing his shop for the night, as an invocation to the powers that be to protect and safeguard his shop. Here in Raleigh, of course, shop owners use security systems such as cameras as deterrents.
Shop owners not only make good friends, they are also often ready to sell you merchandise on credit. Indeed, it’s not unusual for a shop-keeper friend to lend you money if the need arose.
So next time you shop at an Indian store, spare a kind thought for all the people who work long hours there. Help them to keep the business going by buying from them, flashing them a smile, and saying “Thank you!”
Professor Yunus has been advocating a new type of business model, called social business, which is radically different from both PMB, or profit-maximizing business, on the one hand, and outright charities on the other.
With the fall of worldwide communism, and the victory of sorts, of capitalism, the free market society has been vindicated no doubt, yet wide scale disparities exist even in developed nations, such as the USA, where a small percentage of the population owns a disproportionately large percentage of the total wealth.
According to Professor Yunus, pure capitalism, which seeks to maximize profits, sees human beings as one-dimensional entities, whereas humans are in reality multidimensional and their needs have to be addressed through a variation of PMBs, which he calls social businesses.
Entrepreneurs, according to Professor Yunus, will set up social businesses not to achieve limited personal gain but to pursue specific social goals. To free-market fundamentalists, this might seem blasphemous. The idea of a business with goals other than profit-making seem far-fetched but we need businesses totally dedicated to solving social and environmental problems.
In its organizational structure, this new business is basically the same as the existing PMB. But it differs in its objectives. Like other businesses, it employs workers, creates goods or services, and provides these to customers for a price consistent with its objectives.
But its underlying objective—-and the criterion by which it should be evaluated—- is to create social benefits for those whose lives it touches. The company itself may earn a profit, but the investors who support it do not take any profits out of the company except recouping an amount equivalent to their original investment over a period of time. A social business is a company that is cause-driven rather than profit-driven, with the potential to act as a change-agent for the world.
A social business is not a charity. It is a business in every sense. It has to recover its full costs while achieving its social objectives. When you are running a business, you think differently and work differently than when you are running a charity. And this makes all the difference in defining social business and its impact on society.
There are many organizations in the world today that concentrate on creating social benefits. Most do not recover their social costs. Non-profit organizations and NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, rely on charitable donations, foundations grants, or governmental support to implement their programs. Most of their leaders are dedicated people doing commendable work. But since they do not recover their costs from their operations, they are forced to devote part of their time and energy, sometimes a significant part, to raising money.
A social business is different. Operated in accordance with management principles just like a traditional PMB, a social business aims for full cost recovery, or more, even as it concentrates on creating products and services that provide a social benefit. It pursues this goal by charging a price or fee for the products or services it creates.
For example, a social business that manufactures and sells high-quality, nutritious food products at very low prices to a targeted market of poor and underfed children. These products can be cheaper because they do not compete in the luxury market and therefore don’t require costly packaging or advertising, and because the company that sells them is not compelled to maximize its profits.
Professor Yunus’ first, consciously designed multinational social business involved Grameen Danone, manufacturing healthful foods that improve the diet of rural Bangladeshis—-especially the children. The products are sold at a low price, and make a real difference in the lives of millions of people.
Instead, for a person, family or nation, I think the correct way would be to identify the basic needs of life and see if they can be satisfied by locally available material. Except for some essentials like medical equipment, which a poor entity cannot make for itself, I don’t think that there are that many goods and services that one needs.
That said, we can now be self-reliant as far as food, clothing and shelter are concerned. The poor nations are blessed with an abundance of raw materials – let us use them as wisely as we can without depleting them. The Bengal-Bihar coal and iron ore deposits are one of the richest in the world – let us utilize these resources.
The timberlands of Assam, provided we go in for simultaneous reforestation, are a bountiful and seemingly endless source of timber – let us utilize them wisely.
The river Ganges, with suitable water-purification plants along its banks, can provide all our fresh water needs. The ponds, streams, rivers and coastal waters off the coast of West Bengal, can provide all our needs for aquatic food, like fish and crabs. If we make sure not to over-harvest our bounty, we can make do with what we have.
I am tired of hearing third-world leaders begging the developed nations for more aid, which is never forthcoming. Many developed nations cannot help other nations anymore, simply because they are struggling with their own economies, witness the problems of Greece.
Even America, with its 15 trillion dollars national debt, is no longer in a position to help. I think India, with an economy galloping along at 8 percent growth rate, is well poised to solve its own problems of poverty and inequality. The latest figures show a sharp reduction in the percentage of people living below the poverty line.
So self-help is the best help and God helps those who help themselves. This is true of a person and a nation. The poor nations of Asia are rising once again – a resurgence that Sri Aurobindo predicted many years ago.
By the time you read this, and weather permitting, NASA will have launched an exciting new rover bound for Mars in late November 2011. The rover, atop an Atlas V541 rocket, is slated to land on Mars sometime in August 2012. The name, Curiosity, given to the rover, was chosen through a naming competition which 6-year old Clara Ma from Kansas, won.
Curiosity is a bit like its predecessors, but differs in important ways. It is much bigger and carries a total of 10 scientific experiments with a payload of 80 kilograms, almost 10 times that of the earlier Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
The 6-wheeled Curiosity is chockfull of advanced equipment which almost reads like science fiction. The electric power, for example, of 100-125 watts, will be delivered, not from solar cells, but from an RTG unit, or Radio-isotope Thermo-electric Generator. As the name suggests, Plutonium 238 is allowed to decay naturally within an onboard reactor, and the heat released drives a thermo-electric unit.
The onboard, radiation-hardened computer is the RAD600, which operates at 400 MIPS, or million instructions per second. The computer has 256 MB of DRAM and a 2GB flash drive. If these specifications don’t look too impressive, one has to remember that weight and power consumption, not to talk of reliability, are prime considerations in space. There are two onboard RAD600’s of which one is a standby or back up unit.
There are 17 cameras in all on Curiosity. Some are mounted at the corners of the rover, and one is at the highest point in the chassis. There is a NAVCAM, or navigation camera, and a HAZCAM or hazard avoidance camera.
Among the 10 astro-biological experiments that Curiosity supports, some are from Germany and Russia. To give you an idea of the technology used, one experiment involves training an infra-red laser beam on a rock up to 7 meters away, firing a short laser burst, and spectroscopically analyzing the light flash produced by the vaporized sample of rock. This has the name LISA, or Laser Induced Spectroscopic Analysis.
The Curiosity has a flexible arm which can drill into a rock up to 5 cm depth, collect the sample dust, and fold back to deposit it into one of 74 tiny buckets for further analysis.
If you remember, the earlier Spirit rover landed on Mars cocooned in air-bags. Well, this design would not work for the much bigger Curiosity, hence the final landing on Mars will actually be on the 6 out stretched wheels of the rover itself. Before that, while still a few thousand feet from the Martian surface, Curiosity will be lowered from its capsule by cables, a never-before tried maneuver. Once Curiosity lands, the rest of the unit higher up will shoot away to land at least a few hundred feet from Curiosity, so that it does not contaminate any samples that are chosen to be analyzed.
The site chosen for Curiosity to explore – called the Gale crater – is one of four sites short-listed from literally hundreds of possible sites after inputs from 300 scientists worldwide.
Gale provides a rich terrain for astro-biological experiments. In two years of roving, Curiosity will have travelled 12 miles horizontally and 4 miles vertically, up the gentle hill that the Gale crater encircles. The terrain is layered and will provide a lot of information regarding the past Martian geology and future potential for humans on Mars.
As one of the speakers put it, the rover will relay back to us information that reads like an unfolding novel. In conclusion, as the chief scientist of NASA put it at the NASM conference, the entire mission—-like all of NASA’s missions—-will ignite and bring to the surface the childlike excitement that we all felt when we first gazed at the stars in the firmament above.
In the late 1990’s I wrote a letter to Kamal Nath, Environmental Minister at New Delhi. The letter was about the river Ganges, which had become very polluted. The Hon. Minister kindly wrote back, and I still have that letter somewhere.
In the same vein, Al Gore writes that we humans pollute the atmosphere to the tune of 90 million tons of greenhouse gases, daily. If that number doesn’t scare you, it should. Granted, the atmosphere is huge, but it is a finite entity. There’s only so much that it can take without changing its composition and properties.
The coal, oil, and natural gas industry, with their huge financial resources, even today deny that burning fossil fuels can pollute the atmosphere. According to them, believing in global warming is like believing in a flat earth. Ha! Ha!
Some decades ago, the well-entrenched and well-heeled tobacco industry was busy denying that smoking could cause lung cancer. Now, thank heavens, we all know better.
In the late 1960’s, when I used to cycle to St. Xavier’s College along the streets of Calcutta, I could feel my eyes smarting from car exhaust fumes. Those were the days before cars were required to have emission control units. The problem has been reduced but not totally eliminated. The silent foe, carbon dioxide, is still being spewed from cars, trucks, buses and coal and oil fired generating stations.
According to one expert, the term “clean coal” is a myth. Coal cannot be economically cleaned and large-scale carbon capture and sequestration experiments have not really succeeded to an extent worth shouting about.
Yet the coal industry touts “clean coal” as the silver bullet of energy production. It’s just one more attempt to hoodwink the public and keep their decades-old power stations up and running. True, solar power and windmills have some issues of their own. Firstly, the strongest sunlight happens to shine in desert areas, far from population centers.
This means that long transmission lines have to be laid, an added cost. Secondly, if you consult a map of feasible wind-power regions of the United States, ie, where the wind speed is at least 15 mph, you will see that much of the Western US is very promising, while the East, such as North Carolina, is not so.
The problem boils down to choosing between a catastrophe and a difficult option. The latter wins hands down. According to one estimate, a solar “field” of 96 miles by 96 miles can collect enough sunlight to power the entire United States. Interesting? You bet! Doable? Why not!
Professor D.K. Sachdev, of George Mason University, was inducted into the Satellite Hall of Fame in 2009 for his stellar contributions to satellite communications. He is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Science and one-time General Manager of the Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore.
Earlier, in 2003, Professor Sachdev got the Arthur Clarke prize for his work at INTELSAT and WorldSpace in general and satellite communications throughout the world. Arthur Clarke, recently knighted, wrote a seminal paper in Wireless World in 1945 regarding the possibility of world-wide communications using three strategically placed geostationary satellites.
Sir Clarke’s prophecy came true when, in 1963, the world’s first GEO was launched in time to televise the 1964 Olympic Games held in Tokyo. This was the Syncom satellite which, at its inauguration, saw President Kennedy speaking to the Prime Minister of Nigeria over the satellite link. Incidentally, Syncom saw a full five years of service with the U.S. Government.
Bell Labe had earlier, in 1962-63, launched Telstar I and Telstar II, but these were LEOs, or Low Earth Orbit satellites. Also, as every schoolboy knows, the very first satellite was the Russian Sputnik, launched in 1957.
Sputnik was a wake-up call to the West, and competition in space had truly begun. To digress a bit, the Russians even won the race to put a man in orbit. This was Yuri Gagarin, but America won the race to put a man on the moon.(Neil Armstrong).
In India the space age was started by the legendary and charismatic founder of space technology efforts, Vikram Sarabhai, called the “Father of Indian Space”. The other pioneer is U.R.Rao, who worked with Vikram Sarabhai and had the responsibility to start the development of satellite systems in India.
INSAT started in the early 1980’s as an operational system. Initially, a NASA satellite, ATS-6, was moved over India for the SITE experiment in 1976.The second experiment was with the world’s very first three-axis spacecraft, Symphonie, developed in Europe.
Professor Sachdev spent 18 years at INTELSAT, which started off as an IGO, or Inter Governmental Organization, under the UN. Until 1979, INTELSAT was largely run by Comsat. INTELSAT was literally born via the Early Bird, and for over two decades it had the implicit responsibility of helping the satellite industry grow. This was achieved through two overlapping methods: funding of near-term and long-term R and D around the world and through the development and procurement of larger and larger generations of spacecraft.
The competition to INTELSAT came slowly but surely and from several directions—-regional and domestic organizations, optical fiber cables, and from “separate systems” like Panamsat, founded by the one and only Rene Anselmo.
Other notable satellite systems worth mentioning are JSAT of Japan, Eutelsat of Europe, and Telesat of Canada. It is worth pointing out that whenever we make a long-distance phone call, send an email, or chat over the INTERNET, we are using GEO satellites in one form or another. I remember the days when I first came to the USA in 1984, when a letter to India and back took a month, and making phone calls was difficult and expensive, or rather, just beginning to improve.
Finally, for all its glamour, the use of rockets to launch satellite payloads is firstly, very inefficient – of the order of 1% efficiency – and secondly, the rockets themselves let off toxic gases that pollute the atmosphere. Once again, it was Sir Arthur Clarke who came up with the idea of the space elevator to put objects into orbit. The science fiction of today becomes the science of tomorrow and the technology of the day after tomorrow. One hopes that by 2045, exactly a century after Sir Arthur’s groundbreaking paper, a space elevator is deployed, perhaps with its anchor near Sri Lanka, where the fictional space elevator in his best-selling science novel, “Fountains of Paradise,” is located. Only then will the inconvenient truth of satellite communications be revealed, analyzed, and rectified.
I seem to have come full circle. In my childhood, my dad had fetched the 8-volume “Books of Knowledge” all the way from England for us to read. These books were a treasure trove for my sister and me.
There were hundreds of articles, stories, poems and photographs, some in full color. I loved all of them, but one picture in particular aroused my dislike. It was a photograph of a Hindu religious scholar, bare-chested, with a sandalwood mark on his forehead, sitting cross-legged and studying the scriptures, which were on a wooden table in front of him.
Why, oh why I asked myself in my childish anguish was this picture given place of prominence in an otherwise delightful set of books?
Why, instead of a suit and tie, behind the wheels of a fancy car, was an Indian depicted in such a demeaning pose?
Well, now that I’m in my sixties, that’s the only photo that I remember from those books, and the only one whose memory I treasure, not because I’ve become a saint, but because the scholar was doing no harm at all, and reading profound writings.
We have put education to doubtful uses—polluting the environment with the offals of our own technology, decimating forests and depleting our natural resources. Much, much too late, we are waking up to truths that the peasants knew, and sadhus knew, many centuries ago.
I can think of no more beneficial way of passing the time than to live a very simple life, as Swami Vivekananda might have done, and read the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita. Our elevated thoughts would have cleansed the world with their power, and reduced our consumption of natural resources to manageable and sustainable levels.
We have increased the human life span, and reduced infant mortality to the point when we have over-populated Planet Earth. That harmless scholar in the “Book of Knowledge” had committed no such sins. I salute him. I have come full circle and realized that the world is round.
It is said that leadership is all about exerting influence. When that little girl wrote to President Abraham Lincoln that he would look better if he grew a beard, and when Lincoln listened, she succeeded in exerting her influence and could be considered to be a leader in her own right.
One doesn’t have to be at the very top of the pyramid to exert influence. Leaders at all levels can succeed, and these people are called “linchpins” of the organization or nation.
Of course, leadership does not stop at exerting influence alone. There are other qualities that a leader must possess, and the ability to “help others get ahead” is an important one. Thus, I will vote for you if and only if you will look after my interest. And so on.
Leaders are remembered – long after they are gone – by the problems they solve and the problems they create. A case in point is George Bush, who as President committed feats of intelligence and folly.
In President Obama’s case I myself agree that he and his team stopped the freefall in the economy. Yet his successes have not been spectacular, and so I doubt that he will get the majority vote in the upcoming elections of 2012.
Only the very toughest problems reach the President’s desk – or should, in principle, just as only the toughest cases reach the Supreme Court. Any right thinking American will agree that our nation has some tough choices to make:-
Whether to continue fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or to stop is the first question. Will a unilateral cease fire hold? The nation is tired of fighting, but our enemies seem relentless and willing to go on.
Whether to go in dramatically for renewable energy, have sustainable policies and the like, or whether to listen to the naysayers and continue in the vein of “business as usual.”
Should we continue to fund NASA at the present level, or increase funding and thus maintain our supremacy in space, or should we cut back on spending and let other nations take the lead. There is a third option – to increasingly internationalize the space segment and have more projects like the International Space Station. One can think of multi-national efforts to send men and women to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
Should we go in for an era of small government as Michelle Bachman and the Tea Party suggests? Maybe, in their minds, they have a workable solution. Maybe they have a vision and wish to share it with the rest of us. Or maybe I’m just being a devil’s advocate and trying to out-strategize the Tea Party strategists?
Because, who knows what is right and what is wrong? Which direction should we take America, even if we are equipped with a compass pointing north?
As is generally known, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo consists of, or rather involves, the triad of Knowledge, Work, Devotion, and self-perfection. The Divine Work, which the great yogi refers to, is slightly different from ordinary work.
Sri Aurobindo’s writings take some effort to understand, but from what I gather, the first duty of the sadhak, or aspirant, is to seek the Divine through spiritual practices and through living a life according to scriptural principles.
Once the Divine has been reached – not an easy matter by any means – the ego’s search for the Divine has been fulfilled. Now comes the work dictated by the Divine and done by the sadhak in a spirit of selflessness, without desire, with detachment, without repulsion – and done as perfectly as possible.
The Divine Work is not done for the sake of the family, or promotion, or to please the boss, but simply because it is the thing that has been given in hand to do. It is a field of inner training, nothing else. One has to learn in it these things – equality, desirelessness, dedication.
It is not the work as a thing for its own sake but one’s doing of it and one’s way of doing it that one has to dedicate to the Divine. Done in that spirit, it does not matter what the work is. If one trains oneself spiritually like that, then one will be ready to do, in the true way, whatever special work directly for the Divine, one may be given to do.
Sri Aurobindo further says that your chosen work should be performed with psychic zeal. In these difficult times when many people are not able to truly do the work that they were trained for and apply their skill sets, Sri Aurobindo gives a way out to avoid frustration and achieve inner spiritual growth.
Sri Aurobindo further states that the only work that spiritually purifies is that which is done without personal motives, without desire for fame or public recognition or worldly greatness, without insistence on one’s own mental motives or vital lusts and demands or physical preferences, without vanity or crude self assertion or claim for position or prestige, done for the sake of the Divine alone and at the command of the Divine. All work done in an egoistic spirit, however good for people in the world of the Ignorance, is of no avail to the seeker of the yoga.
Moreover, the Gita’s yoga consists in the offering of one’s work as a sacrifice to the Divine, the conquest of desire, egoless and desireless action, bhakti for the Divine, an entering into the cosmic consciousness, the sense of unity with all creatures, oneness with the Divine.
Finally, at the risk of some repetition of ideas, Sri Aurobindo writes that men usually work and carry on their affairs from the ordinary motives of the vital being, need, desire of wealth, or success or position or power or fame or the push to activity and the pleasure of manifesting their capability, power of work and the good or bad fortune which is the result of their nature and their Karma.
When one takes up the yoga and wishes to consecrate one’s life to the Divine, these ordinary motives of the vital being have no longer their full and free play; they have to be replaced by another, a mainly psychic and spiritual motive, which will enable the sadhak to work with the same force as before, no longer for himself, but for the Divine.
If the ordinary vital motives or vital force can no longer act freely and yet are not replaced by something else, then the push or force put into the work may decline or the power to command success may no longer be there.
For the sincere sadhak the difficulty can only be temporary; but he has to see the defect in his consciousness or his attitude and to remove it. Then the Divine power will act through him and use his capacity and vital force for its ends. Such is the nature of Divine Work.
Five years had passed since that fateful day when Sen Babu opened the doors of his factory, INTEC, at Tiljala on the outskirts of Calcutta. They had been eventful years and now the hard work was paying off.
As Sen Babu settled down in his new role of entrepreneur, his friend and mentor of sorts, Naresh Kaku, looked on approvingly. One fine day the latter invited Sen Babu to a meeting of the Association of Small Scale Industries of West Bengal. Sen Babu ended up joining the Association and became the natural choice when it came to pick a representative of the Association at the annual meeting of the CMERI Scientific Sub-committee at Durgapur, the industrial town 60 miles from Calcutta.
Being a good speaker, Sen Babu had no trouble impressing the sub-committee with his work. I remember the Chairman of the sub-committee, Deb Mukherjee, coming to dinner once at our house in Jodhpur Park. After dinner, Sen Babu drove Deb Mukherjee to Howrah Station for his train back to Durgapur. Mr. Mukherjee was affiliated with the CMERI, or Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute.
On his official letterhead, Sen Babu had the designation of Consultant and Chartered Engineer. His qualifications said AMI Plant E and AMI Brit F. these stood, respectively, for Associate Member of the institute of plant engineers and associate member of the institute of British foundrymen. He had, initially, included the word (London) behind the designations, but discontinued the practice when the Institute wrote to him saying that it was against their rules. Sen Babu was never one to bend the rules to suit his convenience.
Doordarshan TV had a program which they aired once a week, called “Bikeler Baithak” or Evening Talks, featuring retired people reminiscing about the life they had led, and of years gone by. One day Sen Babu had the idea of contacting Doordarshan to tell his tale of the First Indian Naval Mutiny, in 1940, in which he had taken a leading role. Also, at about this time, the Government of India started paying Sen Babu a pension for his part in World War II.
In his later years, after running INTEC for about 25 years, Sen Babu decided that it was time to retire. He used to describe himself as a “moralist.” It’s worth mentioning here that he gave jobs to many young men, both in his factory and in other places through his numerous contacts.
His was almost a rags-to-riches story. Who else had achieved so much in one lifetime? From playing first division soccer for East Bengal, Mohan Bagan and other leading clubs of India, to winning the first prize in esraj at the All Bengal Music Conference, to being a ring leader in the Indian Naval Mutiny, and then taking his small family to England in those days, 1961-62, Sen Babu was a pioneer and trail blazer in many ways.
He was the founder/ chief engineer of Premier Irrigation, a Goenka concern, and the first person to get the State Bank of India loan under their entrepreneurship program. But most of all, he was a loving husband, devoted father, and respected pillar of society.
Armed with inherited knowledge, practical experience, and theoretical wisdom gleaned from reading many, many business books, Junior Sen decides to get into business all on his own. First and foremost he has to decide on the structure and form of his business—- sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or a C or S corporation. Each form has its own merits and demerits, advantages and disadvantages.
Next, his accounting system must be one of these, either cash or accrual. Cash accounting is done when the transaction is recorded only when the cash changes hands; in accrual accounting the actual transaction date is of importance.
Most small businesses operate on a modified cash basis. Even the accounting year can vary—-either he has to use the calendar year, Jan 1 to Dec 31, or some other 12-month cycle, like Sep 1 to Aug —this is the preferred form for educational institutions.
With these important issues out of the way, it still remained for Junior Sen to find a small business idea. Was his business going to sell products, or services, or both? Should he leverage his own strengths in IT, Math and Marketing, or should he identify a strong market need and try to fill it?
As far as accounting was concerned, Junior Sen decided to go in for computerized accounting, using Quickbooks 2011 Pro. He loaded the software, bought used on Amazon, onto his Toshiba Satellite laptop, and started the process of setting up the system, answering the few simple questions that the S/W asked him at the outset.
By reading Dummies books on Quickbooks 2011, Junior Sen learned how to cut a check, prepare invoices, (which is just another name for bills), and do online banking, which is integrated into QB 2011. His business credit card information was also conveniently entered into QB. Now he was all set to record transactions, pay for goods and services, and collect payment from clients.
He had to deal with three classes of people – customers, vendors and employees. At present, he had no employees, so he need not bother about whether to have them fill out W-2 forms, or treat them as independent consultants and fill out I-1099 forms. Thank goodness!
Likewise, the payroll feature of QB 2011 need not be used at first. Now, coming to think about customers, it’s a different story altogether. He had to seek out customers and strive to fill their needs by delighting them. He had to find a niche market, segment his market, target his chosen market and advertise his products and services.
He had to cater for returned goods, dissatisfied customers, and customer checks that bounced. He had to have policies and practices in place for all eventualities.
Junior Sen also went about setting up his company website, using the $4.99/month deal for designing and hosting websites that INTUIT was offering. He thought of doing some guerilla marketing using the services of the PR Store, and even real-time marketing using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
The face of marketing has changed a lot, and modern marketing is as much about bits and bytes as it is about brick and mortar.
After putting in place his vendor strategy, Junior Sen next turned his attention to the important question of taxes, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements. His banker, Numero Uno bank, (a fictitious name), gave him a loan of $15,000, on much better terms than the credit he had using his business credit card.
Recently, the fee for credit card transactions had gone down from 42 c/transaction to 12 c per transaction, which was a boon for small businesses.
Junior Sen thought about all his businessmen friends, like Anuj, and self-employed people like his preferred cab-driver Ali, who was from Algeria. If they could succeed in being self-employed, so could he. At the age that he was, 60, he could not see anyone giving him that top executive job that he deserved and wanted.
Better to follow in his late Dad’s footsteps and make a go at small business in America. Jai Lakshmiji! Jai Ganeshji!
As Sen Babu prepared for his weekly meeting with one of his customers, P.R. Birla, he reflected on the fact that PR, as he was called, had not placed an order with him for more than two months.
Sen Babu took the elevator of the building in which PR had his office, without much hope. So imagine his surprise when, on opening the door and being spotted by PR from his desk at the far right corner, the latter excitedly beckoned him with his hands to come in and be seated.
PR finished his phone conversation and asked without preamble, “Mr. Sen, do you remember what you had left on my table last week?”
Sen Babu said, “Yes of course: the plastic bobbin which I have been developing.”
“Yes,” said PR, “BG was here yesterday and he saw your bobbin. He feels that he could use it in his jute mills. He asked me to tell you to meet him at his office at Birla Buildings. I think that you should go to him immediately.”
Sen Babu thanked PR and without further ado made his way to Birla Buildings, a ten-minute walk from PR’s office. BG was a middle aged, dynamic go-getter who came straight to the point.
“I need bobbins like this,” he told Sen Babu, “ but I have to try them out first. Can you give me 100 bobbins as a trial order?”
“Of course,” said Sen Babu, elated, “I’ll have them ready for you in two weeks.”
“Make that ten days,” said BG, “Now let’s work out the costing and price.”
A half hour later, armed with BG’s trial order, Sen Babu headed home to plan his work. It would be nice if this story had a happy ending, and indeed it does, but since that fateful day in 1982, Sen Babu had to undergo many trials and tribulations before the bobbin could be perfected to do the job required of it.
The first batch of bobbins broke unexpectedly on the spinning looms. Sen Babu modified the design and came up with the idea of a reinforcing steel band to strengthen the bobbin. He had to experiment with different high-density polymer resins before finding one that suited him.
Sometimes, BG became angry at his partial successes and ever-present failures. One day, as Dad recalls, he threw a bobbin across the room in frustration. His injection-molder despaired of ever getting it right. One day Sen Babu ran out of cash and, hat in hand, had to ask BG for an advance. Gentleman that he was, BG agreed to a Rs. 3000 cash advance.
Finally all the kinks in the design were ironed out and Sen Babu got a steady stream of orders from Birla Jute Mills. As his son, I watched my Dad go from near penury to upper middle-class success. His factory, INTEC, was humming with activity till the day it was eventually sold, in 1995.
In his retirement, my Dad often went to BG’s house for dinner. They had become fast friends based on respect and mutual admiration.
BG Birla treated me to lunch once in the restaurant atop Birla Buildings. He was on the verge of offering me a job in his organization when I decided to migrate to the USA.
I will never forget the brothers PR and BG. They did business in the difficult economic environment that is the hallmark of Calcutta, beset with political upheavals and labor problems. I think BG, the large businessman, found professional satisfaction in doing business with Dad, who was the owner of a small business. It was a synergistic if not symbiotic arrangement that ushered in the era of plastics in an area dominated by iron and wood.
The partnership provided work for the machinists in INTEC, my Dad’s factory, and helped a network of other people, like the injection-molder make their livelihood. It became a virtuous circle that benefitted everyone.
In 1991, Sen Babu’s nephew, Chanchal, got an offer to teach PC hardware at DATAPRO, Kolkata. They were offering him rupees four thousand per month to teach five students, each of whom paid six thousand rupees as course fee, for a six-month course. Chanchal’s contact person at DATAPRO was Arup.
When Chanchal started teaching everything went well at first, until he found that the lab was woefully inadequate. He calculated that he was getting the lion’s share of the students’ fees, ie. twenty-four thousand rupees, out of thirty-thousand rupees. So he started buying some essential lab parts with money from his own salary. Needless to say, this did not absolve DATAPRO from its commitment to provide equipment to students.
After about two months, although the course was proceeding satisfactorily, there were still rumblings of discontent from the students. As a last resort, Chanchal had a brief conversation with his contact-person, Arup, and the latter undertook to talk to the students, for a baksheesh, or tip, of two hundred rupees per month.
Chanchal always felt that there was a fine dividing line between illicit palm greasing and legitimate baksheesh. As it turned out, Arup, with his superior customer service skills, was successful in calming down the students and addressing their complaints.
The upshot of all this was that the five students graduated at the end of six months, having learned a lot of hardware, and soon embarked on their career. Regretfully, DATAPRO decided to discontinue the course and no further batches were formed for Chanchal to teach.
Durgapur, named after the Goddess Durga, was the modern brainchild of West Bengal’s first Chief Minister, Shri Bidhan Chandra Roy, who helped to give it an industrial flavor. The city is home to many large industries and factories such as the DTPS, DVC, or Durgapur Thermal Power Station, Damodar Valley Corporation, the Durgapur Steel Plant and the Alloy Steel Plant.
The city also has many engineering colleges like the Regional Engineering College and the Dr. B.C. Roy Engineering College. The CMERI, or Central Mechanical Engineering Institute, also is based there. My association with CMERI is that my Dad was a member of their scientific subcommittee, being the representative of the small and medium scale industries of West Bengal.
Besides that, my maternal uncle, whom we called Chhotomama, worked at the DTPS. In 1968, Chhotomama invited us Calcuttans to stay with him for a week.
We drove to his quarters one fine morning and spent an enjoyable week visiting, among other sights, the Maithon Dam and the Sen-Raleigh cycle factory in Asansol.
Apart from Bidhan Roy, other dignitaries who at some time or other visited Durgapur are: Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, and Queen Elizabeth, who stayed at the guest house one winter day.
Durgapur is well connected to all the major cities of India, especially Kolkata, through road, rail and airways. The Golden Quadrilateral road project has touched base at this modern city on independent India.
With the two rivers Damodar and Ajay, and bounded on the east by Bardhaman district and on the west by Asansol, Durgapur is poised to become a major hub of industrial India. Boasting as it does, of industries which Nehru described as “modern temples” of India.
Portfolios have been with us for many years. Artists routinely kept samples of their work to show to prospective clients and also as a record of professional achievement. My own encounter with portfolios started in high school at La Martiniere, Calcutta, in 1967. Our art teacher, Mr. Hennessey, required us to keep all our paintings to be assessed at the end of the year.
Likewise, the technical drawing teacher, Mr. Marlow, had us put together all the work that we did throughout the school year. This happened in my engineering studies in Bangalore also.
Electronic portfolios are the modern trend, especially in education. As one goes through life, one feels a sense of incoherence if there is not an integral motif to one’s life. I for one, remember all the courses that I took, the models I made, the essays I wrote, the pictures and videos that I created, the music that I played, and the private speeches that I gave in front of a camera.
They are all there somewhere, either on the web or on the hard-drive of my laptop. I occasionally skim through them to remind myself of who I am, where I came from, and where I’m going. It gives me a sense of continuity that is so necessary to mental health and future actions.
Without my portfolio, I would be lost; with it, I am firmly grounded in my Self.
A 14-year old boy, William Kamkwamba, dropped out of school because his parents ran out of scholarship money. Undaunted, the boy frequented the local library and taught himself the basics of electricity.
Then he became fascinated with windmills, read up on them, and ended up building his own working windmill, from parts salvaged from old equipment. William managed to generate 12 watts of electricity at 12 volts, by coupling the windmill to an electric generator—-again designed by him.
His parents and neighbors thought that he had gone crazy, until the windmill started turning and the electric bulb in William’s hand started glowing. Soon he was busy recharging cellphones for his community.
The local press ran an article on William, and he wrote a best-selling book, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.”
Kamkwamba is now studying at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, having won a TED or Technology, Entertainment, Design, Fellowship. He says that one day he would like to have his own windmill-producing factory, and supply electricity to all Malawis, a challenging task, considering that only 2 percent of Malawis currently have electricity.
The March 11, 2010 issue of the Nyasa Times carried an article on William Kamkwamba. He has been named one of four winners of the GIA (Go Ingenuity Award), a global prize to celebrate innovation and to inspire youth ingenuity in developing countries.
Launched in August in Ghana, the prize is awarded to inventors, artists, and makers, enabling them to share their unique skills with marginalized youth in developing nations. The newspaper noted that Kamkwamba was currently in London, and would be visiting the University of Florida shortly during the New Student Convocation.
Incidentally, for those who are technologically-minded, William’s windmill was made from the following items: spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade, an old shock absorber, and blades from plastic pipes flattened by being held over a fire.
Not content with the windmill, William installed a solar-powered mechanical pump, donated by well-wishers, above a borehole, added water-storage tanks, and thus brought the first piped, potable water to the villagers of his village.
As an encore, he upgraded his original windmill to 48 volts and anchored it in concrete after its wooden base was chewed away by termites.
While both Piaget and Vygotsky are considered to be constructivists, Vygotsky is known to favor the idea of social constructivism, while Piaget is a cognitive constructivist. Both men were born in the same year, 1896, but Vygotsky, after coming up with some brilliant ideas, died at the young age of 37.
We owe to Vygotsky many ideas that shape our thinking of how a child learns and develops. Vygotsky emphasized children’s use of words, language, inner speech and the like. He thought that cognitive skills have their origin in social relations and are embedded in a socio-cultural backdrop. In my own experience in teaching students I have found that both group and individual learning foster the acquisition of new skills and knowledge.
I have seen children discuss the content matter, argue among themselves, and help each other get a better academic understanding. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development enables teachers to provide the necessary support, or “scaffolding” during a child’s learning, and to progressively reduce the help till the child functions independently. In other words the ZPD represents a range of tasks that are too difficult for children to master alone but that can be learned with guidance and assistance from adults or more skilled children.
A brief comparison of Piaget and Vygotsky reveals that while the former placed strong emphasis on stages of development, the latter did not. Instead, Vygotsky focused on the major role that language plays in shaping children’s thoughts. There are other differences between the theories of the two men, such as Vygotsky’s belief that education plays a central role, helping children learn the tools of the culture, while Piaget thought that education merely refines the child’s cognitive skills that already have emerged.
Dr. John Santrock’s advice to teachers wishing to apply Vygotsky’s theories in the classroom is to use the zone of proximal development, beginning with the zone’s upper limit, where the student is able to reach the goal only through close collaboration with the instructor. Then, gradually reduce the level of help till the child can function independently.
Other advice given is to use peer teaching, because children learn through their more skilled peers, as well as from adults. Learning involves a community of learners; peers, teachers, students, parents and other adults can work together to engage in learning activities in a more collaborative way. Finally, be aware of the developmental changes—-inner speech, for example—- which should not be viewed in isolation but as a step in the gradual developmental process.
Almost everyone on planet Earth is now cognizant of the fact that global warming is a reality and wide scale climate changes are becoming an ever-looming threat. Then why is there this complacency and refusal to coordinate our counter measures?
Tom Friedman, in his book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” likens our situation to that of a person falling off a 100-story skyscraper. Sure, for the first 99 stories the fall would be beatific – one can enjoy the scenery from up there, and experience the joys of weightlessness – up until the very end when the falling person smashes onto the sidewalk. Show over.
Al Gore, who has probably done more than any other person to popularize the threats of global warming, has written a sequel, “Our Choice,” to his first book, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore says we can survive if and only if we put in place certain measures – choices that we need to make.
But the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2008 has shown that nations, and heads of state, cannot agree on the steps to take.
Could the UN help? Possibly, but would the UN send troops to nations not abiding by internationally-agreed rules, assuming that such rules do exist? No; UN troops cannot fight the Chinese military. Period. In fact, China, with its command economy, can probably – more so than other nations – quickly implement climate control guidelines and laws. Communism does have its merits!
Germany, I think, has done the right thing by announcing plans to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources, by the year 2020.
As far as India is concerned, I really don’t see any way of reducing greenhouse gases. Coal and oil-fired power stations continue to be built and the number of automobiles on the road continues to increase.
I think it was Albert Einstein who said that a problem cannot be solved at the same level that it was created. So humans, presumably, cannot solve this problem, and we will have to look at the Creator. As Hindus are aware, the Trinity of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer are the forces shaping our universe. One hopes and prays that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva know what they are doing!
The simple stone axe was once the Swiss Army Knife of humans for a million years. Yes, that versatile tool - which looks so crude to us today - served humans of the stoneage exceedingly well. They used it to slice up their meat, clear the gristle, remove the bark of trees, and so on.
The stone axe was functional but hardly aesthetic. Nowadays, most if not all artifacts must meet many design criteria---functionality, looks, disposability, resale and now more and more, bio-degradability. There was a time when Americans, being mostly farmers, preferred trucks over cars because they needed to transport agricultural produce, fertilizers and pesticides. Nowadays, with widescale industrialization and urbanization, the ubiquitous passenger car has gained popularity. A modern car must be safe, easy to use, be frugal in the use of gas, and must pollute less and less.
It’s instructive to think of our earth’s atmosphere as being a finite entity. Just as we don’t pollute ponds, lakes, streams and rivers, because we know better, so also must we have respect and consideration for our finite atmosphere.
It has been calculated that for every mile that a car travels, we put one pound of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. This is nothing less than shockin, considering the millions of vehicles in use all over the world.
Design elegance for a power station, likewise, must include quiet operation, safety, and cleanliness. Whether we use coal, oil or natural gas, or one of the newer fuels like bio-fuels, we must ensure that the plant produces electricity with minimal adverse effects on the environment.
The ecological imperative for designers concerned with designing elegant products means that reuse of materials, recycling, bio-degradability, and bio-mimicry factor into their thinking.
Finally, that stone axe which served our forefathers so well was an elegant tool by any yardstick. It was found in nature, and needed minimal hand operations to manufacture. It did not pollute the environment, either during manufacture or during use. And it could be disposed of, when blunted or damaged, to join the innumerable other stone pieces lying all around. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if a favorite stone axe was passed down from father to son as a priceless family heirloom.
Around 1992, when I was in India, Doordarshan TV had interesting educational programs on one channel. Experts in various areas like agriculture, economics, physics, etc. spoke knowledgeably on their subject matters. One could learn valuable things by just watching these programs, which came on the air around 2 pm in the afternoons.
Space communications is now being used very effectively for distance education applications in India. In January 2000, an exclusive 24-hour educational TV, Gyandarshan, was implemented by Doordarshan. Three years later on Republic Day, 26 January 2003, the Gyandarshan III, or Ekalavya channel, dedicated to technical education, was started.
Six digital channels are earmarked for specific areas of education/developmental programs—-technical education, agriculture, vocational training, secondary education, and distance education. Professor U.R. Rao, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, writes that curriculum-based programs are produced with the active involvement of state educational administrators and teachers.
Satellite-based enrichment programs for school children are produced by several State Institutes of Educational Technology (SIET). With the mushrooming growth of educational institutions in the country, and acute shortage of qualified teachers, the demand for the use of the latest technology to support the process of education has been steadily growing.
ISRO launched the Edusat satellite to support this challenge. The expansion of Edusat is planned in a phased manner. At present, a total of 38 networks connecting 7600 classrooms, some with interactive terminals and others with receive-only terminals, are under implementation.
It bears mention that interactive learning, in my view, is by far the best method of learning. I remember, in my early college days that I wished to learn to use the slide rule, an indispensable tool used by engineers and now made obsolete by the ubiquitous electronic calculator.
I found an interactive book on slide rules in the Kolkata USIS, or United States Information Services, library. The book started off as a page of instruction, with one question at the bottom, and multiple answer choices leading to different pages. If you chose the correct answer you landed on a page which had the next lesson, but if you chose one of the wrong answers, you landed on a page which had further explanations to clarify the point not understood. This page, too, had a multiple choice question at the end. So the learning process required the very active involvement of the learner. At the end of the book, having maneuvered through numerous page turnings, I found that I’d learned the slide rule quite well!
One must not forget that, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge, and subsequent embellishments to it provided by new research, knowing a subject thoroughly means not only knowledge and understanding per se, but also analysis, synthesis, applications, and critiquing.
Add to this the further educational concepts learned through the analysis of how the brain learns, through making new synaptic connections via dendrites, etc.
Also, why forget that repetition is a key to learning, and that different learners have different preferred methods of learning—-be it aural, visual or kinesthetic.
The reason I’m urging that these fundamental concepts be kept in mind is that in a face-to-face classroom setting, a good teacher uses all these techniques to foster learning and transfer it from him or herself to the students.
Can distance education through satellites achieve all this? It remains to be seen. The Edusat pilot project, conducted before the launch of Edusat using INSAT-3B, covered University in three states, Karnataka, Mahashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.
In the current semi-operational phase of the Edusat program, Karnataka Primary Education Project under Sarva Shiksa Abhiyan covering 885 primary schools was made operational using the southern regional beam of Edusat. Similar networks have been set up in 850 schools in the Hindi-speaking states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Chattigarh, in 885 schools of Gulbarga in Karnataka, and in 400 schools in Mallapuram, Kerala.
One hopes that interactive terminals to foster two=way communications become the norm over receive only terminals, because only in this way can learning be served, and true student-teacher dialogue and communication established.
Teaching the Digital Generation
According to expert Marge Scherer, effectively teaching the digital generation seems to involve two basics: embracing the tools that kids are immersed in and using these tools to engage students in core curriculum topics. The digital generation referred to starts from 1980 to the present day, although it can be further split into generation Y and the Millenials. Prior to that, of course, was generation X and the Baby Boomers.
These “screenagers” live in a high-tech world filled with smartphones, iPods and the like. According to one study, the average number of text messages sent per month by a typical teen is 3,339. The average time spent looking at media content on a screen is seven hours per day, and the percentage of teens who say that their school places restrictions on their mobile phone use is 93.
At the ASCD Outstanding Young Educator Award ceremony recently, one candidate made the point that education has to change. He said, “We can’t pull kids into learning in school if they are engaged in a different world outside school.” Another educator said that if you don’t know how to use technology in class, you’re in trouble. But, of course, technology is a double edged sword. You can use it poorly, or you can use it well.
As far as students are concerned, the prevailing notion is that the most important thing for teachers is to be comfortable with what they are using. It doesn’t have to be super high-tech. Another student said, “Teachers shouldn’t be afraid of technology. Understand that it’s how we live our lives.”
Will Richardson has written a book, and indeed prepared a complete kit, entitled, “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Tools for Classrooms.” He makes the point that students should be able to find themselves online, associating their full names with their best work for a global audience to see. However, it’s not just about creating and sharing with the intention of impressing people or building a brand. The work needs to convey a passion for learning, participating, and being part of the conversation.
Mr. Richardson’s first advice to teachers is to become “googleable” yourself. To fully understand the implications for students, teachers need to have some personal context for sharing and interacting online. Secondly, the teacher must “model connections” which means sharing your own online interactions with students. When relevant and appropriate, talk about how you’re learning from others and how and why you chose to participate online.
Last but not least, share student work and practice and teach “reputation management.” Social media afford the opportunity for all children with online access to contribute to the world in meaningful ways, do real work for real audiences for real purposes, find great teachers and collaborators from around the world, and become great teachers in their own right.
An article such as this, on technology applied to learning, would not be complete without mentioning online courses. Nick Kremer is a language arts teacher whose skepticism about online education turned into belief when he taught his own online course. His initial objections were as follows:
Objection 1: Online courses require less work.
Objection 2: Online courses lack meaningful interaction.
Objection 3: Cheating runs rampant online.
Objection 4: Online courses are discriminatory.
But by carefully designing his first online course, Nick found ways to overcome his objections, and thus did not compromise his professional ethics for the convenience of online learning. When he planned lessons and activities, he tried to ensure that students had to spend as much time “engaged” online as they would have spent in an in-person class.
He also was concerned about adopting a writing workshop model online. He found that students, free of classroom distractions, were in fact extremely interested in reading and responding to one another’s work on the peer revision board, a class blog where they published their drafts and received feedback from classmates.
The National Technology Goals of 2010 put forward eight key guiding principles which I reproduce here:
• Use technology to help raise the percentage of young people with two- and four-year college degrees from 39% to 60% by 2020.
• Provide “broadband everywhere” to serve learners inside and outside schools.
• Put a computing device in the hands of every student.
• Make connectedness the hallmark of effective learning.
• Create an online learning registry of content developed by federal government agencies.
• Fund the research and development of open-source educational resources.
• Fund research about how online communities of practice can improve teaching and learning.
• Create a national initiative that defines productivity in education and establishes metrics for measuring it.
Finally, in the words of Karen Cator, director of the office of Educational Technology, US Department of Education: We need to get beyond calling teachers digital immigrants, as if technology holds a certain code only young people can decipher.
Mind you, I’m not saying that Tiljala, Picnic Gardens, or the road that runs through it, Girindra Sekhar Bose Road, are or were ideal industrial ecosystems. I don’t wish to romanticize the fact that the area provided the livelihood for a lot of people from all strata of Calcutta society, and beyond.
Indeed, some workers came from as far away as Naihati and Garia, thirty miles distant. And the mill and factory owners often had their residences in respectable localities like Ballygunge, Jodhpur Park, and even New Alipur, which is a posh, upper-class locality.
Most people went to work around 8 am and stayed till 5 pm, unless the order books were full and they were working overtime. Naresh Kaku, a friend of Sen Babu’s, for example, often had his workers do the night shift, so that work went on round the clock and order deadlines were met.
Inside Naresh Kaku’s walled factory were machines, tools, and raw materials. I remember the order he was once executing – he’d bagged the job of fabricating the seats in a gallery at Eden Gardens, which occupies pride of place in Calcutta as the venue where cricket test matches are played. I remember Naresh Kaku once lecturing me on the finer points of running a factory.
“All iron works are eventually painted,” he pontificated knowledgeably.
There were tea stalls at strategic street corners where you could buy a cigarette or paan. Most such tea stalls employed young children whose job it was to periodically – say every four hours – take a tray full of small glasses of piping hot tea, to the people working in the factory. Likewise, there were sweetmeat shops selling giant-sized rossogollas, a Bengali favorite, and other sweets, too numerous to mention here. As a teacher of sorts, I’d like to assert that these kids belonged in school, but that’s a different story.
Yes, as a place to work, Tiljala was good, but it was no paradise. During the monsoons, flood water collected in many streets and you could see people wading about in knee-deep rain water, in which only God knows what else was there!
There were a few remaining residential homes, from bygone days, and Sen Babu had, over the years, made friends with some of these residents.
Tiljala could arguably be called an Industrial Age locality, just as was Howrah, and some areas of Tollygunge. Indeed, Howrah had the reputation of being the best place in India for precision work, before other areas like Punjab and Haryana, took over the lead.
The newer industrial estates center around Information Technology. The reclaimed Salt Lake city, a few miles from Calcutta, boasts of modern buildings, like the SDF building, in which I worked in a firm called Mishanti, and the TCS and Price Waterhouse buildings, the latter recently acquired by IBM.
Naresh Kaku has long since passed away. His son sold the land on which the factory stood, and there is now a modern, high-rise residential complex at that spot.
Naresh Kaku was an alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, just as I am, but of course from a much earlier time. I don’t quite remember how he and my dad – whom everyone referred to as Sen Babu – became friends, because dad was an alumnus of Ashutosh College, not SXC.
Occasionally, the two of them socialized at local restaurants, of which I recall the names of three: Kwality, Saptarshi and Hatari. The food in all three was unsurpassed in delicacy and affordability. Other famous restaurants of Calcutta are Chung Wah and Peiping. The really upscale ones are Moulin Rouge and the recently opened one of Marco Polo.
Calcutta is a place for both the rich and the poor. Whatever your budget, you can have a good time there. And I’m not writing this because I want to promote it in any way. It cannot be denied that the city was once the capital of British India, and the second most important city of the Empire, after London.
Like many institutions in India, the industrial base of Calcutta provides bread and butter for people of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and Tiljala is a typical, vibrant part of that base.
It was August 1973 and the beginning of a new phase of life for Sen Babu. Some people follow the pattern learn- do-teach but for whatever reasons, for Sen Babu it was student-executive-entrepreneur.
Armed with a loan of one lakh of rupees from the State Bank of India, Ballygunge Branch, Sen Babu was poised to break on the business scene of Calcutta. He rented a large, modern, fully-equipped shed in Tiljala, hired a few workers who had been similarly displaced from his previous company, Premier Irrigation, and he was in business.
But not quite! Where were the customers? How was he to secure the first order? Sen Babu was totally at a loss as to how to shore up his nascent business skills to match his obvious engineering prowess.
It never rains but it pours. Along came a danger disguised as an opportunity. There is a saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Mr. Laha appeared, as if from nowhere, urging Sen Babu to make a “rolling up machine.” Sen Babu protested that it would take up all his working capital, and besides, shouldn’t he first have an order to begin manufacturing?
But Laha was insistent. “Build a better mousetrap and they will come,” he urged. And so the huge twenty-four feet by six feet behemoth got built to perfection, without a customer to buy it. I wish I could say, of INTEC, that the “order books were full,” but the truth of the matter is that the rolling up machine served as a demonstration unit, showing Sen Babu’s skills and his ability to get the job done.
Granted, Sen Babu got help from an old friend, Uncle Narain, who sent his head mistry, Biman, to measure out the work and lead the team. But Sen Babu had only Hari and Hara, two brothers who happened to be unemployed and were looking for a job.
Till the very end, Sen Babu maintained that he was following a plan, and perhaps he was right. As the machine got slowly built, it looked impressive, with huge steel rollers and shining new electric motors, and everyone thought that Sen Babu would soon become a celebrity businessman.
One evening, just before leaving INTEC for his drive home, Sen Babu gave instructions which were specific but were misunderstood by Hara. Next morning, when Sen Babu came to INTEC, the twenty-four feet roller lay cut in half. Sen Babu was shocked, angry and disappointed. Hara had blundered.
“I do not remember ordering you to cut the roller in half,” thundered Sen Babu. “How could you do such a thing?”
Hara was ashamed. He stood dejectedly as the storm raged all around him. Sen Babu’s neighbor in the industrial estate, Naresh Kaku, said, “Iron can always be cut and welded. With an oxy-acetylene torch iron can be sculpted.”
And so it was that Hari, Hara’s elder brother, expertly undid his brother’s mistake by welding the severed parts of the roller together. When a bright coat of paint had been applied, the roller looked as good as new.
As the days turned into months, a few odd jobs came in, and the machines started turning. But it became clear that INTEC was going into the red. The overheads were too high, so Sen Babu decided to relocate to a smaller shed.
The entire factory was shifted to its new home at Picnic Gardens, picturesquely so named in British times by a whimsical official.
Through good times and bad times, Sen Babu never lost his courage or his fortitude. And yes, the rolling up machine was indeed sold, but as scrap—-to a scrap metal dealer. The good thing was that the colossal mistake of making a gigantic machine without a firm order served to temper Sen Babu and mature him quickly into a seasoned businessman.
He learned to buckle down and work things out, give marketing talks and balance his books. He learned where to buy his raw materials cheap, and how much to pay his workers. His hard-won business skills served him in good stead through the good and lean years, and all the in-between years, till he eventually paid off his loan, recovered the deed to his land, and sold it all to make a tidy profit. Sen Babu had finally arrived, and so had Hari and Hara.
Sen babu winced as his black Ambassador car rattled along the pot-holed streets of Calcutta. It was morning and he was going to his small factory, INTEC, at Tiljala on the outskirts of the city. All these years, while he had been chief engineer at Premier Irrigation, he’d kept his car in tip-top condition, as any self-respecting engineer should. But his two-year old business was not going well. After resigning from Premier, Sen babu had taken a loan from the State Bank of India, Ballygunge Branch, and started his own workshop.
He decided that he’d have to sell off his car soon and take the public transportation. But today his aging but reliable Ambassador reached him to his factory. He was met by Amal, his durwan. Agitatedly Amal exclaimed, “We’ve been robbed, Sen babu. The motor has been stolen.”
“Calm down,” said Sen babu, though his heart sank at Amal’s words, “Which motor?”
“The motor of the lathe machine, Sir. I’d stepped out to buy some sugarcane at dawn, and when I returned the motor was gone! The roof has been broken in.”
Sen babu sighed. The six workers that he employed in normal times all lounged around, waiting for his response to the crisis.
“OK. I’m going out to phone my insurance agent,” said Sen babu, “Get to work and clean up the factory. Remove all the iron filings from the floor and the machines, and put a drop of oil in the machines.”
He drove his car to the post office to make his phone call, and then drove out to Baghbazar to finalize the raw material purchase for his next job. When he returned, three hours later, the insurance agent, Mr. Ghatak, was waiting for him. Sen babu looked expectantly at him. But Ghatak shook his head slowly from side to side.
“My boss won’t agree to pay,” he said bluntly, “You don’t have a permanent durwan. Besides, the roof is too unsafe.”
“I pay my insurance premiums on time,” pointed out Sen babu.
“We have our rules, “said Ghatak woodenly, “We cannot pay this time.”
Sen babu was angry but could do nothing. He’s never really believed in insurance, but it was mandatory – the State Bank required it of all borrowers.
Mr. Ghatak departed and the day wore on. The new motor was purchased and attached to the machine. The roof was repaired, the landlord notified, and the workers started working again.
As evening came the workers departed one by one and Sen babu gave last minute instructions to the durwan. He drove his car homewards, having decided to sell his car the next day to get his hands on some ready cash.
He stopped at the Gariahat Junction to buy some fresh-roasted peanuts and some delectable sandesh from East Bengal Sweets.
When he reached home it was 8 o’clock and quite dark. He climbed up the stairs of his rented house, debating in his mind whether or not to close down INTEC once and for all, and call it a day. He was 65 years old and still in good health. Maybe he could return to being a consultant.
His wife showed him a registered letter addressed to INTEC. It was from G.B.Co., a firm with whom he had been negotiating a large order. For some reason or other, they’d sent their mail to his home address. He opened the envelope and found that, indeed, his order had come through. With a smile he suggested to his wife, my mother that they should go out to dinner. She agreed. Tomorrow was another day, the machines would be humming, and it would be business as usual.
In 1995, when my dad was about 80 years old, he and mom decided that it was time to settle matters. The first task was to sell INTEC, our little factory at Kasba. Then the State Bank of India loan had to be paid off and the deed to our land at Konnogore recovered. The land had served as collateral for the business loan from SBI. Finally, the land itself was to be sold off to get some liquid cash.
I was there all through as dad’s companion and escort to count the money and transport it from one place to another. I remember how one of dad’s business acquaintances, Mr. Nair, bought the factory and paid cash, and how the machines were sold separately to another buyer who came from across town, from the industrial estate at Howrah.
I remember how dad and I went to the State Bank at Ballygunge and paid off the loan, thus recovering the deed to our land at Konnogore, and how relieved dad was that he was not leaving me saddled with a debt.
During the winter of 1996, we, i.e., dad, mom and I, accompanied by our accountant, Mr. Guha, and a land surveyor, went to our land in Konnogore to make a final survey and blue-print for our land. It was sweaty, unfamiliar work, but we had a nice picnic lunch in the open countryside. Of course, grandfather’s house was adjoining our land, and one of my cousins lived in that house.
In 1997, when we were negotiating the sale of the land with a prospective buyer, another man called Barua, a hoodlum of sorts with political connections, made a false case against mom, in whose name the land was registered, saying that he had been promised the land.
We had to engage a lawyer to fight the case. The entire incident was a great stress on my mom, and when she passed away in 1998, we felt that Barua’s false case was partly responsible. Anyway, Barua had a reputation of packing a gun, so we had to tread very carefully.
Dad came up with a win-win strategy, viz., to sell the land to Barua. To me it looked like a defeat for us, but dad said he had no time! The interesting thing was that Barua was willing to pay a good price. He, and his companion, an equally shady character, came to our house in Calcutta for negotiations. I mentioned casually to him that his false case had caused mom’s early death, and I saw him feel very uncomfortable indeed.
Anyway, the sale went through without a hitch and dad once again achieved what he had set out to do, viz., settle his finances satisfactorily.
There is a student at my school who plays games, all by himself, in his spare time on his mobile hand-held device, PlayStation 2 I believe. He also has a huge album of game cards.
In order to get him interested in the serious side of games – pardon the oxymoron – I googled “game theory” and came up with an interesting Wikipedia article, which I read and subsequently printed and gave to my student, Ryan.
I also came to know that Professor Nash, who features in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, won the Nobel Prize for his work on game theory. Another famous professor in the field is Avinash Dixit, of Princeton University, who has co-authored the fascinating book, “The Art of Strategy,” which promises to bring the reader and practitioner success in business and life.
Briefly, game theory deals with the myriad of strategic interactions that we have to deal with every day. It may help you negotiate with your child about when to go to bed, or to decide how your firm should react to a rival’s price-cutting measures, or even with yourself in sticking to a New Year’s Resolution.
As the blurb on the book says, you can either muddle through these interactions and hope for good luck, or you can become better at recognizing, even anticipating, strategic situations and knowing how to respond.
I must hurriedly add that game theory is not by any means competition only. In fact, Dr. Dixit has written another book called “Co-opetition” which addresses the important field of cooperation, mixed with competition. In many simple games, players have perfect knowledge of the other player or players’ objectives, but that is not necessarily the case in games people play in business, politics, and social interactions. Motives in such games are complex combinations of selfishness and altruism, concern for justice and fairness, short run and long run considerations and so on.
I checked out “The Art of Strategy” from the library and also viewed the 42 min video clip on YouTube. Dr. Dixit gives a very entertaining lecture in the latter, using clips from movies to illustrate game-theoretic points. Your strategic thinking depends on how well you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Should cave dwellers Barney and Fred, from The Flintstones, go rabbit hunting on their own, or stag hunting together? Should Clint Eastwood and Lee van Cleef, in the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, draw first…and whom should they aim at in the three-party gun duel? Should the penalty shooter in a game of soccer kick to the left or to the right in order to score a goal? The book answers all these questions and more.
The children’s game, Rock Paper Scissors points out the strategic advantage of being unpredictable. This is technically called a mixed strategy. Other technical terms are minimax strategy, payoffs, Nash equilibrium, and squaring the circle.
The game table or payoff table, invented by Thomas Schelling, portrays possible combinations in a spreadsheet like table with rows and columns. Although Schelling developed many of the most important concepts of game theory—-focal point, credibility, commitment, threats and promises, he himself modestly wrote that he should be best remembered as the inventor of the staggered payoff table.
The payoff table, if properly filled in after some simple calculations, yields a dominant strategy for each player, in which he gets max payoff irrespective of what his opponent does.
But who is your opponent? Humorously enough, it could be you! Your night-self, for example, seeking to have a productive day tomorrow, sets the alarm clock optimistically at 5 am. Your morning-self, on the other hand, drowsily reaches for the snooze button when the alarm rings. Read Dr. Dixit’s intriguing exposition of how the night-self can win—-say by putting the alarm clock out of reach of the morning-self on a bookshelf far away. This is called a commitment.
Game theory has been used in the Cold War in brinkmanship, and at auctions, biddings, and contests. It can be used to study and impact voting, bargaining and the giving of incentives. The case studies range from Ali Baba to America’s Cup, and the lessons learned can help you outmaneuver rivals, find avenues for cooperation, and become more successful in all your pursuits. And if you want to be fair to your adversaries, share your knowledge with them!
The famous Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is a giant in the field of developmental psychology. We owe to him the present field of children’s cognitive development. It was Piaget, along with William James and John Dewey, who envisioned children as active, constructive thinkers.
In my career as a teacher, I have found intense satisfaction in helping children think through things and make sense of the world around them. Piaget observed his own three children – indeed, he was a genius when it came to observing children. He came up with terms like schemas, preoperational stage, formal operational stage, etc, and gave meaning to these terms.
Technically, Piaget is considered to be a cognitive constructivist. From birth to two years of age, infants are considered, in Piaget’s theory, to be in the sensori motor stage. The infant constructs an understanding of the world by coordinating sensory experiences with physical actions. An infant progresses from instinctive, reflexive actions at birth to the beginning of symbolic thought towards the end of the stage.
Similarly, Piaget has divided the rest of childhood, from two years through early adulthood, into three more stages: the preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage. Renowned educationist, Dr. John Santrock, advises teachers to ask children to justify their answers when they draw conclusions, especially when they are preoperational thinkers. Similarly, concrete operational thinkers should be encouraged to discover concepts and principles, by asking them relevant questions about what is being studied to help them focus on some aspect of their learning.
For the adolescents considered to be formal operational thinkers, Dr. Santrock suggests that the teachers encourage students to create hierarchical outlines when asking them to write papers.
Piaget’s theories have been challenged in a number of areas: estimates of children’s competence at different development levels; the training of children to reason at higher levels; and culture and education. Neo-Piagets feel that Piaget was right in most areas but his ideas need to be revised in other areas. In their view more attention needs to be focused on how children process information through attention, memory, and strategies.
To apply Piaget’s theories in the classroom, teachers are asked to take a constructivist approach, facilitate rather then direct learning, consider the child’s knowledge and level of learning, and use ongoing assessments. Teachers should turn the classroom into a setting of exploration and discovery. Rather than the old view of the classroom being a “well-oiled machine”, the modern classroom should be, instead, a beehive of activity.
In the three years that I spent at the Indian Institute of Science, studying engineering during 1972-75, we were required to undergo mandatory summer training at any of the large firms, both public and private sector, that dotted the landscape in Bangalore.
In 1973, in my first summer, I went to REMCO. Apart from other products, they were assembling black and white television receivers for the Bombay market. Bombay was the only city other than Delhi that had TV in those days. I remember the hall in which those receivers were getting tuned under the supervision of a smart young man who, I learned, had recently returned from training abroad.
It’s instructive to reflect on the fact that in a few short years India had leapfrogged into high quality color TVs. When I wrote a letter to the Editor of “The Statesman” that we hadn’t yet explored all the uses of radios and transistor sets, and that going for TV was presumptuous, how wrong I’d been!
In my second year at LRDE (Electronics and Radar Development Establishment), again, I was rather taken aback at what was obviously obsolete material being manufactured there. I’m sure that things have changed by now. My retrospective analysis is that, after the British
left India in 1950 or so, there was a gap during which Indian engineers, managers, and entrepreneurs were busy catching up. In 1998, if you looked at the biweekly magazine DATAQUEST, you’d find literally hundreds of joint ventures documented as happening between local Indian firms, big and small, and Western and Japanese firms.
In my third year I did my training at BEL, or Bharat Electronics Limited. I was assigned to a lab where they designed and produced transistorized radio beacons for navigation and military use. It was quite an advanced setup for those days.
BEL was not new to me. Prof. D. N. Bose had taken our batch to see the crystal growing and chip manufacturing unit the previous year. At that time BEL produced only a single digital integrated circuit, the venerable 7400 NAND gate. And the only linear chip they produced was the LM 741 operational amplifier.
I’m certain that BEL, too, has grown and is now producing sophisticated microprocessors and the like. Indeed, private firms now design such chips using know-how from such places as BITS, Pilani, CEERI, (Central Electronics Research Institute), the IITs and of course, IISc.
Mr. Bly was the technical expert who went to India accompanying the automatic, seam-welded aluminum pipe- making factory that was imported by the Goenkas and installed in Garia, on the outskirts of Calcutta, in the premises of Premier Irrigation Equipment, Pvt. Ltd.
As Chief Engineer of Premier, my dad oversaw all operations. As a courtesy, he invited Mr. Bly to dinner one evening at our house in Dharmadas Row. Mummy cooked chicken curry and fried rice for our guest from Spokane, Washington. Mr. Bly, a soft-spoken person, remarked that the food had similarities to Mexican food insofar as it was spicy.
Later, we showed him photographs of our trip to England in 1961. This was in 1967, and what I remember about Mr. Bly was that he remarked on the compactness of our house, so unusual for a Chief Engineer’s residence. I guess was are similar to the Japanese in that good housing is difficult to get in Calcutta, as it is in Tokyo or in any of the major cities of the world. Incidentally, Mr. Bly left India after installing and commissioning the plant.
Mr. Pook, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was a draftsman in England, and somehow or other the Goenkas got to know him on one of their trips to England. My Dada always said that Marwari businessmen like the Goenkas had a high regard for Caucasians bordering on obsequiousness. Indeed, after Indian independence many British firms in India changed hands from Englishmen to Marwaris.
The Goenkas knew that having an Englishman on the board of directors would carry weight with all the stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies. After all, who would think of checking on Mr. Pook’s qualifications?
And so it was that Mr. Pook was ensconced in a plush corner office of the Goenka building, Niharika, in New Alipur. I gather that Mr. Pook was one of the few Englishmen left in India in the ‘80s. He married an Anglo-Indian girl and settled there…the last of the Mohicans?
From the Great Pyramids of Egypt to the Qutub Minar, and from the Great Wall of China to the Taj Mahal, it is engineers who have built artifacts that have fascinated mankind. Engineers modify the natural world to meet man’s needs and wants. Marvels like the iPod and the Blackberry, which have entered our everyday language, are products of the engineer’s mind and his manual dexterity.
The Spirit of St. Louis flying nonstop across the Atlantic…the Apollo spacecraft flying to the moon…the super tanker carrying oil across the oceans, all are tribute to the skills of engineers and technicians.
The R & D labs use nanotechnology to produce the computers of tomorrow. Production engineers produce quality cars like the Lexus. Maintenance engineers keep our airplanes flying safely and the communication humming through the cables and optical fibers that span the globe.
Of course, engineers have sometimes goofed, like those that built the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and nameless bridges which have collapsed, the Apollo 13 mission which had to be aborted, and many other “lemons.”
But generally speaking, engineers have delighted, nay dazzled customers with products that defy the imagination. Legendary engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed The Great Western and Monsieur Eiffel probably prompted Neville Shute, who wrote novels concerning engineers, to pen the following lines:
It is their care through all the ages,
To take the buffet and cushion the shock,
It is their care that the gear engages,
It is their care that the switches lock.
Consider the adult problem of earning money. Chess grandmasters like Vishwanath Anand and Bobby Fisher have considerable skills. One would perhaps agree that luck has very little to do with winning or losing at chess. Likewise, there is no risk except that of meeting up with a more skillful opponent or one with an unfamiliar bag of tricks.
Next, think of the fact that Americans as a whole spend $100 billion annually on playing the lottery. This method of shooting for monetary gain has abysmal chances of success, depending as it does entirely on luck alone, yet so many people routinely waste money on it.
Finally, there is the risk factor. Soldiers, astronauts and miners, to name a few, put their lives in danger in pursuit of a living. One would expect them all to hedge their bets, so to say, by carrying some shamrock, horseshoe or other lucky charm to ward off the stray danger inherent in their chosen profession.
I find that in America especially these things are clearly delineated. Nothing in life is a given – not education, not good looks, not even inherited wealth. Of course there are aphorisms galore like: If one plays by the rules and works hard one is bound to succeed. But somewhere along the way, the social contract has degenerated into something like:
- Either you score a goal or I score a goal. (I.e. a zero sum game).
- Just another sucker! (From the title of a James Hadley Chase book).
- Play the race card as often as you can.
In ending, I’d like to remind my readers of two other considerations: Truth is beauty, beauty truth, and the importance of that oft-neglected virtue – ethics.
I remember my dad, at the end of his career, running his small business, INTEC, in Kolkata. He had to procure orders, do the paperwork, guide his workers on the job, deliver the finished goods, bill and extract payment, and pay his workers!
I remember him every fortnight coming home in the evening and announcing, “I made payroll today” in a satisfied voice. One of the joys of being a business owner is paying the people who work for you.
I’ve been present at INTEC when dad made his payments. The workers – never more than five actually – took their money in cash, counted and made sure that they’d got the right amount, and signed for their payment. It was all done without fanfare, and nobody even smiled, but I could sense a mood of satisfaction all around.
Because, did you know sometimes workers couldn’t get paid, or were paid only partially? Especially in neighboring factories I knew of cases of delayed payment. Mostly it was for unavoidable reasons, but sometimes the business owner lacked integrity. Sometimes he was just a businessman, in it to make money. He had no love for the machines or the workers.
My dad, being an engineer was not like that at all. He doted on his workers and the tools of his trade. He taught them himself how to sharpen a tool, how to clean a machine, how to handle a lathe or a milling machine in the correct way.
After doing all the paperwork, helped by his part-time accountant, Mr. Guha, my dad managed to pay the rent, the electric bill and the insurance. He paid the durwan and the coolie. He paid his supervisor – when he could afford one – and managed to make a living from his efforts. At the end of the day, he took home a small profit to give to his wife, my mother.
But most of all, my dad loved to meet payroll. He kept the system going, employing skilled people and giving them a just wage, his motto being, “A full day’s pay for a full day’s work.”
The other day there was a program on TV on what is commonly called Elder Fraud. As people age, they can gradually lose the ability to look after themselves. This makes them dependent on other people and also makes them vulnerable to all sorts of financial abuse. This, in a nutshell, is what elder fraud is all about.
As my parents aged, I felt the need to be with them, especially as my mother felt vulnerable in old age. I was able to do my filial duty by her, by the grace of God, and she passed away in Calcutta in 1998. This left me free to return to the US, because my dad felt quite capable of looking after himself. But around 2003 or so he began to show signs of senility, and my sister and brother in law, who were subsidizing him, asked a neighborhood young woman to keep an eye on him, in exchange for an agreed monthly stipend.
Initially things worked out quite well. The woman, whom I shall call Champa, came for a few hours every evening to put up his mosquito net, set the table in preparation for his dinner, and keep him company. He greatly appreciated this, and became rather attached to Champa. But as luck would have it, she started taking extra money from him. Starting with small amounts, the amount she took from him gradually increased till he used to fall short by the month’s end.
Let me add here that there was another person who came in to cook and clean for dad. But she left in the late afternoon, which meant that dad was all alone till Champa arrived. In the classic case of elder fraud, the old person never complains, perhaps because he or she is very grateful for whatever service the caregiver is providing. In dad’s case also, he was giving Champa expensive gifts like cell-phones, and she had no compunctions in accepting them because, as she told us, he had convinced her that the money was all his in the first place, which was simply not true!
Then my cousin, Gautam, stepped into the picture. He offered to take charge of financial matters and come to see dad as often as was possible. Things became much better, and Champa realized that the money actually came from my sister, and was not really dad’s to give away!
In 2008, at the ripe old age of 93, my dad passed away, peacefully, in his sleep. The curtain came down on an important part of our lives, and the grand old man was mourned by one and all.
In 1973, in my first summer, I went to REMCO. Apart from other products, they were assembling black and white television receivers for the Bombay market. Bombay was the only city other than Delhi that had TV in those days. I remember the hall in which those receivers were getting tuned under the supervision of a smart young man who, I learned, had recently returned from training abroad.
It’s instructive to reflect on the fact that in a few short years India had leapfrogged into high quality color TVs. When I wrote a letter to the Editor of The Statesman that we hadn’t yet explored all the uses of radios and transistor sets, and that going for TV was presumptuous, how wrong I’d been!
In my second year at LRDE (Electronics and Radar Development Establishment), again, I was rather taken aback at what was obviously obsolete material being manufactured there. I’m sure that things have changed by now. My retrospective analysis is that, after the British left India, there was a gap during which Indian engineers, managers, technocrats and entrepreneurs were busy catching up.
In 1998, if you looked at the biweekly magazine DATAQUEST, you’d find literally hundreds of joint ventures documented as happening between local Indian firms, big and small, and Western and Japanese firms.
In my third year I did my training at BEL, or Bharat Electronics Limited. I was assigned to a lab where they designed and produced transistorized radio beacons for navigation and military use. It was quite an advanced setup for those days.
BEL was not new to me. Professor D.N. Bose had taken our batch to see the crystal growing and chip manufacturing unit the previous year. At that time BEL produced only a single digital integrated circuit, the venerable 7400 NAND gate. And the only linear chip they produced was the LM 741 operational amplifier.
I’m certain that BEL, too, has grown and is now producing sophisticated microprocessors and the like. Indeed, private firms now design such chips using know-how from such places as BITS, Pilani, CEERI, (Central Electronics Research Institute), the IITs and of course, IISc.
As Chief Engineer of Premier, my Dad oversaw all operations. As a courtesy, he invited Mr. Bly to dinner one evening at our house in Dharmadas Row. Mummy cooked chicken curry and fried rice for our guest from Spokane, Washington. Mr. Bly, a soft-spoken person, remarked that the food had similarities to Mexican food insofar as it was spicy.
Later, we showed him photographs of our trip to England in 1961. This was in 1967, and what I remember about Mr. Bly was that he remarked on the compactness of our house, so unusual for a Chief Engineer’s residence. I guess was are similar to the Japanese in that good housing is difficult to get in Calcutta, as it is in Tokyo or in any of the major cities of the world. Incidentally, Mr. Bly left India after installing and commissioning the plant.
Mr. Pook, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was a draftsman in England, and somehow or other the Goenkas got to know him on one of their trips to England. My Dada always said that Marwari businessmen like the Goenkas had a high regard for Caucasians bordering on obsequiousness. Indeed, after Indian independence many British firms in India changed hands from Englishmen to Marwaris.
The Goenkas knew that having an Englishman on the board of directors would carry weight with all the stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies etc. After all, who would think of checking on Mr. Pook’s professional qualifications?
And so it was that Mr. Pook was ensconced in a plush corner office of the Goenka building, Niharika, in New Alipur. I gather that Mr. Pook was one of the few Englishmen left in India in the ‘80s. He married an Anglo-Indian girl and settled there…the last of the Mohicans?
At the interview, I was asked to talk in English on any technical subject of my choice, so I waxed eloquent on how radio signals were broadcast and received. Soon, I found myself hired to work as a student guide lecturer in the Iron and Steel gallery of the museum.
Thereafter, till the end of my 3-year degree course, I used to spend most of my holidays earning pocket money by taking the museum visitors around the floor housing the Iron and Steel exhibits.
I remember how some of the displays depicted the extraction of iron ore, then the processing, all the way to the Bessemer converters for producing steel.
The museum also had a canteen on the roof of its imposing building on Gurusaday Road, where subsidized snacks were served to employees. I made friends with a number of the regular staff, and also spent my lunch break visiting the other galleries. There was a TV studio, electronics exhibits, and of course the standard fare of optics, hydraulics, mechanics and so forth. The last had such things as the Foucalt pendulum.
Admission to the museum was free in those days, since the authorities wanted to popularize science and technology. The museum even had a mobile unit, in a large van, which toured the outlying districts of the state of West Bengal.
Even when I was in high school, I’d attended technical film shows at BITM. I also remember a workshop for building a 6” parabolic reflecting telescope. Although I didn’t attend the workshop, I was there on the final day when we were allowed to look through some of the telescopes built by amateurs. I clearly remember seeing the rings of Saturn, and how large our own moon looked.
Children frequently went to the museum to play with the exhibits, some of which were powered and others had wheels and levers to activate them.
I don’t know, of course, how many of these kids eventually used science and technology in their later life, consciously that is, but I for one wish to record, through this article, my remembrance of a youth well spent, of parents who were exceptional, and of a milieu of responsible adults who put society before self and country before politics.
When we returned from England in 1962, it was Mr. Vyse who interviewed me and admitted me into the school. Now, many years later, his son and I have kept in touch through the miracle of modern communications, notably email.
John is currently on a business trip to Turkey, Greece and Italy. His company is doing well in a rapidly growing city. Indeed, the residents of Perth are testing the veracity of a full range of living options. Numerous questions face the people of Perth at the intersection of environmental affordance, urban form and public policy. The Western Australian capital is set on a trajectory for mighty growth in the first half of the twenty first century.
John Vyse (Jr.) wrote to me how the erstwhile Bengali teacher of La Martiniere, Mr. Bose, (nicknamed Denzi), affectionately called him Pondit. In return, I penned a limerick for him as follows:
Who gave our frienf Denzi some mirth,
When writing Bengali, he committed no folly,
This wonderful Pondit of Perth.
His rendition is flawless and it is a pleasure for me to listen to his mellifluous voice on my iPod Touch as I commute from work to home by CAT bus #5/11, a one hour journey.
Premendra Mitra’s hero, Shankar, is on a quest to locate a diamond mine in the Kalahari Desert. Since reading Bengali is not my strong point, I enjoyed listening to Shankar’s adventures with his friend Alvarez, but the story brought a number of questions to my mind.
All through my school and college years I had had a steady diet of books in English, with British and American heroes in the tradition of “Biggles Flies East” by Capt. W.E. Johns and “When Eight Bells Toll” by Alistair McLean. I never doubted the authenticity of the gun-wielding, plane flying heroes that these books depicted.
But in Gaurav Das’s case, the question naturally arose in my mind whether a rifle-wielding, Bengali speaking hero, Shankar, could actually have existed?
If fiction is to follow fact and enlarge on it with poetic liberties, Shankar should have his real-life counterpart, or someone close to it, to lend these sorts of adventure stories some degree of authenticity. Premendra Mitra succeeds in showing us his virtuosity with the Bengali language, his gifts of story-telling and vivid descriptive writing, but the work—-to my mind at least—- is a tall tale with no basis for real world comparisons.
How could Shankar get on with men such as Alvarez? It’s only when he’s dreaming of spending some time in his village in gram Bangls that he’s at his best; not when he’s confronted with wolves, vultures and other denizens of the Kalahari.
Eventually Shankar survives a brutal journey and lives, not only to tell the tale, but also to make his fortune selling the few diamonds that he’s managed to salvage from his misadventure. If you, homesick immigrant, wish to wallow in your language of Bengali, come fly with me as Frank Sinatra says, to the land of Chander Pahar, or moonlight drenched mountain, and relive your childhood a la mode Gaurav Das.
Rabindranath Tagore was born in Bengal,
He was the greatest poet of his age,
Second to none.
For his many poems, songs and stories,
He became world-renowned,
Until at last, in 1913,
With the Nobel Prize was crowned.
Much earlier, while in primary school at Auxilium Convent, my sister and I had a singing teacher who came to our house every weekend to teach us songs, mainly Rabindrasangeet, and also to play the harmonium.
We learned children’s favorites like “Alo Amar Alo” and “Purano Sei Diner Kotha”—-which is the equivalent of Auld Lang Syne. Much later, I could play most of these songs on my harmonica, which I learnt briefly under Milon Gupta.
In college in Bangalore there was a huge portrait of Rabindranath in the Indian Institute of Science library foyer. I used to look into the sage’s eyes and detected an inward-looking, mystical quality. It is my belief that Tagore was a genuine mystic, trying endlessly, through his songs and poetry, to convey to us ordinary mortals, his spiritual experiences.
Indeed, a few days ago I’d downloaded one of Tagore’s English works, Sadhana, and was delighted to find the following lines:-
We grew up with daily recitations from the Upanishads.
This bears out my theory that the poet’s childhood passed under very spiritual circumstances. Also, while reading Gitanjali, one often feels that Tagore has an intimate relationship with God. So many of his verses seem addressed to the Divine, and so much of his yearning is for union with the Almighty.
It’s impossible to cover all facets of Tagore’s life and works, but I’d like to mention his salutation to that other great sage, Sri Aurobindo, in Tagore’s poem, Namaskar, which is a heartfelt salutation to the revolutionary Aurobindo.
But to me Tagore will always be that noble-hearted serenader, always selflessly extolling the virtues of the other person. Just look at how many of his songs eulogize this “tumi” or you:-
You are my sudden, wind-blown treasure.
Oh, how you sing, O talented one.
Oh, my guest for a few moments.
The passage from “ami” or self, to “tumi” or you, is a difficult one to make, yet the universality of Tagore’s appeal lies in this gift. The English song, “I have a band of men, and they will sing a song for you” is almost an exact parallel of the feeling of being serenaded by the poet, the writer and the lyricist. Yes, a little serenade goes a long way.
Likewise, the saying: Between thieves there’s a blood relation, like first cousins. There’s no counterpart in English to this saying but the corresponding sayings about thieves are more pejorative: There’s no honor among thieves and: Set a thief to catch a thief.
Even relatives got the sharp tongue treatment. One favorite butt for jokes and sayings was the hapless, newly married groom. The saying goes that: When you ply the groom with jackfruit, he refuses, but at dead of night he can be found surreptitiously struggling with the jackfruit stalk.
Finally, here’s an eerie saying regarding the expert’s, well, expertise. The English saying is: He laughs best who laughs last. This eleventh hour saying in Bengali is: The expert plays his trump card in the early hours of the morning, when the rest of the world is asleep.
I marvel at my forbears who had but brains to match the enemies’ brawn. As the Sanskrit saying goes: Buddhing joshyo bolong thoshyo, nirbodhoshyo kuthho bolong, which means: He who has know-how has power. Sans know-how; sans power.
Paradoxically, poor people don’t pollute – or at least, pollute much less than their more well-heeled counterparts. This is because poor people don’t use that much technology, and it is technology that pollutes.
Each TV set, cell phone and refrigerator that you use was created through unsustainable technology like mining, smelting, machine forming and chemical processes. Each battery that you use and discard effectively trashes the wealth of the planet.
We have to turn our technologies on their heads, so to say, and adopt practices that mimic nature, called bio-mimicry and/or use alternative technologies and alternative energy sources. Of course, the debate has been going on for quite some time on the need for sustainable development.
I merely wish to point out that willy-nilly, the have-nots of this planet are actually much less to blame for the sorry ecological plight that we find ourselves in, than the haves. “They” use bicycles while “we” use automobiles and airplanes. They conserve and we lay waste. We, the haves, are the actual barbarians of this day and age, given the definition: A barbarian is one who destroys what he doesn’t understand.
The essence of yoga is to try difficult things, and one of the opportunities facing our generation is the challenge of transportation in India, specifically Kolkata and its surroundings.
If a city and its hinterland is built from scratch, the problem is not too difficult because we have a clean slate to start with and because we’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience in city design. The challenge is to improve the infrastructure of an existing city in such a way as to preserve the built-up wealth, respect the historical monuments and yet take into account the sanitation, sewage, and water supply requirements.
I bring attention to how the communication problem all over India was solved, firstly by robust electronic exchanges and secondly through the magic of mobile telephones. If you doubt how bad the situation was, just download comedian Bhanu Banerjee’s “Telephone Bibhrat” from iTunes and laugh till you get a stitch in your sides.
But seriously, how long can one put up with the colossal traffic jams of Kolkata? The commuter trains that bulge and overflow and reek with passengers? My own humble opinion is that the Metro system has to be radically expanded, augmented with bypasses and flyovers.
I know that I’m not being very original here but systematic investment of any sort can provide large dividends. Let us not forget what was achieved with the Berlin Airlift, the Marshall Plan and the like. Let us remember how Japan was transformed through systematic investment after the Second World War.
Where there is a will there is a way. Maybe my only role is to keep pointing towards all that is good and great in humanity. Let us be cognizant of the fact that the year 2015 is almost upon us, and we’ve made significant progress, to a greater or lesser extent, in our Millennium Development Goals.
Yes, we have to build a city, or cities, and reach for the stars. For the stars beckon us as they have always done. The challenge is to be able to integrate our activities in a delightful, yet daring way that meets the needs of humanity and obviates the need for drastic, draconian remedies.
Surely we can control pollution and population growth at the same time? Surely we can feed all and sundry and yet not devastate planet earth? Our needs, trite though it seems, is to think of every aspect of our existence and satisfy multiple objectives simultaneously.
Here’s the need of the hour: A space parasol to provide shade. A concentrated solar power unit to produce electricity from the sun’s rays. A recycling program to provide “cradle to cradle” utilization of earth’s resources. A forestation program to plant a billion trees. A law of the sea conference to share the waters equitably. A revitalized UN that calls for the exchange of words and not bullets. A move to make more butter and fewer guns. A spiritual overarching consciousness, involving the important principle of sacrifice, to give substance to our material and mental world.
I just checked out a book, “The Greening of IT,” from the NCSU library. The student manning the checkout counter told me, “This green is a buzzword put on the book cover to increase sales.” I said something non-committal in return – something about IBM spending one billion dollars on their green initiative. He replied, somewhat skeptically I thought, that IBM would probably make two billion dollars over it.
A few hours later I happened to show the same book to my friend, Abraham, at his shop, Computer Space and Games, at Avent Ferry Shopping Center. His immediate reaction was almost the same as the guy at the library. He said, “I hate it when people use that word simply to garner more market share.”
I replied that it’s not wise to throw out the baby with the bathwater. For example, just because some doctors are quacks it doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire medical community should be vilified. We have some good energy saving regulations and standards – like Energy Star – which are important first steps in the ecological imperative to go “green.”
I told Abraham that we have two illusions. One is that everything must happen within our own lifetimes, the Biblical three score years and ten. And secondly, that we are all powerful and can make things happen magically. But the Universe has been here for fourteen billion years or so, and the green initiative is merely in its infancy. Let it grow, friends, let it grow, till it becomes ubiquitous and universal.
My mother, when she had the time, did embroidery as a hobby. I remember one of her exquisitely crafted table cloths which had the words which form the title of this essay—-Work is Life; Time is Money—- in ornate lettering.
In this fast-paced existence of ours, time can be parlayed for money, and vice versa. To illustrate, my life generally alternates between two phases. In the first phase I have a lot of time but rather less money. This is the time when I cook my own food, or at least eat home cooked food, which is not the same thing.
In the second phase I have little time but rather more money. This is the phase in which I buy more expensive food, be it home-delivered pizza or take out dinners. I parlay money for time so to say.
Generally, work can be divided into economic and non-economic activities. Earning your money is economic activity. Indeed, work is that, which when you’re doing it, feels like you’d rather be doing something else. Our society, based as it is on the concept of division of labor, forces us all to sell our products, services or ideas on the market, and reap the benefits of surplus.
Just the other day, while I was doing a half day’s work substituting for a Japanese language teacher at South East Raleigh High School, I found myself in a room with about a dozen students all taking Japanese I. The students were engrossed in doing their class work, which consisted of answering questions on a worksheet. As the teacher present, I really had nothing to do except to “be present” and be cognizant of my responsibilities.
I dislike the idea of reading books or doing my personal work during an active class. Firstly, I would not be completely present if I do these. Secondly, I would be mixing work with leisure, which goes against the American work ethos.
Non economic activities are all the myriad things that we do to keep ourselves healthy, sane and fully functional. They go all the way from doing our laundry to listening to music. Leisure is indeed a luxury in our fast paced world. A sage once said that “I work half the day; I don’t care which half.”
Self-improvement experts urge us to subdelegate, or outsource, all low-paid work. Thus, if I’m a $25/hour person, it makes more sense to get somebody else to mow the lawn and pay him or her $10/hour or whatever than to do it myself.
Being effective and being efficient is not the same thing. One is doing the right thing; the other is doing things right. Wisdom comes from mulling things over—-or thinking, in plain language. Is thinking an economic or non economic activity? I leave it to my readers to unravel the mystery of this grey area.
When my dad was a foreman at the AEI, or Associated Electrical Industries, at Taratola, on the outskirts of Kolkata, one of his duties was to train the fresh engineering graduates who came to AEI to spend a few months as apprentices, before moving on to the lucrative jobs that were offered to engineers at the time.
My dad recalled that he often had to start his training from the ground up, teaching the rudiments of workshop practice like filing, grinding, drilling and so on, and then moving on to more sophisticated operations on machines like lathes and milling machines.
Many years later, when my dad, now in middle age, became Chief Engineer with the Goenkas, one of his former apprentices happened to be in top management with the WBSEB, or West Bengal State Electricity Board.
The Goenkas had a massive new project of setting up a seam-welded, automatic aluminum pipe making factory, imported from Spokane, Washington, and to be installed in Boral, Garia, on the southern edge of Kolkata. This plant, like most machinery, required large amounts of electricity, but getting the new high voltage connection to the factory was frustrating the Goenkas, involving as it did large amounts of red tape, including a long waiting line.
In desperation, the Goenkas asked Dad if he could help. This was actually not a part of dad’s job, but anyway he went to the WBSEB headquarters and found that his erstwhile apprentice was now a powerful, top management executive with WBSEB.
Without any ado, dad’s former protégé did the paperwork, signed the authorization, and within a month or so the electricity connection was established, which involved transmission towers, transformers, switchboards, etc.
Dad was fond of telling and retelling this story, involving as it did the pigeon that came home to roost.
I started reading a book by Timothy Ferriss entitled “The 4-Hour Work Week”, but then I put it down, bemused. I asked myself how one could pay one’s bills working only four hours per week. Obviously, one would have to charge one’s customers a very high hourly rate.
I also thought of poor people who donate their kidneys to ailing recipients who happen to be rich, for sums of money that are large by any standards. In the movie “Lord of War” Nicholas Cage bemoans the fact that any legitimate activity has “margins that are too low.” Hence, he turned to arms dealing.
Other priceless items that come to mind are drugs and diamonds. The latter involve sparklers that encapsulate a high dollar value in a very small space and weight. Indeed, wars have been fought—-and still are, to my knowledge—- over these “conflict diamonds.”
But I’m guessing that Timothy Ferriss did not have body parts, guns, drugs or diamonds in mind when he wrote his book. The trick is to find a rich buyer and sell him a valuable thing. In the book “Biggles Delivers the Goods”, he does just that. Yet a person rich enough to have the “goods,” is presumably also rich enough to afford an armored car with guards! Where does that leave the average Joe like me?
No, my situation—-the latitude and longitude of Raleigh—-should have, (must have), some intrinsic value to someone halfway across the world. If I can use my geographical leverage to supply a client with bits or bricks—-real or virtual goods—- then that’s all I need to make a tidy buck.
Soldiers are the classic example of poorly paid people who put their lives on the line—-almost like an infinite value going for nothing! Unless the cause is a worthy one—-fighting sucks! It seems that all the avenues for making a fast buck have already been tried, and all the loopholes plugged. Timothy, in winning the Chinese kick-boxing championship, used lateral thinking to stay within the law, yet win.
To tell how he did it would be to spoil the fun; I recommend this book to all and sundry.
To think only of profit is so very twentieth century! We’re used to the saying, “The bottom line is…” but in the last two decades a new concept, called TBL, has emerged as the criteria for measuring organizational success. Briefly, all three important aspects, people, planet and profit, have to be kept in mind: these are the three entities of importance, otherwise known as the social, ecological and economic imperatives. What a delightful idea!
The United Nations and ICLEI, ratified the TBL standard for urban and community accounting in 2007. Similar UN standards apply to natural capital and human capital measurement to assist in measurements required by TBL, eg the ecoBudget standard for reporting ecological footprint.
Early pioneers in work leading to the TBL concept are: Freer Spreckley who in 1981 first articulated the triple bottom line in a publication called “Social Audit—-A Management Tool for Co-operative Working,” and John Elkington, who coined the phrase Triple Bottom Line in 1994. In 1998 he wrote a book, “Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business,” in which he expanded and articulated the concept.
The TBL concept demands that a company’s responsibility lies with stakeholders rather than shareholders. Corporate social responsibility requires that the business entity should be used as a vehicle for coordinating stakeholder interests, instead of maximizing shareholder, or owner, profit.
TBL has its fair share of detractors. It is thought to be harmful by diverting business attention away from its core competency. Just as a charitable organization like the Salvation Army would not be expected to attend to environmental issues or pay a cash dividend, and Greenpeace would not be expected to make a profit or provide shelter for the homeless, so also businesses should not be expected to take on concerns outside its core expertise.
So should it be “business as usual”? My own take on this is a resounding No! For too long, business has been considered as a sort of war, but with the “shrinking planet,” we should move quickly from competition to coopetition to cooperation. I know it’s difficult for a diehard businessman to think “win-win” when it’s been ingrained in him to think “I win; you lose” or a zero sum game.
The planet is not up for grabs. This is a question of survival, not of the fittest but of all mankind. We sink or swim together. That’s the ultimate bottom line.
A sage once wrote a verse:
The river Rhine, it is well known,
Doth wash your city of Cologne,
But tell me nymphs, what power Divine,
Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?
A city faces, among other problems, the issues of sanitation and water supply. Planned cities in particular, are those in which various stakeholders’ needs are satisfied, be they esthetics or functionality or both.
Indians have a head start because the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were planned cities. In more recent times we take pride in three cities in particular—-Auroville, Bhubaneshwar and Chandigarh.
Auroville has a unique, central Matri Mandir which is a delightful structure in which sunlight streams in from the top and sides to create a pleasing ambience to meditate and mull things over. Besides this, structured roads and sectors are designed to facilitate living both at present and in the future. Auroville was designed by the ashramites of Aurobindo ashram and especially by the Mother.
Bhubaneshwar is called the City of Temples. About 600 ancient and modern temples dot the landscape, while wide roads and many well-designed institutions make life worth living. There are major Indian and foreign companies like Satyam, Infosys and Nethawk (Finnish). Contemporary Bhubaneshwar was designed in 1946 by the German architect Otto Konigsberger.
Chandigarh is the capital of two Indian States, Haryana and Punjab, and boasts a University, Punjab University, which I had the honor of visiting in 1972 when I attended a one-month summer school in Physics during my BSc, having won the NSTS or National Science Talent Search Scholarship of the NCERT, or National Council of Educational Research and Training, under UGC, or University Grants Commission. Chandigarh was designed by three architects: The French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the American architect-planner Albert Mayer and the Polish architect Matthew Nowicki.
As people migrate from villages to cities, the need for planned cities increases. But we must also improve our rural infrastructure and living conditions because obviously everyone cannot live in cities.
Zoning of cities, which I had first-hand experience of as a Century 21 real estate agent, does help to reduce unwanted effects such as bad residential conditions, while pedestrian-only city centers can reduce clutter and help to bring down noise and other pollution.
Ultimately, planned cities must grow to optimize a number of different factors, including the modern concept of sustainability. They must draw on the surrounding countryside without encroaching on it in an undesirable fashion. We owe it to future generations to plan all our cities and modernize them along state-of-the-art lines.
I recently watched the fascinating movie, “Lord of War,” on Hulu, starring Nicholas Cage as the Ukrainian-American gun runner Olarov. Private gun dealers to this day ply a lucrative “trade” second only to national arms suppliers which, in decreasing order of magnitude, are : US, UK, Russia, France and China.
In the movie, Olarov repeatedly justifies his “profession” by saying, successively, that his arms were used by people for self-defense, that if he stopped supplying arms, someone else would quickly take his place, that governments sometimes turned a blind-eye to his operations and indeed, encouraged him, covertly or overtly, to step in when their hands were tied.
Payment for the arms was made in various ways. Cash was preferred by the arms dealer but was not always preferred. Diamonds, drugs and even timber were sometimes used to pay for the arms. The cold war of the sixties through eighties saw the largest arms build-up in history, and when the cold war ended a huge stockpile of Soviet arms appeared on the market.
People like Olarov profited by becoming middle-men to supply arms to conflict-ridden regions like Liberia, Monrovia and Sierra Leone. It was further shown how American soldiers often left behind their arms after fighting a war, since it was cheaper to buy new arms than to transport the old ones back to America. These abandoned munitions were also a great source of wealth for people like Olarov.
The question arises as to the moral propriety of gun-running. Many governments in the world at present are not democracies. Of those that are, very few have free and fair elections. Thus the strong arm of governments, be they so-called democracies or one-man dictatorships or military juntas, is used to keep people terrorized and in-check.
It’s a moot point whether arms given to freedom-fighters solve any problem or not. In the movie, Olarov’s rival, a seasoned gun-runner, admits to supplying both Iraq and Iran with arms during their brutal war in the mid-eighties. He says he normally “takes sides” but in this particular conflict, hoped that neither side won.
Indeed, the longer that a war rages, the more money these gun-runners stand to make and, in the same vein, peace is anathema to them.
When Olarov’s brother is killed and his wife deserts him, he finds himself in custody with a variety of charges against him. But he confidently asserts to his captor, the law-enforcer Valentine, that he would soon be released—-and indeed, this does happen.
Apparently, he had friends in high places. As the saying goes, killing one person is murder but aiding in the massacre of thousands of innocent people is war, or patriotism, or any one of the many euphemisms that are applied to present-day barbarism.
Most people have heard of the famous, Nobel Prize winning Indian scientist, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri. Recently I had occasion to exchange some emails with him. Dr. Pachauri is 74, and from the same school as myself—-La Martiniere. Only, he’s from the Lucknow branch while I’m from the Calcutta branch. Also, coincidentally, he’s a Ph.D. from NCSU.
Dr. Pachauri is founder and president of T.E.R.I., The Energy and Resources Institute. If you visit their website you’ll see the large number of projects, and diverse activities that they’re involved in. I had occasion to deal with Dr. Banwari Lal, of TERI, in connection with a suggestion that I made regarding using a TERI product, OilZapper, in the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
At my behest, Dr. Banwari had submitted his proposal to the EPA/BP website and we are now awaiting results. Meanwhile, the 700 people that TERI employs are busy with solar power, improved seeds and the like. There are about 20 or so divisions within TERI, as the website will show.
Another project that I recently initiated involves placing a Siemens CSP solar power unit in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. I wanted to involve the firm, IDEO, in the project because of their innovative methodology, and lack of a hidebound process.
Let’s see what the two projects materialize into. In the meantime, heartiest congratulations to Dr. Pachauri and TERI for
winning the Nobel Peace Prize!
The heroes of one’s youth have long since passed away, but as long as I’m alive they will remain in my memory. Stalwarts like Uttam Kumar, Hemanta Mukherjee and, yes, Bhanu Banerjee provided the relief that was so needed in a youth filled with long hours of studying.
One day when I was in high school my dad suddenly said, “Come, I’ll take you to Bhanu’s house.” I asked, “Which Bhanu?” And he replied, “The Bhanu. Bhanu Banerjee. The comic actor you love so much.”
I was astounded. Never could I have imagined that my dad knew the famous Bhanu. As we drove toward’s Bhanu’s house in Tollygunge, dad told me how he, his sister, brother, and some friends had founded a successful entertainment troupe called “Shur O Jhankar”, meaning “The Melody and The Chorus.”
Pisima, my Dad’s sister, was the singer of the group while Chhotokaku, Dad’s younger brother, played the tabla. Dad himself played the esraj and Bordi, my cousin, who was much older than me, also sang and played the sitar.
Apparently, one day in Calcutta, an acquaintance told dad about a young man from Dacca, now in Bangladesh, who could do “caricature.” Since the troupe did not have a resident caricature artist, dad and the other members of the troupe decided to give Bhanu a try. And he was a success.
Soon after that, dad married and became too busy with his engineering day job with the British firm AEI (Associated Electrical Industries) to have time to devote to music. The troupe disbanded, and Bhanu found a new career in films.
We reached Bhanu’s house just as dad finished speaking. It was a modest home considering how famous he was. Dad knocked on the door and Bhanu appeared. His first words and gestures made me laugh.
Touching dad’s balding head with his hand he asked (and these were his first words), “Oh my God, Niranjan, what’s happened to you?” The same lopsided facial expression, like the Bengali numeral “five”… the same deadpan humor…the same dhoti Punjabi.
After some reminiscences it was decided that we’d return for Saraswati Puja some weeks later and indeed we did, this time accompanied with my mother and sister.
As for Bhanu’s screen career, he had a string of successes, the names of some of which I remember—-Bhranthi Bilas, Bhanu Pelo Lottery, Bhanu Goenda Jahar Assistant etc. Jahar Roy was an able second to Bhanu, as was Robi Ghosh, who came much later, but Bhanu stands head and shoulders above any other Bengali comedian.
Satyajit Ray, the legendary film director, came later in the day but could not use Bhanu. It’s interesting to speculate what Bhanu would have done in Ray’s able hands as a director. Ray’s best find was Soumitra chatterjee—-but that’s a different story.
My dad, serving an apprenticeship at British Northrop in Blackburn, England, made many friends, both inside and outside the factory. The most senior person was the General Manager, Mr. Sommerville, who invited us to his house, as did Bill Wood, my dad’s closest friend.
Childhood memories can be fickle and fragmented, but I remember that we went to Mr. Wood’s house to meet his family, and that they came to our house to reciprocate. I perhaps would not have occasion to remember them had it not been for one fact. Bill Wood’s son, just entering college in 1961, gave us four children’s annuals called Eagle Annuals.
From 1961 to 1971, or well into my college years, those four volumes served to refresh and entertain me. They made my imagination soar. I got to know all the comic strips by heart, from Dan Dare, pilot of the future, to Waldorf and Cecil. There were construction projects like space scooters and garden ponds—-all age appropriate—-and there were articles on the Greek Parthenon and rousing tales of adventure.
Indeed, if British culture could be ensconced into fish and chip packages, the Eagle Annual did it, figuratively—-so much so that when I visited England again in 1998, looking for a present for my 13 year old son, I first asked to see Eagle Annuals.
But alas, the shopkeeper told me that Eagle had stopped publication in 1985, (I think), and then smiled, a trifled apologetically when I finally settled on a Tintin.
When I came to the US a second time was to go online to Amazon and buy a vintage Eagle Annual, shipped all the way from England, to feed my nostalgia and take me back to my childhood fantasy land.
Yes, Bill Wood, Sr. and Jr., you did something exceptional when you parted with your valuable Eagle Annuals, for today when I put pen to paper I can still see myself in the wonder that was Greece and the legend that was Rome, not to talk of gambolling tricerotops in runaway spaceships!
If poor people in Mexico are so impoverished that they risk illegal border crossings, then they should be helped by the Mexican government and, at the same time, encouraged to stay in Mexico.
If necessary, the UN can help Mexico with funds and other resources to look after their poor. If necessary, the rich nations of the world can increase their financial contributions to the UN.
If businesses and farms in the US are short of workers, the guest worker program can be rigorously applied. If the demographic profile of the US were to change drastically, we might have untold indiscipline and havoc.
We cannot improve the lot of the poor by impoverishing or greatly inconveniencing the rich. We cannot buy the argument that we need illegal workers, working at or below the minimum wage, when these same workers cost the US government a huge amount in health care and education.
Undocumented border crossings are, above all, a security risk. It is sane to put up a border fence and increase border patrols. At the same time, allow legal workers to come in.
Finally, problems can be solved in the right way, not the wrong way. Shortsighted temporary “solutions” are actually larger problems in disguise. I hope all concerned see a problem and its thoughtful solution, not an ad hoc patching up that will do more harm than good.
Lessons from Mass Migrations
Okay, so we humans all originated from a common root, somewhere in East Africa more than two million years ago. Then, because of climate changes and the shifting patterns of animal migration, ancient humans moved northwards into what is now the Middle East, and finally some of our ancestors went East, and some went West.
Fast-forward a few hundred thousand years. India now has the Aryan Indus Valley civilizations and the older Dasyus of South India. Europe has been the home of Caucasians and other fair-skinned people—-fair because of the cold weather presumably, and with more or less aquiline noses.
Advancing a few more hundred years, the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro have been abandoned because they have become deserts, and the Aryans have intermingled with the Dasyus, barring sporadic skirmishes.
Now dawns the modern age, the age of European colonization beginning in the 16th century. My point is that early European explorers like Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus traveling to India and the New World, respectively, met with people who had simply migrated to these lands millennia before them. It could arguably be seen as the meeting of long lost relatives and indeed, as far as Indian history is concerned, there was trade, mingling and inter-marriages. But alas, there was also war and struggles for dominance.
As I understand from BBC audio podcasts, combined with my own reading of history, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, which Indian historians call the first war of Indian Independence, brought to an end the era of Indo-British cooperation. The next 100 years of British rule were embittered by memories of atrocities committed by both sides in the immediate aftermath of the Sepoy uprising.
Yet, to my mind, all these wars that we see, even to the present day, are fratricidal blood-lettings which miss the point that we humans all originate from a common ancestor or ancestors in the Eastern part of that continent which for many decades, if not centuries, bore the rubric Darkest Africa.
The Designer’s Dilemma
Most people have been brought up on the idea of competition, that the world is a competitive place and one needs to get on and prosper in life by hard work. Businesses thrive by becoming more efficient and effective, by doing the right things, and then doing them right. Shaving research and development costs and reducing manufacturing, marketing and other expenses is the watchword.
But now the time has come to factor in the ecological imperative…do what’s best for the environment. This green phenomenon is not new, but has gathered momentum in recent years. People’s consciousness has risen about the global emergency we face.
Witness the fact that China has plans for producing 550 more coal-fired super-thermal power stations, at the rate of two per week. These stations emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. A recent BBC report said that the West has shifted its manufacturing base to China, because of lower labor costs there, and now we are all paying the price.
Granted, the per capita emission in China is still lower than that in the US, but as a nation, China is fast becoming the number one polluter. The Chinese authorities say that, when faced with the task of reducing poverty, the priority is to raise living standards, and this requires large amounts of cheap electricity. Indeed, 80 percent of China’s electricity comes from coal-fired plants, compared to an average of 40 percent in the rest of the world.
Perhaps the solution lies in retrofitting these power stations with equipment that take out and trap the carbon dioxide. I don’t know. The best scientific and engineering brains need to put their heads together and come up with a solution. Else we’ll soon see the co-2 level rise to 400 ppm, and the emergency will become a calamity.
Power Shortage and Surplus
Many of India’s and the world’s most pressing needs can be met from the source—-and that source is power, energy, or any other name that you might care to give it. Yet fossil fuels—-or fuels from hell—-are getting outdated in this age of environmental consciousness and sustainability.
There is no cause for despair; Mother Nature simply has to be tweaked a bit. Abundant sunshine falls on the deserts on a cloudless day—-which is most days of the year. I can envision a solar-powered unit—-or a hundred such units—-sitting on or near the deserts’ edges, producing electricity that can be fed into the local, national, or international grid.
My mission is to make this happen. No ifs, no buts. This power can be used:
1) In desalinization plants to produce drinking water, the most important ingredient of life, after air.
2) For transportation, (read electric trains, trolleys and buses), lighting, heating and air-conditioning.
3) To power tools to produce the artifacts of civilization.
4) To produce hydrogen to be used in fuel cells for cars, buses and trucks.
5) To power water-pumps and other agricultural contrivances and instruments as required.
The possibilities are endless and the beauty is that the carbon footprint is zero. What we get from Mother Nature, we give back to her. We imitate, in a form of bio-mimicry, the way all life lives, drawing our sustenance from the air, the sun and the abundance of Planet Earth.
Distance lends enchantment to the view. How tranquil those halcyon days of our youth appear now! It was during our BSc at St. Xavier’s College in Calcutta that a classmate suggested that we play cricket during the weekend.
This class friend, whose name I forget now - an unforgiveable sin - lived very close to that beautiful park next to the Lakes in South Calcutta. I remember the names of some of the other enthusiasts who gathered at Vivekananda Park that Saturday. There was Archan De, who’s now a Professor in Scottish Church College in Calcutta. Debabrata Saha, who went on to score in the top 10 in the IAS exam, was therefore inducted into the IFS, and is now Indian Ambassador in the Ukraine, and Dipankar Pramanick, who again is a Professor in an American University.
Our game was played with real cricket gear—-pads, gloves, duce ball—the works. We played almost all day every weekend during winter, with only a mid-morning break for “drinks.” To add a personal touch to the proceedings, one day my dad turned up in our black Ambassador car to watch me play from the sidelines. Now, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I realize that it warmed his heart to see me healthy again and enjoying the fresh air of Vivekananda Park. My illness in middle-school had greatly distressed him, but had had the salutary effect of bringing him closer to God.
I’m not claiming that our game was net practice for First Class cricket played on the Eden Gardens. We were, after all, Physics major students much more familiar with books and lab work than the subtleties of bat and ball. Yet to our undiscerning minds we played a good game. Yes, there was the occasional flighted ball and the bumper, the hooked shot to the fence, the diving catch and the accurate throw in.
Many years later my cousin Kunal held his marriage reception at the hall adjoining the park. I took the opportunity, in a lull in the proceedings, of wandering over to the spot where we had had our “pitch” that winter of 1970. Memories flooded back, and I remembered Swami Vivekananda’s quizzical remark in Bengali, “If the stomach is full, even the idea of a football game appears attractive.”
When we were in Hukumchand Jute Mills between 1950 and 1960, my childhood memories consist, among other things, of relatives who visited us from time to time. Among those who made the 30 miles journey was Bachchu Dada, a young man of about 24, son of a cousin of my Dad’s.
This uncle of ours, Prodyut Sen, was a senior detective in Calcutta Police. The story goes that Bachchu Dada, always scared of becoming a victim of some criminal vengeance against his dad, was always ready to run, and run fast!
But jokes apart, Bachchu Dada applied for an apprenticeship in (West) Germany and went abroad in 1960. The family lived in Calcutta, and Dover Lane, the quiet cul-de-sac in South Calcutta, saw a number of young men and women leaving to study in Germany.
Children have fragmented memories, and when in the course of things, I found that our grown-ups—-meaning Mom and Dad—-had decided to take us to England with them for one year, imagine my surprise when, halfway through our stay in England, Bachchu Dada suddenly turned up at our house in Baxenden, Lancashire.
Dad had got him a job at his factory, British Northrop, in Blackburn. Dad and Bachchu Dada would go to work, and come back, together. One fine day Bachchu Dada presented me and my sister with two books—-my first Biggles books. These books, featuring the fictional hero Biggles, and his friends Algy, Bertie and Ginger, were written by a skilled writer, Captain W.E. Johns, and were hot favorites in those days.
Even today, critics acknowledge that Johns was a fine writer, though he had his faults, notably self-plagiarism. To me at least, the books opened up a fascinating world of planes, guns, and innocent childish notions of how the adult world worked.
The two books that Bachchu Dada gave us had lurid pictures on their covers, and alluring titles:- Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor and Biggles and the Black Peril.
Looking back, those two books were among the very best that I’ve ever read. No wonder that the shopkeeper recommended them to Bachchu Dada when he’d gone to the bookshop looking for books to buy my sister and me.
Bachchu Dada eventually returned to Germany to complete his study of German foundry practice, and then went back to India to settle into a job in Madras, about 1000 miles from Calcutta. His company produced steel castings for scooter engines, and supplied a local vehicle manufacturing unit. Bachchu Dada had finally arrived.
Much later, I had occasion to present Bachchu Dada’s son with a book on the DOS operating system. It was a small token of gratitude for a favorite cousin.
I first met Professor D. N. Bose at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in 1972. He taught us esoteric subjects like Materials Science and Solid State Devices, and by his skill and passion for the subject, imbued in us an interest that remains to this day, at least in me. He had done his PhD from a British University and, after post-doctoral work in America, joined IISc a few years before my batch started our BE studies.
In an environment where almost all the professors were talented teachers, Professor Bose stood out in my mind because of the exceptional clarity with which he intertwined mathematics and engineering. Let me explain.
I’ve always felt that our engineering teachers gave the impression of using Math merely as a shorthand notation, when a verbal description would have done just as well. As an undergraduate student, I felt that our Math teachers taught complex analysis and other Math subjects in a very isolated fashion. In fact, while doing my MS at NCSU I wrote a letter to the editor of IEEE Computer magazine to this effect.
Professor Bose left IISc at about the same time that I did. He had wanted for me to do my BE project under him, and, looking back, I feel that this would have been a wise move on my part. But, as they say, life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. My interest, at that time, was in circuits, rather than in materials, and so I did my BE project under a different teacher. Who would have thought that, over time, these two different fields would almost coalesce, and certainly become practically indistinguishable from each other?
Professor Bose joined IIT (Kharagpur) as a full Professor, and retired many years later after serving and leading as Dean. I kept in touch and had occasion to meet him both at his home in Short Street and at IIT (KGP). He always obliged me by writing glowing recommendations whenever I required them.
When I came to the USA, once in 1984 and again in 2001, Professor Bose and I exchanged email messages and phone calls. He traveled widely both nationally and internationally, to participate in seminars, attend meetings, and grill students in their PhD defense.
Last time I was in Kolkata, in 2005, Professor Bose and I had a pleasant dinner at Marco Polo restaurant in South Kolkata. He reminisced over so many things. He had kept in touch with so many people. He was busy writing a book and still drove a car, although he had grayed and could well afford a driver. The old house in Short Street had been pulled down and rebuilt along modern lines. There is now even an elevator to go up to the second floor, an unusual facility in a two-storied building in Kolkata.
Professor Bose was, and still is, a role model for us. Along with his students, he had discovered a way to produce pure Silicon from rice husk. Recently, I sent him a directory of companies in the Research Triangle Park, companies who might be interested in this new technology.
Who knows, INTEL may be interested in building a chip factory in the venerable district of West Bengal called Medinipur. It would only cost a few billion dollars.
Sacrifice Versus Pragmatism
When I was studying Physics at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, we had an optional course called “Moral Science” taught by a smiling but passionate teacher called Father Antoine. Among other things, he told us stories from mythology, both eastern and western, to illustrate moral dilemmas, such as when kings had to choose between their kingdoms and their wives.
It was from Father Antoine that I first heard of the word “pragmatism.” According to the good Father, human beings normally, and perhaps very sanely, do “cost-benefit analyses” before doing anything, saying to themselves, in effect, “if I do this, will I get that?”
But the concept of “sacrifice,” being a higher, spiritual value, transcends pragmatism. There is no immediate benefit in a sacrifice—-in fact, none may result at all. Yet idealistic people routinely do it. Soldiers put their lives on the line, fighting formidable foes in far off lands; teachers stay on after school hours to tutor their students; Parents forego luxuries so that their children can go to better schools, and so on. Yet people often make sacrifices reluctantly, or not at all.
I had a friend, Subrata, in Calcutta, who lived in Ballygunge, which is a relatively centralized location. We went to college together and socialized often when I visited him. But he never once visited my house, which was a bit on the outskirts of Calcutta. It was too much of an ordeal for him, I guess, and he never thought of it as a sacrifice necessary for friendship. Yet he had a brother, Debabrata, who did make the trip. It’s something I remember with gratitude, because it stamped him out as a true friend, to me at least, unlike Subrata.
As the year passed, students started dropping out of Father Antoine’s moral science class. Since there was no year- round exam in that subject, and attendance was voluntary, we shrank to a small group to listen spellbound to Father Antoine talk about Ram and Sita, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Ulysses and Achilles.
Father Antoine used to say, regarding our small and die-hard class, “Good, the wheat has been separated from the chaff,” a remark that tickled us no end. It made us feel very special indeed.
It takes skill to plough the land,
Skill to plant and hoe,
Skill to coax the land to give,
Us fruit and grain and more.
The difference between individuals and, indeed, nations, is often one of skill level. Of course, there are other differences, but skills which are complex and take years to learn can lift the entity having these skills from poverty to wealth, to comfort and preeminence. Besides, there is the joy of attaining unprecedented levels of fulfillment.
Consider the succeeding waves of immigration that poured into America over the centuries. First from Europe, then from the East, mostly skilled people have enriched our knowledge base and added to our economy. The same is true for tiny Israel.
Machinists, computer programmers, artists and artisans have seen to it that our products and services are the best in class.
Not only is there a qualitative difference between a skilled person and a less skilled one, there is often a quantitative dimension as well. The more skilled person can do better things faster and cheaper.
We have sent men into space and machines to Mars. We have satellites that magically connect us to one another across vast distances, and beam quality programs ubiquitously.
We have writers with high imaginative awareness and mature technique, who enrich us with their specialized knowledge of the world, be it in human relations or pure fantasy. After all, science fiction is fiction today, science tomorrow. We now have cars that practically sip gas instead of guzzling it, and even run on renewable energy.
Management skills have advanced so that we can now harness the skills of diverse individuals and groups, coordinate their activities, and synergize, synthesize and create new artifacts, gizmos, widgets and service offerings.
Even our vocabulary reflects the prevailing scientific, technological and artistic milieu of our day.
We download songs, burn CDs, open attachments and fast-forward movies.
Our computer tomographies and magnetic resonance imaging have given us insights about how the brain works. Yes, the brain, that most complex of complex creations, is yielding its secrets and giving us novel ideas that embrace and surpass mere left-brain/right-brain jargon and glibness.
Dan sat staring down at the puzzle in front of him. It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill puzzle but a unique one, his own creation. The pieces of the puzzle were not cardboard cut-outs but state-of-the art integrated circuits, or “chips.”
He’d ordered eight sample chips from Texas Instruments and now peered uncertainly at a multiplexer/demultiplexer, two instrumentation amplifiers, one direct current to direct current converter and several SPDT switches.
His task or agenda or brief was to put together the chips to form one integrated system that did something useful, fun or bizarre, but something that worked off a battery. Attaching the problem as if it were a Rubik’s Cube, Dan tried moving the eight chips around, to form, successively a square, a triangle, a straight line, a circle and a rhombus but this initial exercise did nothing to jog his brain, at least consciously.
Then he focused on the functionality of each chip. The instrumentation amplifiers had an input/output characteristic, and the mux/demux could clearly combine and separate two channels of data. Fine. Now the single-pole-double-throw switch could be used to switch between channels, while the dc-dc converters could be used to provide a very versatile power input to the rest of the chips, drawing on battery power ranging from 3 to 15 volts.
Using the solderless breadboard that he’d recently acquired from allelectronics.com, Dan quickly put together his prototype circuit. Adding a few red, green and amber LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), he was ready to demonstrate his little gizmo to his friends on YouTube. He used his Nikon coolpix L11 digital camera to take an enchanting video clip of his gadget and uploaded it to YouTube. In a few minutes it was ready for viewing. All systems go!
For someone who enjoyed playing soccer oftentimes in my childhood and occasionally in my youth, the enduring joys of kicking a leather ball around, dribbling it past skillful opponents and yes, occasionally scoring a goal, can hardly be overstated.
I had my own soccer ball and would delight in pumping it up myself with my dad’s cycle pump, till it was hard and bounced freely. Then I remembered smearing some grease over the tie cords to soften them and seal up any leaks. I played soccer mainly at two spots - one on the lawns of Hukumchand Jute Mills, where I spent the first ten years of my life, and then in Baxenden, Lancashire, in England.
In England our school headmaster, Mr. Kenyon coached us once a week in the afternoons. He praised my left kick, which was almost as strong, though not quite, as my right kick. He also liked the fact that I volunteered to play goalie, something my British friends abhorred doing.
Among British professional footballers, Stanley Matthews was my favorite. Of course, it goes without saying that Indian football stars like Chuni Goswami and Jarnail Singh were also on my list of soccer heroes.
And of course my own dad, once a first division soccer player in Calcutta, inspired me to play my best. I remember one evening, as I played with my friends, my dad was returning from work, and he showed us the fine art of taking a free kick.
He placed the ball on the ground, with the cords facing front, and kicked it straight into the goal, a rising shot, beautifully timed and placed, that had years and years of deliberate practice behind it. So much for the joys of soccer.
My mother, God rest her soul, listened to Mahila Mahal each afternoon on our old Bush radio. That radio was imported from England and must have weighed a ton (just joking). Anyway, it took two minutes to warm up, so that if you heard a song wafting across from your neighbor’s, and rushed to switch on the Bush, all you got was the next song. Talk about listener’s choice!
Bela De conducted, or shall I say compered, Mahila Mahal, and she wrote a famous cookbook that has stood the test of time. The Bush has given way to pocket transistors and XMRadio (digital, satellite, you name it). But the late Bela De’s book has crossed the oceans with us and occupies pride of place next to our Toshiba TV.
Just this morning I cooked chicken biryani following the book implicitly. I phoned sister Jaya in England, to tell her that I had just prepared a delectable dish.
She told me to email her the recipe, which I did from memory, writing of course in English, and interjecting whimsically funny remarks like “spread some bay leaves on the bottom of yet another container.”
As one grows older, and the appetite for food declines, one is immersed more in the preparation, feeding of the young, recipe-exchanges, and such like ancillary activities.
They say, rather vulgarly, that the poor eat “quantity”; the middle classes “quality”, and the upper classes are involved in the “presentation.” To Bela De, as to my mother, all three were important that is why I now wax eloquent on my well-spent youth, with memories of good food and, yes, good company.
I’ve always had a soft corner for poor people although I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Early in my life we had a domestic help called Satkaridada who took good care of my sister and me. Then there was the boatman who rowed us across the river to school everyday.
In my grandparents’ house in the village there was Shyamarma, who came to help with the household chores, and Sushil Thakur, who worked in the yard. They had a simplicity and honesty that made them superior people, despite their obvious poverty.
In adult life I may have changed were it not for the fact my health has always interfered with my earnings. It was almost as if Providence had decided to make me poor, so that I could better appreciate their plight.
It was Abraham Lincoln who wrote that “God must love poor people - he made so many of them.” Poverty breeds many ills and the poor are often ashamed of their poverty.
I feel strongly that we should declare a global emergency and tackle world poverty, among other things, on a war footing. Just look at what happened to India. At the time of Indian Independence in 1947 our population was about 300 million. Our first Five Year plan concentrated on building up the industrial infrastructure by emphasizing steel mills, power stations, etc.
Subsequent plans addressed other issues, like agriculture and land reforms, it is true, but poverty was never directly addressed on a priority basis, except for one ill-fated Garibi Hatao movement.
Now, sixty years later, our population has grown to a whopping one billion. Why? Because poor people tend to have large families. It is an acknowledged fact that as families become more prosperous, they tend to have fewer children.
The only humane way we can tackle global overpopulation is for the UN, the G-8 and the G-15 nations to declare a war on poverty. Else enormous calamities can happen. I can see Malthusian famines of stupendous proportions overcoming the world. It would ravage and distress everyone, both rich and poor. And the best way, if not the only way to have a more equitable distribution of the pie is to have a larger pie for peaceful uses - turn swords into ploughshares and start producing more butter than guns.
Some years ago, in the staff lounge of Enloe high school, I objected to calling certain societies “civilizations” because they practiced human sacrifices. A colleague quickly corrected me, saying that anthropologists had other yardsticks to measure progress, such as whether agriculture was practiced or not.
By this yardstick, Mayan and Aztec civilizations indeed pass the test; they are considered to be ancient civilizations where, incidentally, human sacrifices were performed.
As an engineer I’m more curious about the artifacts that different civilizations produce. Fine gold filigree work, or massive mind boggling pyramids, or tiny microprocessors containing 5 million transistors all fascinate me because they are artifacts of civilizations.
The pyramids, though marvels of human ingenuity and coordination, were yet built using slave labor, so there was more coercion than coordination involved. In making a microprocessor many people are involved, and one needs a billion dollar fabrication facility to actually produce a working product.
My despair with Calcutta, my hometown, is that it has reached a point of degeneration where no worthwhile artifacts are produced. Granted, Amartya Sen produced books—-which are a form of mind artifacts—- and his Nobel Prize citation praised both his theoretical work and practical field work in Bangladesh.
Amartya Sen can arguably be called a product of Calcutta while D.K. Sachdev is a product of Bangalore. In winning the Arthur Clarke award, Sachdev was cited for both the space and terrestrial segments of the INTELSAT satellite system. Recently he’s written a second book called “Success Stories in Satellite Systems” to follow up on his first book “Business Strategies for Satellite Systems.”
As an Indian and native of Calcutta I am proud to have been able to read and understand Amartya Sen’s book. Similarly, having grown up in Bangalore, Sachdev’s success in the West makes me feel very proud to be an Indian.
Both Sen and Sachdev are about ten years older than me and hence serve as wonderful role models.
Many years ago, Alan Sillitoe wrote a book, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” Sillitoe’s career had been interrupted by illness, so he turned to writing and, by dint of hard work became a successful writer. I am also reminded of the famous Bengali song, ”Runner.” A man’s life is almost like a marathon race. It keeps getting better and better till the finishing line is crossed.
The tragedy happens if a man loses heart, takes to drink, or loses his ideals in some other way. As Swami Vivekananda has written, “We lose because we lose track of our ideals.” So take heed, my young readers, and keep your faith, for Life is the Gift of Nature and Beautiful Living is the Gift of Wisdom.
We all know people who, for various reasons, live austere lives. The difference is great between, say, a priest who fasts and a beggar who starves. One is a king of the spiritual world, the other is—-well, simply a beggar.
Mrs. Whittaker, our 93 years old landlady in England in 1961, had been through the rationings of two world wars. But in 1961, long after World War II had ended, she still avoided buying luxuries like TV, simply because she’d got used to living an austere life, and found it attractive.
My friends have all done well in life, and lead opulent lives. But I like to think that God blessed me with a childhood illness that has had the effect of making me poor. Poverty has been much studied by welfare economists and the like. It is rightly a condition that needs to be rectified. Yet monks and priests routinely take vows of poverty, celibacy and service.
Is wealth, then, sour grapes to me? I honestly don’t know but I do know that the Almighty singled me out as an example to others—-and perhaps even to teach me a valuable lesson. Which would you rather have—-eating well for 30 days and thereby feeling overly satiated, or living frugally for 29 days and then feasting on the 30th? The former is the present lifestyle of many, while the latter was the reality of my grandparents.
I have mentioned, in passing, Aesop’s fable of the “sour grapes.” Perhaps also, in advocating an austere lifestyle, I’m invoking another of his fables, that of the “dog who lost his tail.” Far from trying to induce you try a restricted lifestyle, I still urge you to give it a thought. I may be a failed materialist or a spiritualist by choice but I do know this—-that I am riding the wave of the future.
The world, it is said, is a bridge, cross it but don’t build on it. Maybe that statement is not to be taken literally. Maybe, having been given a lemon, I’m simply trying to make lemonade. Or maybe I am the lemonade!
With the coming of the New Year one is given an opportunity to make resolutions to consolidate the gains of the past year and break new ground. The recently concluded climate change conference in Copenhagen may be described as a “successful failure.” Heads of states left the meeting resolving to act on climate change in their own countries but without binding agreements. Surely where self-interest is involved, we can expect to see nations taking the global warming issues seriously and enacting measures to reduce greenhouse gases—-without verification.
Every generation in every age faces challenges that are both new and unique. As a person on the verge of sixty, I look on the next generation to gear up to the twin challenges of terrorism and environmental concerns. Certainly, the world is much more than the antics of nations such as Iran, North Korea and now Yemen, and we must not lose track of notable advances in arms reduction talks, space exploration and the like.
Last year President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. Apart from anything else, this signifies European approval and blessings on what he has achieved so far and perhaps more importantly, on what he still has on his agenda. Republicans would do well to note that conservative politics has its limitations and that one simply cannot ignore global trends.
With the world’s population still increasing at an alarming pace, and resources dwindling day by day, certain paradigms that have stood the test of time need finally to be overhauled. “Big” is no longer synonymous with “great” and Schumacher’s saying “small is beautiful” needs to make a comeback.
Unbridled consumption and a purely materialistic lifestyle are on their way out. We need to temper the Dow Jones Industrial Average with spiritual values like sacrifice, giving and self-denial. I am not trying to be unique here, only practical. The long-standing relationship between Mankind and Mother Earth needs to be reevaluated.
As I write, the climate change conference in Copenhagen is deadlocked on certain issues between the rich nations and the poor. While negotiators struggle to reach common ground, the crowd outside the conference hall jeer and say, ”If the climate had been a major failing bank the rich nations would scramble to save it.”
Meanwhile on American public TV I heard a debate between the followers of the two famous economists of the past, Keynes and Hayek, who held diametrically opposite viewpoints as to the role of governments in intervening in financial crises. Briefly, Keynes said that governments should intervene to avoid huge and painful unemployment problems in a failing economy.
Hayek, on the other hand favored a hands-off policy on the part of government, saying that market forces would eventually right a failing economy. Personally, I think that two opposing cultures cannot be compared, just as apples and oranges can’t. The Queen of France, two centuries ago, when told of poor people’s plight, asked in mock innocence,” If they can’t eat bread why don’t they eat cake?”
Likewise, the Emperor of Ethiopia, facing large scale famine in his own country, refused to intervene. It’s all a case of “whether to be good or whether to be strong.” Granted, in the long run we’re all dead, and it is easy for some people to turn a deaf ear to the plight of those with whom they can’t relate, and who are far away. The ultimate policy followed will of course depend on who’s in charge of the government at the given moment.
Thus Republicans favor Hayek and Democrats opt for Keynes, and so we have big government now that Democrats control Capitol Hill. My mother used to repeat a saying that she’d learnt in her childhood which said in effect, that “whoever goes to Lanka becomes Ravana.” So whoever is in power follows his or her way, whether it be Keynes or Hayek. Meanwhile the crowds on the streets of Copenhagen grow ever more raucous, and following the wisdom of crowds, shout, in effect, “The Emperor is wearing no clothes!”
India’s strides since gaining Independence have been massive. We have increased our electricity generation enormously and rapidly enlarged our yearly tonnage of manufacturing capacity in all the core sectors - steel, cement, paper, fertilizer and the like.
This increase in GDP would have had a significant impact on the per capita real income had it not been for our unbounded population growth, which has negated the growth in all other sectors. Granted, the Indian economy has grown at a rapid clip of 8-9 percent in the last few years. From all indicators the middle class has been growing also, and now stands at 300 million people, practically equal to the entire population of the United States. This segment of society has good educational achievements and good production and consumption patterns. They might be called the backbone of Indian society.
It is the remaining 700 million people who constitute the poorer classes that are a cause for concern, if not for despair. With low incomes, inadequate skills in the new economy, and very poor educational standards, these people struggle from meal-time to meal-time and are lucky if they have the basic necessities of life—-food, shelter and clothing. Even these last three, when available, are substandard and unfit for human use.
For centuries, the people caught in this poverty trap have found themselves in a vicious circle. While the rest of society “nickels and dimes” them—-giving them subsistence wages in the name of getting a good bargain—-they continue to have what is known as “generational poverty”—-that is, their poverty perpetrates from one generation to the next generation, with no hope of redemption.
I think it is with these people in mind that the late Adlai Stevenson wrote: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety on its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half-confident half-despairing, half-fortunate half-miserable, half-slave half-free. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On the resolution of these problems depends the survival of us all.”
May we heed his warning before it is too late.
Since ancient times, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker have all survived and prospered by following three principles: division of labor, economies of scale and differentiation. The first principle implies that one person, family, community, company or country cannot make everything well, or indeed do everything well. Thus one has to specialize.
The second principle implies that by producing in large quantities, much more than is required for their own need, a manufacturing unit can produce things more cheaply than others, because, until a ceiling is reached, economies of scale kick in.
Finally, by making somewhat unique products, the candlestick maker, for example, can differentiate his or her products from other such candlestick makers. Consumers love variety and what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, or put another way, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
But these three principles are not, by themselves, sufficient in the modern world. As a Japanese entrepreneur has said succinctly, one makes, one sells and one counts. Thus a businessman must wear at least three hats, the producer, the marketer and the accountant.
The East, it is said, is a huge market. If you step inside a typical market you’ll see all the above principles at work. In the services sector also, we see that India has become a specialized call-center hub. Why indeed India has become an IT paradise while China is a manufacturing power is mysterious, and involves historical and linguistic reasons, at the very least.
While mass markets are here to stay, most small businesses and individuals wishing to sell their products and services keenly feel the need of niche markets. Until recently, these businesses had to identify their customers, target their offerings and find a way to reach their audiences. The Internet has changed all that. Especially, Google words has made it easy to link potential buyers with eager sellers.
By providing a huge “switchboard” which magically connects buyers and sellers, Google words has made it eerily possible for matchmaking to occur. The next best thing to telepathy has arrived, and the entire globe has become one vast marketplace.
Being bilingual, with Hindi as a distant third language, I find it relaxing to read Bengali when I tire of English. In this vein I find the similarities and differences between the proverbs and sayings in the two languages to be interesting, if not downright entertaining.
Let me start with the Bengali proverb which says, in effect: While living happily the evil ghost prods one. The English equivalents to this are, firstly, to leave well alone and secondly, to let sleeping dogs lie. There is a third English saying: Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you, which is germane to the issue.
So, if the above homilies urge you to be “reactive” rather than “proactive,” the next ones do the exact opposite. “Fortune favors the brave” has its quixotic Bengali counterpart: If you sleep, your fortune sleeps also. This exhortation to action is further amplified in the English saying: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Next come what I call the Trojan Horse warnings. In Bengali we say: Don’t cut a canal to let in the crocodile! In English the nearest equivalent, or at least the one that springs to mind, is: setting the cat among the pigeons (is not a good idea).
To an engineer like myself, the wooden Trojan Horse is a marvel of workmanship, and this leads me to the English saying: A bad workman blames his tools. The Bengali equivalent is: He who dances badly blames the courtyard.
But that’s enough of negativism. The English saying: Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, may have its roots in agrarian societies, and the Bengali exhortation to students is: Early at dawn if you put your mind to study, in the evening of your life you will be magically rewarded.
As a final word let me say that Bengalis, despite their volatile nature and love of the humanities, are - like the Greeks - well aware of the sharp stings of life, and of its tragic brevity.
The American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote an epic poem on the legendary Indian chief, Hiawatha. I first read the poem when I was about eight.
Now that I am in the land of Hiawatha, so to speak, one thought leads to another, and I lament the decimation of the American Indian tribes at the hands of European colonizers. Maybe “manifest destiny” played a part in colonial times. How else can you explain the invention of the six-shooter and the repeating rifle that tipped the scale in favor of the Caucasians?
Be that as it may, I see a great role for the present generation of Caucasians. They can, if they will, become the salt of the earth. Where there is darkness, bring light. Where ignorance, bring knowledge. Bear The White Man’s burden in an elevated and evolved form.
Dr. Phil’s show recently had a man who said, “What is not white is not right.” I know people in India who think that all the world’s ills are due to white people. So who is right? Maybe neither. Hiawatha united the Indian tribes into a single nation of five tribes, which later became six. It is now time to unite the five continents of the world into one. The world has always been one, only our ignorance prevents us from seeing it to be so.
Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha departs from the actual historical evidence, but still there is a great deal to be learnt from people who, in those days, were conveniently considered to be savages. This attitude blunted the conscience of the oppressors and made it less uncomfortable to decimate them. The great Indian chief departs in a blaze of glory, undefeated, and a great white American poet, Longfellow, pays a tribute to him that immortalizes them both.
Recently, Apple Computers sent me a marketing email stating that their 1GB iPod Shuffle was now available for $49. This was within my purchasing power, so I got one, and for the last month have been experimenting with my iPod and iTunes—-downloading songs, audio books, topical podcasts and yes, movies.
I rented the movie Solaris because George Clooney is the hero, but also because it promised to be a science-fiction movie with a dash of romance in it. The cover photo shows George Clooney passionately kissing Natascha McElhoen, the heroine.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. The story line, slight though it is, is very intense. Briefly, Chris Kelvin (Clooney), a widowed psychiatrist, is called to troubleshoot the space station Prometheus near planet Solaris, because strange events have occurred there.
Kelvin arrives at the station and, in a dream on his first night, sees his dead wife Rhea. On waking, he is startled to find Rhea with him, seemingly well and alive. But events soon show that Rhea is not quite human! (I’m not telling why). The other scientists abroad Prometheus all have had similar experiences, notably, visitations from their dead relatives, not only in their dreams but also in their waking moments.
The principal scientist, Snow, surmises that a parallel universe exists where the dead go to, and whence, apparently they return to those living near Solaris.
The movie explores a haunting theme for anyone who has lost a loved one. I remember a famous writer, whose name I forget, who practiced séances in an effort to communicate with his dead wife.
After some dramatic moments, the story ends with Kelvin apparently “dying,” finding himself back in his apartment on earth, and living blissfully with Rhea in a parallel universe - one where wounds heal magically and where everyone lives happily ever after.
The movie intrigued me so much that I ordered the book on Amazon, and even researched the Polish writer, Stanislaw Lem. Lem, a secular Jew, wrote in his native Polish language and experimented with science fiction stories like “Fiasco,” “His Masters Voice,” and of course, “Solaris.” Later he renounced SF and concentrated on philosophical writings that dwelt on future technological advancements.
But for anyone interested in a brilliant, though enigmatic, science fiction romance, I recommend the film Solaris, with its talented cast including the heroine Rhea, hauntingly played by Natascha McElhoen. Without her the film would undoubtedly have been a fiasco!
Creativity has been loosely defined as “the ability to create meaningful new forms.” The concept is important because it has enabled humankind to invent the wheel, discover fire, perfect the automobile and send spacecraft to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
After all, if you consider that every human being is born with practically no knowledge or skills engrained, except perhaps what is transmitted through the genes - and then must learn so much of what the human race has learnt since the beginning of time, before contributing any new knowledge to our accumulated store of wisdom, you will see how much creativity has played a part in advancing the lot of mankind.
In the same time that humans have gone from horse drawn chariots, say 4000 years ago, to the Space Shuttle, other animals have remained practically the same, stuck with their ant heaps, rabbit warrens or even eagles’ nests.
Professor Richard Florida, who specializes in studying human creativity, has written books on the subject. Creative people, like artists, writers, doctors and nurses, engineers and teachers thrive in an open climate which encourages experimentation and diversity. They move to cities where cultural activities are fostered, and shun places where creativity is stifled.
The management guru, Peter Drucker, had a name, “knowledge workers,” for people who carry their intellectual capital with them - in the space between their ears, so to say. These people have both knowledge and skills as part of their professional portfolio or repertoire of assets.
Even nurses, who for some part of the day may be involved with such mundane things as making beds, may also be involved in skilled activities like drawing blood from a patient, or checking his blood pressure or pulse, skillfully, without causing discomfort or pain.
Simon Singh, who has a Ph. D from Cambridge University, has written a book called “Fermat’s Enigma” wherein he traces the 300 year old history of mathematics’ most famous puzzle. It’s fascinating to read how the problem was eventually solved, after seven years of sustained effort, by Andrew Wilkes, who used the work of various people, like the Japanese mathematicians Taniyama and Shimuro, as a springboard for his own work. This creative epic, although serving no useful purpose, yet is intellectually stimulating because, as the old saw goes, “man does not live by bread alone.”
Finally, writers who have at their disposal only the bare essentials - the 26 letters of the alphabet -have created beautiful masterpieces like “The Merchant of Venice“ by Shakespeare to “Gitanjali“ by Rabindranath Tagore. So it is safe to say that so long as humans remain creative we shall always have new artifacts, like the iPod, and new works of art, like The Da Vinci Code, to play on them.
Tools of the Trade
In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks finds himself on a small, uninhabited island, with few resources and even fewer chances of survival. But survive he does, using the tools that he had or those that he improvised. An ice-skating shoe is used as a multi-function tool for cutting, hammering and the like. And his persistent efforts to light a fire bring home to us viewers how dire life can be, and was, before the accumulation of our artifacts of civilization.
I’ve watched our carpenter in Calcutta work miracles in wood. Using the very basic woodworking tools like the hammer, saw, manual drill, planar and an assortment of chisels, he could, in a few hours, turn some planks of wood into a chair, a table, or any other piece of furniture that he had been commissioned to produce.
Here in the US carpentry is a favorite hobby of many, and a livelihood of some. Most manual tools here have given way to power tools, which make life easier and task completion quicker. But leaving aside this apples and oranges comparison, Biren in India and Brian in the US both produce artifacts that are functional, aesthetic, and of lasting value.
We humans have used tools to produce successively more complex and larger, or smaller, artifacts. Machine tools are machines that make other machines possible. Robots, which are another class of tools, make anything from computers at Dell to cars at Toyota.
The Space Shuttle, an engineering marvel, is a behemoth that could not have been produced without sophisticated tools. On a more down to earth level, a farmer has his tractor and a software programmer has her computer. Beyond that, Peter Drucker’s “knowledge worker” carries her most important tool in the inner space between their two ears. Yes, the brain is the most awesome tool of all.
Insights Into Integrity
When I was an Assistant Executive Engineer in ITI, Bangalore, I found out a salient truth within a few months of working there, and this was it: if you wanted to work, ITI provided a very good work environment, and there were reasonable avenues for promotion. But if you didn’t want to work, nobody could sack you because ITI was a public sector undertaking. Many people just coasted along, doing the bare minimum to keep their bosses happy. I certainly wasn’t one of them.
Now ITI had a large, well-equipped hospital attached. All the hospital workers and staff were ITI employees, including the doctors and administrators. When I was trying to decide whether to get my dad’s hernia operation done in Bangalore or not, naturally I thought of ITI hospital, since our employment benefits allowed for parents’ health care. But some of my colleagues advised against it, saying that the hospital was no good, and that they themselves did all their medical work outside. (Our employment benefits allowed us the choice of going to other hospitals.)
Looking back, in hindsight, I realize two things. Firstly, I was right in getting my dad’s operation done in the ITI hospital. The surgeon, Dr. Lila Manikoth, did an excellent job and my dad never had a twinge of pain or discomfort for more than 35 years after the operation.
Secondly, I realize now that it was precisely those slackers and malingerers who wasted their time, and the company’s money, that were doubting Thomases when it came to evaluating ITI hospital.
For the record, Dr. Manikoth performed the operation in 1977. I sent her a thank you card from the US in 1985.
You are what you are and a knave thinks that the entire world is full of knaves. Thank God that I had worthy colleagues too who set a good example and a boss, Mr. D.K. Sachdev, who was a role model for all of us.
Many years ago, my dad told me of the time when he went swimming in Bombay and wanted to test his mettle. As a Cadet Officer in the Royal Indian Navy he used to go swimming in the Bombay beach in his spare time.
One day he decided to swim out a further than he normally did. He kept a brisk pace till he decided that enough was enough and it was time to head back. But when he looked around for the shoreline, it had vanished and all around him was the watery horizon.
In a panic, he told himself that he would certainly drown if he did not reach the beach, so he set out blindly. Luckily for him, it turned out to be the right direction and he reached the shore exhausted, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to tell this story.
I can relate to my dad’s experience because something similar happened to me in Bangalore around 1977. I used to go rock climbing with other members of the Karnataka Mountaineering Association. One day, I decided to go alone instead of with my fellow climbers. Equipped with a small rucksack, I started climbing up a relatively steep, boulder-laden slope. Without looking backwards or downwards, I told myself that I would climb higher than I usually did.
When I looked back, vertigo seized me and I froze. The slope downwards seemed incredibly steep and I found that I could not bring myself to give up my perch atop a boulder. Minutes passed. Every time I tried to climb down fear gripped me and I could not stir. In desperation I told myself that I’d surely die if I stayed put where I was, so I forced myself to descend, hand over hand and feet over feet, all the time expecting to fall and roll downhill to certain injury, if not death.
It is at moments like these that I wonder at the Trinity of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. If my dad had died that day, I wouldn’t be here to tell this story, as I wrote before. To a lesser extent, my misadventure on the hills proved an important point to me—-that we are created, preserved till it pleases our maker, and then destroyed, and nothing can stop it.
A well-respected Swami of Sri Ramkrishna Mission had passed away, and Calcutta was grieving. The Maharaja had written on spiritual matters for many decades, and we say that he had attained Mahasamadhi, or left his body - not just passed away as ordinary mortals do.
I was in the vicinity of Gol Park, where one of the main centers of the Mission is situated. The vehicle carrying Maharaja’s body came out of the Mission compound and slowed down to turn right into Gariahat Road, on the way to the Garia crematorium.
Suddenly a man dashed out from the sidewalk and touched the hearse with his hand. It was a brief contact and then the vehicle sped away. The man’s devotion was so strong that I remember the scene to this day, even though the incident occurred over a decade ago.
Many saints have written books to spread their messages. My father, although a believer in God, doubted that He governed day-to-day events. People mistakenly thought that he did not believe. But one day, when I’d told him about Sri Aurobindo, and left the pocket edition of Savitri on the table next to his bed, I saw him reach out and touch the book.
My son, greatly influenced by his mother, is a devotee of Swami Muktananda. The laptop on his desk had books by Swamiji, along with other books. One day, I needed some space on his table to set up my own laptop so that I could connect to the Internet. (We share a common connection.) Well, I’d put the books on one pile and, inadvertently, placed a book - I think it was a science book - on top of a book by Swamiji.
Later, when my son came into the room, he gently admonished me and said that he would rather that I did not place any other object on any of his spiritual books.
Finally, the ancient tale of devotion is told of the man who approached Jesus and asked for his help in curing his son. If I recollect, he requested Jesus to just say the word and his son would be cured. The Master replied, “Go. Your faith will be rewarded.” Or words to that effect. Such is the nature of devotion.
Fear of loss drives us more than the lure of gain. I coined this saying after observation and experience. The secret to health care in America is not to fall sick! As if that’s in our hands!! But illness causes absenteeism, loss of production and all sorts of other ills. My wife keeps the thermostat at 67°F in winter. This is a trifle too cold for me, so I asked her to turn it up. But that costs more money, she said. Since that day on I’ve been contributing my mite to the family budget.
The thermostat, I noticed, had been kept at 69°F, but only for a few days! Soon it was back at 67°F. I figured that my mite wasn’t enough, but I had no more money to give. Then I caught a cold and had to absent myself from work. That didn’t change things much at home because my wife earns five times what I do.
Her hard work has had an adverse effect on her health. We’re all in the same boat, aren’t we? I’m happy that I occasionally fall sick. Robust health at my age can be viewed with suspicion. (Hey, he hasn’t been pulling his weight!) I’ve coined a saying here too, Your strength inspires me; your weakness reassures me. Shocked? Well, that’s the real world.
Survival of the fittest according to Darwin. Will the poor eventually become extinct because of an inability to pay heating bills? All sorts of scenarios race through my mind. A sage once said, adaptable people survive, so I’ve decided to wear a woolly cap and sweater in the house. As for helping with the expenses, I’m about to send my sayings to the quotable quotes section of the Readers’ Digest, in the hope that they’ll publish at least one and pay me the princely sum of $300. That’s the lure driving me on. The lazy man finds an easy way.
Steve, finding that college was costing his parents too much, dropped out and instead took courses he fancied on an a la carte basis, instead of taking the required courses. Thus he took a calligraphy course which came in very handy when designing the fonts for the Apple Macintosh computer. In his speech Steve emphasized that “connecting the dots” was important. Unfortunately, the dots could only be connected later in life, looking back.
One can only hope and trust that the choices one makes do indeed turn out to be intelligent choices.
Steve used to skimp on food to save money, and his only good meal of the week was at the Hare Krishna temple across town. Steve made that journey on foot every week for that one hot meal.
The idea of “death” being an important factor in one’s life came up in Steve’s talk. Death is universal and final for everybody. Since it is the one thing certain in one’s life it is important to choose one’s life’s work where your passion lies. Death cleans out the old deadwood and brings in a fresh generation. This is as it should be. Follow your heart, said Steve, just as did the pioneers of a magazine that he read in his youth. It was a sort of Google on paper.
The last issue of that magazine had a familiar picture of a country road on its back cover, and a cryptic saying, “Stay foolish. Stay hungry.”
One intractable problem is that China and India —and to a lesser extent, Brazi — who were invited to the finale of the G-8 summit, are as reluctant as ever to cut back on their CO2 emissions, citing the oft-stated fact that it was the G-8 nations that had caused the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere in all these years when emissions from the developing nations was practically non-existent.
It’s like having a party in a restaurant, inviting a few more people to partake of the coffee at the end only, and then expecting these people to share equally in paying the bill! No, say the third world nations, latecomers to the party, we had the coffee only and that’s what we’ll pay for.
It’s easy enough to criticize both sides, and easier to suggest that either or both sides relax their demands, but any sacrifice can cause real hardship to the most vulnerable people on planet earth. Already there is talk of Bangladesh going under, to a greater or lesser extent, as a result of a rise in sea level. People like Arundhuti Roy, who speak up for these “children of a lesser God” are to be lauded.
To my mind it brings up the inevitable question of whether we, in the industrialized nations, are a breed apart — sort of first class citizens of planet earth — and “they” in the third world are second class, with fewer rights and privileges. The irony is that I, like so many other migrants, I have cousins, aunts, nephews and friends in Kolkata, and even some in distant Bangladesh.
Seriously. The story is told of two persons, say Tom and Dick, who wanted to share an orange. Being reticent, of the strong, silent type, they did not talk much to each other. Instead they cut the orange neatly into two and each took one piece. Fair enough, right? Maybe, but afterwards when in a mellow mood Tom and Dick were comparing notes, it turned out that what Tom had really wanted was the orange peel, for baking purposes. The pulp was useless to him and so he’d thrown it out from his half of the orange.
Likewise, it turned out that what Dick had really wanted was the pulp, to eat. He had had no use for the peel and had discarded it.
Now, had they had better communication before they divided the orange, Tom and Dick could have arrived at a far better solution — let Tom have the entire peel and no pulp, and let Dick have all the pulp and no peel.
Both would have been far better off, and presumably far happier.
Between 1987 and 2000 I ran my own consulting firm in Kolkata. Apart from writing project reports for corporate clients, I taught computer hardware and software, both at my own house and also in other establishments in and around Kolkata. I also taught Spoken English.
I had to do my own marketing for my home business. This included placing classifieds in The Statesman, distributing fliers, and placing advertising material at strategic points like shop fronts run by local people.
I remember one particularly large, six feet by ten feet, billboard that was spectacularly successful in drawing in customers. Everyone knows that small businesses succeed when they have a steady stream of customers, and that the number one reason for a small business to fail is lack of customers.
Well, whenever I got a new client, I made it a point to ask how he or she had heard of my business. To my surprise, many new clients said that they had seen my billboard. I realized then that my billboard was indeed very strategically located, above a friend’s shop on the main road. My house was about 300 yards from the main road, in a small lane called Ramgarh.
This friend, Bapi, did not mind me putting up my billboard above his shop, next to his own sign, because I was a regular customer at his shop, which sold medicines and cosmetics. Besides, in my experience, most business people do not mind helping other business people if it doesn’t hurt them to do so.
Across from the shop, and my billboard, was a bus stop. People waiting for their buses spotted what I had put on my advertising billboard. Quite a few of them, it turned out, needed my services, and guided by my address on the billboard, made a beeline for my house. Oh, how I loved that billboard!
This story has a strange ending. One day my billboard was missing! I surmised, quite correctly I think, that it had been removed by one of my competitors, who could be any one of the many other computer schools operating in the area. It could not have been too difficult, in the dead of night, to surreptitiously remove my billboard. That’s why there’s the saying, “Business is war.” This is unfortunate, but true.
In the final analysis we all live by selling something, so it’s important to decide who our customers are, and be conscious of how we conduct ourselves in our actions and words. It has been said that everything we do or say moves the sale either forward or backwards; there are no neutral activities.
Understand your customer’s pain and uncover his “hot button.” What is on the customer’s mind? Can you do anything to alleviate the pain? Which note should you strike to get him to notice you as a supplier?
Position, or reposition yourself as you see fit. Offer, and highlight the benefits of your product or service and show how your offering satisfy those benefits. It has been rightly said that when a customer buys a drill-bit from a store, he’s not actually purchasing a drill-bit per se but thinking of the hole that he will make with the drill-bit. So don’t get enamored of your product or service but relate it to the customer’s situation.
Price your product so that the market value of your product is equal to the perceived value of the product in the customer’s eyes. If you price your product wrongly, either it will not sell, or it will sell but you will lose revenue. The Mazda Miata is an example of a car that was priced too low. Customers perceived a higher value and bought the car in large numbers. Dealers, sensing a good product, reaped the benefits of this situation and added a $2000 markup. Mazda lost revenue.
The customer is always right. He or she doesn’t always make logical buying decisions but emotional ones. In fact, every purchase is ultimately an emotional decision to buy. Seek to delight the customer by exceeding her expectations. Listen to her and respond to her complaints, because a delighted, if not dazzled customer will be loyal and return again and again. He or she may even become your raving fan.
I once worked for a man (not for long though) who was fighting a number of court cases. He had bought a franchise from a computer education firm, whereby he got software and other educational material to teach programming to students.
The agreement with the firm, as I understand it, was that he would open shop at one and only one location. Where he violated the contract was that he opened half a dozen locations, one after another, duplicating the study material and pirating the software.
Naturally, the principals, or “head-office,” warned him, threatened him and finally sued him. While the case was being fought in court, a long drawn out process, somebody threw a rock through the glass window of his office. I presume it was someone from head-office taking the law into his own hands.
Again, reverse engineering is practiced for a number of reasons. It is certainly not illegal to buy an expensive piece of equipment, dismantle it, and figure out how it works. So long as patents are not infringed, it’s presumably OK to get ideas that one can use from equipment that one has bought. That’s what intellectual property rights are all about.
But some pieces of equipment are so expensive that it is difficult to buy more than one unit, although the requirement may be there for more. (Should one cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth?) Software piracy, from this “developed” end of the world, looks very wrong—-and it is. However, from the other end of the world it just doesn’t look so dire—-which it should.
Business is generally seen, regrettably, as a form of warfare. As long as this perception remains, people will try to break the rules if they can get away with it. Indeed, Sri Aurobindo had two words to describe business — he called it economic barbarism.
My sister called me yesterday, as she does every Saturday, from England and we talked about events in the past week. Apparently they’d gone out with friends, Bob and Anita. When the time came to eat in a restaurant, Jaya, my sister, suggested that each person pay for himself or herself. Bob said jokingly, “So we’re not going Indian?” Apparently the overall feeling in England is that Indians invariably pick up the bill.
To this day I have yet to find a person who does not like the idea of “going Dutch.” My Dad, in his day and age, used to call it “his-his whose-whose.” I told Jaya that the popularity of going Dutch probably is because people are scared to foot the entire bill. She had a better reason. “It’s a very fair arrangement,” she said. Besides, restaurants have become so expensive that no ordinary person can afford to pay the entire bill for the entire party of, say, two or more families.
My son and I went out to eat the other day. Since it had been his idea, he fully expected to pay for both of us. But I said, “Let’s go Dutch.” He seemed curiously relieved and relaxed. Going Dutch leaves no one feeling obliged in any way, and is far better that “going Indian.” Or was Bob just flattering us?
Kisan came to our house to work as a domestic help when he was about eleven, and I was doing my B.Sc. at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta.
He was a refugee from the devastating famine which gripped Bihar around this time. His dad, unable to provide for him, left him in our household till such time he grew up and could fend for himself.
He soon learned to speak Bengali, and helped mummy in the kitchen and did the daily marketing for us. In return he got boarding and lodging and a reasonable monthly allowance.
Now, there was a slogan from the Indian Government which went “Each one teach one.” I, being an impressionable young man, heeded that slogan and started teaching Kisan in the evenings after he has finished all his work.
Since my Hindi was not that good, I taught him Bengali reading and writing. After about three months of this, I added math. Then Kisan suggested politely that he’d like to learn English also. I was a bit hesitant at first, but then started teaching him the rudiments of English.
This unofficial tutoring was in addition to my Saturday evening tutoring for which I had to take the bus to a nearby school. The latter was under the auspices of the National Service Scheme, parallel wing of the NCC (National Cadet Corps).
I think I taught K for about three years till he left our employment to return to Bihar. He was a reasonably diligent student and would pore over his books in his spare time. If he managed to keep up with his studies after he left us, I’d like to think that I helped to reduce the number of illiterate persons in India by one.
I love certain songs not only for their intrinsic worth but also because they define some specific moments of my life.
“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, is an all-time favorite. But for me, it was another girl, another place, and another band of men that this song evokes memories of. During our summer school in Chandigarh, there was this rather plump girl from IIT Kharagpur who sang this song superbly. The young men who accompanied her were from a different city altogether—Bangalore. At the drop of a hat they would pick up their guitars and she would enchant us with her rendering of this song.
When our holiday bus took us to Simla, they performed as soon as we got off the bus. Curious passersby stopped to look, listen, and stay to hear more. Such is the personal history of “Summer Wine” for me.
Another lyric, which I can reminisce about, is “Walking Back To Happiness” by Helen Shapiro. In England, in 1961, this song was a hit number, and the local TV station would play it every few hours. So my memories of England are colored by memories of Helen Shapiro’s seductive voice. By the way, Cliff Richard’s “Young Ones” was also being played a lot in those good old days.
Finally, “I Don’t Want To Be a Memory” by the Exiles was a 1983 hit in the US, and I remember waiting in my car, an ancient Monte Carlo, in Dorothea Dix hospital at 11:30 at night—waiting to pick up my wife after her work as a nurse in this hospital. Once again, the words and music on my car radio put me in the mood for romance. Free music, full of love and nostalgia, filled the car.
Democracy, it is said, is not a perfect form of government, best it is the best we have. Similarly, marriage is not the perfect form of man-woman relationship, yet it is the best we have. That said, it is instructive to remember that monogamy has evolved over the years from polygamy and polyandry. Any form of marriage other than monogamy was disadvantageous to the woman, chiefly because she was economically dependent on the man. Go figure!
Also, the man was very possessive of his mate because he wanted to be certain that the child she bore him was actually sired by him! This again was because firstly he did not want to bring up someone else’s progeny, and also because he did not want the family legacy wealth, in a patriarchal system, to pass into someone else’s hands - someone who was not his own child.
Both these considerations have largely become anachronistic, because firstly, most women are financially independent and secondly because of DNA testing. Nowadays, the biological father can be identified and forced to pay child support. Also, you can be very sure — if that is so important to you — that you are rearing your own child.
Did you know that India is the most married nation on earth? Almost everyone gets married in India. Even with all its disadvantages, marriage provides a stable environment in which to bring up children. It also provides for a long-term commitment and security to both partners. So look before you leap, but tie the knot just as your parents did!
Many years ago, soon after my engineering friends and I had graduated from college and had been working for some time, I visited an old friend, Ravi Amur, in Bangalore and he asked me casually how I spent my leisure time.
“Well, I read a lot,” I replied.
“Each book pulls you in a different direction,” he commented.
The years have passed and I recently sent Ravi an email in which I said, “I’ve been thinking of what you said and here is my defense – each book tries to pull me in a different direction, true, but I don’t have to go in that direction!” The choice is mine, but it is nice to know that those directions exist!
The motto I follow is, “If books on long shelves are my mentors, and friends when I’ve grasped what they say…”
Indeed, if one browses books online at Amazon, one can take a peek at the contents of books tagged “Look Inside,” before buying, and even read a one or two page excerpt.
Ravi Amur’s warning came to my mind the other day when I was “looking inside” a book by Wayne Dyer called “Your erroneous zone.” The author was trying to make the point that it is more important to lead a happy family life than to be adept at solving equations, knowing complicated chemistry, and so on. According to Dyer the psychiatric wards are full of both types of people, high achievers and not so high achievers.
I found the book interesting because, of course, Dyer is on public TV pretty often, but also because it runs counter to the competitive spirit on which US society is founded.
In another book, by contrast, people like Tiger Woods and Einstein are analyzed to find out what makes them tick – what caused their stupendously high achievement. Here, this second author comes up with the term “deliberate practice” to account for superlative performance.
On reflection, these two books certainly advocate two distinctly different life philosophies, and it is left to the reader to decide whether to follow the high road of achievement or the low road of contentment.
Finally, these two books, representing diametrically opposite viewpoints, vindicate my friend Ravi Amur’s off-the-cuff words of wisdom: Each book tries to pull you in a different direction.
That’s what friends are for, aren’t they?
It was Albert Einstein who said that imagination is more important than knowledge. His ability to make the conceptual leap from observation to sound theory is well known. Another great scientist wrote, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
I am writing this piece to motivate my young readers. Motivation has been defined as processes that direct, energize, and sustain behavior. Speaking for myself, I find that the occasional essay penned satisfies my creative urges and leaves me motivated for the more mundane tasks of life – such as earning money or doing the household chores. Indeed, psychologists say that therapy through creative activities is often very beneficial.
If your goal is to discover something new about the natural world, or invent something that was not there, remember that Edison tried hundreds of materials before he finally found one that was suitable for his incandescent lamp filament. On being questioned about his 100 failures (or was it 1000?) he merely said that he now knew what wouldn’t work and that is as authentic a piece of knowledge as knowing what would work.
With the vast expansion in knowledge, the challenge is to keep learning new things while keeping an eye on possible new discoveries. Some discoveries merely consist in rearranging old knowledge, or on discovering new ways of doing old things. But some discoveries and inventions are revolutionary in nature, like the iPhone, for example.
Finally, to the heading of this essay. It is said, somewhat disparagingly, that learned men are the cisterns of knowledge, not the fountainheads. For every Shakespeare there are a hundred camp followers who are students of the Bard. We read these critics to understand Shakespeare better. Yet how much more satisfying it would be if somehow, somewhere, we could pen our own bestseller! That is a quest that should never leave our consciousness, however often we fail.
I like to think of my writings as Mr. Sen’s Concoctions, much like Lily the Pink’s medicinal compound. In the song, Lily invents a compound that is designed to heal, but often does the opposite. My pieces hopefully correct human foibles much like Henry Fielding’s. His book, Tom Jones, is touted as the first English novel.
But people are touchy if they have low self-esteem, and are sensitive if their self-esteem is high, so I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, so to say. Also, as a sage once observed, meaning is not given to us but by us.
We interpret what we read so as to fit it (accommodation or assimilation) into our personal mental framework. So one should be extremely careful when writing on important issues. Reverting to Lily the Pink, her medicine made the stammerer absolutely mute, and given to big-eared people, her compound enlarged their ears so much that they had to learn to fly!
Rumor has it that the Second World War started because of a misplaced comma. Likewise, misspelled or mispronounced names can infuriate people. Children at my school delight in asking, “Are you Mr. Sen or Mr. Sin?” Regrettably, some adults also do the same, and guffaw.
Can behavior be changed by parodies, lampoons, cartoons or the like? Not if you’re egocentric. But consider how wise Socrates was when people were making jokes about him in an assembly. He stood from his seat so that all could see him, and thus enjoy the jokes better.
Lily the Pink’s final, and greatest achievement, or blunder, was when Mr. Ebenezer – who thought he was Julius Caesar – took her medicinal compound. Now, he thinks he’s the Emperor of Rome!
The writer, wrapped up in his work, bent over a typewriter or computer keyboard, can also become a butt for jokes. One should not take oneself too seriously…then only, like Lily, one can hope to go to heaven when one dies.
When I first joined the substitute teaching profession, I told myself that I was lucky to get a job in a difficult job market. The pay could best be described as pocket money, but we had enormous flexibility in choosing and canceling assignments.
We could key in dates and periods of unavailability, and choose the schools where we preferred to sub. But beyond all this, it was the fact that I started subbing at Enloe High School, which was the school my son Reeshi attended, that made the experience all the more worthwhile.
Irrespective of race, religion or economic status, these students had a spirit which did Enloe proud, and no wonder—-it is the 52nd best school in the nation.
Since I was at Enloe for almost four years, I had the opportunity of watching a batch of students come in as freshmen and leave as seniors. Within this time frame, they grew and matured and developed their personalities and skills almost like chrysalis into butterflies. Boys went from being uncertain tweens to tall, gangling, sometimes muscle-bound young men. Girls went from primness to flamboyance to sedate young ladies. And through it all they laughed, talked, thought and perspired as they acquired knowledge, honed their laboratory skills, and coordinated motor skills on the playing field and in the gym.
Often, while subbing, I would find a kid more interested in humming a tune, or in throwing a crumpled paper ball into the wastebasket. Then I would surmise, often correctly, that they had just come in from a music class, or a basketball game, as the case may be. It was a challenging experience to change their frame of mind to the one more suited to the task at hand, be it a calculus worksheet or a group project on To Kill A Mockingbird.
I had occasion to do a long-term subbing assignment also, during which I got to know almost 126 students on a more than nodding acquaintance. In guiding them through an energy resources project, I used my judgment in giving them freedom to express themselves as they wished. Of course, there were some discipline problems, but these were more the signs of exuberance than troublemaking. Three years later, these students still greeted me affectionately, and I got a glimpse into their mindset when one of them confided to me, “It was the best time we ever had.” I feel it necessary to emphasize strongly the need to balance “concern for the job” with “concern for people.” Except for occasional admonitions, I had no need to place strictures on their work. After all, Enloe is a magnet school and its students are highly motivated.
Lunch is a joyous occasion for all students, and a chance to socialize and let off steam. A healthy mind in a healthy body can only be attained if the proper nourishment is present. Young people at the peak of their growing process have voracious appetites.
And, finally, to the teachers and administrators go my thanks for congenial and collegial relationships. They were, without exception, helpful, and aroused my admiration at how skillfully they taught their students; how much motivation and commitment they brought to a task, and how well they succeeded.
I remember my Dad running his tiny workshop in Calcutta during the eighties and nineties. He had a lathe, shaping machine, drilling machine and grinder. He had to do his own marketing, accounting and managerial work, but the machines were operated by casual workers who worked only when there was work for them.
To the question, why did these workers not have their own workshops, I’d like to say that firstly, it takes a lot of business acumen to run a small-scale industry. Secondly, my Dad had got a loan from the State Bank of India, against the land that he had at Konnogor, which served as collateral. Most poor people cannot provide this collateral, and so they usually can’t get loans. Of course, experiments have been tried to give loans without security, but often the borrowers don’t bother to repay the loans. Human nature being what it is, a borrower pays back the loan to release his collateral, not otherwise!
When all the machines in my dad’s factory were running, it was music to our ears, so to say. Money was coming in and we had the promise of a good month. An idle machine is a sheer loss, in more ways than one. But there was one machine that my Dad did not have—a sawing machine. Because of this he had to outsource his sawing work, thus reducing his profits.
We had a family discussion on whether to go in for a sawing machine costing Rs 5000. Capital expenditure is always risky, but here the rewards seemed to outweigh the risks. So we bought the sawing machine and after that all our sawing work was done in-house. We had just started a new “revenue stream.” This term, so favored by bankers, means that additional money would be coming in, financial obligations like debt servicing could be met, salaries and other bills paid, etc.
Back in the US in 2001, I initially was dependent on my wife for all my needs. But within a short time I managed to generate my own revenue. Now I have three revenue streams. Firstly, there’s the money that the editors of Saathee magazine pay me. Then there’s my income from tutoring high school students in math, and finally there’s my monthly paycheck from my work as a substitute teacher.
With increasing competition, it is very necessary to be resourceful. Society will only give you money if you give value to society. A customer is, therefore, a person with whom you exchange value. Entrepreneurs know this, and institutions like banks and venture capitalists are always ready to provide the finance, albeit at a cost. But the risk is yours, as are the profits.
By Chandan Sen
It is generally well-known that the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo involves the Synthesis of Knowledge, Work and Devotion. In his Letters on Yoga, Volume 2, Sri Aurobindo devotes an entire chapter to “Sadhana through Work.”
Ten Tenets from Sri Aurobindo, with Comments
In trying to follow and practice Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, I’m taking stock as of today, and writing down ten thoughts:
The Posthumous Birth of Evariste Galois
Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction, and in the field of mathematics it certainly appears to be so. Most Indians are familiar with the name of Ramanujan, who proved 3000 theorems, died in England while still in his thirties, and is generally considered to be a mathematical genius.
How I Acquired “Heidi”
One day, about a week before Christmas, 1961, my friend Jim Eke and I went into the local grocer’s shop just across the road from our school, St. Johns, Baxenden. Jim pointed to a Boys’ Annual – I forget whether it was Tiger or Lion – and mentioned casually that he’d love to have it but alas, didn’t see it happening.
The night Dolly got married, I cried. We had been neighbors for the first ten years of my life, and her Dad, whom we called Uncle Narain, was a colleague and friend of my Dad’s.
The entire purpose of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is to get a response from the Divine. The object of the yoga is to know the Divine and grow in the Divine consciousness till there is no difference between the Divine’s will and the will of the sadhak.
My boss was telling me of how her 86-year-old mother had just purchased a grand piano to replace the decades- old Miller piano that had given them such yeoman service over the years.
I mentioned that people of our parents’ generation had fewer material goods but knew how to use them. A case in point is the Baby Brownie Box camera that my Dad had during the years that my sister and I grew up, 1950-1960 approximately. It wasn’t a fancy camera but took very good pictures if you held it steady and the lighting was adequate.
We have pictures in our collection that captured our childhood years. There’s one of my sister and I, still toddlers, licking the ice slab that the ice man had just delivered, as he did every morning, for the ice box. This was in the years before refrigerators became commonplace.
Another sequence of three pictures shows me naughtily kicking my sister, then she slapping me, and me crying away. There are pictures of us children playing with baby goats and ducks and geese in our grandfather’s home in Konnogor.
More pictures of our 1957 trip to Kashmir, with us on horses, the Dal Lake houseboats, and so on.
In 1960 the Baby Brownie lost its place to the 35 millimeter Agfa Silleto camera that Dad purchased at the duty-free shop in Aden, on our way to England by ship. That Agfa recorded many events, places, people and things during our one-year stay in England.
Dad took pictures of Tilbury Docks, of his factory and his colleagues at British Northrop in Blackburn, and of the houses and streets in our neighborhood in Baxenden, near the city of Accrington. Unlike the Baby Brownie, the Agfa could take color pictures also, though these were very expensive.
We have pictures of the Northrop General Manager, Mr. Sommerville, and his family, in their beautiful cottage and garden with riotous flowers in carefully manicured beds.
The Manchester public library and the park near Baxenden, where again, the camera captured the color and exuberance of the trees and bushes.
There’s a picture of all our childhood friends, standing in a row for the historic (sic) shot, with Jim Eke, my best friend, hardly ten years old, with his baby sister Judith in his lap.
Dad even took night shots of our TV, and surprisingly enough, the motor races and cricket scenes came out very well indeed.
In 1987, when my sister and her family went to England, she took the Agfa with her. She put it to good use taking color photographs of England which had changed a lot over the years.
Later, she got her own camera and I believe that the Agfa has finally been retired after serving us well for over four decades.
Now, with digital cameras being the rage, and cell-phone cameras and the like, people seem to take random shots without much attention to quality. Nowadays, in my opinion, it’s all about quantity.
Glimpses of Rabindranath Tagore
The year 2013 is almost upon us. It marks the centenary of the winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature by Rabindranath Tagore, poet eminent of Bengal. The hundred years seem to have flashed by in a second. Indeed, in poem #82 of Geetanjali, Tagore writes:
Time is endless in thy hands, my Lord.
There is none to count thy minutes.
Days and nights pass and ages bloom
and fade like flowers. Thou knowest how to wait
Thy centuries follow each other
perfecting a small wild flower.
Most people are aware of the lyrical beauty of Tagore’s poems, yet few know how tragic his life was because of the untimely death of all his children. Maybe that is why death plays such a large part in his creations. For example, in poem #86, Gitanjali again, he writes:
Death, thy servant, is at my door.
He has crossed the unknown sea
and brought thy call to my house.
The night is dark and my heart is fearful—-
Yet I will take up the lamp, open my gates
and bow to him my welcome.
So many of his poems speak of the infinite, the eternal, and of immortality. We read with pleasure his poem #1, the poem to God:
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
And fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed
Thou hast carried over hills and dales,
And hast breathed through it melodies
Education occupied a central part of his life, and Vishwa Bharati at Shantiniketan is Tagore’s lasting legacy to the world. Poem #35 is oftentimes recited by school children:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into
Fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Tagore put his mystical experiences into words, so that we could all share in his intimacy with God. In poem #102 of Gitanjali, he writes:
I boasted among men that I had known you,
They see your pictures in all works of mine,
They come and ask, “Who is he?” I
Know not how to answer them. I say
“Indeed, I cannot tell.” They blame me
And go away in scorn. And you sit there smiling.
The other two great Bengali mystics were, of course, Sri Ramkrishna and Sri Aurobindo, if we leave out Sri Chaitanya, the 14th century mystic.
Tagore’s homage to Sri Aurobindo, in the latter’s political heyday, took the form of a poem, Namaskar, which—-freely translated—- starts as follows:
Aurobindo, accept Rabindranath’s salutation.
Oh friend, oh friend of the nation,
Nationalism finds its soul in you.
You have no need of fame,
Or wealth, or pleasure.
You have asked for no small gift,
Neither of clemency.
You have not begged for mercy.
I believe this poem reflects Sri Aurobindo’s uncompromising demand for Indian Independence, and was written while the patriot was serving a jail term. Needless to say, Sri Aurobindo passed through a phase of intense political activity, aka freedom fighting, before taking up a monastic life and founding an ashram.
Finally, after a life of ecstatic writing, Tagore bids farewell in poem #93:
I have got my leave.
Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.
Here I give back the keys of my door—-
And I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask for last kind words from you.
We were neighbors for long,
But I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned and the lamp
That lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come
And I am ready for my journey.
Lessons from Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga
Peace is the first requirement, followed by certain receptivity towards the Divine influence, and plasticity to being moved by the Divine power. One might well ask, “Why should I bother?”
The answer is that if you aspire towards higher things, reject un-Divine and obscure things and show a glad and helpful surrender, “All else will be done for you.”
Sri Aurobindo writes, in the slim volume, “The Mother”, “…surrounded by her full presence, you can go securely on your way.” He gives a practically water-tight guarantee of immortality.
But when things go wrong—-or difficulties arise—-one must understand how and why this occurs. The path is always upwards, but it is a spiraling path, not a straight line. We sadhaks are sure to face obstacles, difficulties and dangers. That is the law of the way, and none can abrogate it.
When asked if he had any particular advice, Sri Aurobindo gave the answer, “A gathering up of the consciousness inwards and upwards.” Readers may well be reminded how the wandering saint, Tota Puri, initiated Sri Ramkrishna by pressing a sharp object on the latter’s forehead, between the eyebrows.
In Sri Aurobindo’s case also, it was a Maharashtrian yogi, Lele, who gave Sri Aurobindo spiritual instruction and taught him to silence his mind by intercepting thoughts as they appeared from the outside and flinging them back before they could enter the mind.
In his Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo admits that he “fell” many times, and gently chided the aspirants of the Ashram on their lack of faith, persistence and will-power.
Indeed, the human will can be used to brow-beat recalcitrant human nature into submission. Yet Sri Aurobindo’s way does not entail an ascetic withdrawal from food or normal life.
Sure, such standard practices as chanting, meditation and prayer do help the sadhana. Each sadhak’s way is different and there are different strokes for different folks.
The true sadhak, if required to live frugally, will do so without cavil. If life makes him or her rich, this too should be accepted with equanimity, without wallowing in materialistic wealth which leads to the “dull habit of dead routine.”
Sri Aurobindo has no strictures on food, but one should be careful not to complain if occasionally the food is not to one’s taste. Details of his experiences and answers to sadhak’s questions can be found in The Letters on Yoga. Along with Sri Ma’s Agenda, these make for fascinating reading. Sri Aurobindo categorically stated that “The Mother’s consciousness and my consciousness are one and the same.”
Confetti and Ice Cream
My Dad used to say, and I’ve heard it said elsewhere also, that near the end of one’s life one becomes very conscious of childhood memories, and such memories come back to one much more vividly than mid-life memories.
Father and Son Fellowship
When I was in college at the age of 18 or so, my Dad said, “Yes! I don’t mind if you study till the age of 40. I’ll support you!” I think it was because his own education had been patchy, that he felt so strongly about his son’s education.
Auroville and Matrimandir
In 1957, the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram wrote on Auroville,“I invite you to the great adventure, and in this adventure you are not to repeat spiritually what the others have done before us…”
Common Core Standards
The Royal Indian Navy
Narayan Saves Himself
The Purpose of Education
As long ago as 1934, John Dewey, pioneer educator, wrote, “The purpose of education has always been to everyone, in essence, the same – to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.”
A certain young man met a certain young woman. Well, you say, all good stories start like that. Yes, but in the case of Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri, the story told is allegorical.
God Knowledge Trumps All Other Knowledge
Spiritual training, it is said, is more difficult to impart than physical or mental training. Many of the spiritual values are very different from ordinary values. For example, according to Sri Aurobindo, it does not matter what type of work you do, or your station in life, as far as the Divine is concerned. This runs counter to our oft-repeated exhortations to our youth to become engineers or doctors. It all depends on the spirit in which a thing is done.
The Promise of Geothermal Energy
A humorist has called normal fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – “fuels from hell,” while lauding renewable energy sources - solar, wind and tidal wave power - “fuels from heaven.”
Biomimicry and Green Chemistry
We live in an age of buzzwords, and two of these buzzwords that came to my attention recently are “biomimicry” and “green chemistry.” I have written before of Janine Benyus’s work with biomimicry, in a book of that name. In a recent discourse on TED-talks, she spoke of how mankind has stooped to emulating nature in a number of its processes, which are invariably low-temperature and low energy consuming processes.
In 1961, when people in India had not yet become familiar with the word “transistor,” we – that is, my parents, my sister and I – were in England, listening to a 9-transistor radio receiver bought in Aden on our way out to England by ship.
The Millennium Development Goals: Hurtling Towards 2015
Wolfensohn’s World Bank, and the Aftermath
Ram and Shyam
Gross National (UN)happiness
The Importance of (Free) Samples
The Eagle in Retrospect
Florida Shall Not Go Under
Vanishing Rain Forests
Davos and Hay
Just another Sucker
Personal Humility and Professional Will
The Italian Shipwreck
Three Types of Knowledge
Reconstruction from First Principles
Ubiquitous Connectivity and India
My Friendship with Business People
My natural love for books led me to Manik’s bookshop, Kabya Katha, at Ganguly Bagan in Kolkata. He didn’t mind me hanging out with him at his shop, especially as I occasionally bought books and stationery from him, and helped him while away the long hours when business was slow.
Broadening the Landscape of Business
For many years now, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, of Bangladesh, has been running Grameen Bank, which offers low-interest micro-loans to poor people to help them do business and become self-sufficient.
Bootstrapping Oneself Up
A humorous poor man once told me, “The rich tell us to bootstrap ourselves up, and then they steal the boot!” I for one am never in favor of asking rich people to help the poor, because very few of them are inclined to do so.
The Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity”
In a fascinating discussion at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, five top scientists and technologists involved in the upcoming mission spoke enthusiastically about some of the salient points of the mission.
And So On To Solar and Wind Power
The Romance of Satellite Communications
A Compass Pointing North
Sri Aurobindo and the Nature of Work
Sen Babu Makes the Grade
Junior Sen Starts a Business
B.G. Birla and the Plastic Bobbins
Putting Food on the Table
Durgapur – Planned City of the East
Reflections on the Electronic Portfolio
Youthful Malawi Genius William Kamkwamba
Youthful Genius Lev Vygotsky
The Problem and its Solution
Interactive Learning through Educational Satellites
An Industrial Ecosystem
Hari and Hara
Business as Usual
Jean Piaget’s Magnificent Obsession
Practical Training in Bangalore
Mr. Bly and Mr. Pook
Chance, Risk and Skill
Elder Fraud or a Form of Symbiosis?
Practical Training in Bangalore
In the three years that I spent at the Indian Institute of Science, studying engineering during 1972-75, we were required to undergo mandatory summer training at any of the large firms, both public and private sector, that dotted the landscape in Bangalore.
Mr. Bly and Mr. Pook
Mr. Bly was the technical expert who went to India accompanying the automatic, seam-welded aluminum pipe- making factory that was imported by the Goenkas and installed in Garia, on the outskirts of Calcutta, in the premises of Premier Irrigation Equipment, Pvt. Ltd.
The Birla Industrial and Technological Museum
In my first year in college at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, I spotted an ad in The Statesman newspaper. BITM was asking for applications from students for holiday work at the Museum. I dutifully applied, very conscious that at some point in my life I’d have to go from “learning” to “earning”.
Perth and its Pundit
My old school friend, John C. Vyse, lives in Perth, Western Australia. He’s the Managing Director of a growing speciality paints company, Supalux. His Dad, John C. Vyse (Sr.), was Principal of La Martiniere School for many years.
There once lived a Pondit of Perth,
While browsing iTunes the other day I happened to use the search term “Bengali” and came upon an interesting series of podcasts entitled Bangla Golpo, or Bengali Stories. Well loved stories like Mohesh, Ghonada, and Chander Pahar have been rendered into audio podcasts by a talented young Bengali of America, called Gourav Das.
The Serenader in Rabindranath Tagore
While I was in school at La Martiniere, Calcutta, I won a prize by composing the following poem:-
More Bengali and English Proverbs
I sometimes wonder how my Bengali ancestors lived in those turbulent times when marauding King’s soldiers and robbers and bandits of every shape and size terrorized Bengal. Maybe they drew strength from their sayings, often pithy and certainly pointed. Just think of the saying: If you pull the ear the head will surely also come. I have no doubt that this saying was meant to be taken literally as well as figuratively.
Barbarism and Planet Earth
The City and the Stars
Two Fallacies Regarding “Green” Expectations
Work is Life; Time is Money
A Professional Achievement
The Triple Bottom Line
Auroville, Bhubaneshwar and Chandigarh
Arms and the Man
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and T.E.R.I.
Bill Wood and the Eagle Annuals
Poverty and Illegal Immigration
Cricket at Vivekananda Park
Distant Cousin Bachchu Dada
Distinguished Professor D. N. Bose
Stones of the Silicon Type
The Joys of Soccer
Bela De Of Yesteryear
Deep Thinking (Achtung! Achtung!)
Artifacts of Civilization
Austerity Versus Opulence
The Advent of a New Year
The Wisdom of Crowds
The Tactics of Success
Bengali and English Proverbs and Sayings
The Song of Hiawatha
“Solaris” and Its Creator
Of Creation, Preservation and Destruction
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
Steve Jobs, speaking at a commencement ceremony at Stanford University some years ago, told three stories the gist of which I reproduce here. Apparently, Steve was given up for adoption soon after his birth. His biological mother had stipulated that he must go to college and so his foster parents, neither of whom were college graduates, paid for his tuition at an expensive college.
Two Cheers for Our Leaders
A recent G-8 summit in Italy provides food for thought on a number of issues. They seem to have agreed to a two-degree rise in temperature vis-à-vis the pre-industrial level, and that is all. The 80 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 is too vague to be of any immediate use, but might serve as the starting point for future global climate-change conferences.
Let’s face it. We share planet Earth and many other things besides, with our fellow creatures. Only an unfair person like Nikita Kruschev can brazenly say, “What is mine is mine; what is yours is negotiable.” But perhaps Kruschev missed his vocation and should have been a standup comedian like Jay Leno. Did you watch Jay one late night last spring? He was busy regretting a recent investment he’s made. that he’d bought a Chrysler dealership in Mexico City.
A Sociological Conundrum
The Usefulness, or Otherwise, of Books
The Cistern and the Fountainhead
Lily the Pink
Love of the Romantic Kind
If I am to write about romantic love I’d rather use a paintbrush than a pen, for affairs of the heart need a deft and delicate touch. In my opinion, love that is reciprocated leads to a happy ending - but that does not make for good literature. It is, rather, unrequited love, or love gone awry, that has been a favorite topic of the great masters.
Literature abounds with examples of such love. Charles Dickens, in his book Great Expectations, writes about Pip’s undying devotion to Estella, who spurns his overtures. He suffers dreadfully and writes in the first person - perhaps the novel is autobiographical. I don’t remember if Estella finally succumbs to Pip’s advances, since the book actually belonged to my sister and I got bored after reading halfway through it. Why on earth did Pip persist in the face of such rejection, I asked myself?
Somerset Maugham, in his classic tale of unrequited love, wrote Of Human Bondage in which a man falls in love with a woman, I think she was a waitress, and is rebuffed, goes away for a few years, but is drawn back to her irresistibly, only to be turned away again. Oh, what an unhappy man he was!
Finally, in A.J. Cronin’s book, The Judas Tree, a man ruins a woman’s life, though I don’t remember exactly how, and disappears for thirty years, having tired of her. He then returns and repeats his dreadful work by ruining her daughter’s life! Cronin, always a dark and depressing writer, excels himself in this book.
Ultimately, the man is filled with remorse, but since he cannot undo his wrong, hangs himself from a Judas tree. The tree is named after the Biblical character, Judas, who if you remember, betrayed Christ. Yes, the lesson is that true love is never to be betrayed. It is one of the most mysterious and potent of humankind’s emotions. May it never go unrequited.
Humor To The Rescue
The use of humor can be a great way to communicate a message. People like to laugh, especially when the joke’s not on them! As the sage wrote, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone - for the sad old earth, if the truth be told, has worries of its own.”
Slipping on a banana peel, and falling, may not be very funny to the person who falls, but it makes for great entertainment. As a writer I didn’t make much headway until I wrote a piece called “Chief Broken Tooth,” where I made fun of my own dental problems.
One tends to get too serious in this world of ours, and the media is mostly responsible for reporting what they consider to be newsworthy material - all the natural and man-made disasters, murders, thefts, etc. One begins to feel that these doomsday prophets may be right till one regains a sense of proportion by reading a joke and having a good belly laugh. No wonder that laughing clubs have flourished.
The entertainment industry thrives because people want to escape from the dull realities of life. My favorite humorous screen character was the Bengali actor, Bhanu Banerjee, who was also a friend of my Dad’s. I’ve met Bhanu in person and he’s just as funny in real life as he is on screen. They say that his face is like the Bengali numeral “five” - always sour, and his humor is often deadpan.
Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jim Carey, and various stand-up comedians of all shapes and sizes do a roaring business; there’s no end to the public’s demand for humor. The renowned writer, Arthur Koestler, in his book, The Act of Creation, explores what makes something funny. He brings seriousness to the study of humor, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron, that sheds some light on what people think “funny.”
Features in the Readers’ Digest like “Laughter, The Best Medicine” and “Humor in Uniform” testify to the abiding popularity of the humorous, the ludicrous and the comical. Here are two jokes that I remember:
An accountant went into a bookshop and asked to see a book on accountancy. The shopkeeper showed him a book and said, “This book will do half the work for you.” The accountant was delighted and replied, “Excellent! I’ll take two.”
A couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by eating at the same restaurant where he had first proposed, and she had accepted. She said, though, “Darling, I have a confession to make. When you proposed, and you thought that I was accepting, actually I was merely nodding to the band.”
Finally, the story is told about Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, the pair that starred in many movies. When they first met, Katherine Hepburn remarked to Spencer Tracy, who was a short man, “Aren’t you a trifle too small for me?” He replied, “ Stick around, lady, and I’ll cut you down to size.”
Change and Stability
Did you know the average person spends more time with her co-workers than with her family? No wonder that the number of office romances is increasing. The typical young man now meets a typical young woman, either marries or does not marry her, but they have kids who go to daycare while both parents work.
Soon the couple separate and go their own ways, while one or the other of the parents pays child support. The child goes to school and sees a counselor, who has her hands full by the time the child reaches adolescence. He or she will, of course, repeat this pattern when it comes to his or her turn at parenthood.
I suppose it is no use lamenting the demise of the family at this late stage. Many couples don’t bother to tie the knot at all. The ding-dong battle between change and stability seems now to be weighted towards the former, at the expense of the latter. I don’t know who the winner is, or the loser.
Wealth is the Prelude to Art
When I was a young boy in school, I painted, wrote short stories, and experimented with electricity and electronics. My activities were more like those of an artist than a scientist. I didn’t have to worry about money because dad was a good provider, and I didn’t have to worry about food, clothes, or anything else for that matter, because mom was an excellent housewife.
I painted for the sheer joy of painting, not from nature but from pictures in books and on calendars. My exuberance exceeded my talents and I was certainly no budding Picasso. But friends of the family admired my art and encouraged me to continue.
But once in adulthood, the necessity of earning money put a damper on my artistic efforts. True, I still wrote, and could dash off an essay in a jiffy, but painting took a backseat in my life.
In my childhood I had painted forests and mountains, trees, snowmen, castles and ships. Now in my late middle age those vivid colors of my paintings are still alive and I see them in my mind’s eye – the turquoises and aquamarines, the crimsons and purples, the golden browns and azure blues, and yes the midnight blacks and somber grays.
Wealth, said Will Durant, is the prelude to art, because food must come first, followed by shelter and clothing. Yet man does not live by bread alone and the proverbial starving writer or artist is more fact than fiction.
Art uplifts both the artist and the audience. Once, I listened to music, and then yearned to produce music myself. My efforts on the harmonica – my instrument of choice – delighted me more than I can say. Indeed, once a certain amount of earned money is assured, we can take heart from another of Will Durant’s sayings: When we have learned to reverence liberty as well as wealth, we too shall have our Renaissance.
An important emerging global trend is the rise to prominence of think tanks that profess to provide an expert opinion on all public policy matters ranging from trade, economics, weapons system purchases and the like. Examples of think tanks are Citizens for a Sound Economy (US) and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (India).
Think tanks started in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century and were generally funded by independent organizations so that their reports and recommendations were bias-free. Indeed, this essentially Anglo-American requirement – that high credibility required independent funding – is not quite as prevalent in the think tanks of the developing countries, and countries in transition.
After the issue of funding comes the important one of scope. Should a think tank limit itself to a specific sector or should it cover a spectrum of subjects? What about the geographical area covered? Should a think tank be nationally active or should it limit itself to regional issues? Often, the choice of scope once again is determined by the leanings of the stakeholders, be they funding agencies, think tank managers or researchers.
Next comes the question of staffing. One would expect PhDs to dominate the field but this is not necessarily so. Very specialized, albeit learned people, often produce too verbose or exclusive reports that busy policy makers find too tedious to read. A balance has to be struck between scholarship and readability, and here the person with a larger repertoire scores, because he paints with a broader brush, so to say.
Other issues that think tanks of the world face are questions of taxation and legality. Once again, the politically astute think tank manager who is also adaptable will survive where others may perish.
A final word on funding: it is prudent to have multiple revenue sources that have overlapping scopes of payment on a time scale, so that at least a minimum level of funding is assured for salaries and facilities maintenance. Indeed, many think tank researchers are forced to continue working as professors in universities because the think tank they belong to operates on a shoestring budget.
As one journeys through life one tends to accumulate so much knowledge and experience that one learns to “chunk” information and wisdom under different rubrics which serve as a kind of entry-point to deeper levels of meaning.
The other day I told my son, who stays in Chapel Hill, to remember the food pyramid when he eats. Every honest school kid knows that carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vegetables and fruit are all essential to a balanced diet, so the “food pyramid” is a convenient, shorthand way of remembering this.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs constitutes the second pyramid on my list. Briefly, humankind must first have food, shelter and clothing. Once these basic needs have been met, there arise additional needs in the following order: safety and security needs, belongingness, recognition, and finally self-actualization. The last and ultimate need, self-actualization, is often placed first by great people like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, even before the lower level needs. But for ordinary folks, the other needs take precedence, in their respective order, before one thinks of self-actualization.
The final pyramid that I briefly want to touch upon is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge. When you “know” a subject, you first start with knowledge, then proceed to understanding, followed by application. After that you can synthesize new knowledge and finally comes the evaluation phase. For more information, folks, hit the books or go online. Happy hunting!
Confessions Of A Substitute Teacher
Often, while walking down the corridor, I was pointed out by smiling students as “Reeshi’s Dad.” I bumped into Reeshi occasionally, but, true to his adolescent stature, he preferred not to be seen talking to me. He enjoyed going around with his classmates, and I marveled at the enormous camaraderie that I saw the students exhibit among themselves.
Other occasions to observe kids and interact with them more deeply were the daily lunch period and the bus journey. I think the students who shared with me the daily encounter with the public transport system, saw in me a person very much like themselves, only older, who, for whatever reasons, chose not to drive but use the bus. We bus travelers have a sub-culture of our own. We know the ropes, the routes, and the occasional boredom of bus travel.
The girl who used to grin and call out loudly, “Reeshi’s Dad!” has become a serious senior. The lad who skipped class as a freshman is now busy with his engineering studies. And I, a foreigner who found a place in their hearts, am still learning, teaching and marveling. As for my son—he has graduated and moved on, an alumnus of Enloe and a student at ECU.