Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where is my consent ?

Disclaimer : This blog entry is not supposed to justify or unjustify any points of view. It is just a thought experiment aimed to raise some questions which are maybe not asked. It just occurred to me while I was thinking of the situation and wanted to share it with the larger audience.

A real world scenario :
Recently, a fortnight back 3 Indian ministers were filmed watching porn on their cellphones in an Indian State Legislative Assembly(regional state level parliament) while discussions were going on in the Assembly. A huge furore was created over it and the ministers had to resign following social pressure(invisible yet present).

The thought experiment :
Imagine yourself in the Assembly with the above ministers. Imagine they are watching porn and you are picturing some porn movie you watched yesterday in your head. Now, let us assume "someone" has a "thought oracle", a machine which can read thoughts and project your thoughts on a screen. Let us not go into discussing how the thought oracle can be designed, let us assume it exists. Now THAT "someone" trains the thought oracle on you and projects your porn visualization images on the screen. Let us assume the ministers have also got caught by filming what they were doing. Aren't you and the ministers in the same boat ? The deterministic factor here is the technology while the incriminating factor here is the subject's intention. Of course, there is subjectivity in judging intentions but the bigger question is "The judgment seems to be valid from a strict legal viewpoint but is it really valid from a social high horse ?". As far as I see, the ministers resigned because they were not committing any legal offence(otherwise their employment would have been terminated) but they cowed down to social pressure and its larger socio-political implications. This is actually frightening.
This led me to the following questions which I would just outline. I do not have the answers, so I would not be verbose. Let's just spare a minute for thinking, shall we ?

1. What has society become today ? Why was society initially formed ? Was it formed to be a collective entity where the weakest entity in the group is not as weak as he would have been if he had been alone and the strongest entity is stronger than he would have been had he been alone ? If that is the basic assumption, then what is the role of society today ? Is that role justified ? If individuals spawned society for ease is the basic assumption, then is the assumption not weak if not obsolete today ?

2. What controls the will of the society ? What do we define as fair and not fair ? Is the judgment being done from within the society or from outside ? How do we examine the system then ? Is the way we examine the system now correct ? Are we ending up going towards a situation where we would end up at a wall ? Is the sum of all societies the sum of all people ? Is that a valid and fair sharing ?

3. Why don't I have the option of opting out of a society and not join any other society ? If the rules of the societal model are binding on all then, as an individual born why don't I have the option of signing a Terms and Condition based rule set ? How do we define fair ? Is fairness/justice today defined only from a societal viewpoint and not an absolute viewpoint ?

4. Society can be thought of as a model, is the model flawed ? Are we spending too much of time and resources to solve the problems in the model without realizing that those solutions might lead to other problems owing to the assumptions in the model being inherently flawed ?

5. What is culture/religion/.. ? Is it just a mechanism to bind a group of unknown people into a society ? Is it the first point of common unification for such people to implement a collective group will ? Are those mechanisms self preserving using human emotions ? And if it is such, then is emotion just a masking factor for deciding something where logical decision is impossible owing to lack of sufficient quantifiers for the decision ?

PS: I have kept the questions at a very very abstract level because then they can be interpolated to very specific scenarios. I am aware that I might have used some mathematical terms but that allows for precise formulation in little words. Plus, I am a mathematician too so I cannot do away with my basic instinct, part of the society in me. At least, when I was thinking of these questions and discussing with my friend Ian Leinert while travelling in Geneva at -15 degrees, I did not find any obvious answers. I am not even sure if there are any but all of you are brighter than me, maybe you will find the answers or better still maybe you will ask some more pertinent questions.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Ignorant Beggar

The young man looked out through the open window. He felt alone in the old compartment of the suburban local train. Though the train compartment was close to full, he felt completely cut off. He felt as if he was a misfit in the world, as if something about his existence was not right. It was not that he was unhappy about something he knew. He was unhappy because he was unhappy. It did not make sense to anyone but he did not care. The harsh June sun was beating down mercilessly on the small platform outside. There were a few small tin sheds, with too many people under them than they could pretend to protect. The whole platform seemed deserted. Suddenly, something caught his eyes.

A beggar whose legs had been amputated was crawling on the hot cemented platform outside. With a great deal of difficulty, he got up onto the train. The train started moving and so did his thoughts. He started remembering all the times when he had seen a beggar, with their mutilated limbs and deplorable conditions. How his heart had cried out each time. How he was told that begging was a business and you could not trust it. How his brain fought with his heart and ended up numb with neither side winning. The only fallout was an even greater feeling of guilt and shame which soon disappeared at the appearance of something seemingly more important in his life. How he hated it all. The self imposed importance, the self concocted mixture of feeding one's ego, the self defacing habit of running after things than waiting for life to wash over you. How he hated it all.

The shrill voice of the beggar broke his thoughts. He jerked back to the musty slightly smelly train compartment where the person sitting next to him was dozing off on his shoulders. He wondered about the sensibilities of reason which all his friends talked about, how beggars do not have a life, how the Government should do something, how things needed to change, how growth of his country has to encompass all. With his new found seemingly superior powers of reasoning, he felt choked owing to the lack of answers. How he wished if he knew the answers. How he wished he could play God.

The beggar was a man of around 40. When he got up on the train he noticed this young man in his mid 20s sitting in the corner of the train compartment. He noticed him because he looked different than the others, his clothes were different, his manners were different, there was a conjured confidence which was trying to mask the unmistakeable uneasiness in occupying the compartment. But still, what caught him the most was the young man's eyes which wore a misty confused sad look. He seemed to be some hallowed God to be in whose position the beggar would kill but his eyes wore a pain that even the beggar had not felt when a bus had run over his legs. He decided he had to do something.

The beggar went on singing a mixture of the latest Bollywood movie songs completely out of tune. He ignored all the furrowed brows of passengers who were roused from their slumber, the irritated shifting of the passengers in their seats. He ignored it all, he went on singing and begging for alms with an outstretched hand. It did not matter to him that his outstretched hands remained empty as he moved around. He just ignored it all. He reached where the young man was sitting. He stretched his hand and waited. The young man was numb again. His heart wanted him to give away the 10 rupee note in his purse. His brain however told him helping beggars was just increasing the problem and for self justification it also told him that the 10 rupee note was the last in his purse and he needed to keep it. The beggar could sense the confusion in the young man. How his look and eyes conveyed the compassion he felt for him but his attitude, manners and hesitation indicated otherwise. The beggar took away his outstretched hands and said, "Babu(salutation for Sir), where will you get off ? If it is ok with you, can I talk to you on the platform where you get off ?".

The young man was shocked, so was the train. He wanted to lie to the beggar and slip off but something inside him told him to talk to him. He said, "I will get off at the next station". The train reached the next station and the young man got off, followed by the beggar. All eyes in the compartment followed them. The beggar motioned the young man to come to the end of the deserted platform under a small tin shed. The young man was sweating profusely, he hated the summer heat but he went.
When the beggar and the young man reached the tin shed, the beggar suddenly asked, "Babu do you think you are better than me?". The young man was taken aback. He replied, "I am not sure I understand. Why did you want to talk to me ?" The beggar smiled and said, "Babu you look like the person who would have done and got a thousand things which I can never ever even imagine was possible, I wanted to hear it from you and be happy like you". The young man thought that the man was insane. Was he going to narrate his experiences which made for hallowed blog entries/acclaimed extempores to be read/heard/acclaimed by his reasonable friends to this person. The beggar broke his thoughts, "Babu, why are you sad ?". The young man rudely replied, "I am not and I am in a hurry so if you have nothing to say I would leave." The beggar replied, "Babu, do you think your life is better than mine." The young man angrily replied, "Yes, it is. I do not have to curse about my leg. I do not have to beg to eat. I do not have to be sorry about my whole existence." The beggar calmly replied, "You have only seen my missing leg and my begging and in that while you have presumed that my life is miserable and not worth living. I beg because with my condition I see it as the best way to earn money to keep me and my family alive. Even if there are beggars who cheat, how is it different when babus like you cheat in much greater magnitude and in place where the impact is so much more." The young man was lost for words. Here was a person who was speaking things which he had never imagined.

The young man replied, "How can you live your life when you have nothing to look forward to ? At every stage of life, I am made aware by myself that there is a certain set of goals and when I reach there another set of goals crop up. There are big words and proverbs all around trying to justify your existence and journey when in fact they are there to distract your unhappiness with the fact that you do not know what is the purpose of existence ?". The beggar smiled and replied serenely, "Why is the purpose of existence important ? Why do you think my life is worth nothing ? I get the same satisfaction when my thirst is quenched. When you eat a 5000 rupees meal with your family and I eat a 5 rupee meal with mine, the happiness we gain out of it is the same. Do you think your love for your mother and wife is more than mine ? Do you think any of the emotions you feel is different from mine ? Life is a gift which God has given to both of us and He never takes any of it from us. It is our perceived imaginary happiness that causes us pain and disappointment. God never gives anyone more or less, He gives everyone the same." The young man was shocked. He never thought that someone as nondescript as a beggar could tell him this in the middle of nowhere. He asked, "So what is the purpose of existence ?". The beggar replied, "Why is it important to have a purpose ? Purpose of existence is a hallucination. An attempt by your ego to justify that it is all important. We all have a life, we need to live it and experience it in the best way possible according to us. We all have experiences and choices. All we need to do when we finally close our eyes is take a look and just say, My life was beautiful and that would fulfill the purpose. Would it not ?"

The young man was stunned. He blurted out, "Tell me something, are you some kind of a learned man struck down by circumstances ?" The beggar simply laughed and said, "Is it because you think the things I said cannot be from a person who has never gone to a school? Babu, I have never seen the inside of a school. I am an ignorant man and I spoke what life has taught me. Forgive me if I spoke something wrong and wasted your time". A tear flowed down the young man's cheeks and he touched the feet of the beggar and said, "Thank you teacher for teaching me such a valuable lesson." And then the young man told him the stories about the world he had seen and the beggar told him his. Both of them were sitting under that tin shed while many trains with incredulous onlookers passed by. And the summer sun was still beating down mercilessly but the tin shed was full of autumn warmth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Monsoon Juxtaposition


Lightning streaked across the sky lighting up the shivering wet timeless sky. Thunder claps reverberated across the skies in pursuit of the lightning bolt. A pursuit epic in magnitude and relentlessness. The huge woollen rain clouds had gobbled up the blue skies so that there was neither beginning nor end of the clouds. A shade of dark grey hung all around. Amidst all this, there was restlessness all around, the dry leaves were fluttering all around as if afraid of the impending rain. The little insects and birds were indulging in their last minute hurried chores. The river waves were rejoicing in welcoming their brethren from abode above. There was harmony all around.

The huge old house by the river stood a silent testimony to the spectacle. It was an old 2 storey British-India bungalow. With huge pillared verandahs overlooking a garden overgrown with grasses and various flowering trees fashioned to the last detail, she stood old, firm and elegant. On the first floor verandah he stood with furrowed brows lost in thought. He was gazing at the river flowing right across the road, he was gazing at the garden below, he was gazing into the shoreline of the river on the other side, he was gazing into the beautiful yet mysterious grey sky, he was gazing into into nothingness yet everything.

He was thinking about her, thinking about it all, thinking about how she and the rain were so alike. And then it all began. It all started with the wind picking up, singing that long lost tune which soothes one soul. She did the same to him, her words always started with the same delicate softness that always left him in peace. And then came the first raindrops gently falling upon the dry earth, the dry leaves, the tinned roofs and the dry hearts. One by one they left their mark, clear, precise yet delible. A melody was taking its shape and it all started with the first raindrops. The first raindrops in the river were like a gift to the waves, so was she, a gift to him. She always came like a breath of fresh air, subtle,ever present, firm and her memories always started playing with that little unmistakable charm. And then the intensity of the rain grew.

The raindrops became bigger and louder, the pools of water started forming in the garden. The pools became larger and larger until their water was gushing down to the river overpowering everything in its path. The coconut trees swayed as if they were mesmerised, they were free, they were alive. The green coats of the trees glistened all around. In all this, the only thing visible was the clean sheet of water descending from the heavens and the music it created. All that was alive
before was now dead and all that was dead before was now alive. The river water was alive, dancing the everlasting dance. It was alive to the last drop, a huge microcosm of energy and activity ready to hand out life and death on an even platter. The rain drops were working their magic when they reached fever pitch, some trembled and some rejoiced. So it was with her,she always worked her magic. Her memories when they reached their their intensity overpowered him. They had an equal power of ending his life and bringing him back to life. They had the power of cleansing his soul. They had the power of making him realize himself in a completely new light. They had the power of making him live in the past, present and future on an equal footing.

Then the raindrops lowered their intensity and vanished without the slightest bit of warning. The skies cleared and the magic disappeared and everything which had been touched upon cried out. It cried out for more. Sometimes they returned, sometimes they did not. A liberty nobody grudged them but always when they finally left, it was without warning. It was always abrupt so the last parting thought was happiness and not sorrow. And they always left everything they touched with its soul cleaned so that it could survive another passage of time until they returned. So it was with her, whenever her memories left him, they always left him on the edge, with the unknown flash which he could never remember how hard he tried. They always left him with a smile on his face and a tear in his heart. They always left him void of anger and hate and full of compassion but they always left him.

He could not bear not talking to her anymore. Damn the fight in the morning when he decided he will not talk to her. Damn the anger. Everything all around him was an encapsulation of her and she was an encapsulation of everything around him. Damn everything. He picked up his phone and rang her number. She disconnected. He rang again. She disconnected again. He rang again. She picked up and said "Hello" and

It started raining all over again.

(Photo courtesy trekearth)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thank you my lovely ladies part 1

A lazy Sunday morning, a romantic song humming over the headphone, a close to 4 year old laptop and a brain sick for almost 25 years can create magic (black magic to be precise). I have finally decided to pluck up courage at great mortal peril from Miss X to myself to write about adolescent pangs (in this case mostly mine) that I had endured during my brief stay on Planet Earth.Last weekend, during my rare visits on Orkut, I happened to stumble upon the community of my school batch in which I had spent 4 years of adolescence life. I spent the next few hours traversing and discovering people and memories of my school life came rushing back.

Don Bosco School, Bandel(DBB in future references), an all boys' school had its greatest USP(Universally-Accepted Satisfying Point) in the fact that its gates were separated from the gates of Auxillium Convent School(ACS in future references), an all girls' school(imagine a huge blush and smile on the author's face while reading the name) by a road of width 10 feet. Newton's 3rd law suddenly had new meaning here. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The testosterone levels on this side of the border were reaching alarming heights as were the progesterone levels on the other side. A balance was the order of the day for humanity in the sleepy town of Bandel to survive.

Some essential backgrounds about DBB and ACS:

1. Although DBB elongated to Don Bosco Bandel, the lovely ladies across the border called us Donkey Boys' School.We did not mind the lack of brain as donkeys have a big heart and a few other ahem essential organs.

2. Similarly, ACS (essentially Auxillium Convent School) was elongated to Asses Convent School. WTF, how could we be such morons to end our chances of mating literally ? How can donkeys mate with asses ? (A disgusted look on the author's face).

3. ACS was a co-ed school till class 4(something to do with surging testosterone levels). Now these crossover mutants(who studied till class 4 in ACS and then crossed over to DBB) were the dudes in DBB because they had shared the benches with the lovely ladies of ACS, used the pencils/pens, shared the tiffins and most importantly could give us lovely sinuous insights into the lovely maidens lives' across the road. I think I just adored these duhs because they could sit next to girls of ACS in tuition classes, could say hi and borrow those copies on which the Rapunzels drooled under the strict eyes of their moms.

4. Although, the principals of DBB and ACS referred to each other's school as sister schools and brother schools, the students loved to be independent thinkers. The thought of having sister and brother schools was totally repulsive(as if God's punishment of a sister or brother was not enough). We loved to think "All the world's a stage and men and women merely men and women(in the sense of Darwin's theory of evolution) that's all".

5. DBB boys and ACS girls absolutely hated each other publicly and fantasized privately.Most importantly, a graph of number of girlfriends with time should be a linear curve tending to infinity(if it was already not infinity from birth), is something all the donkeys of DBB believed.

Some Friday in the spring of 1998, 3:20 PM outside the gates

I was standing outside the gates of DBB just when the school was over with the girls of ACS pouring out. I was there on my Hayabusa, with a sculpted body like Salman Khan, topless and a leather trouser, with the girls of ACS streaming all over me with flowers and cards and some other private memorabilia not to be mentioned here, professing their undying love. Suddenly one of them caught me by the shoulder and turned my face towards her. I could see her face coming closer and closer and closer when it turned into the face of my Physics teacher Mr. Bannerjee. He mentioned I had got 105/100 in Physics because he awarded extra marks for solving problems in more than 1 way in the paper and wanted to personally tell me, I had the makings of being great.Shit, who wants to know about Physics problems when I was making breakthroughs in organic chemistry and human biology.

The bus was here (number 4), there were 3 absolute scorching ACS girls(let's call them Miss A, B , C for the sake of anonymity and non traceability on Orkut) on whom I had a crush(in every sense of the word) every alternate day, Monday -> Miss A, Tuesday -> Miss B, Wednesday -> Miss C and the cycle repeated except on Sunday since God took rest on that day remember. It is important to note here the cycle had just started 3 days ago and would end in a month when there would be fresh imports. Anyways, so we get on the bus and Miss A and Miss B sit together while Miss C takes a seat alone on a seat for 2. The situation was perfect, I was doing this slow motion walk towards her as if I was on the ramp for Mr. Universe, each strand of my slick oily hair(thanks mom) was trying its best to swish around but failing and every person was looking at me with their mouths open and Mr. Bannerjee was singing "He got 105 out of 100"(try to imagine that if humanely possible). Suddenly,my sculpted figure was replaced by a lanky frame trying its best to maintain 90 degrees with Earth's surface and my previously sculpted topless body was wrapped in a white shirt which was all brown thanks to Suman's tackle on the football field and my maroon tie sticking out at an odd angle had huge brown spots now. I walked upto the seat and Miss C looked up at me. The feeling is impossible to explain but something which all of us have felt. There is a hot flush on your face and everything seems momentarily frozen, speaking seems to be a difficult job and there is a happiness filling each and every part of your body. The world is suddenly all white and sweet and lovely and the only thing that matters is if that girl can say something which contains your name. Well if you hear violins alongside all this, that's a great addon too.

She gave a faint invisible smile(which I think only I noticed), and moved to the corner of the seat near the window and started to look out of the window. I could see Miss A and Miss B turn their heads and giggle and whisper continuously. I thought it as an ideal time to flaunt my assets, my wrist watch(I was in class 8 and we were allowed to wear wrist watches from class 8). My aunt had given me a funky Mickey mouse watch and I could not help but smirk at the timing. I tried to raise my hand at every odd angle so that she could see it. When her shirt's sleeve fluttered in the wind and brushed against mine, I could feel what astronauts call zero gravity, her hair brushed against mine and when the bus gave an odd lurch she fell on my shoulders and took a bit of time to recover. I could have gone and kissed(smooched as well) the driver then and there. Her body had touched against mine, I had my first brush of adolescent sex. God I am a stud. I was looking at her from the corner of my eyes and I could see she was doing the same as well. This was it, I was Romeo reincarnate and I decided to say the most difficult 2 lettered word for adolescents "HI". I said "Hi C" but curiously my C was drowned by Mr. Banerjee's utterance of the same C and we both looked up in unison at him. Mr. Bannerjee asked me to be obedient and get up and he took my place. I could have enlisted as a jehadi at that moment if someone had given me an AK 47 and asked me to end Mr. Bannerjee's misery at that moment. Sulkily, I got up and went to sit with Debraj(who proclaimed he was my my best friend despite my protests).

For the remainder of the journey I kept giving sidelong glances at Miss C who was having a very bad time with Mr. Bannerjee. Debraj(a living proof of point 5 I put up) was saying that Miss A and B were deep into him and they had just proposed him jointly which he accepted singly and then they took turns sogging him. I asked him how was that possible since they are sitting five rows in front. He said, "I can read minds of girls and this is what they are doing right now(mental sogging). I have crossed the boundaries of love from physical love to mental love". I just told him, "Happy mental fscking". Miss C was getting up from her seat to get down from the bus. Just before she got down she stopped ,cast a furtive glance to the back of the bus and met my eyes. My day was made. See you loser Mr. Bannerjee, THIS is inertia. It is a different matter altogether that the next week she was sitting on the backseat of a Hayabusa with a guy in first year in college.

Some current facts

1. Miss C is now happily married as apparent from her Orkut profile and needless to say she looks fat and ugly now. Her husband does not have a Hayabusa by the way. No, he does not have a bicycle either. He just walks.

2. Miss A is apparently single and on the lookout for love. She still hates DBB boys and can't think of hooking up with DBB boys(though in her scrapbook it's mostly the DBB boys who have left their mark). Come on honey, everyone is not Demi Moore.

3. Miss B has decided to become a spinster. Not surprising, I always thought she was pretty much into girls and a lesbian conspiracy theory is doing the rounds darling.

Corollary:

I have decided to break up some of the memorable indecent sexy and characteristically loud adolescent incidents in my short life over a couple of blog posts. In my last post on this series, I need to also offer a huge clarification to Miss X. I know I am going to get slapped by her but then reliving the memories and seeing how/what we felt is almost exactly similar to what the current DBB donkeys and ACS female donkeys feel is heartening.

Miscellaneous tips

* Please read this blog and look for the double dirty meaning in every line. Trust me there is.

* In case you are wondering who Miss X, refer here.

* If you have read so far and enjoyed the innocently tragic narrative and even visualised some event in your school and you are not on the list of followers of this blog, then please go ahead and click on the "Follow" button on the blog and satisfy the vanity of author. He has infinite vanity by the way. Come on, it does not hurt to click a button.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE little boy and the old man

Play :- THE little boy and the old man

Act 1, Scene 1
Place : An overcrowded shopping centre, New Delhi
Actors : THE little boy, THE old man

The Friday night chill was just settling amidst the brilliant lights of District centre. The square was warming up to welcome the Friday night revellers underneath a vast star spangled sky. The little boy was walking with his eyes open wide with amazement. Every little movement, the tiniest hustle and bustle lit up the little boy's face like a small fiery lantern on narrow metal buoy drifting in a vast dark ocean. His hands were firmly clasped in a rigid grip by the old man's sinuous and wrinkled hands. Every little shake the little boy gave, made the grip stronger and stronger. The old man was walking with his head bowed and casting furtive, disapproving glances all around. The little boy was walking with a small polythene containing his new GIJOE set when he noticed the abnormally high number of policemen in the square. When the old man followed the boy's gaze, he could feel a chill going down his spine.

The old man said, "There must be a bomb nearby. We should never have come here. The police are looking for some terrorists. We need to get out of here. Why do you always cry for toys. See where we have landed."
The little boy was watching the whole scene with joy filled curious eyes, "The police. I have never seen them so close. They don't look bad. They look just like you."
The old man flinched on hearing this, "Are you mad ? Me like a policeman. Let's get away from here before we get caught in some trouble. Hide that polythene of yours. What if the policemen see it? Carrying polythene is illegal. Why do you always make me wish I was never with you?". The little boy said, "Look at that policeman, he is smoking in public, we should go and tell him what he is doing is not correct."
The old man replied, "Are you out of your mind? He will book us, beat us and do what not. Let us get the hell out of here."
The little boy said, "But we should at least object. Should we not raise our voice? That policeman is being paid out of your money. In that case, you deserve the highest right to tell him that he is not doing his work properly."
The old man rolled his eyes wide and barked, "You are insane. You should listen to me. I have seen so many things happen and I know exactly what these people are. These ideas do not work in the real world."
So saying the old man dragged the little boy whose little bright round brown eyes were still cast upon the scene with the same glow as it was when he had first seen it.

End of Scene 1

Both the little boy and the old man are inside each one of us. The old man keeps getting old and rigid with each passing day but like a ray of hope the little boy is always present inside us. He will always be with us and ensures our very existence remains human. The little boy makes each one of us, human. It is regrettable that we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to humanity and embrace rigidity. The old man is weighed down by his experiences with a big bad world, the little boy always wants to keep learning. Inside each one of there is a struggle to achieve the balance between the desire to relate new experiences with old ones and the desire to learn new experiences. What we want is to tune into the old man and the little boy talking as in the previous scene and then decide for ourselves. In that case, only we would be to blame if we chose to be human or inhuman. At least, that would be a beginning.

Disclaimer:
Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, I have taken the line "These ideas do not work in the real world." from your movie 3 Idiots. I hope you do not sue me. I am giving you due credit and since I do not earn anything from this blog so I cannot give you any percentage share. Please do not sue me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Little things that matter

Life is not about the moments that take your breath away but it is about the little moments that make it breathtaking. During the course of the India - South Africa Nagpur test match, an ad appeared for a public sector bank highlighting the relationship it maintains with people. It showed a beautiful heart touching narrative where a man in his early fifties is rushing for office in the morning. His wife calls him from the balcony to come back and have his medicine which he has forgotten to take. Grumbling, the man comes up and has the medicine. What is particularly beautiful in the ad is the the simplicity and the poignant emotions on display. The masked emotion of love under the irritation displayed by the husband at his wife's nagging is something which transcends age boundaries. The husband loves the fact this his wife loves him and cares about him. The human heart craves for a little love and care and that is what makes us so irrational over our percevied rationality. The little gestures which are part and parcel of our daily lives touch and affect us in so many ways but most of the time we are too busy and blind to notice them. I got a first hand experience of this blindness today.

Today, for breakfast, our cook auntie had prepared Poha. It was horrible to be honest. For quite sometime Abhishek, Shishir and I have been pondering over, whether we should change our cook or not. This latest incident added fuel to the fire. I decided that we should start looking for a cook seriously. Tonight when she came to prepare dinner, all the poha that was cooked for breakfast was lying untouched. I acted a bit indifferently and answered her questions to what we would have for dinner with cold indifference. She went on preparing it in her own daily way. Suddenly she came with a tray in her hand and 2 bowls of poha (the morning poha recooked with vegetables we bought in the evening) and said "The morning poha was not good". It was delicious. This gesture of concern on her part really touched me. I felt ashamed of the thoughts I had been harbouring of looking for a new cook. My irritation and indignation of average cooking got the better of me. What I completely failed to appreciate was the fact that she was running her own household and at the same time helping me in every possible way in my existence just to come to grips with her poverty. My irritation had blinded me to the little things that matter. Thankfully, this little gesture woke me up. The little angel in my heart had overcome the big demon in my head.

Recognising these little things that matter are the real secrets to make one's life breathtaking. Hopefully, I have taken that little step forward today.

Who stole my grades

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be derogatory for IIT students or those competitive examination champs. It is also not meant to be the reason d'etre for the Ministry of Human Resource Development to abolish grading systems. It is just a discourse of the conversations Abhishek and I had today afternoon after we were well fed and watered and raised a few questions.

Flashback:
Those were the best of times, those were the worst of times. Sounds clich├ęd. It was the summer of 2004. I was eagerly waiting for my IIT mains results. Having secured a whopping rank of 128 in IIT screening exams and being constantly fed a rich diet of praises from my teachers who felt sure I would break into the top 100, I was expecting a fair result. Although I had done badly in Maths examination owing to those SILLY mistakes(after all 2 + 2 is not equal to 5 in the decimal number system), I expected a rank within 1000. As has been my superstition, I always prefer to spend a lot of time in the toilet when examination results are discovered by my dad and announced to me, I spent around 3 hours in the toilet owing to the website being down with too much traffic. To my dismay, I found I had committed a lot more silly mistakes than I anticipated and ended up with a rank of 1785. I thought following a career in something I loved from an NIT was worthier than studying something in IIT that I did not like.

Back to today:
Today, Abhishek told me that once Dr. Zakir Hussain(a Professor at NIT Hamirpur) declared in class that all the students in NIT are mediocre ones. Well the previous flashback was an attempt to create credibility for my answer to this rather naive observation. If the mediocrity is being referred in terms of preparing for an examination, then yes the students are mediocre but if the mediocrity is being referred to a student's intelligence and general understanding level then it is not. If a student is to be judged for his intelligence and understanding level, then the platform to be provided has to be uniform. Let us say after a hard grind of 14 years of formal student we take up 2 students who are not informed that they will appear for an examination(not even what kind of examination) and then they are asked to answer the examination, that will give us an indication(albeit a rough one) into their intelligence and understanding level. The examination here has to be carefully calibrated here to measure what a student has understood rather than what a student has not understood and remembered. The whole point of deciding mediocrity based on examinations is as stupid as can be.

In this context, the current grading system in school education in India is questionable. Grading system is like a caste divide in education. Why do we need to allot grade A,B,C and so on ? Does it not reflect the inability of the educators as well as the family to educate/motivate students uniformly ? How does awarding a grade A to a student in class I beneficial in any aspect ? As per my understanding and limited research, the grading system was created to measure the performance levels of students which could be utliised by others for e.g. you appear for a GRE/GATE/CAT test so that based on the test students are evaluated on a supposedly common platform and accordingly rated but how does this help in the school system ? It creates animosity, cut throat competition, a race to the top for students. We humans have a primal instinct for trying to be better than one another. Which is why we love sports to see people warring(in a pacified way) against each other. This brings us to the glorification of those students who top in the board examinations(which in most cases is their ONLY claim to fame).

School education is an extension of the education that begins at home. Imagine your mother telling you, you got an B grade for the way you touched your grandparent's feet and you should do better to get an A the next time. Sounds ridiculous but then education which is supposed to be a conjugation of our natural curiosity with the cumulative human understanding of the world, if graded, should sound ridiculous too. School education is a medium for students to learn and understand the beautiful world all around rather than to be fascinated by marks. After all how does it matter if a student gets an A or a B in one examination. Examinations should be held on a continuous internal level in order to provide a feedback to the educator and the student as to which aspects of the subject a student knows well and which he doesn't. It should be an indicator for the educator to change his mode of teaching rather than to the parents to give a new watch to their children as reward. What graded education system is doing today is creating an atmosphere of intimidation, stress and mutual hostility rather than co-operation,mutual appreciation and enhanced curiosity. A child's curiosity and his unique abilities are not appreciated. What are we really trying to measure here ? We, Indians who had such an advanced education system ("Gurukul system without grades/marks") are not even appreciating the ancient heritage and wisdom. Somewhere over the years it has got lost in the mindless borrowing from other societies(from British education system) without realising why and in which context it was applicable there. Deciding a student's aptitude is important which is why I have not raised the question yet on the graded education in Universities since industry and academia use the grades for further calibration but that too has its loopholes(a matter for another blog post).

In this regard moving from marks based system to a grade based system by the MHRD is a noble next step. Abolishing grade and pondering over an alternative system would be the logical and bold next step. The big question here is what would be the alternative. Maybe the time has come to ask this question to those whose minds have not been polluted as ours over this mad and false race of marks and achievement. The time has come to ask the questions in the Kindergarten classes where the mind is without fear and the mind is without all the clutter. The time has come to to nurture the mind in the same free environment when it was born.

Corollary: This post is one of the few to raise various questions on this aspect of education. It will be followed up with more insights in order to not make it look like a research paper. This is the first food for thought.