Saturday, September 30, 2006

After MIT, it is UC Berkeley!

We all know about MIT's Open CourseWare, right?

Now UC Berkeley joins in making its educational material available online through google video!

This is absolutely awesome! Of course, this is great news for all the students of the world including perennial student like me :)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gandhian ideals and relevance...

I do not really watch news channel but I happened to see CNN-IBN's special (?) debate on whether Gandhian ideals are relevant in today's world. First of all, I wondered what they were really talking about. Was there anything specific about Gandhi's life and teachings that they were talking about? Because when I think about Gandhiji, a lot of things come to my mind. His most famous teaching were his emphasis on truth and non-violence. There was also his insistence on wearing handmade, Indian clothes and minimalist lifestyle. And numerous other things, some forgotten, some deliberately hidden and some some ignored.
But of course, a news program, particularly a modern news program, is not going to delve on all the nuances of reasonings and facts, would it? Quite obviously, all this debate on Gandhiji has been triggered by Lage raho... So, I assume they are really referring to what the movie's central message was, that of truth, satyagraha and non-violence. The news program seemingly purports to find out whether Gandhiji's teachings are still alive even today and whether there are people, especially the youth, who believe in it and are ready to live according to those ideals.
But it goes about this task in the worst possible by asking the wrong question! Relevance of ideals, any ideals, could never be in question. Do you start questioning the relevance of Socrates' ideals, Archimedian critical thinking, Confucious' ideas of complex inactivity? Plus, if you really take a deep look at the history of non-violence, you might realise that these ideas have been around for a very looooooonnnnnng time. Think buddha! If Buddha's teaching were relevant to our struggle of independence after two millenia after Buddha, then can we really ask whether they are relevant after nearly 60 years of the death of the man who helped revive it and remind us of those lost ideas. So, if you think about it, it is just an incredibly stupid question.

Are Gandhian ideals still alive today? To answer that question, I would have to describe one of the most painful videos I have ever seen.

Manipur is a land of violence, that we all know. Most people seem to be under the impression that the army is fighting militants there whose aim is separation from the Union of India. What is never heard of or is ever presented to us is the manner in which the people of Manipur have been subjected to immense amounts of violence and pressure the Assam Rifles (a paramilitary force and hence, not part of the regular Indian Army) exert on them. In fact the amount of frustration and helplessness was so much that a few women stripped all their clothes and paraded naked carrying banners that screamed "Indian Army! Rape us!" and that was when the mainstream Indian media took notice of this. It did not notice the rape and murder of Manorama but it took an exceptional courageous and non-violent protest by twelve women.

Manipur is a troubled state where the army and protesting students "clash" at regular intervals. In the video, I saw one such protest. There were a bunch of students wearing bandanas with messages and carrying posters being mercilessly beaten up by men with lathis and being forcibly carried away from the entrance to the Assam Rifles HQ. What was really amazing was that students were not retaliating. They were just lying there taking blow after blow, each one made me wince at the sheer amount of vicious force put behind them. And they were not just beating them up but were pulling them out of the way. And then another amazing thing happened. As soon as one of the students was pulled away, another took his place. The beating continued and at that moment of time, I was reminded of Gandhiji's message. He said that violence is the weapon of the coward and that it takes immense courage to turn the other cheek in the face of violence. At that moment, I knew that he was dead right in that observation.

Gandhiji's message is very much alive. Wherever there have been oppressed people who have had nothing to fight with, they have always used non-violence as their means of struggle.

So, yes, his ideals are not forgotten and will never be.

My personal views about him and his methods mirror Tagore's. There is no denying his greatness and the effectiveness of his methods.

Most of the times, we see only one side of him and we either embrace him completely or denounce him totally. In the past, I have defended him vehemently, even though I have always had my reservations with his ideas and his doings.

Looking at him from just one angle is just totally wrong and even though, it is nice to see teenagers think that he is a "roackstar", I would rather have them learn more about him and appreciate why he is truly great...

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Technology that has immense potential.

I have heard of these multi point touch screen systems but I hadnt seen one in action. Watch it. It is really impressive. If it is indeed something that can be produced cheaply, then its teaching and creative potential is huge!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Students and movements

History has seen a lot of student movements all over the world. Most of them met with a bloody end. The worst being the Tiananmen Square massacre in China giving, perhaps, the best reason to throw communism out of the window. The protests in France in 1968 were perhaps the most influential which propelled protests in various countries which were ruthlessly suppressed.

Why have students been at the forefront of such movements is a question seldom asked. They are idealistic, study in an academic environment that teaches them to think for themselves, analyse and criticize the world around them, and they are passionate in their beliefs and naive enough to believe that they can change the world (and they do!). When faced with authority that tries to suppress their thoughts and control their actions, they rebel and their rebellion is much feared by their governments.

Are they right or wrong?

In their beliefs? Quite often, there are legitimate grievances behind those protests, which are not addressed by the powers that be for a variety of reasons. You cannot get a mass protest out of huge, disparate group of people (as evidenced by the French and the Chinese ones) without a reason or a collection of reasons.

In their actions? Well, that is a tricky one. Quite a few of the rebellions have been violent. Can we accept violence in any form? The violence is usually a manifestation of the frustration and sense of powerlessness and the impatience associated with youth. Violence always snuffs out a lot of lives, lives that would have contributed to the world and their countries if they had continued to live on. And that is the tragedy of it all. Violence is understandable and serves as a precursor to the socio-political change but it would have been better if it hadnt been a violent one. Of course, the repressive governments could very well get away with mass murder without getting punished like in the case of the Tiananmen square massacre.

Students with their passion and energy are the most valuable assets to a country much like oil or gold. Their energy could be used for good or bad, for constructive or destructive purposes, for social reasons or for vested reasons. And their minds are the most malleable and the leanings they inculcate usually stay with them for life. Which is why they are the most sought after by political parties. Which is why the role of the teacher is so powerful and important! Which is why they should, ideally, be left alone to explore the world on their own, with, maybe, a little guidance and mentorship.

Are they really powerless? Can they really be silenced so easily? NO.

we can still change the world without violent rebellions and bloody fights. With patience and determination, and with immense courage. Which is why I deplore messages that tend to legitimise the frustration and powerlessness that lead to violence and tragedy. Which is why I would ask my fellow youth to never lose sight of their goals and work towards it in their own ways and to work together to bring about changes in the world around them and in people they know.

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New company, new city, new people, new processes...

In other words, everything new.

Except for a post. I have been meaning to write something for a long while but things got a little hectic everywhere.

btw, I am not moving out of Bangalore but am working temporarily in Hyderabad.

Monday, September 11, 2006

P Sainath on 9/11

Sainath remember not one but three 9/11s! And tells us the lessons of each and the one that he considers turned the world for the better.

One claim of the time was that it had "changed the world forever." Did it? And in what ways?

Latin America, though, is seeing a wave of anti-neo-liberal globalism protests. And a trashing of pro-U.S. regimes. Whether in Venezuela or Ecuador or Bolivia. Last year, tiny Uruguay became the first nation in the world to ban water privatisation.

"An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

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Friday, September 08, 2006

I didn't expect this...

I am nerdier than 90% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

10% scored higher (more nerdy), and
90% scored lower (less nerdy).

What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:

Supreme Nerd. Apply for a professorship at MIT now!!!.



Lage raho Munnabhai

So, I watched Munnabhai yesterday. I went there because I had liked the first movie (mainly the jokes and the characters) and I thought that they might just continue with the formula that they had created of a lovable bhai.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

The major theme about the movie is its Gandhianism. This can be considered a major attempt to re-create and instill the Gandhian simplistic philosophy in the youth. I do not know whether to call it naive or to call it exceedingly true to Gandhiji...

But one thing I had to compare it with was RDB. RDB ended with a seige in the radio station where the band of "heros" took over a broadcast and talked directly to the people, taking calls and explaining their actions. The reactionary message of RDB was something that I could not accept. The movie almost seemed to say that resorting to violent means to solve a problem would make the problem go away or would get a revolution up and running. It makes a lame attempt to justify the violence and also a more lame attempt at making the "heros" into martyrs!

In a way, LRM looks like a response to RDB's misguided message. It does invoke the memories of RDB by creating a radio show where Munnabhai solves people's problems using "Gandhigiri" aka Gandhian advice. People phone in with their problems and instead of advising them to take the easy way out, he advises them to take the harder path, the more fruitful path in the long run. And if you are faced with a corrupt official, do not shoot him but protest in a way that shames him and gets the work done without the bribe.

Truth and non-violence has always been the hallmarks of the Gandhian philosophy and the movie makes a valiant attempt at highlighting both of them. Some very interesting bits where Munnabhai tells us how to judge people by looking at the way they behave with people whom they consider beneath their social standings and talks about non-violent means to get someone to stop using their door as a spittoon.

With the radio station, there is again the direct correlation with RDB when Munna and Circuit take over the station by force near the end of the movie but "to have a private chat with Jhanvi".

Where RDB was a movie about the youth, its helplessness in the face of bureaucracy and its impatient idea of change, LRM is about wisdom that comes with age.

The humour of the movie is one of its big plus points. I thought Bomman Irani did a great job as Lucky Singh. Circuit was brilliant as usual. Munna was just bareable. I really think he should reconsider playing comic roles. The jokes were mostly clean, no sexist/sexual ones as that seems to the current idea of humour in Bollywood.

There are some really nice song sequences. Particularly the one where Munna tells Circuit about his first date was interesting because it seemed to adopt the strategies of a Hollywood musical (I am thinking primarily of Chicago). Though, the songs are not so great as RDB's were, they have a more earthy and simplistic quality that is hard to ignore.

So, would this movie's message be taken up by the youth? I highly doubt it. Mainly because the youth have gained the cynical quality that was reflected in RDB and I highly suspect such a naive idealism, as depicted by the movie, was aimed at the children rather than the adult youth. But somehow the naive idealistic preachings seems to be characteristic of Gandhi. So, in that sense, it is very true to the Gandhian vision...

But, do I think this is a really a reply to RDB. Yes, I think it is. The parallels are unmistakable and it is way too obviously scripted.

Stars? Maybe three.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Teacher's day....

This post is really in response to Shivam's cynical post on the hyposcrisy of teachers.

As such, I do not dispute SHivam's statements of facts. I did read about that incident about the girls being punished so some time ago and I would not have responded in such a "anti" manner if his post had been posted at some other time.

Yes, there are all varieties of teachers. Some good, some bad. We do not remember the most of them because they just came and went without even perturbing us even a little bit.

I do not remember a lot of them myself. In the ones I do remember, I do not respect a lot of them and I have mixed feelings for some. And the number of teachers I would say whom I really, really respect can be counted on one hand.

I do not respect the teacher who chastised me for winking at a girl in class 3. She made me feel guilty for no reason whatsoever. I was like what, eight? Sex did not even come into the picture then and she scolded me in front of the entire class without explaining to me why she considered it to be wrong. But otherwise, she was a teacher whom we all liked as she was nice and everything.

I do not respect the teacher who "taught" me physics in school. I used to show fallacies in his teaching in the class and he never understood that he was wrong! I did not respect him because he really did not have the knowledge to teach high school physics.

I do not respect the teacher who hit me on my knuckles because I did not know the table of 18. Why did he hit me? I never understood because I never considered knowing the tables by heart as an important thing.

I do remember the teacher in my otherwise mediocre school who tried to instill critical thinking but so obviously frustrated by the students' disinterest. I remember how she would show her frustration by scolding the kids really badly. Maybe she wasnt the best teacher around but she tried... And I wanted to be in her classes because of her efforts, albeit limited, to take teaching beyond the textbooks.

And there were those tons of teachers who considered teaching a chore and would just dictate things to us to vomit in the examinations. I remember hating to remember every word of the "essays" that we were supposed to write as answers to questions in the examinations and where we were scored according to how much we could remember.

I remember being so frustrated with the exams that I wrote the most inane and shortest answers to questions like "use this in a sentence".

The teacher I remember the most is the one who taught me that my thoughts and actions should never be subservient to others and who gave me the confidence to write what I thought and what I felt, even though it would be contrary to the opinions of the world around me.

I remember all these teachers on the 5th of september. The rest are the forgettable ones. I never do remember the rest who have had no bearings on my life and I dont care whether they existed in this universe or not.

It is not just a day where we remember just the ones we respect. It is a day where we remember all those other teachers too to realise and be grateful to those whom we do respect because we realise how rare they are and how precious they are to us. Teaching is most often a thankless job. On this day, we tell those few teachers we admire that we admire them and that in itself is the thanks that we can give them. Maybe they wont get frustrated and would continue inspiring and shaping the future minds of tomorrow.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

A rude world indeed...

We live in a really fast paced world where the idea of courtesy and humanism is getting lost in the milieu. There are too many people and too few slots/spots/salespeople/etc/etc and due to the pigeon-hole principle, only those who are speediest/first get the service they desire and others are made to wait. Due to this, people generally are always in a rush to reach someplace, lest someone else take the place.

And if they do indeed reach the spot a little late, they are unwilling to wait but try to jostle and bully because in this world of imperfection, first-come first-serve is not perfect either. They would do anything to get there, even drive their bikes on pavements and honk at pedestrians peacefully walking there.

Bangalore is one of those places in the world where the amount of people is surfeit than the amount of people that the city can withstand. So, there is a rush everywhere. Malls, stores, Foodworlds, movie halls, Big Bazaars, everywhere there is a mad rush and a situation dangerously close to a stampeded. Business is booming and because of this, salespeople are no longer concerned about making sales because there is no shortage of customers to the store and no shortage of sales (of course, these are stores in prime locations where stampedes are a daily occurance).

I went around to shop for a mobile phone because a friend of mine made an offer for my current one that I could not refuse. The first shop I went to, this was on church street, was filled with customers. I managed to get to the salesman and told him that I wanted to buy a phone and wanted to look at a particular range of cell phones. He just showed me the boxes. I asked him for the features and he gave me a manual. I wanted to look at the physical phones and browse through their features, because so often the advertisement and the box do not represent the crappy nature of the product they represent. He says that they do not have any demo phones and I ask him how are we supposed to choose then. He just shrugs and moves on to the next customer! The guy did not have the courtesy to apologise or say that they could show me some model that looks the same or even suggest some alternatives. He was just plain disinterested in selling.

Why? Because whether I bought a phone or not, he still would get someone who would buy some phone without his putting in any effort! I left the shop and found another where the person was willing to show me the phones and explain to me what features were there in different ones. I finally did buy the one that I initially had picked out to buy but now I knew that it was exactly what I needed and there was no other phone which was better suited to my requirements.

Despite there being so many shops in the area, I had to struggle to find a shop where the shopkeeper was genuinely interested in displaying his wares and selling his product. I have a feeling that a little time later, no shop would show you the mobile phone. You would be asked to choose one of the boxes with the printed features on them. That would be the death of the capitalistic philosophy but the logical conclusion of this scenario of excessive demand. The guy was probably overworked and distraught after having served so many customers and was no longer interested in serving one more.

Is this the fault of the people in the service industry alone? No. People, generally, have lost the politeness that is the hallmark of human civilization (at least, that is what I think). Because if you are going to push, shove and jostle to ensure that you are the first to reach the waterhole, you might as well live in the jungle. Which is probably tho origin of the phrase "concrete jungle".

I really hate living in the city where you have to encounter such characters everyday and still have to maintain your peace of mind. The hardest thing is the effort that goes into not becoming them as it is so easy to give into the frustration and punch the next guy who exhibits rude behaviour.

Of course, there are some places in Bangalore where you know that the people who come in are the decent folk and you feel at peace there. Pecos is one such place. I love the music too.

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