Monday, August 20, 2012

Of an Inspiring Teacher

मैंने इसे फेसबुक पर अपने स्कूल - जिला स्कूल, गया, बिहार - के ग्रुप के लिए लिखा था। पर मैंने सोचा कि इसे इस ब्लॉग में भी शामिल कर लूं। रवींद्र कुमार - जिन्हें हम सब उस समय रविंदर बाबू कहते थे - मेरे शैक्षिक जीवन की विभूतियों में हैं जिनसे मैंने विज्ञान के पहले सबक सीखे। 

हमारे समय में रविंदर बाबू विज्ञानं के सबसे अच्छे शिक्षक माने जाते थे. उनके व्यक्तित्व में एक गंभीरता और शालीनता थी. वे ज्यादा बोलते नहीं थे. कक्षा में आने पर पहले करीब ५ मिनट वे बोर्ड पर कक्षा से सम्बंधित चित्र बनाते थे. बहुत सधा हुआ हाथ था. फ्लास्क और बीकर बिलकुल सही आकार के होते थे. वे हिंदी के शब्दों के ऊपर लाइन नहीं लगाते थे. थोड़ा अंग्रेजी जैसा लगता था. उनके हस्ताक्षर भी - अगर किसी को अब भी याद हो तो - बिलकुल अलग थे. 

उनका पढ़ाने का तरीका सटीक और सरल होता था. उनसे प्रशंसा पा लेना तो बस नोबेल पुरस्कार ही समझ लीजिये! 

शरारती बच्चों को वे बिलकुल बर्दाश्त नहीं करते थे. और जिन्हें उनके हाथ का चांटा पड़ा हो वे फिर उनके सामने तो गुस्ताखी करने की हिम्मत नहीं करते थे! 

उनके विचार और मूल्य बड़े ऊँचे थे. एक बार फुटबॉल के एक मैच में हमलोग हादी हाशमी स्कूल के खिलाफ खेल रहे थे और रेफरी ने काफी गड़बड़ की थी. हमारे एक गोल को उसने नकार दिया तो गुस्सा हो कर हमारी टीम ने मैच खेलने से मना कर दिया. स्कूल टीम का कप्तान हमारी कक्षा से था - विजय गुहा. अगली बार की क्लास में उन्होंने विजय से पूछा कि उसने क्यों खेल का बहिष्कार किया? विजय के बताने पर उन्होंने कहा कि खेल का मैदान केवल जीतने या हारने के लिए नहीं है. यहाँ सब लोग एक जीवन शैली सीखते हैं. अच्छा बुरा सब सह कर खेल को पूरी क्षमता से, पूरे विश्वास से, और पूरी निष्पक्षता से खेलना उतना ही जरूरी है. खेल मैदान के २२ लोगों की बात नहीं है. पूरे स्कूल और पूरे शहर की बात है. हम सब छोटे थे. उनकी बात तो शायद तब समझ नहीं पाए. पर ये सीख शायद कभी भी भुलाए न भूले. 

कभी कभी वे एक कठिन प्रश्न देते थे और कहते थे - जो भी इसे कर लेगा उसे एक पेंसिल इनाम. उस पेंसिल को पाना नामुमकिन तो नहीं पर मुश्किल जरूर होता था. जिन लोगों को ये पेंसिल कभी मिलती थी तो उनका दर्जा स्कूल में बहुत बढ़ जाता था. एक मेरे हिस्से में भी आई थी. और अब, वहां से निकले हुए ३३ बरस हो गए हैं. पर उस पेन्सिल ने जो आत्मविश्वास दिया उससे जीवन में रास्ते मिलते गए, खुलते गए. 

गुरु का दिया तो कभी चुकाया नहीं जा सकता. एक ही तरीका है कि अपने से आगे वाली पीढ़ियों को कुछ सिखा दें, कुछ मदद कर दें. तो इस परम्परा का निर्वाह हो पाएगा. अपने इस गुरु के लिए पूरी श्रद्धा के साथ शतशः नमन.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why Not in Parliament?

There have been voices of disapproval, dissent, and even ridicule when Team Anna suggested that they would form a political alternative that is yet to be outlined.
        Respected people like Justice Santosh Hegde and Sri Sri Ravishankar have said that they couldn't align with Team Anna if they seek to form political party. Many supporters of Anna Hazare have protested too. Congress has said that the political ambition of Team Anna is 'exposed'! 

       I am perplexed by their stand. It is self-contradictory.

The key contradictions are:

  1. we treat politics as 'other' people's business (and politicians to be 'others') and then complain that 'they' are ruining 'our' lives and 'our' country
  2. we keep bemoaning the absence of 'good' people in politics. Surely Team Anna has better credentials than many parliamentarians today
  3. if common people seeking to be heard by aspiring to get to the parliament are 'exposed' then how do we describe the ones sitting in the parliament today? Overexposed?
That politics has come to be associated with dirty, greedy, corrupt, criminal, and colluding manipulators is unfortunate. Politics is about serving our own people. The inscription in the Vidhan Soudha building in Bengaluru - The Work of Government is the Work of God - expresses the nature of politics and its noble intent.
       So, if some good people try to come into this we need to applaud, help, and support them and help them serve in the cause of people and God.
       Given the cesspool that the current political dispensation has become we should expect some hiccups but we must all keep reminding ourselves that politics is about us all - not about the criminals and the corrupt - so their actions are not to be taken as the role models.
We need to invent our own politics and we all are stakeholders.
       We must salute the courage of Team Anna and wish them luck and support. And, we must also keep reminding them that they are to take the mantle to serve, not to rule.
       If we disagree with Team Anna's entry into politics then the only honorable alternative is to participate ourselves.

Anna : What Next?

Team Anna was on fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and he was comprehensively ignored by the government and was given marginal coverage by the media. The fast was called off and the announcement for a new political alternative was made.

This incident clearly showed that the political set up is not willing to listen to its citizens. It would make platitudes if media is there or else it would ignore all views. Jan Lokpal is not happening in any useful form if it ever sees light of the day at all.

If we believe that corruption is indeed a serious - perhaps the most serious - problem facing India currently then we can't let go of it simply because political classes and media are indifferent to this cause.

Team Anna seem to think that going to parliament is the better option and they propose to create a political party. This is a daunting task as religion, caste, money and muscle continue to play a big part in electoral politics in India today. Arun Bhatia in Pune did not manage much support despite his apparent popularity. Yet this attempt needs to be made not by one but many people. Ideas proposed by Arvind Kejriwal are worth examining.

Then again, issues of governance are too important to be left to governments alone. Politics is not just electoral politics. Politics is primarily about people - their issues and affairs. The need is to mobilize and institutionalize citizens' groups that remain vigilant and enforce due processes where government falters. For instance, police routinely refuses to accept a First Information Report (FIR). An alert group from legal fraternity can accept FIR and ensure that the police accepts it. Such processes can be negotiated with the police/government as a whole. 

If groups like India Against Corruption create networks of such support groups manned by people of suitable professional competence and integrity then many acts of corruption would be addressed in both preventive and curative ways - before and after the incidences.

Citizens' initiatives like these are not at the mercy of legislators and politicians.

So, while legislation is important we need a holistic approach and awaken Indians to stand up for themselves. If they do then politicians wouldn't be able to be so indifferent, condescending, and stubborn. 

Even the parliament would then be on notice to serve and not rule.

For a Few Medals More

Saina Nehwal won her bronze medal in London Olympics today. Earlier Vijay Kumar had a silver and Gagan Narang another bronze. It is heartening  to see not just the exceptional talent and hard work of these sports personalities but that India has started to have a place on the extremely competitive and increasingly sophisticated world of international sports.

Sports personalities are among the best role models. Much of national character in modern India can be traced to how we approach our sports. We can all trace our spirits of teamwork, fair play, sportsmanship, determination, respect for rules, and inspired moments in our travails in the field at whatever level.

Visibility of sports also means that allocation of resources in our families would go a little more towards equipment, diet, coaching, and other assorted needs. Aspirations would tilt more towards sports too. Army training centers have captions 'an alert mind in a healthy body'. These achievements make this a higher national aspiration.

At the national level more facilities for sports would hopefully come up and the economics of sports would open entrepreneurial and career opportunities for sportspersons.

A bigger sports fraternity would help remove the stranglehold of pot-bellied politicians from our sports bodies and make them institutions of integrity, fairness, and efficiency. It is quite important that members of this fraternity are groomed into roles of technical and administrative responsibility as the grow in their careers. Coaching today is a sophisticated profession with diverse specialization. Administration of sports in a country as diverse as India needs solid academic and professional foundations.

Sports personalities as national ambassadors around the world can grow or tar the national image and its brand equity. India is lucky to have many such personalities who are great advertisement for India both in terms of capability and character.

Saina said her bronze would inspire youngsters. In a way it was good that it was bronze so that the youngsters know there is gold to go for!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Corruption in India

I can count some shifts in the Indian polity and social conduct over the last about four decades as I have felt and observed.

India till Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was India of the old. Somewhat idealistic, enthusiastic, and hopeful. It then changed to India of Indira. With great grit and determination she eased out the old guard, centralized all sources of party money, and created and elaborate structure of 'Yes Men Congress'. Some would remember D K Barua's 'Indira is India, and India is Indira'. There was then JP movement - a quintessential Gandhian movement for Total Revolution - and it faced the might of CRPF and BSF. And, emergency. And, opposition coming to power. It was still a hopeful India. Indira came back with a vengeance in 1980 and the violence in the election of the time was shocking. Miscreants were often better armed than paramilitary forces. Goons came to power and ruled worse than goons would. Innocence and idealism was lost completely. Parliamentary practices were turned into joke and muscle power rubbed shoulders with money power.

As 'we the people' watched in dismay irresponsible, populist, and ever manipulative and colluding political dispensation caused the balance of payment crisis in 1991. The liberalization  then gave the economy some breathing space and India began to grow - in pace, in expertise, in ambitions, in maturity, in scale. Optimism set in and was corrected by scams in stock markets, communal and sectarian riots, terrorism, exhibitionism. Sanity came with electronic voting machines, entrepreneurial energy, global opportunities, periods of low inflation/low interest rates, legislation like Right to Information, Public Interest Litigation etc. India became trillion plus dollar economy looking to be a key player in the 21st century.

In this same period the bounty for politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses expanded dramatically and the dynamics of corruption underwent a sea structural change. Discretionary 'bakhshish' was replaced with obligatory 'percentage', police and investigative machinery became thoroughly politicized and complicit. The scams expanded in size to rival the GDP of the country.

This is no rise in corruption. It is an explosion and deep institutionalization. This has come to the point that the very integrity of state, judiciary, parliament, and executive is in serious question. This is a tectonic shift.

Worse, the press/media are corporate tools and can no longer be trusted. So, when Jairam Ramesh laments about Indian accounting for 60% open defecation in the world the press talks about a controversial statement. Media has become powerful, manipulative, sensationalist,and shallow.

Organs of democracy have stopped listening, remain unaccountable with impunity, and leave no choice for the citizenry to voice it concerns and be heard in civility and on the merit of its views and arguments.

This picture of India is frightening.

Yet, a movement like Anna Hazare shows hope. Sure enough Anna does not have all the answers. Nobody should be expected to have. But it has shaken the conscience of many and many have come forward to reclaim the integrity of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the most academically and professionally accomplished PM of India in history. But he has presided over a culture of mega-corruption and has been silent, elusive, and possibly complicit.

If our generations do not stand up now for the essential integrity and soul of India we would be counted as the dud generation that let the country down with its indifference. And this would be the most catastrophic of all mistakes we have seen in history.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maruti Unrest

The incident at Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki has been highly disturbing. I wrote in Times of India's comments the following:

"'This is a litmus test for India. India's response to this would tell the world as well as India's own entrepreneurs and professionals how things will shape up for India in future. This was not an unrest but a systematic, criminal, brutal, and highly damaging attack. Such attacks do not take place without political groups being deeply involved. India has allowed its politicians to operate with massively corrupt and criminal practices that can manipulate state and non-state machinery. Enterprises of all sizes have had to contend with pressures from them. This is one time when India needs to unequivocally respond to the conspirators and perpetrators and show that rule of law stands supreme. Governments should be held directly accountable and a failure on their part to allow this situation should disqualify them from power. Parties with involvement like this should be banned from elections individually and collectively. The deterrence needs to be that strong. This violence is striking at the very root of India. India's future is at stake. And, India needs to be decisive."

And, then I saw another comment of an ex-employee of Maruti who referred to the pent up frustration of the employees who are required to follow a very strict discipline in Maruti. Having lived in Japan for nearly half of my career I am aware how strict that discipline can be. And it can also be rather insensitive, even cruel. However, when that is mixed with Indian style indifference it can become suffocating. This person claimed that the canteen in Maruti is 20 minutes away when the lunch break is 30 min.

The Japanese systems are designed for harmony. Everybody dresses the same, acts the same, differs in the most muted ways. But India is diversity personified in every sense of the word.

So, while I have no sympathy for the conspirators and perpetrators of the violence I think Maruti's challenge is not how to move from Manesar to Gujarat but to find the right balance between the working cultures of India and Japan.

I believe that both cultures stand to gain if an honest fusion is done.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Of the 99.99%

The last couple of months had lot of discussions on IIT admissions. It is an issue that I do feel strongly about and broadly supported the stance taken by IIT Kanpur.

However, my problem with the HRD minister is not so much about what criteria are suitable for admissions to IITs - IITs can take care of them the best and most responsibly - but the real problem of India, i.e. what happens to the ones not in IITs or indeed in any professional college?

That 99.99% is barely affected by whatever decision is taken about admission to IITs. That is the real and really big problem and our ministry is doing little about it.

In fact, India has a real big problem of dealing with the vast population that is either untouched by or drops off from the system in the course of early education. Estimated at about 300 million, this population has hardly any avenue in modern India. They remain unemployed at worst and underemployed at best.

The size of any problem in India is usually so big that one wonders if individual or small scale efforts can make even a dent at all? While this is partly true I do think that most problems in India are amenable to replication and scaling. So, getting to one piece of success in a smaller scale can then be considered for replication and scaling.

I explored the possibility of doing something in my hometown of Gaya. A historic city from the poorest state of India - Bihar. I started exploring my school - Zila School, established in 1845 - and my college - Gaya College, established in 1944. Both these have a modest presence on Facebook and it was possible to interact with a few students and alumni. In my estiamte, both these institutions would have about 100,000 alumni around. Some would be quite successful in their chosen areas.

There was a general sense of frustration and gloom among current students. Their syllabi are outdated, placement records poor, faculty is barely paid, and barely fit for the responsibility. Allegations of nepotism, favoritism abound. Looking for some silver linings I started posting messages to elicit response. Some did respond.

Frustration and helplessness has caused many to be distracted, and some sound rebellious. But there is a population that explores and posts ideas and discoveries on Facebook. Alternative coaching institutes take advantage.

I have been trying to find out what can we do to make these students employable and also develop a sense of entrepreneurship among them.

As this discovery is still on I am trying to crystallize ideas and see how to cultivate the brand value of my city and its educational institutions. Sounds somewhat daunting but I remain an optimist. 

Memoirs of my journey in subsequent posts!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को ?

इसे मैंने पहली बार भूपिंदर सिंह के गायन में सुना था. दिल को छू गयी थी तब. बिस्मिल जैसे लोगों ने तब के युवाओं को प्रेरित करने के लिए ऐसे गीत लिखे थे. इस गीत की आखिरी लाइन है 'देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को'. अपने अपने समय में युवा पीढी की अपनी चुनौतियाँ होती हैं. तब की चुनौती थी देश को आजाद करना. अब की चुनौती है देश के युवाओं को शिक्षा, कौशल, सुविधाएँ, और मार्गदर्शन दे कर उनकी सफलता के आधार पर देश को विश्व स्तर का विकसित राष्ट्र बनाना. एक पुराना गीत है 'अब कोई गुलशन न उजड़े, अब वतन आजाद है'. हमारे यहाँ करोडो युवाओं के गुलशन बसाने की चुनौती है. विश्व भर में विकसित होने वाले देशों में शिक्षा ने ऐसे चमत्कार किये हैं. इसलिए भारत में भी उम्मीद है. ये लाइनें कहीं खो न जाएँ इसलिए इन्हें संजो कर यहाँ लिख रहा हूँ। मूल 'मुखम्मस' के लिंक पर मिला था।
हम भी आराम उठा सकते थे घर पर रह कर,
हमको भी पाला था माँ-बाप ने दुःख सह-सह कर ,
वक्ते-रुख्सत उन्हें इतना भी न आये कह कर,
गोद में अश्क जो टपकें कभी रुख से बह कर ,
तिफ्ल उनको ही समझ लेना जी बहलाने को !
अपनी किस्मत में अजल ही से सितम रक्खा था,
रंज रक्खा था मेहन रक्खी थी गम रक्खा था ,
किसको परवाह थी और किसमें ये दम रक्खा था,
हमने जब वादी-ए-ग़ुरबत में क़दम रक्खा था ,
दूर तक याद-ए-वतन आई थी समझाने को !
अपना कुछ गम नहीं लेकिन ए ख़याल आता है,
मादरे-हिन्द पे कब तक ये जवाल आता है ,
कौमी-आज़ादी का कब हिन्द पे साल आता है,
कौम अपनी पे तो रह-रह के मलाल आता है ,
मुन्तजिर रहते हैं हम खाक में मिल जाने को !
नौजवानों! जो तबीयत में तुम्हारी खटके,
याद कर लेना कभी हमको भी भूले भटके ,
आपके अज्वे-वदन होवें जुदा कट-कट के,
और सद-चाक हो माता का कलेजा फटके ,
पर न माथे पे शिकन आये कसम खाने को !
एक परवाने का बहता है लहू नस-नस में,
अब तो खा बैठे हैं चित्तौड़ के गढ़ की कसमें ,
सरफ़रोशी की अदा होती हैं यूँ ही रस्में,
भाई खंजर से गले मिलते हैं सब आपस में ,
बहने तैयार चिताओं से लिपट जाने को !
सर फ़िदा करते हैं कुरबान जिगर करते हैं,
पास जो कुछ है वो माता की नजर करते हैं ,
खाना वीरान कहाँ देखिये घर करते हैं!
खुश रहो अहले-वतन! हम तो सफ़र करते हैं ,
जा के आबाद करेंगे किसी वीराने को !
नौजवानो ! यही मौका है उठो खुल खेलो,
खिदमते-कौम में जो आये वला सब झेलो ,
देश के वास्ते सब अपनी जबानी दे दो ,
फिर मिलेंगी न ये माता की दुआएँ ले लो ,
देखें कौन आता है ये फ़र्ज़ बजा लाने को ?
“पंडित राम प्रसाद बिस्मिल”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Losing Shine?

Sentiments on India have taken a nosedive. Not so sudden but in pretty short period. Economist has bid good bye to Incredible India. Some have even talked about replacing Indonesia with India in the BRICS group.

Here are the signs:
  1. Inflation is high and out of control. It is hurting people like never before. The last time high prices pinched like this was in 1973 - the oil shock and post-71 war. This time around it's oil again and there are global factors at work. Government has limited leeway this time but it has selected bad tools. Jacking up interest rates and drying up credit have clearly been counterproductive. Budget deficit is out of control
  2. Rupee is at a historic low. RBI says it cannot protect it against weak fundamentals. So imports, primarily oil, become more expensive. So, inflation is here to stay. Exporters may rejoice - but only so much. Our balance of payments in $185 bn deficit is making it hard
  3. Corruption is at historic high - to a point that the idea of India is being called in question. Prosecution does not seem to be going anywhere. Everyone is out after a sojourn in Tihar - some want it to be christened as National Palace. The scale of corruption is unprecedented and reach is widespread. All national resources seem open for loot - coal, minerals, forests, sand, ... At this scale business/economy have been decisively penetrated by the corrupt and the integrity of economy and business is now in question. By vilifying Team Anna government loses its own credibility
  4. Government is in paralysis. Army Chief has to write to the PM - not the Defense Minister - talking about alarming deficit of ammunition and equipment. CII has been talking about paralysis in decision making. Azim Premji talks about leaderless government. Ashish Nandy has written - Time to Go, Sir. Reforms are stalled. Non-issues are at center-stage
  5. Deaf and dumb governance. You raise concerns they go without a response. Or you would be labelled anti-national, communal, traitor, ridiculed. Democracy has to be about transparent conduct. Here we have people asking who is Anna Hazare to question us? Well, isn't his being a citizen of India enough?
  6. Growth rate has plummeted to 6.x % and credit ratings have been downgraded. Part of it is bad economics and part of it is vindictive mindset - opening closed cases, changing laws with retrospective effect
  7. Indian businessmen have been investing abroad heavily instead of in India
  8. If PM was the only face in the government that inspired some confidence then he does not speak, only protests. He has no answer to all corruption charges except that nobody will be spared. All have been spared as far as eyes can see. CBI is used selectively against opponents. Mulayam and Mayawati will not be touched and Jagan Reddy would be caught double quick. Tihar-returnees have done their time
  9. Populist schemes like MNREGA are bleeding money and feeding the corrupt
One could go on and on. But the inevitable question is what should I/we be doing in these times? Can't just sit back. We need to be vocal and say what we do not like. Need to unite/collaborate and help form pressure groups. Influence these groups and the power-that-be. Evolve mechanisms to use RTI and other tools to expose the undesirable and demand transparency and integrity.

Equally, we need to work on constructive activities. Innovation, research, training, mentoring, skills development.

It all requires us to join hands nationally and globally. If not now, then when?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Changing India : Violence and Fissures

The real serious violence I heard and felt about was 1971 war which led to the liberation of Bangladesh. Coming out of school I could see posters all over the place decrying Pakistani leaders and there was the speech by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asking us to be prepared. Soldiers were inspiration. Lance Naik Albert Ekka of 10 Guards who earned a Param Vir Chakra hailed from a nearby place. They were heady days and we felt to be on the side of the peto bople oppressed and had earned them their freedom. Proud days to be Indians. A but only armed forces were not just the best but the only career choices at the time. Indira Gandhi was hailed as Durga by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

War brought inflation and by 73 there was disenchantment. JP's student movement started and it had a feel of the moral stature of freedom movement. We were seeking Total Revolution. Worthy goals still.

Emergency followed. And, then, Janata Party came to power.

In 1978 the state government of Bihar annouced 26% reservation for backward castes. What followed was shocking. The world around me was vertically divided in one moment. Friends, teachers, neighbors, people were all to be seen as either backward or forward. For the first time in life I saw such strong emotions that made everyone look to be 'for' or 'against' - no middle grounds at all. This was not the India that the founding fathers envisaged. This was not the Constitution. And all attempts to build an egalitarian India was being thwarted as subsequent events proved.

Naxal movement in 1972 was another one that got crushed temporarily but took deep roots in large areas.

Public discourse was too politically correct. Communal riots were reported to be 'attack by one community over another'. It would be difficult to understand who attacked whom. And then everyone began suspecting the other.

In some ways fissures of one kind got over-reported and under-emphasized others.

Open discussions have always helped in binding the country and its people together.Suppressed discussions have actually made it difficult for Indians themselves to understand India. Extreme biases based on imagined fears keep people apart and suspicious of each others.

And the cure for suspicion is not available with even Haqim Luqman as the saying goes.

When India celebrated turning 50 it was said that India has lost its innocence. The idealism of 1947 has given way to violence, corruption, and divisions.

Loss of innocence is not an altogether bad thing but a complete loss of idealism is - even if replaced by pragmatism.

I believe this loss began in 1975 and it's been a struggle for me to piece it together.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Democracy : India's Achilles' Heel?

Here is an interesting debate Is democracy India's Achilles' heel?.

I liked the format which had enough debate in between and plenty of time to make points. Yet, as debates usually go, a lot of interesting speeches but not enough 'actionable' items.

The gist of arguments for the motion included closed, corrupt, and criminalized democracy causing havoc. The arguments against the motion point to elections at local levels, women's empowerment, India remaining steadfastly democratic in a chaotic region. People talked about China being 3/4 times bigger economy and investors losing faith in India.

Clearly, plenty to think about.

A few months back I sat in protest supporting Anna Hazare. I felt compelled because modern-day corruption has become gigantic in scale (compares with the Central Government's budget), \has become deeply entrenched (babu's ask for percentage, not bahksheesh/gratuity), and is more pervasive. Where could I voice my concern? My MP (Suresh Kalmadi) was in jail himself on charges of corruption! In any case, we barely see our representatives if ever. So, as a citizen of India I barely feel my vote counts or my voice is heard.

Then, I see the India economic momentum faltering. And I ask the question, as many would be asking, how can/should I make a positive contribution? When political discourse is largely rhetorical, and devoid of integrity and media is largely hijacked by corporate houses, when our representatives aren't accountable through their full term I do not feel democracy in my life. 

But I have no birthright to democracy. As I have no birthright to freedom. Freedom has to be earned by being aware and asserting it. So with democratic rights. Then again there is the din of 1.2 billion voices cannot be heard unless the message is worthy and it is presented in palatable ways.

That then is the task ahead of us. As folks lucky to have received education and exposure it is important to articulate and create forums to discuss key issues. Countries go to dogs when countrymen think it has and do nothing about it. 

No short term fixes here. 

Ideas have impact. Ideas change the world. They have. In front of our own eyes. Ideas need momentum to be heard, appreciated, and translated into action.

Ideas on redesigning Indian democracy are needed. Need thoughts. Need action.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

India Pakistan Partition

A brilliant documentary by BBC on India Pakistan partition is the immediate prompt to write this. In my experience itself I have seen India's civility and chivalry giving way to an embarrassing smallness in its attitudes. I wish to trace this transformation at a personal level.

Partition was a tragedy through the times - before, during, and after it took place. Yet, it did serve some crucial purposes.

The idea of creating, and substantially owning, a new nation has its intoxicating romance and greed. This bug has bitten many - the proponents of Pakistan in the 1930s and 1940s were the first. A few rich businessmen thought they could create Khalistan. Others want Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, and so on. The utterly inhuman violence inflicted on innocent common people becomes just a footnote in this thinking. 

The Direct Action Day riots in August 1946 left 4000 dead in Calcutta. It foretold the tragedy that was to follow in the run up to Partition in August 1947. All communities suffered and all excelled in their savagery.

The above documentary shares a story where a small Sikh village chose to behead ALL their own women - own mothers, sisters, daughters, wives - when mobs asked them to pay for peace with one of these women. The Sikh gentleman narrating this chokes. These incidents were repeated across Punjab and elsewhere. Such desperation, such helplessness, such inhumanity!

In hindsight it is clear that the British Viceroy was guilty of trying to hurry it up from June 1948 to August 1947. And our leaders were either ignorant, incapable, or complicit.

Mr M A Jinnah was too secure to fathom the price paid by the innocents for his pursuit of Pakistan. His supposedly brilliant case of why Hindus and Muslims are distinct nations remains a bookish argument that failed all those women and millions upon millions of uprooted and disrupted lives.

Neither Jinnah nor his more recent avatars in the form of promoters of Khalistan, Kashmir, and others realize how dangerous it is to create a nation in a hurry. These nations get hijacked. Pakistan, the 7th largest country in the world, is all but owned by the so-called Establishment. Clinging to invented insecurities, ill-thought hypotheses, and Utopian visions.

Pakistan today is a living proof that those millions of lives got destroyed and disrupted for no worthwhile reason. A nation bestowed with disproportionate share of natural resources and some of the most alive and prosperous parts of India today has the worst social indicators is in the grip of extremism.

Yet, there is one silver lining to this tragic partition. It is said that this could be avoided if Jinnah was made Prime Minister and the demand of dual electorates was accepted. Giving in to the demand of dual electorates would have been a permanent acceptance of an unequal society.  India chose equality for all and it has worked. It would have worked for the undivided India too. But the London-educated barrister speaking Queen's English just did not have the sagacity worthy of the population he set out to lead.

I would like to understand how such violence could erupt. One would have thought that the tragedy of partition would make Indians and Pakistanis wiser. Yet there is tremendous violence all around. I wish to explore these in subsequent posts.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reflections on Partition and Beyond

As I grew up in parts of Bihar and Jharkhand my education was, without blemish, free from any bias towards religion, caste, gender, color or whatever. It did make me feel an Indian to the core.

Yet, as I grew up India was changing. I learned about the savagery during partition. There were communal riots a lot of times. Then there were divisions related to caste due to reservations. It became clear to me that there are several social and economic dynamics that our education did not prepare us for.

I have always felt great pride in the rich heritage of India. Its great ideas, spirituality, values, arts, literature, humanism, and scholarship. I take equal pride in the idea of modern India that has been so egalitarian in its design, so inclusive, and so tolerant. I truly believe there is nothing like India on earth.

Yet, there are a whole variety of realities in India where fissures, divisions, biases, and narrow attitudes abound in plain sight.

I propose to record my  experiences and thoughts in the period from pre-partition India to modern days covering the full region including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This story must be recounted by a common man because it includes so much hope and goodness and a huge amount of pain too. I base it on the basis of my personal experiences, readings, and videos/movies. I'll try and add references where I can.

I have often been moved to tears so often just  thinking about it. 

I have come to the conclusion that extreme views and haste in dealing with matters of humans and nations can hurt for centuries. The famous lines by Razmi 

ये जब्र भी देखा है तारीख़ की नज़रों ने 
लम्हों ने ख़ता की थी, सदियों ने सज़ा पाई 

(centuries paid for the mistakes of moments) are so true.

I hope to cover several decades across regions and issues. It's a personally curious exploration and I do look forward to it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Innovation in China

Much of modern innovation has been from rich countries. And then there is a slew of news of innovation from China - fast supercomputers, fast trains, modern stealth fighters, large dams and so on. It runs deeper as McKinsey report - A CEO’s guide to innovation in China - explains in some detail. 

The GDP of China at $6+ tr is well in the range where developed countries have been for many decades. So financial resources available for creating a broad based ecosystem for innovation do exist. Additionally, institutions, labs, and abundant supply of young minds create a conducive environment for sustained innovation.

At $1.8 tr of GDP much of the above holds for India too. However, we need to make innovation - and by corollary, research - an attractive proposition for individuals and enterprises together. Our economy needs to grow in multiple dimensions and not remain lopsided towards services alone.

Research and innovation need a widespread network where working professionals, academics, full-time researchers can collaborate pursuing bigger goals with bite-sized innovations at massive scale.

The future of nations is a battle of ingenuity.

Exciting times, challenging times, and times to stand up and be counted!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Too Services Heavy?

The current decade is meant to be a 'make-or-break' decade for India. The notion that India has somehow 'arrived' or 'destined' appears to be a gross exaggeration unless some key challenges are overcome. There are challenges that retard and challenges that we need to overcome to become empowered and capable. 

The ones that retard include:
  1. Corruption
  2. Political disquiet
  3. Bureaucratic sluggishness
  4. Chronic laziness
Empowerment comes from:
  1.  Infrastructure development
  2. Energy security
  3. Skills development
  4. Entrepreneurship
A bigger structural problem is the fact that the productivity of our agriculture has become stagnant for over two decades now, and manufacturing accounts for a relatively small share of the economy. Services alone are unlikely to carry India down the growth path on a sustained basis.

While infrastructure and energy are predominantly issues of capital availability the last two - skills development and entrepreneurship - need massive collaboration of human networks to train and mentor. I look forward to participate in these as PanIIT Alumni initiatives and other collaborations.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

श्रीमद भगवद्गीता

इस वर्ष की पहली तारीख को मुझे न्यू जर्सी में अर्षबोध केंद्र में स्वामी तदात्मानंद का प्रवचन सुनने का मौका मिला. यह अनुभव इतना शालीन और मन को छू लेने वाला था कि इसके बारे में लिखने की बड़ी इच्छा हुई.

स्वामी जी अमरीकी हैं और इंजीनियरिंग की शिक्षा पाई है. उन्होंने बाद में स्वामी दयानंद से शिक्षा पा कर सन्यास की दीक्षा ली है. अमेरिका में भारतीय मूल के लोगों के सहयोग से वे यह आश्रम चलाते हैं. उनके कार्यक्रम बच्चों, और किशोरों के लिए भी हैं और वेंदांत के विषयों पर हैं.

स्वामी जी की वेब साईट पर उनके प्रवचन और कक्षाओं की ऑडियो फाइलें हैं. उन्होंने प्रत्येक श्लोक का छंदबद्ध अनुवाद किया है जिससे गीता को अंग्रेजी में भी गा कर पढ़ा जा सकता है. संस्कृत के श्लोक तो पहले से ही छंदों में हैं.

उनकी व्याख्या बड़ी सटीक और सरल है. और वे सबको श्लोकों को गाने की सलाह देते हैं. 

गाने का महत्व असाधारण है. 

उन्होंने एक बार दिल्ली में गीता जयंती के अवसर पर इसका पूरा उच्चार किया. उस समय तक उनका संस्कृत ज्ञान इतना अच्छा हो गया था कि उन्हें श्लोकों के अर्थ अच्छी तरह समझ में आ रहे थे. गीता के श्लोक इतने गहरे और इतने उत्कृष्ट हैं कि इस अनुभूति में विह्वल हो कर उनकी आँखों से आंसू छलक पड़े. आंसू अंतःकरण को शुद्ध करते हैं. भक्ति में आंसू आना अनिवार्य माना जाता है. ऐसी गहरी अनुभूति का उल्लेख कुछ मुस्लिम विद्वानों ने काबा में जाने पर होने का किया है.

संस्कृत की शालीनता तो असाधारण है. गीता के श्लोकों का उच्चार और उनकी व्याख्या सुनना एक अत्यंत ही प्रिय अनुभूति है.

Discovering Geeta

The new year experience this year (2012) has been quite revealing during a visit to Arsha Bodha Center in New Jersey. 

There is Swami Tadatmananda, an American engineer turned a Swami, trained in traditional Indian style of learning from the guru. This session was about Shanti Path where a gathering of some 500+ people chanted many Vedic shlokas wishing peace and happiness for ALL.

What was remarkable was that the audience a) sung these, and b) with the correct pronunciation. Sanskrit means elegant. And well sung Sanskrit is magically beautiful. And all these verses were wishing peace and happiness for ALL.

Then I went to the website of the Center and downloaded the many lectures of the Swami. I started listening to his talks on the Geeta (Shreemad Bhagwadgeeta). He makes the audience sing the verses (which, I realized for the first time, were in in the right technical meter). His explanations are clear and logical. In fact, I have heard some Indians talk about Geeta but this was the clearest and quite easy to relate to. He has even translated Geeta into English in the rhythmic meter.

He related an anecdote of participating in Geeta Jayanti (the Geeta Day!) where participants gathered and recited the full Geeta. By that time the Swami had mastered Sanskrit enough to understand it fully. The verses are so powerful that he said he had tears flowing from his eyes. Tears in these experiences are an expression of pure feeling from the soul. I have heard some Muslim scholars talking of similar tears when they had an occasion to visit the Qaba.

Swami's translation into English should hopefully give a similar feeling to those comfortable in English.

I have heard several of his lectures already and its been such a joy! I realize how my thoughts have got somewhat western in terms of study and learning techniques. Listening to and chanting Sanskrit is absolutely elegant. Highly recommended.