Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Frustrations of a modern Indian

The frustrations of being a "modern" India have been piling on me.
The more I read about India's achievements and successes earlier, the sadder I become. In fact, sometimes the despair is so strong that I want to stop reading about it. Ignorance surely is bliss.
The decline of India started with the turn of the last millennium with the advent of the Persian and Arab conquerors from the north-west border. It culminated in the British.
While direct physical domination is thankfully over, I do wonder if the "Indian plunder" or the massive exploitation of India is over. It seems not at all, especially with multi-national companies destroying indigenous industries in the name of free market. The politician-businessman-police-judiciary nexus is still a big, if not a worse, problem for our country. Almost no institution has changed its basic structure from the exploitative set-up of the colonial era. And almost no attempt is made to change them!
While in one hand, probably more and more Indians are realizing these predicaments, on the other hand, more and more people are falling in the trap of crass capitalism and cultural destruction. Now everyone wants a smart phone, a car, a home. There is nothing wrong on wanting these; what is wrong is wanting these at any cost. Greed is not good -- no matter what US business schools want us to believe.
Coming to this point, India has traditionally been rich always. By rich, I do not simply mean spiritually, philosophically and culturally, but also economically. It is well documented in history how India had a large share of the world's GDP till it declined sharply with colonialism. In spite of that, India rarely showed the greed and capitalism so rampant today.
Modern economic data and theories suggest that it was India's plunder that fuelled the industrial revolution in England. In return, we were tagged as the white man's burden! But then, history is always written by the conquerors.
And this is where it really hurts! We, modern Indians, are so ignorant of our own history. Our history books are what colonialists wrote for us -- full of mistakes, even in simple raw data! Do I see a course correction? No! What is undertaken by some governments is the other extreme -- an attempt to again re-write wrong history that suits the then rulers.
Yet, India, as a country, did so much in the past. It is still contributing; but, compared to the ancient world, our contributions now are almost negligible.

I can only hope that our decline has bottomed out and we can only improve from here. Philosophically speaking, all civilizations experience cycles of prosperity and poverty, and ours certainly is the oldest continuously standing civilization.
I end by invoking Rabindranath's words "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!"
"ভারতেরে সেই স্বর্গে করো জাগরিত!"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shinde comment solves Pakistan terrorism problem

In what has been hailed as probably the largest masterpiece of the whole free world, Shinde has solved the entire Pakistan terrorism problem by his single comment.  With no need to send any army, no need to call any ambassador, and not even a need to sit down across the discussion table, the method adopted by Shinde has stunned the practitioners and followers of political science alike.

His comment that BJP is promoting "Hindu terrorism" has demeaned and hurt the Pakistani terrorist groups so much that they have decided to call it quits. First, it was Hafiz Saeed who quit.  The reason this is coming to news only now is because of the extreme numbness, pain and shock that Hafiz-ji felt.  Only today he could rue from his ICU bed in a private hospital, "I have worked all my life in promoting terrorism. I prided myself in preparing my boys to perpetrate terror. And I thought I was held in high regard in India for the insurmountable damage I have been causing to the country. But, this is too much. To be compared with a political party, that too which cannot even raise a proper voice against the country's most corrupt government ever, is, is ..." He was at a loss of words to describe the insult.  The only sane thing he could think of was to disband his army of terrorists.

Apparently, the event triggered a ripple effect on similar terrorist outfits in Pakistan.  Till news last came in, more than 100 such outfits have given up their arms, and are reportedly crossing the border to reach Dharamsala, where they plan to spend the rest of their lives trying to overcome grief and pain, not to talk of rage and insult.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to use the right word?

Even though Indians are regarded world-wide as the best speakers of English outside the, er, English-speaking world, when it comes to the business end, we really are lagging a long way behind.

Take a simple example, one that excites everyone -- corruption. Let us say a businessman goes to a politician a day before tenders are opened and "gifts" a box full of cash. That is corruption.
But then, let us learn from the Americans.
Let us create a fund for the politician called "re-election fund". Let the same businessman now "donates" the box full of cash to this fund. This "donation" is legal, and of course, there is no corruption.

The trick was to use the right word -- "donation" -- instead of the wrong word -- "gifting", and corruption in the country is reduced by leaps and bounds.

Another example: "oppression" of downtrodden castes by the upper castes. When a higher caste man denies a lower caste man food, water and shelter, that is oppression, but when the same man "teaches" the lower caste man how to survive without food, water and shelter, then that is "education".

And to drive home the point, this is what the white man's (er, upper caste man's) burden is all about -- raising the standard of the brown and black (I mean, lower caste) man.

"Hypocrisy"? Wrong again, it is called "discretion".

Saturday, January 26, 2013


In general, humans have an obsession with ranking. Everything, and more frighteningly, everyone needs to be ranked. How to rank? On what criteria? Don't ask. Everything is justified as long as you can cite some scores, some ranks - all in the name of "objectivity". The newspapers and the magazines are obsessed with it, and the growing trend is the administrators (even in academia) are getting used to it.

Let us for a moment ponder how to rank two educational institutes or two universities. Apparently, the belief is that Inst-A is better than Inst-B since its students get better jobs (what is better - probably more salary), more companies come for campus placement, higher ranked (in what - well, a multiple-choice-question-type pan-India exam, what else?) students join there, and so on.

Now, we know the universities are supposed to impart "total" education. Without going in to the debate of what that means, it at least should include some social factors and some human angles, and not just money or companies. Even for jobs, who measures what happens later in those jobs. In the most high-paying jobs, people get frustrated earlier, and leave or change jobs, or change the entire career path as well. Shouldn't this stress be counted as a negative "score" for that job? But no, that is after the students have left the institutes, and why should an institute worry about it?

Again, this tendency of pushing the problem to someone else is very disturbing. A little joke is on order now. Due to the previous tatkal rail ticket timing, the website and the booking offices were clogged at 8am. The government solved it remarkably well. How? By shifting the tatkal time to 10am. Now, of course, there is no rush at 8am. What about the rush at 10am? Well, that's a different problem, and for someone else to solve.

Coming back to institutes, I personally will always prefer a campus with more vibrancy, more seminars of dignitaries from different walks of life (especially outside the set curriculum), a social awareness, more equality in gender, caste, religion, etc. However, no magazine, no agency considers this. Considering one aspect (jobs, etc.), and not considering others (social awareness, etc.) - isn't that subjectivity? Why do we think of objectivity in only numbers, and not the parameters?

Now, even more disconcertingly, compare two academicians. How to do that? Some will say, simple enough - just count the number of publications, the number of PhD students, the number of times one was a chair, the number of times one got awards, the number of times one organized a conference/workshop, etc. and map it to a nice little "score" in the end. This will solve the problem of who to promote, etc. without "subjectivity" as it produces a nice total ordering of all academicians in the institute.

I am not saying these measures are bad. In fact, some of them are good, and probably needs to be tracked. However, my point is by fixing only some of these, others are ignored, which ultimately will turn out to be very very costly. An example will be easier to understand. Nowhere in these measures is mentioned the number of times one works in a doctoral committee. Moreover, an unusual project or a tough course is counted the same as a run-off-the-mill project or a course - everything is made equivalent by the number "1".

Also, since there is an objective function to maximize, over the course of time, people will do just that. People will stop teaching esoteric courses, people will stop spending time in doctoral committees, etc. as these are deemed "unproductive" and time is limited.

In an academic institute, and to think more widely, in a society, it is best to let people evolve in their own ways, and not rank them. Of course, there should be checks and balances, but we all know when something or someone is abnormally bad or abnormally good, don't we? It is the middle section that matters, and ranking, at least in my opinion, only worsens the situation.

Human society is based upon trust, cooperation and fellow feeling. Unnecessary ranking measures promote mistrust, unhealthy competition and back-stabbing. That can never be desirable.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to find good faculty members and post-graduate students?

How to find good faculty members? Although this question is faced by all institutions across the world, I am discussing here the Indian academia.
Probably a more important question is how to find good graduate students motivated for research?

Here are some of my thoughts.

I believe there is a huge potential in the so-called "next-level" colleges in India. May be the best is to tap them, go to their institutes, invite them to spend a summer or the last year with the "top-level" institutes, and hopefully show them and convince them the advantages of pursuing research in India.

How to retain the bachelor students of the "top-level" institutes themselves? May be money in the foreign universities is not the only concern. May be our curriculum is too rigid, too fixed with rules and bureaucratic, and in the process not so interesting. May be the colonialism has left us to derive a system where we don't believe anyone and try to guard against all possible mis-actions.
If we believe the graduate students more in letting them choose what they really want, the faculty members more in letting them design courses and conduct classes the way they want, things will only change towards better.

In any case, it cannot become much worse.

Reverse colonization

Now an European president is seeking to meet an Indian businessman to decide how the Indian company will operate in the European country! The tables have turned, is it?
However, I fail to get satisfaction as much as I would have wanted.
In the end, this is still humans portraying their ultimate greed.

Capital punishment

The hanging of Ajmal Kasab is a welcome news.
If he along with his mates dared to do this to our country, it is only right that he is hanged. Yes, this is revenge, but then what is wrong in it?
Why should we be chicken-hearted about ending the life of a hard-core terrorist? Why should we keep on feeding him from the state exchequer, filled from our taxes, when we are killed by him mercilessly? For than 100 deaths happened on that day, and the media is only worried about the human rights angle to the capital punishment!
Should we wait for another terrorist attack that hijacks a plane and demands Ajmal to be freed, only for him to return and create more havoc?
These kind of people have no right to live in our society, especially when it has been proved beyond doubt that he was responsible for his actions.
The only thing I dislike about the whole thing is that it took 4 years.