Monday, 22 August 2016

Karma and Dharma

It may be someone's Karma that they are facing tough times today. But it's your Dharma that you help. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be someone's Karma that they have a great life today. But it's your Dharma to not waste your time and mind in jealousy but stay focused on making your life better through righteous actions instead. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be your Karma that you have a great life today. But it's your Dharma to not let it make you arrogant and elitist but help those who are less fortunate than you instead. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be your Karma that you are facing tough times today. But it's your Dharma to not be caught up in self pity and become dejected but make efforts to improve your situation instead. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be someone's Karma that they are more knowledgeable than you today. But it's your Dharma that you be humble and learn from them. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be someone's Karma that they are less knowledgeable than you today. But it's your Dharma to share the knowledge that you have. You focus on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be your Karma that you are more knowledgeable than others today. But it's your Dharma to not let it make you arrogant but be willing to share your knowledge instead. You stay focused on your Dharma, let Karma be.

It may be your Karma that you are less knowledgeable than others today. But it's your Dharma to not let it affect your self confidence but just be humble and willing to learn instead. You stay focused on your Dharma, let Karma be.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Something that has served to inspire me

I came across this interview some years ago and it has stayed with me somewhere at the back of my mind. Its an interview with a persona from a different generation : so there may be points at which agreement doesn't happen. But there is an essence to it : an idea of what it can take to be truly great in something, what it is to really follow one's interest and arrive at a stage of some perfection, some brilliance, some greatness, some fulfillment of promise. That I think is worth picking up.

Here goes:

Friday, 8 April 2016

A possibility: Periodic extended discourses by academics

So here are two challenges that I think we are facing in academics. The first one might be more prevalent in India than other countries while the second is probably a global phenomenon:
1) There seems to be a disconnect between what's happening within universities and institutes and the society at large outside. The knowledge that is being transmitted / generated might be just limited to a notion in people's minds. Take science for example: People in the society perhaps appreciate that something called science is being taught and conducted inside universities but a very large number of people probably have very little idea about what that science actually is. I think this disconnect is too steep and there needs to be more interfacing.
2) In terms of scientific advancement (i.e. research) I think two extreme scenarios have emerged: (i) There are those who don't do research at all. I don't think an academic life can be considered complete if the element of "a quest for knowledge" is missing. Hence I don't think this stance can or should be encouraged. We want those people as profs who have the desire and commitment to dig deeper. (ii) On another extremity I think we now have people who are basically "chasing numbers". I don't this paradigm is healthy either as it can discourage a mindset of settling down on more serious / difficult / deeper problems that can take time to solve: and these are the problems which actually should be higher on our priority.
Here's an idea that can potentially address these issues. The logistics may be sticky but I think its worth thinking in this direction.
Every faculty member can perhaps be required to give an extended discourse of his or her work once every three years or so. And the modality could be something as follows:
Part 1: About an hour long seminar to the public at large where one's field of work can be explained to a general audience in terminology that is accessible to them. With today's multimedia capability I reckon a fair amount should be possible in terms of connecting members of the society at large to different scientific disciplines and the progress being made in them.
Part 2: About a two hour seminar to colleagues, peers and experts in the specific field(s) one is working in that displays one's command over the breadth and depth of the field(s) in question and elaborates on the specific problems one is working on and how one is going about trying to solve them / make progress. Such seminars might spark off serious discussions amongst peers on important problems. Plus this kind of a paradigm might guard us against engaging ourselves in non-serious work.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Perhaps a more balanced view (Institutes of Science and Technology)

We have IITs, NITs and IIITs (which are primarily thought of as institutes of technology which also have science departments) and IISERs (which are out and out science institutes with no technology component). What we need instead, in my opinion, is institutes of science and technology (ISTs) which emphasize science and technology equally. One way to do this would be to rename all our IITs, NITs, IIITs, IISERs and NISER as IISTs (Indian Institutes of Science and Technology).
Another approach, which would be better in my opinion, is instead of having a "chain of institutes" with the same overall brand name, we have individual brand names.
For example, say one of the IITs was renamed to "CV Raman Institute of Science and Technology". Then that would be a brand name in itself and it would be the responsibility of the institute to keep its brand name strong. It would not have the luxury to think of itself as good just because it is called an IIT.
Such an approach would (a) bring respect and acknowledgment to people who have done well in science and technology from within the country, (b) serve as an inspiration to budding scientists and engineers in our country and (c) break the tendency of any particular set of institutes being considered better than others just because they are named in a certain way.
To understand point (c) better, think about new IITs that are opening up. Automatically, without even having put in the effort to build themselves up to a certain standard, they will have a brand strength stronger than some of the NITs which have been around for a while but are "defined" to be "second tier". This is hardly fair and has a sense of casteism about it: higher or lower by birth / family.
I think what I'm proposing here achieves many objectives.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Making modern knowledge accessible to non english speaking populations

There are two routes to connecting those who haven't been through (or are not presently in) an english medium school to modern knowledge in different subjects:
1. Teach them english first and then they have access to it.
2. Translate books in different languages so that they can be accessed directly in languages people are already comfortable with.
I suppose both routes can be followed depending on which way the interest lies at different times and places. However I would emphasize the second route more because of the following consideration:
There is a very very large percentage of our population that doesn't know english (which may not be a bad thing :)smile emoticonbecause for them english continues to be a "foreign language" and (hopefully) for several of these people their sense of self worth doesn't depend on knowing english). So it would just be more efficient. I suppose if we take up the task of translating books in different subjects seriously and find translators (in say the 15 languages listed on our currency notes to start with) we can make modern knowledge available to a whole lot of people within say about a year. Contrast this with the time that would be required to teach the english language first to maybe millions of people.
I've been told China has done this.
Note that basic english can still be taught so that people can communicate easier when they travel, etc. But to require that the knowledge of any one language be essential to be "educated" is a big stretch in my opinion.
PS: An example to perhaps drive home the point: When I was doing my PhD I needed to refer to a thesis from France. Guess was in French. Neither are the French apologetic about doing their science (and I suppose all other subjects) in French nor are the Americans disdainful of them because they choose to continue treating their own language as their primary language in their own country (which is perhaps how it ought to be :)smile emoticon ). Perhaps there is a cue for us somewhere here.
And no :) smile emoticon, a knowledge of english is by no means an indicator of being "more intelligent" or "more educated" (certainly not "more civilized" as even a cursory knowledge of history will quite likely assure you). In fact I believe that many, if not all, of our Indic languages are more refined and expressive than english. It's just a pity that we are not paying enough attention to them.

[PS: And as an analogy, perhaps we ought to stop considering chocolates as our "national sweet", or for that matter "patloons and shirts" as our "national costume". I leave further extrapolations to you...]

Whose social structure are we living in anyway?

Just as I suspect Article 377 that criminalizes homosexuality is a law enacted during the British regime and has little or nothing to do with the civilizations that existed here before they arrived, I also suspect that monogamy being a requirement by law is their doing and, again, this has little or no relevance to how the people of this land lived their lives before they arrived.
You can check for yourself and I suspect you will find that there were Hindus as well as Muslims who had multiple spouses. In fact even Krishna is said to have had eight principal wives (Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra, Lakshmana) and married 16,000 or so women who he saved from demon Narakasura. People may count this against Krishna. I don't. Ram chose to stay monogamous : it was his choice : not a requirement by law. In fact he was born in the family of Dashrath and his three wives.
To me, the law has a role to play in preventing domestic abuse and ensuring that the children resulting from a marriage are well cared for and well provided for. I also believe that law has a role to play in ensuring a fair settlement in case of divorce.
But the question of how many spouses one has ought not to be a matter covered under law in my opinion. Ideally this should simply be left to the individual concerned, who then may or may not seek guidance or a framework within which to conduct this aspect of his life in some religion, philosophy or system of thought. That would be his choice and prerogative.
If many women want to be with one man, let it be so. On the other hand if many men want to be with one woman, let that be so too. As long as they conduct their lives peacefully and live harmoniously with the society at large, where is the problem?

Questioning "fixed durations" for different levels of education

One mindset that we need to question in my opinion is different levels of education being associated with a fixed number of years. For example, it is generally expected that everyone take 12 years for high school education. Why should that be so? If someone can move faster, why not? On the other hand if someone needs more time, what's the problem? The point is to learn and understand different subjects properly. Whether one does it in 8 years or 12 years or 15 is hardly relevant in my opinion. Secondly, I think we need to think about bringing in a system which allows different subjects to be covered at different speeds. For example Maths may come easy to someone while Chemistry may take a bit of time. Why not allow such a student to move from year to year faster in Maths and slower in Chemistry?
Likewise for undergraduate education. We have fixed notions: 3 years for B.A. / B.Sc / B.Com, 4 years for B.E. / B.Tech., etc. Again, why should we think of these programs in terms of any fixed duration of time? Instead, wouldn't it be better to focus on what needs to be learned and absorbed properly and be flexible about the time it may take someone to do so? If someone finishes their B.Tech. in 3 years: Cool. If someone takes 7: That's cool too. (Within reasonable limits of course: we don't want people becoming lazy in the name of learning slowly)
One Institute that I know of in India that has tried to bring in this flexibility at the undergraduate level through the idea of focusing on the "number of credits to be accumulated" instead of "number of years required" is IIT Kanpur. I think its a cool initiative. Maybe such an approach needs to be contemplated upon by more schools, colleges, different boards and regulatory bodies.