Thursday, 12 April 2018

A few misplaced notions (in my opinion) on culture and sanskriti

Sometimes I find myself disagreeing with practices and attitudes advocated in the name of culture and sanskriti. Here are a few examples:

1: Recently I heard someone talk about (and praise the idea) how in the old times in this country sons would continue with their fathers' professions. Business --> Business, Musician --> Musician, Teacher --> Teacher, Cobbler --> Cobbler, and so on...

I think such a practice still exists in some parts of Indian society.

Even if this were true at some point in the past, I do not believe this is a healthy practice.

People (of either gender) ought to do what interests them in my opinion. Yes, they also need to prove their mettle to succeed - and sometimes economic factors can make things a little extra difficult for some - but the guiding principle, as far as I am concerned, has to be "Do what interests you, do what motivates you, do what inspires you!".

(I elaborate on my point of view in this article: https://strike-a-pause.blogspot.in/…/choosing-career-path-a…)

2: Then there seems to be this notion that children should decide to pursue their professions geographically where there parents are.

That's again an incorrect notion in my opinion. Unless there are exceptional circumstances that require one to forgo professional interests and aspirations for a while to take care of parents, I think it needs to be the other way around: People should follow their professional aspirations and parents relocate if they want to stay with their children.

I think such notions such as the above two are responsible to a large extent for our degeneration to such mediocracy in almost every field.

Not everything old may be necessarily good and not everything new necessarily bad. We need to think for ourselves and adopt what seem like the better practices, while letting go of those that don't, as we move forward.

3: One often hears: "One must implicitly respect and obey one's parents."

My take:

a) Everyone has to earn their respect. This includes the respect parents expect from their children. If either parent is an alcoholic / addict / abusive / dishonest / lazy, there is scant chance of getting any respect. You can demand a show of respect because your child is dependent on you, but just be clear that that isn't respect.

That's the first thing. You want your children to authentically respect you : conduct yourselves respectably.

b) Implicit obedience (assuming nothing unethical is asked of the child) till the end of high school is perhaps reasonable. That's a growing up phase and I think its reasonable to expect a child to eat the food put on the table, play when its play time and study when its study time, and other such stuff. This phase also moulds character and if parents do their parenting sensibly and children listen, we would have some fine young folks in society.

But then comes the stage of making decisions regarding what one wants to do in life. What does one want to study? What does one want to do professionally?

Here the child's wish must be respected. I'm sick to the bones of parents making life decisions for their children. One wants to study literature and poetry and you'll find them doing engineering. Another wants to play the guitar and will be enrolled in classical music lessons. And so on. Goodness gracious! Ask your children what they want to do for heaven's sake. And unless your economic conditions prohibit, back them!

Then who they want to marry, if they want to at all, is really their choice. If you know something and want to give a fair warning, that's one thing. But to make this decision for them and expect implicit obedience even at the cost of their happiness is plain criminal in my book.

As I said in my last post, not everything that is advocated in the name of culture or sanskriti is either reflective of a good culture or genuine sanskriti (these are my opinions of course).

4: One also often hears: "One must implicitly respect and obey one's teachers."

My take:

First things first: Teachers need to make sure they deserve the respect they seek. They must have command over the subjects they are teaching and the intent to teach well must be there. Add to this the requirement that teachers themselves practice the values they expect from students: sincerity, truthfulness, discipline, commitment to learn.

If this much is not in place, simply forget about being respected. You won't get it. You may able to shout down or intimidate students because you are in a position of some power. But respect is an altogether different matter. You won't get it if you don't have the above sorted out nice and proper.

In fact, I will go one step further: Teachers and professors who don't have the above sorted out should be shown the door. The last thing an educational institute needs is teachers who are either incompetent or not committed or short on character. Teachers directly influence the next generations and one bad apple can potentially impact many students negatively either at the level of interest and motivation or incorrect understanding of subjects or worse, character.

Then there is the other side too: I have also seen perfectly good teachers lose their motivation because the students they were teaching weren't true to their part of the deal. They were insincere and lacked the commitment to learn.

If students hold the view - and I would agree with this view - that they are obliged to respect only those teachers who are good in the first place, then there should be a visible variation in the way they respond to different teachers or professors. There has to be a sense of honesty when demanding that they be taught by the best possible teachers.

This part of the world had the concept of "Gurukuls". Parents would send their children to learn at Gurukuls at a certain age with the trust that they would be taught by people who had the stature of a Guru - a very very non trivial notion. The expectations were high. The Gurus had to be masters of their disciplines and people of exemplary character : it is people of this level who were entrusted with the task of education.

Alongside the word Guru was the word Shishya. Shishya translates to Disciple. The word Disciple relates to the word Discipline.

So alongside the high expectations of a Guru was a clear expectation from students as well.

I have been told once that one reason parents sent their children to Gurukuls was that while they themselves may not be able to impose the required disciplines on their children because of attachment, the Gurus would.

A Guru-Shishya relationship was considered sacred : one of the highest and most important relationships one would have in life.

You want to transform society? I tell you: Let the teachers agree to rise to the stature and level of Gurus and let the students agree to be Disciples. Do this one thing, and a lot will get sorted out. A whole lot.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A four point algorithm to combat backwardness

I think the following "four point algorithm" will work better than caste / religion / gender based reservations if we want to actually solve the problem of backwardness. Note that all 4 points have to be thought of together as one single plan. Each considered in isolation might seem to leave some questions / concerns unaddressed.

1. Let everyone below a certain economic cut off (regardless of their caste, religion, gender, etc.) : (a) get an additional ten percentage points in their twelfth class marks for admission into undergraduate programs (women in this low income families set can be given a further extra five percentage points) and (b) receive absolutely free education till the end of their undergraduate program. Beyond undergraduate level education: No additional grace percentage points to anyone and performance the only criterion for either securing a job or admission into post graduate programs

Plus let there be a law that ensures that no school / college / university can disallow admission to anyone based on caste / religion / gender considerations.

(Note that part (a) in the point above is very different from "reservations". For example, if the cut off for admission somewhere is 90% then the candidate still has to get 80% (for women : 75%) : the ten (or fifteen for women) extra percentage points will take him or her to 90%. Secondly, the criteria being used is economic. No seats "reserved" for anyone.)

2. For anyone who needs extra assistance in learning (and there's really no shame in this; I for example have needed to plod on for hours for some topics that perhaps came easy to many of my friends): Provide evening classes. Again, this should be provided to anyone who needs it regardless of their caste, religion, gender, etc. Hire extra teachers for this provision if needed so that it is accessible for students in their own villages or localities in towns.

3. Have fair and transparent exams at the end of each education level for either admission into a higher level of education or selection for different jobs.

4. For people below a certain economic cut-off (i.e. the very very poor people): Give zero interest loans (say about Rs. 50,000/- for a family which can be recovered in instalments starting after a period of about 2-3 years) to start a small business such as fruit / vegetable vendor, juice shop, tea and snacks shop, clothes shop, toy shop, etc. along with some advice / help in running and growing their business sensibly and saving money systematically through fixed deposits, etc. Do we have the money it would require to launch such an initiative? I believe so. I think we lose a lot of money to corruption that could be used for such an initiative. Also see http://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/3424-revenue-intelligence-will-verify-us-report-505bn-left-india-during-upa-tenure as an example of how we might be losing money that could be used for social upliftment. And last but not the least, we need to make every effort to recover black money as well as minimize generation of the same from here on.

In my view there are actually only two kinds of backwardness at the end of the day: 1) economic backwardness and 2) knowledge/skill backwardness. And the point is to remove these.

The above algorithm will require us to invest substantially but I think it will be a worthwhile investment that will give tangible results within a generation or two as the level of knowledge, skill and competence starts increasing across the board.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A five-pronged strategy to participate in water conservation efforts

We are all aware of what Cape Town is going through presently:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/02/14/water-crisis-cape-town-day-zero-june/337844002/

If we think that Cape Town in South Africa is too far from us for this to worry us too much, I invite you to read the following two articles:

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/bengaluru-water-scarcity-problem

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/13-500-villages-in-rajasthan-run-out-of-drinking-water-as-crisis-deepens-1404220

There can be no argument on the very very highly urgent need to take every step we can to conserve water.

However, the question arises: How do you and I, the common folk living our day to day lives, participate in this water conservation process?

I present five strategies in this post that I believe we can implement fairly easily in our personal lives. These are of course above and beyond the sustained efforts that are needed at the community and government levels such as rain water harvesting, rejuvenation of lakes and rivers and putting firm caps on the amount of water that can be used by soft drink and liquor industries. If you have some ideas that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment. I will go through comments periodically and if I feel your suggestion can make a significant impact, I will incorporate it in the post (with credit duly given to you).

Strategy 1:

I invite you to read the following articles:


To quote from the article: “The water footprint of a soft drink, let’s say a cola, taking into account the direct and indirect water use to produce the drink, ranges between 150 and 300 litres of freshwater per 0.5 litre bottle.[1] A typical bathtub contains 90 litres of water. We therefore consume about two or three bathtubs full of water when drinking a bottle of cola.”


To quote from the article: "... it takes 170 to 310 liters of water, or 45 to 82 gallons, to produce a half liter of soda, 300 liters to make a liter of beer, and 140 liters to produce the ingredients that go into one cup of coffee, according to the Water Footprint Network, a scientific group that works with many big food and drink companies on water issues."

[Note 1: The word “soda” above likely means soft drinks such as coke, pepsi, etc.]

[Note 2: The water consumption for a cup of coffee stated above corresponds to using about 7 grams of coffee powder while a 1 Re sachet of Bru Instant apparently contains 1.5 grams of coffee powder. Also, there are different viewpoints on coffee, one of them being: https://dailycoffeenews.com/2016/04/01/the-measure-of-coffees-water-footprint-needs-to-be-revised/ - which suggests that its also important to consider whether a significant portion of the water requirement is met through rainfall - which also brings into play *where* we are getting our coffee from. So one has to analyse this in detail.]

Based on Note 2 above, this post is presently restricted to soft drinks such as pepsi, coke, etc. and beer (and possibly some other alcoholic beverages since to the best of my knowledge the water footprint of some other liquors is also quite high – I invite you to explore further).

Now its true that a fair amount of this water gets used in the agricultural activities associated with making these beverages. So one may say that, well, a lot of farmers get economically benefited. Then one can also point out the job creation economics of these industries. Valid points.

But I pose the following question in rebuttal: Farmers would also get benefited if we chose to consume fruit juices instead! And we would be consuming beverages that are far healthier for us, which in turn would lead to lesser obesity, lower instances of diabetes, lesser hangovers, lesser instances of livers getting damaged, etc. and more people with a good nutrition intake in terms of the vitamins fruits possess.

If you talk about job creation, we can have more juice shops that will employ more people. We can well imagine going and spending a few hours in a "Fruits, Juices and Smoothies Bar". We can choose to spend as much on a pint of this stuff (which is better!) as we do on a pint of beer or a peg of whiskey. These "Fruits, Juices and Smoothies Bars" can also have managers and servers.

All this is quite possible :)!

Plus more orchards to grow fruits will lead to more tree cover, and if what we learn in high school geography was correct, this will increase the probability of higher rainfalls.

What's happening right now is that there are many many people who aren't even getting drinking water while many of us are splurging away hundreds of liters of water to consume just a few glasses of beverages that essentially give us nothing of any lasting value.

So, to sum it up, here's my first suggestion to counter water scarcity: Let's cut back on our sodas, coca colas, beers, whiskeys, etc. and drink healthier stuff. Good for us, good for our water resources, good for the environment, good for many other people.

In addition to this conscientious effort from our side as responsible citizens, I would love to see a firm cap put by the state and central governments on the amount of water that can be used by soft drink and liquor industries.

Strategy 2:

As per this article: http://blog.tappme.com/indian-toilet-vs-western-toilet/ - much lesser water is consumed if one uses an Indian style toilet (which apparently may have come to us from Turkey).

Now the contrast indicated in the article – 1 or 2 mugs of water vs a whole flush full of water – is probably unrealistic. I don’t think 1 or 2 mugs of water is enough even in an Indian style toilet. But at the same time I feel that quantity of water we use in most flushes today, whether for Indian or western style toilets, is too high.

This article: http://www.rediff.com/getahead/2005/apr/05water.htm - suggests an ingenious way to reduce the water consumption while flushing. To quote: “To control the amount of water being flushed out at one go, insert a bottle of mineral water into the tank, or a brick wrapped in plastic. This occupies the same volume of the actual water. Thus when refilling, less water will fill up. But there will still be enough to keep the pot clean.”

So just this one change can lead to daily water savings in each house. And it all adds up when we look at it from the village / city / state / country perspective.

The advantages of using an Indian style toilet go beyond water consumption issues: Due to the squatting position it is also more effective in passing stool which in turn can help (as per this article: http://blog.smileprem.com/indian-toilet-vs-western-toilet/) "prevent “fecal stagnation,” a prime factor in colon cancer, appendicitis, and inflammatory bowel disease".

However, there are some situations in which the western style toilet would be preferable as per this article: https://medicforyou.in/indian-toilets-vs-western-toilets

My input: Unless you have an age/medical condition preventing you to do so, use an Indian toilet. If you haven't used it earlier, or haven't used one for a while, it might be a bit uncomfortable for a while but it should be alright in a few weeks as the thigh muscles and knees get used to it. Having a "bracket fixed on a wall" in front of you to hold would likely help in the first few weeks as you get used to the position.

Note that if you have an Indian toilet you can use a device such as this: https://www.amazon.in/Comfort-Folding-Commode-Stool-Economy/dp/B073B6N6L9/ - if and when squatting becomes difficult due to age or some medical condition. (There might be more options in the market too: do explore.)

Finally, please, please, stop using toilet paper and start washing your backsides after passing stool. There is nothing unhygienic about it. One does wash one's hands with soap afterwards! This actually saves water! You need a mug or two of water at most if you wash while scores and scores of trees need to be cut to make toilet paper. Those trees consume water when they grow. And when they are cut, the green cover on our planet reduces, which in turn affects rainfall. The waste generated by toilet paper is of course a serious matter in itself!

Strategy 3:

I repeat an article posted above that discusses ways in which we can reduce water consumption in our day to day household activities: http://www.rediff.com/getahead/2005/apr/05water.htm

Of the several suggestions made I can confirm the following from my own personal experience:

Using a bucket of water to bathe instead of a shower works out just fine. I happen to have long hair and need at most two buckets when I shampoo (twice a week). On other days, 1 to 1.5 buckets : max! As per the article, a bucket holds 15-20 litres of water. So I do not use more than 30 litres ordinarily and not more than 40 litres when I shampoo. Whereas, again as per the article, "the new swanky showers spew out at least 40 to 60 litres a minute!".

The other suggestions in the article are interesting too. I'm going to try and implement them as far as possible. I invite you to consider them as well.

[To add a simple but effective one from my side: Do not leave the tap running when applying soap to utensils, hands, etc. Turn on the tap only-when-its-time-to-rinse.]

Strategy 4:

It takes about a bucket of water to mop (specially in the Indian style called "pocha") an entire apartment's floor area.

With this in your mind, ask yourself the following question:

How much water do you use to wash your car(s) and how often?

To save water consumed in cleaning your car(s):

1. Use a dry cloth first to thoroughly wipe your car.

2. Follow this up with a thorough wipe using a wet cloth. As the wet cloth picks up dirt, dip it in a shallow pail of water and squeeze out the dirt. And continue to wipe :)!

This is exactly how one does "pocha" at home! One doesn't use a hose pipe or mugs and mugs of water to wet-wash the floor :)! Then why should that be needed to clean one's car(s) :)?

Strategy 5:

First what I don't have a problem with, and then what I recommend transforming:

If you have a small lawn in your house where you actually spend quality time, I don't see a problem with it. You need some water to maintain the lawn but this is water spent towards maintaining a space that you are using to add value to your life. In fact better you come out and spend some time around plants instead of being glued to your TVs and facebook & instagram profiles.

Likewise, there are some community lawns where people come to relax in the evenings, children frolic around, some folks get a bit of exercise by walking around for a while, while others may choose to just spend some time silently, read a book or just watch the sun set. I don't see a problem with such spaces and the water used to maintain them is well spent in my opinion. In fact it would be great in my opinion if people spent a little more time in such spaces, get to know other people in their communities, connect with them and develop friendships and a sense of camaraderie.

There are sports grounds where people play soccer, hockey, frisbee, cricket, kho-kho, etc. Often there are running tracks around these grounds for people interested in athletics. I don't see a problem with such spaces and the water used to maintain them. (Although I do feel that we should have multi-purpose grounds as far as possible where different sports can be played. That would be more viable than having separate grounds for each sport.) Again, I wish more people stepped out and played a bit. Just this one shift and I think overall levels of fitness and happiness in society would shoot up. Sport and physical exercise are extremely important and this is water well spent.

BUT then there are also what I call "showpiece lawns". Vast expanses of grass that consume lots and lots and lots of water and are hardly ever used either for individual relaxation or for spending quality family & community time or for sport and exercise. I emphasize again: these are "showpiece" lawns. THIS, I do have a problem with and recommend the following transformation:

Convert them into groves. That way one still has spaces of natural beauty (in fact with possibly a larger variety of flora!), there can be pathways and benches in these groves that still allow people to go and spend quality time with nature, but the water consumption will go down significantly. Also, with increasing tree cover, the probability of rainfall increases.

I wish you a happy journey ahead as you start participating in the water conservation process. I'm enjoying learning more about this topic and implementing whatever measures I can in my personal life. May you also enjoy the process as much :)!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Choosing a career path after 12th grade

Choosing a professional career based on one's interests and on what one is inspired and motivated by holds a central place in my worldview. Of course there can be exceptions. There may be instances, for example, when one may need to take up a career path because of financial considerations at the personal and family level. But I think we need to think of these as exceptions and not the norm. Otherwise we run the risk of students losing interest and getting demotivated - which is a big loss, not just for them but for the society at large as well since a large amount of talent, inspiration, energy and enthusiasm can just get dissipated instead of being tapped for the overall good.

When I use the term "professional career" above, I do not just mean a medical or engineering career. I mean any career path.

So my very first advice to students: Think deeply about what you want to do with your life, which subjects interest you, what you wish to learn formally and what as an extra-curricular pursuit, what it means (in reality with an understanding of the effort required and the possible challenges you may have to face and not just fancy notions you may have picked up from the TV) to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer or a musician or a mathematician or a theatre artist or a poet or a scientist or an architect or a writer or a historian or a journalist or an archaeologist or a political leader or a police officer or to be with the country's army, navy or air force etc etc. Think, explore, talk to people in different professions and figure out what interests you, what inspires you, what is it that you want to do with your life. Then make your choice and put in the effort required to achieve your dream.

Two concerns that may arise are:

1. Social respectability and the supposed "prestige" associated with certain careers over others. I suspect this concern arises more in parents than the students themselves and my request to them would be to not make this a constraining factor in their wards' choice. Most such notions of "prestige" are generally based on widespread ignorance, at least in Indian society, and are nowhere nearly as important as your ward's happiness in the long run. I'll try and dismantle some of these myths below.

2. Certain careers and professions being more economically viable than others. Well, this is certainly true. There is higher likelihood to be "richer" while pursuing certain careers than others. However, my submission is that monetary richness need not be the only factor while making a career choice. If this were the case, we wouldn't have some of the bravest men and women choose a career in our armed forces for example. So passion is a consideration too! (Although I do think that our government needs to do far more than what it does today for our soldiers, hawaldars and people in other "essential services" such as school teachers and nurses - I'll make an appeal on this and present my views on the matter later in this post). So is interest in a particular subject. Just imagine if Albert Einstein or Marie Curie or Ramanujan or Laplace or Fourier or Stephen Hawking or C.V. Raman, for example, had chosen an IT career instead of becoming scientists and mathematicians. Or Ernest Hemingway or Ustad Bismillah Khan for that matter. What a complete waste that would have been!

This is not to say, of course, that a certain amount of financial well being and security is not important. I am no admirer of poverty and hope to see the end of this curse on our planet within my lifetime. But I believe there are strategies one can adopt to work around financial constraints, at least to some extent. I'll discuss my thoughts on these momentarily.

But first, to discuss respectability of professions:

I referred to Ernest Hemingway, a famous author, above. Some other well known classical writers and poets in the English language that most of us would probably be familiar with are Charles Dickens, J. R. R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare (of course!), Emily Dickinson, John Keats and many more... My mother tongue is Hindi. So I'll mention a few names in that language too: Munshi Premchand, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Maithili Sharan Gupt. Many of you may know many more names associated with literature and poetry in several languages. If not, I recommend doing a simple google/wikipedia search and familiarizing yourself with literary greats at least in your native language.

The point I am trying to make is, in my view, it is no less prestigious to aspire towards having a literary career than say a career in engineering or medicine. Just imagine, for example, a perfect engineering world with classy apartments for everyone, flying cars, daily space shuttles to Venus and Mars and computer screens that we can make appear in front of us with a snap of our fingers, but with no beautiful poetry or profound (or for that matter, funny) prose. That would be a very poor and shallow world as far as I am concerned.

So if you have dreamt of becoming a writer or a poet, my advice would be to take your dream seriously and try and figure out an academic program that is best aligned with your literary interests. Educate yourself deeply in languages of your choice (I know, getting a Masters in English or Hindi or Telugu or any other language probably does not guarantee that one becomes a great writer or poet in that language; but at least you get to read and study what you love!), develop yourself and try to achieve literary greatness. The only condition as far as I am concerned is: Whatever your choice, be serious about it. Life is short. Don't fritter it away. Be serious about your goals and try your best to achieve them.

Does this mean everyone who aspires to can or will become as great or famous as some of the personalities I have named above? Perhaps not. But that need not stop us from following our hearts and pursuing our dreams. To draw an analogy with physics, there are so many physicists in the world but only a few get the Nobel prize. Does that mean all the other physicists have been unsuccessful? Certainly not. The entire scientific community communicates its findings with each other continuously. And when a breakthrough happens, its actually a moment of success for everyone involved in the field as I see it. Sure some minds reveal themselves to be more brilliant or insightful than others. But everyone's effort counts. And I suppose those physicists who are in the profession out of a genuine interest in the subject, are deeply curious and find joy in the process of discovery would enjoy being physicists regardless of whether awards come their way or not.

Similarly, every well written book or play and every verse of beautiful poetry adds to the literary richness of this world. So with fine art: every beautiful painting makes this world a more beautiful place to live in although only a few artists may achieve fame. Then it may not be always the case that a great artist receives recognition within his or her lifetime, or for that matter that fame and recognition always come to those who are good. At the end of the day its about being true to yourself and trying to be the best you can be in my view of things.

So if literature happens to be your passion, plan to pursue a career in it by all means. Just remember to work hard and give it your very best. As I said above, I'll discuss some possible strategies of trying to get around financial constraints that some may face shortly.

Another field that is tremendously important in my view is History. And I believe it is neither taught well enough today nor is it valued enough as a subject - which is exactly the opposite of how it should be in my opinion! A knowledge of how different civilizations evolved over the millenia, a knowledge of how our own civilization has evolved and transformed, the challenges we have faced and our successes and failures, these are topics of great importance in my opinion and I feel any education is incomplete otherwise. So if History fascinates you and you aspire to be a Historian yourself, know that you would be taking up a career that is no less important than any other.

Same with music: Think of Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla), Pandit Hariparasad Chaurasia (Flute), Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma (Santoor), Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai), Pandit Ritwik Sanyal (a disciple of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Zia Fariduddin Dagar and presently a Professor in the Faculty of Performing Arts at Banaras Hindu University) (Dhrupad), The Dagar Brothers (Dhrupad) and many more... I have listed some maestros in Hindustani classical music here. In case you are interested, just do a simple google/wikipedia search for musicians in the Carnatic style or other forms such as western classical or jazz.

Can you imagine a world without music? Should a career in music be considered any less important or "prestigious" than any other career? Again, the only thing I emphasize is: If you choose to pursue a career in music, be serious about it. Go through the required training (for example: http://internet.bhu.ac.in/performing_arts/), put in your best effort and try your very best to be a great musician. Again, every beautiful song or composition counts and adds to the beauty of this world. Some musicians become famous, some don't. Plus, as I said above, fame need not always imply greatness. So its not about that - its about following your heart and being the best you can be. Just don't shortchange yourself in the effort you put in. If you do so, only you stand to lose in the end.

Or Dance: If I am not mistaken, dance was considered to be a divine art in India at one time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_classical_dance). It is our great misfortune in my opinion that we have reduced it to the level of  "item numbers" today. I, for one, have great respect for Indian classical dance forms as well as other serious forms of this art such as the ballet and would encourage anyone seriously interested in pursuing a career in dance to go for it.

In fact one of the best practices I have seen is music and dance being part of children's education at home in many Indian families. I believe this is more prominent in eastern and southern parts of the country but it would be good to see this culture spread. Every morning, children singing for a while - often just practicing the seven basic notes (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa). I think there is a value to this even if one doesn't eventually pursue music or dance as a career. From my own rather limited experience I feel that practicing vocal music in the Indian classical style has a calming and consolidating effect on the mind. I have started late but wish I had received this education as a child. In addition to children learning music and dance at home while growing up it might also be worthwhile to introduce Indian classical music and dance as optional electives at the primary and secondary school levels.This will generate much needed employment for musicians and dancers as well as help sustain these art forms. I'll come back to this point in a bit.

So to summarize: Whatever be your particular interest (it could be to become a theater artist or to pursue a career in the fine arts for example), immerse yourself in the field, understand what it is to be really good in it, identify a program of study that is best suited to proceed towards your goal and work hard.

The worry of course is then being able to make a decent living in such professions, that are perhaps today not "mainstream".

The central strategy I propose to address this concern is that more people consider taking up teaching positions at the school and college / institute / university levels. And alongside one's teaching responsibilities at different levels one can continue to pursue knowledge and work towards higher degrees (more on this below).

I think we as a society have lost sight of the fact that teaching is an extremely honourable profession. Perhaps the highest there is as Knowledge sustains everything else. We need to correct course on this front and have the very best in every field take up teaching positions. There is a dire need for good teachers in our country today in my opinion. So I propose this strategy both from the viewpoint of aspirants in different fields earning a decent salary while pursuing their own individual goals as well as to address the need for good teachers.

If there is a need to start earning money right after your bachelors degree, my recommendation would be to take up a teaching position at the primary school level. If you are unable to get a good teaching position right away, offer tuitions for a while. But be sure to pursue either a B.Ed. or Masters degree alongside. Don't stop studying yourself! That's the key. Don't lose sight of your long term goals. I know that salaries at the school level may be a concern. As I mentioned above, I'll make an appeal to the government regarding this later in this post along with presenting my views on the matter. But till such a time that the overall situation changes for the better, we still need to keep moving forward while negotiating any financial difficulties that may arise as best we can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with supporting yourself and your family using such a strategy as you work towards your goal. In fact teaching school children is such a great service!

But as I said above, be sure to pursue a masters degree alongside. Keep studying!

After you obtain your B.Ed. or Masters degree, try and obtain a teaching position at the secondary school level.

Again, don't stop studying yourself :)! Enroll yourself in a PhD program alongside and work hard towards writing a good thesis.

Once you have a PhD, you can either try to obtain an administrative position such as Principal at the school level or a faculty position at a college / institute / university where you would be involved with undergraduate / post-graduate education.

This is how it usually works out in my field too. Pure research positions in science and technology are rare to find and by and large those of us who are interested in research take up academic positions in an institute where one has teaching commitments to fulfill.

So teach, and alongside, keep working towards your goal of becoming an author or a poet or a musician or a mathematician or a scientist or a painter. If you are lucky the roles will flip eventually. You will become a mathematician who also teaches. Or an accomplished Sitar player or Odissi dancer who also teaches others. And who knows maybe one day you will (if you want to of course) become a full time painter or musician or author or scientist who earns enough directly from his or her profession and won't need to teach anymore from a financial point of view. Then involvement in teaching would be a choice purely based on whether you have the desire and passion to teach or not.

The thing to realize is that there is a whole range of possibilities that can help you stay in the field and keep moving forward.

In extreme situations if the financial conditions are very difficult at some stage in life it may be necessary to take a break for a while and return to pursuing your subject after some time. That's fine. Just don't lose your inner focus and commitment. Or you can pursue your subjects through distance education or correspondence courses (example: http://www.ignou.ac.in/ , look for other avenues too) while being on a job. No problem. The important thing is to gain as much knowledge as you can.

In fact this reminds me of something I wish to share. I met a young man working as a server in a Barista cafe recently (his name is Harjot if I remember correctly, but I'll double check the next time I go there). For some reason I asked him if he was also studying alongside his job at the cafe. He answered in the positive and told me that he was pursuing a BA degree through correspondence. I was so impressed to hear this. I believe we need to encourage this mindset. Yes, work early in life if your situation demands it - but find a way to keep studying alongside as well.

This is something fairly common in the west. Most students work part time even during their undergraduate programs to ease the financial burden on their families. It may not be necessary for everyone here in India and many may not prefer to if the family is in a good enough financial condition to support their wards' educational program but we need to respect this approach as well whenever the situation demands it. To give a personal example, I worked at a McDonlads during my masters program in the US for a few months till I got a teaching assistantship. I used to stand at the sales counter for a few hours in the day and help clean up in the evenings. To this day I feel proud of myself for having done that. And my fellow workers were mostly students going to the same university, including one girl who was pursuing her PhD in western classical music!

Another cue we need to take from the west in my opinion is how the willingness of people to pay for experiencing art forms such as music helps keep these art forms alive. I am not just referring to concerts and performances by famous artists here. Pretty much every weekend you will find music performances happening at different venues where often local upcoming artists perform and one can go and see these performances for a nominal price. Of course the performances have to be of a certain minimum standard otherwise the concerned musicians don't succeed. So they have to continuously work hard and keep improving themselves. But the point I am making is that this culture enables artists to support themselves and stay focused on developing themselves and their art further which in turn enables art itself to progress further.

I think we need to move in this direction a bit. From what I have seen most of us who are fairly well off financially would easily spend a few thousand rupees on food in an upscale restaurant but would hesitate to buy a ticket for even a few hundred rupees to go for a concert or dance recital where say a local upcoming Sarangi player or Kuchipudi dancer were to give a performance. Or for that matter an art exhibition featuring paintings by a local upcoming artist. We could perhaps occasionally forego an outing to watch a bollywood flick and spend perhaps half the money to watch a theatre performance featuring local artists in a regional language. If we can bring this shift in our mindset, we may suddenly be able to create avenues for our artists to express themselves and our society would be culturally far richer that it is today.

Coming back to the teaching profession: I promised above that I will make an appeal to the government regarding salaries for school teachers and personnel in other professions such those who enroll themselves to become soldiers or hawaldars or hospital nurses. So here goes:

I refer to the professions I have just listed as "essential services". People in these professions are fundamentally important to society. Our children need to be taught by the most loving and knowledgeable teachers we can find. Our patients and the elderly need to be cared for by the most caring and competent nurses we can find. The security of our villages and towns and our borders depends on the bravest, fittest and most committed people taking up careers in police and army services. And all these people and their families have needs to fulfill and aspirations for a decent life for themselves and their families. We must ensure that we pay them well enough so that these concerns are addressed and financial constraints do not become a factor that blocks people from taking up these professions. At the very least, complete medical care for the personnel in these professions and any dependents, education for their children, salaries that ensures a basic living standard at the level of food, clothing and shelter and a provident fund type option that ensures a basic level of financial saving and security for the future must be guaranteed. If we do any less than this we are doing a great disservice to not just the personnel themselves but to ourselves as well.

Here's an example to emphasize the appeal I am making:

I once took a cab from Delhi airport. Now I am in the habbit of striking up conversations with cab and auto drivers occasionally. It makes the time pass and I get to understand a bit about them. So I asked this can driver how much money he makes per month. I still remember him telling me (this was about 4-5 years ago) that business used to be much better but he now manages to make about Rs. 30,000/- to Rs. 35,000/- per month. I'm not completely knowledgeable about salaries in the professions I have appealed for above but in case we have allowed a state affairs to set in wherein it is more lucrative to be a taxi driver (with due respect to their profession and an acknowledgement of their hard work as well as the fact that they too have their needs and aspirations and a right to earn enough to fulfill them) than to be a nurse or a school teacher or a soldier or a hawaldar, then it only reflects our immense lack of maturity and foresight.

It is my earnest appeal to the state as well as central governments to put thought in this direction and ensure that all "essential services" related professions deserve the respect and monetary compensation they deserve.

To end this post: I believe that for quite a while professions of medicine and engineering have been emphasized the most, at least in our country, and a sense of these professions being more "prestigious" than others may have set in. I hope I have been able to convince you that if this is indeed the case it is based on nothing but ignorance. Choose to pursue these professions, just like any other, only if you are really interested, motivated and inspired to be a doctor or an engineer. Otherwise, do not choose to be one. Be who you want to be and do what you want to do with your life. Just remember to work hard and move towards your goal without hurting or disadvantaging anyone else in the process.

[The only exception I would make to this advice is if your family has been struggling financially and choosing such a career path would liberate them from this as well as a social respectability bondage in your opinion. Even then, if possible, my advice would be to try and choose a path towards economic liberation for your family that is best aligned with your interests and aspirations. Hopefully some of the suggestions I have made above will be of some help.]

Best of luck!