Monday, 23 October 2017

Manifesting our divinity

Every soul is potentially divine.

Agreed. But there is a difference between potentiality and actualization of the potential.

So yes, every woman is potentially Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Parvati, Saraswati and all the female aspects of the divine.

Just as every man is potentially Ram, Krishna, Shiva and all the male aspects of the divine.

In the ultimate analysis, one perhaps rises above and encompasses both the male and female aspects.

But this actualization of the potential requires an effort. One has to work at it. No point just assuming oneself to be a divine manifestation when it is but obvious that one us simply fluttering like a leaf in the winds of worldliness with little to no control over one's own mind and a far from ideal expression of divine qualities (human values).

We need to ask ourselves: where in the journey are we specifically?

I suggest an honest answering of the following questions:

1. How much love do we carry within us? And how much of it are we able to express in action? Service is love in action. Do we serve selflessly? How compassionate are we? Are we dedicated to uplifting the suffering and needy even at our own personal cost?

2. How clear is our discrimination between right and wrong, between what is of lasting value and goodness and what brings temporary short term pleasure but is not good in the long run? And how firm is our commitment to do the right thing each step of the way?

3. How deep and clear is our knowledge of ourselves and the creation? Do we know ourselves? How our mind works? Where our thoughts and emotions arise from? Are we enlightened?

4. Are we content? Are we happy and blissful by our own nature or does our happiness keep depending on this and that and we chase desires one after the other?

We need to ask ourselves these questions honestly and be clear about where we are in our journey. And then move towards the goal steadfastly.

Of course we are the divine. I don't doubt it for a moment. Let's actualize your potential. Blossom !

"Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached." --Katha Upanishad


I think a lot of people hesitate to accept that they are essentially divine in nature because they have made mistakes.

This is such a misunderstanding!

Look here, whatever we have or have not done: it's over. The fact that we realize that we've made a mistake itself shows that we are emerging out of the mistake. We need to just accept our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If we receive it, good: we be grateful for it and move forward. If not, then fine, we bear the consequences of our actions and move forward.

Either way, we move forward with a wiser head and a clearer conscience.

Starting this moment, let's resolve to not repeat our mistakes and continuously improve ourselves.

I think that's all there is to it. Period.

As I said above: I don't doubt our divinity for a moment. Let's put in the effort to actualize our potential. Blossom :)!

Understanding the universe : what about "you"?

When you are trying to understand the universe, you are looking outward. Even in understanding how your own body functions, including your brain, *you* are aware of the body and observing and studying it. You can try this: sit still with your eyes closed and become intensely aware of your body. Notice that there is a *you* who is aware of the body. And to the best of my observation and understanding this *I* who is aware of the body isn't even a "physical" entity. At best I am able to think of it, i.e. myself, as a presence.

An interest in understanding how the universe functions is well and good. I am scientifically curious myself. But in itself that is an incomplete quest for knowledge. *You* exist too. In fact, since it is *you* who wants to understand the universe you are in, knowing *yourself* is implicitly important.

In fact, an effort to *know yourself* takes a higher priority, doesn't it. It's *your* life you are living. *You* are here.

To understand *yourself*, the direction of inquiry must turn inward. This is but obvious and implicit in what is being said.

Seek self knowledge. Learn how to meditate. Alongside, pursue your interests by all means. Mine primarily lie in science, mathematics and music. Good luck with yours !


Say (hypothetically speaking) all scientific questions are solved one day. Physics completes. Chemistry completes. Biology completes. Math completes. Say this happens today. Then what? Does that bring an end to the quest for knowledge?

No. Each of us still would have to know ourselves. That's an individual journey each one of us has to make independently. We can be guided, yes. But the journey still has to be undertaken personally.

Consider the opposite scenario: Say the chapter of science never closes. What then? Will we postpone the pursuit of self knowledge indefinitely?

Focusing only on the external or waiting till all questions about the external are answered before we turn our attention inward are meaningless propositions.

The pursuit of self knowledge needs to be our first priority. And alongside we pursue other interests. Not the other way around.

Life is short. What is 70-80 years? Nothing. It's not even a blip on the history and future of time. Would your journey of life be complete without you knowing yourself? Do you sense the urgency and importance of what I'm saying?

That's why I say: Seek self knowledge, learn how to meditate. And alongside, pursue other interests.

Entrance for Civil Services (IAS / IRS / IPS)

We have the CAT exam for entry into MBA programs. Why not have a similar entrance mechanism for Civil Services (IAS, IRS, IPS) and follow it up with a two year program to provide the requisite training? Basically check the aptitude and then train. I think that might be better than the present mechanism wherein the preparation required for the Civil Services entrance is so intense that students often go for extended coaching for the same and do not pay complete attention to the academic program they are in.

Possible short term strategy to combat dire poverty

Job creation is a long term challenge. In the short to medium term the following may work:

Give zero interest loans of Rs. 50,000/- per poor family to start a small business (I would start with the homeless who can be seen sleeping on the streets). Alongside, advise them on how to run the business and save money. These loans can be given after a background check and recovered in regular small instalments (of say Rs. 1000/- per month).

It can be insisted that the business be something that adds value to society: fruits & vegetables / juice shops / food / clothes / toys / etc.

The money will be recovered in about four years anyway. Plus many of these businesses may start doing well enough over time to start paying taxes.

I think such a strategy would help in bringing a large number of people out of dire poverty quickly and we need to do that.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Diwali : The Festival of Lights

Deepawali or Diwali (oil lamps are called Diwas in Punjabi) is, by definition, the festival of lights.

Wherefrom, then, did the cacophony and pollution caused by fire crackers enter the picture?

If we must have sound, wouldn't it be better to have it in the form of music and add to the beauty created by lights instead? The whole range: from Alaaps in Dhrupad to Hard Rock, from Bhajans to Light Indian, from Jazz and Fusion to Indian and Western Classical, from Solo performances to Bands, Symphonies, Orchestras and the Opera, from World music to Folk music...

We still have a few weeks to Diwali 2017. How about this as a game plan:

Let musicians and dancers start coming together, renowned as well as those next door who we don't know about yet, and start preparing for live performances in the week preceding Diwali and culminating with the best of the best performing on Diwali itself. And let each performance start with a simple Pooja (Prayer).

How does this sound? If we can make this work I reckon we can have a more aesthetically pleasing and beautiful Diwali with both light and sound.

As Diwali approaches and we start preparing for the celebrations, here are some heartfelt requests:

1) I know that the money we use to buy oil lamps (diyaas) or lights and will bring business to a wide spectrum of people. But there are also those who are so poor that they can't participate in the economy. It'll be great if we could channel some money into charity. Thumping poverty down nice and proper through collective charity is a theme dear to me. I appeal to you to participate as generously as you can.

2) I know electric lights look pretty and I appreciate the beauty they bring too. But at the same time let's also give business to the kumhaars who make clay oil lamps (diyaas). Even simply arranged diyaas look good, not to mention the exquisite arrangements possible. Plus I think the act of making diyaa arrangements ourselves and keeping them filled with oil and lit involves us directly in manifesting beauty. I feel that can be very fulfilling. I'll look for pictures on the internet and put them in the comments fields below over the next few days. I invite you to do the same. Please do share any links to nice diyaa arrangements that you may find or any photographs that you may have.

3) If we insist on firecrackers (hopefully my request to go for music instead of firecrackers at the beginning of this post convinces you otherwise):

(i) Let's please keep it as low on volume as possible. The noise pollution level we create every Diwali is way too high from any reasonable point of view. It impacts not just humans but animals and birds as well. Let's please be mindful of this and plan our fireworks purchases accordingly.

(ii) Please be safe and take due precautions while lighting firecrackers. Unnecessary bravado is not cool. It is stupid. There is absolutely no gain to be had from injuring yourself or others. Advise those around you to be cautious as well and stay careful yourself. The whole point is to have fun, not get hurt.

4) Please stay off the booze and gambling trip. Instead, have jalebis dipped in cold milk, laugh, make others laugh, celebrate!

5) Let's stay mindful of extra concerns that old people, babies and sick people may have. Let's stay alert about not putting senior citizens and babies in harm's way. Their response times can be far slower than we may expect and we need to account for this. In particular, advise kids about this. Kids with firecrackers will be kids with firecrackers. Some guidance will likely be of help. And absolutely no firecrackers near hospitals please.

Wish you all a blessed Diwali, Laxmi Puja and Kali Puja.

Om Shantih Shantih Shantih __/\__

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A strategy to address economic concerns in non-engineering / non-medical careers.

This post focuses on the economic concerns faced by folks entering non-engineering and non-medical fields of study and careers and presents one possible strategy to address them.

(I also 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.)

But the proposed strategy first:

The central strategy I propose to address this concern is that more people consider taking up teaching positions at the school, college or university level. 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 school level. If you are unable to get a good teaching position right away, offer tuitions for a while. But be sure to pursue a 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 masters degree, try and obtain a better teaching position at the school level, or if possible, a lectureship at the college level where you can teach bachelors students.

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 obtain a more senior position at a college, or better still, try to become a faculty member at a University or an Institute where you can also be involved with 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. That's what pays the bill and alongside one gets complete academic freedom to study and research whichever area one wishes to.

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. 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: , 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 under graduate 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 McDonalds 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. For people in such an extreme situation it may be important to sacrifice personal interests for some time and choose a career that beings economic independence to oneself and one's family fast. 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.]

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Connecting more students with excellent teachers : What's coming in the way?

For quite some time there's been a heavy focus on selecting the "best possible students" in colleges. This is often through entrance exams of some sort: subject or aptitude. Apparently schools are into this too nowadays (even for kindergarten or 1st grade in instances?) which is really weird because if schools can't take the responsibility of educating children from scratch, who will? Innocent little kids running around and playing don't have to be tested before starting their education for heaven's sake! That actually seems cruel to me.

Then this idea of "fixed durations" for different education levels. 12 years for high school, 4 years for a bachelor's degree, 2 for master's. And if you go a little slow, you bad boy you...

I don't know. At least for me some subjects came easy (like math and physics) and some didn't (like biology and chemistry). Maybe there should have been provisions that allowed one to move along at different speeds in different subjects. I would've probably liked that better instead of somehow cramming and moving along in some of the subjects.

If I think about qualities based on which I would select students in my classes, I simply come up with this:

A sincere desire to learn, willingness to put in the required effort, patience to steadily move from benchmark to benchmark, humility, a sense of discipline and a firm commitment to use knowledge only for the good of society.

That's it. If these qualities are in place I see myself as being willing and committed to work with students from whatever level they might presently be at. If some students have a natural flair for some subjects, they'll likely move along faster. If not, we go slow, no problem. I would be fine either way if the right value system is in place.

(On the other hand if the right values have not set in in a student its better in my opinion that he or she spend some time in service and introspection till the mindset corrects itself before any advanced knowledge be given to them. Else there's every possibility that they will do more harm than good with it.)

There might be many such deserving students with a sincere desire to learn and a sound set of values in the country who perhaps don't get to connect with some of the better teachers because good academics seem to want to cluster in select elite institutes. At least as far as colleges and universities go I think this is partly because many (at least in India) have somehow managed to tangle themselves up with incorrect policies that perhaps discourage good teachers from joining them.

One issue is an imbalance between teaching responsibilities and the time available to pursue research and scholarship (something that most good academics want). I discuss this in this article:

Two other issues are economics and job security related. I don't think that needs to be elaborated on much.

Then there are things like making profs sign attendance registers. It gets worse: I know of places where profs are required to get permissions or sign out and in every time they step out of the department / institute. For such places: Good luck trying to absorb and retain quality faculty. No quality academic with a sense of self respect will agree to such stuff unless he or she is going through desperate times or is at your institute due to some personal reasons / obligations / commitments.

Last but not the least: Institutes need to work out their career progression requirements in accord with their ground realities. To be more specific: for most faculty members research progress and output depends fairly strongly on (a) lab infrastructure provided to them and (b) Masters and PhD students working with them. If an institute doesn't invest sufficiently in establishing research labs and/or does not have a well established post-graduate program (or is unable to attract quality post-graduate students) then this needs to be accounted for when making decisions on career progression. Prospective as well as present faculty members need to feel assured on this front.

If government as well as private institutions across the country start matching what they offer in terms of work conditions, salaries and job security with what elite institutes offer we might start seeing a wider spread of good academics thus making them accessible to a wider range of students.