Category Archives: Aha!

our daughters, education, choices

Ross Douthat has written an essay (hat tip to Sriram Naganathan, for the article) – The secrets of Princeton. This is a reaction to the essay that an ex-Princetonian Susan Patton wrote: Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had.

I would request all readers of this blog to read the above two articles – as they have a solid bearing and have valuable insights. Ross’ has more incite than insight, that is – but in the name of preservation of perverse diversity and promotion of Armed Chair Intellectualism, I would give Ross his due too, though I want him to get his just desserts.

My warped opinion follows:  The articles are an interesting read. They confirm my suspicions. Susan Patton’s essay is cool, honest & genuine.

I believe in meritocracy, elitism and all those politically incorrect & inconvenient terminologies – and of course in the basic ideas of that dismal science – economics.

I don’t much care for equality of opportunity (it exists anyway) but I care for the creation of equality of status.

I also believe that each child / adult can be (and SHOULD be) elitist in more ways than one. It is important for self preservation, especially in these times of the meteoric rise of mediocrity and continual institutionalization of sheer lumpen stupidity.

MartinLK always comes in handy – as he says ““If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”


It is a fantastic idea to be an elite sweeper, as our Bapuji (also) was.

But am digressing, as is my wont, and let me get back to the Susan Patton ammunition.

When I talk to my village girls (they are in their 9-12th grades) – this is what I tell them. You are bright, superior children. You are the elite! You should go out and construct your own splendid lives. It is possible. Don’t settle for anything less than an equal. Go out and meet with boys and girls from the rest of the multiple worlds that we inhabit, who are your intellectual equals  And you make a choice. Don’t get hitched to a random useless drunken boor of a joker who has got nothing better than a perennial whine and thundering idiocy to boot.

In fact, we (wifey & I) are going to give the kind of advice that Susan would have given her daughter is she had one – to our daughter.

Thanks Susan, for your bold take on the subject.

maria montessori said so…

There was this series 12 lectures that was delivered by Ma’am Montessori in the year 1948 – and broadcast from the All India Radio Station, Chennai.

The transcript of this series was brought out by the Publications Division of the Govt of -India – as a 38 page booklet.

Now, thanks to Arvind Guptua this document has been scanned and made available on the web here.

And, for good measure, you can also download it from here:  montradio.

Enjoy and relish the precise approaches and statements of the lady, vis-a-vis education.

jayateerth mevundi

When the great Bhimsen Joshi passed away, actually it was a personal loss for me. I really loved his music, more so, his Bhairav based renderings.

Now ladies and gents – there is this Jayateerth Mevundi (of Kirana Gharana), a really worthy chela of Bhimsen. (perhaps many of you already know of him and his mellifluous voice, silly me!)

For the past one hour I have been listening to Jayateerth’s rendering of ‘Jamuna ke Teere’ in Bhairav…

Splendid. Mesmerizing. Lilting. What else!


nammashaale & professor satish dhawan

This is NOT about a Helicopter Parent.

Actually this about a Rocket parent!

Here is a blog post by Abinandan at which is reproduced verbatim:


Here’s an episode in Prof. Satish Dhawan’s years as ISRO chief:

The early days saw many failures. Through all those difficult times, Dhawan never lost faith in ISRO’s capabilities. He took personal responsibility for failure but when success came, he always attributed it to ISRO and his colleagues. Thus, when the first flight of SLV-3 in 1979 failed, Dhawan faced the press. When the second flight succeeded, Dhawan kept himself in the background while Kalam spoke to the press.

That note is from P.V. Manoranjan Rao’s tribute to Dhawan on the latter’s 89th birth anniversary. This memorable anecdote came up in a couple of conversations yesterday, and it felt good to be reminded of it again.

A longer version appears in R. Ramachandran’s obituary in Frontline.

Abdul Kalam has recounted his experiences when he was the project director for the launch of India’s first launch vehicle SLV-3. The first experimental launch of SLV-3 took place on August 10, 1979, but it was a failure. Kalam was called by Dhawan to attend a press conference. “Before the press conference, Professor Dhawan told me that he was going to handle the situation and I should be present with many of the senior scientists and technologists,” Kalam has said.

At the press conference Dhawan announced “Friends, today we had our first satellite launch vehicle to put a satellite in the orbit, we could not succeed. It is our first mission of proving multiple technologies in satellite and satellite launch vehicles. In many technologies we have succeeded and a few more we have to succeed. Above all, I realise my team members have to be given all the technological support. I am going to do that and the next mission will succeed.”


The next developmental flight, of SLV-3,on July 18, 1980, was a remarkable success. “An important thing happened then,” recounts Kalam. “Professor Dhawan asked me to handle the press conference with our team members. Dhawan’s management philosophy was that when success comes in after hard work, the leader should give the credit of the success to the team members. When failure comes, the leader should absorb the failures and protect the team members.”


Prof Dhawan was a great scientist, administrator and a leader of people. I admire him for a whole lot of other things too (like his love for literature, books, classical music etc etc). However, the one thing that I mightily admire him for is that, he never let his ideas and opinions drive his children – his children flowered on their own, ably nurtured by their parents, and guided by the inscrutable exhortations of their souls.

Perhaps many of us parents need to learn a lot from this stellar example – both the current parents and the parents (some of them happened to be helicopters in some advanced stage of crashing) who left nammashaale – some towards east of Bangalore and some others towards the due south of Bangalore.

Quiz Question: Some of you may know the Eastward-Ho folks, but…  🙂

postscriptum: Not many of us know that Erdkinder at nammashaale had the pleasure of having been taught by the sweet, affable & able artist Amrita, daughter of this incredible Prof Satish Dhawan. Amrita taught us the basics of working with clay and Oh what an experience that was – And a rather minor point was that,  she never ever did  reveal her pedigree.

Thanks Amrita, for all the fun and learning!

bumbling ball in a box and humbling math…

Let us say that we want to measure the volume of a sphere, fitting snugly  in to (or ‘bounded by’) a cube. It is like – we are putting a tennis ball in a ‘cubical’ box – wherein, the diameter of the ball is almost the same as the length of one edge of the box.  Simple, eh? Very easy to visualize…

But is amazing that, the volume of the ball could only be a very very very verrry small fraction of volume of the cube.

You may ask how,  you silly ol’ man?

But apparently it is so in dimensions higher than 3. Ta Da!

Brian Hayes has written a delightful essay on the subject – called ‘An adventure in the Nth Dimension’ – please savour it, if you can!

The area enclosed by a circle is πr2. The volume inside a sphere is 4/3πr3. These are formulas I learned too early in life. Having committed them to memory as a schoolboy, I ceased to ask questions about their origin or meaning. In particular, it never occurred to me to wonder how the two formulas are related, or whether they could be extended beyond the familiar world of two- and three-dimensional objects to the geometry of higher-dimensional spaces. What’s the volume bounded by a four-dimensional sphere? Is there some master formula that gives the measure of a round object in n dimensions?

Some 50 years after my first exposure to the formulas for area and volume, I have finally had occasion to look into these broader questions. Finding the master formula for n-dimensional volumes was easy; a few minutes with Google and Wikipedia was all it took. But I’ve had many a brow-furrowing moment since then trying to make sense of what the formula is telling me. The relation between volume and dimension is not at all what I expected; indeed, it’s one of the zaniest things I’ve ever come upon in mathematics. I’m appalled to realize that I have passed so much of my life in ignorance of this curious phenomenon. I write about it here in case anyone else also missed school on the day the class learned n-dimensional geometry.

Go to thearticle, and become ecstatic… Really.

This is how any stuff about popularizing sciences should be.

It is amazing that – kindling our imagination and provoking the curious minds  – are still happening in spite of the best efforts of the Discovery  and National Geographic Channels – not to speak of the other unspeakable channels …

the montessori mafia

This is a nice article by Peter Sims.

There is this usual information about some of the best creative brains that have come out of the Montessori system. Though, many of the readers of this web log would know about these logical outcomes of a canonical Montessori method – the aspect of this article that has made me point to it is its marriage of conciseness with some relevant details.

But, this supporting link  –  Evaluating Montessori Education  – a robust research article by Angeline Lillard  and Nicole Else-Quest is very scholarly; the time spent on this article is a damn good investment of anyone’s time.

Alternatively,  if you have trouble accessing the article –   you can try going to this page via this montessori science page. (referrer id/url and all that)


superwoman was already here!

This is a very nice video on the Montessori method by one Daniel C. Petter-Lipstein. May he ‘do’ more such moving images… (link via Christopher Shea)

Enjoy and reflect upon this nice presentation please!

how about better parents?

Sometimes, you have to agree with even Thomas Friedman, when he makes sense – especially when, he is not making sweeping generalizations. (link thanks to Mary)

While what he is revealing is not earth shaking, I know that, sometimes we adults (I mean, Suppandis) read and agree with the opinions of only our erudite and ‘well known’ scholars. We don’t have respect for hometruths or bare facts. So.

But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents.

Being a parent and a teacher, I straddle both worlds, I feel dizzy at times…

To be sure, there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom instruction. But let’s stop putting the whole burden on teachers. We also need better parents. Better parents can make every teacher more effective.

I love it. I love it. I love it. (bold facing in the above quote is my contribution)

I have dealt with many parents (that of my biological children, my class children etc etc) but it is only on very very rare occasions that I have bumped in to reasonable parents – for a given value of reasonableness, I mean.

Incidentally,  I have narrated a few of my encounters with Suppandic parents earlier and hope to do a few more when my time permits it. oh how can I not tell you the stories of our cowardly Suppandis and Suppandinas and their bluster and their arrogant sense of entitlement and their phoniness… oh well.

Please check out the comments of Friedman column readers too…

breaking noose…

...Sarkaaria... Nagarwala... MISA... Bofors... Harshad Mehta... Shibu Soren... Laalu Prasad Yadav... .... Suresh Kalmadi... 2G (Raja edition)... 2G (Kanimozhi edition)... 2G (Dayanidhi edition)... Baba Ramdev... Yeddiyurappa... Anna Hazare... (to be continued...)

… what a nice feeling of déjà vu! 🙂

’tis elementary, sirs and madams…

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the adults (Radha and Swathi) in the lower elementary environment, today I (and many other parents and at least one grandparent) got to see the magic worked on by the children. *ganderbumps*


a view of the elemenary environment

a view of the elemenary environment (from the west entrance)

The adults called it an ‘open day’ – and the lower elementary parents were invited and most made it.We were lucky,

The idea was that some 16 children would prepare and very seriously present a few structured activities based on a few key montessori materials, to a visiting group of parents – and oh, it was lovely. Really… They were all in the flow of the materials and the knowledge of some of the things that are so intuitive and fantastic  in a good montessori environment.

a view of the elementary environment (from the south)

Materials such as for  pegboard, checker board, clock of eras, bead chains, grammar box, logical analysis, montessori protractor, layers of the earth, chordates & non-chordates, you are here, golden bead material (dynamic) etc etc – were presented with such aplomb and poise by children who were between 6 and 8 years of age.

I expected the children to get bored after some 10 times of presenting the same materials to the adults, but apparently they didn’t mind that. Apparently, when one child was asked “oh, it must be tiring, won’t you want to take a break and come back a little while later?”  The child replied, “I am slightly tired but have more energy. When my energy is completely spent, I will take rest…”

There was also this primary child, who gave me a surprising lesson a few years back, and ah, this child has come to elementary  – and not surprisingly, he has retained his self and intelligence – it was lovely to see him in focussed action on the peg board – he was presenting an approach to LCM to us.

I can go on and on and on about every child, but…

a view of the elementary materials room

With another child an adult had an interesting interaction. This child was with the  ‘you are here’ material. This is a set of concentric oval shaped sheets, with increasing average radii, and the idea was to say that individuals are recursively part of bigger entities, and the context goes all the way to the universe (from home, street, city, nation, earth, solar system, milkyway galzxy and then on to the local group and…). The child kept asking ‘where are you now’ eliciting answers. But,, when she reached the solar system and asked where you are now, and adult (not a teacher, thankfully) couldn’t control himself and said perhaps in a rather uncalled for  jocular vein,  ‘I am in galaxy, on MG Road’ – the child was flummoxed for a second but recovered. I didn’t. That’s because, I am a Suppandi.

Sometimes, I feel that we adults inhabit different universes – and mostly our universes are intentionally limited by us to only a few realms of possibilities. Whereas some of us adults limit our universes to MG Road, the children soar high, being very ‘centered’ that they are, they reach impossibly fantastic heights…  They may even do some inter-universal travel in their life times…

Therein lies the hope, I suppose.

Also, I find it impossible that the idea (nay, a dream) called nammashaale is able to exist! Long live the dream. I frankly do not want to wake up…

(Thanks again, children! That was lovely!!)

a view of a part of the elementary library