being a non IITian… [oh the horror!]

Let me make this clear – I personally feel that, being an IITian is not such a great or an uniquely exalting thing, or something to be in awe of, at all.

One meets all kinds of brilliant, smart people – in all walks of life. So obviously, an IITian stamp(!) is not at all required for one to be ‘smart.’ On the contrary, I have met with enough people from these hallowed (sometimes I think of them more as hollowed, especially these days)  institutions who are quite sad, at many levels.

Yeah, I understand that one cannot randomly generalize like this, but this is what my ‘informed’ opinion is, okay?

I also believe that all children are good, fundamentally intelligent beings – and that there are NO exceptions whatsoever to this fact – but generally most of these young folks suffer because of the intended / unintended effects of a few factors – but, primarily and definitely it is the Parental focus that is to be appreciated / blamed for the positive or negative fate of the child.

There are these abominable helicopter parents on the one hand, and on the other – there are these parents who only perform their biological duties and hence outsource everything else to the world. Many children get caught in these kinds of abnormal socio-familial dynamics and emerge either as arrogant, entitlement oriented brats or as psychological wrecks / fringe operators in the society.

… of course, it is the question of statistical probability that determines whether a given young person is able to perceive various choices, has the requisite status (economics, I mean) to pursue a choice, has the necessary environmental inputs/factors – and then, acquires the required focus (or the ‘desperation’ if you will).

However, it is true that many children (and most of us darn adults) drift desultorily along and go by the default parameters / choices and achieve the nirvana of splendid mediocrity, in more ways than one…

Okay, let me get back to the positive outcome of the aforesaid statistical possibility. As a bye product of this process – a given child / young person may choose to go a school of her/his liking, because she/he would be able to ‘do’ it. That’s all – there is no magic here, at all. There is no need for any puzzlement here.

So, a focused child driven by a good work ethic would get what it want – it is so simple, eh?

… But, there is a problem here and it has been happening for the past nearly forty years. JEE, the Joint Entrance Examination for IITs has been happening – and it neatly, mercilessly, laconically categorizes the young and hapless aspirants into IIT and non-IIT classes or Jatis.

The kids who get through the JEE and clear it, think that they are superior to every other critter and hence are God’s own  gifts to mankind.

The kids that do not make it to IITs however – sulk, rubbish IITs, sometimes mostly feel inferior and inadequate.

In both cases, it is quite sad and hilarious.

But, one should remember that, these kids would still be middling & muddling teenagers / adolescents when this happens – who perhaps have the right to have such immature feelings and knee-jerk responses – seeing themselves and their lives in black vs white categories.

I sincerely believed that they have the time to grow up. And of course, they would grow up, making peace with themselves, their metacognition abilities gracefully guiding them all through…

Well,  I am wrong. I would hate to admit to this, but I am incredibly & infuriatingly wrong. Some folks simply refuse to grow up!

Every once a while I meet a person who feels deeply scarred, humiliated, lobotomized, discombobulated etc etc because he did not get into these darn IITs. The way he continues to handle this unjust catastrophe is, to rubbish anything that is remotely connected to the IITs – and lament that he did not get in because of x, y and z reasons – and of course all these reasons would have been beyond the capacity of him to address, at that time…


… And so, I met this parent – let us just call him Suppandi – 5 years back or so for the first time – at that time I was not ‘working’ in nammashaale, I was only a parent whose children went to nammashaale.

We do not ‘socialize’ much, being anti-socials that we are,  but Suppandi insisted on ‘interacting’ with us and we got to talk to each other a little bit.

In his own words,  he had been generally ‘successful’ which actually means that he is quite comfortably rich. A petite spouse,  kids, stayed for a long time in USA, did some IT related work, ventures, stock markets etc etc – the usual self-absorbed boring, dull stuff that 99% of NRIs do, only more so in the case of returnee-NRIs or ex-pats as they are referred to incorrectly – returned & started focusing only on children (his, obviously). Fair enough, I would fall in to this category myself, give or take a few years, a few billion dollars, lots of gray cells and loads of salt, what else!

Now, one would think that this gent will be happy and satisfied with life (as the ol’ Psalmist said: ‘my cup runneth over‘) – and would routinely take to wind-surfing or scuba diving or mountain climbing,  writing some good Telegu poetry – whatever. One would expect him to enjoy life.

Wrong again. He was so bitter, whining, cribbing and disconsolate. The reason: He did not make it to the IITs! He became much more bitter and hostile when he realized that both my spouse (the horror, he could not make it, but a female has!)  and I have some vague & abominable IIT connections.

Oh the horror, the horror

He can see the world as comprising only of those who have been to IITs and those who haven’t. The former would evoke his derision and snide comments – mostly rightly so. The latter would be treated as fellow underdogs, who somehow haven’t been given their due.

Oh well, incidentally we both were in our early 40s (bloody hell!) when we met. Normally this would be hilarious – but I feel that it is a deep-seated malaise.

How can a guy who is ought to be ‘happy and satisfied’ hold this silly grudge and defeatistic attitude, even after so many bloody decades?

And then, I read about these Kota sweatshops training a zillion children, who are waiting to be sacrificed at the altar of IIT – JEE.

And, for every arrogant automaton which makes it to an IIT (with no better skill(!) worth mentioning than gaming the system), there are going to be tens of self-confessed whiny losers who are going to litter our society.

Well, this is a new form of social stratification, I suddenly realize.

I also realize to my horror that the male child (only the sonny boy, mind you!) of my friendly suppandic whiner has no other go but to to go to IITs. Poor child. Poorer IITs.

I weep.

I promise to myself to go get a life.

I melt in the crowd of unvarnished masses.


millets mela • 13-15 april • lalbagh@bengaluru

Dear all,

With reference to the above we are pleased to invite you for the” MILLETS MELA” to be held at LAL BAGH, in Banglore from 13th April to 15th April. The details are mentioned in the invitation attached. Please make it convenient  to attend with your family and friends and enjoy millets.

Looking forward to meeting you at the Mela.

In solidarity for Millets!




13 – 15 April 2012
10.00 am – 7.30 pm

Dr. Marigowda Memorial Auditorium,
Near Nursery Men’s Cooperative Society
Behind JKS Mall, LALBAGH – Bangalore
(M) 9738449133, 9481438384

Why this Mela ?

Did you know that India is home to diverse types of millets & the largest producer of millets in the world?
India, with over 60 million diabetic people, leads the world with the largest population of Diabetics – while we are bothered by the soaring medical bills and social trauma, we are yet to recognize the power of millets to manage diabetes and other chronic diseases.
You can discover more about the health benefits of millets in the mela – here is an opportunity as u can interact with experts and also the people who have benefitted with millets for their health problems – from gestational diabetes, Cardio vascular diseases, Fibromyalgia, Back Pains & the list goes on…

Come to know how Millets can help you , your family & friends

Experience all the Millets – Jola , Sajje, Raagi , Navane,  Saame,  Haaraka,  Baragu, Oodara

Learn to cook delicious & healthy Millet receipes from experts

Eat amazing Dishes & Sweets at the exclusive Millets Food Court

Interact with Millets Nutrition, Processing Technology & Cultivation Experts

Understand why Millets are missing from our mainstream

Relate to the history of these robust grains

Buy Millets regularly

murder by mnemonic OR the mnemonic plague :-(

oh well,  (just in case you were wondering what the hell this is!) a mnemonic is a device or a clever way of memorizing or recollecting a set of facts; like, for example – we use the rather sad mnemonic VIBGYOR to ‘remember’ the names of various colours that make up the visible light in terms of their increasing wavelengths…

Well, I have always known that mnemonics were an useful idea – especially from the times of Sir B B Roy, to whom many a budding electronics enthusiast like me were eternally grateful.

But, OhMyMaterCoitussingGAWD! What the world has come to! O tempora! O mores!!

A few children here (I am with a rural school in Tamilnadu now – of course I am NOT talking about nammashaale) that go to other schools have these cutesy ways of mnemonics. The children love it, their teachers swear by it – and I swear at them, of course…

Ohm’s law: Iyer = Vegetarian (apparently iyers – a sub-sub-sub tamil jaati of the brahmin varna are generally supposed to be vegetarians – this is a well known ‘fact’ in Tamilnadu; Iyer has to be interpreted as IR with I standing for current and R standing for resistance; vegetarian simply stands for V. So, ta da  –  V = IR!)

Fleming’s ‘left hand’ rule for motors:

F     M

M     C

T      F

F = Forefinger (also Fleming). M = Middle finger. T = Thumb. M = Mutton. C = Chicken. F = Fish. Apparently this order is easy to remember because Mutton is the costliest, Chicken comes next and Fish is el cheapo! M also stands for Magenetic force, C for Current and F for Force (perhaps to be interpreted as the direction of physical motion). Don’t I rudely and crudelywant to show my finger at these teachers!! &*^%$(!

Acceleration = Rate of change of velocity. Just remember AVT – a locally famous brand of Tea (I think it stands for AV Thomas or something)’ A stands for acceleration, V for velocity and T for time!


Ultimately, it is all about whining and winning I suppose, in the painful path called ‘Board Exam’ and oh well, victor bene valeas qui bene futuis.

Ha haa!

PostScript: All the rest of you who are snooty and consider it beneath your dignity to use such gory mnemonics to memorize simple stuff – can please go copulate with the nearest available bovine… (but you will have to stand behind me – SILLY, not for that, can’t you see that there is a queue?)

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!

why a liberal art education matters…

This is a fine essay by Vedika Khemani, that appeared in NYT. I wholeheartedly agree with the take and the stance of her.

I am reproducing hereunder, the beautiful essay in toto, thusly violating all copyright laws basically because there are only a few folks that are interested in clicking the links if I provide them, which actually is a rather sad story.


February 1, 2012, 8:30 pm

Why a Liberal Arts Education Matters


Well, what is it going to be: engineering, medicine or commerce?

Most 12th-grade students in India are faced with this question, as they struggle to fit themselves into one of a few narrowly defined boxes. Heaven forbid someone might enjoy reading both Newton’s laws and Plato’s dialogues! Plato is clearly a waste of time with no practical, remunerative value. Or is it?

I grew up in Kolkata, India, and came to the United States as a freshman to study physics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Harvey Mudd is a unique liberal arts college which specializes in science and engineering, while also honing its graduates to be well read in the humanities and social sciences. While taking intensive physics and mathematics classes, I also studied history, economics, linguistics, philosophy and creative writing. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at Princeton University.

Based on my experiences, I wanted to advocate for the value and necessity of a broad, liberal education rich in both technical subjects and the humanities.

The pragmatic attitude taken by most Indian students and parents is certainly understandable in a country where millions of students regularly compete for scarce college placements and job opportunities. The entrance requirements at Indian universities have steadily risen, with certain premier colleges in New Delhi posting the mind-boggling admission cutoff of 99 percent last year.

In this high-stress setting, students want to study whatever will land them a job, creating a college experience much more akin to “technical training” rather than intellectual exploration. However, I believe it is precisely today’s environment with a rapidly expanding, educated working class in India that makes an interdisciplinary liberal arts education all the more necessary.

In a global world dominated by so-called knowledge workers, the ability to communicate effectively and work well on a team is imperative. But besides raw technical ability, how do you develop the myriad other skills needed to distinguish yourself and excel in your job? How can you learn to inspire people so they want to work towards the sales goals you’ve set?

As a start, try an oratory class and read speeches given by paradigm-changing leaders. To learn the brevity, precision and charisma needed to write a funding proposal for your dream project, try a creative writing class. To incorporate vastly different perspectives from your team members, try classes in psychology and philosophy. These may help you understand where they might be coming from.

And nothing could be more practical than the humanities.

As the story goes, when three blind men felt an elephant, one concluded it was flat like a wall, another thought it sharp like a spear and the last was sure an elephant was thin like a snake. All were correct in their own way, just incomplete.

The ability to synthesize different perspectives into the big picture is far more powerful than narrow expertise in any single field. The social sciences offer perspectives from vantage points separated by time, place and society. Drawing and painting offer perspectives on what perspective even means. Critical thinking is the logical result of being able to simultaneously synthesize multiple ideas in one’s mind.

Real-world problems rarely ever have textbook solutions. More than anything, the purpose of a college education is to learn how to think critically and what questions to ask. Liberal arts colleges aim to mold their students into well-rounded, well-informed global citizens with a wide skill set — whether it is through elective or voluntary courses that push specialized students to be broader, or general requirements that force every graduate to know at least something about certain subjects.

In the throes of our current economic crisis, all conventional strategies for success are moot. All the more reason for a liberal arts education that creates resilient people who can invent creative solutions and always have new ways by which to try things differently.

As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.”


on death: two pointers

Happy new day everyday and all that… 🙂

On to the subject – I have been thinking about this interesting idea of death for a few years now. Oh well. This is to just give the readers of the blog two links and so.


I have not read anything more poignant than this column written by Emily Rapp in NYT, lately.

Please read Notes from a Dragon Mom – and ponder over how fortunate the rest of us are.

Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.


The second pointer is to that excellent and a very beautifully done up course on death offered for free by the Yale University. You would perhaps require a broadband connection to view the course and enjoy it.


Both links are eminently recommended.

It is true that from the day we are born, the clock starts ticking and that we are designed to move on, from day #1.

Yes, but it is also of course true that we are designed to live our lives to the fullest too. (yes, I just managed to listen to one of  them finest violinists on earth – Yoana Strateva, yesterday live – still baskin’ in the reflected glory! Oh what a magical treat it was! Apparently this Bulgarian lady visited Bangalore in 2008 – and somehow we seem to have missed her.)


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…